Runnemede, N.J., celebrates the autumnal equinox with fire

Community members gathered at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., to celebrate the autumnal equinox, on September 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On Thursday, Earth’s Northern and Southern hemispheres received equal amounts of daylight and night. The sun hovered directly above the equator, signaling the beginning of the fall in the North, and spring in the South.

People celebrated the autumnal equinox with fire performance at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., and by walking the labyrinth inside the Peace Garden that was built in March 2021 by Reimagine Runnemede. Nestled between the turnpike and wetlands, a few community members gathered at sunset to walk with intention.

A group of people look up towards a sunset-streaked sky in a green field.
Labyrinth walkers watch the sunset at Green Acres Park during the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Reimagine Runnemede, formed in September 2020, aims to enliven the borough through community-engaged, creative placemaking. The goal is to “put Runnemede on the map” for the arts, said Elaenor Kelly, Runnemede councilperson and Reimagine Runnemede trustee.

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A group of people are gathered in a circle as the setting sun is visible behind them.
Camden County residents prepare for an equinox meditation at the walking labyrinth in Runnemede, N.J., at Green Acres Park during sunset on September 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

David Steinberg, the labyrinth’s designer, said “Runnemede is a town that’s not afraid of new ideas.” He led the group in a brief reflection on forgiveness, then they gathered in the center of the labyrinth to give thanks for the opportunity to commune with nature.

With the help of students from a local high school, poet Robert Hawthorne laid out the labyrinth, a spiraling trail of bricks through a grassy area next to a parking area. Hawthorne calls it the “sunset lot,” where he watches the sun set over Big Timber Creek every day. He said he walks the labyrinth about five times a week, and works to keep Green Acres litter-free.

A man stands in the middle of a green field, trees behind him, looking up towards the sky with arms outstretched.
Poet Robert Hawthorne helped build the walking labyrinth at Green Acres Park, and helps maintain it every day. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Nature is my church,” he said, adding that highway sounds become white noise if you hang around long enough.

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A person stands in a dark field with a torch of fire before them.
Ken Leap, president of Reimagine Runnemade, lights his staff for a fire spinning performance at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., during the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Taquan Allen came 15 minutes from his home in Camden, carrying a notebook with a giant panda on it and palo santo to burn during his walk. The 26-year-old filmmaker took off his shoes and smiled while traversing the labyrinth paths. He walked with the intention to forgive those who’ve enacted violence on him in the past. Allen has walked the labyrinth four times and felt peaceful and lighter after, and free of thought. He was first brought to the labyrinth by Reimagine Runnemede president Ken Leap, whom he met while working on a film.

“He’s the big brother I never had,” said Allen, adding that he’s found growth through the connections he’s made at the Peace Garden.

A close-up of a young man carrying palo santo, with green grass and benches visible in the background.
Taquan Allen, a filmmaker from Camden, N.J., said his times at the Runnemade Peace Garden and walking labyrinth have helped him find forgiveness in his life. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After dark, Leap, wearing antlers and a hooded cloak, spun a fire staff in the sunset lot. Preteens on bikes and playing in the nearby basketball courts gathered to watch and take pictures. Next up Reimagine Runnemede will hold a community planting day with crocus bulbs and late-winter blooming flowers planted in the Peace Garden.

A man in an antler suit performs fire-spinning, with the last rays of sunlight fading behind him.
Ken Leap, president of Reimagine Runnemede, performs fire spinning at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., during the autumnal equinox on September 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
A man holds a lit fire-spinner in front of him in the dark.
Ken Leap, president of Reimagine Runnemede, performs fire spinning at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., during the autumnal equinox on September 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Two people perform fire spinning inside of a circle as a crowd of people looks on at the right.
Community members gathered at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., to celebrate the autumnal equinox, on September 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
A sunset is seen through the silhouettes of trees.
The sun casts a golden glow on the clouds during sunset at Green Acres Park during the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
A close-up of a person with her eyes closed, as a group of people are visible behind her.
Eleanor Kelly, a councilperson in Runnemede Borough, N.J., says she visits the Peace Garden and walking labyrinth at Green Acres Park in Runnemade, N.J., a few times a month. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
People walk in a green park at sunset, some walking under a sculpted arch.
Shortly before sunset during the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, 2022, visitors enter the walking labyrinth at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
A man holds up a lighted fire spinner, as all around him is dark.
Community members gathered at Green Acres Park in Runnemede, N.J., to celebrate the autumnal equinox, on Sept. 22, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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