Fall in the Northern Hemisphere has officially arrived! I always welcome the fresher, cleaner air, less humidity, and cooler temperatures.
The first sunrise of autumn on September 23, 2013, brought all of that and more. As you can see, fall got off to a foggy start that day.
This photo was taken as the sun filtered through a typical September morning fog in Ohio’s Amish country, where I used to live. The wagon in the alfalfa field is a church bench wagon. It was parked there to provide seating for an Amish wedding.
“Autumnal Equinox Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.
Residents of the Northern Hemisphere are on the eve of yet another autumnal equinox. Autumn officially begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, September 22.
Autumn has given us plenty of warnings even before her arrival. Instead of turning red, many of the leaves on our backyard maple have simply been falling off one-by-one for weeks. We can thank the leafcutters for much of that.
The crazy weather of this insane year has also played a role in the dying leaves, along with other climatological irregularities. Let’s count the ways.
In late spring, an extended spell of chilly, wet March-like days did their damage. The steady damp weather kept farmers out of fields over much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.
Some bird species even delayed nesting because the weather was so foul. If birds did nest, naturalists found hatchlings dead because their parents couldn’t find enough insects to feed them.
Then just like that, it got hot and dry. Here in western Virginia, the furnace was on one day, and the air conditioner the next. Vegetation flourished in such conditions, causing the humid, hot wind to carry various pollens far and wide. According to my allergist, I wasn’t the only one sneezing.
About the time Major League Baseball finally began in July, the heavens opened up. The rains canceled games, and so did COVID-19 because too many players tested positive.
Record rains pelted the full length of the Shenandoah Valley. August usually is a hot and dry month here. Not this year. The weather was more like June should have been. We mowed our lush lawn twice a week for several consecutive weeks.
All the while, fall kept creeping upon us. Butterflies, relatively scarce during June and July, began to arrive. So did the ruby-throated hummingbirds. Now they are all filling up their tanks for their annual southern migration.
Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The yellow, green, and black Monarch caterpillars have morphed their way into magnificent orange and black butterflies. Predators have learned to avoid dining on them since the Monarch’s appetite for milkweed renders them bitter, according to lepidopterists.
That dreaded F word, F-R-O-S-T, has already made appearances across the northern reaches of the U.S. Can the rest of us be far behind?
If you listen to the jingles and jargon on TV, this is pumpkin spice everything season. Despite the marketing ploys, I’ll gladly stick to my decaf mocha lattes. They’ll taste just as robust when the first freeze hits.
Of course, hurricane season peaks in the first few weeks of fall. The National Hurricane Center has already increased its predictions for both the numbers and intensities of those tropical storms.
Out west, you can’t breathe the air. It’s so oppressively hot and thick with smoke from record-breaking fires that have caused death, destruction, and devastation to humans, wildlife, and entire towns. More than 10 percent of Oregon’s population has been evacuated as of this writing.
Unfortunately for those millions of west coast folks, the sky has glowed an apocalyptic orange for all the wrong reasons. A good frost or even a lovely blanket of snow would greatly help those tired firefighters slow the infernos.
Autumn, of course, abounds with fiery colors, orange included. In addition to the winged creatures, mums, maples, pumpkins, and gourds are but few of the things that warmly usher in fall.
Climate change has undoubtedly played a part in stirring up 2020’s weird and wild weather. It’s been a universally strange enough year already all the way around.
Let’s welcome fall with a blissful hope for more normal global weather patterns.
Autumn officially arrived at 10:21 EDT this morning. Scenes like these Amish boys walking to school in the morning mist are common in the fall. Cool, moist air condenses on the earth’s warmer surface. Most likely, however, these youngsters were conversing about who will get to bat first at the morning recess.
It seems like only yesterday that we were asking ourselves, “When will summer arrive?” I think that was in June when it was still cool and very wet.
Well, a lot has changed since then. It seemed like the summertime months turned on themselves. It was a Jekyll and Hyde summer to be sure.
The persistent rains of early summer suddenly ceased. After the deluge that created localized flash flooding in Holmes County on July 14, regular rains were scarce. We lapsed into a dry spell that lasted too long to help the corn kernels swell with sweetness.
Initially, truck patches struggled with mildew, mold and rot in the chilly dampness of early summer. Later, though, as crops matured, their unquenched thirst did them in. They ripened ahead of schedule, withered on the vine or failed to produce the desired yield.
So here we are, the autumnal equinox upon us, and we’re wondering, “Where did summer go already?” As humans, we can be as fickle and contrary as Ohio’s crazy weather. It’s in our nature, and we have the grievance gene working overtime.
Therefore, now that September is waning, it seems only fair to wonder what happened to summer. My best answer is, “I don’t know.” I do know, however, that the signs of summer’s end have shown for some time.
School started weeks ago for many students, always a sure omen of summer’s demise. Summer flies other white flags, too.
Spurred on by the early rains, rows and rows of field corn sprouted lush and fertile, growing taller than tall. Without regular August rains, they have withered and turned brittle brown overnight. It’s been a long time since I remember seeing cornstalks standing like mustered soldiers this early in the harvest time.
(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Fireflies faded, and crickets increased amid the dryness. Our feathered friends have dawned their duller wardrobe for safety sake. Their luxurious singing has muted with their habitat’s colors.
Migration is in full swing for birds and butterflies alike. Look quickly. They won’t stay. They have long, challenging journeys ahead.
Another obvious indication of summer’s passing is just how soon sunset seems to arrive each evening. And that’s after the sun was late in rising daily.
With the reduction in daylight hours, the air has cooled considerably overall. Of course we’ll still have some splendid days ahead. But day-by-day, week-by-week, the evening and morning coolness forces us to dress in layers to adjust to the daily variables.
Summer has gradually been waving goodbye in a very colorful fashion for weeks now. Deciduous leaves have been slowly changing from their summer greens into fall’s warmer fashionable trends of crimsons, yellows, and russets. Many leaves have just simply fallen off.
Healthy stands of goldenrod bend and recoil with the slightest breeze. Wild sunflowers separate highways from pastureland. The American Goldfinches couldn’t be happier, gorging on their fresh fruit.
Funny how we humans too often seem to want what we don’t have, and when it does arrive, we long for something else. I think that pretty much sums up summer and answers our rhetorical questions about summer’s arrival and departure.
We can’t control the weather or the seasons. We can only enjoy them whatever weather they bring. The key is to embrace the moment at hand, so we don’t have to look back and wonder where the time went.
Summer is about to depart. Let’s send her out with joy, as we usher in the harvest season with gladness and thanksgiving.
With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.
Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.
The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.
The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.
In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.
Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.
In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.
In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.
Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.
The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.
Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.
Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.
Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.
There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.
The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.