In a recent newspaper essay, George Ball, of the Burpee Seed Co., writes to remind his fellow Americans that in this country, autumn isn’t often autumn at all, but merely summer by another name.

Fall arrives by tradition each Labor Day — and by scientific principle on the autumnal equinox, which occurred this year on Sept. 22. But Ball suggests paying no mind to any of that. As he argues in his commentary, so much of North America basks in a moderate climate that autumn can offer three extra months of gardening long after vacation season has passed.

“‘Fall’ is too glum and fateful a term to encompass the fertile splendor of the season — the garden is in full swing,” Ball tells readers. As a child of Louisiana, I understand how active gardens can be in this part of the world even near the end of the year. Some of the tastiest “summer” tomatoes I’ve eaten here weren’t really summer tomatoes, but a second yield that came long after Labor Day. For the green thumb who wants to keep busy, our shirt-sleeve days at the bottom of the calendar bring plenty to do.

But with all due respect to the autumn gardeners still planting and growing new things as another calendar closes, let me say a few words for fall’s real promise, a useful pause in the busyness of the year.

In these weeks before winter, I like the thought of the ground lying fallow until spring — the lawn slowly falling asleep under thick drifts of sycamore leaves, and the trees thinning so that their limbs look like lengths of cursive written across the gray afternoon sky. I like, too, the sight of my vegetable patch brown and bare, as plain as a grave in a country churchyard.

It’s the emptiness of autumn I really like — the space, one hopes, to breathe a little, think a little, size up your life and where you are going. It’s also why the poets love fall so much, I guess. The clarity of the landscape, embraced just so, can bring a corresponding clarity of thought.

Goodness knows we need clarity right now. This month’s headlines, so terrible and heartbreaking, are like a national fever we hope fall can break.

Maybe that’s asking too much of any season, but I welcome autumn anyway. The only problem, which Ball hints at in his essay, is deciding when fall is here.

Early October is an in-between time here, the year undecided about its course. Bright, hot days alternate with cool and overcast ones, as if the month is rifling its closet, not quite sure what to wear.

But the darkness comes a bit earlier each evening, telling me that the candle of the calendar is burning low. Another year is closing, and I wonder, as I always do, just where it all went.


Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.