Savoring the season
by Stephanie Piper
It’s here at last, the season I wait for all year long.
Springtime in East Tennessee gets the press and the travel brochures, but I believe that if I had a single month left to me on earth, October would be the one I’d choose. It has my kind of light and my kind of darkness and the colors that inspire and nourish me. Its smells evoke the safest chapters in my life. Its feast days glow with the comfort of wood fires and hot drinks and require no gifts or inflated expectations. The very air seems charged with equal parts of nostalgia and possibility.
I stretch out the days with my own October rituals, revised and re-invented over time. Though I rarely manage to observe every one of them, I have found that even a few can produce a quiet contentment that lingers well into November. Here, for your autumnal pleasure, are seven small ways to be happy in the tenth month.
Take a walk before dawn. It’s dark as midnight when I set out, the stars chilly and distant, the moon still bright. Then the first light begins to rise above the trees and muffled shapes grow clear: a stand of purple ironweed, a spider web glinting faintly on a fence. The bushes are hung with cobwebs. The only sounds are the voices of waking birds. It is the point vierge , the moment between the end and the beginning, and it is full of wonder.
Read a fall poem. Someone wise once said that a good lyric poem can make an educated person feel cheerful for a few minutes. When it’s Keats’ “Ode to Autumn,” the cheer might last a full hour. It’s hard to hold on to a bad mood in his “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and nearly impossible in Richard Wilbur’s “The Beautiful Changes.”
Pick apples. I put in a lot of orchard time during my child-raising years, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a winning proposition on every front. It’s exercise in the fresh air. It’s productive and goal-oriented. It involves the consumption of fresh fruit. It tires out small children. It relaxes wired grown-ups. The car smells wonderful on the way home, and the bushel basket of apples in the garage gives you a feeling of accomplishment for at least a week.
Consider the saints of autumn. You don’t have to be high church to appreciate St. Francis of Assisi, known for his love of creatures great and small. On his Oct. 4 feast day, some congregations hold a Blessing of the Animals, a mewing, barking, squawking celebration of life in all its diverse glory.
Carve a pumpkin and roast the seeds. My days as Halloween Stage Manager and Costume Designer for three young sons are long gone, but I can’t let this holiday pass without a jack-o-lantern on the front porch. The pumpkin seeds are an exercise in delayed gratification: messy to deal with, slow to dry, and delicious to eat.
Drive yourself sane. The Cades Cove Loop and the road to Newfound Gap are spectacular in fall, no doubt. But I’ve been there and done that, and nowadays I make for the back roads, quirky turns off Northshore, shortcuts to nowhere in particular. For someone who hates to get lost, it’s risky business. Still, the payoffs are worth it: hidden coves ringed with maples and sweet gums, serene pastures, a family of deer grazing at dusk.
Pick a fall bouquet. The colors have ripened with the harvest, and you don’t need a garden to reap the bounty. Roadside ditches are full of wild Michalemas daisies, goldenrod, branches of berries and leaves in the shades of medieval tapestries. I pick the last of my roses and arrange them with the brilliant weeds. For a little while now, I have October in a pitcher on my table. It’s worth the wait.