Last night at 9:30 p.m. in Los Angeles and whatever time it was where you are, something marvelous happened, although you probably didn’t notice. The Earth’s north and south poles pointed straight up and down relative to the Sun, putting our star directly over the equator.

This is called an equinox, which happens twice a year. In March, it marks the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere and fall in the Southern hemisphere, and vice versa in September. It’s the one day of the year with equal day and night.

In modern times, you may only know the season changed because you read about it online — but in ancient times, when we didn’t have clocks and calendars and the world was lit only by fire, this was a very important milestone…

Have you ever noticed that a lot of cultural events seem to cluster around the equinoxes and their counterparts, the solstices, in June and December? Just looking at the west, we have Easter near the end of March, weddings in June as summer begins, school years start with the fall and Christmas happens almost on the winter solstice.

These are all arbitrary dates, but they remind us of the importance of something we discovered long before we had technology. The beginnings of all human science came from our observation of natural phenomena. We learned directly from Nature herself.

Humans love to look for patterns — it’s what helped us to become good hunters early on, because it allowed us to spot prey or predators. But we also noticed patterns in other things, like the stars. And since we were already watching the Moon’s phases, we started to watch the stars, and we created this thing called the zodiac, which simply marked the patterns of stars as they changed over the course of a year.

We began to notice that the Sun was a bit more constant than the Moon in the long run, so that the Sun would tend to rise at the same time in the same spot year after year, while the Moon would wander ahead or behind. We also noticed that changes in weather seemed to follow the Sun, and we began to make predictions — when those particular stars are in the west before sunrise, we’re probably going to see floods; when those stars are in the east before sunset, it’s going to get cold, and so on.

Keep in mind that this all happened when we didn’t have technology. We had people who made notes and kept records, and did some simple math, and kept at it over generations. But from these simple observations, we learned how to make predictions and to understand the regular cycles. We may not have understood at the time that it was because we were on a small muddy rock orbited by a slightly drier rock and both orbiting a ball of fire — but we learned how to read the movements like a clock, and then like a calendar.

Now it’s really not necessary to go study astronomy or memorize the positions of the planets over the course of a year, but it is a good idea to take a step back and get in touch with Nature again to be reminded of how much she can teach us. Just go somewhere that you and your dog can be alone away from civilization for a while and take a walk — a park, a hiking trail, wherever.

Pay attention to what you can see and smell and feel and hear, and turn your brain off. Pay attention to your dog, and how she engages with the world. Take a moment to stop being a human and just be an animal. Get in touch with Nature. Not only will you have a great time with your dog, but you’ll appreciate the miracle of humanity even more once you come back to the “real” world.

Stay calm, and have a happy equinox!

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