Long Island October
For a great many of us here on Long Island, October is our favorite month. I’m reminded of something J.B. Priestly said in an essay about delight: “I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.” October mornings are like that. There’s a bit of magic waiting behind them; a tansy smell of fallen leaves in the air, a crispness you can almost taste. I’m thinking of apples in bushels at roadside stands, jugs of cider, acorn squash, big blooming heads of purple cabbage, snowy white cauliflower, shiny plum-colored eggplant, fat round onions, prickly pears, muskmelon, and great tubs of mums. In the mist of an October morning their hues are rich and deep: purple, russet, vermilion, ocher, rose. In the radiant afternoon their brilliant colors burst with light. The word itself, “mums”, assumes their shape, small softly rounded semi-spheres, a scattering of bright Victorian pincushions.
I’m thinking skinny stalks of Brussels sprouts, corn stalks, bales of hay, bins of potatoes, and a little blonde girl with her chubby arms wrapped around a big orange pumpkin. I’m thinking of the leaves in their last dark greening whispering whatever final secrets they know. I’m thinking of the heavy nodding buds of Montauk daisies, slender sea oats along the shore catching the last golden light of day, the sun lower on the horizon casting long, dark shadows, and then evening wood smoke, and a patina of stars blanketing the black October sky. Often on these cool nights there’s a thin sliver of a crescent moon, a witching moon, a burnished gold bewitching moon, “the new moon with the old moon in its arm.”
I awoke on a recent October morning with two words floating in my head as if from a leftover dream. They were “rural haze.” I thought of the novels of Jane Austen, the movies of David Lean. I remembered a train journey from London to Stratford: green low rolling hills dotted with still-standing sheep like scatterings of little cotton balls, the mist rising from the quiet river that meandered beside the track.
I recall an October morning on another river, but this one in Japan two days after the end of the war. A lone Japanese fisherman stands tall at the stern of his slender boat rhythmically rotating its single oar. He appears out of the gauzy vapor and disappears into it, staring straight ahead like a spirit from some other world.
In a poem about autumn, Keats writes: “The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” I live in a cottage that was built before the Revolutionary War. Morning mist drifts in from the sea. But by afternoon the trees in my yard are splendid! I’m surrounded by maple, oak, pine, pear, and dogwood. The bright yellow leaves lay scattered on the lawn like gold coins. I imagine leprechauns hiding behind the outhouse clutching sack-cloth bags, their greedy little eyes…burning… waiting…..
But with all its glorious kaleidoscope of color, there also comes with autumn a feeling of sadness, a sort of melancholy, a sense of departure, none of which is particularly unpleasant.
As October comes to a close, there’s a hint of winter in the air. Against the bright blue October sky, V formations of geese head south, the golden leaves turn brown and curl at their edges, the wind sends them scraping and scurrying along the drive, the screens are put away, the gutters cleaned, the woodpile replenished, and we suddenly become aware again of how good the morning coffee smells.