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Gerald Winegrad: Enjoy nature’s biological clock turning to fall | COMMENTARY

Gerald and Carol enjoy their last crabs of the season on Oct. 15 on their deck on Oyster Creek where they caught this fat, delectable fall crustaceans.
Gerald and Carol enjoy their last crabs of the season on Oct. 15 on their deck on Oyster Creek where they caught this fat, delectable fall crustaceans. (Gerald Winegrad)

The autumnal equinox formally began the fall season at 9:31 a.m. on Sept. 22. That is when the sun’s direct rays shined on the equator with the sun at the halfway point between the summer and winter solstice. The sun has since slowly focused on the Southern Hemisphere bringing six months of summer there. The fall equinox has been celebrated around the world from ancient pyramid shadow alignments to harvest time.

Why do we call it fall? Because the leaves begin to fall. Autumn was used centuries earlier from the Latin word autumnus connoting “passing of the year." Before that, it was simply “harvest."

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While we have had extraordinary warm days possibly related to global warming, fall will continue to bring change in nature’s endless annual cycles. How do we each personally transition and react from summer ending and turning into fall?

For me, the downsides are:

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My cherished crabbing hobby ends as crabs leave the creek to go down the Bay for the winter. No more crab feasts and socially-distanced guests to join us on the deck overlooking Oyster Creek. I power washed my crab pots and put them away last week after a very good crabbing season.

Shorter hours of sunlight mean a slow end of outdoor dinners on our deck. Adventures have ended with our grandkids, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, and in-laws on our community beach and crabbing and seining on our pier. Less sun can sometimes lead to mood changes.

Another bummer: Ospreys are leaving Bay country for their long migratory journeys to South America. I miss these winged warriors already and their high-pitched peep-whistling I hear daily from mid-March into September. Other migratory birds we enjoy take their cues from fall weather to head south, including Green Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Chimney Swifts, Barn Swallows, Forster’s Terns, Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls. See you all next spring!

Fall brings leaf and gumball raking and gutter cleaning. I always try to convince myself it is a small price to pay for the summer-shade of our 60-foot sweet gum tree, and it holding our bird feeders and soaking up nutrients.

Cold weather forces us to clean out closets and drawers, replacing summer wear with winter wear. We must cull long, outdated or small-sized and never worn clothing for donation to charity. Hmmm—I haven’t worn this shirt for 10 years.

Now, the upsides of fall:

The heat and humidity of summer are gone, and the air refreshes the soul, especially with our windows open all day and many nights. Our electric bills go down as we have not had the A/C or heat on for nearly two months.

We can hear Great Blue Herons squawking, and red foxes barking at night and also hear Great Horned Owls and Screech Owls hoot-hoot-hooting for mates as fall is their special time. We also saw beautiful Bluebirds around our backyard, possibly migrating south with some staying here for the winter.

Fall brings wondrous displays of colorful foliage. I marvel at the seeming miracle of how trees perform with their leaves turning into palettes of color, then lose their leaves only to grow them back again. I learned the fall brings on leaf senescence where the cooler weather and less sunlight breakdown chlorophyll with new chemicals emerging, bringing on the rainbow of leaf colors.

We see many more white-tailed deer as this is mating season, and polygamous males are in a rut. These ungulates are overabundant but lovely to the eye nonetheless. Squirrels are also more active storing acorns and other food for the long winter. Give them a break as their average life span in suburbia is only one year.

With autumn comes expectations of migratory waterfowl flying in from the north to stay in bay country for the winter. Tens of thousands of ducks, geese, and Tundra Swans will be arriving in waves very soon. We are enthralled by the sweet kloo-kwoo sound of swan flocks overhead—then I know winter is close. It is a tradeoff with the birds that departed south, but always a winter treat to see the swans, Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks, Goldeneyes, Wigeons, Redhead Ducks, and my favorite, the male Hooded Merganser, around us on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula.

Fall means the eventual end of lawn mowing (yeah!).

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The final fall pleasure is to fly to Naples, Florida, to be with our youngest daughter and three wonderful grandkids for Thanksgiving and eco-expeditions searching for alligators, snakes, lizards, turtles, otters, and birds in many wild places. And celebrating Thanksgiving with an outdoor dinner with family.

With COVID-19 hovering, it is even more critical to rejoice and revel in the seasonal changes with family, friends, and nature as safely as possible.

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