The trees are on the verge of turning, the weather’s getting cooler, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back. It’s fall! Or is it autumn? Is there a difference distinguishing the “two” apart? Why does the same season have two vastly different names? While we explore the differences in derivation, not that anyone really cares, we’ll also discuss what this season means to you and what you did to prepare for the wonderful blast of arctic air that just blew in.
Autumn is the older of the two words, which first came into English in the 1300s from the Latin word, autumnus. Normally etymologists, not entomologists, associate a meaning with a Latin word, but in this case, I couldn’t find one. The common name for this intermediary season prior to the arrival of autumn was harvest. This was a bit confusing at the time since “harvest” can refer both to the “time” when gathering of crops usually happens (autumn) as well as the physical gathering (harvest) of crops. Of the two words, “autumn” was more accepted. Autumn brought changes in the season. This included changes in temperature, leaf color, and more importantly, leaf drop. The phrase “the fall of the leaves” came to be associated with the season. Around 1600 this phrase was shortened to fall.
In the middle 1700s, autumn was the more accepted word describing the season in England. Around this time, England’s empire was expanding, which also meant the English language was expanding, both literally and geographically. One of the places it went was the New World, that being North America. As time progressed, English spoken in America and English spoken in Britain diverged. There wasn’t as much contact between the two societies especially due to a conflict that started in 1775 known as The Revolutionary War. Since that time, the gap widened between the two dialects of English. In the end, autumn became the more popular term for the season in England and the term “fall” flourished in North America. So now that we have settled this, let’s move on to what I did in preparation for this wonderful front that coincided with the arrival of fall.
I have been on pins and needles for the past several weeks in anticipation of the seasonal change. It’s almost like the “torture” of waiting on Christmas morning that seems to take forever to arrive. I watched the weather channel incessantly hoping the forecast would reveal a dip in the jet stream with significant lower temperatures behind it. I constantly checked my weather app on my phone searching for change over the next few days and weeks. Like something might change in an hour or two, I would repeat this process over and over each day. Is obsessed the correct word to describe my actions?
I treated myself to the first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season last week, even before the cold front hit. It was available and I had some money in my pocket. The first sip brought me to a calm that I hadn’t experienced in a year. I didn’t bring out my computer nor my phone as I relaxed in the quaint coffee shop and savored every aroma and sip from the rich brew. As I shared my experience with Stacey, she reminded me of the carbs and calories that were bundled in that cup of joy. I should have ordered a large instead of a medium. Life is fragile, enjoy dessert first.
My closet is barren of the fall attire that I love wearing this time of year. My weathered khakis, flannel shirts, and wool pullovers have been thinned over the years. I suppose I should have said my closet “was” barren of traditional fall clothes. I corrected that last week with the purchase of an array of “woodsy” looking pants, sweaters, and iconic flannel wear from a local haberdashery. I can’t ever remember being this excited about clothes. I think this desire was complimented by a couple of movies that I recently watched…again. See if you remember these.
The movie, Those Calloways, based on the book Swiftwater, by Paul Annixter, is a 1964 family drama produced by Walt Disney. I won’t get into the plot of the movie too deeply, but in a nutshell, Cam Calloway and his family live in the backwoods of Swiftwater, Vermont with a lifelong dream of establishing a sanctuary for wild geese that fly over Vermont during their migrations. Though the movie is wonderful, try to picture Vermont in the fall, an abundance of wildlife, and an eccentric lifestyle in the woods and imagine the attire worn by these individuals. Better yet, find the movie and watch it yourself. I think you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
Along the same lines as this movie, is another favorite, that being Rascal, by Sterling North. No relation that I am aware of. Again, though the plot is wonderful, it’s the setting, the fall colors, the pumpkins, and beautiful countryside that increases the heightened anticipation of fall, at least for me it does. Note the weathered clothing that I find so fitting this time of year. Treat yourself and your family to this movie one evening and see if you don’t agree.
Have you been by any of the local farmers markets and produce stands lately? Pumpkins, sugarcane, boiled peanuts, and a variety of other seasonal items are ready for the picking. Have you ever peeled a stalk of sugarcane and shared with your children or grandchildren? When is the last time, if ever, you have treated yourself to this natural candy? Don’t forget those jellies and jams, coffee in the morning, or an old smoked ham. Fall brings with it some of the most delicious treats one could ever hope for. You don’t have to wait for Halloween to awake that sweet tooth, the time is right now.
The colors of fall foliage are on the verge of exploding. Photosynthesis is slowing with shorter days and cooler temperatures. This only means the dominant chlorophyll is giving way to the xanthophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. We still have a few weeks before we are “peak” here, but it’s coming, I assure you. For several years I have been thinking about how intense the fall foliage is in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
I have never seen this country, but this is about to change just as summer gives way to autumn. Maybe the combination of what I have described and what I have been longing for expedited my decision, but in the coming weeks I hope to share with you something special. With the forests in the Northeast ablaze in color, Stacey and I hope to be part of it. Just as I anticipate the season upon us, so I do with this expedition. From what I’ve been told, words can’t describe the beauty of what the hills behold. I hope they’re right.
Think about what I have written today. Pull your weathered sweater from the closet and go pick some muscadines. Make a big batch of spiced tea. Bring some sugarcane home to share with friends and family. And for sure, watch those movies. Fall or autumn, I’ll let you decide. Either way, it’s here. Enjoy everyday of it for it won’t last forever. You’ll be glad you did. Until next time, enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.