Fall

In the early years of writing this journal, I became aware that there were certain themes that I needed to avoid simply because I returned to them again and again and there was a risk of the journal becoming repetitious and uninteresting to read. I have since learned that I write for the joy of writing and not particularly to address the need of my readers to be entertained.

Still, I decided to stop writing about the antics of our cats. As it turned out I kept writing long after our last cat passed away and we haven’t yet gotten another one, so I don’t have a ready source of material about which to write.

I also decided that the weather was probably a topic about which I did not need to write. Everyone experiences weather and unless it is dramatically unusual, it probably doesn’t merit a thousand word essay.

I’m not so worried about repetition as once was the case, but there are some times when I do feel a little twinge. The change of seasons is one of those areas. I’ve been journaling online for so long that there probably isn’t much that I can add about the change of seasons. After all, it happens every year.

These days, we delineate our seasons by the positions of the sun. Early humans noticed that when you get away from the equator the days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter. As winter deepens, the days get shorter and shorter until one day they start to get longer. The point at which they stop getting shorter and start to lengthen is called the solstice. There is another solstice in the summer, when the days begin to stop growing longer and begin to shorten. It makes sense, then that between the two solstices are the days when the day and night are equal. This is the equinox. There is one in March and another in September. We use these dates as the official beginnings of our seasons. Spring begins at the equinox. Summer at the solstice, fall, or autumn at the equinox and winter at the solstice.

It was not always so. The entire concept of seasons is relatively recent according to historians and linguists. While early humans, at least those who lived some distance from the equator, had a concept of summer and winter, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall didn’t get much attention until recently in human history. The Lakota people of the plains didn’t follow the sun to delineate the seasons of the year, but rather the moon. They divided the year into thirteen moons, each with a name that reflected what happened at that time of the year. For example there was a moon when the leaves turn green, a moon of the harvest, a moon of the rutting deer and a moon when the trees crack from the cold.

It wasn’t until the 12th or 13th century, however, that there is a linguistic record of a name for the season that occurs between summer and winter. Sometime around then the word “harvest” was given to a season. It was a name for the transition from summer to winter, but it didn’t have a specific date. Sometimes it would start as early as August and end as late as December in the northern hemisphere. Sometimes, it was shorter.

The name “Autumn” showed up a century or two later. It was adopted from a similar word in French, or perhaps even from the Latin word “autumnus,” a masculine town for harvest. It was another couple of hundred years later, in the 16th or 17th century when the phrases “spring of the year” and “fall of the year” begin to appear in written documents, marking times of warmth and growth on one hand, and cold and decay on the other. Those phrases soon were shortened to just “spring” and “fall.”

Even then, there wasn’t much agreement on just what the fall season encompassed. Maybe it started in August or September. Maybe it ended in November or December. It was only later that it became common to rely on precise positions of the sun.

These days, however, autumn, or fall if you prefer, begins on the September equinox in the northern hemisphere. That comes up at 7:54 p.m. Mountain Time on Saturday..

Just so you don’t get confused, the date of the start of the season is not directly related to the end of daylight savings time - another subject entirely. That doesn’t happen until 2 am on Sunday, November 4, when we get to fall back, making it 1 am and we get to sleep in an extra hour.

We do, however, associate autumn with a season of dying. The leaves fall off of the trees, the grass goes dormant for winter. The days grow shorter. The temperature drops. The garden stops producing. We make all sorts of associations with this season of the year. Furthermore it can remind us about the reality of our own mortality with Halloween and its emphasis on a kind of cartoonish image of death, All Saints with its reminders of those who have gone before and Thanksgiving with its theme of harvest taken in and giving thanks for gifts already received.

I don’t go around depressed during autumn. I enjoy the season. I like the return of cool nights and crisp mornings. I enjoy the beauty of turning leaves and appreciate the opening vistas as the trees shed their leaves. I like to watch the animals as they prepare for winter’s harshness.

Still, it is good for someone my age to remind myself that I only have a certain number of autumns left in my life. I’ve been through more than three that lie ahead for me. None of us will go on forever and a season to remind us of that reality is a blessing if we take advantage of the lessons it can teach.

So prepare for autumn this weekend. It comes whether or not we are prepared. It is, however, another of God’s abundant blessings and thanksgiving is an appropriate response.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!