The Beginning of Autumn and a Story about Seasons

     This week we begin the Autumn season. It happens precisely at 7:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time September 22nd. This equinox marks the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

    On this day, September 22nd, the Sun rises due east and sets due west. There is an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours. The roots of the word equinox means "equal." After that date the Sun begins to rise and set a little more south of east and west every day until the winter solstice in December.

     Because the Sun appears to rise and set farther and farther south, it is in the sky less hours and does not reach as high a noonday height in the sky. This of course accounts for our shorter and colder days.

     We know that our seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis, and that during the autumn and winter the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun. But our ancestors did not know this and they produced some charming stories to explain the seasons. This story comes from the Acoma Indians of the Great Plains.

     Long ago an Acoma chief had a daughter named Co-chin-ne-na-ko , or Cochin for short. Cochin married Shakok the spirit of winter. Though she loved her husband at first, Cochin soon came to regret the marriage. It was cold of the time. Crops would not grow and the people were reduced to eating cactus leaves and other wild plants which could survive the constant cold.

     One day when Cochin was out gathering cactus leaves she saw a handsome young man coming toward her. To her astonishment he held an ear of corn. When he saw what the poor girl was gathering for food, and had asked her why, he gave her the corn and told her to wait there for him. Soon he returned with a huge bundle of corn.

     Cochin begged the man to take her back to his home but he refused saying that her husband Shakok would be furious. Nevertheless he agreed to meet her there the next day. When Cochin returned to her village she told her father and grandmother about the young man. Her grandmother said that it had to have been Miochin, the spirit of summer that Cochin had met. Her father told her to bring Miochin home the next day.

     Miochin came back to the village with Cochin the next day and was greeted warmly by all the people except Shakok who spent his days in the north. That evening when the spirit of winter returned, he challenged Miochin to a battle. Whoever won would have Cochin for his wife and would rule the land. The battle was to be in four days.

     When the two spirits fought it was a horrid battle. Shakok brought wind and hail and snow. Miochin brought hot winds and scorching sunlight. Miochin's ammunition melted all of Shakok's hail and snow. Soon Shakok fell back and called a truce. The two spirits met at the White Wall of Acoma. Miochin would have Cochin as his wife but each spirit would rule for a part of the year and never would they trouble each other again. And that is why Miochin rules the summer and Shakok rules the winter. One leaves as the other one arrives and that is why spring and autumn are warm.

Copyright © 2001 Kathy A. Miles and Charles F. Peters II