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Seasonal Reflections: October
THE SEASONS: October Reflections originally written in 2010
So here we are – it’s Autumn, a time of amazing sunrises and incredible sunsets! Have you seen them? Well in general terms it is, for in meteorological terms ‘Autumn’ is that period running from the beginning of September to the end of November. Astronomers, I believe, focus it as the period between the Autumn Equinox (where day and night are virtually equal lengths), which in 2010 was the 23rd September, through to the Winter Solstice (the shortest day length) which, in 2010, will be 21st December (the exact days and times vary slightly from year to year).
So much for the ‘technical’ approach to Autumn but how boring it would be if that was all it was. Poets get all misty eyed (well not all of them actually) about Autumn. Possibly one of the most famous additions to our compendium of Autumn reflections must have been ‘Ode to Autumn’ by John Keats, back in 1820, of which most of us can only remember the opening line, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Left in the hands of academics we are told “Keats is referring to autumn as a symbol for old age, and telling the reader that old age is a desirable state of life.” A cause for philosophical reflections, no less! Perhaps the onset of Autumn does this, anyway.
Monty Don, of gardening fame, summarised it in ‘The Jewel Garden’ as follows: “In the first week of September, the summer holidays are over and a new year begins. All change. New year, new form, new school, new season. The garden often seems unaware of this, carrying on its summer ways. But it is on borrowed time. Somehow it is easy to treat September as an extension of August or a prelude to October, but it is as distinctive a month as any, and has its own quality of light that is more fragile than the glare of summer or the rich honey slant of autumn. It is this light that you easily forget.”
Indeed it is a time of change, as he says; leaves turning yellow and red and brown and falling, nights drawing in, and temperatures dropping, birds start flying out and some animals start thinking about hibernating. As we gaze ahead we see Harvest, Bonfire Night, and Halloween.
The Internet can be a fruitful source for Autumn ponderings, but you have to be careful. For instance, this came up on a search: “The leaves are turning gold and red, pumpkins and squash are beginning to ripen, and the first of the pomegranates are starting to appear.” Oh dear! We’re in America, but I am told that pumpkins are being grown in our gardens or allotments much more than they once were.
With the passing of time, things change. A century ago we might have waxed eloquent about sitting around a log fire, warding off days of darkness and first frosts. Today the central heating doesn’t create that same feeling of inner warmth and, as clever as many modern gas or electric fires are, they still don’t seem to generate the feelings of security that came with the extremes of a real log fire. So, I wonder, has modern life – its technical innovations and its busyness – pushed the experience of Autumn into the background.
The picture we chose to epitomise Autumn shows a cobweb covered in morning dew; two signs of Autumn. The arrival of regular dew, on almost any clear morning, highlights the number of cobwebs there are at this time of the year. Is it that the spiders know that there’s not so much food around and so need to make more and bigger webs? We noted one the other day that managed to stretch over twelve feet between two bushes! What a feat of micro-engineering!
Fog, I am told by my weather book, is “a type of stratus cloud that is so low-lying that it’s found at ground level. Mist is similar to fog but less dense. Both are made up of minute droplets of water, but in mist the droplets are more widely spread.” As one who stood on top of a mountain in the Summer holidays in a light ‘mist’ I can confirm that mist is pretty wet! At this time of the year the beauty of the mist is seeing the sun forcing its way through the edges of it as it rises. Absolutely wonderful!
Dew, Wikipedia tells me, is “water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening. As the exposed surface cools by radiating its heat, atmospheric moisture condenses at a rate greater than that at which it can evaporate, resulting in the formation of water droplets.”
In other words, warm air can hold more water vapour than cool air and so when the conditions are warm, but there’s previously been a lot of moisture around from rain etc., it’s ripe to start tipping it out! What they call ‘the dew-point’ is the temperature at which an air mass gets too cool to hold its vapour content and as it touches a cooling surface (e.g. the ground) this condenses into droplets – the dew on the grass.
At last we have a break from the grey skies and suddenly we are aware of the mist over the fields in the early morning that quenches the sun as it slides up over the horizon or, if there are low hazy clouds, we have the wonder of amazing sunrises turning the sky a glorious orange. You’re not up that early? You don't know what you’re missing!
What has surprised us in our Autumn-watch, is how green so many trees or bushes still are. Yes, there are the occasional ones that are turning to yellows or browns but, by and large, the glorious panorama or red, yellows and browns has not arrived yet. A little while back the forecasters did mention the words, “ground frosts” but those slid away with the advent of rain. Generally though, the temperatures are falling. Even an optimistic 24 being forecast a few days ago has been brought down to a decidedly chillier 16! This is also witnessed by fewer and fewer hardy souls in shorts or short shirts. Yes, Autumn is well and truly here!
Last week (Oct. 2010) we had our first real frost with a heavy white covering over the grass and over roofs of sheds. If you have a sheltered garden you may not have noticed it, but here it was a serious white covering. There is rarely a morning now when the grass is not saturated with dew and with the sun losing its heat as it goes round lower in the sky, there are fewer days when it is even possible to think about bringing the lawn mower out. There have been a couple of times in recent weeks when over the fields there has been a healthy mist. Nothing like a serious fog, but mists have appeared once or twice. Autumn is progressing!
Mists, dew and frost all have to do with moisture. There is an old song or nursery rhyme that starts out:
One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,
I met a withered old man a-clothed all in leather.
I like that ‘misty moisty’ thing; it describes many Autumn mornings well.