Oh, the blessings of October, my favorite month. As far back as I can remember, in my near half century of living, I’ve loved this month. Greens, yellows, oranges, reds, browns, and blacks all linger lovingly. The air cools and smells of fresh dust, the Canadian geese honk and slowly make their way south, and stalks of tall bunched grasses as well as gourds of every unimaginable shape make their way onto front porches. It has always been my favorite month. Whether I’ve lived in Kansas, Indiana, Montana, Michigan, or Colorado, Autumn always has something gorgeous to offer.
In the haunting twilight of the month, the veil between this world and the next seems extraordinarily thin. In the dusk of it all, the season of this world on the verge of death, life becomes something more, almost darkly sacramental. The atmosphere becomes strangely tangible.
Ghosts, spirits, ghouls, faeries, shades, and other ghastly creatures become so much more real.
So do the saints. St. Francis (feast day of October 4) sang of Brother Fire, Sister Moon, and Mother Earth. Sts. Ewald the Dark, Francis Xavier, Canog, Apollinaris, Sergius, Cergonius, Ethelburga, Edwin of Northumbria, Felix, Hedwig, Ambrose, Balderic, Teresa of Avila, Theofrid, Cadfarch, Hildemarca, Fidelis, and Anastasia II all sit comfortably on the calendar. As do St. Alfred the Great (October 26) and St. Wolfgang (October 31). All of whom are anticipating the days of all saints and all souls.
I’m certainly not alone in my love for this month. Ray Bradbury treated the thirty-one days of the tenth month of the year as akin to a world entirely separated from all others. It was, for the Californian from Illinois, its own country, with its own borders, its own culture, its own heroes, and its own villains. One needs no real passports to cross into it. One, however, should be armed with imagination and consent.
October Country…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights 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. [Ray Bradbury, The October Country]
And, October resided not merely on earth. “You notice it’s always twilight here, this land, always October, barren, sterile, dead.” So claims a fictional contractor who had traveled to the fourth planet in The Martian Chronicles.
Though with less finesse, U2’s Bono has this to offer about the month:
October and the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear.
What do I care?
October and kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on
And on. [U2, “October,” October (1981).]
For Stephen King, it is a month of deception. He “propped his chin in his palms and looked out at the sunshine and shadow and thought how soon winter came after golden, treacherous October.” [King, The Dead Zone]
For T.S. Eliot, it is little more than decay, ever awaiting the Incarnation in December. [Eliot, “Choruses” from The Rock]
For Willa Cather, it is crisp and glorious, exaggerating every color, especially the blue of the skies of the Great Plains [Cather, My Antonia]
It reluctantly gives way to the uniformity of winter.
Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring. The birds have gone. The teeming life that goes on down in the long grass is exterminated. The prairie-dog keeps his hole. The rabbits run shivering from one frozen garden patch to another and are hard put to it to find frost-bitten cabbage-stalks. At night the coyotes roam the wintry waste, howling for food. The variegated fields are all one color now; the pastures, the stubble, the roads, the sky are the same leaden gray. [Willa Cather, O Pioneers!]
Tolkien sees fluidity in the season itself. “Touched with gold and red the autumn trees seemed to be sailing rootless in a shadowy sea.”
And, one of the most interesting figures in all modern mythology, Tom Bombadil, wore a crown of autumn leaves. [Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring]
Poet Robert Burns reached deep into his own Scottish disturbances, find diabolic bogies running amok:
While over a waterfall the river plays,
As through the glen it meandered;
While round a jutting rock it strays;
While in an eddy it dimpled;
While glittered to the nightly rays,
With bickering, dancing dazzle;
While hidden underneath the slope of a hill,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.
Among the brackens, on the slope,
Between her and the moon,
The devil, or else an unhoused cow,
Got up and gave a moo!
Poor Lizzie’s heart most leap out of her chest!
Near lark-height she jumped;
But missed a foot, and in the pool
Out-over the ears she falls in,
With a plunge that night.
The patron of The Imaginative Conservative found October especially appealing. “All hail, spirits of the air, beings under the hill, and things that go bump the night!” wrote Kirk in 1966. But, he had written many such things before 1966 and he would do so again, over and over, until he passed from this world twenty years ago, not during his birthday month, October, but in the cruelest month, April.
For the mighty founder of post-World War II conservatism, Halloween might as well have been the highest feast day of the year. “As a teller and writer of ghostly tales, I celebrate Halloween with enthusiasm,” he admitted to the entire world on Halloween, 1988. Adorning Piety Hill with all things frightful and dressing up in his Count Dracula cape and academic regalia, Russell Kirk greeted nearly four hundred children a year on the eve of November 1. The holiday, he noted, perfectly blended the Celtic pagan with the Christian, demonstrating a fine continuity in history.
However we choose to look at it, October thrills and titillates each of our senses and reaches into the very depths of our suspect souls, whether we actually encounter the dead or merely imagine their various states of being.
Books by Bradley Birzer may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. His newest book, Russell Kirk: American Conservative, arrives on book shelves November 5 and is now available for pre-order.