The Rise and Fall of October

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All this talk about the stock market and its fickle fortunes reminded me of this column I wrote ten years ago, when the stock market did its last dip and roll. What is it about October? Here’s my column from October, 1998:

My mother was born in the month of October, a fiery month. According to astrologists, she was a Scorpio: passionate, strong-willed, secretive and with a tendency to enslave. The stock market crashed in the month of October. It happened on my mother’s 13th birthday, an unlucky day. She says it was the quietest birthday she ever had. She remembers the silence at the dinner table and the ticking of the hallway clock. The stock market has fallen again, and again, in October, causing financial analysts to wonder why. What is there about the month of October that brings the markets down?

All I can think of is our world of green, green leaves turning and falling, not a crash but a gentle emptying of the pockets of summer.

October is my favorite month. It is the apocalypse of our year, the crescendo of all the heat and creativity of the summer months. The frost has come and brought rest to the weary gardener but there is still the pageant ahead, the great color show we wait for all year. I am trying to think of a natural event so celebrated as the foliage and I can’t think of one. Here in New England, it becomes the focus of our days. We talk about “peak” and the television weathermen give us percentages: when the color in the forests comes into its absolute fullness, it is 100% but it is the approach we anticipate: In Burlington the foliage can be assessed at 75% while we remain at 35%, which means we have a lot more in store for us. And it is a movable feast: when our foliage deserts us, we can journey south and find more. Like starry-eyed lovers, we seem to forget the good times that have come before. We love the one we’re with: “I don’t remember a year when it was this good, do you?”

But, of course, like the market, there are risks. Heavy rain can bring the leaves off the trees before their time. High winds can do that too. And all the folks who have traveled so far to see this annual show return home to report that this business of the foliage is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh, but it is! The thing is that you have to be here for the entire performance. Taking in a scene or two is just that: incomplete. A quote out of context. Living here, inside the drama, we watch the spectrum turn, a wide prism of the natural world that revolves at the pace of the turning of the earth. That tree that was tinted red yesterday is more intense today and then, gradually, like the flame turned up on a lamp, it’s brilliant, unimaginably red.

If we speculate in foliage futures, we will lose. Our role is to stand back and observe. If the show disappoints, there is always next year. And, in the meantime, a small corner of foliage paradise can always be found, in a particular tree that outdoes all the rest or a small canvas of bittersweet and woodbine where the color outranks the disappointing browns that surround it.

It was predictable that my mother loved the fall. She looked on it as an opera performed just for her and her exclamations of pleasure over a particularly fiery tree very nearly caused accidents. “Oh!” she would gasp as we drove along a back road and my startled father would hastily apply his brakes, thinking she was trying to alert him to our imminent demise. But, no, it was only an oncoming tree in stunning hue.

As for my mother and the stock market and the shades of autumn, I think that all three were born under the sign of Scorpio: passionate, strong-willed, secretive and with a tendency to enslave. Pretty dicey characteristics. Just the same, I’ll put my money on October, any day.

  • As I write this – I`am looking out at Beautiful Fresh Pond on Block Island – Across the Pond from Me the Green is all gone except in the Middle of all this Brown and Grays is One Lonely Green Tree (A Pine I imagine) but all along the Pond on both sides are the Beautiful Winterberries and Bittersweet in all their Glory-it is truly a Picture that cannot be captured by Photographer or Artist. – “Then Who ?” – Nuff said.

  • The show is winding down but here in Salem MA I still see signs of color. All along my street I have sugar maples that are late (for the season) and they are varying shades of gold/yellow, brown and green with a few mostly bare but many fully leafed… The show has been gorgous this year and now I make plans and can’t wait for next year…!!!


  • From my office window I can see a good-sized maple, ablaze in orange, now losing its top leaves. There’s a carpet of fallen leaves encircling the tree and the still-green grass spreads out along the hill below. I’m so happy to have that bit of foliage paradise outside my window.

  • I was married in October, 1980. We had planned to take all of these stunning pictures outside amongst all of the color-I anticipated some beautiful shots but alas, it poured all day long, the leaves fell from the trees and no pictures were taken outside! But I still love October the best of all the months of the year. Such beauty you can’t describe you can only take in and enjoy!


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