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The Autumnal Equinox

                                           Last rose petals linger....                                                               ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Autumnal Equinox

                                           Last rose petals linger....                                                                 dee’15
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 4:22 AM EST
         I have been keeping an eagle eye on the calendar, waiting for the Autumnal Equinox.  Due to some inexplicable gap in my education, I was in college when I learned what the word equinox meant.  A new restaurant opened in the Amherst, MA area around 1976 and it was called the Equinox.  I queried the owner about the unusual name and he explained that there are two Equinoxes annually.  They occur around the 21st  to 23rd  of March and September. On these days, day and night are equally twelve hours long.  Not to be overlooked are the solstices; they occur two times a year, also.  It is at these two points that the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator.  The summer solstice occurs around June 21st, bringing with it the shortest day of the year and the winter solstice occurs around December 22nd and is the shortest day of the year. I am embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until that moment that I finally understood how the four seasons were tied to events both celestial and astronomical. 
     For me, each season brings with it certain rituals of celebration and welcoming. There are equally important seasonal markers in nature that denote the passing of time and the letting go of the past.

           The Winter Solstice is part of the Festival of Lights.  As days draw shorter and shorter, we, in the Northern Hemisphere, arrive at December 21 or so and we find ourselves on the shortest day of the year.  My favorite words of the season are “Light Cometh.” I know that, if I can survive a day with about 9 hours of light and 15 hours of darkness, the next day will be slightly longer and the night – and the darkness --  will start to shrink.
The solace that comes from that knowledge is immeasurable. This year, the winter solstice comes on December 22nd.  Keep a look out for the sun on that day. It will rise at 7:06a.m. and set at 4:16p.m.. Be sure to enjoy the nine hours and sixteen minutes to full advantage….Make sure you do something that brings you joy.
The ground stirs with new wonder.
          The Vernal Equinox usually occurs around March 21st and it heralds spring. For me, the trip of the Spotted salamanders across Henry St. in Amherst, MA is one of the hallmarks of spring. The town set aside a sizeable budget to create tunnels for these hardy salamanders to make it across the road without injury.  These small creatures were motivated by the all-important business of mating in vernal pools. After the first rain of spring, when the temperature stays above 40 degrees, the salamanders are on the move. So, too, are the do-good members of the Amherst bucket brigade that herds the salamanders into said tunnels with their buckets. Other signs of spring are the taps on the maple trees, the sight of robins against melting snow, the scent of decaying leaves, the fresh new growth on the tips of the trees and the very first sound of the peepers. My entire family knows the thrill I take in seeing the first snowdrops in March, followed by crocuses in April. A family tradition we have practiced on the eve of the Vernal Equinox has been to balance an egg on end. Over time, my son demonstrated that this feat of daring do and great prestidigitation may be accomplished with any willing egg on pretty much any day of the year.  And still, we wait for March 21st.
                                                             One among many -- summer days in blue.                                                         dee ’15
               The Summer Solstice
is all about excesses of light. Unless June 21 is cloudy, the day bleeds into night close to my bedtime. When the moon is full, it never gets fully dark on the ocean. I have watched the play of the moonlight on the water bring such brilliance that I can see remarkably well -- even at 2am.  There is usually a breeze that kicks up when the sun has set and the moon is rising. Unless there is a storm, the sea builds to a choppiness that I feel privileged to have seen.  It’s like a pot on simmer, then, the flame is turned off and the sea takes on a rare quality of near stillness…just the echo of a susurration. On the longest day of the year, I finally surrender to the weight of sleep.  The whomp, whomp, whomp of the ceiling fan soothes me down. Abruptly, I am called back to wakefulness by the early caw, caw, caw of the crows and the unyielding fingers of light that seep through every crack and seam of my windows.
Coreopsis Leavenworthii brightens fall days  dee’15

                We have arrived back at the Autumnal Equinox. My favorite season is the fall; perhaps I am biased because I am a Virgo, a September baby. Many people associate autumn with loss and endings. For me, the first 21 years of my life served as a lifetime rule; autumn brings happiness. I loved school and it started in September. Fall was the beginning of the good stuff. Being with friends, learning new things, beginning anew. Even though it has been forty years since I put on a blue uniform over a white blouse and headed to school, my pulse races a bit when I see the first tree aflame in yellow. Just today, I saw an acorn when I was walking through a wooded area. I thought how I hardly ever see them on the Island. Then I came home. OUT of nowhere, acorns. Everywhere.They littered my driveway. I swept them up – more than assured that they will return tomorrow. On the Vineyard, autumn nights are cool and the mornings, fresh.  The homebody in me wants to get ready for the winter that is bound to bear down on us. I have a punch list: Post the stakes for the snowplow (so that my garden isn’t decimated). Put away the awning. Put the lawn furniture under cover. Pack up, rack up, clean up.  Get ready for the assault of winter.  September 23 is the date of the Autumnal equinox this year and I am getting ready. I have piles of summer clothes to go into storage and winter clothes to take out. I am airing my blankets and polishing my boots.

                        Goodbye to summer clothes               dee ‘15

             If nothing else, I feel ready to batten down the hatches and prepare for a rough ride.  The winds will blow, the days will grow colder and shorter and I intend to be warm and cozy in my new abode. By Halloween, it is dark by 5:30p.m. It is cold enough to wear a down vest over a fleece in the morning. Noses run and faces grow ruddy from the fresh air. It’s a time of magic and wonder. I persist in the desire to use my new fire pit. I propose a bonfire to celebrate *Guy Fawkes Day in November!  Thanksgiving follows shortly thereafter. Together, we all move forward, while individually, we turn inward, focusing on what is directly in front of us. The smells of hot woodstoves and pine sap in the autumn bring with them memories so deeply imbedded that I can’t assign anything to them except the feeling of being home, being safe, being loved.

*www.timeanddate.com ›
Guy Fawkes Night is annually held on November 5. It is sometimes known as Bonfire Night and marks the anniversary of the discovery of a plot organized by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605. Many people light bonfires and set off fireworks.” Quoted directly from timeanddate.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jump from Second Bridge

Young jumpers leap from Second Bridge       dee
           There has been a lot of water flowing under the bridge since I last wrote regular postings to my blog.  Before I return to the practice of writing my blog, I feel as if I must visualize a bridge under which both the detritus and delights of my life have been flowing. In my mind’s eye, only one bridge will do. It is the bridge called Second Bridge or more colloquially, the Jaws Bridge.  It was made famous during the filming of Jaws.  Roll some Jaws footage and you, too, can see the Edgartown bridge under which I imagine the waters of my life flowing out to sea. This bridge connects two fingers of land by spanning a narrow channel of water. The road over the bridge consists of a fifty-foot wide strip of land called Beach Road; it connects about six miles between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Beach Road, itself, divides two bodies of water. One side is graced by a usually gentle beach named the Joseph Sylvia State Beach.  It is the home of protected plovers and thoughtful beachgoers shielded by colorful umbrellas. Only when tropical storms and hurricanes strike do we see its tumultuous side.  Most Island vacationers and day-trippers practice the rules of Beach Etiquette (that topic – The Twelve Rules of Beach Etiquette must be addressed in another posting.).  State Beach looks out over the Nantucket Sound.  Beach Road can be summoned wherever you are by picturing twenty feet of pavement designed for cars, trucks and mopeds, 9 feet of parallel parking on the Sound side of Beach Road, and finally, designated by a low rail of tree trunks -- four feet of Macadam designated a bike pate for bicyclists and joggers, walkers and roller-bladers alike.  This description fails to include mention of the summer atrocity of bad drivers, thoughtless – and often precarious --  moped drivers, entitled bicyclists and lost (or worse, rude) tourists with whom safe drivers are expected to share the road.  Second Bridge divides the Nantucket Sound from Sengekontacket Pond. Sengeknotacket is a large, calm, brackish body of water that attracts scallopers, fishermen and some boatsmen.  Rimming Sengekontacket is a quieter, less frequented beach, where the high tide mark is barely disturbed by human footprints. Water ebbs and flows under Second Bridge between Nantucket Sound and Sengekontacket Pond at the bidding of the tides and the moon.  Depending on the nautical rhythm, the channel depth below Second Bridge is about 12 -15 feet.  That leaves plenty of safety for the daring adventurers who wish to take the plunge. There is a siren call that lures jumpers to Second Bridge.  A delicious edge between thrill and reason is harnessed in the instant just before one springs off the rail into nothing but air. Taking the leap has little to do with edge, but everything to do with attitude: I have seen a three-year old in a life jacket jump off the bridge, a seventy-year old man-- emaciated and frail -- jump, and a twenty-nine-year old woman from Texas -- terrified of the sharks she imagined might swarm below -- take the plunge…..   
No disputing that the signage exists...    dee
At the height of summer season, the bridge swarms with jumpers.  No one takes notice of the posted signs saying KEEP OFF BRIDGE RAIL.  This is a relatively new bridge. The old bridge Second Bridge required jumpers to jump more than two feet over a walkway in order to clear the safety rail. The new design makes it significantly easier to leap unimpeded. For all those who bring themselves to stand on the narrow, wooden railing, their intention is clear. There is a moment in all of this that fascinates me.  It is that moment of intention.  That precise razor’s edge between thought and action in which the jumper is in position, ready to surrender to gravity’s pull, but hasn’t unfurled his or her body to the snap of free fall.   There is just enough time before hitting the hard surface of the cold water to register it is really going to happen. With twelve feet of water protecting them from hitting the channel’s bottom, jumpers have plenty of room to scissor kick their way back to the surface for that gasp of air their bodies crave. The swim back to shore is exhilarating and leaves most of these intrepid jumpers eager to return for more.  I can just about guarantee that the majority of  jumpers who stand on the rail, summoning courage, with eyes open, sights on the Nantucket Sound, are not doing  calculations. What is the percentage of salinity of the water? Will it be brackish? What is the parabolic velocity of the water flow?  They are not dwelling on these or any number of other arcane or irrelevant factors.  The questions jumpers ask as themselves as the steel-blue water water flows beneath them is, “Is it deep enough? Is the water cold? Can I swim to shore? Is anyone watching me? Is the right person watching me? Will my bathing suit stay on? Am I crazy?” At the end of the day, the most important question on the bridge for any jumper is this: “Can I do this?”
                              A life-guard’s instincts caught on film-                  dee
          Today, I saw a first. I watched a young man walk toward the center of the bridge and put one foot on the guardrail. I was drawn to his hair and how it lay tight to his head in carefully coiffed cornrows. My eyes shifted to a girl in a pink bathing suit who, three times, climbed up on the rail then talked herself out of jumping.  In fact, I was looking through my camera lens at this petrified young woman when the young man jumped…I did not catch on film that he moved without pause, nor hesitation.  Suddenly, someone yelled, “HE CAN’T SWIM.”  My first impulse, as a former lifeguard, was to dive in.  But I had to measure reality with the chances I had at saving him and realized that wasn’t sensible. It was unlikely that my body would weather the dive and even less likely that I could rescue someone his size after such a dive.  I watched as one of the swimmers nearest him, threw the young man’s clinging arm off of his saying, “Don’t hold on to me.” It took me longer than I thought process all that was playing out before my eyes.   Grasping the urgency, I yelled --  along with several onlookers -- to the several swimmers below, “He needs help.” Bystanders along the shore threw floats toward the center of the channel, but they were not within range to reach the scene. Two men flanked the floundering jumper. It wasn’t clear if the one who demanded to be unhanded did so because it is one of the first tenets of lifesaving, or because of his own instincts for survival.  I felt encouraged when a middle-aged man dove straight off the bridge, keeping his eye leveled on the jumper, right until he broke the water.  This man had training.  The jumper’s arm flailed overhead, his face was turned skyward. When the lifesaving man came up from a shallow dive, his head pivoted, expecting to find the jumper. Simultaneously, the two nearby men seemed to reassess the truly life-threatening nature of the situation and in unspoken solidarity, put aside their own fears. With a few strong over-hand crawl strokes, they pulled toward where the jumper had been silently struggling.  Inexplicably, before the diver surfaced and the two men responded to their higher instincts to work cooperatively, horror struck.  Inexplicably, in a five second window, right before my eyes, the jumper simply…………………………. disappeared. A few large air bubbles, and he was gone. There was no hole in the water where he had been; the water simply swallowed him.  The rapidness of his disappearance was stunning. He was there. Then,                                           he wasn’t. The bridge diver took a deep breath then upended sinking below the depths, his feet the last to disappear like a mermaid’s tale. His determination to search the opaque and murky dark green waters of the waterway was clear. Quickly following suit, the two other men, middle-aged as well, dove under. It was evident  that all three were invested, with no holds barred, in saving a life. I counted one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand, four, one thousand, five, one thousand. We onlookers couldn’t see beneath the surface.  Beyond a slight chop kicked up by the wind, the water was calm. Anxious faces lined the bridge. All activity ceased.  In the long, anxious seconds before the three wanna-be, middle-aged heroes surfaced, there was a palpable fear that rode on the wind.  It was abruptly dispelled when the head of a dark-skinned man with intricate rows of cornrows rose well above the surface of the water. The young jumper rose higher and higher until he was nearly waist-high out of the water. I saw the same maneuver in a water ballet once. His saviors remained invisible and submerged, working to keep him well clear of the the water.  Eventually, the first responders came up for hungry gasps of air.  They grabbed a float that had drifted nearby and the young man clutched it, his eyes closed.  Knowing they had succeeded in hauling this foolhardy Second Bridge Jumper from the clutches of the sea, I turned away.  For the first time, the thought surfaced that the corn-row haired young man may have had a motive darker than seeking a thrill when he jumped off of Second Bridge. The very thought caused tears to prickle my eyes, but I fought them back. I wondered to which of the Gods (who man has ascribed so many names) I should give thanks for the bright outcome. If we are all riding on a carousel of life, then, in my simplistic way of thinking, the corn-rowed man had just won the gold ring on a carousel with horses names Zeus and Hades, Demeter and Hestia, Hera and Poseidon.  I think it must have been Poseidon who felt most cheated.

         It has been over thirty years since I have stood, toes curled on the rail of Second Bridge. It is still easy to summon the sensation of my muscles clenched against the wobbling –made more pronounced by the wind’s buffeting – as I prepared to jump.  These days, I often find myself on that razor’s edge of intention, watching the water flow far beneath me. Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge; in my imagination, attachments, memories, and uncharted dreams roil the waters under Second Bridge.  As the tide races out of Sengekontacket into the Sound, it comes to me 
that so much of what was once so important is nothing more than dross.  I keep my eye fixed on those receding memories, squinting to improve my focus. But, like the young man with corn-rowed hair, from my vantage point on Second Bridge, they disappear beneath the water’s surface with not a trace. 
                            Jumpers resume.                     dee