It’s early October as I write this, and the equinox is now behind us. Only a few weeks ago we had 90 degree days when we kept the windows closed during the hot part of the day to conserve the cool nighttime air. In Vermont, we didn’t used to think about air conditioning. Now we do, on rare occasions. But it seems that the hot spell of September was the last gasp of summer. There won’t be any more temperatures in the 90s. The feeling of summer has passed.
It’s still warm in the daytime, but never oppressively hot. The sun at midday is no longer straight above. Now it’s over to the side. It’s moved southward, closer to the southern horizon, creating oblique angles that are more flattering to the landscape than at the peak of summer. The sun has now moved from its peak in late June half way back to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s a reminder. Time is fleeting. Whatever you’ve been putting off, it’s time to get on with it. It’s a great time to take a trip.
In Vermont, in the northern latitudes, the changes from the peak of summer to the depth of winter are extreme. The sun has a long way to travel across the sky throughout the year, so it moves fast. The change from summer to fall seems to come suddenly. Now autumn is upon us.
Last Sunday afternoon I sat in my folding beach chair on a sandbar by the river that we call our beach. It was still too warm to sit in direct sunlight, so I found a shady place. Then suddenly at one point, in an instant, a ray of light appeared on the page I was writing on. The sun had moved to a point where I was now at the edge of the shadow I had been sitting in. In a few more minutes I would be sitting in direct sunlight.
The rotation of the earth is usually too slow to observe directly. We can only compare where it is now to where it was an hour ago, and see that it has moved. But in that moment, I saw the motion. As I was writing in my notebook, suddenly it was if someone had turned a flashlight onto the page.
The change of seasons from summer to fall is similarly gradual. As with the movement of the earth itself, the process is constantly happening. But it’s so slow that we can only observe it by comparing one moment to a previous one. Then at some point you must face the fact that summer is over. By this point in early autumn I can see a difference in the leaves between morning and evening of the same day. The yellow tint in that patch of leaves that changes early is…