October 26, 2010 • 6:20 pm

No writer has better captured the color and feel of our country than Thomas Wolfe. From Of Time and the River:

Now October has come again which in our land is different from October in the other lands.  The ripe, the golden month has come again, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.  Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons, and all things living on the earth turn home again. The country is so big that you cannot say that the country has the same October. In Maine, the frost comes sharp and quick as driven nails, just for a week or so the woods, all of the bright and bitter leaves, flare up; the maples turn a blazing bitter red, and other leaves turn yellow like a living light, falling upon you as you walk the woods, falling about you like small pieces of the sun so that you cannot say that sunlight shakes and flutters on the ground, and where the leaves. . .

October is the richest of the seasons: the fields are cut, the granaries are full, the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness, and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run.  The bee bores to the belly of the yellowed grape, the fly gets old and fat and blue, he buzzes loud, crawls slow, creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling, the sun goes down in blood and pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of old October.

The corn is shocked: it sticks out in hard yellow rows upon dried ears, fit now for great red barns in Pennsylvania, and the big stained teeth of crunching horses. The indolent hooves kick swiftly at the boards, the barn is sweet with hay and leather, wood and apples—this, and the clean dry crunching of the teeth is all:  the sweat, the labor, and the plow is over. The late pears mellow on a sunny shelf, smoked hams hang to the warped barn rafters; the pantry shelves are loaded with 300 jars of fruit. Meanwhile the leaves are turning, turning up in Maine, the chestnut burrs plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.

16 thoughts on “October

  1. Thanks to AGW, the liminal seasons will soon become a maudlin memory only sustainable via retroactive theme parks. “Remember October in 2010? Those were the days…”

  2. Herbsttag

    Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
    Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
    und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

    Befiehl den letzten Früchten, voll zu sein;
    gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
    dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
    die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

    Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
    Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
    wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
    und wird in den Alleen hin und her
    unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

    Rainer Maria Rilke

  3. Very nice, and since both chestnuts and chinkapins (chinquapins) are mentioned, some of you may know that many consider both extinct, from an Asian fungus that started spreading from the Bronx in 1904. But they’re not, and if the Am Chestnut Fdn succeeds in pulling the genes for resistance in from the Chinese trees, American chestnut may well reign again over the Appalachian forests.



    And for the molecularly inclined, there’s even a capsidless dsRNA hypovirus that attenuates the fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) and that is again attracting interest (after initial discovery in the early ’70s of a hypovirulent strain of the fungus; now it’s known that the hypovirulence results from the hypovirus).

    1. Don’t you also have problems in the northeast US from invasive Ailanthus altissima – Tree of Heaven? They seem to be spreading in London – they grow at an astonishing rate.

      1. Ugh! Ailanthus! Indeed, they’re a problem, but it’s been pointed out to me that Ailanthus doesn’t compete in the forest – it’s mainly found at the periphery – and that seems to be the case. The cool thing about chestnut is that it requires acidic soil, and likes rocky, well-drained slopes (hence the original Appalachian range). Wherever I see Ailanthus growing in road cuts I see a good place to put some chestnuts. They will also grow in the rocky rubble aftermath of strip mining and are being tested with apparently good results in reclamation efforts. Also, the growth rate is very impressive, on the order of tulip poplar, so once the right set of genes is successfully incorporated into an American background, reintroduction should be able to move at a good pace. (The third backcross generation is beginning to be raised now and results from testing should start to be available in a few years.)

        All this has largely been possible since the fungus doesn’t kill the roots, which continue to send up saplings that occasionally survive long enough to produce nuts for a year or two, so the germplasm was available for crossing. Paradoxically, in the south, root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi) has emerged as a big problem, but very recent research indicates that a single locus is responsible and an allele for resistance is already in the American genome, so that may be easily solved.

        1. The European Sweet chestnut is also a Castanea.

          I seem to recall that Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) & Ailanthus are both allelopathic & inhibit the growth of rival species.

          1. Indeed, European chestnut (Castanea sativa), just like Chinese chestnut (C molissima) can be crossed with American (C dentata). But molissima displays the best natural resistance to the fungus, which began to appear in Europe in the 1930s. Sativa’s success against Cryphonectria is in part due to the hypovirus, which was discovered there in Italy. Dunno about allelopathy in either Ailanthus or Aesculus, but at least Ailanthus doesn’t seem to inhibit grape vines.

            Walnut trees, on the other hand, seem to be the best at killing everything underneath them.

          2. And BTW, if anyone’s still looking back on this thread, the Asian origin of the fungus wasn’t just deduced, as I long supposed, it was tracked to the source by Frank N Meyer (aka Frank N Meyers), a “plant explorer” for the USDA. You can read the account written by my pal Bill Lord, ex Park Ranger & retired veterinarian who saw brief action in the Battle of the Bulge, and is as like-minded as the vast majority of us here when it comes to the usual topics. He’ll soon turn 90: http://sfr.psu.edu/public/chestnut/breeding/blight/tracking

  4. We’re having a lovely Summer here in the Valley of the Sun this October. Why, Friday may even be the last 90°+ day of the season!

    I’m looking forward to Autumn, which should start in a couple weeks. That’ll last until mid-January, when we should get, oh…at least a couple days of Winter before Spring. Summer will return in March, if not February, followed by at least a few months of Hell starting no later than June. What with AGW and all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hell arrive in May this coming year.



  5. I too thought of poetry when reading this – Keats’ Ode to Autumn; but it’s slightly weird to think of this now in Australia – you northerners don’t know it, but the REAL season now is in fact spring, not autumn.

    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
    To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

  6. That ruddy hue is all down to carotene – so science illuminates our views of nature.

    The rawish dank of clumsy winter ramps
    The fluent summer’s vein, and drizzling sleet
    Chilleth the wan bleak cheek of the numbed earth,
    Whilst snarling gusts nibble the juiceless leaves
    From the naked shuddering branch, and pills the skin
    From off the soft and delicate aspects.

    [Marston (Antonio’s Revenge) – I love Elizabethan & Jacobean poetry.]

  7. This is very nice, indeed. It reminds me of a poem by Riley, that my Grandpa always used to read around Thanksgiving time:
    James Whitcomb Riley. 1853–1916

    “When the Frost is on the Punkin”

    WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
    And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
    And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
    And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
    O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
    With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
    As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
    When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
    Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
    And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
    But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
    Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
    Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
    And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
    The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
    A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
    The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
    The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
    O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
    Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
    And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
    With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!…
    I don’t know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
    As the angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
    I’d want to ‘commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

  8. Washington Irving,

    It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory- nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble field.

    The small birds were taking their farewell banquets. In the fullness of their revelry, they fluttered, chirping and frolicking from bush to bush, and tree to tree, capricious from the very profusion and variety around them. There was the honest cockrobin, the favorite game of stripling sportsmen, with its loud querulous note; and the twittering blackbirds flying in sable clouds, and the golden- winged woodpecker with his crimson crest, his broad black gorget, and splendid plumage; and the cedar-bird, with its red tipt wings and yellow-tipt tail and its little monteiro cap of feathers; and the blue jay, that noisy coxcomb, in his gay light blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bobbing and bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.

    As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples: some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty- pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slap-jacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

  9. That description explains why I believe Thanksgiving should be in October. A couple of days to really look at how beautiful nature looks and not be in a holiday frenzy.

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