Now For October Eves


The advent of October is always thrilling to me, and that’s not just because October 1st is my birthday. This is the day when it’s officially “acceptable” (for those who care about that sort of thing) to start going crazy with Halloween decorations and pumpkins, to cover everything in colored leaves, to fill jars with candy, and cut out cookies in the shapes of bats and witches’ hats and cauldrons.

This, if you believe the old, old stories, is the time of year when the whispering veil between the mortal and immortal worlds is at its thinnest. Many have postulated that astral travel and ghost sightings are most common in people when they are between sleeping and waking, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that, when the Earth is tilting towards its own long sleep, ghosts roam more freely through its woods and lonely places.

The creatures that go bump in the night change their shapes depending on who’s looking. Sometimes they’re familiar, someone we’ve known and lost, and certain traditions are meant to keep their memory alive within the living. An extra place is set at the table, their favorite foods are prepared, and small offerings are made at their graves, either to honor or placate.

Sometimes the figures are stranger and older, figures from long past that remain and wander restlessly, searching. For what, who can say? Revenge, perhaps. Or justice. Or peace. Only the dead will ever know.

pumpkin face

And then, in the hollows of the hills and the darkness of bogs and woods, are those creatures whose natures are mischievous and malevolent by turns, the goblins and faeries and sneaking little sprites that wreak havoc on unsuspecting folk. These are the ones for whom those leering Jack-O-Lanterns are carved, set out on front steps to frighten away those that seek to tease or torment. And in a last-ditch effort, if those glowing orange grins aren’t enough to keep the beasties away, we hand out candy to satisfy them and hope they continue onto some other hapless soul.

I love this season. Redolent with fantastic dangers, hair-raising stories, and an unsettling scent of earth and dead leaves in the air, October is the harbinger of darkness and the unseen. There is nothing quite so as enjoyable to me as letting a little of that chilly darkness in, and then pushing it back again with the candlelight and warmth of hearth and home.

Do you have any Halloween traditions? What is on your ‘To-Do List’ this October?


The Warmth And Cheer Of Spooky Halloween

From 'Scary Scary Halloween', written by Even Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett

From ‘Scary Scary Halloween’, written by Even Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett

Were you lucky enough to have an aunt, a gramma, an uncle, or anyone else who opened special doors for you when you were a kid? Did you have someone in your life that you think back and realize some seemingly small action on their part played a major role in who you are today?

For me, that person is my Aunt Julie. She was one of those famed “cool aunts” who lived in a beautiful and exotic place (San Francisco), had a really cool job (Pastry Chef), and would sweep in at holidays or send me massive boxes on my birthday that were always packed with stuff that I felt sure simply did not exist in boring old Connecticut.

A two-page illustration of a witch's ideal home, from 'The Witch's Handbook' by Malcolm Bird.

A two-page illustration of a witch’s ideal home, from ‘The Witch’s Handbook’ by Malcolm Bird.

My aunt worked at the now-closed bookstore and cafe A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. They had gorgeous displays of children’s books that she simply couldn’t resist, and I would find myself on the receiving end of some of the most beautifully illustrated hard-cover volumes I have come across, even now. 

Recently I decided that I was going to make a display of some of my favorites, and while I wasn’t able to find a few on shelves in stores, they’re winging their way towards me as we speak from the Used section on Amazon. Scary Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting remains my unequivocal favorite, both for the lilting rhyme and the atmospheric illustrations, while The Witch’s Handbook is fantastic for both the level of detail and humor. 

'Autumn Story' by author and illustrator Jill Barklem

‘Autumn Story’ by author and illustrator Jill Barklem

There were also books that weren’t specifically Halloween, and instead were more Autumnal in theme. Autumn Story by Jill Barklem was the kind of book that made you want to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of cider in front of a roaring fire. The illustrations are so evocative of that brief moment in very late autumn when the earth hovers precipitously on the edge between harvest-time abundance, and the first bites of frost that will nip the branches bare. Inside the homes of these little mice are pantries that put mine to shame, brimming with home-canned jars of blackberry preserves and pots of honey. Even their bedrooms look more inviting, squashy mattresses spread with patchwork quilts and a fire crackling merrily in the corner.

These spooky, brilliantly-colored, imaginative, and comforting books are what Autumn has always meant to me. Nothing to me is more beautiful than the feeling of a shiver creeping up your back while you’re wrapped in a blanket, safe and sound, with the rich scent of cinnamon and woodsmoke on the air. It’s a time to simultaneously celebrate the life-giving fruit of the earth while honoring those we’ve lost and contemplating the mysteries of what lies Beyond.

So thanks, Aunt Julie, for all those wonderful books. And rest in peace, A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books. You may not have known it, but you were one of my best friends.

Harvest Magic

Autumn is magical, isn’t it? It’s different than other seasons, somehow. Winter is beautiful but often brutal; Spring is full of hope and light, yet the muddy dregs of winter cling to it and mar its beginning; Summer is as brutal as Winter in many ways, driving us inside our air-conditioned homes while we gaze longingly out at our gardens and patios.

And then, Autumn. It begins slowly, the blistering heat slowing relenting and allowing us to enjoy our yards again. Grocery stores and farmers markets grow abundant with piles of brilliantly colored tomatoes, fragrant peaches, and rustling ears of corn. Children excitedly pick out backpacks and binders, their shiny new school-shoes squeaking as they wear them right out of the stores.

It’s a quickening, a gathering of energy bursting forth for one last glorious display of richness and warmth before the earth inhales again, gathering itself close for a long, deep sleep. We feel the urgency inside us, a vestige of the times when harvest spurred our activity to fever pitch, driving us to cook and store and prepare for the long dark.

Only we don’t have that outlet anymore. Not many of us, anyway. It’s no surprise that despite fresh, living food being readily available year-round, home canning and preserving has seen a resurgence in recent years. The urge to line our nests is so deep in us that even after modern technology has solved the issue of famine and winter shortages, we continue.

For me, it starts with baking. The leaves don’t even have to change a shade before I’m imagining my kitchen filled with the aromas of apple pie, pumpkin bread, and spice cookies. I start craving deeper, richer colors and shopping for thick-knitted sweaters. The desire to dive head-first into Halloween decorating can be frankly irresistible.

In an effort to pace myself and start slow, I decided to try printing a list to keep in my planner. The one I found from the blog Paper&Glam is fun and you can even buy a sheet of printable stickers to match and put on your calendar. So far this month, I’ve crossed 5 things off the list: pink and orange floral, teal manicure, fall home decor, pumpkin spice latte (I cheated a little and had a frappucino, but give me a break, it’s fucking hot in Texas!), and Labor Day (which I spent not laboring).

I like this method of spacing things out and having specific goals, because I can tend towards burning out by eating pumpkin cookies and drinking cider for 60 days straight.

Tomorrow I’m making peach pie, and this weekend will be fresh corn chowder and the first use of my fire pit! I even got toasting forks for the marshmallows.

Autumn is over too quickly, and I am determined to enjoy the hell out of it before it’s gone. What do you think I should I add to my to-do list?