Falling for autumn

The furnace has been on a couple of nights already to take the chill off. Driving home from Asheville the other evening in the wind-blown rain, I got a good look at the first real cold front of the year. Great dark clouds, purple looking in the twilight, were rising like a wall in the west, but it was a wall with tattered holes, through which shone patches of powder-blue, backlit sky. Friday morning came clear and blue and bright and crisp with a yard full of migrating songbirds. Autumn is, indeed, here.


I ran across a Web site, obviously from the Deep South, where someone was grumbling about the “hoax” of autumn. The Web site seemed to be a general lament about how all things “American” are biased to the Northeast because the Mayflower foundered ashore at Plymouth Rock.

This particular lament was about the change of seasons at the autumnal equinox and the pending display of fall colors. The author rightly argued that the drone of the air conditioner would still be evident across Dixie for at least another month and most of the foliage change in the South is from green to brown to down.

I thought about my years in the hot Louisiana Delta and can vouch for stifling heat extending into October, but things are relative. Those 50-degree nights in October in Louisiana touch that primordial place in the human psyche where the change in seasons means more than time for the World Series. Yes, Virginia, there is an autumn, even in the South.

I think it’s the change in lighting that’s telling. If you ran an imaginary axis through the earth from the North Pole to the South Pole, you would see that the earth is slightly tilted along this axis. As we barrel around the sun like a NASCAR driver at Bristol, this tilt remains constant. Sometime around the 22nd of September the Northern Hemisphere begins to turn away from the sun. Instead of the sun’s warming rays hitting Plymouth Rock head on, we begin to get a glancing blow – thus temperatures begin to cool and as we continue around the oval and the North Pole points even father away from the sun the hours of daylight become fewer and the Northern Hemisphere cools down and winter is upon us.

Or it could be as the ancient Greeks thought that Persephone is now packing for her annual tryst with her husband Hades. Every year when this happens, Hades’ mother-in-law, Demeter (goddess of the harvest) gets so upset she lets the earth grow cold and barren.

I tell people, and I think I’ve written here before, that Louisiana has basically two seasons — hot and wet and cold and wet. But between the hot and sultry summer and the cold (and trust me — 35 degrees in February, in Louisiana, is cold), wet winter there is an obvious time of change, evidenced by the change in lighting.

Of course, it’s not the change we have here. And while we’re not at the same latitude as Plymouth Rock, we have an ace-in-the-hole — elevation that gets us in the same ballpark, seasonally.

And frankly, Scarlet, even though I’m a bona fide Southerner, I’m gonna relish the season.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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