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A Lowcountry Fall

The autumn equinox arrives this year on September 23rd (at 2:50am, to be exact), when the sun crosses the ' equator on its way south. Of course, that's our earth-centric view of what is really the seasonal northward tilt of the earth, shifting the northern hemisphere away from an immobile sun until the winter solstice in December, when the process reverses and carries us toward another spring and summer.

While those in other parts of the country may enjoy a more colorfully spectacular autumn, our shift is more subtle. Salt marshes change from summer green to gold as the spartina grass dies back, and the cordgrass loses its flowering parts and drops its seeds for the benefit of migrating birds, who depend on it for a food source. At the beach, migrating shore birds like pipits and plovers forage in the pluff mud to refuel before resuming their journey south. Cooling waters bring the start of oyster season, as the warm-water fueled reproductive season comes to an end and harvesting can begin (with the blessing of the state's DNR). Those cooling waters also bring a welcome end to the traditional hurricane season, as storms are deprived of the warm ocean that gives them energy. (Although climate change and a more continuously warm Atlantic can now bring storms as early as the spring and as late as the winter.)

It's a season of change, however gentle that change may be in the Lowcountry, and traditionally a time to pause, rest, re-evaluate. It was a time of great ritual significance for ancient peoples who built monuments like Stonehenge or the mounds of the American Midwest to mark and observe the changing of the seasons. For the Gullah Geechee, with the Lowcountry's more gentle seasonal shift, it's a time for harvest feasts and traditional crafts like basket-weaving during the cooler winter months to come. For others, it was a time of myth-making to explain the fiery change in the trees, at least for more northern First Peoples. The Wyandots, one of the Great Lakes tribes, said the change was because of the blood of the Great Bear, wounded in a celestial fight with the Great Deer, which falls to earth each year and covers the trees in brilliant red, orange and yellow.

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