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October’s Magic – Nostalgic Reminiscing
October will cast a spell on you, if you let it. Its magic lies in the fact that within it dwells the most “bewitching” holiday, and it is, I think, the premier month in nature’s most brilliant and colorful season. And in all honesty, I must admit that its magic, for me at least, finds its root in childhood memories, experiences and perceptions that continue to cast their “spell” on me to this day. Although September holds the “official” first day of autumn in its grasp, for me it’s simply a month of transition between summers’s broiling temperatures and fall’s cooler color-splashed days. It’s not until October that my heart tells me that fall is truly official. Its’ colorful splendor having saturated the mountains, has begun seeping down into the valleys as well, and arriving with it too, the season of “haunting”. Summer’s long days of searing heat are becoming mere memories, replaced with the chillier days and frostier nights of autumn, the harbingers of the upcoming winter, with its’ prospect of skies teeming with snowflakes depositing copious amounts of snow. And the days have become much shorter, the nighttime arriving earlier, giving darkness greater rule to reign over October’s eerie and unearthly ambiance, if only in our imaginations, and provide the cover needed by any spooks, hobgoblins or phantoms that wander or haunt on Halloween night.
By October, in Utah, Mother Nature has begun changing from head to toe from her summer garment of majestic green leaves into a more festive array of colors from her autumn wardrobe. Dressing appropriately for the Halloween holiday, and complimenting the scary and ghoulish adornments found on and around many homes, she has started decorating herself from tree to tree in flaming hell-fire reds, glowing jack-o-lantern oranges and luminescent full-moon yellows wherever you look during this season of seasons. And then gradually as the month progresses, October’s ghost winds coax many of these colorful gems from off the trees, covering the ground with a crisp, crackling multi-colored blanket, so by All Hallows Eve the many skeletal branches from which they’ve fallen are raising themselves to the sky to mourn and lament their loss.
October’s leafy, brightly colored tapestry, appropriately gloomy after dark, and the months haunted happenings and rustic atmosphere, whether during the crisp fall days or crispier nights, whether in memory or real-time, have always been magical to me. I loved them as a child and I still love them today. Autumn cornfields ready for harvest still make me think of scarecrows. Shiny orange pumpkins bring to mind the flickering candlelit faces of freshly carved jack-o-lanterns, and deserted or isolated places in a fall setting remind me of the haunted attractions that drew me in each year as a youth.
“The Old Mill” was one such place. It had a definite air of mystery about it and still sticks in my memory more than 35 years later. It became known as “The ‘Haunted’ Old Mill” each October in our local community. And being as it was located off by itself, with nothing nearby, at least not anything earthly, and was nestled right near the canyons in the shadow of the mountains, surrounded by only woods with gnarled trees, obviously very old and abandoned, it’s outer stone structure crumbling, you definitely believed it. In these creepy darkened surroundings, while a loud speaker played a sinister soundtrack from the old mill’s lonely tower, willing victims waited in line literally for hours. But it was a small price to pay for the thrill that awaited you inside; in fact it was half the fun, probably more than half. However, with age I found myself more partial to “haunted forests” rather than haunted old mills, where only the dim orange glow of lanterns, hung on dark and dismal branches, guide you down shadowed paths to whatever awaits. Yet the purpose and effect are the same, to enjoy the season and free oneself from the mundane and everyday for awhile, to be a kid again.
It’s funny how things you come to love as a child often stick with you, especially when related to a season or holiday. Like my love of the Charlie Brown holiday classics. Each October I had to sit in front of the television set and watch as poor Charlie was the outcast again for yet another year. As if it would ever change. And once again Linus, and poor gullible Sally, were spending Halloween night alone in the cold night air, missing all the fun, just waiting under the moon in what Linus hoped was the world’s most “sincere” pumpkin patch so they’d receive loads of presents from the Great Pumpkin (and all these years I thought it was Santa!). And of course, Charlie Brown was missing out on all the fun too, even though he’d gone to the festivities. He didn’t have the excuse that he’d missed the fun because he’d bought into and was fooled by the Great Pumpkin scam (don’t tell Linus I said that!). The poor kid just couldn’t get a break. He set himself up for the most tragic night of trick-or-treating ever by clumsily cutting so many eyeholes in his sheet that everybody in town knew who was underneath that particular ghost costume. Going to each door in his “holey” sheet and yelling “trick or treat” was like saying, “Hi, I’m Charlie Brown and I’m a blockhead! I know you must have all kinds of sweets and delicious candy inside, but could I have a rock please?” And he got them too, door after door after door.
Then later, at the Halloween party, Charlie was on the receiving end again, being teased by his classmates, the back of his bald head used as a pattern for a Jack-o-lantern. No one was willing, I guess, to show the kid who’d collected enough rocks trick-or-treating that night to start his own rock quarry a bit of sympathy. And yet he took it all in his stride, just as he seemed to take all the difficulties that were heaped on him. Sure he got discouraged, but in the end he kept going forward with his chin up. I can only assume that my favorite cartoon kid grew up into adulthood somewhere in the land where cartoons live, happy and healthy, stronger for the trials he endured. At least that’s my hope. But even if Charlie Brown has fully grown up, I must admit that I myself haven’t yet, because I still try to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” each October. It’s become sort of a Halloween tradition for me. There’s something about Charlie as the underdog that I can relate to, and for me his Halloween adventures are part of October’s magic. And establishing traditions, whether it be watching a favorite seasonal show or going to your favorite haunted forest, or both, can help you fall under October’s spell and remain attuned to the child within you. And really, not fully growing up is exactly the point; in one sense we should all remain kids. We need to keep in touch with that part of ourselves that can relax, appreciate, make believe and have fun. October is a great time of year to do just that.
I have many fond autumn memories from this extraordinary month, the time of year where I find myself getting most nostalgic. Old memories as a boy: like the family tradition we had of taking yearly trips to the local canyons in the nearby Wasatch Mountains, when from our home in the valley they no longer appeared as much green as they did red, orange and yellow. I’d go with my mother, two brothers, and sometimes a friend or two, to bask in nature’s delightful parade of colors as they marched down the mountainsides, spilling down the steep slopes, often into a gurgling creek below. The only sounds, the bubbling and splashing of the stream water, the hushed murmuring of the breeze in the trees, and the most overwhelming sound of all: a profound quiet and stillness, a peace and serenity that was as wonderful to your ears as were the colors to your eyes. Or like the simple pleasure I remember of shuffling my feet or riding my bike through piles of fallen leaves in the streets of my childhood neighborhoods. I can still hear the crackle and crunch sounds they made under foot or bike wheel. And I recall how the leaves sometimes fell in torrents, like the sky was raining leaves, on the tree-lined streets in a good breeze. And I’ve never forgotten that captivating smoky burnt-leaf smell that always seemed to start hanging in the air each mid to late October, telling me mom would soon be taking us to the store to buy delicious candy apples, pumpkins for carving, and of course any candy or costumes needed for trick or treating, each kid’s night of nights.
And then there are of course the new autumn memories I have as a man. Like the special memories of quiet fall evenings alone with my wife, in our backyard, simply raking up and bagging leaves together from our own trees, and finding it not work but a joy, well mostly. Or the times of going with my wife to one of our favorite locales each year at harvest time, exploring hand in hand retail shops and grounds festively decorated in autumn accents with a scarecrow or witch theme in order to celebrate fall and the Halloween season. And of course I have recollections of decorating our own home and yard for the holiday. Taking the time each October to replace our white porch lights with the proper black and orange ones, put out our large plastic jack-o-lantern, wrap Halloween garland around the light post, stake into the ground our friendly, not scary (my wife’s idea), scarecrow, and hang our skeleton, Ol “I shouldn’t a done it” Joe, by the neck from the tree in our front yard. And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that my wife also costumes appropriately her plaster mother and baby goose yard statues as well. This year they’re witches! And lastly, there are the memories of a family tradition we started a few years back where our grown children, and now grandchildren, gather at our home each October for an annual pumpkin carving party. Choosing from a myriad of frightful designs and gruesome patterns from pumpkin carving kits we purchase, we all gather round the table with our intricate cutting tools and carve our best, then when finished we have a special lighting ceremony with all the jack-o-lanterns glowing collectively in the dark, enjoying together the ghostly imagery and flickering orange candlelight. Then everyone returns to their homes taking with them their newly carved treasures.
Yet, for all the charm and enchantment that is October, part of its magic lies beyond the scope of the month itself. October and Halloween have served as a springboard since my childhood as the first in a queue of my favorite times and holidays. Growing up, although school was back in session, the three months of October through December were nearly as good as the three months off from school we had each summer. Halloween’s candy-filled night, with October’s colorful landscape by day and spooky atmosphere after dark, were soon followed by November’s festive family gatherings and Thanksgiving, with it’s delectable aromas and food-filled tables, and then December’s joyous Christmas season, with colored lights sparkling, carols playing, and hopefully, snow falling, and its’ promise of presents on Christmas morning. October was like the front of a long train, the train’s engine, pulling car after car filled with wonderful surprises and gifts and the train’s caboose didn’t show up until January. There was always plenty of good reasons for a young boy to be in a perpetual state of wonderment and awe during that time of year. And that wonderment and awe of youth has been rekindled in me to a degree every year since. I believe all “grown-ups” can tap into the exuberance and excitement of their youth during this time of year with the right frame of mind, and those that do have much more fun.
October’s falling leaves and cool nights, with the festivities and decorations of Halloween dotting the autumn landscape, strike a deep chord in me from my boyhood, when things were simpler. When my biggest worry was standing up to a school bully, and my imagination, my hopes and dreams, were less encumbered, free to more fully envelop and nurture the inherent wonders and possibilities of the seasons and holidays. Even today, as then, in my mind’s eye cackling witches slice through the sky on their broomsticks, moaning mummies stumble along through the graveyard and hungry werewolves prowl the nearby woods and fields looking for someone unaware each October. Even today, as then, autumn’s color change leaves me breathless, awestruck by its beauty.
Like magic, this time of year produces a wonderful change inside of me, or it does if I can let go of some of my stress and worries and just ride the wave of nostalgia, letting the fun and beauty of the season take over. It can produce changes inside me just as readily as it produces changes outside in nature. October is a month to appreciate the magnificence and beauty of creation all around us, and to exercise our imaginations, to nourish fantasy. If you do these simple things, it can indeed be magical.
Once a year, every October, we’re granted a chance to get back in touch with the kid that still lurks inside us somewhere, to take an emotional and mental break, to escape just a little, from the responsibilities that have weighed upon our shoulders since we arrived into adulthood. It’s a chance to be childlike in our marveling and astonishment at Mother Nature’s complex, yet simple, beauty as she colors, then sheds, her leaves. It’s a time to get caught up, in kid-like fashion, in the enjoyment of the festivities and decorations of the season. And it’s an opportunity to allow ourselves to be frightened by the monsters of myth and legend from the past, which is a lot more fun than being terrorized by the monsters of the present we all face every day, like crime, unemployment, a poor economy, war, or terrorism, just to name a few.
There’s a wealth of opportunity out there to enjoy, yet you need not take advantage of it all. Visiting a haunted old mill or forest may not be your thing, but you might like watching scary movies, or other favorite seasonal shows at home. Maybe you’re not wild about the idea of decorating up your own home and yard, yet you appreciate Halloween’s seasonal decor in the shops and homes around you. Unlike some people I don’t personally enjoy costume parties, yet you might like attending them whenever you can. Or maybe you just like to enjoy Mother Nature’s unequaled decoration, and watch the eyes of children light up as you toss candy into their plastic pumpkins on Halloween night.
Whether you like it all and find yourself participating in everything, or embrace only some of it, what’s really important is having the right mindset. It will lead you to enjoy October’s magic in your own way. Recall some of the lightheartedness of your youth. Imagine. Try taking a walk one cool and moonlit October night when the trees are nothing much more than bones silhouetted against the night, their leafy flesh decomposing on the ground, crackling beneath your feet. If you pay close attention, I’ll bet you can see the bats scatter and fly across the face of the moon, see watchful yellow eyes blinking in the dark as owls’ hoot in the trees, wisely warning you to beware. Listening closely you’re bound to hear a blood-curdling scream of terror mingling with a menacing and delighted laugh off in the distance. And was that the sound of furtive footsteps skulking nearby? Walk and enjoy the fantasy, but don’t spare frequent glances over your shoulder, something may be following you.
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