Autumn Equinox in Houston is different…

Ciao ciao beloveds,

Happy Autumn Equinox, or Mabon, Harvest Home, whatever you like!

I love Autumn Equinox, but it’s different in Houston. Different from how it is in England, I mean. That should be obvious, lots of things are different in Houston, but it’s one of the things that makes me feel very alienated from my community in England – the vibe of my celebration days is so different to theirs now. It makes me wonder a little about spiritual ‘traditions’ and how well they translate across oceans, although I know they do for some people I don’t think it works for me. I wonder if I’m too susceptible to my surroundings, I feel it a bit much, and anyway I do love it when I’m in alignment, it makes everything a bit more magical. I noticed it first here at Imbolg, with all this talk from England about preparing to break through that cold, frozen ground, the first stirrings of new life under the snow…but in February I’m looking at trees starting to bud and a steadily rising temperature already. Could we skip straight to Spring Equinox? Imbolg is confusing, I still haven’t figured out how to feel into it here, but to be honest I never felt very close to it in England either. Every Lammas since I moved to Houston I’ve been holidaying in England. I’m lucky that I spend Yule in New York, where it is considerably more Yule-y than it is in Houston, by English standards at least.

(February 1st, 2017 in Houston.)

But Autumn Equinox really is one of my favourites, so I especially want to feel into it’s lush darkness. I think because I was brought up in the Church of England and at a time when schools still held Harvest Festivals, I have fond memories of the start of autumn going back to childhood. I liked choosing cans of food to give to homeless charities at Harvest, and decorating everything with leaves, and playing conkers. Americans don’t play conkers. I’ve yet to even find a conker in Texas, which has caused me some distress, but it’s part of my learning here, I suppose, learning to live without conkers. Sigh.

At home Autumn Equinox is gold and orange, crisp, and in Cornwall especially I was blessed with blue skies and the cleanest, coldest sea air that turned into storms and mizzle in the blink of an eye. The evenings draw in and the streets get quiet, seagulls sound harsher and louder in the cold air, everything is a little more brittle. The pub’s even more welcoming than it already was, with all but the most eccentric tourists gone, the cider on to mull, the ales getting darker, the waterproof sailing gear piling up by the doors, the heating going on. The windows are steamin’ up, and we’re singing sea shanties, still (always). The fewer people there are in the streets the more I feel camaraderie with those I do pass, especially walking home at night. Other service-workers, or other dedicated drinkers, pushed home by that bitter wind coming off the harbour. Off ‘ome, for a nice cup of tea and a sit down. The local farms start selling my favourite pumpkins (Kabocha, if you’re interested). Wild rosemary from Swanpool Street and stew by the fire, watching storms wash over the coast.

(near Padstow in Cornwall, September 2016) 

As Equinox rolls around in Houston, I’m pleased to report the temperature has finally dropped below 30c (86f), although it’s back up to 34c (94f) by the end of the week. In autumn I’m blessed with blue skies and this golden light that southern Texas seems to be bathed in year round, making everything syrupy and honeyed. Today, though, the light is dark yellow-grey, all rumbling thunder and deluges of heavy rain – the arse end of hurricane season. Autumn Equinox in Houston is less predictable, and more violent, than in southern England. This time last year folk were still under water from hurricane Harvey. (This year some folk are still reeling from Harvey…) It’s sticky and humid, and with the storms it’s close, close, close; I can’t decide if Houston is a lovely warm bath or an almost-lovely suffocating blanket. It depends on how much I’m planning on walking about.

A lot of my usual autumn comforts are a little forced here – I switched from iced coffee and margaritas to hot horchata and spiced mocha this week, even though it’s still too hot for that hot horchata I just so want comforting wintertime things again. I don’t like lattes but I do like this ‘pumpkin spice’ coffee thing. I have no idea what makes it ‘pumpkin spice,’ but it’s nicer than the American obsession with straight up cinnamon, and I can get it fresh at HEB. I put on some woolen thing the other day, and was very pleased when I arrived at an air conditioned building so I could enjoy wearing it. Occasionally I turn the A/C so far down in my apartment I can actually enjoy my duvet and cup of tea.

(My Autumn altar this year.)

It also turns out that Autumn Equinox sits within Houston’s second growing season. I had no idea that anywhere gets two growing seasons, but here we have one from sort of late January until late June, and another late August until mid-December.

It’s amazing, having watched my wormwood battle the heat and my tomatoes languish, to see them jump up again, putting out new growth over the last few weeks. My lime tree even has what looks like its first real-life lime! The seeds that our water oak dropped a few months ago have grown into bright green baby plants. My hop has doubled in size. So where I’ve watched a slow decline into English wintertime in previous years, now I see luminous, lush green foliage, an explosion of post-scorching-summer life, alongside all the beautiful crunchy dropped leaves. I loved stomping around in those leaves, until my partner told me about the frogs hiding in them. I’m scared of squashing them, so now I only tentatively stomp, and I try to talk very loudly so they’ve some warning. Despite all the new plant growth my neighbourhood is chocked full of American sycamore, which drops it’s leaves rather early, so I get lush green and crunchy brown at the same time. There’s also lots of the aforementioned water oak, which is ‘tardily deciduous’, so it doesn’t drop it’s leaves until midwinter, willow oak, native post oak, and understandably sub-tropical foliage like Mexican fan palm, so the landscape is never entirely without lush and green, whatever time of year. We had snow last winter, most unusual. I watched the palm trees crumple after the freeze, then spring back up like nothing happened when it warmed back up. Incredible.

(A bit of my little garden this week.)

So, thinking about ‘balance’ during this Equinox moment of equal (ish) day and night, before the dark half of the year really takes precedence; I’ve been working an awful lot lately, without ever really, you know, going outside much. Worse, it’s all slow, dry slogging on manuscripts and research and business plans. Not very glamorous, and very hard work. But I’m enjoying the lessons gleaned from doing things I don’t want to do, and from surrendering to the boring or hard parts of the process. Being a grown-up, yadda yadda yadda…

And because life knows I’m stubborn and I won’t take subtle hints, it threw me another teacher of the same lesson at the same time: a couple of stray familiars. A house near us was getting demolished while a very young litter of Siamese kittens were still underneath it. These were rescued, and now two of them live with me. Two needy, noisy, smelly and perfectly formed little individuals, bringing me easily as much frustration as joy. Their names are Blue Bear and Artemis. They were born on July 12th, an ‘interesting‘ astrological date to have one’s familiars born on, at least. I guess ‘the Universe’ knew I hate taking care of things that aren’t me, and I’m scared to love things in case they die. I wish ‘the Universe’ could find me some teachers that don’t shit in my living room, but I suppose…I could get used to them.

(This one’s Artemis.)

So, how are you this Equinox, beloved one? Whichever Equinox one you’re celebrating, or not celebrating, if that’s your bag too. I’d love to see pictures of how the nature around you is looking at the moment! Is it cold? What are your trees doing? What colour is the light where you are? Is it dark when you get up yet? Are you excited for the change of season?

Anyway. Here’s a picture I drew about destroying/creating things when I was in Cornwall last.

Talk soon beloveds, as always be gentle with yourselves, and for goodness’ sake don’t work too hard!

– Cathy

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