The Equinox fell on a Friday this year. I took the day off work.
If we lived in a truly Earth-honoring society, I wouldn’t have to do this. If our society cherished our planet as source and sustainer of life, the Equinox would be surely be more widely known and celebrated as a sort of secular holy day. But we don’t live in such a society, to our impoverishment and peril. And that’s why we need to nourish a revolutionary spirit. And that’s why I make a point to celebrate the Equinox. And that’s why I took the day off.
I realize not everyone can do this, and I’m grateful that I can.
I went in to my daughter’s school. For the past five years I’ve come in for every equinox and solstice. In past years I’ve read a book to the children, performed a science demonstration, shared a treat and a contemplative activity. This year, I was invited to talk not only to my daughter’s class but to all three of the fourth grade classes.
Were the kids were too old for the book now? I cobbled together a multimedia presentation. I talked about the seasonal changes we may observe around this time of year, and delved into the astronomical facts of the Equinox. The origin of seasons may be one of the most commonly misunderstood science concepts, and I’m determined these kids will get it. The concept of axial tilt is easy to demonstrate with a few simple props. This year I used a candle to represent the sun and an apple to represent the Earth.
In the past I’d baked corn muffins which I’d frosted half dark and half light to represent the equinox, but I couldn’t feature baking ninety muffins. So I invented a new treat this year. I took dark chocolate and white chocolate chips, and magically fused them together to create a tiny little equinox confection. These were well received. One of the teachers said they tasted like autumn.
I talked about harvest festivals generally, and how the Equinox has been celebrated and observed by various cultures around the world for thousands of years. A common theme threaded through all these celebrations is gratitude. We talked about that. I distributed strips of colored paper and invited the children to reflect on something for which they were grateful. By joining the strips together to form a “gratitude chain,” we gave visible expression to just how many blessings we share.
This was a great honor to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share the equinox with the children.
After school special
After I left the school, I stopped by Bayou Bicycles and had a little work done on my ride. I needed a new saddle and so did my daughter’s trailer bike. They had a leftover kid’s seat lying around so they threw that in for free. When the work was done I made my way over to the bayou and ate my lunch in the shade of the tree where my daughter got her name. (The actual tree where we performed her naming ceremony did not survive Hurricane Isaac, but a new tree was planted in the same place by the Mothership Foundation.) After eating, I sat and meditated for a few minutes.
I’m grateful for saving a few bucks, for the beauty of Bayou St. John, and for the shade of the tree.
As I prepared to depart a guy hollered at me that fish were schooling at the end of the bayou. I took a look. He was right. A big bunch of fish, thirty or so at least, were swimming around together with their heads just above the surface of the water. I’d never seen anything like it. For a fleeting moment I entertained the fantasy that their behavior was connected to the equinox, but I quickly dismissed this thought. To calculate and mark the precise moment of this astronomical event is a human proclivity. Fish don’t know the equinox. But then again, in a more general sense, plants and animals are very sensitive to the changing patterns of light and darkness, as I’d just explained to the children. Maybe the fish were engaging in some kind of seasonal behavior unfamiliar to me.
I’m grateful for my skepticism and my openness to new interpretations of reality. I try to hold these two mutually opposed tendencies in balance.
I rode down the Lafitte Greenway to the Broad Theater and arrived just in time to see the noon matinee of Darren Aronofsky’s controversial new film, Mother! I semi-randomly stumbled across some reviews that asserted Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Gaia — Mother Earth — and that’s something you don’t see often in our popular cinema. I figured I needed to see it for myself, and the equinox seemed like the perfect opportunity. The movie proved to be harrowing, artsy, avant-garde if you will. Definitely not light and easy viewing. More of an experience. I think I liked it, but I’m not entirely sure. Maybe I hated it. I’m still thinking about it.
I’m grateful to encounter such challenging works of art in a locally-owned neighborhood theater.
By the time I got home I was mighty sleepy. I took a nap. It wasn’t until I woke up that I realized I hadn’t had any caffeine all day. I’m afraid I have a bit of a dependency, but I was so preoccupied that I just plain forgot.
I’m grateful I didn’t get a headache.
Rockin’ into the night
That evening I took the stage at Banks Street Bar with my new band, Half Pagan. Calling us a band might give the wrong impression; we’re more of a duo — just me and the professor, Michael Homan. He plays guitar and programs the drum machine. All I do is sing. After a year of rehearsals, this was our first live performance. There were some rough spots, but it was not a disaster. In fact I enjoyed myself. We sang songs about the equinox, Gaia, cemetery picnics, space dogs, and the mythology of ancient Babylon. We even sang a song about riding my bike around Mid-City, up and down the Lafitte Greenway, and alongside Bayou St. John, past “the tree where my daughter got her name.”
I’m grateful to the venue for letting us play, to the friends who came to check us out, to the bartenders who provided the necessary libations, and to Michael for being such a talented songwriter.
It was a good day, a memorable day, a special day apart from the usual flow of time.
Many of us don’t have the luxury of taking the day off as I did. So it was that on Saturday I gathered with a bunch of like-minded folk at a friend’s house. You might call us modern Pagans, but I don’t get hung up on labels. We’re just people who desire to experience the Earth as sacred and who want to celebrate the equinox together.
I rode out to the place through blazing heat. Autumn breezes can take a while to find us down here in the subtropics. By the time I arrived I was a little sweaty.
People brought all manner of food and drink to share. I mixed and mingled awhile, catching up with old friends and making new ones, while my daughter played with the daughter of the host. Sharing a feast and fellowship is a time-honored ritual, of sorts, and it’s especially appropriate for the harvest season, even if most of us feel somewhat divorced and detached from the rhythms of agriculture.
Eventually we made our way to an upstairs room, a special chamber, clean and spare, with a small altar. There were only seven of us left by this time, and we joined hands quietly as the children played in the background. Their laughter provided the perfect soundtrack for our simple grounding meditation and our heart-to-heart sharing.
I’m grateful to my circle for providing a spiritual community. It helps to know I’m not alone in wanting to honor the cycle of the seasons. I hope I will always remember the communion I shared with these six women, and the feeling of peace it engendered in my soul.
The Author: Bart Everson
What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?
In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism,Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.