Walsh’s Wonderings — Persephone’s gift

Robert F. Walsh

Some gifts take a little effort to appreciate. You’ve probably noticed the sun isn’t rising until just before 7 in the morning (and yes, I hate you just a little if you aren’t up early enough to notice) and it’s already below the tree line by 6:30 in the evening. Keep wearing those capri pants until the snows arrive if you must, but fall is finally here.

It’s all Persephone’s fault, of course. No, she’s not to blame for getting kidnapped by Hades and dragged down to be his Queen of the Underworld. Greek mythology tells us that a grief-stricken Demeter, Persephone’s mother and goddess of the harvest, caused all the crops to die until the cries of the starving finally reached the ears of Zeus. Unlike the protests marked by kneeling football players during the national anthem, this resulted in immediate action: Zeus commanded Hades to return Persephone to her mother. Unfortunately, because she’d snacked on the food of the dead on her way up, she was doomed to return to the underworld for four months every year. Demeter left the world a barren wasteland until her return each spring.

I don’t normally condone blaming the victim, but anyone who seals her immortal fate because she was popping pomegranate seeds on the road trip home probably got what she deserved. Pomegranates require far too much effort to extricate the berries and stain like someone stole their birthday puppy. Anyone who willingly sinks their teeth into a pomegranate is suspect.

Autumn itself has always been marked by strange phenomena. Arctic terns travel 11,000 miles each way for their annual migration. Gray squirrels gathering nuts and seeds this time of year experience a 15% growth in their hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion. The New York Giants refuse to address the problems on their offensive line.

New England does have amazing fall foliage, but even that comes with a strange twist. Turns out the deep red, orange and yellow pigments of our fall foliage exist just beneath the surface of those leaves all year. It’s the dwindling sunlight of autumn that allows the chlorophyll to break down, revealing the bright hues underneath. It’s that gift you’ve been begging for all year and just found hidden in your parents’ closet; unfortunately, you have to wait months until you get it and it disappears after a few weeks of use.

On Nov. 5, we also see the tyranny of daylight-saving time end as we get to “fall back” one hour. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, Americans experience a significant drop in heart attacks the day after daylight-saving time ends. (Unless you’re a fan of the New York Giants these past few seasons; if that’s the case, all bets are off.)

Autumn is a gift full of the unexpected. Although we finally get to break out the sweatshirts and sweatpants that become the staples of our winter wardrobes, this isn’t because Earth is farther away from the sun (we’re actually closest to the sun in January and farthest in July) but rather because our axis is tilted. This disperses what sunlight we do get, and the shorter fall days mean we don’t get much time to preheat the proverbial oven.

Persephone’s impetuous snacking down below bestowed a gift we’re still trying to appreciate in full. I’m loving the sweatshirt weather, but I’m dreading the thought of pulling out the snow shovels. Thanks for nothing, Demeter.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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