This year, the official end of autumn arrives on Dec. 21st, seven weeks hence. However, the real turn of the year toward the oppressive darkness of winter always arrives for me with a bang when daylight saving time ends and darkness begins to descend late afternoon, creeping earlier and earlier, day by day, until it feels we have almost no time at all before nightfall. This year, daylight saving ends two nights from today, on Nov. 4th.
What an extraordinary time we enjoyed during the first half of autumn. After that first initial dip in temperature into the 40s in early September, we had weeks of hot weather this year that felt like it belonged more to mid-August rather than to late September and early October. Extra weeks of temperatures lingering in the 80s and barely a leaf had yet turned color. With annuals and perennials still in full flower, way past their normal dates, and the garden still producing a variety of vegetables, it felt almost like we were enjoying temperatures from a different clime. Still, given the length of time it took for the warm weather to settle in last spring, this generous season turns out to balance perfectly with the tough and lingering cold we endured in the second quarter of the year.
Still sitting outside, writing during the warm hours of the day, when I turn my head, I may still catch a brief, sunlit rain of yellow leaves and seed pods. Even the yellowjackets are enjoying the extended warm season. I abandoned a half-eaten apple several days past, and watched for a few days as an entire small army came to devour it to its core, claiming their own space on the patio, no crumb left behind.
The animals are busy fattening up for the winter. Turning onto Delancey Road last week, I caught sight of a red-tailed hawk going in for a kill. There was the thrum-thrum-thrum of wings as I watched the bird lift itself into the air, while from his claws undulated the small body, caught, helpless, below him. One of my cats does the majority of his hunting during the autumn. I worry about him, single-minded as he is in hunting mode, sitting for hours and waiting. Several cats have gone missing in the neighborhood recently. Lately, the howls and yips of the Eastern coyotes in nearby fields come earlier in the evening and far more frequently than in years past. It’s now a daily event, moving in closer, sounding creepier, more predatory; their raucous yipping calls to mind the higher notes of hyenas on the savannah, rather than the deeper howl of the gray wolf.
Heralded by a windstorm and a rainstorm, the cooler weather has finally caught up with itself. The leaves have been turning quickly these two last weeks, so that everywhere I walk and drive it finally feels like proper autumn. This year, though, the colors may end up less vivid than during a prime year, what with the dry spell we rode out the last six weeks. There are exceptions, though, such as the rows of burning bush shrubs lining the roads around North Salem and Ridgefield, Conn., already bright, glorious, in a color range from dark fuchsia to cherry red.
Nature moves in its own time; every year a unique symphony of its own making, with specific directions, when new voices and shading and color move in and fade out. Never two times the same. But in the end, however punctual or delayed, it reaches midseason and season’s end. And a new season begins.
Mara Schiffren, a Campus Watch Fellow, is a writer and functional medicine health coach who lives in North Salem. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org