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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2000 / 24 Tishrei 5761

Don Feder

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October: A rich spectacle -- OCTOBER is, hands down, my favorite month. There's something to be said for April, when the earth shrugs off its robe of winter slumber, and July, when lushness suffuses the landscape.

Ah, but October is nothing short of grand. Crisp mornings, warm afternoons, cool evenings. What could be more invigorating than the wake-up call of the early morning air in this vintage month?

I speak, of course, of a New England autumn, and why one would want to be anywhere else in October is beyond me. Here in sugar maple country, nature cloaks itself in riotous color. Trees catch fire, blazing with crimson, ocher and burnished gold.

The autumn, of which October is queen, is a time of new beginnings. Lazy days of sand and suntan lotion are behind us. We shake off summer's doldrums and lay the foundation for future progress. August is the Southern Hemisphere -- easy and indolent. October is Northern climes, brisk and busy, infused with a work ethic.

October is a rugged season; none of the simpering softness of spring here. It evokes images of a man in a plaid jacket, trudging home across a barren field in the last light of day, a spaniel at his side; high school gladiators locked in combat on a football field; animals laying on an extra layer of fat for winter hibernation.

October is the taste of mulled cider, the smell of a candle scorching the inside of a jack-o'-lantern, the sight of cattails waving in a marsh, of mist rising off a lake, of children joyously flinging themselves on leaf piles, of midget monsters on a confection raid, screaming down darkened streets.

Driving to a dinner one evening in late October, I caught sight of a flock of Canada gees, silhouetted against the moon, elegant creatures on a lonely mission. My heart went out to them. On a gray morning, I passed a white clapboard church, a ladder leaning against its side, its steeple storming heaven. Eternity, it whispered, echoing the month's message.

October is rich in memories: running 'round the school track, your tail toasty as the arctic end of an iceberg, a gym teacher snapping at your heels; feeling warm and wooly in a new argyle sweater; harvest fairs with corn stalks standing sentry over mounds of pumpkins; that aching romance of your freshman college year.

Now kissing a girl in the spring, when girls are shy as daffodils, is fine. And a summertime kiss, stolen on a moonlit terrace, has undeniable charm. But to kiss a lass after an October walk, her checks cold and flushed, her lips soft and yielding, is to taste love's elixir.

Why is it that the older I get, the more poignant October becomes? Is it because death stalks October, and its luster is a prelude to the white shroud soon to come? This is month is an aging, reckless playboy, knowing it's his last fling. It's as if nature, clinging tenaciously to life, determines to go out with a blaze of glory -- a splendid doom.

October is a metaphor for dying civilization, resplendent in its dotage. America today is October country: brilliant hues, dazzling scenes, frantic activity masking decay, like the bright colors of a life pile mingling with the musty odor of dissolution.

At October's close comes Halloween, haunted eve when the world is given over to nightmare creatures. Ghosts, goblins and ghouls caper about, daring us to refuse them a treat. Our own monsters, all too real -- sexual savages gnawing at the nation's moral innards, nihilists masquerading as artists, armies of angry mendicants, posturing politicians only too willing to sell us into slavery for a bag full of votes -- will dance on the rubble of civilization. Here are demons, intent on soaping society's windows, who won't be appeased by chocolate bars or candy corn.

Still, like the seasons, civilizations come and go. The passing of one gives nourishment to the next. After October, the world slides into a wintry grave, to await rebirth in the spring. After this life, life eternal beckons us.

October is a wistful time. Soon, the rains will come; the wind will bite; the snow will fly.

But that knowledge, far from depressing, only enhances our urgent pleasure in the rich spectacle.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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