Autumn or Fall?
By Kate Crowley
We have now officially said farewell to summer. On September 23rd the sun had moved far enough south that we had nearly equal hours of daylight and night time. Now it’s just a gradual, but inevitable slide into the darkness (a bleak description I know). I am already looking forward to December 21st. But as I thought about the change of season I wondered why and how we call this particular season, both Autumn and Fall; the only season that has two words to describe it. I had to do some research to satisfy my curiosity.
Turns out that for most of recorded human history there was recognition of just two seasons – winter and summer, the exception being the Chinese who divided the year into what we now call spring and autumn. The word ‘autumn’ is Latin in origin and was first used in the 14th Century, replacing the term ‘harvest’. The use of Fall appears in the 16th or 17th century, depending on who you consult. One of the first citations for ‘fall’ in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from a poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh. Some say that ‘Spring’ came into use first, referring to the spring of the leaf and then naturally, the corollary, the fall of the leaf. It might be noted that Fall is not used by the British and by the 19th century was considered an Americanism.
Living in the northern portions of the northern hemisphere we live with four distinct seasons, something we can measure our lives by, providing anticipation and appreciation for the departure of one and the arrival of each new season. In warmer climates seasons are divided between dry and wet. Fall and Spring only make sense in places where trees lose their leaves after summer and replace them in spring. This happens in the Southern hemisphere too, just at opposite times of the year from us.
I thought about this as I drove into our driveway today and noticed all the acorns lying on the ground. By driving in and out we are making life easier for the squirrels, blue jays and turkeys, as the shells are smashed and the nuts are spread about. Mixed in with the acorns are the ocher colored needles that are dropping too. Soon the leaves from the oak and maple trees will join the mix.
September has been unusually warm and it has slowed the color change in the leaves, but the forecast calls for colder temps arriving with October. All it takes is one good, blustery rainstorm or a frosty night and the leaves will begin to rain down. In our yard, the first to succumb are the birch trees. Their bright golden leaves twist and turn under the bluest of skies and settle on the ground where they will remain until spring. We rarely rake the leaves in the fall, believing they serve as mulch for the grass and flower beds. The oak leaves are the last to fall, usually waiting until late in the winter and always settling into our ski tracks. They have the look and feel of old leather and rattle during winter snowstorms.
Everyone has their favorite season. As I get older I have a harder time saying I prefer one over the other, but my 11 year old grandson Aren told me a few weeks ago that Fall was his favorite. The things that stand out for him are the colorful leaves, the warm weather gradually turning colder, raking the leaves into piles to jump into, Halloween and even going back to school. He said, “I don’t know how, but it just gives me this good feeling.”
Whether you call it Autumn or Fall, I hope it gives you a good feeling too.