Trees

The view from the front yard of Joe Rhinehart’s home in North Carolina.

Two weeks ago I began the column with a note telling you that I would like to spend my newspaper space with information, stories, poems, pictures on autumn during the month of October. For two weeks, we have told the stories of Henry David Thoreau and his writing, his belief about that section of our worldly world division: spring, summer, autumn (also known as fall) and winter. For years I have been a follower in many ways of Thoreau: his love of nature, his beautiful way of talking and writing about nature, about life and his cabin. Well, I should have started with autumn. Do we really know much more about autumn than that the leaves are beautiful? So, what I would like to do is to talk about autumn and then end the series with another story or two. So, I will give you information about what autumn is about according to Wikipedia, and then end the season with some writing of the period. Let us begin.

Autumn

“Autumn, also known as fall in North American English, is one of the four temperate seasons. Autumn marks the transition from summer to winter, in September (Northern Hemisphere) or March (Southern Hemisphere), when the duration of daylight becomes noticeably shorter and the temperature cools down considerably. One of its main features is the shedding of leaves from deciduous trees.

“Some cultures regard the autumnal equinox as “mid-autumn,” while others with a longer temperature lag treat it as the start of autumn. Meteorologists (and most of the temperate countries in the southern hemisphere) use a definition based on Gregorian calendar months, with autumn being September, October and November in the northern hemisphere, and March, April and May in the southern hemisphere.

“In North America, traditionally autumn starts on Sept. 21 and ends on Dec. 21. It is considered to start with the September equinox (Sept. 21 to 24) and end with the winter solstice (Dec. 21 or 22). Popular culture in the United States associates Labor Day, the first Monday in September, as the end of summer and the start of autumn; certain summer traditions, such as wearing white, are discouraged after that date. As daytime and nighttime temperatures decrease, trees shed their leaves. In traditional East Asian solar term, autumn starts on or around Aug. 8 and ends on or about Nov. 7. In Ireland, the autumn months according to the national meteorological service, Met Éireann, are September, October and November.However, according to the Irish Calendar, which is based on ancient Gaelic traditions, autumn lasts throughout the months of August, September and October, or possibly a few days later, depending on tradition.”

Etymology

“The word autumn comes from the ancient Etruscan root autu- and has within it connotations of the passing of the year. It was borrowed by the neighbouring Romans, and became the Latin word autumnus.

“After the Roman era, the word continued to be used as the Old French word autompne (automne in modern French) or autumpne in Middle English, and was later normalised to the original Latin. In the Medieval period, there are rare examples of its use as early as the 12th century, but by the 16th century, it was in common use.

“Before the 16th century, harvest was the term usually used to refer to the season, as it is common in other West Germanic languages to this day (cf. Dutch herfst, German Herbst and Scots hairst). However, as more people gradually moved from working the land to living in towns, the word harvest lost its reference to the time of year and came to refer only to the actual activity of reaping, and autumn, as well as fall, began to replace it as a reference to the season.

“The alternative word fall for the season traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, with the Old English fiæll or feallan and the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates. However, these words all have the meaning “to fall from a height” and are clearly derived either from a common root or from each other. The term came to denote the season in 16th-century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year.”

“During the 17th century, English emigration to the British colonies in North America was at its peak, and the new settlers took the English language with them. While the term fall gradually became obsolete in Britain, it became the more common term in North America.

“The name backend, a once common name for the season in Northern England, has today been largely replaced by the name autumn.”

Joe Rhinehart can be reached by  e-mail at joeprhinehart@gmail.com.

Recommended for you