THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

October

“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.” —Ray Bradbury, The October Country

As a child of October, it is my favorite time of year. I was born in October, in the wake of Hurricane Hilda.

More than that, though, is that October is usually the precipice of autumn. Spring is rebirth and renewal; autumn is the earth nodding off, dozing in fitful slumber. It is the foyer to winter, and the time of ghosts.

I went to the creek last weekend. October has kissed the trees there, chilled the water, blown leaves from their branches. The slow current of the creek in autumn is due to low water, but it carries along maple and oak and pine needles in oranges, reds, yellows and browns. The flat ones float to the creek’s terminus like half-sunken fishing boats with low, straight rails; those that are curled catch the breeze and sail faster, twisting, pile up behind rocks and fallen logs. They look like a ledge of autumn’s spirit.

I had not been upon those waters since early spring, and the floods this year changed her face entirely. A deadfall of two or three enormous trees across the creek had completely vanished, not a remaining trace to be found. Bars of white sand piled higher than I have ever seen, while deep pools appeared where they had not been before. Wildflowers in red and yellow and purple along the creek bank splash bright.

This time of year, the old people come ‘round again, whisked through on a breeze, perhaps, riding the leading edge of the season maybe. They swirl through this old house like djin, unthreatening presences that live in an Indian man’s circular time, not the linear time imported by the West.

The dog knows it. Bogie is intent, watchful, keen eyes on the horizon. I don’t know what he’s seeing, or hearing or smelling through flaring nostrils, but I know it only comes in October. As Leon Hale wrote, “Watch the old dog. She’ll sense a change far earlier than we do. She’ll raise her head from a nap as if she’s been called, when no one has called her. She’ll go out in the side yard and point herself north and raise her nose and half-close her eyes and stand there a full minute, reading the air, finding out things, things that are far away and won’t happen for days.”

October is thin. It is bendable. The margins are not so strong between this world and the next.

There will be no fall garden this year. I found fall gardening boring as all get-out when I planted last year. I mean, aside from the broccoli and beets, I labored and fussed over the garden all winter to get most leaf stuff. I can only eat so much cabbage and lettuce before my nose starts twitching. No, give me summer gardens! Bright red, pink and dark purple tomatoes! Red bell peppers ripened on the bush, dark indigo eggplant and yellow squash, green snap beans and cucumbers. That’s a garden!

October, and the old house moves, finds new comfort; doors shift in their frames, become easier to open, or harder to close. It’s about 175 years old, and I suspect a bit arthritic. I know I would be.

In the yard the sycamore leaves are falling and I chase them around with the lawn mower, feel guilty when I see my neighbor doing the same thing. The pecan leaves are shedding, too, as are the hackberry leaves and the fig leaves. Acorns are still green on the oaks, but they’ll be falling soon, too, and the ones on the back patio make me dance a lively jig when they roll under my feet and I almost bust my keester.

But it’s October, and I am a child of October, so I soak it all in, the magic, the resonance. Don’t you feel it? October is different than any other month. It is unique. Dark carnivals come to town in Bradbury’s writings and old men lose years off their lives when pages are torn from a book by the carnival master. Old dogs see from here-to-there, far beyond the limits of sight and sound and scent. The blue herons and white egrets that perch along my bayouside are perfectly still, as if October has rendered them into stone. The trick-or-treaters will abound by month’s end, in those places where we are not too afraid or intimidated to take to the streets.

When I was a lad, I’d take to the fields in search of quail, but the quail are mostly gone now, swept up by an October wind decades ago. In October my father and I would chase bass in the lake, and I once saw a largemouth bass leap from the water and eat a blackbird perched on an American lotus stem.

I once heard Neka sama, the “new devil” of the Chitimacha, passing through the woods at the back end of a dark canal on October, making a whistling sound as it went. Neka sama also made a booming noise, as if someone were pounding on a hollow log with a stick, and it was said to snatch children into the fire inside our huts. Children were never allowed to play near the fire.

These are the lessons of October, and I listen to them, to understand and live in a good way.

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