Friday Musings: Back to Black

Friday Musings: Back to Black

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, yesterday brought the autumnal equinox, or the beginning of the fall season. The literal translation of the word equinox comes from the Latin aequi, which means equal, and nox, which means night. During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, there are as many hours of light as there are of darkness. One of the great gifts of the summer season is the how long the days feel, despite the fact that they actually begin shortening right after the summer solstice in the third week in June. That never seems to register with us, or if it does, we pretend that it doesn’t matter. We begin mourning the shortening days right around now, at the calendar start of fall, when we perceive that it’s finally time to let go of the light. And yet, there is some cause for celebration as well. We look forward to cooler temperatures that call for boots and sweaters. We anticipate the leaves changing in their spectacular display, and we’re ready for the first smell of woodsmoke in the air. We try not to think about the darkness of the months ahead, but we feel a certain heaviness coming for us, and maybe something else that’s akin to fear. It’s possible that some of this stems from our collective remembrance of earlier times when we had no electricity, heat, or grocery stores, and the darkness and cold that arrived with fall were reasons to be afraid indeed. Winter was just around the corner, and although it’s hard to imagine from our comfortable place in this modern world of warmth, light, and Netflix, survival wasn’t always guaranteed. In any case, the rhythm of this seasonal change still resonates deep inside us, and the official turn from summer to fall can definitely invoke a sense of sadness or apprehension.

While the autumnal equinox itself is an astronomical event related to the moment when the center of the sun passes over what is called the celestial equator, there is an astrological occurrence that happens at almost the same time: the sun moves into the sign of Libra. The four signs of the zodiac that are initiated by the equinoxes and the solstices are given the designation of cardinal, a word we most often associate with the idea of importance, seriousness, or gravity. We learn a cardinal principle or commit a cardinal sin. In astrology, those born under cardinal signs are considered to be the leaders of the zodiac, those people who come up with ideas and then act upon them quickly. They may not have the staying power to see the entire concept through, but they get all the credit for its inception. If we take a look at the word cardinal’s Latin root, we discover that it’s cardo, or hinge, which leads us to its older and lesser known definition as “that on which a significant development turns.” It’s interesting how appropriate this meaning is in both the everyday and the astrological senses. When the seasons change, it certainly feels pivotal, and there is a definite shift in energy that impacts our thoughts and our behavior patterns. Autumn also brings the idea of the harvest when we reap the metaphorical seeds that were sown during summer. Similarly, when the sun ingresses from Virgo into Libra, we feel inclined to discuss matters of injustice or inequality, we look to where we can act as bridges or healers, and we strive for balance and harmony in our personal lives. This idea of harmony, in particular, is very much related to the concept of equal measures of light and darkness, thus creating a link between the astronomical equinox and the astrological start of Libra season.

Even if these ideas make a fair amount of conceptual sense, we may struggle with understanding the literal meaning behind them. What does this seasonal shift actually mean to us? If we all were to sit down and share our experiences over the last few months, we would probably find ourselves saying the same kinds of things. We gathered with family and friends, vacationed in exotic or ordinary places, basked in the sun, read books on the porch, reconnected with the earth, tended our gardens. As we listen to our universal stories, we would likely agree that summer is the season that moves us towards the pinnacle of outward expression. We gravitate towards the light, rather than contemplate the darkness. Autumn, however, is another matter. In this time of shortening days when we realize that winter sits just on the horizon, we turn our attention inward where we are forced to confront the same polarity that was manifested at the moment of the equinox. While we generally have no trouble acknowledging what is light in us, we often avoid examining our internal darkness out of the fear of what we might discover. Yet we are all comprised of both, and they share an interdependent relationship. Just as the harvest in the fields will yield crops that thrived and identify others that did not, we must be willing to accept the lesson being taught there. What have we sown that we are now seeing come to fruition? What must we discard to make room for new planting in the spring? In this process of recognition and release, we learn to embrace the knowledge that we cannot see our own light until we conquer our fear of what is dark, we cannot hear our own truth without having allowed ourselves to sit in silence, and we cannot feel the urge to move again until we have rested for a time in the stillness, all gifts of the equinox when the day takes its first step towards surrendering to the night.

For today’s cocktail, I knew that nothing other than an equal parts Negroni-esque drink would do. I decided on a blend of ingredients that naturally embraced the darker side of the spirit world and the spicier flavors of fall. I began with a Cruzan Black Strap rum with a deep molasses flavor, added Cynar, the darkest of the Italian apertivo threesome that also includes Aperol and Campari, and I finished with a spiced pear liqueur from St. Georges. The cocktail needed one more ingredient to bind the three spirits together, and Recklesstown’s black walnut bitters did the job perfectly. I expressed a lime peel over the drink and garnished with it to provide the sense of illumination and lift. The light always returns, as long as we are willing to wait patiently in the dark for it. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday and Happy Equinox!

Back to Black

1 oz Cruzan Black Strap rum
1 oz Cynar
1 oz St. Georges Spiced Pear liqueur
2 dashes Crooked Row Black Walnut bitters

Short stir with ice.
Single strain into a rocks glass over one large cube.
Express and lime peel over the drink and garnish.


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