I think Fall may be my favorite season. My birthday is in the Fall, so maybe there’s some cosmic reason why I like it so much; but those crisp, sunny days with the beautiful foliage are just the best. Even overcast or rainy days are pleasing and comfy if you can build a fire and cozy up on the couch or take a break in your favorite chair with a good book and a blanket.
But autumn does signal a slow-down. The end of summer and very beginning of autumn are historically, evolutionarily, kind of stressful. Those are the jam packed days of trying to get ready for winter… finishing all of your to-do’s before the cold, rainy weather comes. Our “to-do’s” are pretty easy as compared to our ancestors’ to-do list. Preparing shelter and food for winter must have been really hard work, and mistakes in the planning and execution could’ve meant death. Pretty serious.
By comparison, I’m fairly confidant that if I forget to stock up on something at the market today, I’m not going to starve to death!
Even so, there are Fall chores. Today, my veggie garden got the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions and jalapeno peppers pulled out while the kale, winter lettuce, arugula and spinach got a dose of fish fertilizer. I shut the water off for the sprinkler system and yard hose bibs.
The rest of the garden is still looking lovely with Japanese Anenomes and ornamental grasses swaying in the wind and hydrangeas that are so abundant they threaten to eclipse the front of the house.
Everything is waiting for all of the foliage to finish turning colors and drop to the ground, and then it’s time to cut everything back, dispose of the leaves and put everything to bed for the winter.
In thinking about this end of season frenzy of activity, I thought of the trip to Alaska that my friends Sue and Mort took last month.
The pictures they showed me reminded me of how this Fall frenzy is a normal part of the rhythym of the natural world around us. The sockeye salmon, on the last leg of their natural cycle of returning to their birth place to spawn and then die, looked so abundant it seemed you could almost walk across the river on them.
And the bears….. !! What was it that Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said? Lions and tigers and bears…. Oh my! Well, she got that one right!
Oh my! The grizzly bears that are gorging themselves on the salmon (FAR too close as far as I’m concerned !) were apparently so focused on stuffing themselves and getting ready for their winter hibernation, that they pretty much paid no attention to Sue and Mort or their fishing guide.
Speaking of bears, they hibernate… at least the ones in the wild.
Obviously we don’t, but I’m sure you’ve heard of Seasonally Affected Disorder, which kind of reminds me of it a little. I don’t think an absolute cause has been verified for SAD, but I do know that there is thought that it might have something to do with the lower amount of light that we get in the winter, which signals the pineal gland in our brain to slow our metabolism and conserve energy, presumably to help make it through the winter when food is scarce and energy is needed to keep warm.
The pineal gland (also called the pineal body, epiphysis cerebri, epiphysis, conarium or the “third eye“) is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces the serotoninderivative melatonin, a hormone that affects the modulation of wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions. wikipedia
In many species, activity is diminished during the winter months in response to the reduction in available food and the difficulties of surviving in cold weather. Hibernation is an extreme example, but even species that do not hibernate often exhibit changes in behavior during the winter. It has been argued that SAD is an evolved adaptation in humans that is a variant or remnant of a hibernation response in some remote ancestor. Presumably, food was scarce during most of human prehistory, and a tendency toward low mood during the winter months would have been adaptive by reducing the need for calorie intake. The preponderance of women with SAD suggests that the response may also somehow regulate reproduction. wikipedia
I suspect it matters a great deal where you live, for instance in the rain forest of the Pacific Northwest vs. sunny Arizona. Living in the former, I’ve gotten what I think is seasonally affected disorder before.
When I have gotten it in the past, it seemed like one day I was fine and the next morning it was like someone flipped a switch and I could hardly drag myself out of bed in the morning. I didn’t feel depressed, but I definitely had lower energy, and if I even looked at a cookie or ate too much one day, I’d gain 10 pounds ( an exaggeration, but you get my point).
So although we may not be like bears and go off and hibernate, humans evolved over 100’s of 1000’s of years while being affected by the natural rhythms of their world. That our ancestors would’ve adapted to these rhythms in their environment seems at least logical.
Apparently Hippocrates felt the same way, as this is what he had to say about it: “Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed thus: in the first place to consider the seasons of the year.”
The following are all really cool links and should be helpful in finding good recipes for the seasonal foods to be eating now. Have fun!
Here’s a link to information about Light Therapy for SAD, which can also be helpful with sleep disorders or people who have a disrupted circadian rhythm pattern. You can go on Amazon and read the reviews on different kinds of lights ( I always read the negative ones as well as the recommendations, because I want to get both sides of a story).