Autumn comes to us through the Middle English autumpne and the Old French autompne, thence from the Latin autumnus, and the Latin likely derives from even older Etruscan forms - the first part of autumnus (autu) may come from the Etruscan autu, related to avil, or year. There may also be a connection with the old Venetic autu or autah, meaning much the same thing. The second part of autumnus (mnus) comes from menos meaning loss, minus, or passing. There we have it - the year is passing away.
At the end of our etymological adventure is the burnished notion that autumn, both the word and the season, signifies the passing of a bright and fertile time and the waning of another calendar year in what I like to call simply, "the Great Round," the natural cycle of our days and seasons. September days are about harvest and abundance, but they are about balance too. The Autumn Equinox came and went just a few days ago - it is one of two times in the annual cycle when day and night are perfectly balanced in length, the other being the Vernal Equinox on March 21.
"Autumn Equinox" describes the day on which the sun passes over the equator on its long journey southward, moving away from our northern hemisphere. Of course things are actually the other way around, and it is the earth that is in motion, the northern hemisphere tilting away from the sun at the center of our galaxy. Earth's tilting is caused by a slight wobble (or in astronomical lingo, "precess"), and our planet is about 23 degrees and 27 minutes off true perpendicular as it spins merrily on its own axis. The wobble determines how many hours of daylight and darkness we receive at various times of the year, and it gives rise to the four seasons that constitute our calendar year.
Mindful that the old is passing away, we harvest the yield of the summer, storing the abundance of aestival fields with the knowledge that colder, darker, and leaner times lie ahead. For the ancients, autumn must have been a time of frantic activity, anxiety, and uncertainty about winter survival, but we moderns have fewer anxieties. We have time to walk among the leaves and marvel at colors surrounding us, but we know we too are witnessing a swan song of unparalleled brilliance, a last hurrah before the world falls asleep and gathers its energies for the year to come. Many of the activities we are engaged in at this time of year are ones in which our ancestors were engaged in their time. Across the years, we join hands and nod to each other in greeting, ancestors and moderns moving to shared and timeless rhythms in the great dance of time.
Before dawn, we stood in the garden, and a blanket of stars covered the sky from here to there. Orion commanded the southern sky front and center, the moon and Jupiter dancing over its right shoulder and Sirius twinkling madly under its right foot. With a sky like this, how can one feel anything but as rich as old Croesus and jubilant in spirit?
Geese fly over the village and countryside in waves, honking resonant pleasure in the exercise of their days. A recent capture of geese below the waning moon would have been perfect for this morning's post, but alas, I tucked the image in here yesterday with Mary Oliver's poem. On morning walks, fallen leaves drift around our ankles, making a fine rustling music. The earthbound papery foliage is going transparent and turning into stained glass in splendid buttery colors. We stop every few feet to look at the wonders under our feet, and it's a wonder we ever get anywhere at all.