The turkeys are back!! About two dozen are now scratching up all the vegetation below the bird feeders. Crisp leaves rustle like taffeta under their feet. Young turkeys in the dog pen provide some wild entertainment when Freckles decides he must go out. The birds race round and round, forgetting they can fly, and then suddenly they remember and soar over the fence with pounding wings and squawks of protest. Then we let the dog off his leash and he barks after them.
As the leaves continue to reluctantly fall, the catalogs have been pouring into our mail box; pages and pages full of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas decorations and gift ideas. My mind boggles at the plethora of STUFF ----- I am amazed that anyone would spend money on some of these items. But then I remind myself that taste is surely subjective and what’s attractive, humorous or meaningful to one may not be equally so to another; I do not have a franchise on what is appropriate in décor, lawn ornaments or possessions.
Recently, we had visitors from Uganda --- a pastor and his wife --- and suddenly I looked at our house as they might see it. I was struck by the thought that they could well find all my stuff over-the-top too much in the spiritual value system that we share. Everyone’s culture is as different as everyone’s taste. Rethinking our living conditions and our possessions is probably a useful activity now and then. It’s so easy to accumulate, collect, and amass thoughtlessly.
Anyone who has visited our home knows that I’m definitely not a minimalist (you can all stop laughing now!). Each corner, the walls and all the shelves are full. I surround myself with items that are meaningful to me or beautiful in my eyes, from shells and stones to cut glass and silver tea pots. I like French provincial chairs and velvet pillows, homespun blankets and brass warming pans. But I can also appreciate homes that are quite different; I admire the sleek glass and steel rooms with splashy Georgia O’Keefe paintings and luxurious fur throws. I like the classic Arts and Crafts designs; Roycroft and Stickley. Then there’s the Adirondack-style décor all pine cones and Pendleton blankets. If I could decorate houses for a living, I’d be on cloud nine until my energy ran out. On the other end, I probably would live in a wilderness cabin quite happily if I had my own pillow and tea cup. I guess my point is that no one should feel a need to copy anyone else’s style – in homes, clothes or living. We are each unique and, hopefully, are able to embrace that. Alexandra Stoddard says: “Let the light that shines brightly inside you become the energy that guides the energy of your home.” * Now when any of my family lift their eyebrows at the multiplicity of my things ---- I’ll just respond that everything from the china and glass to the stacks of books, provide energy for my days------ but that I’m also trying to hold my possessions lightly.
In another three days, it will be Halloween. (And in thirteen days I hope you and all your friends, relatives and neighbors will be out to vote!!) We’ve harvested our few pumpkins for the steps and brought out the broom corn. These signs of autumn will remain until after Thanksgiving. My small concession to actual Halloween decorating, are three orange pails with cut-out faces, through which candles shine, and we do usually carve a pumpkin or two. I forgo the skeletons, ghouls, bats and spiders. They are a bit macabre for my taste.
Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). This was a harvest celebration and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, but also a time when it was thought that spirits could come back; to vent their displeasure on those they felt had wronged them in this life. The lighted pumpkins and gourds were carried to protect individuals from the unhappy spirits. Bon fires were set in and around villages to make more light for said protection. Samhain became our Halloween due to Pope Gregory the First. In 601 AD, Gregory ordered the missionaries of the Christian church: stop trying to stamp out the pagan customs and holidays. Instead, adapt the times already customary for celebration and rename them to fit the Christian faith. So --- Samhain became All-Saint’s Eve, All Saints Day, and colloquially Halloween.
When I was a teenager, we went trick or treating for UNICEF. Our sons seldom went out unless they were visiting someone who did. However, we had several Halloween parties at home, where we and assorted friends constructed mazes, bobbed for apples, did skits and dressed in costumes. Back when I sewed more, I made Super Man, Bat Man and other heroic costumes that after Halloween, became pajamas or went into the dress-up box. Our house in the Catskills was a marvelous site for Halloween parties. It had a split-level attic, the upper part of which was all gabled. We set up mazes there with recorded ghostly music and props like cooked spaghetti and peeled grapes. It was great fun. Currently, since we live back from the road and away from the village, we seldom get any little voices calling: “trick or treat”. However I find that it is sufficiently good to consider the All-Saints aspect of October 31st and November 1st. Enough of my family and friends have gone beyond earth’s tether that I like remembering and celebrating them.
One of my current autumn activities is making potpourri – of two or three sorts. My favorite happens to be a basil, sage and marigold combination. This wouldn’t appeal to everyone --- including the men in my family who think that herbs are generally stinky. But that pungent aroma brings back all the greenness and robustness of summer vegetable gardens. I put phlox flowers and alyssum into another mix, creating a comfort-giving scent that triggers thoughts of warm conversations around my mother’s table accompanied by cocoa and molasses cookies.
Diane Ackerman**, a local, but internationally-known writer, speaks at some length about fragrances and our sense of smell, in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. Diane is a biologist, professor and poet; a woman of many interests. This is what she says about our sense of smell: “Smells spur memories, but they also rouse our dozy senses, pamper and indulge us, help define our self-image, stir the cauldron of our seductiveness, warn us of danger, lead us into temptation, fan our religious fervor, accompany us to heaven, wed us to fashion, steep us in luxury.” And she goes on to discuss perfumes, plants, animals and humans ---- our olfactory capabilities ----- and tells us what happens when the sense of smell leaves us --- we lose our sense of taste among other difficulties. Odors are often hard to describe, but we can conjure them up in our memories if we concentrate. Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” I’m not fond of most commercial potpourris and some perfumes actually give me a head ache. But my home-made potpourri keeps me happy all through the long, NYS winters.
Because Halloween is imminent, I conclude with this poem by Harry Behn**** to bring back your Halloween memories. “Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky, when elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen. Tonight is the night when leaves make a sound like a gnome in his home under the ground, when spooks and trolls creep out of holes mossy and green. Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through sheaves and leaves everywhere, when ghoul and ghost and goblin host dance ‘round their queen. It’s Halloween!”
I hope this carries blessings and fragrant breezes wafting across your life this October time.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*-Alexandra Stoddard—American writer and life-style guru.
**-Diane Ackerman – American writer, essayist, biologist and poet; born 1948, resides in Ithaca, NY.
***-Helen Keller – American author, activist, lecturer; first person to achieve a BA degree who was both blind and deaf. Quote from “The World I Live In”.
****- Harry Behn – American screen writer; 1898-1973