I’ve been working on a story for a few months now that takes place at the end of October, and I needed a scene for a character to observe that might take place on a beach at that time of year, which led me to researching Samhain rituals (Billy and I are what I consider the pagan version of “Chreaster-ans,” or, for those who have never heard that term, the pagan version of Christians who only attend service on Christmas and Easter. We acknowledge the major holidays/festivals, but spend most of the year content in our observation of religion from a philosophical standpoint). And of course, in researching Samhain I came across a lot of images and descriptions of what is probably my favorite time of year, despite the dramatic decrease in sunlight during the day and the drop in temperature.
Fortunately, as spring is breaking here, I can appreciate these images of October and dream about the smell of cider and burning leaves, the feel of the crisp air, and the brilliant reds and oranges of the leaves, and then walk into the dining room and admire my new seedlings, and feel grateful that at 6pm I still have another couple of hours of sunlight–and the days are just going to keep getting long.
I’ve been waiting for spring since winter started–since before, really, since the leaves finished falling and the novelty of cozy pajamas and hearty soups worse off. But here I am, contemplating working on some homemade Halloween decorations, and wondering if I shouldn’t have bought a squash to make for dinner instead of the asparagus I thought I had been craving all afternoon.
The shoulder seasons are a lot of people’s favorite time of year, and it’s not surprising. The pear trees are finally blooming, and my DC friends have been monitoring the progress of the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin for the last week. We have been stirred from the indoor nests we create during the winter, and are looking forward to action–whether it is gardening, baseball, vacations, or simply being able to sleep without shivering. In the fall, we are looking forward, like the trees, to dormancy. These are seasons of change, of movement.
The other thought these pumpkins gave me, is more complex and needs another post as others have written on it far longer and far more eloquently than myself, but it is related to festivals themselves. To the smells and memories that, no matter the season, take place outside. Sending eggs down a river or letting children with baskets seek them out; the burning of a log or the illumination of a tree. We mark the coming and going of the seasons outside (because why wouldn’t we?), and then spend the time in between indoors, waiting for the next time we can go out to mark the changing of a season.
One of the last really nice weekends of last year, I spent with a very close friend who lives just far enough away that for extreme introverts like us we don’t visit each other often. We sat on her deck and enjoyed the remains of the warm weather, drinking wine, and snacking on fresh vegetables. Yesterday, one of the warmest days we’ve had so far this year, I went to visit the same friend and we passed the afternoon in a similar fashion. Last time we talked about my attempts at getting pregnant (I found out two weeks later I was), this time I let her do most of the wine drinking and we talked about her future plans for getting pregnant. We marked the start of the first frost and the end of the last in the same fashion, in what we realized and joked was now our own ritual.
The seasons, ritual, and being outdoors have been linked, of course, throughout history, and we experience that collective consciousness whether we give a name to it or not. In America, we mark the beginning and the end of summer in the same way–three day weekends spent beside a grill, shared with friends and neighbors. In this way, I can sit here and stare longingly at pictures of pumpkins less than an hour after cheering the eruption of pear blossoms.
It is deeply bred within us to mark change outdoors, in the presence of the uncontrollable forces of change that give us cadence. It is the time spent in between, the time spent indoors, where this collective memory is often forgotten and we become either stagnant, or impatient. And maybe we need the occasional picture of pumpkins in the spring and cherry blossoms in the fall, rather than exclusively the secular marketing we’re all so accustomed to, to remind us not of the meaning (for that is personal and diverse), but the experience of the season.