Spring and fall are transitional seasons. Spring dazzles with ephemeral shades of green. Fall explodes with flaming colors that were always there, but hidden from us simply by the green of chlorophyll. Fall invites us to ponder the true nature
of things and our own limited perception.
Whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, the fall months symbolize endings and taking stock of what has been, in the Southern Hemisphere they symbolize spring and new beginnings. In Great Britain, August, September, and October comprise fall, but in North America, September, October, and November are the fall months. Even in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is relative.
Consider, too, that September means the seventh month, but it is the ninth month in our calendar. October means the eighth month, but it is tenth month, and November means the ninth month, but it is the eleventh month. Why this confusion? The way we measure time has changed. Why? It took time to create an accurate calendar.
The Romans kept refining theirs until Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar in 45 BCE, which was very much like ours today. In fact, it only added about eleven minutes every year. By the 16th century, this had become a big problem, however, because the Julian calendar was off by about three days every four centuries.
Pope Gregory XIII had to drop ten days off the calendar when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. Because people didn't like losing ten days of their lives, the Georgian calendar most of the world uses today was not immediately adopted everywhere. When the British Empire (including North America) finally adopted it in 1752, their calendar jumped from Sept. 2 to Sept 14-a loss of twelve days. By the time Eastern Europe (Russia and Greece) agreed to adopt the Gregorian calendar, they lost 13 days-almost two weeks. The Greek Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar. Fall reminds us time is relative.
Fall is the season of seemingly miraculous migrations and hibernations: endings that signal new beginnings. The monarch butterflies leave North America in September to fly to Mexico with tiny hummingbirds following close behind.
The longest nonstop migratory flight is that of the Bar-tailed Godwit that flies 11,000 km (6,835 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand.
The Artic tern flies further than any other bird-70,900 km (44,300miles) each year from the Artic to the Antarctic and back. The most surprising hibernating mammal may well be the tropical Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur of Madagascar that hibernates for seven months of the year. Fall's departures represent not simply loss but also endurance.
School begins in September because by fall, children were no longer needed in the fields.
Appropriately, International Literacy Day is in September. In October, Nobel Prizes are announced. Fall invites contemplation.
In the fall we honor Native Americans, the first Nations, and their respect for Nature, as well as the union of nations known as the United Nations. We celebrate work done with Labor Day, a day of rest.Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, the US in November. We honor Columbus, who reached North America in October of 1492. World Food Day reminds us ever more urgently of our world's food disparity.Fall and the gathering of the harvest inspire both gratitude
and uncertainty as Nature goes to sleep
before advancing winter.
For the world's monotheistic religions, fall is the time of new beginnings. In Judaism and Islam, the New Year falls in September or October. In September, Catholics celebrate the birth of the Virgin, the mother of Christ, and, therefore, the beginning of Christianity. November is the month of Uriel, the angel of light and repentance, who ushered Adam and Eve out of Eden with his fiery sword, which continues the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, which falls in late September or early October. Fall is also the Christian season of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas and it's hopes for peace. Religions, like Nature, prepare for new beginnings in the fall. Fall invites spiritual
contemplation of endings and beginnings.
Fall (like all our words derived from Old English-i.e., a potpourri of Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Nordic languages) is elemental, unlike autumn, its more elegant and erudite Latin and French inspired counterpart. Fall is pictorial: we hear it and think of falling leaves. Their death calls to mind our own and from time immemorial fall has been associated with death and the spirit world. Halloween is Oct. 31, the day before All Saints' Day, Nov.1. All Souls Day is Nov. 2. Hispanic culture celebrates la Dia de los Muertos. Fall reminds us of our transience.
Because the harvest was in and work slowed, Fall has been known since the Middle Ages, if not before, as a season for rebellion. The Mexican and Russian revolutions took place in autumn. Many nations celebrate their independence day in the fall-i.e., Afghanistan, Iraq, Brazil, Chile, and Columbia. Muslim extremists attacked the US in September. Veterans' day is commemorated in November. Once again we find a paradox-the season associated with the harvest, rest, and religious
renewal is also associated with death and rebellion. Fall reminds us of the paradoxes of our existence.
What's up with Fall? Insight into our own limitations, a time for re-evaluating our goals, a time for caring for Nature and emulating her resilience, a time to ponder and to wonder, a time to remember that every ending promises a new beginning.