When the Frost is on the Punkin’…

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“The frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock…”

~James Whitcomb Riley

The mornings have a crispness that heralds the shortened days and chill of winter, but the sun still holds warmth of the aging summer that softens the transition and holds off winter’s grasp for just a while. The blue of the sky is clear and particular to the autumn; it’s a color that is not present at any other time of the year.

Even for an inveterate sun-worshipper such as me, the fall of the year holds something very special. There is something mystical and magic about the fogs that creep along the ground and crawl out of meadows and fields to cross roadways and paths. The smell of campfires, bonfires, and burning leaves on the cool evening air calls to mind the sounds of laughter and chill up the spine from ghost stories told around the fire. The flashing lights of fireflies give way to the sparks rising into the cold night air with the smoke.

I am not a big fan of colder temperatures, and I am certainly not a fan of less sunlight. However, I have to admit that there is something about the autumn that makes me happy.

I think that it is a lot of memory is stored up in the sensory experience of this season we call the fall of the year. The science involved refers to the olfactory bulb and the temporal lobe and hippocampus being all there nestled together, but the truth is that there is just a lot of really fun stuff that happens during this time of the year. The smell of bonfires and leaves burning mixed with the sweet smell of hay just put in the barns and even the scent of curing tobacco hanging from the rafters… these are all smells strongly associated with my childhood and memories of my family, now many of whom are now absent from my life, departing in greater numbers in the last decade to leave very few of us to carry on traditions and remember.

I still revel in listening to ghost stories around a fire while drinking warm cocoa or possibly hot cider. There is a thrill that goes up my spine with a really good spooky tale or a haunted house, wood, or corn maze; and I love the fog that creeps across the low fields and meadows like something out of one of those stories. I love the sun hitting the side of the mountains and illuminating the flames of color off-set by the deep greens of the evergreen conifers native to the southern United States.

Maybe it is true, what they say about the veil being thin at this time of year. It always seems that those people I miss are more frequently in my thoughts. Their memories pop up at various times, sparked by some trigger of my senses. I miss them more. I find myself wanting to share my observations and thoughts and plans. I feel their ghosts around me, but I still feel the gaping absence as well. It is as if I turn my head quickly enough, I can see one of them looking over my shoulder now as I type… but like Orpheus, the shade is gone when I cast my glance behind me.

It is a romantic time. It is a time when the chill in the air and the hint of a goblin coming to get you is an excuse to cuddle closer and sneak off to darkened alcoves. It is a time for laughter, fun, and friends. It is the opportunity to dress up and be someone else entirely for a night (or possibly more often, depending on your social engagements). It is a time for carving jack-o-lanterns and roasting pumpkin seeds and baking and indulging in a few traditional superstitions… just because it is fun to remember.

It is time to make wishes and see omens in nature and visions in the firelight. It is time to heed the owl’s warning and ask for wisdom in dreams. It is time to remember. It is time to reflect. It is time to revel in this “in between” season as the earth relinquishes the warmth of the sun and turns herself back to the darkness and cold until the days grow longer again.

And because James Whitcomb Riley’s are the words and dialect that always come to mind during this time of year, I’ll leave you with a snippet of another of his verses:

An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
Don’t
Watch
Out!

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