“There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir.” — William Bliss Carman, “A Vagabond Song, st. 3”
From out my office window, I can see a portion of our side yard and a bit of the creek, the stone wall (ancient, listing, its top-line wobbly as a snake with sciatica; built by the hands of a man long gone to dust, back when this was all farm land), the maple known as the Dragon Tree (although the face one can clearly see in the bark is far more elvish than dragonic — the wide, up-tilted eyes and narrow pupil, the faintly disapproving expression of the mouth).
The tree has forgone its motley this year and opted for green and yellow, the crown gold as coins. That seems the case for most of the maples on the property. Time was when they blazed in glorious hues — russet and pumpkin, maize and emerald, blood-red. I wonder if these more subdued shades are the colors of their later years. Have they passed from an arboreal teenage-hood into something more adult, more dignified? (Should I? Not bloody likely.)
Plenty of leaves litter the yard; crisping, curling, brittle as parchment. They crackle underfoot — if you’re lucky, you know the sound — and release a smell of dusty attics and age. Not decay, at least not in the sense of flesh gone bad, but more a smell that evokes the passage of time. More than any other season, autumn reminds us of the passage of time and what is more autumn than the month of October?
It’s the month of pumpkins and mums, goldenrod and milkweed, apples, apple cider — and apple cider doughnuts! With the heat of summer in abeyance, baking resumes with a vengeance — breads both yeast and quick, cookies, pies (did I mention pumpkins and apples?). Hearty soups and stews return to the menu, stick-to-your-ribs meals, comfort food. And hot chocolate with marshmallows or whipped cream. Or both!
There is a quality to the air that calls to you, drawing you out-of-doors, pulling you into the wild wherever you can find it. Doesn’t have to be large; it could be your own backyard or neighborhood park. Could be an ocean beach or a wind-tossed lake. For myself, I have an almost uncontrollable urge to walk until my fingers and toes are cold, then hunker down beside a fire and drink something warm.
My husband grew up in southern Arizona where the lowest temps might reach in the 40s and the hottest over 100. He’s lived in New England now for almost sixteen years. This has been an experience for him, but one which he says he would not trade. “I like having seasons,” he says, and he means it. For me, never having known anything different, I can’t imagine the turning of a year without such obvious change.
What is it like in other places, places without autumn? I’m sure they have their subtle changes that come with each season — certain plants dying, others sprouting; certain animals appearing or vanishing — but I heartily admit to my prejudice. In the northern climes there is nothing — nothing! — like Fall.
And, to get you in the spirit (no pun intended), this:
ED’S HOT CHOCOLATE (makes 2-4 servings, depending upon the size of your mug)
1/4 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (try Ghiradelli)
4-6 teaspoons sugar
3 cups of milk (your choice – skim, low-fat, whole, or even half-n-half)
Stir the cocoa and sugar together in a medium heavy saucepan. Then vigorously stir in the milk (first by tablespoons and then in a slow, steady stream). Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, just until bubbles appear around the sides. Remove from heat and serve topped with ground nutmeg or cinnamon and whipped cream or marshmallows.
NOW, if you REALLY want to do this up right, before you make the cocoa, run a pan of really hot water and set your mugs in it to warm. While they’re warming, put a shot of irish cream liqueur and a shot of Frangelico in each glass so the alcohol also warms (without cooking off the alcohol). Add your hot cocoa, sit back, and ENJOY!