Eco@Africa

Our Beautiful Planet: Autumn in the northern hemisphere

One of the four seasons, autumn, otherwise known as fall, is a time of coming together to harvest and prepare for winter. It is also one of the most beautiful and dynamic times of the year.

DW eco@africa - Fall leaves (DW/Timothy Rooks)

Sandwiched between the sunny summer and the cold winter is autumn. The days become shorter, the leaves of deciduous trees change colors and school starts up again. Some fear autumn and the melancholy it can bring, while others look forward to the renewal it inspires.

Fall is a season of bird migration, harvests, and nearly as important, festivals like Germany's famous Oktoberfest. Sports fans also look forward to the cooler months. American football is a game that is associated with falling leaves and autumn means that winter sports are just around the corner.  

Mark your calendar

But pinning autumn down is not easy. Its dates are fluid as it is defined differently in different places around the world. For some in the northern hemisphere the season is just a feeling sometime between August and December. For others it is a hard date based on the September equinox when day and night are nearly equal in duration — around September 23 — and the winter solstice — around December 21.

Interestingly, for most of history humans have mainly focused on two seasons — summer and winter, the warmest and coolest parts of the year. The more subtle idea of four seasons is a relatively new idea, nonetheless there is a murky history surrounding the names describing this time of year.

Etymology, the branch of linguistics that looks into the evolution of words, is often a doubtful science. Autumn is a case in point and one version of the story goes like this: As early as the 12th century, what we now call fall was known as "harvest." Obviously this name was based on the idea of harvesting crops, but instead referred to the entire time period. Over the next centuries as the definition of harvest narrowed to only mean the actuall process of gathering crops, various other Latin or French terms were used to denote the more clearly defined season.

In the end, most scholars agree that "autumn" came first and the name "fall" is irrevocably connected to that of "spring" and was originally used in the descriptive phrases "spring of the leaf" and "fall of the leaf." These literal expressions were later shortened to the familiar terms we use today. Although the British still mostly refer to autumn and Americans to fall, this does not change the emotions and impressions surrounding the extraordinary season between summer and winter.

Do you have a picture of a beautiful landscape or something amazing in nature that you want to share with our readers? If so, you can send it to us using the upload tool on our website, or by emailing us at ecoafrica@dw.com. We look forward to hearing from you.    

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