The Weekly Watch
Falling into Autumn
How's your fall color? Our trees have started early. The last few years the first blushes have been in October, but full color is common in early November. There's on and off years for color in the South. Some years it is straight to brown and falling leaves. Other years strong yellows. Some years it's reds. This year we've started with yellows. Mornings stay dark later every day till the time shift changes the sense of things again. Gardening is one way to stay in pace with the seasons. Just experiencing nature...the migrations of the birds and butterflies on their various journeys...many wintering with us...the burst of Asters from goldenrod to Liatris... in the quilt of seasonal colors. There's good and bad in every season. Leaves are a burden in the roadside drainage ditches and a resource in the garden. Looking through rose colored lenses seems appropriate under the harvest moon at the Autumnal Equinox.
It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
–Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
The fall equinox arrives on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, at 3:20 P.M. EDT in the Northern Hemisphere. The word “equinox” comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal,” and nox, “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length. After the autumnal equinox, the Sun begins to rise later and nightfall comes sooner.
... it’s not strictly accurate to say day and NIGHT are equal, because of twilight. If useful daylight ends about an hour after sunset, and you add in the dawn twilight too, then most places don’t have equal day and night until around November 10.By comparison, for the past six months, the Sun’s path has displayed an upward curve, concave to the north, like a giant smile. Starting right after the equinox, the Sun’s track across the sky starts to bend like a rainbow, with the concave part aimed downward. Birds and butterflies migrate along with the Sun's path.
There’s an old-wife’s tale that you can stand an egg on its end of the equinox. Well, yes, it’s true (and fun to try). But it’s not only on the equinox. The laws of gravity don't change with daylight.
The fall equinox has been a day of celebration for cultures since ancient days. People tracked the transitions of the Earth’s journeys around the Sun.
- At Machu Picchu in Peru, an ancient stone monument called Intihuatana—which means “Hitching Post of the Sun”—serves as a solar clock to mark the dates of the equinoxes and solstices.
- In Mexico, the Mayans built a giant pyramid called Chichen Itza. On the equinoxes, it looks as if a snake made of light slithers down the pyramid’s steps.
- In England, Stonehenge was also built with the equinoxes and solstices in mind.
But the Sun isn't the only way the ancients marked time. The Moons defined the "moonths" so to speak.
None the less, many peoples have maintained their ties with the moon.
The Oldest Lunar Calendars and Earliest Constellations have been identified in cave art found in France and Germany. The astronomer-priests of these late Upper Paleolithic Cultures understood mathematical sets, and the interplay between the moon annual cycle, ecliptic, solstice and seasonal changes on earth.
The First (Lunar) Calendar
The archaeological record’s earliest data that speaks to human awareness of the stars and ‘heavens’ dates to the Aurignacian Culture of Europe, Between 1964 and the early 1990s, Alexander Marshack published breakthrough research that documented the mathematical and astronomical knowledge in the Late Upper Paleolithic Cultures of Europe. Marshack deciphered sets of marks carved into animal bones, and occasionally on the walls of caves, as records of the lunar cycle. These marks are sets of crescents or lines. Artisans carefully controlled line thickness so that a correlation with lunar phases would be as easy as possible to perceive. Sets of marks were often laid out in a serpentine pattern that suggests a snake deity or streams and rivers.
Many of these lunar calendars were made on small pieces of stone, bone or antler so that they could be easily carried. These small, portable, lightweight lunar calendars were easily carried on extended journeys such as long hunting trips and seasonal migrations.
Many (older?) cultures still use a Lunar calendar.
- Islamic Lunar Calendar. The only purely lunar calendar widely used today is the Islamic calendar, called the Hijri calendar. The years always have 12 lunar months. Because of the varying length of these lunar months, this calendar can’t be linked to the seasons. While the Hijri calendar is the official calendar in countries around the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, other Muslim countries only use the Islamic calendar for religions purposes and use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes.
- Mayan Lunar Calendar. The Mayan Calendar was a lunar calendar system based on the agriculture requirements of living in a rain forest. The Mayans invented numerous calendar systems, but the most important one was the sacred tzolkin. This lunar calendar was made up of 260 days and had two repeating cycles. One cycle consisted of 13 numbered days and the other cycle was made up of 20 named days.
- Babylonian Lunar Calendar. The Babylonian lunar calendar consisted of 12 months that alternated between being 29 days and 30 days long. Months with 29 days were called “hollow,” while those with 30 days were called “full.” This calendar was used for over 3000 years, not falling out of favor until about 238 BCE.
- Chinese Lunar Calendar. The Chinese originally used a lunar calendar system to determine the best times to plant, harvest, and hold their many religious festivals. Though a majority of modern Chinese citizens use the Western solar calendar for the more practical matters of their everyday lives, the old lunar calendar is still used to determine the dates of holidays and festival occasions. The Chinese people have long accepted this coexistence of two different calendar systems.
The first nations peoples gave us their names of the different moons through the year...
I've had this list compiled in my documents for years. It is from a variety of sources.
Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. There was some variation in the Moon names, but in general, the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. European settlers followed that custom and created some of their own names. Since the lunar month is only 29 days long on the average, the full Moon dates shift from year to year.
• Full Wolf Moon - January Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January's full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.
• Full Snow Moon - February Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the north and east most often called February's full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.
• Full Worm Moon- March As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon, and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter.
• Full Pink Moon - April This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month's celestial body include the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.
• Full Flower Moon - May In most areas, flowers are abundant everywhere during this time. Thus, the name of this Moon. Other names include the Full Corn Planting Moon, or the Milk Moon.
• Full Strawberry Moon - June This name was universal to every Algonquin tribe. However, in Europe they called it the Rose Moon. Also because the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries comes each year during the month of June . . . so the full Moon that occurs during that month was christened for the strawberry!
• The Full Buck Moon - July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, for the reason that thunderstorms are most frequent during this time. Another name for this month's Moon was the Full Hay Moon.
• Full Sturgeon Moon - August The fishing tribes are given credit for the naming of this Moon, since sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, were most readily caught during this month. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze. It was also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
• Full Harvest Moon - September This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice the chief Indian staples are now ready for gathering.
• Full Hunter's Moon - October With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can easily see fox and the animals which have come out to glean.
• Full Beaver Moon - November This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.
• The Full Cold Moon; or the Full Long Nights Moon - December During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long, and because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time. The midwinter full Moon has a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite a low Sun.
The Harvesters Painting by Pieter Bruegelwas created in 1565 as an oil on wood. It was originally part of a series of six paintings depicting the times of the year.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, In 2021, the Northern Hemisphere autumn equinox comes on September 22. The full moon falls less than two days earlier, on September 20. Thus, for the Northern Hemisphere, this upcoming full moon – the full moon closest to our autumn equinox – is our Harvest Moon.
Harvest Moon is just a name. In some ways, it’s like any other full moon name. But these autumn full moons do have special characteristics, related to the time of moonrise. Nature is particularly cooperative in giving us dusk-till-dawn moonlight, for several evenings in a row, around the time of the Harvest Moon.
On average, the full moon rises around sunset, and rises about 50 minutes later each day. But when a full moon happens close to an autumn equinox, the moon on the following nights rises closer to the time of sunset. For mid-temperate latitudes, it rises only about 20 to 25 minutes later daily for several days before and after the full Harvest Moon.
The difference between 50 minutes and 25 minutes might not seem like much. But it means that, in the nights after a full Harvest Moon, you’ll see the moon ascending in the east relatively soon after sunset. The moon will rise during or near twilight on these nights, presenting dusk-till-dawn moonlight for several nights in a row around the time of the Harvest Moon. ... the Harvest Moon aided in bringing in the crops.
The name was popularized in the early 20th century by the song below.
By Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth (1903)
While all full moons rise into the evening sky around sunset, only the full harvest moon and the waning moon over the next few nights floods landscapes with moonlight as soon as twilight ends. In other words, the moon shines brightly in the early evening for several consecutive days this time of year, gifting harvesters with extra light to glean their crops by. (Ordinarily after a full moon, the moons on the nights that follow rise about 50 minutes later and later each night, yielding a period of darkness between sundown and moonrise.2)
Why do harvest moons, in particular, offer extra moonlight? It has to do with the seasonal “ecliptic," or the path the Moon travels across the sky as it moves around the Earth in its monthly orbit.
Contrary to popular belief, harvest moons aren’t any bigger, brighter, or more honey-hued than any other full moon—at least, not unless they happen on the same date as a “supermoon” or other extraordinary lunar phenomena.
If a harvest moon does appear larger-than-usual or more golden to your eyes, it’s likely because you’re catching a glimpse of it right as it’s rising into the evening sky. At moonrise, any full moon will appear larger and more creamy-colored, since this is when the moon is nearest to Earth’s horizon. (When the moon sits along the horizon, it appears bigger as a result of an optical illusion. Similarly, the atmosphere is thicker near the horizon than it is higher up in the sky, so as moonlight travels through more air, more blue light waves are scattered, leaving mostly red and yellow light to reach our eyes.)
Colorful fall foliage isn’t due to current weather conditions. This is a common misconception. Leaves change color because of the amount of daylight and photosynthesis.
As the autumn days grow shorter, the reduced light starts chemical changes in deciduous plants, causing a corky wall of cells (called the “abscission zone”) to form between the twig and the leaf stalk. This corky wall eventually causes the leaf to drop off in the breeze.
As the corky cells multiply, they begin to seal off the vessels that supply the leaf with nutrients and water and also block the exit vessels to some extent, trapping simple sugars in the leaves. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients, and less water triggers the trees to start the process of breaking down the pigment chlorophyll, which contains valuable nutrients and is the source of the “green” in leaves. As chlorophyll is broken down and the green color fades, yellows and reds are revealed.
Without the presence of Chlorophyll in the leaf, the bright golds, reds, yellows, and browns would be the natural colors seen year round.
The Northeastern US is renown for fall color as are the Smoky Mountains in the South. Out West the aspens glow yellow. Every region has its time for optimum color.
Check out this State guide for color if your traveling or taking a color drive...
and this map allows you to change dates to look at the progression of peak color
When leaves fall to the ground, they begin to break down and eventually create a rich humus on the forest floor that absorbs dew and rainfall. This nutrient rich ‘sponge’ acts as a continual source of nutrients and water for trees and plants, helping to promote life and plant health in the next spring season.
It is not difficult to conclude that while the falling of the leaves protects the trees through winter, it’s likely that trees would not survive as well without the rich layer of dead leaves through the warm spring and summer months. In this way, trees' natural cycle provides health and sustainability for the forest year after year.
Those fallen leaves in your yard and neighborhood can be a gardening resource if allowed to become "leaf mold".
The easiest way to make leaf mold is to just rake your leaves into a big pile and let the pile sit there for two or three years. A leaf pile needs to be fairly substantial in size, in order to retain enough moisture and heat to get finished leaf mold within 12 months. Six feet square and five feet high seems to be an ideal size. It takes about 25 trash bags full of leaves to make a pile this large.
Leaf mold is a “cold” composting process versus “hot” composting. The decomposition is done primarily by fungi, rather than bacteria and takes longer.
I like the fall crops...cabbage, broccoli, various greens, lettuce, and so on. I like seeing how long into winter I can keep them producing. I've got a couple of collard plants that are two years old. I cut them down, and they grow back. One of those curiosities that makes gardening fun. With our relatively mild winters, and using row covers, we often eat from the garden all year.
Autumn is typically dry in the Southeast, but not this year. So things are growing well. I did have a cut worm issue, but replanted with collars around the young plants. Until frost I keep bt dust (dipel) on the young plants to deal with the cabbage loopers. In spring it is especially important to keep them dusted.
After digging the sweet potatoes next month it will be time to visit the horse farm on the mountain to get a load of manure. We spread manure and then straw over the beds and they will be ready for planting in the spring. Jim Kovaleski considers his garden in Maine to be "grassfed". Here's his established garden (18 min) and new garden area practices (20 min). Here in the tropical south we like to begin a bed with a layer of cardboard to smother the weeds. Simply adding a layer of manure and straw mulch on top, and next season you're ready to plant.
This 1885 poem by Robert Louis Stevenson is a simple evocation of fall that even children could understand.
"In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!"
We often spend time around a campfire as cool weather arrives. The tendency is to build large bonfires, but we usually opt for a small "indian" fire. The term bonfire is from "Bone Fire" thought to originated when burning bodies during the plague. Therefore the fires needed to be large.
I learned this one from the Georgia Mudcats. It reflects on fall, making sorghum syrup, barn dances, and harvest time....
Mason Williams · Byron Berline · John Hickman · Rick Cunha
My first couple of years at Auburn I rented a place in Loachapoka, a few miles out side of town. Their fall festival was called a Syrup Soppin', and they would grind the cane sorghum and boil it down into syrup. I see they've now changed the name to Pioneer days, but they continue the sorghum tradition. Sorghum festivals are common in the south.
It is the time of year for apple festivals too. Nearby Ellijay, GA has a big apple fest every year. https://www.georgiaapplefestival.org/ There are several orchards in the area. Today's apples have been bred to be sweet, but early American apples were used primarily for hard cider. Apple brandy is delicious...and potent.
The County Fairs are usually this time of year as well. They even let school out for one Friday every year so the kids could go to the fair. https://dekalbcountyvfwfair.com/
When you drop by the fair, you can enjoy several exhibits of handmade crafts, canned foods, photography, drawings, flower arrangements, and quilts. You’ll also get to see live animals such as cattle and chickens.
It is indeed a community event. In nearby Summerville, GA the fair has already been held.
Fall music festivals are also popular. For years there was a festival at Horse Pens-40 near Steele, Alabama. I saw and heard so many fine musicians there in my youth. Once the owner died the festivals there have been spotty. Then there's the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddler's convention over in Athens, Alabama. I used to go every year and we won best "old time band" a few times. Have not been in years, but still have fond memories.
Hayrides are a popular Fall tradition that is enjoyed by all ages and are a wonderful way to take in the Fall season and the natural beauty that it brings. Some hayrides will feature scenic views of endless land, while others take you through acres of cornfields. An entertaining way to capture the breath-taking views that the Fall offers
Enter your location at the link above to find a hayride near you.
I bought an old wagon many years ago from an older gentlemen. His barn was falling down and he wanted someone with a barn to keep the old wagon from rotting. The wagon was ordered from the Sears catalogue and came to the valley in the early nineteen hundreds. I'm the third owner and it has been in the same 10 mile radius for over a hundred years.
Living here in Alabama I can't omit football, which is a game I don't care for, and that is like heresy around here. I liked Andy's description in his routine "The Big Orange" "People try to run from one end of the pasture to the other without getting knocked down or stepping in something." (5.5 min)
My Mom signed me up for football when I was 7 or so. First you had to dress in these ridiculous clothes and padding then were told to "hit" the other kids. Let's just say I didn't like it and never have since. Now nothing against those who enjoy the game...each to their own (favorite form of brain damage).
John Denver wrote an entire season suite. Here's His tribute to Fall. (1.5 min)
Sara Teasdale wrote this poem in 1914, a memoir to autumn filled with sensuous detail of sight and sound. It is a meditation on saying goodbye to the season and on sealing the memory of the soon-departing season into the poet's mind.
"Lyric night of the lingering Indian summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.
Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them."
I learned this song about the seasons by the Dillards from this clip many years ago. It was back in the day of walkman cassette recorders which I used to to record it off the TV, and learn the lyrics. This was long before YouTube, which is a resource for musicians and grinners alike. The song looks at a lifetime as the passing of seasons...
It had been many years since I've heard this source. Interesting the way you make songs your own after singing them for years.
Well, I hope you'll share your favorite fall stories and memories...or anything else on your mind in the comments below. Enjoy Summer's last Sunday!