Well, even if the OED defines them as such, neither the September equinox nor the just-past March variety actually counts an exactly symmetrical twelve hours of daylight and darkness. Often, the fussy details of things in astronomy (like whether an equinox is labelled as spring, or just March) are related to an observers location on Earth. This time, though, it mainly matters that this was only the spring equinox if you live north of the equator, so identifying it by its month is less hemisphere-centric. Which is absolutely a word.

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Happy September equinox, everyone.

One of the cool things about this day is that it has a fairly high profile on the common, demi-Gregorian calendar, the equinoxes perhaps figuring even larger than solstices in my casual surveys. Another one is that it is only the autumnal equinox if you live north of the equator: otherwise, it is the vernal kind.

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Both the elliptical title of this post and the long distance from its antecedent have the same toothmarks: I’ve been reading so much, I haven’t wanted to write anything. I’ve enjoyed being both the style and the substance of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, and read it interspersed with revisiting some Terry Pratchett and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Also slowly, slowly working my way through Borges Ficciones, wherein the most pertinent quote might be from The Library of Babel: “You, reader, are you sure you understand my language?”

I’m not sure I do, but it is wonderfully toilsome to try.

At any rate, the weather here has been early summer over the weekend–sunny and 70 degrees. The Sun is now transiting the meridian pretty high in the sky, and the skylights in our house are providing lots of light. As the Moon waxes these days, it picks up where the Sun leaves off, and it, too, illuminates our kitchen from above. We planted some roses in the backyard yesterday, and right now a delicate golden kinglet seems to be taking advantage of the legions of buds on the red maple right outside the kitchen window, making a hurried morning meal. For my own hurried morning meal, I cracked open a jar of apple butter received from one of Elle’s comrades at the university. I’m trying to use more glass jars so I can use fewer disposable containers; I’m also trying to buy as much food as possible in reusable containers.

Coffee has been a problem there, although since I buy bulk beans, I usually just end up with the strangely useless paper bags provided at the store. I also usually don’t buy expensive coffee, on the argument that if Kona estate peaberry isn’t laying around, I won’t know the difference. All of this is by way of saying that I was highly amused that Dunkin’ Donuts is marketing their coffee in grocery stores here, where I don’t think there’s an actual Dunkin’ Donuts storefront for a thousand miles: I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to that Krispy Kreme, which we at least have in Portland. I am amused to no end that I stepped outside habit to buy a name brand product which is then not the product that gives the name. But it is pretty good coffee.

Front-page editors of various newspapers I saw yesterday seem to feel bound to report on the North Korean missle launch, and perhaps in honor of tradition to do it in the same way such things were reported during the cold war. Although I haven’t seen anybody labelled ‘Reds,’ yet. Perhaps they are referring to the limited historical and belligerent importance when they use smaller type for that headline than for budget stuff. Or perhaps they have taken notice, as Jeffrey Lewis has, that for as much as North Korea wants to impress the world by being a scary nuclear power, they are actually 0 for 3 with these kinds of things.

Sure, they did prove to their own citizens that they are still defiant, but that doesn’t seem too important right now. The NORK government is also still trying to tell everybody that they got a satellite into orbit, but people seem to be paying more attention to the statement by Obama, encouraging renewed consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

That’s an unintended success.

Well, if I can say something without jinxing it, it appears as though our two weeks of winter may be over. Not but what it won’t be grey and rainy for a while yet, but the incipient buds are swelling more greenly on their socially networked branches. The leaves cluttering the sidewalks are from the sweetgums, and most of them only just fell within the last month. We’ve had some sunny warmth here and there, and while I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, the Steller’s Jays have been joined by squads of robins.

But the thing that really brought a sense of seasonal change for me was at the end of the cold snap we had in December. Hardly seems fair of me to use that term, when Fairbanks has been pretty chilly by comparison, but people take notice when we get a weeks worth of heavy frosts in Corvallis. At any rate, on about 29 December, I woke to find cirrus clouds covering most of the sky, and causing a strong, beautiful 22 1/2 degree halo around the Sun. I’ve long since given up any pretensions to being able to photograph such phenomena, so I contented myself with staring upward for several blocks on the way to work.

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The camellias are blooming, and have been for a week or two. There was still a light frost this morning, though, and that helped me hang on to Saturn high up near Leo’s paws and Mars seeming to recede into the winter hexagon, glimpsed on my way home last night. Now that I look around a little more, the red maple close up against the kitchen porch is also budding strenuously, preparing to leaf out.

I haven’t been paying attention to climatological data, and there are unfortunately few lilacs nearby, but it still brings to mind Adolphe Quetelet’s prescription for lilacs; I think his test bed, so to speak, was in Paris, but I could be wrong. In any case, when the sum of the squares of the mean daily temperatures since the last frost of the winter exceed 4,274, look for the clustered clouds of little purple flowers.

Given that Quetelet was writing in 19th century Belgium, I think we can assume that he was talking about mean temps in Celsius. Odd to think of one of the effects of the French Revolution being the metric system, but there you go. This kind of social context and personal effects are precisely why I liked David Salsburg’s The Lady Tasting Tea, from whence I learned the Quetelet story. In general the book was excellent, but now that I reflect, I think I may have dropped out about half way through when the statistics got too deep for me. I’ll have to pick it up again.

The turning of the year

12 January 2008

(written on the morning of 31 Dec 07)

The frost is thick on the ground this morning, and it seems to have seeped into the air to create a thick fog. Intellectually I know the air isn’t frozen, though I have seen it so at other times, in other places. For now, though, the pack of Steller’s Jays hopping outside reminds me that there is life out there, after all.

Though unmarked by nearly everyone who will shout about tonight (New Year’s Eve), the real turning point seems to me to have happened on 22 Dec, the winter solstice. Though it is neither the earliest sunset of the year nor the latest sunrise of the year, it is the shortest day, with eight hours and about fifty minutes of daylight. [Writing now several days later, we are up to almost nine hours of daylight! yay.]

This 8:50, by the way, compares to 10:57 in Hilo and 3:43 at UAF on the same day. Also, the Sun made its lowest arc across the sky during the day, at the farthest south point in the sky. Which wasn’t quite low enough to beam through our living room windows, down the hallway, and into the kitchen. For which I guess I should be thankful–it isn’t Fairbanks.

I am still trying to catch the pace of seasonal change in the mid-latitudes; six years in the tropics preceded by six years in the polar region have dulled my sense of it. Clearly I need to pay more attention. And celebrate tonight, too.

This year, the equinox was on Sunday 23 September. Unfortunately, I started this post before time, but didn’t finish it until today. The Sun crossed the celestial equator at 0951 Universal Time that day, and I almost blew a fuse trying to figure out what time that was here. I only ever used rote memorization to keep in mind that Hawai`i is UT-10, so I think I got it right that we are UT-8 here. Whatever, anyway.

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