Native Son: Equinox

Nature celebrates my birthday each year with the autumnal equinox, a quiet event of great significance … but only for those who live on Earth.


Close-up of the first goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers.

I love the gentle lessons that Nature brings to the classroom of life. The autumnal equinox is one of two times each year when the equator lines up perfectly perpendicular with the sun, so that the north and south hemispheres are equally lit. Ancient cultures — Mayan, Egyptian, Celtic, Greek, and so many others — were all over this stellar event, aligning cities, temples, festivals and holidays with it.

Simply a little italicized note on the calendar for most of us busy, busy, always busy modern folk … this event is imperceptible to everyone but the astronomers, solstice observers, and the plants. The primary reason I can recognize this special event is because balloons and birthday cake magically appear around me on that day. The second is that a goldenrod in the garden breaks into bloom right on the equinox … for the third year in a row now. It may have done it longer than that, I don’t know; I simply didn’t have my eyes open to this phenomenon back then. But it seems to know the exact day, and celebrates by opening the first few of its many thousands of flowers.

The goldenrod in 2012.

The goldenrod in 2012.

The goldenrod in 2013.

The goldenrod in 2013.

The teacher in me feels compelled to make a “special announcement” on the intercom that goldenrod is NOT the culprit causing your allergic fits right now. I can literally hear some of you arguing… “Yes, it IS!!!”… right through the computer screen as I write this. Nay, my friend, you are merely believing what you are seeing … but that is not the whole story. Much like my assumption that the equinox is responsible for the magical appearance of my birthday cake, blaming the goldenrod for the wind-borne pollen that drives your sinuses bonkers is simply an inaccurate observation. Yes, you clearly see the bright yellow goldenrod flowers open concurrently with your nasal nightmare, but what you are NOT seeing is the simultaneous release of untold trillions of airborne pollen grains by the dull green flowers on various species of ragweed. Furthermore, the goldenrod receives a full pardon because it has an airtight alibi … its pollen is released in clumps called pollinia, which are too heavy to be carried on the wind. (If you still do not believe me, please re-read the paragraph, using your best Perry Mason voice, complete with dramatic pauses. Still doubting? Ask your local doctor, or better yet, your family botanist.)

Each autumnal equinox inspires me to try something new and significant, and this year brought the log bench project. Hewn from two boles of a four-trunked Shumard oak that went down recently (July 25 e-GARDENS this year), the benches are an attempt to create a memorial not only for the tree itself, but for people who have passed from our lives.

Arborilogical wonder Steve Houser smiles his “Seal of Agrooval” upon testing the log bench.

Arborilogical wonder Steve Houser smiles his “Seal of Agrooval” upon testing the log bench.

Initially, I got inspired to get down and dirty with the big-boy chainsaw as a way to benchmark the end of summer’s sizzle, but then it got personal. Sure enough, it was a testosterone funfest while the sawdust was flying, with the spirit of Dennis Jones right there with me, muscles straining, teeth biting an unlit cigar, and pores spewing sweat like a warthog. I, er, we could barely move a few hours later, but did manage to do a little ring-counting in the aftermath, discovering that, although they are significantly different in diameter (21” and 24”), both trunks are 64 years old. This made me ponder a 1949 America … when everyone still knew someone who died in WWII, when both my father and Elvis were 14-year-old boys, and Douglas Chandor was still performing magic with a paintbrush just a few feet away from where I stand now.

And so it goes, we wee humans trying our best to piece together the complex puzzle of the universe. Somewhere, a Druid is shouting that I’ve missed the real significance of the equinox. (Whatever.) A scholarly astronomer is hoping I’ll clarify the near worldwide misunderstanding of “equinox” and “equilux.” (Sorry.) My buddy Mike Williams is thinking, “Doesn’t Steve remember that Equinox was the best album Styx ever did?” (Of course I know that!) But to me, what really matters is that my little goldenrod is flowering, a welcome pit stop for a travel-weary flock of Monarch butterflies as they head south on their pilgrimage to a few precious acres in the mountains of Mexico, a living, breathing, fluttering memorial to Mother Earth’s beautiful and balanced systems. Hmmm … now THAT sounds like the perfect road trip to me.

Steven adds these notes:

It may still be hot outside, but it’s always cool to visit Chandor Gardens. Come see caladiums, gardenias, hibiscus, zinnias, and lots more revel in the Texas heat. Go to for details. Just take I-20 west to exit 409, hang a right, go 2.1 miles and hang a left on Lee Avenue. Head straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-361-1700 for more information.

I can always use another road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come out and speak to your group sometime. I’m low-maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town too small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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