• One Minnesota Writer

In October, I'm Embracing Pumpkins, Fall Colors, and Haiku

The pumpkin collection is expanding outside our front door. Our neighborhood hardware store has trailers of pumpkins from a local farmer for $4 each. On Sunday, Mick and I picked up four of them to join the three we already had. I can't resist warty orange or green or white pumpkins, stems bent, pieces of kinky curly vine still attached. I love the heft of pumpkins, the feel of the smooth skins some have, love the anticipation of carving the smoothest ones into jack-o-lanterns at the end of October. My family has shared in the carving over the years, my son showing a particular flair for intricate and ghoulish creations. One year, he carved such a magnificent barfing pumpkin that someone took it from our front step for their own. At least, we hope that was why it disappeared.

And whose attention isn't drawn to fall leaves? Their colors, their crinkle, their inviting piles waiting for someone's feet to jump in. As they leave behind now-naked limbs of trees, I particularly love trees that are old and twisted, their gnarliness ripe for sparking tall tales. I love the grasses, the way some turn yellow and brown and russet like a tapestry spread across the ground. The whole color scheme of autumn makes me feel warm, cozy, ready to pop a casserole into the oven, pour some red wine, get blankets ready for snuggling.

Few can resist this season. Before Mick and I went pumpkin shopping on Sunday, we took slow strolls around a couple of nearby places that offered just the right fall mood. It's impossible for me to be in these places without taking a picture or five, as if hanging onto these images will prolong the mood.

After a weekend of relishing pumpkins and changing leaves, Monday found me in the perfect frame of mind to sink into autumn haiku. I don't read a lot of haiku, but have had a copy of Robert Hass's The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa (New York: HarperCollins, 1994) for quite a while. I cracked it open, let poetry evoke more of this seasonal feeling I adore.

Below are a few from Bashō, whose work is at the beginning of the collection. Bashō lived, wrote, and taught in Japan from 1644-1694, and is considered one of the world's greatest poets. What I appreciate about the haiku below is much like what I appreciate about autumn: subtle changes that make me reflect, simple and familiar images whose power is there if we but look.

Harvest moon --
walking around the pond
all night long.

This road --
no one goes down it,
autumn evening.

What voice,
what song, spider,
in the autumn wind?

This autumn --
why am I growing old?
bird disappearing among clouds.

Deep autumn --
my neighbor,
how does he live, I wonder?

As I write this post, yellow needles fall from the white pines in back of our house. Bright gold birch leaves settle on the stairs off the deck. Purple asters lean to the side of the garden while small birds flit in and out of tangled plant stalks. The resident spider outside our front door has spun a web that fills the corner between the door and the side of our house. The past two mornings offered fog that softened everything for a few hours. Our next-door neighbor has stopped sitting on his back porch so often, his gait now slow and unsteady. The old couple who live on the other side of our house are in the same vein, their backs a bit curved, their hands as gnarled as those naked old trees I mentioned earlier. These observations are not sad. They are the expected changes of long lives, the settling of well-used bodies, the weathering of exteriors. They are today's reminder that nothing is permanent.

With impermanence so much on display, we are called to enjoy each second of this season, this bit of time that is a gift.

All photos by kcmickelson, 2021.

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