Autumn Equinox: Time to take stock of the season

I’ve been collecting crow feathers. Or rather, my dog has been collecting them for me, nosing at their unfamiliar scent in the grass.

A murder of crows has descended on our neighbourhood, raucous and busy. They were drawn to our house by the tree fruit – they pecked at it and left holes behind that wasps colonized, burying themselves deep in the fruit and eating from the inside out, leaving behind a skin with nothing inside. The crows took sections of fruit up to the top of the bedrock hill in our yard, drawing more wasps to the sweet tidbits. My husband saw a crow stagger up the driveway with a pear in its beak, playing keep-away with other crows as it protected its prize.

Last week I wrote about our apple harvest which, along with our pear harvest, was well-timed to almost coincide with the autumn equinox, which falls on this Saturday, September 23. I always associate equinox with the first frost, though we don’t often get autumn frosts here on the Coast. That memory lingers from when I lived on the Prairie, when late summer frosts would have us racing to save the tomatoes, squashes, and other produce from freezing. That same frost put sweetness into the apples and other tree fruits, concentrating the sugars to create a sweet treat. Also for parsnips – frost brought out their unique flavour.

Though we don’t get frost, the nights are getting cooler. While the days are still in the mid-20s, we’re getting close to single digits at night, for the first time in months. It’s been a long, hot, dry summer, and I’m looking forward to the cooler temperatures and hopefully some rain this autumn to turn around our level 4 drought conditions.

The equinox isn’t a switch that pushes us immediately from summer to autumn. It marks the moment when the Sun crosses the Earth’s equator, when it rises exactly in the east and sets directly in the west. It is a day to celebrate the end of one season and the beginning of another, the gradual slide from late summer into the shorter days of autumn, as we head towards the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice (December 21). It’s a day to acknowledge autumn as a welcome visitor to our land. When the full moon appears a week later, on September 29, it’s called the harvest moon because of its proximity to the harvest connotations of the equinox.

In the last week or so, autumn has begun to show its face. The maple leaves have turned fiery orange, stressed from the summer drought. The grapevines look a bit droopy, as we stopped watering them after we harvested all the grapes. People post pictures online from the Rockies and northern BC, where the colours are changing fast. Low growing bearberry turns brilliant red. Larches put on their yellow coats.  

In the last few years my husband and I have intentionally celebrated the slow turning of time, to welcome each new season as we say goodbye to the previous one. We make a special dinner: shepherd’s pie for autumn equinox and tourtière for winter solstice, but we haven’t settled on a specific dinner for the spring equinox and summer solstice (any suggestions welcome!). We raise a glass to the changing seasons and take stock of where we’re at in this place and time. It’s a way to stay connected to the cycles of the natural world, so easy to miss in the midst of our fast-paced, screen-driven life.

Today the crows are gone because the fruit is gone. Evidence of their passing lingers in the feathers they leave behind, the ones I’ve been collecting. Now I’ll switch to collecting leaves: yellow and orange and red, marking the change of season as autumn arrives.

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