Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Third Season

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Word taxonomies have shown that there was a time, at least in some cultures of northern Europe, when there was only one season worth mentioning: Winter.

Sure, there was the warmer part of the year that wasn’t winter, known early by its Germanic word “sumer,”, denoting something like “half.”

So there was the warm half of the year, summer, and the other half of the year, winter.

The spaces in between, transitional moments more ephemeral than a long and heavy blanket of snow or days and weeks of heat and sun, went by various names until quite recently.

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year. All photos: PKR

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year.
All photos: PKR

Technically, that is to say, astronomically, the autumnal equinox denotes the point at which the day and night on Earth are approximately the same length.

Once, it was the time when the harvest took place and the lively, outdoor, active days of warmth began to turn inward, cooling off and withdrawing for a dormant season. The season itself was once referred to mainly by words denoting harvest, and this is still the case in German – the word “Herbst” has the same root as “harvest.”

These days, though, not many people are actually involved in gathering a harvest of the agricultural kind – the harvest as a season has been replaced by year-round availability of food.

The terms autumn and fall replaced harvest in English in the 16th century, with fall becoming more popular in North America.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings - the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings – the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I prefer the sound of the word autumn, with its sense of changing colors and a cool wind that slices through the heat of summer – but fall has the concise utility of being descriptive. The fruit falls, the temperature falls, the leaves fall, the rain starts to fall, and all that growth of summer pulls into itself until winter has passed.

The season holds a different promise from spring, that giddy season of birdsong and budding forth. Fall speaks of reflection, it’s the coppery flip side of spring’s exuberant coin, a time to prepare, a time to take time. It starts softly and ends quietly, almost before it’s even announced its presence.

So today, I offer a gentle salute to the Autumnal Equinox, a marker on the vague road that leads from one half the year to the next.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning - the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning – the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

Patch Job

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A study published earlier this year pointed to a decrease in the size of the ozone hole over the Antarctic.

This healing process indicates the success of the Montreal Protocol, the 1989 treaty intended to limit the production and use of ozone-harming chemicals.

Ratified by all United Nations Members, as well as Niue, the Cook Islands, the Holy See and the European Union, it’s been hailed as “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.” (Kofi Annan)

Ten Circles - magnolia leaf crotched with cotton yarn Artist: Susanna Bauer

Ten Circles – magnolia leaf crotched with cotton yarn
Artist: Susanna Bauer

It’s worth noting that the movement to reduce the production and use of gases that affect the ozone layer came long before ‘scientific consensus’ was actually reached.

Like the discussion surrounding carbon emissions and climate change, scientists who argued for a reduction in chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production and use (mainly for refrigeration purposes and aerosol spray propellant) faced an array of opposition.

One, Two, Three Artist: Susanna Bauer

One, Two, Three
Artist: Susanna Bauer

DuPont held the patent for Freon, a CFC widely used around the world, but one which was losing profitability. The company put up aggressive arguments against any regulation of CFC production for several years – while searching for replacement alternatives.

The publication of ozone hole images in the 1980s focused public attention on the issue, just around the time DuPont felt it had found viable gas alternatives and the Freon patent had expired.

DuPont switched course, became an active supporter of CFC limitation and a strong proponent of international action. It also earned itself a reputation as a company concerned with the environmental impact of its products. (It bears mentioning that most of the alternative products also count as harmful greenhouse gases with varying levels of atmospheric toxicity.)

Common Ground (II) Artist: Susanna Bauer

Common Ground (II)
Artist: Susanna Bauer

The Montreal Protocal was the result of a rare confluence of public opinion, environmental interests and corporate action. Corporate and government reluctance to limit CFC production was otherwise similar to today’s climate change discussion.

In the end, it always seems to come down to habits, inertia and money (or lack thereof) on the one side, and an amassing of scientific proof and activism on the other.

Moon (II) Artist: Susanna Bauer

Moon (II)
Artist: Susanna Bauer

Perhaps what the Montreal Protocol really had going for it was the image of the hole in the atmosphere, a singular lens that could focus attention, fears, research and opinion.

It’s profoundly encouraging that the positive effects of an international treaty on a large-scale environmental challenge can be measured in a relatively short span of time.

Here’s hoping this visible progress can impact the usual cost-benefit conversations when it comes to climate change negotiations.

Images of the Antarctic ozone hole. If current trends continue, the hole is expected to close by 2040. Images/graphic: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Business Insider

Images of the Antarctic ozone hole. If current trends continue, the hole is expected to close by 2040.
Images/graphic: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Business Insider