Autumn – How I Have Missed Thee

It’s late October and a lot has happened since my last blog post back in January – and that’s pretty much the reason for the lack of blog posts!  In April I said goodbye to Australia and hello to Canada!  The amount of work involved in moving from one country to another cannot be underestimated – especially paperwork.  However, here I am now in Canada and loving it and I’m absolutely relishing my first autumn in six years.

Admittedly, there can be fewer places in the world more spectacular than the east coast of Canada in autumn, or Fall as they call it around here, and I am lucky to live in an older neighbourhood which is full of mature trees. During my daily walks I am surrounded by the golds, greens and reds of the native woodlands and my soul is soothed by the dance-like flutter of colours to the welcoming ground.

As my eye is drawn to the leaves at my feet I am struck by how different each one is – each leaf is its own unique combination of colour, shade and light. I’m fascinated how the same tree produces leaves of such varying hues but of course, despite coming from the same tree, each leaf’s story is different much like that of human beings.

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Autumn Leaves

Autumn, for me, is the season that asks us to consider perspectives, to have a look at life from another angle or at least consider that another perspective exists.

It’s one of the reasons I love this poem by Robert Frost.  It speaks of autumn and how his guest adores it and its stark beauty but she believes he doesn’t love it as much as her.  It addresses his guest’s perspective and her perception of him and in a subconscious manner his perspective of her.  In the end he concludes that despite his own love of “bare November days” she brings even greater enrichment of them with her praise as if it were a part of the autumnal landscape itself.

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me

Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

She walked the sodden pasture lane.

 

Her pleasure will not let me stay.

She talks and I am fain to list:

She’s glad the birds are gone away,

She’s glad her simple worsted gray

Is silver now with clinging mist.

 

The desolate, deserted trees,

The faded earth, the heavy sky,

The beauties she so truly sees,

She thinks I have no eye for these,

And vexes me for reason why.

 

Not yesterday I learned to know

The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow,

But it were vain to tell her so,

And they are better for her praise.

 

Robert Frost

The Other Side Of The Window

It’s that time of year again when the old Celtic festival of Samhain gets celebrated in its more modern incarnation – Halloween – in various parts of the globe. This mostly takes the form of donning costumes, making lanterns out of  pumpkins and letting one part terrified and 99 parts hyper children loose on our streets, chanting the well worn mantra, “trick or treat.”

I happened to be out walking with my own children at dusk the other evening and I asked them what did they want to do this year for Halloween.

“Nothing,” the little fella replied.

I was somewhat surprised as he usually has a plan regarding his costume, for the big night, a few weeks in advance.

“Huh?” I asked, “nothing?”

“Nope, nothing,” he confirmed.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of those creepy clowns,” he said in a voice that tapered off towards the end of his sentence as his eyes scanned the shadows, “they’re everywhere.”

“Yes, they’re everywhere!” His sister concurred in that all knowing voice reserved solely for use by big sisters.

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A bloody Creepy Clown!

I stopped walking.  I was a little bit on the concerned side at this point.  I don’t want a bunch of fools with nothing better to do than dress up as clowns and go around creeping people out turning my kids into a pair of agoraphobes.

“Hey guys,” I said, “come on, we’ve got to get this into perspective.  Those creepy clowns are nothing but a bunch of idiots with nothing better to do. And it’s not like there’s been any spotted around here.”

My children stood there in the half light, the looks on their faces telling me they remained unconvinced.

I soldiered on.

“Hey, those fools have more to fear from the people they’re trying to scare than the other way around,” I assured them.  “A few of them have been punched and beaten with baseball bats.”

The little fella seemed pleased with this news.

“Really?” he asked with a smile.

“Really,” I confirmed.

“Cool,” he announced, “I’m going to bring my baseball bat with me when I go trick or treating, that’ll send them a message.”

With that he walked on, quite happy now he had a plan to deal with the creepy clowns.

His sister looked at me.  “I’m not so sure the creepy clowns have too much to worry about from Baseball Bat Boy but I’ll think about it.”

“Okay,” I said as I fell in beside her as we resumed our walk.

My phone buzzed in my pocket.  I stopped to get it out.  My daughter walked on.  The night was nearly fully upon us.

Thirty seconds later I practically bumped into my daughter as I put my phone back in my pocket.  She was standing on a patch of grass looking at an old house.

“Creepy,” she whispered.

I looked at the house.  It’s one I am familiar with as its on one of my walking routes.  I’ve only ever seen it in the day time and it’s definitely on the creepy side.  However, here in the near dark of the night it looked positively sinister.

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The House

“There’s someone watching us,” my daughter said, her voice hushed.

I looked at the house, in particular at the windows in the centre of its structure.  I’d initially thought it was abandoned but every time I walk past it I feel like someone is watching me. However, I wasn’t about to mention this to my daughter!

“Oh, I think there’s been too much creepy talk tonight,” I laughed nervously.

She looked at the house and then she looked back at me.

“No, there’s something in there,” she said, quite certain, “on the other side of that window.”

Silence fell between us.  I don’t believe in dismissing my children’s feelings on things. I’ve never uttered the words, “don’t be silly” when it comes  to situations where they feel uncertain.  I want them to develop and hone their instincts so that they learn to trust them, thereby following them and staying as safe as possible in an increasingly unsafe world. On the other hand I don’t believe in them scaring the shit out of themselves either! There’s a fine line that needs to be tread here and I was grappling to find my way along it in the Brisbane moonlight the other night.

Thankfully, Baseball Bat Boy saved my ass.

“Hey!” He shouted from down the street, “what are you two doing?  I’m getting creeped out here all by myself!”

“Okay!” I hollered back, “we’re coming!”

I placed my hand in the small of my daughter’s back and gently nudged her along.  There was no hesitation on her part but she was still looking up at the window.  The very same window I always feel there is someone on the other side of  – looking at me as I pass.

Later that night I dreamed of a house from my own childhood, a house I was terrified of. It was a beautiful old property surrounded by ancient trees and it had a huge, shiny green door with an enormous brass knocker.  However, to my ten year old’s mind, it always seemed dark.  Even on the brightest of days you could never see through its dark windows. I never saw a living soul at that house but always felt like someone was watching me as I walked by.  Other kids used to take a shortcut through its grounds or climb its trees on their way home but me, never.  I never set foot within its domain.

Was there something sinister there or was my fear of this house a result of my exceptionally overactive childhood imagination – something my daughter has in common with me.  I don’t know but I do know this: whenever I’ve trusted my instincts in my life, they’ve never, absolutely never, been wrong.

And on that note I would like to wish you a safe and not too scary Samhain.

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Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year again where children of the western world dress up in an array of costumes and go out, under cover of darkness, to knock on doors, whereupon they trot out the words, “trick or treat” to whoever answers the aforementioned door before sticking a bag under their nose into which they expect to receive all manner of sweets and treats.  Ah yes, Halloween, the great American festival of carved pumpkins and children hopped up on sugar and additives.  Except it isn’t.

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A Classic Halloween Pumpkin

I was shocked to see a number of posts across social media in the last few days where people clearly believed Halloween started in America.  Okay, perhaps its current incarnation of pumpkins and candies has more to do with popular American culture than anything else but the tradition of Halloween is thousands of years old and has its origins in Celtic culture and many of the activities associated with this night of chaos and mischief come from Ireland.

The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain, which signified the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was believed on this night the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead became unstable and the souls of the dead could come back to earth.  Candles were lit to guide the paths of loved ones and a place would be set for them at the table, where food would be left for them (treats). Of course not all the returning souls were good ones and just as the barriers between the living and the dead of the human world were less stable on this night so were the barriers between the human world and the “other” world, the world of supernatural creatures such as fairies, puca and banshees. All manner of magical creatures were believed to roam the earth on the night of Samhain, so precautions were taken such as leaving food outside the house in the hope the hungry creatures from the otherworld would take it and pass by your door.  People also dressed themselves in costumes and disguises in order to trick the souls of the dead and the creatures who may wish to take them back to their worlds.

Photo of old cloth mask in display cabinet

Old Halloween Mask From Ireland

Due to the increased presence of mystical creatures on the night of Samhain it was believed the human world was richer in magic than at any other point in the year and that this aided the druids in making their predictions for the year ahead.  Therefore, Samhain also became associated with divination.  One of my favourite childhood memories is of the barnbreac, a traditional Irish fruitbread. On Oiche Shamhna (Halloween) the breac would be baked with a tiny piece of cloth, a ring, a pea and a coin.  If you found the piece of cloth in your slice then this would signify hard financial times for the year ahead.  The pea signified ill health if it was black, the coin meant prosperity and the ring meant your were going to meet the love of your life or become betrothed.  It was always great fun to see who got the ring!

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Barnbreac – Traditional Cake Eaten On Halloween In Ireland

All sorts of divination formed part of the traditional celebrations but sadly very few of them have survived to this day, even in Ireland.  As the centuries passed the Celtic festival of Samhain became intertwined with the Roman feast of Pomona – celebration of the harvest and then of course the Catholics came along and hijacked the event altogether with Pope Boniface in the seventh century declaring November first, All Souls Day.  The night before became known as All Hallow’s Eve from which we get Halloween.

It’s still a big night in Ireland even though we no longer have bonfires or fireworks. Barnbreacs still get eaten with big mugs of tea around blazing fires but only the ring has survived as part of the Samhain fun.  Nowadays, the celebration is more likely to resemble the American version of carved pumpkins and children going from house to house looking for treats but I like to think that underneath it all our ancient Celtic heart still beats.

Black and white representation of the banshee

Cover Your Ears If You Hear the Call Of The Banshee Or Your Death Will Surely Follow!