Autumn is upon us. The Yankees up north (you know, those Ivy League eggheads who decide important stuff like dates and holidays and such) say Sunday marks the first day of fall, the beginning of the end of summer’s too long tyranny of the seasons. But down here in East Texas, we know better… don’t we?
The last days of Summer I believe are the worst. That’s when Summer fights for its life in heaving howls of crushing sultry days. Like a wounded boar snorting and stumbling — bleeding out of its side from the spears of our heat-fueled discontent — the season lumbers and crashes upon the earth with a rage so titanic that its feverish body still takes weeks to cool.
In the hard light of dying Summer and burgeoning Autumn, even the all-too-rare winds are against us. The blast furnace of September high noons, and the slick glaze of evening sweat makes everything stick. Long shadows frame the cracked pavements of weary afternoons. For some it’s a parting wave to youth, love, conquest and deathless time. In the face of this destruction there is revelation, epiphany, agony and exhaustion. Empty pursuits on fruitless plains in search of lightning, or perhaps even nothing.
In the northern hemisphere autumn begins precisely at 3:44 p.m. Sunday. In 2012 it was also on Sept. 22, but in 2011 and it was on the 23rd. It has also occurred—albeit a rare occurrence—on Sept. 24, but it will not fall on the 21st (the date most people think is the equinox) until 2092.
When autumn has four different birthdays, the anniversary becomes devalued, which may explain why the September equinox — along with its sibling, the vernal equinox in March — has always seemed the slighter of the year’s markings, set against the Summer and Winter solstices.
Equinoxes are very exact points in time, yet the term itself is misleading: it derives from the Latin for “equal night,” and refers to the sun’s center being directly over the equator at solar noon, creating a moment when the duration of day and night is reckoned identical.
It is true that, for most places on Earth, there are two days a year when day and night have almost the same length — when sunrise and sunset are closest to being 12 hours apart. But day is about 14 minutes longer than night at the equator, and even longer toward the poles. Because of the elliptical nature of the Earth’s orbit, the seasons are not exactly of equal length: so although we like to think that our year is neatly cut into quarters, it isn’t.
None of this stops the world from marking the September event as special. Throughout history, the first day of Autumn has been considered a good time to take stock of the year’s successes and failures. October marks the beginning of the holiday cycle. The colors blend.
The harvest moon is a bloodshot eye marking the time with hope. Autumn is the year’s last, and loveliest smile — a time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.
In the cooler temperatures and shorter light cycle — with the calm clarity of nostalgic November nights — we will take stock of Summer, we will run the numbers and check the statistics, over and over again, sleuthing, separating the layers, filtering, isolating and analyzing.
With an almost imperceptible nod, we will say, “A-ha! Now I can see you,” as we grind its charred remains under our heels.