In a Word: Autumn

After the long, hot summer, the slide to winter brings an array of glittering hues

“We are a winter people. Living in a winter land. It is why, after all, the Romans called this blessed isle Hibernia, hibernus being their word for wintry.”

“We are a winter people. Living in a winter land. It is why, after all, the Romans called this blessed isle Hibernia, hibernus being their word for wintry.”

 

And so begins the long, slow slide to winter. Indian summer allowing. Let’s hope we have one. But did you know the term applied to American ‘Indians’ not the Mahatma (Gandhi) kind? Well neither did I until recently when, in a moment of uncommon curiosity, I looked it up.

Apparently it was first noted in regions inhabited by native Americans and the term was first used by ‘visiting’ Europeans when describing prolonged warm periods in autumn there.

No doubt the much-acclaimed, apocryphal Kerryman would have a more enlightened explanation to compare with his for the longer days in summer than winter. He allegedly claimed this was because of expansion due to heat.

So they say. Presumably he would draw on similar physics to explain why our September days are getting shorter just now.

But we are a winter people. Living in a winter land. It is why, after all, the Romans called this blessed isle Hibernia, hibernus being their word for wintry.

Yes, at the height of the blistering summer of 2018 there was a brief respite one day when the more familiar cloud cover levelled the light and a slight drizzle was threatened.

An acquaintance, lowering his voice to a whisper, confessed he was glad. It meant he “didn’t have to go out and do something. I could stay in and do nothing for the day.” And he did.

Such is the scarcity of good summer weather on this island that when we get a spell we squeeze it of every possible benefit knowing it too will pass, and quickly.

We exhaust the long day and ourselves in woodlands, on beaches, lakes and rivers.

When it lasts longer than usual we gain a rare insight into the nonchalance of Californians and Mediterraneans at the blue of the sky and the heat of the day. They grow bored, and some even long for a spell of rain and cloud to break the monotony. “O, for a bit of grey,” they sigh.

We tasted that this summer. But who on this island would tempt fate by expressing boredom as blue day followed blue day? Not I.

Nor do I now regret the slow slide into Hiber-nation, through the glittering hues of autumn. Each season has its beguiling charm. Even as “the leaves of brown came tumbling down, in September in the rain”.

Autumn, from Latin autumnus/auctumnus. (Auctus meaning to increase.)

inaword@irishtimes.com

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