Today is the first day of autumn (in my hemisphere), one of the most unpredictable days of the year. True, this year it’s been almost sardonically on-the-nose (where I live): yesterday was a blazing final summer day in the 90s, today is a crisply cool first day of fall in the 60s. It’s as if Mother Nature were saying, “Oh, you want fall? Here, eat this!”
But then again, that’s autumn, the conflicted season. Sometimes is Summtum, unseasonably warm. Somtimes is Fallmer, unseasonably cool. And sometimes it’s Falltumn, the season we love so much we’ve given it two names!
Americans call it fall (an old Anglo-Saxon word) because, well, things fall. A very realistic term, considering that the celebrated symbols of the season—those exquisite leaves—last about ten minutes before they fall to the ground. It’s the season of the fleeting, the unattainable. What we want are trees that are red, what we get are leaves that are dead. Red leaves and dead leaves. There’s something very human about that.
On the other hand, the lovely French-Latinate word autumn, meaning “mature,” suggesting a magnificent French gentlemen strutting his stuff, only to be tripped by a cocky younger fellow (probably an American) and falling to the ground. What he wants is not what he gets because, after all, being mature means the end is near.
In most of the world’s languages the name of the season means ending. In the ancient Hebrew calendar it’s the season of harvest or “ingathering,” but it’s also the start of a new year (it is for Muslims, as well).
Do you see the spiritual longing there?
We want it both ways. We’re as conflicted as the season is. We want to retain the old and lay hold of the new. But we can’t. We have to let go of what was in order to lay hold of what will be.
Ah, humans. They want it all. And who can fault ‘em? They’re made that way.
So welcome to falltumn.