September is a nice month. I like September.
But this year September was a little…grindy.
September was a new routine, a return to teaching in earnest after a time away. September was writing tests and creating assignments and acclimating to a whole new learning management system. September was figuring out rides and fitting walks in, in-between, and grading big batches of papers.
And September was a big event, a master responsibility, that grabbed the month’s hem and stuck a pike through it, pinning it down firmly. September said, “I’m holding you here, right here, until you get this planned and shopped and communicated and executed.”
“No shirking,” said September, “and no time to waste.”
September, a bossy, belligerent month, grasped my wrists and pulled me along, dragged me over pot-holed roads, and didn’t care when I pleaded with it to slow down.
I like September. But, gee.
So I slogged along; what else, after all, can we do? I learned all the students’ names, and I got to a point where I could ramble reasonably through their on-line course world. I graded papers; that rhythm kicked in. And paychecks came in—paychecks: oh, boy! I filled the freezers and lined the pantry and shoved cleaning supplies under the sink. The house was stocked, and James was rolling along in his new fall schedule, and Mark was getting up three times a week to hit the gym.
And then, all of a sudden, that event was over.
And one morning, I woke up and stepped out the back door; the five deer nibbling on the frail bushes at the back of the side yard looked at me, mildly curious. I waved to them, and I thought, “Something is different.”
And I realized the air was lighter and fresher, the sky was softer and closer, the leaves were trembling and turning.
October, I realized, has come.
I round the corner, heading home, and see the flower pots on the little gray chairs at the side of the house. The flowers—red and yellow-orange and white—that we nurtured along all summer (flowers that went along with us, sort of good-naturedly, but never really sprang into ecstatic bloom),…well, those flowers are dead. I park in the carport and wander down the brick path on the side of the house; I grab the black plastic pots and drag them out behind the carport. I trundle the little chairs to the front, put one on either side of the front door, and James and I go shopping. We buy two fat pumpkins to sit on the chairs. We buy two hearty mums to sit in front of them.
I take the summer wreath, with its soft violet flowers, from the door. Later that day, I splurge on a new wreath, one with pine cones and wheaten sheaves, little orange gourds and pumpkins,–one twisted with bronze and golden autumn leaves. I hang the harvest wreath on my door.
Across the street, one neighbor has filled her window-boxes with tiny orange pumpkins, and another has hay bales and scare-crows in her front yard. October! says the neighborhood, and we all relax a little because the grass slows down. The lawn doesn’t need to be cut every day that it doesn’t rain, and we can sit outside, in the cool wash of the early evening. We can sip a coffee, read a book, and not be nagged by that thought that I really should mow…
The larder is full. Some deep urge impels me to buy things I might ordinarily pass by—leeks and potatoes, squash and beans. The freezers are filled; the pantry is stocked.
It’s October now, and I wake one Sunday morning and think: STEW. I pad downstairs, barefoot; pad down another set of stairs to the basement. I root in the well-stocked freezer until I find a boneless beef roast, and I set it out to thaw.
That afternoon, I cube the meat and shake it in a plastic bag, coating it with oat flour and a fine dusting of potato starch, and I sauté it in a thin pool of sizzling olive oil. I add onions, sliced thin; garlic, crushed; and carrot coins. I defrost beef broth and pour it in. I crumble herbs between my palms and sprinkle them over the bubbling pot; I toss in a bay leaf. I shake salt and pepper. A concoction, I think, and I feel like maybe I should be waving fingers over the pot, chanting about toil and trouble. It is October, after all.
I turn the heat down, and, later, I add the potatoes; the rich stew simmers all afternoon. We eat it from thick white ceramic bowls as the sky darkens on that Sunday night, sitting at the scarred oak table, feeling safe and sated and secure.
I give in, again and again, to the impulse to cook big pots of chili, of spaghetti sauce, of stew, of soups. Harvest time: that sense of completion, of reaping the benefit of our hard work during the growing season.
The sky is navy blue velvet, deep and secretive, by 7:10 p.m. I am drawn to reading fat books, to carefully plotting out my sewing projects. I gather in birthday gifts for October’s special people. I write letters, and I use the stamps with the scratch and sniff popsicles—summer’s leftover stamps,—to pay the bills.
One afternoon, I go through my syllabus and realize that it is midterm, and that we have, next week, a midterm break. I feel that lightness in my shoulders; I remember the student joy of break time. I think about planning a solitary October adventure on that magically unlocked day.
I get my calendar out and realize that there’s a treat built into every week of October. There are lunches with friends. There is Mark’s birthday coming. There is a hay ride (how is it that I, growing up in western New York farm country, have never been on a hay ride? Forty years later, I’ll make up the lack). There are road trips and get-togethers, and there’s the impending fun of trick or treaters.
Thanksgiving, I think. Christmas! I make lists. I start ordering books for our December book flood.
I think of baking apple crisp, and I plan to stop at the farm market on my way home from the far-flung campus. But a storm breaks, clean and sudden, just before I round that corner; I come home without apples.
But it’s okay: there is time.
And that’s the message of October, isn’t it? There is time now. Take a breath.
The hot scramble of summer is over; the hard and grinding September slog is past. I stride briskly on my morning walks. Acorns pocka pocka all around. Each day, more leaves accept their autumn gold, their last-legs crimson. The trees hold on tight for one last minute; they sigh and then release. I walk and leaves float down around me, and I am glad of the warmth of long pants, of my long-sleeved shirt.
The air has lightened, and it swirls.
The harvest is in. Some ancient rhythm quells my rushed thoughts, whispers that the harvest is safe, the animals are snug. The braw, boisterous work of the year is coming to an end.
The urgency and the burden of completion have lifted, and a door has opened into a restful, thankful time. September has ground away the rough edges; October bathes us in clear amber light. We settle in, the striving over for a little time. For now, it’s time to savor what we’ve wrought.
The winds blow; rain clatters at the windows. I grab my book and head for the reading chair.