The 1994 vernal equinox will occur at 3:28 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, March 20. On this first day of spring, night and day will be of equal length - 12 hours - everywhere in the world. But to astronomers, the equinox is a point in space rather than time.
This point is the intersection of two imaginary lines. If we were to let the equator out into space, like expanding the waistline of a pair of pants, this circle would intersect at some point with the path of the sun overhead. Such an intersection occurs twice during the year at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. But the vernal intersection is special because it is the reference point for the positions of every object in the sky.
WAS once informed by an astronomer familiar with celestial events that what I am about to tell you is unscientific. He classified it as ``nothing more than an old wives' tale.'' But I persist in my belief, and I know something about ``old wives.'' Sometimes their tales touch a different category of truth.
Before I share my experience, there are things you should know. I am not uninformed; I watch the heavens. My eyes drink in the luster of Venus whenever it hangs below the delicate crescent moon. I mark the passages of seasons by solstices and equinoxes. On the spring equinox, when the sun rises in true east and sets in true west, I take care to lay my garden accordingly.
Yes, I have read of astronomical coordinate systems and the crossing of invisible lines in space as descriptions of the spring equinox. But I have never heard a human voice singing of such things. Science does not capture the return of lingering days, swelling buds, and more greens than our eyes can distinguish.
WHAT I am going to tell you about happened to me. I saw it. One day, my husband's dearest friend appeared at the door. He came carrying an egg. When I asked him his intentions, he gave me a mysterious smile and tossed the egg carelessly, palm to palm, saying, ``It's the first day of spring! I'm going to show you something that only happens on the equinox.''
We followed him to the kitchen table where, he said, the egg would stand on end. At first, we were shocked. Then we laughed and rolled our eyes. (Still, I went for my camera.) After a few attempts to balance the egg, our friend slowly pulled his cupped hands away. Never has the world stood so still.
I saved the pictures. The last of the series shows the egg standing alone.
I don't know how long we watched, because time seemed to stop. When the egg first stood without any support, I was afraid to believe it. Surely it would immediately topple over. But, when it continued to stand, a sudden relief shot through me. It was as though something had shifted, and the world had straightened itself out. All things were aligned as they always should have been. The universe was in perfect balance with the egg at its center. To think that the vernal equinox had such power!
For some time after, I wondered how the egg stood without falling. Our friend had heard that the equinox causes a change in gravitational forces. That was why I contacted an astronomer. Our correspondence was mentioned much later in the science museum's newsletter:
``Over a year ago, one of our astronomers received an amusing letter dated March 20. A young woman had enclosed a photograph of an egg sitting up on its round bottom. The astronomer explained to the inquirer that there was no special significance between the egg and the vernal equinox, as eggs can be made to stand upright any day of the year. He suggested, `let the egg warm to room temperature, then shake it (to loosen the yolk) before trying to balance it on a table. It helps to select the most symmetrical egg.'
``But, the woman hastened to him another letter doubting his first response, and, again, enclosing the picture. She had missed the point. He responded by sending her his own photograph of an egg standing on Halloween....''
The astronomer's educated answers irritated me. He said that ancient and primitive cultures believed that certain astronomical alignments, such as the equinoxes, changed fundamental forces. And that, even today, ``there persists in the less scientific mind a curious affinity for these myths.'' He thought he was simply imparting fact. He didn't know he was demolishing my inspiration.
It was not that I had missed the point of his response. I had missed the point of my question. (Sometimes we need wrong answers before we find right questions.) I wanted the balanced egg to be connected to the equinox. Together, they offered a glimpse of truth. I wanted science to tell me that glimpse made sense.
Together, the egg and the equinox opened a tiny window on the certain eternity that dwells behind mundane life. Suspended in time, the egg stood at the center of all the unseen lines of force. A perfect balance rushed into the kitchen and spilled out all over the universe. The concept of no excess and no deficiency seemed law, rather than ideal.
I wanted to believe this. I envied primitive women, whose cherished intuitions breathe freely without the constraints of science. If the balanced egg had nothing to do with the equinox, did that fact annihilate what I thought I saw? And more, what I felt?
NO, for now comes the new generation of ``old wives.'' If we want science to make room for our tales, then our tales must be hospitable to science. With that simple open thought a bigger vision breaks forth: I cannot unsee what I have seen. A window has been opened that cannot be shut.
But, if an egg can stand upright any day, that means only that the balance first revealed on the equinox can now be glimpsed at other times. Hidden lines converge every day. And we stand at their intersection. The power behind the myth of the equinox egg is ever-present. And there will be days that prove this.