Cusp of Autumn

Fall is in the air. October is right around the corner.

I so love this time of year, or rather, the advent of this time of year. It’s almost here; I can feel it in the air, in the night.

“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys,” Ray Bradbury wrote so perfectly. Though I dread winter, fall is somber and reflective, deepens in spirit and spirituality. I hope to immerse myself in it completely.

There is a brown carpet of leaves beneath my fig tree, they are curling and withering. Sycamore leaves, a few of them, are scattering southward in the wind. The dogs know it: They lift their noses into the north breeze, eyes squinting, relishing and studying the first hints of autumn.

“All things on earth point home in old October: sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken,” Thomas Wolfe wrote. In October, I think often of the sea, and old longings pushed aside by practicality and responsibility revive. In October I can almost hear the flap of canvas sails, cooling salt air in my hair and waves splitting across the wooden bow of a Herreshoff. At the very least, a small but ample Wittholz catboat, wide and prowling, across a glassy lake in full autumn sunset.

Off the wind on this heading

Lie the Marquesas

We got eighty feet of the waterline

Nicely making way… (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

October, when it comes, will be one of the thin places I speak of. Something about October…the margins diminish, the barriers fade and the voices grow more easily heard. My ancestors are closer in the fall, and I can feel them with greater clarity. They do not sit on clouds playing celestial harps; they flourish in green and blue places, with each other and with us, ethereal. The first time I visited a creek in the red-dirt hills north of here it was late November, and alone, far downstream of where I parked the truck, I could discern the whispers of Adai and Caddo warriors and women, children and chiefs. They slipped softly between gray, coast sandstone boulders, flitting over white sand and moved north with the water’s flow, against the wind.

“To appreciate the wild and sharp flavors of these October fruits, it is necessary that you be breathing the sharp October or November air,” Thoreau wrote. “What is sour in the house a bracing walk makes sweet. Some of these apples might be labeled, ‘To be eaten in the wind.’ It takes a savage or wild taste to appreciate a wild fruit.

It was in October that I stood along the pebble-strewn shore of an Arkansas creek, while crystalline water flowed softly, but steadily, by my feet and I touched – or believed so – a resonant vibration of Harry Middleton. I went to Arkansas partially in search of this magnificent writer who had so moved me to laughter and tears, and he kept his secrets will. I will never know if the meandering branch shrouded in the shade of canopied trees was the flow Harry called Starlight Creek…but even if it wasn’t, I think the passion of my quest led me a little closer to him, and perhaps he to me.

“The wind has a message from the souls of the departed,” Harry wrote in The Bright Country. “Everything comes and goes.”

These are the things that preoccupy me in autumn, on the cusp of October.

Though the grass is still green, it has slowed its growth significantly, and sycamore leaves tumble, leaping now and then, toward the road and schoolyard across the way. I am thinking also of gumbos and fresh baking, told Suzie the other say we ought to get a bread machine or something.

The old house is getting drowsy, too, ready for fall. It’s deadbolts, ornery and difficult all summer, are sliding easily now as the old place relaxes, and picture frames are finally starting to hang only slightly askew rather than dramatic. From the day my grandmother died, after seventy-some-odd years in that house’s folds, picture frames refused to hang straight again, at least not for very long. Its floors creak and groan more, and when the cool fronts come as they are today, it will pop and crackle and announce its pleasure without uncertainty.

Yes, it’s early yet. Warm days are still here, but the nights are cooler and even the afternoons are tolerable again. It’s coming. Can’t you feel it? October. Autumn. I’ll take a week off soon; go leap chin-deep into autumn and soak in it for a bit, as long as I can, anyway.

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