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The Madera Tribune

When autumn actually begins

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webmaster | 09/19/13

On Saturday, at 8:44 p.m., the sun will hover directly over the equator for a few minutes, resulting in the annual autumnal equinox, or the beginning of fall, according to astronomers who study and ponder such things. On Sunday, fall will be in full swing. The days then will begin to grow shorter and the nights longer, and the heat of summer will begin to cool. Not that there won’t be some hot days, but they will be fewer and cooler.

Hereabouts, autumn lasts until the winter solstice, usually Dec. 21 to 22. In more northern climates, autumn is considered to be September, October and November, since the effects of autumn happen earlier the farther north one goes.

When I was a kid growing up in Idaho, the real autumn began the first week in October, which was the start of spud vacation, which usually lasted two weeks. School was closed for that time so students could help bring in the potato harvest. Many teachers also got jobs in the fields because it was a good way for them to earn extra money.

Unless their parents were farmers, the younger students simply enjoyed the two weeks away from school hanging out at home, playing with their friends.

But when one reached a certain age, one knew it was time to go into the fields and earn some money. The older kids made enough money to buy new clothes, and a few earned enough to buy cars. The latter group were those who had worked in the fields a few years and had the experience and moxie to boss around crews of younger kids.

The real money-earners were the Mexican pickers, temporary workers who would travel to Idaho for the onion and spud harvests. Whole families would pour into the fields before dawn, going down the rows like steam trains before anybody else showed up. They knew what they were doing, and were highly valued by the farmers.

It turns out that harvest vacations (they’re no longer called spud vacations) are still a part of the Snake River Valley school year, even though much of the work is being done mechanically.

For me, even though it has been many years since I set foot in a potato field, the first week in October will be the true autumnal equinox, replete with the sweet scent of fresh-turned earth, never mind what those astronomers say.


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