The season of October
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
Welcome back to another of my blog posts about each month of the year. For those of you that might be new to this I started a series last March called 'To every thing there is a season', musing on the first Friday of each month what that month was teaching me. And can you believe I'm now two thirds of the way through.
Last October I posted a blog called ‘The Autumn Fall’ (which you can listen to on your podcast player or read on the blog). I started the post with a beautiful quote by that amazing writer ‘Unknown’.
The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go. Unknown
And I'm very glad I did because it’s a blog that celebrates the beauty, hope and celebration of the autumn season. Whereas this year, I’m afraid my experience feels like the complete opposite. But it's a good example of how every year and month and season can be different for us.
However, before I get to that, let’s have a look at what we know about the month of October, aside from its autumn beauty.
It’s another month of transition as the northern hemisphere gets ready for winter and the southern hemisphere prepares for summer. The name is a literal translation of ‘the eighth month’ in Latin, because the ancient Roman calendar was based on lunar cycles and so there were only ten months in the calendar, making October the eighth. When we switched to solar cycles they added two months to the beginning, making October the tenth month. There are seven months of the year with 31 days in them and October is the sixth. The Anglo-Saxons’ name for October was ‘Winterfylleth’ with its name containing the words for winter and full moon, because winter was said to begin from the first full moon. I'm not sure if it's supposed to but to me it sounds like ‘Winter Felleth’. The first full moon after the Harvest Moon quite often falls in October and is known as the Hunter’s Moon, these are the only two moons that aren’t connected with a specific month and sort of move between two as they please. Any of you that have heard my blog ‘Meet my friend, the Moon’ will know I’m always pleased to see him full in the sky. In fact my dad recently told me that when I was about two, just after my brother was born and I was in the car going to visit my auntie I would point out the moon as he was driving. So it obviously goes back further than I realised in my likings.
More locally, October is the month that the Cheltenham Literature Festival arrives just 15 minutes from my door. Ten days of book based talks, tents, tea and talent. I’ve attended almost every year I’ve lived in the county, dreaming of the day when I too might have a book to find in the big Waterstones book tent, or be talking about on stage. Over the years, sadly, I’ve realised how closed off and devise this industry can be, with paying members getting first dibs on all the tickets to the big names (which then often sell out), only certain types of authors getting exposure, and you can only take so many interviews from celebrities who didn’t really want to write a book but thought they should and were instantly paid to publish it - before you get a bit jaded. But I still love the atmosphere of the festival that celebrates the good old fashioned book and I seek out the events with debut authors and lesser known talents that have worked hard for their success. Oh and Bono this year.
You can’t really think of October though without Halloween coming up.
October brings trick or treat Full of candy that is oh, so sweet Children dress up, And the pumpkins we carve. A Reason To Celebrate, Catherine Pulsifer
I think this is a bigger deal in some countries, like the U.S. maybe, than it is here, but I can’t say it’s something I’ve ever looked forward to. I mean, who wants to walk into shops and be confronted with cobwebs, witches, ghouls, monsters, severed hands, skeletons, terrifying faces in pumpkins with fire behind their eyes, and copious amounts of sugary treats? They’re mostly the sort of thing we spend our lives avoiding. Even though traditions of ‘All Hallows’ evening, if you go back far enough, can be linked to good reasons to remember the departed, there’s still a lot about this season that freaks me out. I mean if I came up with a new season where I suggested children dress up in terrifying, or just downright confusing, costumes and went around knocking on doors expecting sweets for their efforts, I’m not sure it would take off now. I have memories of being younger and hiding upstairs with all the lights off to watch the trick or treaters walk around our estate knocking on doors. We didn’t answer the door, so we had to look like we were out, or else there was the risk of your house being egged for not having sweets! I used to love the excitement of watching the costumes walk past the house and the thrill of hearing someone knock on the door and having to keep very quiet until they went away. I remember watching one very well wrapped toilet paper mummy go past, only for him to return not long later unravelled, just a boy in a tracksuit with a few pieces of toilet paper clinging to his clothes. So I’m afraid Halloween isn’t really going to evoke lots of happy memories for me on this one. It only makes it into October by the skin of its teeth and if I had my way I'd drop kick it into dreary old November.
October is, of course, perhaps most famous, in the northern hemisphere, for autumn leaves. If you wanted to go and see the autumnal colour on the best trees, you’d most likely try and go in October. If you want to imagine kicking around piles of leaves on the floor in your wellies, you’d probably think of October.
September turns the green leaves brown, October winds then shake them down, Each Month Poem, Unknown
In my blog ‘The season of September’ I used half a quote, saying I was keeping the other half for October, and I’m sure you’ve been waiting eagerly for me to finish it. Well, wait no more. The first part went like this:
Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul…
And the full quote is…
Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul, but I must confess that I love you only because you are a prelude to my beloved October. Peggy Toney Horton
October is a month with a lot of beauty to it, and it’s a different type of beauty to that of spring and summer.
I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Stephen King in Salem’s Lot describes it like this:
But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you. Stephen King, Salem's Lot
I know what he means. Autumn does feel like a time of reflection, for reminiscing. As the weather gets cooler, darker and wetter we are forced to look back for memories of warmer months, and time outdoors, as to look forward is to look into the face of winter, and we’re not ready for that just yet. As I type this the wind is howling around our house, there are raindrops on the windows and my hands feel like ice (that may be menopause). Summer has officially left. And I’m not feeling romantic about the wet weather like Langston Hughes described:
Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. Langston Hughes
It’s more like rain slaps you, beats you about the head and then shouts at you to keep you awake at night. I mean there is still some warmth in the sun when it fights through the cloud, but it’s losing the battle most days now.
We also had a particularly dry, hot spell this year in the UK, and many of our trees and plants suffered because of it. A lot of the leaves on trees dried up and curled with the drought, meaning they’re not all displaying the full autumn beauty they might have done. It was like large parts of nature gave up early this year and we had to resign ourselves to the fact we wouldn’t see them again until spring. It feels a bit like we got cheated on the end of summer and many gardeners have had to just resign themselves it. Our acer tree is a great example of this, the colour on it at the moment is fantastic, bright reds that shine in the sun, but the leaves are slightly shrivelled from the drought and some of the ends of the branches are bear from where the frost bit last winter [see image at top of page]. All is not as it’s supposed to be.
Last October when I wrote my blog on the beauty of autumn and the hope it reminds us of, it was all around us. Our own garden was a beautiful display of reds, oranges and pinks, a perfect goodbye and last hurrah of the plant life. It gave me hope for the winter too. But this year feels different. For me personally and for nature.
This year I see the red coming through the leaves and it reminds me of a heart in pain. I see things trying to achieve autumn colour but their leaves are withered and tired. I see the other side of letting go and it’s not a beautiful release of the old, ready for the new, it’s the final sigh of a tough period when there’s no other option but to let go and face the winter ahead.
That might sound very depressing and melancholy, but I’m discovering in each of these month blogs, my reflections are guided so much by where I am on my own journey with grief and life. I fully believe that every month of every year could teach me something completely different purely depending on the season I'm in with life. It fascinates me that my blog on autumn last year was so hopeful and full of promise. And that will be how some of you are feeling now, and you’ll seek that blog out instead of this one perhaps, but for me, I’m not seeing October that way this time around, I’m seeing a film of sadness over nature.
There are two garden creatures that visit us at the moment that I’m having particular empathy with over the last two weeks. Lumpy and Scragglepie (he started as Scragpie, but as he is just scraggly, his name got elongated).
If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen Lumpy. He was a hedgehog that Chris spotted on the night camera with a giant lump on his back.
After consulting with the local Hedgehog rescue they suggested we catch him and bring him in. So we did. This story involved putting him in a cosy cardboard box overnight until they opened the next morning.
Seems straight forward, only as Lumpy was basically kidnapped by us after breakfast and was not inclined to think he’d spend the day in a box, he chewed his way out, made a right mess in our dining room, weeing and pooing everywhere (thank goodness we shut the door) and then got back in the box and went to sleep.
Anyway, turns out Lumpy was a girl, and she had an abscess that needed draining and she’s still in the rescue on antibiotics until she can come home and we can release her again, all being well.
Scragglepie, well he's is not the prettiest bird in the sky. Scraggle is a Magpie, but he doesn’t look like all the other Magpies that visit (which can be up to seven of them in the early morning, much to Chris’ disgust).
I noticed him visiting the garden, mostly on his own, as he preens himself on the fence, going about life, but seeming happy. Magpies get a very bad rep for their naughty behaviour and bullying but they are stunning birds. Usually. In Scraggle’s case his white chest is a dingy grey, his legs are too long because he’s missing feathers from around his thighs, which are pimpled and raw. His tail is thin and scrawny consisting of only two feathers.
I sort of got used to watching him and thought to myself ‘maybe he’s not that scraggly really’, and then a healthy Magpie landed on the other side of the garden and I was reminded how bad he looks. I like watching him outside my window, he comes nearly every morning, he’s clearly been through the wars but seems to enjoy the simple things, the sunshine, a hop across the grass, rubbing his beak on the fence...although the more I watch that behaviour the more I think he might just be itchy!
The other Magpies seem to hang out in pairs and apparently mate for life, but Scraggle is always alone. I caught him watching another couple of Magpies the other day and I just wanted to take him a big shiny coin, or whatever it is that brings him joy.
I think I’m slowly gathering a small group of children’s book characters that I can turn into a book one day, Lumpy and Scragglepie feel like they need to join ‘Ruffle Crow’ - a crow I noticed in the garden once that was all ruffled up to twice his size, which led me to wonder, what if there was a crow that was always that way, that didn’t fit in with the other crows and was often mistaken for a mop or duster, and Ruffle Crow was born.
So now I'm looking out into the rain and wondering if Lumpy or Scragglepie will make it through the winter? I’ll do my best to provide the food and shelter they might need, if they choose to use it, but ultimately as they say - 'what will be will be' and nature can be very cruel.
I think this is often the case for us too. In the throes of grief or loss we wonder the same thing - will we make it through the winter? Autumn is about loss and letting go and yes, that can be beautiful, but it can also be hard and heart-breaking.
For some of us this autumn we’ll be marvelling at the leaves, kicking them up into the air as we walk past (unless it’s a wet autumn then we just sink into soggy piles of them and get our shoes wet), and pausing to take in the beauty of the changing colours. For others, we’ll be feeling the loss of summer, the loss of sun, the loss of better days behind us, and yearning for something we can’t have.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to put into practice all I’m learning from our guests on the podcast and I’m realising how much of my grief, over not having a family, is still bubbling away underneath the day-to-day. My mum told me at the weekend that my great-grandma, who had a lot of stomach issues and kindly passed them down the generations to me, used to say; ‘My tummy’s on the bubble.’ I love that phrase, the older generations really had a way with words, especially with delicate toilet descriptions. My old Auntie Olwyn, when asking my brother if he needed a number two when he was young, would ask ‘Do you need to go to biggies?’ Brilliant. Anyway, I’ve decided there’s something in turning that first phrase (not the second) into ‘My grief is on the bubble.’ I think, for those of us living with a grief that pops up regularly, that sums it up perfectly. And when my grief is on the bubble I’m learning to listen to the tears that come when I don’t expect them, to see what they’re trying to tell me.
As I posted on social media this week;
Tears are the silent language of grief. Voltaire
I’m still working out why my heart is fragile and realising how I’ve focused on making sure other people are comfortable with our grief, and trying to delight in other people’s families (and often getting it wrong), instead of stopping to feel it for myself, and all this many years after the start of our childless journey. It highlights once again to me that grief takes many forms and it follows many different timelines. You might think that you would only grieve the loss of something directly after it happens, but that’s often not the case for many people. Some people can’t, some won’t, some don’t know how, some need to be there for others so don’t have the luxury of collapsing in a heap over it immediately. And that’s okay, you grieve when you need to grieve. Don’t listen to the comments of anyone else telling you ‘you should be over that by now’, or ‘why are you getting upset about it now?’ or ‘I knew you weren’t grieving at the time’ or ‘I didn’t think you’d fully come to terms with that.’ Sometimes grief is the silent navigating of your situation amid the normal day-to-day, and when you’re grieving a lot further down the line it might be that it needs to be a more private process, because maybe others won’t understand, but that’s okay, so long as you do it, that’s the main thing.
And as we know from the podcast, loss and grief are attached to so much more than death. So if you’re feeling the grief, but also feeling like you don’t have the right to fully grieve because you didn’t lose anyone, I want to remove that idea from your head right now. They say grief is love, and if that’s true then we can place our love, our affection, our pleasure or our energy into anything, not just people, and when those things go, it’s only right we miss them and grieve the loss and displacement of the love we had invested.
There are so many quotes about autumn being wonderful, colourful, joyful and full of delight, and that’s true in many ways, but it’s also a huge time of loss and preparation, a necessary time too. After all, without autumn loss we can’t have the spring.
So this autumn I want to say that it’s okay if you see either, or you see both. The beauty and the loss. I’ve experienced this a lot. When a friend has a baby, when I’m around a family unit, when I see a child with their new school books learning to read, when I hear parents explaining life to children - I see the beauty and I feel the loss. In fact you can only feel the loss of something when you see the beauty in it. I don’t feel the loss of a dead spider as much as I perhaps should, because there is no love there for them. And the intensity of the love and beauty dictates the intensity of the feelings of loss; whether that’s a young person, an old person, an animal, a career, a limb, a sense, a patient, a victim, an identity or a version of self.
Have you ever stood in front of something beautiful and it’s made you sad? I have, many times. I didn’t know why for a long time but exploring it more recently I think it’s because a broken heart isn’t able to hold all the love, joy and beauty you want it to, it leaks, and you feel it unable to hold the good things in.
I heard this line on Sweet Magnolias on Netflix this week:
Until you fall apart, we can’t put you back together. Sweet Magnolias
Sometimes you need to feel it all and fall apart, before you can heal and be whole again, holding your heart together with frayed bits of string won’t help it mend until all the grief is out, and beauty can remind us of this. But also when you stand before something beautiful you feel keenly aware of the fact it will end, either you’re going to walk away, or it will leave, fade or die. Sometimes, outside of our control, we connect with that aspect more than the beauty. If what we are left with when we are on our own is sad, then any beauty entering the situation almost highlights that. I think this is why one day I’d like to live with a beautiful view that inspires me every day without me having to do a thing to achieve it - a beauty that changes, but can’t leave and always returns. If you don’t quite understand this, or you’ve never felt it, then be very thankful, because that tells you that there is enough in your life that allows you to appreciate beauty as a delicious add on to life, it’s the cherry on the cake if it’s there, without it you still have cake. Never a bad thing.
And if you know this feeling all too well, then take courage in the fact that it’s natural, it’s not forever and it’s possible to hold both beauty and sadness in tension, just like autumn does so beautifully. But to get there you have to entertain your grief, converse with it, see it, feel it, listen to it, walk with it and allow it room to move and breathe, if the trees tried to ignore their dead leaves while also keeping hold of them, spring would never come. If you do this, over time, the intensity of the pain will change, you’ll grow around it and one day, the beauty will just be beauty again and you will stand, hand-in-hand with your grief and appreciate the beauty before you for the healing, joy and new life it can bring, rather than the tears.
You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast