Amongst the four seasons, Autumn is the one I most adored. It welcomed me to Europe 15 years ago. The most colorful chapters of my life were all beginning to simultaneously unravel as this particular period approached.
I embarked on a series of German Language courses, met nice Viennese fellows and forged long-lasting friendships, engorged books inside Vienna’s public library, discovered the scenic routes via tram and railways, retracted the Sound of Music film locations, saw for the first time the majestic Alps, explored the local Viennese coffeehouses, and indulged in different Austrian wine reading methods.
This year the 22nd September officially marks Autumn. Seasonal changes like autumn are caused as the earth’s obliquity (or tilt) starts to point away from the Sun.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Fall mean days become shorter and nighttime longer; evenings and early mornings turn chilly. As this astronomical season occurs, Vienna’s alleys of trees aglow with tinges of orange, red, and yellow whilst fog haze blended with hues of green play along to emanate a glorious palette of colours. The whole world seemed to explode in such vigorous specter.
In Palawan, we never experience Autumn or Fall. Albeit, the word taglagas exists in antique Tagalog literature. Apart from Mahogany trees or Talisay (sea almond) or any other deciduous trees which leaves collectively taper down during December, ‘Taglagas’ remains somewhat unfamiliar to us Pinoys as tropics enjoy only two seasons.
Autumn first came into English vocabulary in the 1300s from the Latin word Autumnus. American English would preferably use ‘Fall’ pointing to that time of year when leaves are shed from trees.
In German lingo this transition from summer to winter is named ‘Herbst’ – which cognates to Old English ‘Hærfest’ or ‘Harvest’ as it is a time of gathering produce.
The late renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted ‘Autunno’ or Autumn (the painting hangs in the Louvre Museum) as a man’s head faced sideways with grapes as hair, pear as the nose, mushroom as ear, apple as his cheek, chestnut as mouth, a bundle of wheat as mustache. It summarized the whole harvest affair – busy.
During Herbst, Austrian forests are active places. Nature-shoppers forage for wild edible mushrooms, wild fruits, and berries. One must however start quite early to fend off competition. Wild mushrooms especially have thousands of admirers. It’s exhilarating trying to figure out which ones qualify for consumption as poisonous ones do exist!
An Austrian friend showed me in situ how locals check a good fungus from a lethal one – nibble on the stalk (others call it stipe or stem) and when it stings the tongue – that’s the warning!
Wandering through the forest, one can be amazed at how much bounty this ecosystem provides.
A local forager guide is imperative to point which plant species to pick and which ones better left alone.
Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc are sumptuous treats when picked fresh. Except for the funny blue lips one gets after munching wild blueberries, they are a total delight.
In Vienna, the annual Herbst Fest is an annual celebration showcasing (processed) agricultural products at their finest. Squash oil, wines, cheese (Bergkäse and all other sorts), beer, cider to honey malt, fruit liqueur, dried fruits are presented to the public. These festivals are complemented with full regalia of brass band music orchestra.
Even grocery shops would be filled with pumpkins and all sorts of queer-looking cucurbits. Scarecrows dressed comically would be found in shops everywhere. It was an ever humorous occasion.
That was then. This year as the CoVid infections surge all harvest shows (or any other major events) have been dismally canceled.
Despite this, Autumn never ceases to impress me, especially whenever I wander off around Viennese forests. The golden explosion of leaves as sunrays illuminate them would transcend one to another world, reminding us of John Keats as he wrote in 1819, the poem
To Autumn –
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run.