"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
- Albert Camus
I must have been a pesky child, asking over and over the insufferable question, "why." My poor parents, teachers, and even my pastor the day I asked the burning theological question, "If black is the color of sin, why are Bibles black?" (He wasn't sure but he didn't think God had anything to do with the color.) And still today The National Inquirer line, "inquiring minds want to know," has nothing on me.
So what's my burning question now? Perhaps I'm the only one who cares, but with the days getting shorter, the air turning brisk and the calendar reminding me it's time for a seasonal change, I must ask: Since "autumn" is such a lovely word, why do we insist on calling the last full season of the year "fall?" Summer, winter and spring have no nicknames, so why does autumn? And if we need a synonym, why that one?
Yes, Virginia, there is a connection between the two words, though before I went to better minds than mine for the answer, I tried to answer the question myself.
If we stuck with the word "autumn," how would we know which way to set our clocks when Daylight Saving Time ends? Don't we need that little reminder to "fall backward" - as opposed to "spring forward" six months from now? But this time-changing practice has only been in existence in our country since World War I, and both words began much earlier than that.
Autumn, the Latin word for the season, is more common in England than in our country, and has been in use since the 14th century. Substituting the word "fall" began about the same time, also in England, for a very simple reason - and my own second guess for using the word: it was the season of "leaf-fall," and the Brits merely shortened the phrase for convenience.
But there's more, and should I ever see my bewildered pastor again, he'll be happy to know I'm finding answers to my theological questions now by myself.
The secret begins with the varied meanings of the word "fall," which cover a full 12 inches in my American Heritage Dictionary, not the least of which is a reference to "the fall of man," as in Adam in the Garden of Eden. With only a little effort it's easy to see how this concept corresponds to "fallen leaves," since both circumstances include the loss or end of something once beautiful and alive.
With the "fall" answer solved in such a logical way, I then wanted to know why we bother with the word "autumn" at all. The answer, as everyone who didn't sleep through science class in grade school knows, comes from the season's relationship to the "autumnal equinox," the second day of the year when the length of both day and night is the same.
But an even better explanation comes from American Heritage once again. There in the center of scarcely an inch of type is this beautiful statement: "A period of maturity verging on decline." (Following my previous column on aging, I'm thinking we golden-agers should claim that sugarcoated description for ourselves.)
As part of my research for this profound study, I also turned to the delightful book, Benjamin Franklin's Wit, Wisdom, and Practical Advice, compiled by The Old Farmer's Alamanac. Franklin, by the way, was the first to suggest the idea of "daylight saving." His other practical advice for this pre-winter season - in 18th-century Pennsylvania - included:
- When pigs gather leaves and straw in the fall, expect a cold winter;
- Call the chimney sweep to get your chimney in working order;
- Split and stack firewood; and,
- Remove screens and wash windows until they sparkle, to let the sun shine in.
Also included is this recipe for Autumn Apple Carrot Casserole, sure to whet the appetite of health-conscious Georgians as well as Pennsylvanians:
Peel and thinly slice 6 apples and 3 cups of carrots;
Mix together 1/3 cup of brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. flour;
Arrange half the apples and carrots in a lightly greased, 3-quart casserole dish, and top with half the sugar mixture; repeat with remaining ingredients;
Pour in 3/4 cup of orange juice and bake 45 minutes at 350-degrees. Bon appetit!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.