It is the beginning of fall, one of the most beautiful times of the year in the parts of the country that experience it. But why does fall occur? This wonderful stage was once only called “harvest time” which reflected that it was when farmers were beginning to gather crops for winter.
Usually this season begins around the end of September and lasts until December, centered amid the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The meaning of “harvest” comes from the Old Norse word haust which meant to gather.
In the 17th century, as more and more people started migrating into the cities, the word harvest was not being used as much anymore. In its place, city dwellers started to speak of the falling of the leaves in reference to the time of year of the third season. The word fall is derived from the Old English word feallan which means to fall or to die. As time passed, the saying was shortened to just fall. That is why we have the name fall now.
Remarkably, it is not known where the word autumn came to be derived from although it has been used as far back as the 1300’s, and even Shakespeare put the word, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when one of his characters speak of the various cycles in the year and, “the childing autumn” is one of the seasons mentioned.
At this time, Americans prefer to use “fall” and “autumn” at about the same rate. However the British use “autumn” almost completely. Americans like the opposition of fall to spring and how they seem to bounce off one another, especially when describing Day Light Saving Time. Also spring is when the leaves are returning. Fall is exactly what the leaves are doing this time of year, the very opposite.
So summer ends and autumn begins, the days start getting shorter. This is how the trees understand how to start getting ready for the long winter ahead. During those cold winter days, the trees rest, and survive off the food they have stored during the summer. They shut down and go into tree hibernation. The chlorophyll disappears from the leaves. When this green disappears, that is when the yellow, red, and orange colors appear. Minor quantities of these colors have always been in the trees but the green covers them up.
When that disappears is what brings the gorgeous fall foliage colors we enjoy each year to life. It is just too bad that the leaves do not stay on the trees longer than they do after they change to the various colors. Fall is such a vibrant time of year, yet sadly it does not last long enough for a lot of enjoyment. The trees are able to just give a taste of their true colors before the leaves disappear. Why we have fall is natural and a wonderful thing, even if it is fleeting.
Written by: Kimberly Ruble