Saturday, October 31, 2009

Betty Begonia

Halloween was unseasonably warm in Boston, temp up to 73: what some might even call Indian Summer. Though the purists, of whom I'm one, insist on Indian Summer being a November day following a hard frost, and most important, leave you feeling dazed by the reprieve. What the day mainly was, was windy. Mobs of leaves skittering madly across the roads, driven this way and that like dancers in some madcap street musical. Wind goes with Halloween, gives it a manic energy that jibes with mischief, disguise, and the cusp of change—including a nearly full silvery moon (now covered by clouds) and the end of Daylight Savings Time. So fall back, ye minions of November. We grant October one more hour, even if it is a rainy Novemberish one.

My mom (Match, rhymes with Dotch) loved Halloween. She grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts in the zany twenties, must have seen a lot of jack o' lanterns on crisp fall nights and kids in home-made costumes running by the big yellow boarding house on Pleasant Street, where her mom, Ida, served kosher for students of the two local colleges (including the student who later introduced Betty to his cousin Emil, my dad).

I don't remember how involved Betty was in our Halloweens as kids, but in her old age she always rose to the occasion when the day came around. In her eighties and nineties, living in the eccentric-friendly town of Point Reyes Station, California, she would dress up in elaborate thrown-together costumes: as a bearded cowboy, with a cardboard horse on a broomstick; or as an ancient black-toothed crone ("I'm an ooooooooold lady!"); or as a bag lady, wearing brown shopping bags from head to toe. Not just in costume, but in character, in accent and spiel ("Howdy, podner! You-all seen any rustlers heah-abouts?") All for the entertainment of her fellow Walnut Place residents at the Halloween party, or for the children who would come trooping over during the day, making short work of her famous chocolate chip cookies. She was a born entertainer, going back at least to her job as a camp counselor in the thirties (there's a picture of her in a canoe with long Indian-princess hair) before she married Emil. She almost lived to see her 97th Halloween a year ago; she died on the 28th, an ooooooold lady.  A few months before, I wrote a poem for her, an extended limerick called "Betty Begonia and the Cowboys." 

A cowgirl named Betty Begonia

Had a ranch near Point Reyes, Califonia.

She raised goats and llamas,

Wore sheepskin pajamas,

And liked feta cheese with bologna.


One day, with a whoop and a holler,

Three cowboys rode down for a swaller—

Root beer and macaroons

At Murphy’s Saloon—

Which cost them their last silver dollar.


Well, without any prospects or money,

One cowboy said, “Boys, this ain’t funny.

We need some employment

To buy some enjoyment,

Like cinnamon crackers with honey!”


Then they heard that Ms. Betty Begonia

Had a goat who’d come down with pneumonia.

And the cowboys said, “Hey,

As of right now, today,

We are goat doctors from Arizonia!”


So they saddled their horses and rode

To Ms. Betty Begonia’s abode,

Where they rang her doorbell….

From inside came a yell:

”Come on in for some pie a la mode!”


“So…you say you’re three vets out of Phoenix,”

Betty said as she reached for some Kleenex

To nose-wipe her goat.

“Yes, ma’am! Ear, nose, and throat! 

With degrees in advanced calistheenics!”


Said the cowboys. “I see,” Betty frowned

As she looked the three dudes up and down.

“Your tale sounds a bit tall

But I’ll hire you all

If you help my goat Gertie rebound.”


So the cowboys unpacked their guitars

And that night, ‘neath a sky full of stars,

They sang a sweet medley

Of tunes that were deadly

To pneumonias, sore throats, and catarrhs.


And sure enough, next morning, Gertie

Was bright-eyed, rambunctious, and flirty.

She leapt and cavorted,

And was eagerly courted

By a number of rams, maybe thirty.


So Betty made good on her promise

And she hired Jim, Ringo, and Thomas

To handyman positions

And at times as physicians

Serenading her goats and her llamas.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Hilary's woods

I brought back a half-peck of Macoun apples and two medium-size pumpkins from Brackett's Orchard; also a half-gallon of apple cider and half of a pumpkin bundt cake—a big brown cee in tin foil—from my friend Hilary, woods trustee and conservationist. And a walking stick from Hilary's woodpile, with orange surveyor's tape wrapped around it.  I had been visiting her in southern Maine these past two days, a kind of pilgrimage to come up to her woods as I have in the past, though usually in summer to stalk hermit thrushes in the green canopy or listen at night for barred owls.

This was a much quieter time. As we walked in the woods the sounds were mainly our boots through the leaves, with the occasional yank of a nuthatch or startle of a chipmunk. This was well past the last of summer, supposedly, but no one told the green looper worm hovering in mid-air on an invisible thread as if it were still July. Summer can hold out as long as there's one last looper to hold on to it. October was still the predominant tunesmith, the Paul McCartney of the amber beech leaves and the red splotches on fallen yellow maple leaves, sometimes making Halloween prints and Jack Frost art with a waving ghost or a mugging jack o'lantern. But a Lennonesque somberness lived in the oak brown and the November chill.

Brown was also back in Hilary's house, in the savory bean and carrot stew for lunch, the sweet pumpkin cake, the apple cider and ginger snaps. Brown is nourishing. Brown is coming.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The 'oscopy went well, I'm told. I was blissfully drugged-out, but the result was, "see you in 10 years." The real defining moment was before, when I was checking in and the admitting nurse asked me what my birthdate was. "October 27, 1948," I replied. She wrote it down, then looked up, realizing Oct. 27 was yesterday. "You prepped for your colonoscopy on your birthday?"
I admitted that was the case.
"You are one twisted fella!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

: )

A strange birthday.
Normally I indulge myself: my day! 10/27: the end of the slalom through my favorite month. Saunter to work, maybe have lunch with colleagues at Jacob Wirth, order the blue plate special. Why not? Or head to Border's, buy a new crossword puzzle book, have a scone and a latte, take a stroll through the Public Garden. Do something nice for yourself! I believe I will. A soft-serve twist from the Mr. Frosty truck at Boylston and Arlington. And as I walk and lick, think warmly of my birthday-mates: what a pantheon! Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Teddy Roosevelt, John Cleese, and happy birthday, Nanette Fabray!

Last year I even had a party to mark my 60th. Friends brought things to read: Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Ashton Warner, and their own poems about time, change, and continuity.

But this was a different, post-layoff, 10/27. The day had turned raw again. I slept late, only just waking in time to catch the garbage truck (probably looking like I wanted a lift). Then had to deal with some red tape getting in the way of my Unemployment claim, playing telephone tag with Human Resources that lasted all day. And the yard sale aftermath: a porch full of unsold stuffed animals, books, games, and tiny bits of plastic whatnots--to box and bag for Big Brother Big Sister; and all those wet signs nailed or strapped to trees and telephone poles needing to be ripped down the way Steve McQueen's bounty hunter used to do in "Wanted: Dead or Alive." Never quite got to that task.

My indulgences for the day? Chicken broth and orange jello. On account of I had to prep for a colonoscopy, a last-ditch appointment tomorrow before my health plan runs out. Fun!

So, thanks, well-wishers who wrote in today, and to my sister Dotch and pals Bill and Penny who phoned from Dogtown and Santa Fe and Vancouver: sorry I wasn't much of a live wire on my end. But sometimes a birthday sleeps late and never quite makes it out of the house, except to buy the Dulcolax ("dull coal-axe": my mnemonic) tablets at Walgreen's. And what can you say about 61 anyway? Roger Maris's had an asterisk. Mine comes with a colon. :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Peak, continued

Attention must be paid.
Yesterday I took a squinty, long view of this peak phenomenon. Today I took a walk with Carol down to Spy Pond as the sun was taking its final bow, the credits of the day beginning to roll.
Wow. It was intense. I mean the feverish bronzes and fiery o-ranges, crimsons that make you just stare, just feed the eyes. With that late sun vivifying it. This is a good one, for down here. We're not Vermont, but we're getting Vermont colors. Trees like those side-of-the-road farm ones, so yellow you want to yell OW! And this even when some of these big fellas have started shedding their leaves, their red shadows like the green floret shadows of May, but we haven't entered the leaf-falling time, really, with bands of leaves skittering in the headlights like reckless trick-or-treaters. This is the deep-color drink that distracts people from yard sales and sets up Halloween. It's the crisp night-of-day, tell-me-a-story part of October. Like the one about the leaf that clings to its tree, afraid to fall. Until a blue jay explains that all the trees change colors as a kind of night light for the darker days, don't you even know that? Why do you think leaves make a blanket on the ground? For sleeping! So, let go! Which it does, and of course it's not that bad. Not bad at all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Today might have been the day. Is it a day? Or is it a split second, like the equinox, when the fall foliage (is there any other time when that normally stuffy word has such popularity?) —reaches peak.

No other season has a peak. Winter has a nadir, if anything, anywhere from January to March, when you think it's never going to end. Spring warms up, gets generally lush and amazing, and drives you crazy. Summer gets supremely hot, or intensely relaxing, but that can happen almost any time. Only fall has meteorologists pointing to maps of New England that show an advancing frontier of change labeled Before Peak, Near Peak, and Past Peak.

I buy into this. Even though it makes the season seem fragile and doomed. But yesterday was the ideal set-up. A raw, rainy Saturday spent putting up orange yard sale signs encased in plastic sleeves on telephone poles, light standards, and a few trees. A heavy downpour through the night. And then today, the sky miraculously clear, or lightly swept with cirrus clouds. And we sat in our driveway all morning and early afternoon, fiddling with displays of games and books and cassettes, seeing the merest trickle of yard sale devotees, because everyone else was out leaf-looking, pumpkin-buying, cider-sipping in the toasty mid-fall warmth, because today was the peak.

So after we shed the last of our unsold but unwelcomed-back possessions ("Curb it") and counted our maybe $159 earnings for the day, I took a late afternoon bike ride up Arlington's Minuteman Rail Trail to Lexington to see the peak. It wasn't a tunnel of gold and red; it never is. There were long stretches of stubborn green, and then a sudden maple all gone a complex orange, or sumac holding down the crimson, and then a brief sun-shot illumination of yellow this and copper that. You don't need the sun out to have a peak, but it helps.

What is it exactly, that weather-map frontier sweeping south from Canada, turning red to brown like fallen leaves and apples? Some kind of rolling command. Go! Change. Cold enough, sun weak enough, late enough in the orbit: now go. As in, to bed. Chlorophyll, your time is done. Let xanthophyll show. Sugars, make reds; follow the necessity. Like a Joan of Arc of secret renown (code name Jack Frost) whose real name is Necessity. Necessity Windfall, good name for a heroine. With an invisible, irresistible tide to follow her. Which they do, as I followed Carol's yard sale imperatives, because they know as I know that she knows about efficiency and handling change better than I do.

Now I'll go. As in, to bed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Befriending Time

I've got so much more of it at my disposal these days, freed from the routine of a full-time job. So why do I glance nervously at my watch, calculating how much time is left in the day to get a haircut, take my bike in, meet with friends, write this post (while feeling a tad guilty for not posting yesterday), and deal with the various other items scrawled on one of the colored index cards that guide my daily movements lately? And where was I going with this? Right. The tyranny of time.  

If I could change anything in this strange new exile to home, that would be it: forging a new relationship with the Tick-Tock Dude. One where we're collaborating like pianist and piano, or rider and bike. Reminds me of a lime rickey:

A bicycle racer named Raleigh
told a cheering crowd, "Thanks! But, by golly,
I couldn't have done it—
I'd never have won it—
Without my dear passenger, Wally."

I recently heard a snippet of Alan Watts on the radio talking about Now. How we're always in it.  True. But at the same time, Now seems to keep getting later. Not so fast, bro. I liked that moment a moment ago. (Hey, if you liked that one, you'll love the one coming up in about ten minutes...) No, Now wouldn't know about what's coming up. Wouldn't even know about what just happened. It makes me a little nervous to think about Now at all, in fact. Is it as skinny as a filament or as vast as the Kalahari? You could say it's over as soon as it begins, or that it's never over. I think it depends on whether you're walking with it or racing it. You can kind of slow it down and get to know it. 

I'm thinking of meadowing, for instance. The meandering exploration of plants, birds, vistas, close-up details, crows, snakes, and woolly bear caterpillars. You can fill a half hour with a lot of  small events or non-events. Works for me; might be dead boring for someone else. 
On the other hand, this blog isn't a self-help guide. I'm just trying to enjoy a nice long game of casino.

Lumbago simpatico rhyme
Palazzo Vienna begrime
Comanche saltpeter
and has the right meter,
it needn't make sense all the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bear, Crows, Snake

I've been thinking about timing lately. The way events can occur as if chance were planned, for good, ill, or odd. Today was a small example. I went out to Arlington Great Meadows with my friend and fellow meadower Helen Byers. A mild, musing day, in the sixties. October in grasshopper mode, afizz with a few somnolent crickets. We didn't have a lot of time, and she had to come a fair drive away. I was hoping the walk would yield some rewards.

We were walking along the marsh boardwalk that I mentioned in a post last Friday. I said to Helen: "It was right about here that I saw the woolly bear caterpillar that wasn't an actual woolly bear caterpillar." I was just guessing, in fact, but Helen looked down at the spot and pointed, with a laugh. There was a perfect woolly bear caterpillar in the weeds—a real one, with the rusty red band and the two black ends (short: a mild winter).

A bit further along, we heard a telltale raucous gang-cawing of crows, deep in the woods. They'd almost certainly gotten hold of a raptor—a hawk or owl. Whatever it was, it was staying hunkered down. Probably an owl; hawks tend to break loose, take spectacularly to the sky, pursued by the mob. Call it caws and effect. This one wouldn't crack under their pitiless interrogation (various kinds of caws: excited yips, coarse drawls, snide rasps). There must be a folktale explaining the hard feelings between crows and hawks or owls. If I find it, I'll insert a link; if I don't, maybe I'll write one.

Then there was the snake. We were walking back along the bike trail. Helen stopped at what appeared to be a very long worm or a very short brown snake on the path. A snake it was, a little one, maybe seven inches long, and possibly dead. But, no, it moved. She picked it up gently, carried it to the edge of a paved hollow filled with rainwater. Lay it down with care. It immediately formed a coil, curling around itself in a series of concentric circles. It didn't seem well, poor guy. We left it on a sumac leaf in the grass to an uncertain fate.

Three random encounters: woolly bear caterpillar, mob of crows, unwell snake. Timely events for seekers of event. Disparate characters in a ViewMaster called Wednesday. Somewhere near the end of . . . the October zone. (Cue caws and theme music)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lime Rickeys

At the malt shop I tend to be picky.
The egg cream and frappe I find icky.
There's one I like better:
That cold whistle-wetter,
The tangy, ice-clanging lime rickey!

Lime rickeys are self-conscious, maverick limericks. They make  good palate-cleansers, especially after too many servings of prose.

Last seen, he was sporting a fez,
A moustache, a pair of pinces-nez,
A badminton racquet,
Maroon smoking jacket,
And a silver dispenser of Pez.

I should be confronting my issues,
Not scribbling verses on tissues.
But a rhyme might appear,
So great that Ed Lear
Would rather fill my shoes than his shoes!

Monday, October 19, 2009

For Monday

I wasn't going to post today, but then poor Monday would have to wait a whole week to be represented, and what if I didn't feel like it next week? A pattern of neglect could develop. So, this is for Monday, which gets no respect. Well, maybe back-handed respect from the Mamas and the Papas: Monday, Monday: can't trust that day. And the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays." The only sort of positive cultural connection that comes to mind is Monday Night Football, but that's like throwing Monday a bone. (If I were Monday, I'd feel that way.) There has to be a day-after-the-weekend. It's not Monday's fault that it's Monday, or that it sounds like "mundane" and isn't named after a god, let alone a Norse god, just the moon. Of course, there's the three-day weekend, when it's elevated to a kind of false Sunday, like a paper "king for a day." Monday would say, Keep your crown. Love me because I'm Monday, not because I'm not Monday. The normal Monday, the one people greet with a groan and talk behind: How was your weekend? Maybe Monday's Monday because Monday can take it. Tuesday would whine. Wednesday would act wounded. Thursday would pretend to be too proud to care. Friday wouldn't have a clue. Only Monday has the guts to be Monday.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


An unlovely day. I gave it a chance, returned to Spy Pond, looking for something. Got out of my car, walked back to the shore trees to get out of the rain. But the pond was busy with the weather and the takeaway image was a fishing line snagged in a tree, ruining my view, dangling a silhouetted float and a hook with a long, stiff, L-shaped worm. Sometimes the day points you back inside.

Anyway, I had work to do. Yard sale next Saturday. The attic needed to be emptied and its contents relegated for keeping, selling, or dumping. Acoustically, this attic is the best rain room in the house. Steady drumming just on the other side of the low-pitched roof, but softened by the pink wadding of insulation in the walls. A good place to sit down on a sleeping bag with a hot tea and read an old National Geographic under the big Southern Pacific Lines map showing the Overland Route and the Cotton Belt Route and the Sunset Route snaking across 1952 America. But not today. There were birdsnest fallings and mouse droppings to sweep up and decisions to be made. The old pink-maned hobby horse? Yard sale. Rebecca, the stuffed llama made of real llama wool? Keeper. The globe with the loose part rattling around inside? Goodbye. And what about the boxes full of Harpers and New York Times Magazines and New Yorkers and Smithsonians? Case by case. Got to have something to read in there. And Matthew's artwork, going back to preschool? (He's in high school now.) I steeled myself for ruthless culling. Unfolded a lifesize penguin made of black thin white-painted foam, with paper glasses tied on with yarn and a headdress of yellow and orange feathers. One last look. It goggled back at me. I frowned, folded it back in the portfolio. Fine. Stay, you lot, but keep out of sight. As for the air mattress with the mysterious leak and the twenty generations of tote bags and the three garbage bags of packing peanuts—arrest the usual suspects.

Meanwhile, more fat just-kidding/no-joke snowflakes falling through the rain like a cooking error or an inept Hollywood effect. But not quitting. Making a statement: I'm the weather. Really.  So respect me. Get the scraper out of the back of the garage, that's it. Thank you very mush.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Saturday Afternoon

Today was the day we had planned for a yard sale, but we'd read it was going to rain all weekend, so we slowed our preparations, and of course it turned out to be a fine day. Still a bit chilly, but an in-and-out sun and a grand armada of passing clouds. I took a break from the schlepping around three o'clock, looking for inspiration. Walked down to Spy Pond, took the path between the baseball field and the shore trees. Sat down under a sycamore. Thought about Saturday. We all have an Ur-Saturday, or maybe pieces of childhood Saturdays we take with us as the paradigm. Mine has pieces of getting a decoder ring out of a box of Quaker Puffed Wheat cereal; going to a hardware store with my father, and he wearing a gray sweatshirt instead of the usual brown corduroy jacket; and the enticing sounds of kids outside on Nutmeg Lane, their voices as crisp as birdcalls. This Saturday was not so different outwardly. Silver sheen on the water, unidentified ducks, distant rumble of the world's errands. And then, under scrutiny, the pond became a set piece. The sky, striped with high rows of altocumulus, and much lower, big gray ruminant cumuli. Not organized enough to be a threat, but dominant, turning Arlington into a Nordic village as the sunplay kept changing on the opposite shore, coloring a steeple, showing off the ochre trees on little Elizabeth Island. That's what defines the look of these months: the quality of sunlight, how low in the sky, how bossed by clouds. I watched the clouds bull their way overhead like the animated sky herd of a Miyazaki film. Then the cinematic minute gave way to the errand. Time to pick up my stuff at the dry cleaners. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wet Pumpkins

Speaking of Ozlike weather (see last post), it snowed this morning. Snow! Wet, strange white ploppers mixing with a cold rain. Pretty early for the fall, though it happens. Portent of a colder winter? Last week I met a woolly bear caterpillar (I thought) on a boardwalk in Arlington Great Meadows. Got down on my hands and knees and removed my glasses for a close-up view of its bristly, weather-forecasting, fur. What was the formula? Wider red band means colder winter? This one didn't have the black-red-black pattern, so it was probably not the Isabella tiger moth larva (showing off my wiki-expertise), but some other woolly. A tussock moth, maybe. Whatever it was, it didn't want any part of my giant doughy face. Slipped into the nearest crack, taking its forecast with it.

I tend to reduce a month to its ideal characteristics, its calendar photo. It's a way of mastering time, I suppose, if you figure you have its identity pegged. So October becomes the jovial fellow, the pumpkin-headed scarecrow with clouds piled against the bonny blue like a flourish of flugelhorns. Until it becomes a raw, chilly, thin-lipped miser, collar turned up against a spitty rain: also a perfect October day. Or else it's no one at all, just a slice of the orbit when the planet is in ant/grasshopper mode, hunkering one day, basking the next, a few more leaves reddening and loosening: the October zone. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unusual Weather

Two words for unexpected good fortune, each a well-traveled metaphor. Serendipity, from an old tale, The Three Princes of Serendib (a.k.a. Ceylon), in which the three lads are always coming upon unsought insights. And manna, from the food that fell from above to feed Moses and his starving emigrants.  Both terms are reserved for happy accidents, though serendipity is usually a smaller gift, more of a discovery, than manna, which rates a thankful Hallelujah.

Last Sunday brought something somewhere in between the two. Carol and I were taking a walk along Spy Pond on a still-warmish late afternoon. We approached a picnic table where a family was making supper. There was a grill on the ground with sizzling skewers of chicken and vegetable kabobs. "It smells wonderful!" Carol commented to the family. That, perhaps, was the key in the door. Immediately they insisted on us joining them. Would not take no for an answer! We politely pulled in one direction—you're very kind, thanks, but—and they more strongly pulled in the other. The balance shifted to where it seemed insulting to refuse. We stepped inside the circle from passing stranger to welcome guest. Tentatively at first. How long should we stay? A nibble and then thanks?  Time and amity did their work. We sat, and we ate together. We talked, introduced. They were a young husband and wife, her parents visiting from India, and her niece, about ten, from Chicago. The couple had last lived in California. They talked about the propensity of many Californians to be super-friendly on first contact, but disappointing on follow-through: We'll make a date! (No call, no email). New Englanders the opposite: initial reserve, but they tend to stick. The subject of writing came up, specifically children's books. We told them about the picture book we had published, the Mexican myth, How Music Came to the World. The young husband insisted that we tell it. I did.  He immediately told one in return, an Indian  folktale about a master craftsman who bragged he could best Yama, or Death, and when Yama came for him and found hundreds of perfect life-size effigies of the artisan, he almost left in confusion, but remarked, "No man could have made these. This must be the work of a god!"  Whereupon the artisan blurted proudly, "Not at all, it is my work!"  Hubris will get you every time. Then the niece chimed in with her retelling of Demeter, Hades, and Persephone. Storytelling takes you deeper inside the circle.  We were something pretty close to friends now. Certainly neighbors; they lived only a few blocks away. We exchanged contact information, and the following day we walked over to their house, following through, with a copy of our book for the niece, who was flying back to Chicago the next day.

Be open to manna, our rabbi had said on Rosh Hashana. All well and good, generally speaking, if you believe in such accidental bestowals. But here was manna in the form of chicken kabobs and three ancient myths on a serendipitous Sunday afternoon by Spy Pond in October. Falling like the fortunate snow that wakes the travelers in The Wizard of Oz

Unusual weather we're having lately, ain't it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Writer's Booth

Time to indulge in a little self-consciousness today. As of yesterday, this space has taken its place somewhere in the vast parking lot of the blogosphere. I have set up my booth. It reminds me of a character I once had, an unnamed writer who anonymously occupied a small windowless shack in a city and who typed (this was pre-computer age) little jottings, observations, micro-stories, whimsies, then fed them into a pneumatic tube which jettisoned them out into the wide world. People found them, the way we find discarded bubble gum comics on the ground--the literature of the sidewalk. They became popular, then mysterious, then alarming. What secrets did "The Adventures of Cock-a-Leekie, the Student Prince" portend? Someone finally traced them to the source, the anonymous shack. I didn't get that far in the plot; I was having too much fun writing the jottings. But I envisioned a panicky crowd pounding on the door of the shack until the pale writer emerges, blinking in the daylight. Do they punish him or welcome him? Not sure. Maybe they lose interest once they see he's just another schlub like them. But I'm glad that our cities are filled with writer's booths, and that they tend to have windows and the writers get out once in a while.

What do I have to shoot out into the world? I guess it's time that interests me--seasonal time, the orbit of the year, the arc of a day and what fills it, the character of each month; and time past, the spent part that seems to define getting old, but is also a rich nourishment of the present time. "There are places I remember..." What a killer line. Simple as a door opening, but so evocative, it can go anywhere. I bet Lennon knew he had the song in hand just with that beginning. My open sesame is the word up there: Almanac. From the Arabic: al-manakh, the calendar. Manakh, says my Webster's unabridged, comes from two words meaning "a place where camels kneel down." Through some route, it came to mean "climate or weather." Maybe it had to do with sandstorms. In any case, I like its abracadabra sound: almanac! Welcome to my calendar, my booth of days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween October

October and I are mated for life. Not just because I was born in October. But also because fate decreed that my first name, Hal, begin the last day of the month and my last name, Ober, end the month itself. Kind of like one of those old riddles: "My first is... My last is... What am I?" We are apple allies and pumpkin pals, October and me.

This October started with me being laid off from my job as a school publishing editor, a job that began on the day of the World Series earthquake, twenty years ago. I can practically reach back and touch that day, walking around in an itchy tweed jacket, shaking people's hands. Now I recognize the genius of October, tipping me back into a writer's life.

I think I know the exact day October became October: not the day the calendar turned, but on October 7th. Prior to that day, you couldn't really tell October from September. But on the 7th the weather went slightly haywire. Early rain tapering off, warm, forgiving sun coming out, then building clouds again and sudden intense rain squalls, then it-was-only-a-joke sunshine again. And wind! The first real leaf-shedding wind, those little turbillions of leaves whirling around in a forced dance on the sidewalks. Since then, October has been its unpredictable self, has gotten a wild glint in its eye, like a cat's eye in a pumpkin, peering slyly toward Halloween.