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
It’s still warm, and sometimes the skin still glistens with perspiration, but it is October. The thick, coarse leaves on my little fig tree are browning and dropping; autumn breezes scatter pecan leaves across the yard, tumbling, whirling, gliding like storm-tossed sailing ships each with tiny brown sails. Some of them are encased in the webs of the little worms that live in pecan trees, and resemble cocoons.
October is my month. I was born in it, in the passing of a hurricane. It’s in the air. Can you feel it? The dog can. She lifts her head, the graceful and powerful head of a black Lab, and, her graying nose lifted, nostrils flaring, eyes half-shut, she inhales October. I almost think she’s dozing, but no, she is catching the scent of things that won’t be here, won’t happen, until tomorrow or the next day or next week, things that I can’t sense but she inhales deeply and lets course through her lungs. October makes them more clear to her. October makes the scent of things far and away sharp and keen.
This is the month of wonders. At no other time of year is the world so magical to me. Spring is a close second. But autumn is the time when the world begins to settle in. The time for harvesting, for taking stock and store. The world has ripened and now is making ready to wither, for a time. Settle in. Slumber, perchance to dream?
The dog seems less inclined to follow the siren’s beckoning of October than others I’ve had. Maybe it’s her age, she’s become contented to stay here, in this place where the blades of grass and tumbling leaves and trails to the bayou are familiar and comfortable.
First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. – Ray Bradbury
In October, when I was a lad, the changing of the season sent me afield. With a little crack-barrel .410 shotgun that was my grandfather’s and a worn carpenter’s pouch donated by my dad as a game bag, I’d walk the fencerows and ditchbanks of the canefields, roughly where the casino is now, flushing quail. The sudden eruption of winds at my feet always made my heart stop for an instant, an adrenaline’s rush of pure magic such as I’ll never forget. And the sharp crack of the shotgun and, if I were good, and if I were lucky, the little gray bird would tumble from the sky into the browning grass.
No dog to find and flush coveys, and since all I had was a single-shot .410, I had to learn to be a marksman quickly. Best I could hope for was one bird out of a covey, though once I did manage two in a line-up shot. My mother would smother the tender breasts in onions and gravy, and the taste of them was wild, effortless flight, wide-eyed panic and gentle protection from an outstretched wing.
October, and a farmer would be harvesting cane or ploughing under corn stalks. Rest assured, if he spied me being unsafe with my gun or reckless with my targets – perhaps shooting a jaybird in waste – my father would know before I arrived home from the same foray. Sometimes the farmer would stop and chat, and sometimes, he’d point out a few known coveys in dry, October-withered brush.
The whole of the year feels like October, sometimes. The way we’re changing. The way we’re withering. That boys can’t be boys anymore, that the world has grown so afraid and timid and cowardly. October, and the tides of change are stronger than ever. Havilah Babcock once observed, "A boy wakes up new every morning," but we’ve videogamed the newness out of him, frightened the boldness and devil-may-care flamboyance from him. Set a boy loose with a little dog-leg shotgun to go shoot quail along a farm field ditchbank? What about the serial killers, the perverts, the insurance liabilities, the agricultural chemicals, the snakes, the kidnappers and the crackheads? Where’s your license, boy, your game stamp, your by-God official registration for that 100-year-old scattergun your grandfather got when he was a boy?
Our children are as frightened of October as they are the boogeyman, as fearful of autumn as we grownups are of unlocked doors at nightfall.
October, and leaves are falling, nights are cooler and everyone lives in fear. I long for Octobers of yesteryear, when a stump-knocker red-breasted bream on a fly rod was the finest blessing divinity ever bestowed upon a young boy; when a fluttering flurry of quail nearly stepped upon was the heart-stopping pinnacle of a day in October; when a horseback ride through a drowsy landscape made the clopping of hooves louder, more solid and more real than any other month of the year. The sound would echo, even in open spaces. It echoed against October and came back to you.
I wish, in October, I could be a boy again. To roam and wander and trace lines on the map of October again. Free of these schedules and meetings and clocks and phones and the ache in my left temple that seems to pound more insistently in October: Like my left temple is all that’s left of the boy, and he’s pounding his way out, trying to get to October. An October that doesn’t exist anymore, but at least still smells the same, and tingles the same on the skin, and in the tumbling leaves and the uplifted nose of the dog breathing deeply of the undiscovered country to come.