Fall fell one day last week and I was caught unprepared. I was still in a slow burn over the summer indignities, and plotting revenge, or wanting to, planning to, soon as I got to feeling like it. The season change crept in on little cat feet. Or to update and parochialize the figure of speech, it skulked up on silent coyote pads.
I hate all these coyotes we have around here now, doing their strophe and antistrophe with the ambulance sirens, peering with red eyes into my living quarters from the nearby woods every night, red-eyed with envy and contempt. Wildlife now vile and verminous, nothing like the lite bunny doodah when Uncle Remus was in charge. Roadkill waiting to happen.
You change the artificial flowers on the loved ones' graves at the cemetery from fake carnations to fake mums — that's the first order of fall business.
Then you wagon out the cornucopia and begin to fill it up with harvest gleanings to succor you and your'n through the coming cold. Indian corn goes in there, and gourds, and hickory nuts, and cranberry sauce, a washtub of giblets, and enough elderberry wine to fill up your cement pond. You always try to trap enough minks to make Momma a stole.
You want some apples to caramel or to make zombie dolls' heads of, and cotton bolls from which to spin your own homemade cotton candy to take to the fair and to football games, and you have to get it early because when them cotton bolls get rotten you can't pick very much cotton. In them old cotton fields back home.
Some quilting squares. Jerky. Some sassafras root to use as air freshener in the outhouse. Some sycamore leaves for your mice to use as pole rafts in case of a flash flood. Some quartz crystals to fix your harmonic convergence. The usual burrs, fronds, pods, and corms that go into commercial Potpourri. Arrowheads, lichens, mistletoe. It's a seasonal provincial ritual hereabout to spend an entire fall day shooting sprigs of mistletoe out of the top of a tall tree with a .22 rifle, all the while thinking, "God gave me a life and a place in history so I could do this?"
Also in your horn: Everything of the late Wilbur except the Jimmy Dean squeal. Fruitcake thingies. Sweet potatoes. Chestnuts for roasting on an open fire. I tried roasting some acorns and eating them at sunset one glorious fall day when I was out squirrel-hunting in the Hurricane Creek bottoms near Redfield and got turned around. Loster than the DeSoto party and fearful of starvation. Let me tell you something: Eat pine bark or swamp scum or dingleberries if it comes to that; but eschew acorns. I don't know how deer do it. I mean, I could've drunk a quart bottle of pure coal oil and not suffered half the innard grief. A peck of pickled peppers would've seemed ambrosia. You talk about fire in the hole.
Fall signifies another year passing. The days grow short when you reach September. And the shortness of the days serves as another reminder, as if we needed another reminder, of the shortness of all of it. Sometimes it seems long, as when you have insomnia, or a toothache, or you haven't yet got any, but the overall vote is overwhelmingly in favor of too short.
The Civil War was only yesterday, and George Washington turned the world upside down the day before. That's true only in a manner of speaking but it's literally true that I had a great-grandfather — my father's grandfather — who was born the same year as Abraham Lincoln. Just time enough for four of us Lancasters between Abraham Lincoln as a squalling newborn and now. Big picture, that's no time at all.
Creationists would tell you it's time enough for the dinosaurs to have come and gone, for majestic peaks to rear and then erode down into canyons. But screw creationists and the unicorns they rode in on. They also think Adam lived four-and-a-half times as long as from Rial L. drawing his first breath to Ol' Moi bidding fond farewell to the third rock from the sun, and I think that goes more to my point than theirs.
I guess fall is called fall because all the leaves fall, and their falling is definitely the downside of the fall-foilage business. Or it's one downside, here's another one: One October I heard a TV weatherman trying to tell how pretty the maple leaves were, and he called them "lipstick-hued." You might consider that a minor offense against a lesser Muse, but I wanted to go beat the guy up, and I'm still sorry I didn't.
A third downside is the gathering up and disposal. I usually burn my leaves that have been called home to Jesus — leaf-smoke is another of those fall essentials — but dry as it's been I reckon this fall I'll hold off.
The best pumpkin carving I ever did was a Sterling Holloway, and I meant for it to look like Sterling Holloway, but friends and acquaintances who admired it thought it looked more like Bro. Conrad Glover, our leading brimstone supplier around here for a generation.