Today was the spring equinox. In a nod to traditional practice, I got up before dawn and watched the sky change. Admittedly I watched it change from kindof a dark grey to kindof a not-quite-so-dark-grey because we had a big storm front passing over, but the thought was there.
Spring equinox, like autumn equinox, is when the days and nights are of equal length. But not just that, because that’s a bit tricky to measure. It’s when the Earth’s tilt is exactly aligned with the direction it’s moving, so that the Sun is shining equally on both hemispheres. I remember descriptions of it being when the Earth’s not tilted, but that’s not true at all. The axis is always tilted at 23.5 degrees or whatever it is, our planet doesn’t swing back and forth or anything like that. It’s just that at exactly two points in the orbit, neither Pole is closer to the Sun than the other. That means that right across the globe, days and nights are almost precisely 12 hours each. The day and night will still in some places be colder or warmer than others, due to the angle at which the light hits the surface of our globe, but the day length will be the same. It’s a time of balance, but a fast moving one – this is the time of year when the day length changes quickest. Like at the bottom of a swing’s arc, you might be neither forward nor back but you’re going the fastest that you can go.
Spring equinox means we’re moving into the half of the Earth’s orbit where the South Pole will always be closer than the North, so we get longer days than nights and we get more heat and light landing on each square metre around the country than the Northern Hemisphere equivalents. It doesn’t mean things are instantly going to be hotter – it takes a lot of heat and a long time for the planet to warm up, which is why the worst of summer is always *after* the summer solstice. But it does get instantly brighter, which is why my 4-year-old’s kindy teacher told me politely to make sure I send a sun hat along for playtimes. I had put one in the schoolbag, but it had been switched out again by said 4-year-old who wanted a winter beanie instead.
Traditionally, you’d think about hopes and aspirations at the spring equinox. It’s a time of freshening, of coming alive. If you live somewhere with slightly more traditional English seasons, anyway. Here in Perth it’s a little warm for that. Most of our plants sprang into action sometime in the last two months, and now is the time when many are starting to dry off and go to seed. Across the drylands the everlastings are dying their glorious battleground deaths, shaking their brightly coloured bracts defiantly in the face of certain doom. The grain crops are still green – but they’re winter crops so they’re setting seeds now, harvest is closer than you’d think. In my gardens it’s the time when I really get into the work of protecting the soil. We are still getting rain, but secondspring is only one to three weeks away. The rains will become sparser and less effective, the ground will have longer to dry out between and the drying air will suck up more moisture each time. Spring equinox is a time of life for me – but it’s life like you’ve just retired, got all your super and are ready to party on for as long as you’ve got. As much fun as you’re having, you never quite escape knowing that there’s a long sleep coming.
This year, to mark the equinox, I planted a tree. The timing’s a bit coincidental, it’s taken me over a year to source this tree and we finally got it on Saturday. But I celebrated by planting it anyhow. It’s a Judas tree or the Middle Eastern Redbud, a Cercis siliquastrum. It’s the last of the trees planned for my drylands food forest, a productive secondary tree partially sheltered by the central primary tree and others about it. I’ll write more about it tomorrow.