In the same way people equate Charles Dickens with December, I equate Ray Bradbury with September, October, and November. Drenched in autumn, his dark stories stir my soul with wonder.
My senses and memories always seem to sharpen in the fall, my favorite season of them all. I can still feel the sweat, mud, and shivering cold of a late afternoon football practice back east. I can still feel my lungs burn as I run gassers through the November dusk, and afterwards, with helmets off, see steam rising like plumes of smoke from the heads of my teammates.
Fall mornings meant cinnamon oatmeal, piping hot with raisins and walnuts. While Sunday afternoons meant raking leaves until backyard barbecues began wafting sizzling smells into the silent suburban air.
To this day, these cozy memories warm me with wonder. But here’s the thing -- they’re just memories. Because for the last fifteen years I’ve been living in a city where fall often means fire season and seasonal change means it “might” rain. I’m talking about Los Angeles, California – a city people love to hate.
LA… what can I say… you test my patience every day. Instead of crisp Autumn winds, you blow smog-laden exhaust. Instead of rolling hills and auburn leaves, you offer potholes and palm trees -- which are really just giant weeds.
Despite Angel City’s woes, I will tell you all, I still feel the wonders of a New England fall. You might ask, how is this so? Well, it's when my imagination starts to grow.
As dusk descends on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the fall, I retreat to my room behind the shop: my home library. Nestled in the corner and sinking into my old leather chair, I turn on my reading light and reach for my “fall books,” all written by the King of Autumn himself, the great Ray Bradbury.
In the same way people equate Charles Dickens with December, I equate Ray Bradbury with September, October, and November. Nearly all his short stories and novels seem drenched in autumn rain. And though I’m 3,000 miles from the red and brown leaves of Maine, I’m always within an arm’s reach of a Ray Bradbury book. And no book of his better evokes late-year wonder than “The October Country.”
Filled with nineteen spooky tales featuring dark carnivals and leafy main streets, Bradbury intros The October Country with this perfect passage:
…that country where it is always turning later in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusk and twilights linger, and mid-nights 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…
To stir your autumn spirit even more, here’s two more perfect passages from the book:
From “The Lake”
It was September. In the last days when things are getting sad for no reason. The beach was so long and lonely with only about six people on it. The kids quit bouncing the ball because somehow the wind made them sad, too, whistling the way it did, and the kids sat down and felt autumn come along the endless shore.
All of the hot-dog stands were boarded up with strips of golden planking, sealing in all the mustard, onion, meat odors of the long, joyful summer. It was like nailing summer into a series of coffins. One by one the places slammed their covers down, padlocked their doors, and the wind came and touched the sand, blowing away all of the million footprints of July and August….
From “The Emissary”
Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer, acorn-husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoals shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh-grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it at all, this incredible beast was October!
Here's something you might not know: The King of Autumn wrote the above passages while living in the concrete metropolis of Los Angeles!
He moved here from the Midwest in 1934 when he was 14. And except for his travels, Ray lived in LA for the next 77 years until his death in 2012 at 91 years old.
Ray proved that you don’t need to be somewhere to feel that place; you can just imagine it, conjure it, and even create it. So every Sunday at dusk, I do just that. Easing into my library chair, smelling the bourbon candle with a taste of my bourbon whiskey, I open a book and I'm whisked away “north of the wall,” far from civilization’s grip into realms of wonder that ignite the barbarian in me.
Montaigne once wrote, “retire into yourself.” In doing so, we can finally put down our tasks and duties and enter a portal where worlds are old, magic is real, and shadows are forever. And though I don’t live on a New England farm by a covered bridge, I can at least imagine what that feels like (or what I want it to feel like).
Wonder is there for me and always at my fingertips. Whether it’s reading Ray Bradbury, free writing in my journal, or listening to Sisters of the Moon – all transport me to a magical place.
Please watch this four minute clip from the beginning of the movie, Hoosiers, and I hope you’ll feel the same wonders of autumn I feel when he sips his coffee, exhales in relief, and drives onward through the crisp Indiana air towards the hope and wonder of a new day.
Happy Fall, Barbarians.