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At the turning

Published: October 7, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.


This is the story told at this time each year with a regularity as sure as the beating of a young heart. The day it would cease to be told: That indeed is the day my own heart would cease to be young, and I would wish then that it should beat no longer. Come now to the orchard, and witness the story with me as it is told once more…

I didnt like Mrs. Laing, my fifth-grade teacher. Then again, I pretty much hated all of them. She would give us handwriting practice by dictation, reciting slowly so that we could write it down. She would dictate poems like the verse that follows, and I still remember them all by heart:

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood –
Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

Bliss Carman, A Vagabond Song

It strikes me as interesting that the Jewish New Year begins at this time, for I always felt, growing up in New England, that now was indeed the real start of the year. For me it was the returning to school and to the teachers I didnt like. I concede theres just something magic, albeit trite to mention, in the ritual of buying those brand-new school supplies and shiny shoes. And then, of course, Halloween and Thanksgiving, during which time those same teachers would give us paper, scissors, and crayons, and wed cut and color little pumpkins, witches, Pilgrims, turkeys yes, I think youve been there too. But there was more, a feeling, something I never gave enough thought to that I could put it into words. I speak of the turning.

Friends, have you felt it yet? The crispness of the cooler air that blows in for just a few hours? The crunch of a lone dry leaf beneath your feet? Different stars, shining just a bit clearer? The long, dark afternoons that impart a certain deep chill, a twilight fever that comes even if you are well-bundled up? The morning frost? Will you fall under its spell? I say to you: Surrender to it when it comes;

let it consume you. Its beauty will make you tremble.

I celebrate the new season by lonely pilgrimage to the apple orchard with my dog, Qimmeq (See him up there? Say KEE-meck), and I think this annual excursion means as much for him as for me. We pick no less than half a bushel each season, but a full bushels a real bumper-crop. What follows, of course, is pies, so expect to see some soon at a random club meeting (the only day I know youll want me in your club). May your school memories may be infused with cinnamon and nutmeg… A bushel, by the way, is four pecks, in case youre befuddled. 😛 (Yes, Samantha, we did put a smiley in a newspaper.)

The season of the pumpkin and the witch follows in October, as does the height of the color show in the leaves. I like to roast and salt pumpkin seeds on those long, dark afternoons. With Halloween we confront the demons of our fears by mocking them. Sadly, the demons out there in the world today are all too real. I merely seek comfort in all that is familiar and warm: The taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and apples;

the feel of flannel;

and all that well-loved verse. Its really all we can do. Say, if familiar memories give me such peace, then I owe my humblest gratitude to Mrs. Laing, wherever she may be, and likewise to all the teachers who subtly, artfully infused my soul with indelible memory like warm spice.

Feel the afternoon cold? The fear? Not sure whether its from draft or demon? Put on a second layer of socks, heat some cider in a thick-lipped mug with a cinnamon-stick, and curl up in a blanket (makes that book easier to read, doesnt it?). Now doze off to the sound of the howling wind wherein you can hear the enchantment of the Turning. This is the changing of the seasons in New England, a magic story told each year in the depths of a young heart. From mine to yours:

Lshana tova.

horseradish