A year ago last weekend, I drove over ten hours round-trip to drive around Rocky Mountain National Park for a day with my cousins. We canned apple butter the day before, and watched The Office while we ate Ben & Jerry’s. The next day, we walked around Estes Park art galleries, drove Trail Ridge Road, and stopped in visitor center gift shops. I was too injured to hike, and we didn’t really have time, anyway. There are so many trails in Colorado still on my list, because I’d saved them for peak aspen season and then hurt my foot. It’s really just an excuse to go back.
Fall in the mountains meant golden aspens on mountain drives, AM radio, and sipping pumpkin ale at front yard day fires. It was elk bugles and my horse calling back to them on frosty mornings. The season was dominated by listening to Josh Ritter’s latest albums while navigating four-wheel-drive roads, and how the golden hour light in wide-open country made me feel like I was on a road trip in the 70s.
Now it’s cracking twigs in the woods, unable to see what’s around each bend in the sheltered nest of timber. It’s the brown lab in blaze orange I wished was with me on every mountain trail. The gilded aspens of those trails in years past gave way to red maples and fiery fallen leaves dotted with moisture from the rain we needed all summer. It finally showed up in September, and it’s been keeping things green for a few more weeks, until I can share the fall colors with the ones I love. Rainy evenings with a candle lit and the lights low. The scent of moisture and decay that brings closure and promise. Somehow, fall this year is everything I forewent by my own choices before, come to fruition.
Tonight, I walked down the road just before golden hour, only a few hours left before the sun sinks and we drop into night as long as day. The upper reaches of tree branches were illuminated. Each leaf is dipped in gold, like a decorative glass of champagne. Sunlight peeked through the thicket of trunks. “I live here,” I thought, and I smiled. Since I moved here, I have felt such an outpouring of peace and contentment, the likes of which I thought to be unattainable five years ago. It had crossed my mind, but I didn’t realize that it was a possibility of choice and lifestyle. I worked so hard, and still do, and so many others had to work so hard before me, just for me to get here.
I’ve heard it said that life gets easier with effort. It’s one of those facts of life that doesn’t necessarily make sense, but after the time I’ve spent on this earth, I’ve come to realize that not much does make sense and even less is handed to you. You can’t sit around and wait for life to fall into place according to your highest hopes. You have to get up and put the time in and hustle. Do things. As soon as you act, things fall into place. As soon as you move, the universe shifts.
Such universal shifts occur throughout the year. Solstices are celebrated: the longest day, the longest night. In my childhood, I considered them to be the high point and low point of the year, the high point being summer and the low, winter. I’ve since come to appreciate them both.
The less-appreciated universal shifts are the equinoxes. They change dates from year to year, and people seem to go more off the feel of the weather than the season dictated by the sun’s position in relation to earth. As soon as a change of weather takes place, suddenly it’s a new season. It has to be. Fall doesn’t end until the winter solstice at the end of December, and it’s just not practical to act like that’s still technically fall. We adapt and shift with the universe, too.
But there’s no need to rush the seasons, either. We need them all.
Equilux is a term that refers to the few days on either side of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, when the days and nights are the exact same length. Its usage when applied to the equinox is rare, but the technical meaning of the word is “of equal illumination”. Days when we witness equal amounts of light and darkness. Equilux is balance.
No matter where you are, some things are the same. Folks out glassing across harvest fields at dusk. Roadside scrub brush that turns red, burgundy, maroon, purple on its way to being buried by snow. Blaze orange ball caps on dusty truck dashboards. At once, celebrating the work of summer, preparing for winter, and enjoying the increasing briefness of cool air and warm sunshine with every day. I’d imagine it’s that way in every rural area in this country.
The autumnal equinox is upon us. Now, we enter the days of balance. Truly, there is balance all around us at all times. It happens at every intersection of everything we do. Autumn is the intersection of summer celebration and winter preparedness, warmth and cool, growth and harvest, where life folds into itself. Home is the intersection of place and experience, where love grows. And contentment is the intersection of effort and gratitude, where life is truly felt.
Feels Like Lightning – Josh Ritter
Myrna Loy – Josh Ritter
Little Neon Limelight (album) – Houndmouth