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My appointment book says Sunday, Sept. 23, will be the “first day of fall.” My Humane Society calendar says it will be the day “autumn begins.” Which is it? Or both? And if so, why does the season have two names. Both originate in the British Isles, but “autumn” is the more-common term there while fall is preferred here in the US.

From what I read, “fall” came into use around the 1500s in such terms as “fall of the year” or “fall of the leaf.” Within a century it was contracted to simply “fall.” Autumn, which comes from the Latin autumnus by way of the French automne, means the same thing but didn’t become popular in the British Isles until the 1600s.

Every year in West Marin, leaves with fall colors — poison oak’s red leaves in particular — decorate the countryside. Which reminds me of my itchy youth in Berkeley. When I was learning to read and write at Hillside Elementary School, one teacher at the start of a school year told our class to write poems about autumn. Expressing my chagrin at the end of vacation, I wrote:

“Autumn, it comes in the fall./ Autumn should not come at all./ For when it’s fall, it is a rule/ All of us go back to school.” I can’t remember the teacher’s reaction to my rhyme, but I know she didn’t always understand what I wrote. When I once used “mise” in a paper, she drew a circle around it. “What’s that word?” she asked. I was astounded that she didn’t know. My parents were always saying, “We mise well do this” or, “We mise well do that.”

The summer was so dry that the horses grazing on the hill next to Mitchell cabin ate down all the grass and are now living off bales of hay distributed by their owners.

A hillside in the Murray Buttes region of Mars. (NASA photo)

Mars or mythology? Recently while looking into the origins of words, I became curious as to the origin of “Hesperian.” There’s a city called Hesperia in San Bernardino County and an Elementary School called Hesperian in San Lorenzo. Hesperian is also the name of a major boulevard which parallels the Nimitz freeway in Hayward.

But when I looked up Hesperian in Wikipedia, the first definition listed said, “The Hesperian is a geologic system and time period on the planet Mars characterized by widespread volcanic activity and catastrophic flooding that carved immense outflow channels across the surface.” The Hesperian probably began about 3700 million years ago. Why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard after that?

Apparently as it’s being used, however, Hesperian suggests “western.” In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Hesperides referred to both a garden producing golden apples at the western edge of the world and to nymphs who guarded the garden with the aid of a dragon. Again I ask: why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard — even in the West — after nymphs with a dragon or their garden?

In keeping with the western garden myth of Hesperides, the Greeks called the Evening Star (which rises in the west) “Hesperus.” Even if this were the reference, I would similarly ask: why anyone would name a city, a school, or a boulevard after the evening star?