When I stepped outside Saturday morning, buzzards were roosting in a bare tree at the back of the yard. The plants had frozen during the week and, taken together, the natural signals set off a kind of frenzy in me. I harvested the carrots and whatever else was left growing and trimmed the shrubs to the ground, before spending the remainder of the day hacking back honeysuckle, pulling up ivy, and spreading mulch. I wanted clean lines, a sense of order.
When the seasons change, we talk about the weather: how cold it’s gotten, how early it’s getting dark, when the first snow will blow. It’s all code for something that’s happening inside of us. We used to have markers for this kind of thing. The saints’ feasts days connected nature to the church calendar, and connected the peasants to God, land, and each other. Only a few holidays survived the Reformation and the trip to the New World. Not that any American settler would have noticed. Scraping a living out of the land kept them in touch with what the Lakota called taku skan skan, what moves what moves.
Halloween, the least churchy of our holidays, hangs on because it serves the irreplaceable purpose of answering why we sometimes want to howl at the moon at the moment when the forces of the earth turn inside out. Instead of growing leaves and flowers, the plants pull their life force underground. So we follow suit, as Elizabeth Derby does in this week’s feature, by turning our thoughts to what’s not visible. Do we put on masks so we won’t be recognized? Or so we will?