Looking way back there is the obvious, of course…the childhood anticipation of Halloween and then the event itself, carried out on suburban streets of Mountain View with seeming throngs of other children all giddy and anxious in the warm peninsula night. But there was so much else beyond that and ahead of me. So many more Octobers to be spent throughout the west. So many defining events.
I never knew October had color until I moved to the southwest. Before that time, all I had ever noticed was the reddening poison oak in the bay area foothills, the burnished wild buckwheat in the chaparral. But in the Four Corners country I came to know and anticipate the explosion of yellow rabbit brush and snakeweed in the high desert, the tiny bursts of purple aster in grassy grottoes, the astonishing scarlet hues of maple and gambel oak on the mesas, and the golden turn of cottonwoods and box elder in canyon bottoms and arroyos. And topping it all off, nature usually saw fit to place this palette of color against a backdrop of deep blue skies and calm, quiet days. The pulse of Indian summer.
There are the other memories as well. Gratefully losing my virginity one college October in a small San Francisco flat. Marching with half a million people to Golden Gate Park in October, 1969 protesting the war. The birth of my youngest daughter in New Mexico in early October when the smell of roasting chilis hung heavy over the city along with hundreds of hot air balloons. A romantic rendezvous in Durango and Santa Fe. The hot October in southern Arizona when I labored to save a failing love affair. A walk among tufa towers at Mono Lake. A fabulous float on the Colorado River on the Utah/Colorado border. The myriad trips to mesa, mountain, and canyon to revel in that short, welcome window of Octoberness.
And now there are the homey Octobers. Harvesting the last few tomatoes and zucchini in the garden. Canning the remaining apples. Celebrating Lindsay’s birthday. Winterizing the house. Trotting out the old Halloween decorations. Walking my daughter home from school through streets with long shadows and sunlit sycamores. And waiting and watching for those noble cottonwoods to turn. October washes ageless over me and buffers me somehow against the grim realities and upheavals beyond 9th Street. It almost never disappoints or distorts. I am forever bound to its rhythms and promises. There is autumn, and then there is October.