The Divine Hours

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October: A Month for Rest and Silence

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in October 2009 as part of First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.

Autumn leafApril may be the cruel month of the year and June the nuptial one, but hands down, October is the mystical one. Or it is for me. Of the whole recycling dozen, it is October that seduces me every year and, without effort, turns me into the most grateful of abductees. It has always been that way for me, though what I am grateful for has shifted and changed over my seventy-five years.

When I was a youngster growing up in the mountains, it was a given that if only the first week of October would just come, then the snows would surely follow along in short order; and I was ever cold-weather’s child. I’m pretty sure, of course, that when I was a grade-schooler, a big part of my affection for October was her pledge of eminent snowball fights and sled rides down hills. (Actually, in our mountains, they were maybe a bit more than what the word “hills” connotes. I remember them as something no self-respecting parent today would let a kid race down unless said child were encumbered by crash helmets and all that ungainly gear which happily my generation was spared.)

By the time I was a teen-ager, however, I had outgrown childish ways, to quote the Apostle (whom, by the way, I never did quite believe on that one). I knew very clearly, that is, that what I loved about the cold was, first and foremost, being cold. Secondly, I knew I loved being wrapped to the end of my nose in warm, warm clothing that made me feel like a mini-cosmos all on my own. Beyond the secret exhilaration of morphing into a cocoon on legs, there also was the miracle of the silence. By mid-October, the silence was everywhere.

Step out onto my mother’s kitchen porch, and nothing chirped or bloomed or even breathed, it was so quiet. Every thing was muffled into nothingness, and the world was dead. Why that would have fascinated a teenager, I do not know; but the truth is that the autumnal silence still holds me in its thrall, and I still don’t know quite why. Halloween’s greatest attraction for me was, and still is, that it interrupts the Fall’s engulfing quiet just long enough, and raucously enough, to make the silence, once it is restored, even sweeter and more impenetrable. There is a whole valley of stillness in the space from Reformation Day to Christmas, and a passage through a sweet and lonesome land.

Then I got older and got married and, as a result of both those things, had to behave as if I were an adult (which translated to “having to stop behaving like a pagan,” or such was my mother’s chronic observation about me and October). Sam and I moved to the city where, unfortunately, nothing is ever quiet, even and sometimes most especially, in its dying. Then twenty years later and/or thirty-five years ago, we betook ourselves back to the country where for years we actually farmed.  The Farm In Lucy is now little more than a farm-ette, its barn holding memories not creatures and its pastures long since devoid of grazing cows and cavorting children. But I can remember those years quite clearly, just as I remember that during them, I embraced October with an absolutely rabid delight.

Forget about hoping for the cold. For one thing, there is no cold in the Mid-South, at least not any that a self-respecting, native-born mountain woman would call cold. No, forget the cold, but understand with a flat-lander’s enthusiasm that the summer is over and, for that reason, so are the haying and the harvesting. All the sweaty hours and hours and hours of just plain, old-fashioned, back-breaker and knee-bender work are done for another year. There’s nothing else to pick and, thank God, nothing else to can or freeze. I used to sit on the back steps in October during those years and murmur to myself, like a litany, Frost’s words from “After Apple Picking":

For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.

Yes, I would mentally whisper to the heavens, Yes! Only a farmer could have written that!

Of course, the rest of the world—and especially English teachers—always took those so perfect lines and tried to do exegesis on them, ripping them out of a perfectly good  “harvest-is-over-and-done” October and turning them instead into some kind of autobiographical statement about growing old. ( I used to think unkind things, in fact, every time I heard a highly educated, but poorly informed non-pagan lay that particular burden on Frost’s agrarian insights.)

But now it is October again; and while we may not be farmers any longer, Sam certainly was a highly  successful gardener this year. Instead of apple-picking, however, it is tomatoes and okra and beans that  he and I are over-tired of picking from the great harvest he himself desired last March and April when he was planting them all. So it is that as I go to worship this first Sunday in yet another glorious October, I am, as always, grateful that the autumn has come, just as I am, as always, genuinely grateful for the food in the freezer and on our over-stocked pantry shelves.  Beyond all of that, though, there is one other thing that wants mentioning here.

I’ve begun to read Frost a bit differently of late, and I have begun to think the English teachers may have been right … or at least partly right … after all. I am near now to the age Frost was when he wrote his words; and I am guessing that there is a genuine grace in being able to say, “I am overtired of the great harvest I myself desired.” Whether that be true or not, I am not yet sure. I am, however, very sure that there is a grace—and an exultation—in understanding at last that I now have come to October just as surely as it has always come to me.

Copyright © 2009 Phyllis Tickle.