myself for the awe and admiration of the world at large happened to be the first day of spring in that year.)
My small claim to fame has rested secure for most of my life, since the almanac duly noted the arrival of the vernal equinox each year and each year it was on my birthday. Unfortunately for me, the vernal equinox has a tendency to run a bit fast. That is to say, the sun doesn't get back to exactly the same spot in the sky at the same moment each year. The consequences of this untidiness in the motion of the heavenly bodies is what those who know about these things call the “precession of the equinoxes.”
Ancient people were interested in this apparent movement of the first day of spring. They watched to see which constellation would rise in the east at the same time the sun rose at the point when day and night were of equal length. They noticed that the sun's apparent motion across the sky gradually slipped backwards through the constellations we call the zodiac. The ancients in fact figured out exactly how long it would take the sun, precessing year by year, to make its way all the way around the series of twelve groups of stars - slightly less than 29,000 years.
Back in their day the sun, at the time of the spring equinox, was in the constellation of Aries, the Ram, and astrologers who make it their business to cast horoscopes still speak of the time of the vernal equinox as being in the sign of Aries. Unfortunately, the sun no longer is anywhere near the constellation of the Ram on the first day of spring, but astrologers keep behaving as if it were.
This has always made it hard for me to get too excited about horoscopes. It would seem that a horoscope which was calculated as if the sun were someplace it hasn't been since 500 BC might have a bit of a problem. The big sum of money that the newspaper star-gazer has promised me, not to mention the scads of new and interesting friends, may in fact have been waiting for me in the Post Office in ancient Athens twenty-five hundred years ago. Twenty-nine thousand years was a long time back then and it is still a quite considerable length of time even in these days of trillion dollar debts and fiscal crises.
All this precessing of the equinoxes, however, has had a serious effect on my birthday. The terrible truth is, that in the years since I was born, the sun has been moving, slipping backward against the constellations by a few minutes each year. The few minutes, uninteresting though they may be when taken one by one, have a way of piling up over time, and they have moved the time of the equinox from the day upon which I was born and stuck it back on the day before.
I tell you, the world is falling apart. Now all I can claim, and few seem to be impressed, is that my birthday is the first full day of spring.
What I did not take into account as I grew up was the location of the first day of spring in the year as the Church reckons it. It is only as a grown man that I became aware of Lent. And there is where the birthday problem with my wife comes in. Her birthday is exactly three weeks later than mine. Mine is always somewhere in Lent, while hers is often either in Easter season, when joy and celebration can be relatively unconfined, or even, just to rub things in, she gets to have her birthday on Easter day itself.
Ah well. I still share a birthday with Johann Sebastian Bach, the great composer. There have to be some compensations.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.