“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.” — George Eliot
If I had to describe my aesthetic in one word, that word would be “October.” The daylight draws ever shorter, and darkness encroaches upon every corner. Every color is at its warmest and darkest of the year. Snow is still long enough away as to be an afterthought.
I’ve often described my perfect day as a rainy one in the fall, but to expand upon that thought, it is a thunderstorm in October. The rain falls at varying tempos across the roof and you wake, wrapped warm in your flannel sheets, to a sky that’s dim and grey. You pull on an old sweater and a pair of knit socks and walk sleepily into the kitchen, where the thunder rolls, a deep, resounding vibrato, as you draw water for coffee, or tea. The rain hasn’t stopped the crows, and they chatter at each other from the trees outside your kitchen window. Caffeine acquired, you make toast and dress it with a thick layer of jam – crabapple or elderberry or maybe fig. In the living room, you light a fire and take a good, long time to enjoy your breakfast. You drink a second cup. All of this without turning on the lights.
You continue your day by attending to chores. You wash clothes and dishes and yourself, in a long, hot shower with something vaguely scented with cinnamon or cloves. You blow dry your hair and rub in a sturdy lotion and dress again in another sweater, another pair of knit socks, and find another cup of something warm. You return to your living room and peruse your recipe box for an idea of what to make for dinner. You find the perfect thing, and you already have all of the ingredients you need to make it, and you don’t even care that it’s going to take you most of the rest of the day to prepare. You feed the fire and wash your hands and roll up the sleeves of your sweater and get to work. You turn on the oven, or set the slow cooker, or find the big soup pot, and begin your preparations. You take your time to slice thin, cube even, measure perfect. The house smells even better now than it did when you lit the fire hours ago.
Everything finally complete, you wash the dishes, this time by hand, and set everything to dry. You return again to the fireside and read while your supper bakes, brews, or boils. Before you know it, the timer is beeping and you’re much hungrier than you remember being when you sat down several hours ago. You serve yourself a big portion in your favorite dish and return to feed the fire again before you feed yourself. But it was worth the wait – it’s cooled down just enough and it was exactly what you wanted, and you don’t remember the last time you felt so satisfied, so full, or so warm. You go back to the kitchen to wrap up your leftovers, only to discover when you open the fridge that the power had gone out, and you didn’t even notice. The rain continues to pound outside and the thunder growls its throaty, resonant displeasure as you light candles and hurricane lamps. You return to your book.
By the time you’re tired, the power still has not returned, and you have no idea what time it is until you remember you threw your watch on the kitchen table the night before. It’s long past midnight, and still raining. You blow out the candles, one by one, and take the last hurricane back up the stairs with you, where it casts eerie shadows across the walls and down the hallway to your bedroom. You put the lamp down on the dresser, strip out of the knit socks and heavy sweater, and then blow it out, and crawl into your big, warm bed and snuggle down and sleep.
October, for me, is the month that defines autumn as a season, and not just an interim between summer and winter. So many are so quick to dismiss this beautiful, fleeting time as leaves and pumpkins that they miss the true depth and beauty of this season. It is so much more than orange, so much more than cute boots, and so very, very much more than an excuse to put cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves in your coffee.
Moreso than any other season, autumn has always been defined by human persistence. It is time to harvest, time to store, time to worship and prepare. Autumn is the time we choose – and plan – to live. It is the final moments of life before the long, white sheet of death is drawn across the world and we are left in the cold, fighting to survive. It has been so for millennia.
Since we started farming land, autumn has been the time to reap it. It has been at this time that we have always taken what our hard work has wrought for us. We bring the harvest in to hang, and mill, and salt, and can, and pickle, and brine, and ensure that it, and we, will live through the winter to come, when the earth will not be so forthcoming with her spoils.
And as such that we take, so we must give, and likewise the autumn has always been a time of thankfulness, to the Earth and the gods that sprung forth from her. With the days drawing shorter, we have always understood the necessity for spreading our wealth and well-wishes while we can, because it is likely that not all of us will survive the encroaching winter to receive them again come spring.
And because that season of ending, and of death, is so close here, as the days become colder and the nights longer, so the veil between ours and the next world grows thinner, and so our atmosphere becomes charged with a sense of magic that we can only comprehend as dread. So we craft our rituals and traditions to ward off the evil we feel among us, to protect ourselves from being drawn across the threshold. We disguise ourselves and create diversions and pass around our riches, we burn our life-preserving wood and sacred herbs and share our fire as means to keep each other alive. And while we do our best to thwart those spirits who may return to harm us, we do not forget that our loved ones, too, return now to bestow their blessings upon us who yet remain. And so we honor them.
Across the centuries, this knowledge becomes diluted, the grave warnings are turned into song and the song is turned into poetry and the poetry is turned into children’s games. We forget that this time once was a mystical one. We forget that we once dressed in hides to confuse encroaching demons, and now instead wear the guises of characters only in celebration of the fantasy. We forget that we once spilled the blood of livestock to preserve our kin and now instead refer to oxblood only as a color for the season. We forget that we once feasted in celebration and in mourning, and now instead find excuse to imbibe only for the name of the day. And so these rich histories of ours become little more than senseless trivialities. They become little more than colors and clothing and spices. They become little more than children’s games.
But the demise of the mythos does not mean the demise of the knowings from whence the mythos arose. The veil still thins. The spirits still arise. But we dismiss them as legend, as old wives’ tale, as folk belief, and, therefore, fantasy. We forget the power these things have upon us. So we stop disguising. We stop diverting. We stop trying to confuse the things which we so easily besmirch. We stop setting places. And the spirits grow restless. Grow angry. And it no longer becomes a matter of adhering to tradition. It becomes a matter of time.