“That other fall we name the fall”

I recently read that the seasonal term “fall” is an abbreviated version of an English expression “fall of the leaf,” dating to the 17th century.  “Autumn” goes back to the 14th century and derives from Latin.  While the English rejected their own phrase and prefer “autumn,” “fall” has taken on new life in the new world, and is the term preferred by Americans.  And American poets such as Robert Frost, whose lyric poem “The Oven-Bird” contains the (often misquoted) phrase that I use as the title above, have seen the connection between the waning of life in the fall season and the loss of innocence and spiritual purity.  Life itself in the Frost lyric has become a “diminished thing.”

As I resume serious post-vacation autumnal blogging, I feel all sorts of diminishings.

  • The days are shorter, and within a day or two the hours of darkness will be greater than the hours of light.
  • The weather has changed.  Coming home from the Dominican Republic after a week of warm sun, we were greeted by many gloomy days, and the news that 7 inches of rain had fallen in our absence.  Then during last weekend’s excursion to Ithaca, NY, “high above Cayuga’s waters,” it got downright cool.  Now it’s slightly warmer again, but humid and showery.
  • My conditioning has waned.  My body finally succumbed to too much indulgence and too little exercise.  Then I had to play catch-up with my teaching duties when I got home.
  • My left knee gave out.   When I did go out on conditioning rides, thinking I was working my way back gradually, my left knee got the mother of all inflammations.  Only a few days of staying off it and treating it with industrial strength Ibuprofen have got it under control.

But today was my first ride of what should be a 6-week rehab, involving both outdoor and indoor riding.  It was cool yet oddly humid, with air blowing in off the ocean.  The morning fog was just lifting, slowly because there were clouds above it and so no sun to burn it off.  The trail was empty.  I wore a long sleeve jersey for the first time this season.  And it felt great.  You know my knee is responding normally when it feels better after the ride than before it.

I was out there pretty much alone today.  A few joggers, dog-walkers, and baby strollers.  A couple of cyclists, and one bike rider of a genre I am seeing more of on the trail.  he seemed to have all his possessions on his person or his bike, in baskets and in backpacks.  He’s perhaps the suburban equivalent of the urban homeless guy who has all his possessions in a shopping cart.  He’s likely the victim of the ruthless economy, and the more ruthless economics of cutting social programs to balance budgets.  I hope I am wrong, but I would not be surprised if there are more of him in our future, the “hobo” of the new economy.  I think all of us as Americans, and the American virtue of compassion and caring, have “fallen” a bit when poverty increases and people lose their “place” in an affluent but ungiving community.

But we can all choose, I guess, to respond to things in cycling and in life as the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley did, hearing in the winds of autumn not the death knell of winter, but the “trumpet of a prophecy” of the coming spring.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

1 thought on ““That other fall we name the fall”

  1. A number of years ago, I was talking with a young man from Germany. I happened to mention that the leaves became very colorful during the fall in New England. He was quite puzzled and finally asked “What is this fall?” I explained that it was autumn. Another bit of American English that hadn’t (yet) made it to the language classrooms in Europe.

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