Summer officially ended in my area on Wednesday, September 23 at 4:21 AM, giving way to the autumnal equinox and the season of autumn (also referred to as fall). With this change comes cooler morning and evening temperatures, stellar sunrises and sunsets, and noticeably shorter days. These changes made me think about the season and how nature slowly shifts through the river of time.
Understanding the Autumnal Equinox
The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun appears to cross the celestial equator. The celestial equator is the large circle in which the Equator intersects the celestial sphere, or the heavens’ apparent surface. The location of the sun allows for approximately equal hours of day and night during the equinox, which means equal night. Equinoxes occur in spring and fall due to the rotation and orbit of the earth around the sun.
After the autumnal equinox, the nighttime hours grow longer than the daytime hours. The process is reversed when the winter solstice, also referred to as the December solstice in my area, occurs.
The word autumn comes from the Middle English autumpne and the Latin autumnus. The first known use of autumn was in the 14th century. Autumn was associated with the time for harvesting crops and preparing for the coming winter season.
Autumn is also known as fall in some parts of the world. The emergence of fall as a preferred term did not occur until late in the 17th or early in the 18th century. The reason for this can be linked to the original concepts of seasons, which entailed winter and summer only for many cultures. Winter was the cold half of the year and summer was the warm half of the year.
Later, some cultures recognized spring as lent or a time of renewal. Autumn was known as haerfest, which was a derivation of harvest and the taking in of crops. In the late 18th century, harvest fell out of favor and was replaced with the more poetic fall as a term for the third season of the year.
Today, many cultures prefer fall over autumn due to its more picturesque and poetic connotations. However, many scholars prefer the traditional autumn over the more modern fall term.
In my area, autumn means more than just harvest time. It coincides with:
- Changing leaf colors on the trees
- Falling leaves in the woods
- Hunting season for deer, turkey, and other wild game
- Wood cutting to prepare for colder winter weather
- Late greening of grass in the lawn that lasts through the first hard frost
- Spectacular sunrises and sunsets full of color and wonder
- Clear blue daytime skies to reflect upon
- Heavier morning and evening dew or frost
- Geese and other birds converging into large groups and preparing to fly south for winter
- Fall festivals and nature walks sharing heritage, cultures, and historical facts
All of these changes and events offer much to reflect upon and wonder about for scientific, curious, artistic, and nature-loving minds. Temperatures may start low in the morning and climb to summer-like warmth by mid or late afternoon, then drop quickly as the sun sets. These swings in temperature are like nature dancing, slowly shifting from summer’s warm bliss to winter’s colder offerings.
The variety of change in any given day is often vast and overflowing with science concepts such as photosynthesis, cell mutation, and decomposition. Shifts in the sun, moon, and stars are also quite noticeable this time of year, along with changes in the wildlife population. It seems at times as if the gods of change are working at a feverish pace, possibly in preparation for winter and the end of the calendar year.
Whether you call the season autumn or fall, it offers many poetic moments full of nature’s artistry, beauty, and imagery. For me, autumn is a time to run, bike, and write about what I see happening around me. Historically, the months of September, October, and November are some of my most creative and inspiring times of year, often fueled by the colors in the sky, wildlife in the fields, and nature’s changes all around.
The following poem was inspired by my view of sunset on September 24th and sunrise on September 25th, both of which were full of unique colors and arrangements of clouds in the sky.
‘Neath the September Skies
Crimson red and indigo spread far and wide
In ribbons bent along the horizon line
Above the trees in the early dawn
Growing brighter in the breeze as God
Draws His message for the day
Expressed in awesome colors and shades
For the soul to read and reflect upon
As time unfolds and the river of life moves on
Toward the sea and the tides
‘Neath the September skies.
Golden glow over the hill
With light that flows and spills
Across the heavens above
Where God watches each of us
Weave our way
Through the sea that sways
Us to and fro and back again
As we grow closer to Him
Through the colors seen in the light
‘Neath the September skies.
Clouds and moons and stars above
Spread throughout the days that come
And go within this life
Offering quite a show of hope to find
If only one is willing to take a moment
To stop along the road and reflect
Upon the steps taken in the miles of the journey
Allowing the soul to awaken and the mind to keep on learning
So the seed inside can be the best it can be in time
‘Neath the September skies.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
September 25, 2015
References and Related Links
Autumn and fall – http://www.livescience.com/34260-fall-autumn-season-names.html
Autumnal equinox definition – http://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-fall-autumnal-equinox
Autumn concept and harvest time – http://www.britannica.com/science/autumn-season
Celestial equator – http://www.britannica.com/place/Equator#ref133873
Celestial sphere – http://www.britannica.com/science/celestial-sphere
Origin of autumn – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autumn
Winter solstice – http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html