We just passed the vernal equinox, that moment of celestial equilibrium when daylight and darkness make an almost perfect pair, the sun crosses the equator and climbs back into the northern hemisphere, and the earth spins on into spring. I don’t know about you, but I say it’s about time!
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that there is a time for this and a time for that, in fact, a time for every purpose under heaven. For my wife and me, it was time to go to Florida for a few days of sun, sand, and blue water. We left Baltimore in a snow squall; we arrived here to find clear skies, cool breezes, and conch fritters. I love conch fritters!
OK, so maybe we were just a tad impatient. But spring on the Eastern Shore can be a fickle friend. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were basking in 70-degree weather. Then winter boomeranged, and we were sent back to January like bad children banished to the principal’s office. So Kat and I bolted south to jumpstart spring, and I won’t lie: I didn’t pack any socks. (More on socks later.)
The vernal equinox has been noteworthy to humans for millennia. It’s a central theme in Greek mythology: Persephone, reluctant bride of Hades, returns from the underworld about this time every year bringing with her the fertility of spring. Not to be outdone by their Greek neighbors, the Persians and Babylonians used the vernal equinox as the beginning of their new years. Makes sense. (However, for those of us who profess allegiance to the Julian calendar, the 16th Century reforms necessitated by the recalculation of the earth’s annual journey around the sun resulted in adding about three-quarters of an hour to the calendar every four years; that must be very confusing for Persephone’s timetable!)
Many religions give a respectful nod in the direction of the vernal equinox. Pagans have always marked it as a cardinal point on their Wheel of the Year. In the Jewish tradition, Passover is celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox while Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after that same event. And there are more profane celebrations, too, like World Storytelling Day and World Astrology Day (both commemorated on March 21) and, closer to home, the annual Burning of the Socks festival enjoyed by boaters in Annapolis. (Now you know why I didn’t pack any socks!)
In addition to making spring a meteorological formality, the vernal equinox also reminds me of the important of balance in our lives. It’s all-too-easy to fall out of balance; the littlest pebble on the road of life—a dysfunctional tv remote, for example (hypothetically speaking, of course)—can knock us out of alignment and put us in the shop for some costly repairs. It would be awfully easy to blame these spur-of-the-moment hiccups on remote celestial events, but I bet that humbler human issues play a more pivotal role. But I digress…
So Turn! Turn! Turn! and remember: there really is a purpose to everything under heaven.
Now go burn all your socks.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”