This Fall, I hope you too set your senses and intuitions ablaze with wonder.
“Ripe and mellow, the season no longer blazes with the passions of youth: for now that autumn has come, the year is poised midway between youth and old age, and its hair is streaked with grey."
- Ovid, First Century Roman Poet
It’s my favorite time of year, barbarians. It is Fall. A time of wonder, a time of 'in-betweens' -- between hot and cold, summer and winter, and if I asked an ancient Celt, between the living and the dead.
Last year I wrote a piece on my love of Fall, weighing heavy on my favorite autumn writer: Ray Bradbury. This year is no different. So I'll start with my favorite passage of all from Ray’s book, The October Country.
“…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…”
Since most blog posts should start with a question, here's mine: Why do I love Fall?
I suppose there’s nostalgia for me, associating Fall with the smells, sights, and feelings of a childhood spent on the east coast. Having lived in LA for the last 17 years, and spending four additional Falls in the Middle East before that, I guess I yearn for those late-in-the-year days when dead leaves scraped along the sidewalks and cold midnight winds rattled the windows of my New England home.
Maybe that’s why every year I return to New England – not in the summer, but always in the Fall. I prefer to visit when the tourists are gone, when the summer homes are boarded up, when the locals are preparing for the long winter ahead. I love the salty gusts off the bay, the white steeples pointing to gray skies, and those times in the park when wisps of air and rustling leaves do all the talking. A New England Fall invites the first time (in a long time) I can see my breath, read by the fire, or walk through the mist atop damp leaves and below smoking chimneys.
Beyond the nostalgia Fall provides my senses, I suppose I also love Fall for the non-sensory feelings it gives me, especially my favorite of all non-sensory feelings: Wonder.
The invisible spirits of Fall invite me to “retire into myself,” as Montaigne wrote five hundred years ago. Fall is my quiet time, when the ghosts of solitude and contemplation creep into my soul. It’s cold, so I light a fire. It’s wet, so I seek shelter. It’s dark, so I light a candle... and re-open an old book.
Two nights ago, I retreated to my library, lit a candle, and re-opened the Bradbury classic, Something Wicked this Way Comes . On page 1, our patron saint of Fall announces, “It was October.”
Then he writes about two boys on the cusp of manhood in a small Midwest town inspired by his own hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. Early in the book he writes, "Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaped lamps and papyrus dust."
When I read this, I want to escape LA traffic for the serenity of Portland, Maine.
Ray's books take me right back to childhood. When he writes about the crisp leaves, cool winds, crumbling farms, silent lakes, and spooky sidewalks, he's speaking my language. He's speaking Fall Wonder. When he writes of old street lamps glowing through the fog, tombstones slumped behind weeds, and every night fading towards Halloween, I'm in, I'm all in. I'm in those pages feeling those words with my senses and intuitions ablaze. I'm walking through a world of wonder, a world of the "in between."
Speaking of... yesterday, I stumbled upon this quote: “Halloween is believed to be when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is the thinnest.”
Thanks to archaeological evidence and early Christian texts, we know that the ancient Celts in Ireland and Britain celebrated a holiday called, Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Like Halloween, Samhain was for the time in between.
As the sun left another short October day and the light dimmed for night, our ancestors believed spirits of the dead came close to our world of the living – closer than any other time in the year. In response, the worried would dress in animal skins and don animal skulls to ward off evil spirits chasing them. Meanwhile, the inspired few -- the druids, sorcerers, bards, and poets -- would dress as demons, blend in with the underworld and walk among the dead, hoping to catch a piece of their undying energy for their own rituals, stories, potions, poems, and wonders.
This Fall, during this time of "in between," I hope you too snag some of that power from the underworld, retire into yourself, and set your senses and intuitions ablaze. Breath it all in, my barbarian friends. And may wonder be with you.