Octoberly Magic

In Pennsylvania, Octoberly magic is in full bloom…it has been evolving slowly as the Sun sets earlier and rises later and piles of pumpkins accumulate and show themselves everywhere and in the cornfields the corn stalks rattle dry in the breeze and the temperatures never rise to 80 anymore during the day. I awake in the partial dark of dawn now, my ride home from work happens on the light side of dusk and will happen on the dark side of dusk in a week or two, and soon the night will outlast the day by far. Orion is already showing up in the late night to dominate the sky. I wonder how people in other places around the world get to enjoy Octoberly magic…I’ve just reclaimed my sweaters from the cedar closet and laid the quilt on my bed. I’ve treated myself to mashed potatoes and roasted acorn squash and butternut squash soup and stewed apples and spiced wafers and, yes, even a bag of orange-crème filled Oreos. October’s portrayal of all the beauty of autumn is here!

Later in autumn, other concepts beyond the falling cold and the slanting Sun begin to dominate the imagination. In November, our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving—an autumn holiday, true, but one with its own sensibility of family and abundance and scholastic football. In December, the Christmas holiday and ideas of winter will dominate, even though autumn persists through two-thirds of the month. So we are left with late September and October to fire our imaginations of autumn.

For me, here in Pennsylvania, autumn and October are contained in a single image: the pumpkin. Certainly autumn has other abundances: apples (Honey Crisp being the ugliest but most delicious) and nuts and squash and mums. But pumpkins seem to present a personification of the season…durable, swollen plump, heavy, seed-filled, and bright orange. I had the joy thirty years ago of seeing a pumpkin field in the distance as I drove through Connecticut…a dry-brown acreage dotted with orange; it is a unique image of autumn that has stuck in my imagination. 

One year, my wife and I made a terrible mistake by going to Linvilla Orchards the day after Halloween; around the grounds, dozens of large wooden crates that in recent days had been piled high with pumpkins-for-sale were left nearly empty…except for the depressing shards of smashed pumpkins that hadn’t survived to decorate someone’s stoop. The sight of the shards and seeds mashed at the bottom of the crates depressed me terribly, as it does even today as I write about it! Seeing unsold Christmas trees the day after Christmas may be depressing, but not so depressing…somehow the pumpkins are more human, more personified—probably because of the possibility of their becoming Jack-o-lanterns—and seeing them lost to misfortune in the bottoms of wooden crates was very sad. 

Testament to the autumnal quality of pumpkins is the ubiquity of “pumpkin spice” as the natural marketing campaigns of the season. It seems that everything that can be flavored with pumpkin spice is flavored with pumpkin spice: coffee, candy, bread, ice cream, muffins, pancakes, waffles, milkshakes, candles. I wait each year to see the next addition to the pumpkin-spice litany…laundry detergent? Scented tissues?

Treat yourself: buy a pumpkin and sit it somewhere prominent at your home. Near the front door or in the middle of the kitchen table. Everyone who sees it will sense the season and enjoy the Octoberly magic of it.