Autumn wisdom and the season of growth

Fall began for us on Monday. In our not too far past human history, holidays were marked more by events of sun and moon as they affected our planet Earth. It was important for farmers to know the timing and characteristics of the growing season. It still is, however, in days of no refrigeration, preservatives, lights, or fast communication and transportation, it was a matter of life and death.

The first day of autumn for us occurs on the autumnal equinox, one of two days during the year that neither the North nor South Pole is angled toward the sun, resulting in a day and night that are almost exactly equal. It’s the autumnal equinox for those in the Northern Hemisphere, and the spring equinox for those below the equator.

As fall progresses, the axis of the Earth points more and more to the South Pole, resulting in more darkness than light until the winter solstice, the day of shortest daylight. At that point, the light begins to increase daily until the spring equinox, when both the light and dark hours are equal again. As spring progresses the axis of the Earth points more and more to the North Pole, reaching maximum light on the first day of summer, the summer solstice. It’s reversed for those in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s helpful to know that things aren’t totally random, and yes, it will be on you SATs.

The whole Earth experiences these changes in light and dark time, and built “time pieces” to help mark it. Stonehenge’s famous monoliths in a circular shape, in southern England are used to mark the equinoxes and the solstices.

“At the center of Cichén Itzá, once a major Mayan metropolis, a four-sided stone pyramid known as El Castillo reaches 79 feet up into the heavens. Thousands of people still gather around El Castillo during the equinox to witness a mesmerizing trick of light and shadow. As the sun sets, a series of triangular shadows align in such a way that a diamond-backed snake appears to slither down the stairway of the pyramid.”

“…some Aboriginal Australians appear to have also used rock formations to observe Earth’s orbital milestones. An egg-shaped ring of more than 100 basalt boulders appears to mark the equinoxes and solstices.”

An autumnal equinox signified that the growing season’s enemy, frost, would be a visitor soon. While some root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes or parsnips could be left in the ground for a light frost, others had to be harvested and preserved or stored as best they could. Apples and herbs were dried. Cabbage was turned into coleslaw. Pumpkins and squash were kept in the root cellar, so-named because the root veggies would be added soon and kept there. But they didn’t harvest everything to eat. They had to save seeds for the next year’s planting and their future.

Salt, sugar, tea, spices and oils had to be purchased and stocked in case they couldn’t get out for provisions. All the wood for the winter had to be chopped and stacked. Blankets and warm clothing were made or mended. Grain was milled into flour. Pigs were slaughtered and smoked. Chickens were kept for eggs, although egg laying slows down without as much light. Hay was hand cut, dried, and taken in for the livestock, although they could forage as well unless the snow was thick. And much, much more.

In Hawaiian cultural tradition there are two seasons, summer and winter. Winter lasts for consecutive lunar months, approximately from October or November through February or March. It begins with a signal from the stars. “Na Huihui o Makali’i is a cluster of stars the English-speaking world calls the Pleaides or the Seven Sisters. The Makalii is much revered in the Hawaiian tradition as the place from which, according to legend, the first Hawaiian people came to Earth and the star-based calendar of the ancestral Hawaiians has long placed special significance on their ties to the Makali’i.”

Makahiki coincides with Ho’o-ilo, the rainy and growing season, ruled by Lono, the god of agriculture, healing, peace and fertility. All wars ceased, taxes were paid to the chiefs, athletic competitions, contests and festivities celebrated. The people would rest to prepare for their busy upcoming growing and possibly warring seasons.

Makahiki is similar to Thanksgiving, and other harvest celebrations in the world. Prayers of thanks were offered. The winter solstice was included in this time frame, and the calendar New Year. When summer came, Lono returned to Kahiki, which some believe is Tahiti. Ku returned to be in charge of the growing seasons, and was the one sacrificed to for help in wars.

This autumn, may you gather to yourself that which sustains and nourishes you. Look ahead to what you think your needs are and prepare to fulfill those needs. Cultivate seeds for future growth. May there be times of joy, and grateful expression, rest and relaxation. I’d like to close by wishing you “The Traditional Makahiki Blessing: As it has been through time, may this season of Makahiki be a time of new growth and rejuvenation for you physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.”

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email questions or concerns facing youth and families today to aatkinson@haleopio.org

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