October is so very many things – cool mornings, the fragrant apples of many varieties, the rustle and skirl of falling leaves at every breeze, sunshine lighting up the red or gold foliage left on the hills and the reluctant preparations for the winter to come; putting the lawn mower away, bringing in the potted plants and buying snow tires. We finally got a hard frost last week, so the few bees are getting their last loads of pollen from the flowers that survived, and winter birds are slowly filtering down from the north. October is, possibly, my favorite month and I make every effort to enjoy it to the fullest even though there’s a slight tinge of sadness that comes with autumn. Poets seem inspired to write about October too, and here is one verse from “Vagabond Song” by Bliss Carman*: “There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; we must rise and follow her, when from every hill of flame she calls and calls each vagabond by name.” As we near the end of this month, I’m cognizant of: the soon-to-come changes —- in time and darkness coming earlier —- the approach of All Hallows Eve/ Halloween —- and All Saints Day coming right after.
The time switch I really do not like. As the day gets darker, I accomplish even less. I have enough trouble summoning adequate energy and don’t need any discouraging dwindling in my daylight. Apparently the general public also complains but when it comes to a vote, people seem to dislike change sufficiently, that even an inconvenience, instituted way back in WWI, lingers today. Actually I’d like to remain on “summer time” all year round. But that isn’t likely to happen, so enough of my grumbling. At least we get an “extra hour” on November 3d as a consolation prize.
Halloween is a slightly eerie “holiday;” a remnant of the Celtic calendar. Somehow, on U.S. calendars, over the last twenty years or so, it has become an occasion to embellish lawns with over-the-top decorations and people actually schedule time to watch bizarre horror movies. Of course there’s the usual Trick or Treating with slews of costumed kiddies on the sidewalks, along with community Halloween parties. At least turning over outhouses is obsolete but only because now, they seldom exist.
There are some individuals and groups who feel strongly that all the revelry around Halloween is unwise if not actually wrong; that it promotes a pagan philosophy and a possibly demonic series of activities. I do not dismiss that there is very real darkness in this world, and I’m sure that this holiday is used by some, in perverse ways. But probably because I’ve not known first-hand, nor have I been connected to those who’ve experienced this sort of spiritual darkness, I have no problem with a trick/treat time and a chance to dress up in fun costumes. I do find the skeletons, ghouls, and tombstones that pop out of people’s lawns a bit tasteless. And horror movies are just foolish; why fill one’s mind with fearsome things?
Halloween, is a short version of “All Hallows Eve”, which actually springs from the Celtic Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which was harvest time and also the beginning of the Celtic new year. The lighted pumpkins with the scary faces, emulate the gourds and turnips into which candles were affixed, to ward off the vengeful spirits coming back to collect their due. Revelers, today, seldom tote lighted jack-o-lanterns anywhere; mostly those decorate porches. Perhaps flashlights are our version of lighted gourds for possible dangers in the night. “Listen……with faint dry sound, like steps of passing ghosts, the leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees and fall.” Adelaide Crapsey** Darkness, for most people, is a bit spooky year-round, thus the snipe hunts at camp and similar uncanny activities.
I have made my share of costumes for kids; I recall a Superman, a knight errant and a goddess (Athena, I think). I was fairly frugal; Superman’s outfit became pajamas and all sorts of things went into the dress-up box. I do question the dubious choice to spend large amounts of money on those inflatable ghosts, witches, and dragons for lawns. I wonder, as well about the recent penchant for exploring the dark side of spiritual life (vampires, ghouls, etc.) via books, TV shows and movies. I think that venturing into this area is opening ourselves to things we really shouldn’t choose to experience if we want our lives to shine out in the darkness. Of course, much depends on the manner of writing and the reader’s vulnerability I suppose. I’m sure that there are those who might be critical of my literary choices too, so we won’t go there. I did learn a new word and condition while checking out Halloween facts; some people suffer from ”Samhainophobia”. This is a condition of extreme fear regarding Halloween and all that goes with it. Perhaps those who experience this malady have had bad times or are more sensitive to the dark side of Halloween. Anyway, I believe that I will continue decorating with straw bales, scarecrows and lighted pumpkins as a tribute to autumn, and will stock a bowl with goodies in case we do get some small super-heroes, ghosts or ballerinas.
All Saints Day, following Halloween, I do enjoy. This was the Church’s response to the pagan Halloween. It provides a time to honor the saints (in the Catholic church, saints are carefully chosen; in Protestant churches, all those who profess to be Christians are saints#) who have passed on; family, friends and those blessed individuals we know from history who have made a difference in the world. There is a great old hymn, “For All The Saints”*** that expresses the day well. I do enjoy going through my albums and remembering good times with those who are with us no more.
I find much pleasure in putting those albums together. They hold family history, stories, personal joys and sorrows, and just fun things that have happened. I am quite aware that what I have in large, space-gobbling books can be put on a 3-inch computer stick. We’ve actually done that for someone. But I’d rather curl up on the couch and open those padded covers and collaged pages for my foray into memories. It is a fine way to spend that first day of November; naming all the saints in my life.
This is also just the season for a cup of tea/coffee/cider with those people we enjoy. I was able to do that a couple of weeks ago, with a friend who was about to leave for the west coast. We found a restaurant with a delightful view of Seneca Lake and enjoyed our goodies and conversation. I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful October afternoon than driving through leaf-colored hills and then watching boats on the lake with a congenial and caring friend. I was grateful for the opportunity.
There is much talk in certain circles, about what gratitude does for the brain (long-term) and the mood (short-term). I am grateful for many things; my gardens, a comfortable home, a small and diverse rural community, a delightful church body, music, dancing and books. But I find that I’m most grateful for friends —— those who have been part of our lives for many years and those who are relatively new. There are high school friends who have become new friends because, in many cases, I haven’t seen them for five decades. In each of the places we have lived there have been friends we just couldn’t leave behind and so we stay connected. And we are fortunate to have family members who are also friends in the very best sense. We try to maintain contact via notes, cards, calls and visits. We have, over the years, “collected” a wonderful melange who seem to fit into the “kindred spirits” category; people who find humor in many of the same things and who look at life through similar lenses; individuals who make life better just by being who they are.
Now, as October wanes, we rather dread looking ahead to more gray, chilly and probably wet weather. But there are timely things to do in all weather. Now that gardening and vacations have slowed down a bit, perhaps it would be healthful and rewarding for all of us to use this time in October and November, to cultivate the people we care about the most, while they are still with us. And to also encourage a spirit of gratitude within ourselves! It is a wonderful antidote to the multiplicity of world woes.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Bliss Carman – Christened William Bliss Carman. He was a Canadian poet who lived most of his life in the U.S. During the latter part of his life, he was named the Canadian Poet Laureate. 1861-1929
**Adelaide Crapsey – American poet and writer from Rochester, NY. 1878-1914
*** “For All The Saints”— written by William Walsham How, Anglican Bishop of Wakefield. 1823-1897
# – Being designated a “saint” does not necessarily mean saintly behavior, though one might hope for that. It is more accurate to believe that one is growing into being a saint.