Vancouver Sun article (The Autumn Queen is enthroned for a short but bountiful reign)September 11 2010 at 12:14 PM
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|N. W. Bruin (Login NW_Bruin_GM)|
The Autumn Queen is enthroned for a short but bountiful reign
September 11, 2010
If autumn has been called the queen of seasons, September's languid opulence serves as the herald for the mellow fruitfulness of fall. Her Majesty sweeps in clad head to foot in gold leaf and crimson and pearls of morning dew that shimmer on every blade of grass. Or maybe it's just the mathematics of ellipses and parabola. Summer's end is always an intensely personal experience.
For some of us the strongest signals that fall's here are found in the natural world, for these are the days of endings and beginnings, of hallowed mysteries in the great rhythms of life. September sings not just the funeral pyre of summer, but the burnished cornucopia of farms and orchards and backyard gardens.
The sense of seasonal shift might be triggered by a sudden rain when the sultry heat breaks and parched gardens drink thirstily of the first sustained drizzle for months. Or it might be with the appearance of bands of blue haze on distant mountain slopes. Mariners note the arrival of fogs triggered by the temperature differentials between land and water. Sailors welcome afternoon breezes in place of the summer's sail-flapping doldrums on brassy straits. Hikers observe a change in light through the underbrush, as though the leaves had already begun to shrink and shrivel from their summer lushness, fall's colours already starting to show in hints of bronze and umber beneath the green.
In the animal world, this is the season of great migrations and transformations. Yellow jackets that have kept politely to themselves all summer suddenly take on the aggressive belligerence of pestering drunks. Red-bodied termites flutter past on their mating flights and children marvel over the appearance of the woolly bear, that friendly, fuzzy caterpillar banded in black and orange, looking for a place to hibernate in preparation for next spring as a tiger moth.
Everyone on the West Coast anticipates the annual arrival of the salmon across the province's watersheds. Coho holding just beyond the kelp take advantage of a freshet to slither up shallow beach rivulets.
Vast schools of sockeye converge on the mighty Fraser. The salmon, as this year's stupendous and unforeseen run has done, are always ready to surprise the experts and mystify science. Yet we all set our seasonal clocks by their spawning cycles. And, of course, who in British Columbia doesn't look to the sky for signs as birds marshal for their long journey south along one of the world's greatest migratory flyways?
Almost two-thirds of North America's bird species are considered migratory. The seasonal travellers range in size from the tiny hummingbird, smaller than a man's thumb, to the largest of the seven recognized subspecies of Canada geese.
Songbirds and insect catchers, waterfowl and birds of prey are all among the migrating species. Shorebirds cluster and scuttle along the mud flats of Boundary Bay. On the south coast of Vancouver Island up to 14 species of raptor congregate to catch the thermal uplifts in preparation for the long, soaring glide across Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic Peninsula. Some of our winged migrants have been monitored flying more than 3,000 kilometres non-stop, a feat that naturalist James Luther Davis has likened to a human athlete running back-to-back four-minute miles for four consecutive days. Now there's a Miracle Marathon.
For others, the most compelling signs are institutional. Back-to-school sales are a harbinger of fall. Baseball rushes toward its playoffs and football hits full stride while rugby clubs across the province begin their practices in preparation for a new season to be played on muddy pitches without heed of winter weather. Here in Hockey Town, thoughts turn again to the Canucks and the Giants. For many, the last day of the Pacific National Exhibition serves as a formal milestone marking the end of summer. Some see Labour Day as the rite of passage into fall, a final opportunity for a visit to a provincial campground while the nights are still warm, for a pleasant lake paddle without the need of a wetsuit, for a family picnic at the park or a backyard barbecue. Yet others measure the progress of the year by the day when kids and teenagers return to school, publicly protesting but secretly excited at the prospect of new challenges and a renewed social life with new friends, new teachers, new subjects and a new season for sports, or drama, or the school band.
The more technically minded mark the arrival of fall with mathematical precision. On the West Coast, the astronomical moment of the autumnal equinox, the time at which the sun is directly overhead at the equator, occurs at 8:09 p.m. on Sept. 22. And yet even the astronomical event is not quite so precise for earthbound observers as we might like to think. For example, our fall is Argentina's spring. And while many believe that the equinox marks the moment at which the lengths of day andnightareequal -- exactly 12 hours each -- that's only relative to one's point of observation. The length of the day is also determined by distance from the equator and, even at the official autumnal equinox, days are longer in some latitudes than they are in others. So even the mathematically precise turns out to be a bit imprecise.
Perhaps the ripening of tomatoes and red on the apples is as reliable as the calendar in marking the change of seasons after all.
One thing is certain, though: King Summer's reign is done. All hail the Autumn Queen. Let us enjoy her bounteous reign while we can. It, too, promises to be a short one. For soon enough that old warlord winter will be on the march from his snowy keeps in the high country.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
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