Oct 3, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff
All things 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. Ė Thomas Wolfe
Itís here. What Ray Bradbury fittingly called the October country, for it is a realm in itself. October stands apart, like a sudden swell of plateau, like a startling transition into valley. Some of us, like Bradbury and I, can sense Octoberís otherness, feel the substantiality of it on our skin, the weight of it in our blood.
Thereís a clear and tangible margin to October, a palatable edge. Itís cool and invigorating but it excites the senses and compels movement. It flushes the skin and coerces restless wandering.
First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys, Bradbury wrote. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say.
It was, in fact, just such writing that drew me to the writer at an early age, and remarkably, it was in October that I picked up a perfect copy of The October Country from the Bookmobile that came from the parish library to Chitimacha Tribal School. It was bright there in its clear library-wrap cover, pristine, and I reached out for it because all the other books on those shelves seemed to fade and pale, and the humming of the motor of the Bookmobile was somehow farther away. I pulled it down and I checked it out without even knowing what it was, but I knew, as only a 12-year-old boy can know, that it was untouched all those years in the library in Franklin, and the check-out card was clear and clean, and somehow it had escaped from the branch building onto the Bookmobile and found its way, at last, to me.
I devoured it in bed late at night, reading with a flashlight; I soaked and saturated myself with it in the yard in the hammock my dad had made for me and strung between two cedar trees. Perhaps, Iíve always thought, if I had read it in July, or December or June I might never have known the magic of it, but it was October and that, after all, is a rare month for boys.
Oh, the wandering I did in October! A wonderland of browning and yellowing and reddening; the air so crisp it would crackle if you inhaled it too quickly, the water cooling at the bayou. Ducks and geese were appearing, heading south or wintering over nearby, and October welcomed them with browning fields full of corn stubble where the quail nested in coveys of birds in perfect circles. That was long before I hunted them Ė I would wander and kick through Johnson grass and thistle, looking for them just for the heart-stopping flurry and the beat of their wings.
October, and the horses would shake their heads to make their manes dance with joy, theyíd trot around the pasture for no reason other than October; theyíd roll in the dirt and kick their legs in the air, and seemed to be bright of eye and coat. The dogs, all my life, would invariably face into the northern wind and lean at it, eyes half closed, inhaling October here and October there and October long, long past or to come.
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir, William Bliss Carman said. We must rise and follow her; When from every hill of flame, She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
But that was long ago. Iím no longer that boy, donít have the freedoms he had. Strange, isnít it? As a boy, I had leave to wander and chase October anywhere I liked Ė so long as I stayed out of trouble and was home by dark for supper. Back then, I was granted the right of trust, so long as I didnít betray it. Now, a grown man, I canít be allowed to get up from my bed and go afield to find Octoberís auburn heart because there are deadlines to meet and papers to write and paychecks to garner. People who have never breathed deeply of October or set foot off concrete and outside fluorescent lights shackle me, and if I were a boy again, Iíd kick them in the shins and run for all I was worth.
Buddy of mine quit a great job with a great oil company once because they didnít want to let him go trout fishing in the Carolinas one fall, perhaps even in October. I should be so brave. I was, once, and October still emboldens me somewhat, but Iíve become a far greater coward than I was when I was 12 and invulnerable. Thatís the thing about growing up: We begin believing in our weaknesses, in our cages and in our limitations and thus they become real. A boy, in October, is limited only by the awesome, tangible power of his imagination, and mine stretched through October like a flowing sea.
I hate all things binding in October. I hate these walls and these desks and these phones and these noises. When the ticking dictator on the wall releases me at the end of the day, I rush home and change out of these silly work clothes, take the dog with me and leap into October until sunset when the bugs force me inside. And I wonder at the mystery of why everyone doesnít relish October, why all of us canít feel its pull and magic and mystery? My God, if we all fell under Octoberís spell, weíd declare the entire month a national holiday and Iíll wager a lot of the problems in this country would go away.
But thatís the 12-year-old in me, buried deep under my skin under layers of responsibility and obligation and bills and rituals and masks.
October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen, Hal Borland said. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.
Yeah, I admit it. Iím a vagabond and a fool. A wanderer and a no-account miscontent. There might come a day, though, when youíll miss me. When I find the key to the door that enters October, slip behind that narrow margin between what is seen and unseen, and live out my days there. Inside that country are wonders not found in the wildest dreams of desk-jockeys and deadline makers. Within, in the deepest valleys and atop the highest mountains of October, lies magic found nowhere else in creation.