I think of my father in October. His birthday is in October (October 24th). He passed away in late August of 2001, a few days after my birthday and a few days before the collapse of the World Trade Towers on September 11th, and so this period of early fall, this transition from summer into the first whisperings of winter, is associated appropriately with death and transformation. The mood is there, the chill is there, the skulls and pumpkins are there. Kerouac’s Dr. Sax. Macbeth’s cackling witches. Enraged villagers driving Frankenstein’s monster into a windmill with torches and pitchforks.
Donald Trump’s Aryan hair and bloated orange face sneering in arrogance.
Hillary Clinton’s toothy rictus as she points to a billionaire contributor at a rally.
It’s a very strange time of year. Like the body of the dead crow we saw this afternoon, feathers splayed, body mangled. What killed it? It’s rare to see dead birds. And why is that? Why is it so rare to see the corpses of birds? You’d think there’d be hundreds.
In the Lushootseed language of the Puget Sound Salish people, October is known as the month when many leaves fall. Their sense of time was sensual, observational, not abstract. Time itself is a mystery. There’s nothing about time that doesn’t puzzle me. Why does it move forward? If the universe is eternal, why should there be a sense of forwardness, of chronology?
Seasons are easy. Those are big changes. None, however, affect my mood quite as much as fall. The very word - fall - says it all. It’s a falling. But it’s also a rising.
What baffles me every October is not just the bittersweet memories surrounding my father but the feeling of exuberance and vitality. Where does that come from?
Maybe it’s that bracing vigor in the air, that vitalizing chill that begins imbuing the heat of summer with slow, insinuating degrees. It’s more of a suggestion at first, an evolving awareness, an emergent realization supporting a melodic progression, a visceral substratum like the bass line in “Something” by the Beatles. It’s a paradox: the low is uplifting, the opaque is illuminating.
Or maybe I just think too much. It’s getting cold. It’s a fact. Summer is ending. Shit. I begin wearing long-sleeved shirts for my runs. By the end of October, I’ll be adding wool gloves and a wool hat to my gear. October is the one month in which seasonal changes are evident. There’s still a bit of summer left at the beginning of October but by the end of October it gets earnestly bitingly cold and the trees are bedraggled with at least half of the leaves still hanging on but turning yellowish and dry as old parchment for the poetry of elves.
Whenever I wonder why things exist and try to imagine things not existing I realize that it’s impossible for nothing to exist. It’s impossible to imagine nothing existing. I mean nothing. You can’t. You would have to imagine a universe without space or time or gravity or worms or kayaks. Nothing. Not even space. How can there not be space? And this is an October thought.
“Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys was released in October, 1966. Fifty years ago.
“The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel was originally recorded in October, 1964. It was a commercial failure. It wasn’t until it was remixed in the spring of 1965, re-released, and by January of 1966 had become a major hit. I remember hearing it on the train I took from Seattle to Minot, North Dakota with a black eye and Hamlet on my mind.
These are the sort of reflections that stir up late in life. Hit songs from 50 years ago. Hit songs from a time when I was young and experimenting with drugs and discovering writers and artists and expanding my mind and feeling a combination of excitement and fear and frustration and joy.
Those days turned crinkly and yellow and fell from the tree of my spring. I’m in my winter now. The winter of my discontent, to give it a Shakespearean ring. Believe me, discontent is no exaggeration. I stand in relation to discontent as discontent stands in relation to full, forward-tilting unabridged rage. There are gradations of discontent on a daily basis running from irritable to furious, crotchety to raving crazy mad. Picture King Lear in rags in the middle of a lightning storm shaking his fist at the heavens and daring them to blow harder blow harder you fuckers blow harder.
Why is it some old people are jolly and some old people (like me) are embodiments of gloom?
Life did not turn out the way I had hoped. No sir.
But why dwell on that? Diverge, my friend, diverge. Turn the wheel. Go off the road. Go elsewhere. Travel into the secret cities of October. The graveyards, the junkyards, the backyards. The piles of raked leaves. The crunchy sound beneath your feet when you walk at the side of the road. The scrape of leaves, the speech of leaves, the leaving of leaves.
Think of a chestnut in mid-October and the size of its trunk and the tangle of its limbs and the sheer stubbornness of its persistence to exist.
This is my October tree with a few scraggly leaves and owls and ghosts and a fat full moon glowing through the limbs.