Aequus Nox

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.

― F. Scott Fitzgerald

I realize the autumnal equinox was a few days ago, but I've been in its compelling company and I'm just now emerging enough to reflect and write about it.

In case you've forgotten the chapter on astronomy from seventh grade science, here's what Wikipedia says on the subject of equinox:

At an equinox the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point (RA = 00h 00m 00s and longitude = 0º) and the autumnal point (RA = 12h 00m 00s and longitude = 180º). By extension, the term equinox may denote an equinoctial point.

If that doesn't make any more sense now than it did back then, this means that around the time of the equinox, which happens twice a year, day and night are about equal.

Earth Lighting Equinox. From Wikipedia Commons.

Earth Lighting Equinox. From Wikipedia Commons.


Here's what I love about the autumnal equinox: autumn begins, and I really like autumn; for all the common reasons and some less obvious ones too. Who doesn't enjoy a bit of relief from the summer heat, the glimpse of winter, pulling the sweaters out, the way your body begins to crave substantial, hearty meals, not to mention the amazing color palette of the landscape?

I also like that the equinox is a passage--not just a passage of time but a portal into what's next--a fresh start, opportunity for things new, potential for adventure. It's almost as if nature is saying, "I'm going to give you mild temperatures, calm winds, a crispness in the air, and sights that will blow your mind. Now get out there and make the most of it!"

But what I love most about an equinox as well as the solstices is that they are like a big downbeat to the beautiful rhythms of life. I don't think it is an accident that there are four seasons, like four beats to the measure of a many songs.

Our lives beat to rhythms; even to the most basic of life: our heart beat. Our days are divided rhythmically. Morning, night, morning, night. Day, week, month, year. Day, week, month, year.

Okay this is weird. As I'm typing this, I'm listening to Pandora®. Dave Brubeck's amazing jazz standard, "Take Five" just came on. This song, like so much of jazz, throws the normal rhythms off a bit because it has five beats to a measure. It's a little tricky to tap your foot to and that can be a little unsettling for reasons we don't dwell on.

But let's do dwell a minute. Not all jazz music has five beats to the measure, but most has syncopation:

A disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm: a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.

All that, along with the polyrhythms and cross-rhythms so common in jazz, make it an acquired taste at best. We tend to like our rhythms regular and predictable. Unfortunately when that's all we know, we pretty much just march through life without paying much attention to the nuances. Jazz makes us skip occasionally, it makes us stop and wait and listen and feel at a deeper level.

Obviously I'm using jazz as a metaphor, but I think its a good one. So while autumn is a marker, a downbeat, it's also a passage. Pay attention! Maybe the tempo is changing, the cellos are taking the lead. If you don't listen you'll miss it. You may march right through it. Don't be oblivious. 

RECOMMENDATION: I highly recommend two arrangements of "Autumn Leaves" for your fall playlist:

  1. By Eva Cassidy. On the album "Live at Blues Alley."
  2. By Bill Evans Trio. On the album "Portrait in Jazz."

Have any other suggestions for great fall tunes or ideas for doing fall right?