Choosing a favorite season of the year is like picking your best loved hymn or most preferred food. We report best loved or preferred hymns or foods out of true conviction or possibly to spark a conversation. Either way we recognize God gifts us with abilities to discriminate among alternatives—to appreciate diverse physical and environmental characteristics and express preferences according to our personal priorities.
My personal favorite season is autumn, but only by a slight margin. Having grown up near Syracuse, NY, I have fond memories of recreational opportunities supplied by harsh central New York winters—frozen ponds, lakes, and rivers and trillions of swirling, wind-driven snowflakes. Winter loosened its grip in early March even before spring arrived, heralded by the beginning of maple sap flow when my grandfather noted daytime temperatures starting to rise above freezing. A multitude of other reawakening phenomena such as leaf-out became apparent as the countryside warmed. Summer followed, the period of rapid agricultural plant growth followed by rides on the tractor to observe operations of hay balers and corn stalk binders (1930s and 1940s vintage) completing their late summer work.
Fast forward to recent autumns of the 21st century. A few short weeks ago in our midwest area some grain crops needed additional days of warmth to complete their maturity after a late planting season and a cool summer. Now it is clear that 2014 will produce an all-time US record corn and soybean harvest, 14.41 billion bushels and 3.98 billion bushels respectively. Autumn is a time to contemplate the blessings of God in providing man with ability to supply the nutritional needs of seven billion souls. The harvest phenomenon is but one example of “filling the earth and subduing it” (Genesis 1:28). In autumn humanity reaps life sustaining harvests.
In many parts of the world plants transition to colorful autumn splendor—a sign that the leaves of trees and grain crops have completed their task of manufacturing food from water, chlorophyll, minerals, and CO2 in the presence of light. Plants annually manufacture food for humans and other living things. In Genesis 1:29 scripture informs us: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” All beasts and birds and everything that has life in it were also given every green plant for food (Genesis 1:30). The first mention that humans were invited by God to consume meat occurs in Genesis 9:3. Meat producing animals are ultimately dependent on food supplied by plants.
Colorful autumn resplendence is a sign that green chlorophyll has degraded, mainly triggered by diminishing daylight. This permits different color pigments to appear which had previously been masked by the chlorophyll. A layer of cells growing at the attachment of the leaf stem blocks further transport of nutrients from the plant’s roots. Food making is finished for the season. Deciduous leaves drop away to become mulch and release nutrients back to the soil, increasing fertility for future benefit of the plants.
Autumn daylight diminishes and darkness increases as the daily east to west arc of the sun falls closer to the horizon. This is a consequence of the tilt of earth’s axis constantly pointing in the same direction in space—away from the sun in cooler seasons; toward the sun in warmer seasons. This astronomical phenomenon provides wondrous variety in terms of earth’s weather conditions. Lack of seasons due to a lack of axial tilt would preclude many agricultural benefits we now enjoy. For example, wheat production in quantities needed by the current world population would not be possible without a warm/cold seasonal cycle.
In autumn all living things rejoice in harvest, preparing and adapting for the coming winter and the approach of another warm season in prospect for the next spring. Psalm 96:12 affirms the devotional reality inspired by the beauties of our harvest seasons: “Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy…”