Saturday, October 31, 2009

No Mask

Awake on Halloween morning at 4 a.m. Head downstairs in the dark to feed the cat, barefoot, half-clad, then pause on the landing on the way back to bed. The moon is setting in a hazy sky behind the western trees. Normally it wouldn’t be visible at this point in its circuit, but on the last day of October most of the trees are shorn. Rather than impenetrable woods, I see what looks like a loosely milling crowd – a crowd of trees. There are breaks between the cherry and maple and pine and locust, and in one of those gaps the moon shivers in its last silvery moments.

I, too, shiver, although the night air holds no real chill and the date itself carries no superstitious weight. The traditions of Halloween mean nothing to me, but October 31st feels important because it signifies, locally and unofficially, the beginning of winter. We’ve been fortunate to see no snow flurries yet, but it’s just a matter of time, and that awareness feels more foreboding than any collection of ghosts or goblins. The house seems to shudder, too -- a function of the wind, which hits in waves. I feel a draft whistle through the big picture window, which seems as good an indicator as any that I should go back to sleep.

Three hours later it’s a more reasonable version of morning. That is, we have some light. The sun is rising beyond the eastern trees and, because they’re at a greater distance than those in the west, there’s no observable glow behind what appears to be a dense, black ridge, an arboreal wall. I know the sun will rise soon only because it has risen in the morning for the last 50 years of my life. It’s the kind of quotidian faith I take comfort in, a reliability not always offered by the natural world or, for that matter, our human world.

The wind is still loud, still rattling trees and shaking the house in intervals. It’s a southern wind, and the air is mild, but the mildness is misleading. The wind packs a wallop and has ripped most of the leaves from the trees. They lay in heaps, almost neatly, as though some neighborhood handyman tried to impose order on chaos. The tenacious few that remain look like umbrellas inverted in a gale, or squash blossoms oddly placed on high rather than trailing on garden vines.

As though to support the mildness of the air and contradict the persistent bullying of the wind, we have what I like to call a Rothko sky. Distinct bands of red and russet and gold swipe long swaths across my field of vision. Fall colors on the ground, fall colors in the sky. In the distance, the composition appears calm and dignified. Close up, in the yard, a gust hits the cherry trees with such force their branches extend in a horizontal choreography. The yellow and green and orange-tinged leaves whip sideways, making them look like a school of fluorescent fish shimmying in place.

I have many hours of work ahead of me, and no reason to think of costumes and masks, no reason, really, to be concerned with weather or seasons or the swiftly ticking clock. Around me I see the naked world, an undisguised world, and that world offers, today, both the elegance and embellishment of an abandoned cathedral. If I thought someone might hear, I might say amen.


  1. Excellent essay Donna. I look forward to these. Your writing reflects an appreciation for things bucolic and simple, exclusive of routine complications which tend to clutter or make ordinary our otherwise extraordinary lives!!

  2. on my drive home from work, i passed a sloped, grassy bank of yellow-orange leaves. the wind blew across the road, and the leaves curled and peeled back together, in one singular motion, whole, like a sheet being thrown off a sleeping body. i think i did say amen.