Today is the Autumn Equinox. As a southern hemispherian I decided to finally find out what that means. In the subtropics we barely notice a difference in the lengths of any days. Turns out ‘equinox’ is, of course, Latin for ‘equal night.’ Today (in the North) is the start of Autumn, when the days will start getting shorter and the nights, god damn it, longer.
All too soon it will be barely getting light in Berlin due to cloud cover and then never really dark as there are so many cities nearby. All panning their European lights up into the sky.
I found this nervous professor explaining to an eager interviewer, with his voice trembling as he is on TV, how it works. The sun appears to wobble slowly up and down in the sky across the year, as Earth’s axis is tilted. So for half the year the southern hemisphere is facing closer, for half the year it’s the north. He explains how this was important in pagan times as it is connected with fruitfulness and harvest. Her voice lights up. For Londoners, where can we go, what can we do, to be a part of this, to find out more?
Obviously she means with people. She wants to gather by moonlight at some standing stone with a bunch of arcane knowledge holders chanting incantations. She wants some insight into the mystery of long human endeavour, wants to be admitted to the meanings we have shut out, with our forever lit smartphones and our tube trains which run until three in the morning. Our eternal false daylight. I feel my heart quickening, too.
But the scientist misunderstands her. His voice quickens, too. He starts to offer his own secret gatherings – here is where the London Irregular Astronomers Society meets of a nighttime to study the far distant sky. Here is the observatory where you can see these mighty bodies through a telescope. The woman’s responses are cut off but I feel you can feel her dismay, palpable, almost palpating, through the screen. Their misunderstanding is absolutely beautiful and hilarious, and by it we see two approaches to understanding our lives on earth fall away, the one from the other, like the outermost hemisphere tilting from the sun. She doesn’t want to drink thermos tea with a bunch of boffins and discuss distance. She wants to get up close. She wants the wisdom and herbal knowledge of all the old women who are gone. She wants to be in the presence of wise men who can interpret the stars’ implications in our lives. She wants to get closer to the earth. She wants what’s human.