Sunday, October 31, 2010


When they removed the apostrophe from Hallowe'en, they made it less scary.

The apostrophe is the missing tooth in the jack o' lantern.
It gives the word a hiccup, an echo, a disguise.
Without it, you get Halloween, which has a polite, one-word leer—decorative double letters and the colorful H and W. But where does it take you? To the local CVS and around the neighborhood.
Put back the apostrophe, you get mystery.
A much older word, showing the seam of two words, meaning All Hallows' Even, the eve of All Hallows' day—the day of the hallowed (a "Holy Ned!" of a word, waxy as tallow).

It's a spooky chasm between one month and the next for us, one year and the next for the ancient Celts who carved it at the tail-end of their year—the night when the dead may roam among the living. (CUE ORGAN)

We've made it our own. Cloaked it and costumed it in safer garb, while venturing as close to the dead as we dared. Like Orson Welles's pre-Hallowe'en prank on October 30, 1938 ("Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and saying 'Boo!'"). And even that was too close for a lot of people.

Last Halloween (not Hallowe'en), I included the first of three Betty Begonia poems I wrote for my mom. Here then be the last, my own blogosphere version of dressing up as a cowboy or ranchera or circus performer (in honor of my juggler son, Matt) and saying: "It's Betty Begonia and her Grandson!"

“Dear Gram,” Betty read, “How are you?

My round-the-world trip’s nearly through.

I’ll drop by for a visit

next Saturday. Is it

convenient? Hope so! Love, Matthew.”

As Ringo peered over her shoulder,

Betty mused, “He’ll be seven years older

since last he were here...”

and she dabbed at a tear,

which boggled the buckskinned beholder.

“Her grandson?” said Thomas to Jim.

“I don’t think I’ve heard about him.”

“Yep, a circus performer

and quite a barnstormer:

he’ll leap sixteen sheep on a whim.”

Two days later they met the noon stage

and out stepped a tall lad whose age

was sixteen or less.

He was dressed for success

in a suit of pale yellow and beige.

Before introductions were done

he was juggling four satchels for fun

while tipping the porter

a dime and a quarter

produced from the ear of a nun.

And all the way back to the ranch

when the buckboard passed under a branch,

young Matthew would grab it

and, quick as a rabbit,

flip over—which made Ringo blanch.

The cowboys at first were agog

each time Matthew sprang like a frog

up into a tree

or juggled a bee

and three pine cones while rolling a log.

But after two days had gone by

their well of good nature ran dry.

“Again?” Ringo muttered

the tenth time Matt buttered

his sourdough toast on the fly.

“This kid, he gets all the attention,”

Thomas grumbled to Jim. “Not to mention

he’s showing me up.

I slurp from my cup;

he don’t ruffle the dang surface tension!”

“Yeah, but Betty just can’t get enough

of her grandson,” Jim said, “and that stuff

that he’s learned in the circus,

so let’s don’t let him irk us.

I say we make friendly, not gruff.”

Whereupon with a forthcoming grin,

Jim ahemmed and said, “So...mighty Quinn...

Care to go for a ride?

Take your time to decide.”

Matt smiled and answered, “I’m in.”

They suggested the gentlest horse,

but the boy said, “You’re joking, of course!

I’ve ridden wild stallions!

I’m used to rapscallions!

I want one with fury and force!”

So they led out Ms. Thunder Ann Lightning

whose way with a rider was frightening.

When the saddle appeared

she bucked and she reared.

“Much better,” young Matthew said, brightening.

“No saddle. I’d rather go bareback.”

He spat on his hands, smoothed his hair back,

took off at a run,

vaulted high and, for fun,

did a somersault—smack on the mare’s back!

With a whinny like hell in a bottle,

Ms. Lightning took off at full throttle.

Matt clung to her mane

and he yielded his brain

to the mercy of Quetzalcoatl.

“Not smart,” Ringo said. Jim agreed.

“I suppose we should do the good deed.”

“I suppose,” grumbled Thomas,

who disliked melodramas,

“and I guess we’d best put on some speed.”

To their horses they swiftly repaired

in pursuit of the runaway mare.

Her dust cloud soon bloomed

and then the mare loomed

like the fruit of a daredevil’s prayer.

“Hang in there!” yelled Jim to young Matt

who was lying impressively flat.

He pulled up alongside

of the mare, stride for stride,

and yodeled “The Nebulous Gnat.”

That tune was almost guaranteed

to divert almost any stampede

among horses or cattle

engaged in a battle

with panic, or anger, or need.

Meanwhile, seeing his opportunity,

Thomas came to the rear with impunity.

Yelling, “Time to skedaddle,”

he leapt from his saddle

and with Matthew he formed a community.

Tom’s riderless horse was soon caught

by Ringo, who’d never been taught

to round up loose strays.

He just did it, unfazed,

like a Roy Rogers wannabe ought.

At last the three cowboys were able

to make things a little more stable

for horse and for rider

and a swig of hard cider

didn’t hurt, back at Betty B.’s table.

“Ms.Thunder Ann Lightning?” yelled Betty.

“Were you boys born with brains or spaghetti???”

But Matt held up a hand

with an air of command

that he’d learned on the vast Serengeti.

“They tried to dissuade me,” he said.

“But I paid no attention. Instead,

I was reckless and foolish,

self-centered and mulish.”

He paused, both his ears turning red.

“My act may be famous, but they

are the ones we should cheer for today,

‘cause next to their feat

my tricks can’t compete:

not a chance, not a prayer, and no way.”

A long stretch of silence ensued

until Jim interrupted the mood.

“Hey—show me that thing

where you fly through a ring

like a quail, upside down, would ya, dude?”


Finally, a last scene for Halloween (not Hallowe'en) gleaned from a brisk walk down to Spy Pond to bid October adieu (before the ado). A squirrel came pouncing across a lawn. It had something in its mouth. Looked like a stick from my angle. But Carol insisted it had writing on it. Sure enough, when I walked back a bit to improve my view, I saw a gleam of metallic paper. The object was oblong. It was a Hershey bar! (Seriously!)

Either people aren't choosy about who they give candy to noawdays, or that was the MOST convincing squirrel costume I've ever seen!

Happy E'en!
Happy Een!
Happy somewhere in betwe'en!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ah, vimmen!

Some days bring their own quiet significance. Yesterday (the 28th) was one of those.

To begin with, it was the first day that was no longer my birthday, a kind of un-distinction observed by a resigned re-shouldering of the rest of the year.

But it was as much what the day was as what it wasn't. A walk outside into the afternoon soon revealed that this was the key day: October's October. The trees seemed to have given their all, yielded up every color they had in them, colonnades of color, and having done their utmost, were beginning the turn to the utless. Sidewalk cyclones roamed the streets, whirling leaves into mad skitters. More leaf flurries than the day before, and few moments without at least one leaf twirling or floating down from some tree. The old trick or treat: now you see it, now you don't.

I went to check on the big maple, the bellwether tree in front of the Unitarian church. I'd sat under it a month ago when it was just beginning to turn. Completely bare now!

Overhead, highly patterned altocumulus clouds sheeted the sky, but below them afternoon sun defined distant trees like solid bronzed cutouts. And then the pewtery clouds overtook the sun, and there it was. November. A reminder that bronze is brown in another light. Later on, the sun came back, defying the slaty cloud cover in that classic New England sunsplashed overcast October sky.

Finally, the day was my mom's yahrtzeit. Two years ago Betty O., Sober Ober, passed away, age 96, loved by a lot of people, and I think she knew it. Shortly before she died, she broke a long silence to say "Thank you" to her caregiver, Rosie, who had just turned her in her bed. Good last words. Thank you comes from something good and gives it back.

She was complicated, like all of us: a worrier, a saver, a high school basketball player, a pianist, a nurse, a performer, a harmonizer, and a poet. She'd been a camp nurse when she was young, and had learned a number of camp songs. One she used to sing went:

In the vinter time in the valley green
ven the vind blows on the vidowpane
and the vimmen from the vaudeville
ride velocipedes on the vindowsill.
Ah, men! Ah, vimmen!

(Note: According to Google, most versions have the vimmen from the vaudeville riding their velocipedes in the vestibule. This makes more sense, but it doesn't rhyme, and who cares about sense? Me, I prefer the image of the tiny women on their tiny velocipedes running races on the windowsill.
Okay, ma. I'm going to bed.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our Old Boxcar

It's the day before the day after my birthday, and I have been doing nice things for myself. To wit: finishing a couple of excellent crossword puzzles; playing a lot of 40s vintage Sinatra; lingering over lapsang souchong tea and English muffins; reading a bouquet of birthday wishes from friends on email; and now sitting in the coveted bentwood bench overlooking Spy Pond.

The trees on the opposite shore and on Elizabeth Island are old gold, bronze, copper and maroon, layers and layers like breads in a bakery. The colors seem to bring the trees closer than when they were all more or less the same shade of green. However, you need to shade your eyes to see them well. Otherwise you get a glare of old gold, even with the overcast sky.

I wasn't going to write a birthday blog—hence the pre-day post yesterday. But it turned out to be another nice thing to do for myself. I need to note. Not sure why that is. A justification for being here, perhaps. I note, therefore I am. Or a justification for here—it is written about, therefore it is. Also an effort to keep up with time. I describe, therefore it slows down. (Nature seems to enjoy the publicity.)

And it is my day: might as well own it in writing, like a shopkeeper taking inventory, if briefly. So let it be told that today was warm and I put out our two pumpkins on the front steps, later than most people have—a big one and a little one. Houses, it seems, crave pumpkins like candy corn. One of these years I'm going to get a big round one and a narrow one and outfit them with a couple of derbies and carve Laurel and Hardy jack o' lanterns out of them. I'll bet someone already has.

We are still below the Leaves Dropped tide line on the New England foliage map. But it's getting closer. Mostly individuals drifting down to their mates. The sidewalk midden is looking shuffleable, if not outright crunchable. And the day was handsomely served by the earnest, dove-gray overcast, a herd in important, benign motion.

Speaking of benign, Robert Benigno is in my boxcar of birthday mates. His animated leaps do not seem to bother Emily Post in the least. There is a poetry jam underway between Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas, who of course is reading "Poem on His Birthday." And John Cleese and Nanette Fabray did a very entertaining version of "We're a Couple of Swells," almost as good as Astaire and Garland. I'm hoping they can convince Teddy Roosevelt to do "Triplets" from The Bandwagon with them, which Fabray knows very well, of course.

This boxcar is bigger than it looks. And the view of October out the open doors—fantastic.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


It's the day before my birthday. Last year on my birthday I was prepping for a colonoscopy, so tomorrow's bound to be a big improvement.

At noon or so I was sitting in a McDonald's with a latte and a small oblong "apple pie"--better than what I was ingesting last year at this time—having just re-filed my unemployment claim. I could have been auditioning for a country & western song.

"You're a freelance writer?" the Unemployment rep had asked. She did not sound like she wanted my autograph, but I said yes proudly, as if she'd asked if I were a veteran. "Are you a veteran?" she asked next. I admitted I wasn't.

She leveled a severe look at me. "Are you trying to repeat your ironic charade of last Groundhog Day (see 'The Groundhog Variations,' 2/2/10), in which you drew facile and frankly obscure parallels between collecting unemployment and seeing your shadow?"

She had me. I was forced to sign a character release form and write 100 times: "Groundhog Day comes but once a year, except in the movies."

Just kidding. It was only fifty times.

Anyhow, I resisted going home to pursue the occupation I had admitted to. It was fun sitting there surrounded by Happy Meals and looking out the window at the hoi polloi who were mostly all younger than me, and who all had birthdays too, days scattered through the calendar like candy eggs of rare design.

A great tradition, is it not, this celebrating the day you entered the world (usually) headfirst? You get to own your day, like that deed to a square foot of Alaska that used to come in cereal boxes. And if you tell people it's your birthday, even total strangers, they often automatically wish you a happy one, and maybe even encourage you to do something nice for yourself.

Candles are lit in your honor. Cake is served. Gifts proffered. Why? Just because you've completed another orbit. And because you entered the orbit in the first place. It's kind of a way of stamping your passport.

The good thing about the day before your birthday is that none of that stuff has happened yet. It's all in the future, but the very near future, just like you were the day before you were born when you were awaited with (hopefully) the highest of expectations, your entry prepared for, your relatives gathered on the lee shore with toys and kind dispositions. C'mon! Over here! That's it! Look what we've got for you!!


On the way home I took a detour to visit late October with a bike ride around Fresh Pond. It was warm. The trees were a tunnel of gold and red and green. Leaves fell as if a movie were being shot and they had to get it right on the first take. I pulled into a new wayby they'd built between the big pond and little Lily Pond, with benches and railings. Very nice. I saw off to the right what I took to be a hawk silhouette in a tree. A little more neck than hawks usually showed, but I wanted a hawk. It was a hawk. A guy with a camera came and sat down. "A hawk in that tree," I told him. "Ah," he replied. Then I saw a couple of other silhouettes one tree over. "And more over there," I added. "Comrades," he said with a slight accent. "Right!" I said, appreciatively. "Comrades." Of course, when I pedaled over for a closer look, I saw that they were not hawks at all. "Cormorants" is what the man had really been saying. But comrades was right, too.

Friday, October 22, 2010


It was just one of those things, just one of those crazy flings. I was driving through Harvard Square, past Cambridge Common, when a tree near Mass. Ave. caught a gust of wind and let loose with a fantastic leaf storm. The air around me was briefly filled with small flying leaves, a confetti machine. For a moment I felt like John Glenn in the Canyon of Heroes. It got me thinking about phenomena.

I like that abracadabra sound—PHENOMENA! Its meanings are straightforward but elusive. It can be as simple as any "observed fact or occurrence" (a singular phenomenon, that is). Or slightly fancier: "something impressive or extraordinary." (Or someone—that would be a phenom.) And then there's the intriguing Kantian definition: "a thing as it appears to and is constructed by the mind, as distinguished from a noumenon, or thing-in-itself."

I once had a naive experience of that second thing, the noumenon. Or so I thought. It was on the eve of my 20th birthday on the Isle of Wight in England. I was trying to write poetry on the shore, at sunset after two days of rain, and suddenly I had a glimpse of the unmediated reality behind words and concepts, the sun behind the sun. I called it the thingness of things.

But now I think it had to be phenomena I was glimpsing, just one layer removed. Besides, it would probably be terrifying to see the thing-in-itself, without the mind. Kind of like a bad acid trip. Because the good thing about phenomena is that it's a collaboration between the observer and the observed. It's what makes the trees I saw in Rock Meadow today beautiful. Or that leaf storm phenomenal. Or what gives not just noise to the tree that falls in the forest with someone to hear it, but a thundering, branch-snapping, stentorian crash.

So I've been out looking for more phenomena, like a cameraless photographer. Yesterday we went out to Great Meadows in Concord, a vast marshland slowly returning to its former life as a meadow. Phenomena abounded, including a pair of Northern harriers, once called marsh hawks, canvassing the reeds on uptilted wings, lifting and falling like a pair of refs working an unseen game. Then, paying a visit to the Concord River on the other side of the woods, we saw a river counterpart of that aerial leaf storm in Harvard Square. This was a leaf fleet: hundreds of yellow birch leaves sailing with the current.

But the big-picture phenomenon that has now overtaken us is the fever called Peak Foliage. Not a full tide catching every tree in its flood. But not something that can be ignored, or even deconstructed into component leaf events. It's reached that gawkworthy stage: head-turning colors that you've only seen on the throat of a Blackburnian warbler or that you desired the orange-yellow Crayola to be. And today it stirred something very like love out in Rock Meadow, those deep russets (made of red and maroon) that vibrate some intimate corresponding color you can feel in your stomach. It's very un-wabi-sabi, this "peak" worship, but what can you do about it? It's color lust.

Finally, a cooler phenom last night. It wasn't the harvest moon, technically. That was last month, floating up on the very night of the autumnal equinox. But this was a second harvest moon, as friendly as the first. (Isn't it fortunate we have only one moon we get to dress up in these different personalities, one moon to keep track of, one moon to write songs about?) The phenomenon of suddenly seeing it not very high above the horizon and not too bright, just there, hanging in the sky, big and round and startling like a face in the window.

It may turn out to be the merry face of Oliver Hardy in this scene from "The Flying Deuces" that you can't see too many times. You can focus just on Stan dancing, or Ollie singing, or the fond legionnaire behind Ollie's left shoulder. And after you see it, you can read the poem "For Laurel and Hardy on My Workroom Wall" by David Waggoner. Because phenomena aren't just in nature, ya know.

ENA!! And I l that, according to Kant, we are assistant magicians. Leaf storms, rainbows, bumblebees, full moons require our senses, our brain, to be phenomena.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Squirrel, dismayed by defoliation, to tree: "Have you taken leave of your senses?"
Tree: "No. We've taken census of our leaves." [rimshot of falling acorns]

Tree humor. Gotta love it.

I have been thinking about leaves. And thinking about the cycle of leaves leaving in October so there can be leafing in April, then leaving again....

I get flummoxed by spring, can't keep up with it. But fall has this thoughtful, austere, pace that lends itself to rocksitting on Spy Pond in a funnel of sun and looking around at the slow weft of colors and the rowing scullers, and feeling that tinge of regret, because it's probably the end of these moments of warmth, or soon will be. It's going to get colder and barer, these leaves are going to pass their peak of magnificence soon, and time feels really valuable just now.

I've been looking at leaves. Front, back, through. If you hold one up, not right up to the sun, but tilted a little, maybe 30 degrees—it glows. It becomes a light-reflecting mechanism. And you remember that this always was a friend of the sun—more, a collaborator, a kind of lover, light-made. (How does photosynthesis work? Light + CO2 = sugar + oxygen? But the leaf knows what to do with sunlight, not just bask in it.)

And then if you take a really close look at a leaf, even one still on the tree, you see how brittle it is around the edges, or tough as old leather. Or it has spots of mold, or holes and tears, or a see-through lattice of cells, or something that might be a tiny dessicated insect egg on the back. And if you look long enough, it becomes bigger, like an urban map, like a city seen from an airplane. The tiny cells stained different colors, indicating wards voting for different candidates, or burnt-out neighborhoods...

And you realize how close this leaf already is to soil, it's changing from a treeling to a groundling. But what's confusing is how beautiful it is. You don't want it to fall. If it falls, it dies. The tree, however, is not so sentimental. The tree knows its necessity. Which is sleep, not death. Hence the dry layer of cells between the tree and the petiole, the unsentimental abscission. Don't take it personally. Can't afford to carry, to nourish, to be nourished. Fluids freeze. Time to leave.

Still. Not yet. For now, it's still big picture, still storytelling with shadows and light, warmth and cool, caw and katydid, sun and wind. An old story about getting old and getting ready to go, after turning on a night light: cell by cell, leaf by leaf, and tree by tree.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In which I meet myself a year later, setting out

It was a year ago today that I started this almanac. Consider this a candle in a cupcake. Or in a pumpkin.

Interesting to create your own year of something. It turns out that the journey is the destination, but you need the circularity, too. If you close the circle, however briefly, you've got something. It's the wisdom of tree rings.

(Try telling this to French prisoners marching around and around in a dank cell. The wisdom of tree rings, mes amis!)

Anyway, as I pass by the depot of October 13, I see myself here last year, out of a job, nervously addressing the world as every blogger must the first time, presuming that I have something worth saying (let alone reading) in that first one, about how October had come into its own, and how my identity has long been bound up in this birth month of mine whose defining holiday carries my first name, and whose own name carries my last. Hal-loween Oct-Ober, get it? (The pumpkin on the front porch nods. Got it.)

Off you go, then, old Hatch.

As for my present-day October 13, I spent a good hour of it at the edge of Spy Pond, on a ledge of rock, admiring the clarity of light and sound. Speaking voices carried from the far shore as if a few yards away. Colors had an almost lacquered brilliance. "Extraordinary light," I wrote. Sometimes you have to take the time to write extraordinary.

The Arlington High Spy Ponders were visiting their namesake, as they do every autumn, gliding around in long sculls. "Follow me and Annabelle," instructed the coxswain. Then: "Annabelle, what are you doing?" Punctuation of a barking dog.

A big fish jumped. The sun, the one in the water, jumped around too, in nervous flashes. Elsewhere in the pond it shimmered in an inverted ziggurat.

So goes a year. Goodbye to something, I wrote in the pad. Hello to something else.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


10/10/10. Cool.

Back from a trip to the Berkshires in Connecticut and western Mass., a place of broad hills be-sweatered in colors, golds and greens, coppers, russets, the odd little burst of red standing out, and as the sun sinks, pools of shadow in the hollows. There is a collaboration between the sun and the leaf. For two seasons it was for the benefit of green: a broad, tree-by-tree manufacture. And then it goes the other way. New work order: autumn. The ebb of green, revealing yellow undercoat. The rash of red. the tag of brown. So the trees get busy, working independently, working as a mountain, fractal coloration in which each leaf cell is tree and each tree is a cell.

Driving along the Mass. Pike past a wall of reds and coppers and it's like passing a blush. The brief feeling that you're witnessing an emotion, sex, an oh-my moment that reminds me of a donkey I saw years ago in a farmyard in Oregon, just a brief glimpse from a car I'd hitched a ride with, but it was posed on a ridge like a stallion feeling its oats.

I remember that trip. Discovering the west with a poncho tent and a Sterno stove. Walking the Grand Canyon at night. Staying at the Rainbow Tribe commune in Drain, Oregon. Hopping a flatcar in Bakersfield, Cal. I was more of a traveler in those days.

I kept seeing travelers in the Berkshires. On a walk I happened to look up just as three cottony fluffs from a milkweed took flight, all joined together like a trio of aeronauts, sailing away from the old home field of driftwood-gray pods, riding the air current until it let them off in the nearby marsh, maybe a hundred yards away. But for a minute it was a journey with no end, could have carried them all the way to the Andes.

And later, a rare sound and sight that used to be more common: the windborne gabble of a high, ragged formation of geese, high enough to take their time crossing the sky, apparently real migrators, traveling miles, not just "migrating" from one local pond to another.

And of course, the short, momentous journey of a leaf detaching from its axil and casting its lot with the beckoning wind. Come on, dude! Time to go!

Meanwhile, up on the broad hills, sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care and the sun makes love to the leaf.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Good news! Turns out any autumn day, even a gem, yields tons of examples of wabi-sabi. Rusted leaves. Withered flowers. Mulchy smell. Mind you, a day like today—beautiful, mild, in the 70s—shows these so-called imperfections off to their best advantage, which is kind of a paradox.


I took a bike ride out to Arlington Great Meadows, John Lennon songs coming from the radio in my pocket. The fat part of the afternoon, around 3:00. Sat down on a little hill edge, looking out to the far side of the meadow, a mixed grove of trees out there, colors just settling in. On my side, a stand of sumac also yielding to red, but not in a hurry.

Got to thinking about the approaching Columbus Day weekend and about my high school geometry teacher, Miss Anne Kelly, urging us all to be like Columbus (it was October 12) and discover...whatever it was, maybe proving that parallelograms have parallel sides...but tying it to Columbus discovering the New World.

There's that relativity question again. One person's new is another person's old. But somehow that distinction has stuck. Somehow the western hemisphere is newer, with its monkeys with prehnsile tails and its hummingbirds and jaguars and macaws, all newer than old Asia, old Africa, and old, old, Europe. Only a few mystics had a planetary view. The explorers were venturing out into the back of beyond, the land of dreams, if not spice.

Does this have anything to do with October? Yeah, sort of. It's the roundest month, maybe the Earth-iest. In fact, maybe we should make it even rounder and call it Octobo. And instead of Columbus Day, maybe we should have another kind of Earth Day, six months after the one in April. This one wouldn't be about the Nature of the planet; it would be a People of the Earth Day. And to celebrate, we'd skype each other or email each other and get to know about each other: schoolkids in Australia talking to a village in Lapland; Manchuria contacting Israel. The lost languages, the hidden cultures: bring them out. It would be exciting, like picking up Pitcairn Island on your shortwave radio.


Señor Octobo,
the carefree hobo,
played on his oboe
para todo el globo.
It wasn't the theme
from Rio Lobo
but rather, a dream
of a wild bonobo
in the jungle steam
that Señor Octobo,
the worldly hobo
from Constantinobo
played on his oboe.
Or so it seemed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wabi-sabi October

What gives? Three days of grim low overcast, prickly mist, and out-and-out, bus window-befogging, umbrella-hating rain.

Some months we step into with a picture of what it should be like, and October is definitely one of those. We expect calendar page fall foliage, blue sky, sun and shadow making the pumpkins oranger and the chrysanthemums more anthem and less "um...." So whose idea was this? Some colorblind crow's?

Of course, it's all going to change tonight. The rain moves out to sea, as it always does. Tomorrow the October queen will be back on the hay wagon, tossing candy corn to the crowd. And we will have missed another chance at understanding wabi-sabi.

There are plenty of explanations out there. Here's a compelling one from the website

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Okay, I'm not sure if a weathered, grizzled day in October qualifies as an opportunity to study and admire the imperfect—in the same way a wabi-sabi aesthete would admire a misshapen teacup or a rusted wheelbarrow.

Nor am I sure if I, the constant editor, plucking and pruning these words within an inch of their life, am qualified to extol wabi-sabi, just because I like the way it sounds and because I tend to befriend the worn-out, well-used thing, the stubbornly untamed vacant lot, the 1943 comic book, my piles of old, unreadable notebooks.

All I know is that there must be something worth finding in a bummer of an October day, not cold enough to be thoroughly miserable like an equivalent day in November would be. Even if it's just a reminder that there must be something worth finding in a bummer of an October day...etc. Even if it's just a gray, wet-bark, wabi-sabi daydream.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Early Days

So, where are we? Personally, I like the Giants over the Braves, but can they get past the Phillies or the Reds? Time will tell. Right now, as the Brits say, it's still early days.

Early October is a kind of deep September. At first it seems like there's nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees. But listen up, Harrison, sez the old north wind. There's signifying in that susurrus. The telltale of change! (At which point a jeering blue jay significantly leaves the tree.)

Early October is one pumpkin on a doorstep, no face. It's a layer of leaves on the ground that you didn't see fall. It's the set-up of the story: the three brothers setting out on the journey, but before they meet the mysterious little man at the crossroads.

Early October is a day of so-what overcast when you expected more scenes out of Yankee Magazine. It's the cider donut in the brown paper bag, the flannel shirt with a sleeve around a coffee cup, and the corduroy pants with the cuff up on the radiator.

There's an art to waiting, and it's all in the details of early October.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two bits

Sometimes you can almost hear the gears change. Yesterday, Oct 1: humid, brooding, summer in a shoe. Then, after threatening morning glower, the rain came and meant it, sweeping away the night's Red Sox-Yankees game in a
GIT-outa-here downpour. Sending us to our beds with a book and a backdrop.

And today, October 2: behold, a clear, chilly morning! A new season befitting what we expect fall to be in these parts. Crisp. Sharp-edged. Changeworthy.

Time for a haircut.

My long-time barber, Teddy, I may have once mentioned, retired last year. Luckily, there was his former competitor Vincent a few blocks up the street—Teddy's match in skill and more than a hair faster, if not as quirky. But then Vincent's back gave out, forcing his retirement, too. After several weeks, my shaggy patience was rewarded when Vincent's son-in-law, Anthony, also a barber, stepped into the breach, dividing his days between his shop and Vincent's, saving me from Supercuts.

The conversation meandered and clipped through Red Sox and we're each doing (hanging in) Vincent's doing (mobility not so good, spirits luckily not so bad)...and eventually to barbering. I forget how we got there, something about trends, but I happened to reflect, half-jokingly, on how the Beatles must have impacted barbers. "A lot of shops closed," he said darkly. Then he recalled barbers who took it upon themselves to give their long-haired customers Army cuts, as punishment for their excess. Losing a customer in the process. He went on to recount how hairdressing grew with the barbers' slowness to adapt to newer styles. "They became like technical experts," he said, in contrast to the barbers who didn't even know how to use a hair dryer. Back in the old days, it was the barber who decided on the cut, often giving the same one to every customer. Now it was ten different cuts for ten different heads of hair...

More change in the air.

I took my new haircut down to the Mystic River, not far from the Nine Steps, with a good book (The Whistling Season) and a tree to sail it by. Around the newly elongated shadows of four o'clock, I stood up and went to check on the bees. None on the goldenrod. They'd moved on to the asters, those little frostflowers. But at least bees there were still.

Happy birthday, Groucho Marx, Bud Abbott, John Romano, Annie Liebovitz, and other Oct. 2 sons and daughters with a sense of the wry.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My bro', Oct.

He's the best-known Ober, by far, but he's a modest chap, doesn't let it go to his head (already pumpkin-sized), not even the joke that among the months he's a 10. Just does his benevolent thing. Good with colors: stays inside the lines, mostly. Likes a good mystery. Genial disguiser (fond of scarecrows), heavy lifter, taking summer on his shoulders and carrying it to the foothills of winter. Friend of September and November, who don't so much get along with each other. Knock-kneed, bandy-legged, hobo impresario, especially outdoor ensembles of homemade instruments playing jazz and old blues. We're proud to have him in the family.

I started this blog a year ago, on the 13th, so I missed the beginning of the month. In fact, it was because of an event at beginning of the month that I had the time to start the blog. It was on 10/1 last year that I got laid off (odd phrase—like a mistranslated expletive) from the company I'd worked at for a good chunk of my life. So the anniversary hangs over the day like a kind of comet. Hello up there.

We remember other historic events (in 1869 today, Austria issued the first postcards; in 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened), so why not personal ones? The summons to the Spaulding Room, knowing I was about to be expelled from school because the textbooks were too expensive. The following week of slow leavetaking, wearing the new normal with exhilaration and numbness. And gradually, over the months, with the help of this blog and time cauterizing, cooling, carrying on, the event becomes what it is a year later: my private comet, crossing my orbit like all anniversaries do.

So, Oct. Walk with you to Halloween?