‘‘Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.’Albert Camus; 1913 -1960. Winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Autumn is, and this will come as no surprise to most readers, one of the four seasons of the year. In the Western Cape autumn is normally seen as a time of temperate weather, the break between the south-easterly gales of summers and the north-westerly gales (and accompanying rain, hopefully) of the winter months. But just when is autumn? This is an answer that is not as simple as it might seem: the period between summer and winter attracts a rather broad definition.
There are three separate time spans for what is in fact officially known internationally as the ‘temperate season’, which may be a little disconcerting for those of us who tout our autumns here in the Cape as a unique attraction.
For the Southern temperate zone we have the astronomical season which extends from an early 21st March to the 21st June, based on the rotation of the earth around our host sun. It kicks off after the equinox and ends on the evening of the solstice, and pays no mind whatsoever to weather conditions. It might well be called the astrological timing. The four seasons have been in use since at least Roman times, based on the Rerum rusticarum of one Marcus Terrentio Varro, a Roman polymath, who wrote that spring, summer, autumn, and winter start on the 23rd day of the sun’s passage through Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio, respectively. I’ll take his word for it.
Then there is the meteorological system which is a little baffling: from the 1st March to 31st of May. Those with mathematical skills might see this more as a division of the twelve months of the Gregorian Calendar by four seasons, but as the name suggests, the meteorological calendar was originally set by changes in temperature. This was done in the northern hemisphere – of course – by a rather pompous sounding body called the Societas Meteorologica Palatina in 1780, who took very little notice of seasons outside of their small European world. (Not surprisingly, the Societas only lasted until 1795, although their definitions of the seasons stuck.) Spring must have come early in their area, and the 1st of March was designated Spring Day, and by default here in the south we have autumn kicking off at the same time, regardless of boiling hot days and Waterfront Charters Clifton Yacht Parties extending right through until mid-April.
The third, most confusing, definition of autumn is the Solar Season system of reckoning, and is based on ancient Celtic lore. In terms of South African weather, the commencement of autumn based on this system is certainly the furthest away from reality, starting on the 1st February and ending on the 1st April. By this measurement we are already in winter here in the southern hemisphere, a state I can disprove simply by staring down at legs currently dressed in shorts and ending in bare feet. Solar timing was apparently based on insolation, another term for solar irradiance, although just how those ancient Celtic druidic types measured irradiance is a matter for scholarly debate outside of this blog. Way outside. (‘The solar seasons change at the cross-quarter days, which are about 3–4 weeks earlier than the meteorological seasons and 6–7 weeks earlier than seasons starting at equinoxes and solstices.’ I rest my case.)
And finally we have the rather pretentious sounding Official Dates for the seasons. But given that these are, and I quote, ‘mainly a matter of custom only, and have not generally been proclaimed by governments north or south of the equator for civil purposes,’ I am happy to ignore them. I also ignore them as I can’t find them in official documentation, so they can’t be that important anyway.
Autumn. Derived from the Latin autumnus, it loosely meant ‘the passing of the year’, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. Some of us are enjoying the autumn of our lives, although looking a little more deeply into the root of the word we find the Proto-Indo-European hewǵ – ‘cold’, or hsows – ‘dry’. More apt for a season than a life, one hopes… Autumn for Waterfront Charters means the joy of the Easter Weekend, temperate weather, shorter days and longer nights. Earlier sunsets to be enjoyed with chilled sparkling wine, softer winds, a gentler sun beaming down. All this means that the sea creatures tend to be more visible too, lending itself to Ocean safari adventures. All in all the perfect time to enjoy a cruise, no matter which vessel or option you choose.
A final thought: the name ‘Autumn’ has crept into the top 100 popular girl’s names in the English speaking world. That alone says a great deal about the joyous way we feel about the temperate season.