Technically autumn spans from late September to late December, but for me autumn is October. It's one month of hot ember colours, dried leaves dancing on the wind, wet spindly branches tapping you on the shoulder, pumpkins lying in the fields waiting for their night of gruesome, flaming glory. It is a month of small fears and infinite possibilities. A month of decay and a month of planting the seeds of rebirth. It’s when the fireplaces glow again, soups simmer on the stove, spices scent the air. It's a month that beckons ... “savour me!”
October is the most sensory month of the year. You can smell it in the autumn woodsmoke that coils amongst the tree trunks. Fir needles, and leaves too early fallen, crunch under your feet like splintering bones. You can taste the black licorice nights and the mulled cider afternoons. You can feel the veil part ... that crack, just wide enough to wiggle from one dimension into another.
And there at the finish line of that glorious, bonfire-coloured month, waits the holiday of holidays: Hallowe’en, the Celtic New Year, the night when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest; when the ancestors are close enough to whisper in your ears and rattle your windows. Samhain! Oidhche Shamhna ! (to my Scottish ancestors) All Hallows Eve!
As a child I was blessed ... Samhain, or Hallowe’en as I knew it then, was always a topsy-turvy, amusement-park-coaster-ride in the dark. It whispered, gasped and rasped it's invitation for a full month; poking me whenever my thoughts turned to things less dark and autumnal. It sent gusts of wind to whip the papery hornet's nest leaves into miniature dust-devils, before sending them skittering down the street to huddle in a quivering mound at curb's edge.
October never lets you lose sight of the too brief, but grand and gruesome, party that is approaching. Mirrors fog; cats scuttle into the shadows for safety. You can smell it in the waxy, burnt, pumpkin flesh; the tart apples dripping in sticky caramel. In the last wheezing days of October, a spider-silk apparition walks apace with you, it's breath on your neck like a flicking tongue sliding along your vertebrae. It sings ghoulish lullabies to you in the icy wind that sets the trees to dancing like a zombie chorus line. Every gust whispers: “I’m coming! Are you ready?!”
Back then, I was a moth to the flame ( I still am!), my head filled with jacks glowing red-gold, their pumpkin-flesh entrails dangling behind leering grins; inhaling the acrid perfume of spent firecrackers hanging on the cool night breeze like draped cobwebs. During the days leading up to Hallowe’en, I would traverse the tombstone-grey, rain-pummeled streets, watching the leaves turn from red-gold to death brown, becoming sodden husks of their once plump, green selves. The darkness would begin to slip in early, just one long black finger at a time so it was barely noticeable until it finally grasped the struggling daylight and strangled it. Overhead lights on in the classroom became the norm most days while the clouds moved lower and lower in the sky until they almost brushed the earth and settled there. You could feel it coming … a long sigh that coiled from your toe to your brain like a serpent. You could see the heaviness of the grey mist curtains and know that on that night, that special night, a skeletal hand would slip between and part them, allowing just a crack so that you might peer beyond if you dared.
When the 31st finally arrived, you could sense the change in the damp, morning air. It was pregnant with quiet, dew-coated anticipation. Pumpkins waited, cold and lifeless on front porches, for the life-giving flame that would transform them from hollowed out gourds into magical jack-o’lanterns. School, even with a nod to the festivities, was a squirming exercise in clock-watching. IT was coming … building in intensity with each receding ray of daylight, each tick of the clock.
Then with a multitude of matches struck in the darkness to set the jack-o’lanterns ablaze, IT arrived … that black-cloaked ringmaster of festivities, who entertains but once a year. The whistle and bang of firecrackers and the chorus of “trick or treat” became the music of the evening. The usually quiet streets filled with clusters of ghosts, vampires, and witches running from house to house in a tangle of bed sheets and loot bags. And when the door-knocking was done, the candy bars counted, costumes discarded and jacks extinguished, and you lay in bed in the inky darkness listening to the wind and the distant cannon-boom of fireworks, you felt IT in the room with you, perched like a gargoyle at the end of your bed; smiling; watching you from the glittering black infinity of it’s eye sockets. Death, your host for the grandest, most extravagant party of the year, would share a grin and a wink, and disappear for another year with the approaching dawn.
May your holiday be delightfully wicked and deliciously frightful!!!