benton

In the United States, fall used to be called harvest. It was called harvest because—well, that’s when you harvest stuff. But urbanization meant more people weren’t harvesting anything. Rather, all people did this time of year was watch the leaves fall off the trees onto the city sidewalk.

Fall was born. Even in rural areas now, it’s the dominant term utilized to describe this season.

Of course, the British and other fancy people are clinging to autumn. We don’t “autumn" anything like we harvest stuff. And nothing “autumns" like the leaves fall from the trees. But ever since the 1300s, some folks have used autumn. Linguists say it comes from the ancient Entruscan language. Entruscan was spoken in parts of ancient Italy. The Romans adopted “autumn” it and it sort of became a Latin word. Autumnus was well used in the middle ages. But then the harvest took over.

Then fall.

If you find yourself saying autumn, you’re being historically judicious, but also old fashioned.

Speaking of old fashioned, in parts of northern England they used to call the season “backend.” I guess it’s because the season came at the back end of the year, I don’t know. Nobody knows. I do know this — I wouldn’t wish someone a “Happy Backend” outside Main Street Cafe, not even in the months of September, October or November.

You might be greeted with a backhand in return.

So what do we call this time of year, then?

There’s not a ton of harvesting that goes on anymore, even in rural places like Salem. We do our hunting and gathering at Country Mart, where our vegetables are plucked from a bin, not a plant. So calling it harvest doesn’t make sense, either. And we’ve eliminated backend from our list.

Autumn sounds too fancy for Salem. Shoot, you probably won’t hear that used much in Rolla. Maybe it might be uttered by someone who moved here from California or something. Not from a local.

That leaves fall, because the leaves fall. It’s a plain word, but it works.

Fall was one of my favorite times of the year growing up in Salem. I loved driving Highway 19, eating in Eminence, going out to Alley Springs, and then coming home the backend way through Summersville and Raymondville and Licking. There was magic for me in the crunch of leaves under foot, to the football team wearing their jerseys to school on Fridays, to that lingering smell in the air of people burning their fallen leaves.

Fall isn’t anywhere close to my favorite season — the cold air blowing in was a reminder of miserable, gray days to come. But I don’t know of a season that I can feel more strongly. You can smell it. You can sense it. I’m sitting in a Starbucks in a suburb in Texas writing these words, and I can smell the season even over the aroma of coffee. It’s pretty remarkable, how things stick with you. It’s like it all matters in a deeper way, like it teaches us something.

I got to thinking about all this because here in Texas, the temperature isn’t going to reach 90 degrees today. That hasn’t been true since late April or so. Our version of fall is different here, but there are seasons just the same.

And so goes life. Some seasons are full of squeals of delight as people splash in pools and music spills forth from stereos. Summer is a party. Not so with fall. Fall is plain. It’s when stuff starts falling asleep. In northern England, back in the day, it was the backend. A seasonal P.S., not something to look forward to. An afterthought.

Some seasons of life are like that, too. You can dress it up and call it autumn, or you can take in a big whiff and see what the smells in the air teach you. There’s a beauty in the plainness, in the falling asleep. There’s a purpose in it. Whatever we’ve harvested recently, there are new things to plant.

So fall. Fall for it. Fall in love. Fall so you can say you fell. Fall so you can rise again.