The October Country

My favorite season has arrived, bringing chilly mornings, spectacularly colorful trees standing heroically against a bright blue sky, blustery breezes that carry golden leaves to peculiar places, stink bugs clinging to the doors and windows waiting patiently to invade, and the comfort of sunlight warming my back.

A hot cup of tea tastes especially good in autumn. My dog moves faster on the walk–is it the cool air or scent of other dogs, suddenly more vivid now?

The squawk of birds and the song of the garden wind chimes are challenged by the rumble, rattle and whine of power tools. Our Home Owners Association hired an especially picky person to do exterior inspections this season.  The angry howls from my neighbors went up last month about the indignity, unfairness and capriciousness of the multi-page, copiously illustrated list of violations. This month, I hear the pressure washers, nail guns and skill saws rushing to meet the November 1 fix-it-or-else deadline.

One strangely wonderful thing occurred: people I never knew came up to me to complain about their inspection and tell me about that house down street whose inhabitants never did this or that, or wanted to raise chickens in their backyard. We found a common enemy. We few, we angry few, we band of owners–whoever had to spend money this month on useless exterior repairs was my brother.

Or sister.

To show the neighborhood what our newly increased HOA fees can do, a different inspector came around and marked sections of the sidewalk with a day-glo orange X. A week later these sections were blasted apart with a jackhammer and replaced with new concrete whose palid, corpse-hair gray didn’t match the older, sunbaked slabs. The neighborhood kids quickly customized these with their initials and, on one near my house, an obscene graffito.

As one among those whose jobs keep them at home, I savor the quiet moments when jets aren’t roaring overhead, the bad brakes on delivery trucks aren’t squealing, the one car with the bad muffler doesn’t grumble through the morning mist, the coy bleeting of a car responding to a remote lock or unlock signal, the amplified pop music from kids’ phones isn’t broadcasting–like the boom boxes of an earlier generation–the dubious taste of the listener.

The soundtrack of my life was once filled with music from several thousand recordings that changed from vinyl discs to “compact” discs and now, digital files, some of which my Ipod won’t play because I bought them back when Apple decided that you can store your music on only five hard drives. When you buy you’re sixth computer, you learn that the soundtrack of your life was never fully yours.

As much as I love that music, the more I find out about the composers, the musicians who performed it, the recording companies that made and ruined musicians’ reputations and did their best not to pay royalties and now, the digital gate keepers so certain that artists should make art for the luminous thrill of creation rather than anything as tawdry as money, not to mention the concert promoters who will sell you a stadium ticket that costs the equivalent of ten trips to the supermarket just to see your favorite band from a seat that gives you a better view of the city skyline than the tiny people on the stage–the more I want to listen to something else.

So, in these days before the cold air will force me to close the window, I listen to the wind chimes and the sounds of other people doing so many, many things until that first, marvelous night of snow, when we’ll wake up and see the naughty illustration on the sidewalk covered in a smooth flow of white that will soften the edges of the neighborhood and make our slumbering cars resemble enormous sheetcakes waiting for birthday candles.

My wife, the dog and I will put on our big boots (yes, we have boots for the dog) and go for a walk. The snow will crunch obediently under our feet. Our dog will do what dogs must and change the color of the snow in strategic places. Where every little thing had a noise to call its own, we will pause as the snow absorbs every sound but the sigh of our breath frosting in front of us.

Until the cars wake up, the snow blowers growl, the snowplows come to seal your car into a wall of packed ice just after you dug it out, and the October country, with its swish of store-bought Halloween costumes, squeaky cries of “trick or treat,” and parental admonishments, delivered while holding the latest cellphone, about the unholy torments awaiting those who take too much candy, will have come and gone.



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