Yesterday was the first day of fall, at least if we go by the astronomical season. However Meteorological seasons puts the first day of fall at Sept. 1. The difference is the astronomical listing goes by the dates of the spring and fall equinox or the summer and winter solstices to mark the beginnings and ends of the four seasons. The meteorological method simply starts each season by the first day of the month in which that equinox or solstice reside.
Looking into this a little more, I found that Sweden looks at the temperature when deciding the beginning of a season. For example, when the temperature is consistently above 32 degrees Fahrenheit it is spring.
While we take note of the “first day of fall” by the astronomical definition, Saturday’s cooler temps certainly gave us a “feeling” of fall weather. Saturdays slight breeze and cooler temps brought visions of apple orchards, piles of pumpkins and beautiful fall vistas found on long Sunday drives.
With so much knowledge available at the click of a mouse, I wanted to refresh my memory on what I had learned as a student in grade school when we talked about the seasons. First what is an equinox? It seems like such an odd word but when we find that it deals with the “equator” it makes more sense. An equinox, according to the website www.timeanddate.com, is the moment the sun crosses the “celestial” equator. It’s not the Earth’s Equator as one might think but an “imaginary line in the sky above” the equator we are all familiar with that marks the division between the northern and southern hemispheres. The celestial equator marks that division in the sky and the sun crosses it going from north to south when we mark the fall or “autumnal equinox” and those people living in the southern hemisphere mark the spring or “vernal equinox.”
While we celebrate the season change as the first “day” of fall, in reality it takes only a moment for the sun to cross this imaginary line.
For us in the United States, this happens on September 22 or 23. It can also happen on Sept. 21 or 24 but that is very rare. The reason it changes dates is because each equinox happens six hours after the one the year before. This year’s happened at 9:54 p.m. EDT yesterday. Next year’s will be at 3:50 a.m. on Sept. 23. While it should be at 9:50 a.m. on Sept. 23 in 2020, Leap Year (2020) causes it to be 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 22. It will remain on the 22nd of September until the year 2023 when it will once again fall on Sept.23.
In thinking of fall, the moon comes into mind as well, specifically the Harvest Moon. This is the first full moon closest to the equinox. For us that Harvest Moon happens tomorrow (Monday) at 9:52 p.m. Around the Harvest Moon we are told that the time between moonrises differs. Normally, according to the website, http://earthsky.org, “the moon rises about 50 minutes later every day in a lunar month – the time period between two Full Moons or two New Moons.” But around the Harvest Moon, the moon will rise closer to the time of sunset.
That rising of the moon closer to sunset means that there are no “long periods of darkness” between the two. This phenomenon, before the advent of tractor lights and such, meant that farmers could continue to harvest crops despite shorter daylight hours. The sun would set and the moon would rise, so fields would still be illuminated. Thus it’s called a “Harvest” Moon.
A little more research and I found that the name “Harvest Moon” became more popular with the creating of the song “Shine On Harvest Moon” by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth in 1903.
Shine on, shine on harvest moon
Up in the sky,
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since January, February, June or July
Snow time ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon,
So shine on, shine on harvest moon,
For me and my gal.
While talking more about romance than harvesting crops, the song does allude to the fact that a Harvest Moon lightens the darkness at night.
Regardless of the scientific explanation behind it, fall has begun. Some leaves have begun to change color and more will likely do so as nights become cooler. Apples, mums and pumpkins wait at a multitude of locations from grocery stores to farm markets and orchards.
This season has always seemed family oriented to me. Maybe it’s because traditionally school begins, families are back home from summer vacations, and family holiday gatherings are on the horizon. The beginning of fall just seems the beginning of cozy family times around the last campfire of summer or around the fireplace inside. Whatever the reason for this time of year to bring feelings of family to the forefront, I’m hoping for a prolonged fall
I don’t plan to recognize the beginning of winter until Dec. 21, the winter solstice. I’m totally ignoring the meteorological winter season beginning on Dec. 1. How about you?