, Salem, MA

March 21, 2013

Sun Circle worshippers celebrate spring's start


---- — SWAMPSCOTT — Yesterday was the first day of spring, but it felt more like the start of winter for more than a dozen people who turned out for a ceremony at the Sun Circle at Beach Bluff Park on the Marblehead line.

This vernal equinox ceremony could have been mistaken for the annual winter solstice one, with snow covering the ground and caking the sides of the Sun Circle’s basalt columns and people shivering in 27-degree temperatures.

The equinox took place at 7:02 a.m. yesterday, the time when the sun passes directly over the celestial equator and Earth’s axis is not tilted toward or away from the sun, according to various websites. At this moment, the sun travels over the equator from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also a time when day and night are about equal in length.

The pillars that form this mini Stonehenge at Preston Beach are arranged in such a way that pairs of columns with circular gaps in them line up with the rising sun on the spring and fall equinox. However, the sunrise was obscured by the clouds yesterday.

“We know that spring was upon us, and we are starting a new world,” said Lynn Nadeau, president of the Clifton Improvement Association, in a short phone interview after the ceremony.

The association owns and maintains Beach Bluff Park and the parking lot across Atlantic Avenue. The park is maintained with the help of volunteers and the Swampscott and Marblehead DPWs.

During the ceremony, Michael Dynice of Marblehead and his daughter, Bobbi, 13, a student at Marblehead Veterans Middle School, sang songs for those gathered. Nadeau also read aloud a poem from Don Orne, the secretary of the Clifton Improvement Association and sacred site chairman.

“We honor above, to God, tunkashila (a Native American word for God, according to Orne), the great spirit, the direction of expanding vision, limitless hope, of inspiration, vastness in space. Fill us, oh God, with wonder and awe,” Nadeau said. After she read the verse, Orne raised a gong over his head and rang it. He did so facing the other points of the compass after Nadeau read.

On hand were astronomer Jim Keating, who spoke about what the equinox means in terms of astronomy, and Sun Circle sculptor Bruce Greenwald. Nadeau said she learned something interesting about the various dates when the equinox falls.

“He told us that the vernal equinox was on March 21 (in) 2007,” Nadeau said of Keating. “Now it’s on the 20th until 2044.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.