It happens every year, yet this annual occurrence is still somewhat of a shock to our collective psyche.  I talking about the rapid loss of daylight we are all experiencing right now and all the other pieces that go along with it.  Here’s the thing: While the lack of light will continue to become worse, nature is responding in amazing ways that are truly wonderful to observe. Before those 4:04 p.m. sunsets arrive, we have a lot of transformations. Some are clear, others more subtle and require a keen eye to see.  

Light loss maxes out at nearly 3 minutes per day in September. TimeandDate.com

A SWIFT METAMORPHOSIS BEGINS

Sept. 5 begins the three-month period when temperatures fall most rapidly and the one-month period when day length decreases most rapidly.  Over the next three weeks, we will actually lose about an hour of daylight. This past weekend we had 13 hours of daylight, but the end of the month, it’s under 12 hours, all of this signals huge changes to nature. Areas that were bathed in warm summer sunlight eight weeks ago now remain cool within increasingly expanding midday shadow.  Indeed, the highest the sun reaches early September is a full 10 degrees higher than it will be as the month turns to October.

BATHE IN THE FADING SUMMER SUN

All this light loss can bring about feelings of sadness for more daylight, but also gives us an opportunity to slow down.  As the sun sets before 7 p.m. next week, we won’t feel the same sort of pressure to return to the outside as we did a couple of months ago.  Mornings are certainly darker, as the sun breaks the horizon 75 minutes later than it did back in late June, but now you can listen to a stillness that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. Birds are not longer singing at the crack of dawn, instead the year round residents call out less frequently and with totally different song.

In Chinese culture there are actually five seasons, the four we are most familiar and a fifth – late summer.   

Late summer is that time when Earth is about to go into that big fall transition, but still hasn’t cooled significantly.  It’s a small window, from roughly late August until the final week of September when autumn begins.  The season is associate with  the element Earth, paying homage to the bounty of the time of year when the earth is giving us so much. Head to any farmers market and you’ll quickly realize this is peak harvest season.

Late summer brings a wide variety of fresh produce. Dave Epstein

Summer’s final days mean birds have long ago fledged, but aren’t yet moving into their winter flocks. Hummingbirds are still at our feeders dancing in parabolic arcs with lightning precision. Nature reveals much in this fifth season, but we need to take an active role to see it. Berries, the autumnal food of choice for a plethora of fauna aren’t fully colorful yet, but none the less add interest in the landscape. They continue to swell a bit more each day on many types trees and shrubs. Migrating birds will clear many of them in the coming weeks. The deep autumn colors are a month or more away, yet there’s other hues, softer and subtle to enjoy as noontime shadows increase.

The berries of Ilex Verticillata have not turned red in early September. Dave Epstein

HEADING INTO AUTUMN

Sept. 22 is the fall equinox. On that day we will have already lost half our potential day length and will begin the two month period of most rapid temperature falls. It may surprise you the loss of daily light actually slows down from the peak of 2 minutes and 50 seconds each revolution of the planet this time of year to about 90 seconds late in November.By Thanksgiving, so much daylight will have already vanished there will be only 20 minutes more to lose before reaching the yearly minimum, less than a month later.

Nature gives us a gift of change with each passing day, open it with your eyes and behold the glory of this amazing natural world around us and these predictable wonders of each year.

Follow Dave Epstein on twitter @growingwisdom

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