FOR EVERYONE, A PUMPKIN

Pumpkin Church

When you drop by my little site, please leave with an armful of bright orange pumpkin. Carry it, cradle it, hug it to your breast. It is yours to do with as you will. You can do no wrong as long as it brings you joy and makes you smile.

Carve it or cook it. Stand it on your doorposts with a painted scowl or a sunshiny smile. Celebrate the growth of the earth or the remembrance of the dead.

Dress your pumpkin as dreadful death. Or leave it naked to the elements. A pumpkin can be food for your body, a pie of total delight and a scent rising to heaven. May I share? Or it can be candy for all eyes, the richest color plucked from a season of rich colors.

Come to my place and take your pumpkin. Pumpkins, pumpkins for all the world. Pumpkins are waiting for you. You may pick the best or the least of the bounty I offer.

THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

In the dark, glowing Jack O Lanterns

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot!). … but lacking that, any horror movie would do. It was the centerpiece of the weekend’s entertainment … in addition to the fun of getting together to see each other.

Devil Jones rubberThe last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down on Long Island,  the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.” It sounded like a horror movie to them. Devil? Halloween. Right?

Given the audience and its condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties were more elaborate, bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at theme parks … but the year we all watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was definitely one of your finer efforts.

Image

HAPPY WHATEVER

75-PunkinsZS19-MAR-24 It’s not Halloween yet, but the posts are up on Facebook proclaiming that “Merry Christmas” is the only correct way to greet people during this season of fellowship and good cheer. To say “Happy Holidays” is anti Christmas. Anti Christian. Part of an international plot to destroy Christmas. What, you didn’t know that? Well, neither did I but I have been recently enlightened. I had to restrain myself from buying the book. It was on sale on (where else?) Facebook, called something like (I should have saved the link) “The Conspiracy (Plot?) to Eliminate (Eradicate?) Christmas.” Clearly there’s more to the story, but I leave it to others to fill in those blanks. Or not.

Happy Christmas, painted by Johansen Viggo

If ever an argument was perfectly designed to suck the joy out of the season, this is it. Sure, let’s make everyone feel self-conscious about wishing someone else a happy whatever. I’m pretty sure these are the same people who complain about excessive political correctness and/or the continued (obviously) anti-Christian separation of church and state. I never cease being amazed how some folks can hold completely contradictory opinions without noticing the irony, much less the illogic. But, as usual, I digress.

Call me insensitive, but I don’t see how a greeting as bland as Happy Holidays can be anti anything. It is neutral and inclusive. For those who haven’t noticed, there are a lot of holidays bundled into this short season. Christmas is just one of them so whatever you say in greeting is fine with me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the thought that counts.

Two red chairs Why in the world does it matter to anyone what holidays I celebrate or how I celebrate them? If I’m not preventing you from doing whatever you want to do in your own home, your own church, what is your problem? Celebrate Christmas. Deck the halls. Decorate trees. String lights. Dress up as Santa. Go caroling. Put a manger with baby Jesus on your front lawn. I’m not Christian, don’t want to be, but that doesn’t mean I’m against you.

But. Please don’t put your crèche in my yard or the middle of my town. There are plenty of churches in town. They put up lots of Christmas displays. If that’s not enough, sorry, but it’s my world too. I’m not anti Christian and I’m not persecuting you or anyone. I’m merely trying to enjoy the season. My way. I won’t be offended if you wish me a Merry Christmas. Feel free to wish me happy anything and I’ll be delighted to wish you a happy whatever in return.

96-SantaPops-12-9-12_121 I think every person of every faith or no faith is entitled to celebrate — or not celebrate — the season however they want. Stop prating how others are disrespecting your faith while you trample roughshod over theirs. A lot of Christians are an embarrassment to Jesus, who was a proper Rabbi and a good Jew.

So what’s it to you if I want to celebrate the Winter Solstice while you celebrate Christmas? Let’s have more parties, more festivals. More happiness. Be of good cheer. We don’t need more acrimony.

The holidays are coming like a freight train on a long downhill run, stopping for no one and nothing. It doesn’t matter to me how you express your joy in the season. Just be happy. For yourself. For all of us. Stop being petty and mean-spirited. Christianity isn’t the only or oldest faith. No one owns the franchise on holidays. Show some of that Christian spirit and love your neighbor. Or at least pretend.

And have a wonderful season! 96-ChristmasCommons-12-9-12_134

Bumps in the night

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!
– Traditional Scottish Prayer

I’ve never met a ghoul and I have questions about long-legged beasties, but I can speak from personal experience about Things That Go Bump in the Night. Long ago in a house far away, we had our own ghosts. Friendly ghosts or at least, friendly to us.

Ghosts have been part of human mythology as long as tales have been told around campfires. Maybe before campfires. I don’t think if any religion excludes the possibility of ghosts. There seems to be a general agreement that ghosts and wraiths are spirits of the dead who linger on Earth after they have slipped that mortal coil. Some are malevolent, others benevolent or merely curious. Ghosts vary by mythology, religion and era. Even today, there are rumors and stories.

Hadley Shack

I cannot claim to have seen a ghost, but I lived in a house where everyone could hear our ghosts. It was 1965 when for $20,300, we were able to buy a tidy little brick house built in 1932. On the first floor were two bedrooms and a bathroom. There was a big bedroom on the partially finished second floor. The house was small but solid, walking distance from the college where my husband worked and I was finishing my degree.

The ambiance of the house from the moment we walked into it was overtly friendly. It welcomed everyone and made them feel at home. The little house had been built by a couple who had lived, raised children, and then died in it. They were not murdered or anything sordid. They merely grew old and passed on in the home they loved.

We loved it too. My son wouldn’t come onto the scene for 4 more years, but it was a good house to raise babies. I could feel it.

The house was a bit neglected. Not falling down but in need of paint and some modernization of its infrastructure. It still had its original heating system, converted from a coal burner to an oil furnace. Not very efficient and the radiators were huge, old and iron. Oil was cheap; we didn’t worry about it. We’d get to it eventually.

Initially we lived on the first floor since the bathroom was there. The upstairs had been an attic, but half had been turned into a big bedroom. We wanted to move up there. It was much bigger and had wonderful light, but we wanted to fix it up first.

Before anything else, we wanted to paint. The entire house was painted pale salmon pink. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t any color we’d have chosen. Worse, it was high gloss paint, like one would use in a kitchen or bath.

We painted the downstairs first. Every night, we heard our ghosts walking. You could hear the sound of heavy, loud footsteps upstairs, sharp, like the soles of hard leather shoes or boots. Everyone on the lower floor head it. The walking started around eight in the evening, continued for a few minutes. Then the footsteps would pause and restart randomly until around midnight. The footsteps always stopped by midnight and never began before eight.

Battlefield Ghoul-1

We called them “The Old Man” and “The Old Woman.” They wore different shoes. Her shoes had a sharp sound, like high heels on a hardwood floor. His were clunkier, like maybe work boots. Both of them had died in the house, so they were prime candidates for ghosthood, especially since no one ever lived in the house until us.

At first, we also heard them on the steps, but after we painted the stairway, the footsteps retreated and we only heard them in the attic and bedroom. After we began painting the bedroom, we continued to hear them for a while in the attic and then, one day, they were gone, never to return.

Were they watching to see if we properly cared for and loved their home? I thought so. Were we all hallucinating? It was the 1960s, so anything is possible, but I think it was the couple who had lived there watching to make sure we did right by the house. We did and I guess they felt it was okay to depart.

Life is full of strangeness. If anyone has bumped into a long-legged beastie, please tell me about it. I’m dying to know.

 

Weekly Writing Challenge: And Now For Something Completely Different: Samhain’s Tree

 I have been an enthusiastic amateur photographer for decades, and a writer always. I wrote professionally for more than 40 years: technical writing, promotional materials, public relations, advertising, poetry, news, news features and one novel. Thus I can’t claim to be doing something completely different — at least as it pertains to me — but I certainly can do something that I have not usually done in this blog.

A few days ago, I was out with the camera. It was the first sunny day in a week. Autumn in New England is all too brief, so as soon as I saw the sun shining, I grabbed my photo gear and hit the road.

It was a good day. I caught some amazing pictures. One entire set of perhaps 50 frames were taken of a huge golden tree that stands alone near the end of town on Main Street. After doing basic processing on a half-dozen of these, I decided to play a bit with Photoshop and see what else I could do with this overflow of images. Thus emerged the tree in an entirely new light (everyone who uses Photoshop is snickering at this). For the first time I had an image that needed a story. That is a first for me, because always the words have come first and images later. This picture screamed at me it needed a story. I knew the name of the story before a single word hit the page: Samhain’s Tree.

I have written the introduction and introduced the woman who I believe will be my main character, but it is so new and so far from complete that everything remains subject to change. Whether it will be a book or a shorter story, what additional characters will become part of this world, I don’t know. Characters often create themselves. One of the ways you know your story is working is that characters come to life and do unexpected things that you hadn’t thought of. They don’t behave, are sometimes quite naughty and redefine your original ideas by having their own.

 

Samhain’s Tree

No one could remember a time before ancient trees, their roots sunk deep into the Earth, drew magic upward to protect people, creatures, and all things that grow. This Earth magic kept the water pure, the soil fertile, the seasons on schedule, and life thrived.

Village people knew their trees and which ones had roots that tapped the magic. Such trees were evident to everyone. It seemed natural that Beltane and Samhain would be celebrated under their spreading arms and indeed they were.

Trees are sentient, but it is a different sentience than that of humans. Trees transmit knowledge and the secrets whispered to them, but do not judge the relative importance of one thing over another, nor necessarily understand what they pass along. At the time of the great festivals, if you know the right words, the right ritual, you can whisper to a tree who will obligingly pass it through its network to a different power.

Asking magical favors should never be done lightly. Magic has value, but it is powerful and power equals danger. Though many have deluded themselves that they could harness the forces of the Earth to their will and whim, humans are not adept at magic. Magicians learn to manipulate power, but never understand what they are doing or how they do it. Earth cares nothing for people. It is the Deities, the immortals both great and small who protect humans, often from their own stupidity.

Knowing the dangers, desperate people will nonetheless go to the trees at the hours when power is most available and the veil between the worlds is thin. It is very human to take great risks in times of perceived great need.

So it was in older times, earlier days. As man’s civilization has taken over, most people have fallen out of harmony with the Earth. One can live an entire life, birth to death, and never touch the soil, never sense the magic. City life, busy lives and most folks forgot the trees and magic. A young child running barefoot on the grass has reached the pinnacle of knowledge of Earth’s magic. These days, it’s all downhill from there.

The trees never did much care what people did. They continue to grow, to find places and spaces in rural fields, suburban backyards and city parks. Wherever a tree can sink roots deep enough, it seeks the magic.

In a small town in rural New England, exactly central to the middle of nowhere, there is a richly verdant valley that was briefly, as the Earth reckons time, filled with factories, mills, and squalid towns. Through this valley a river flows, today as it has for ages past. Much of the area’s agricultural land had returned to the trees. Some farms continue breeding their chickens and dairy cattle; every summer, fields of butter and sugar corn grew along pastures where fat horses graze.

As in most human habitats, many – maybe most – of the oldest trees have been felled for wood and some have died. Even trees are not immortal. In this valley, the tall oaks are fewer than a hundred years old, but you can find old trees with deep roots here, there, and elsewhere. When you see one of these old ones, you recognize them. You do not need anyone to tell you that this tree is old and runs deep. Tree knowledge is inborn to all people. We know trees bring the Earth’s magic up to the light. We’ve forgotten the rituals, but we can’t forget the magic. It waits for us.

In this town, everyone knows Samhain’s tree. Annabelle understood its name, though she was not sure who had named it thus, because it had not been Annabelle … yet it seemed that no one but her knew what its name symbolized. They didn’t know Samhain from Santa Claus. Most townspeople assumed the name originated with whoever had once owned the land. Nor were they sufficiently curious to look it up, though it would have been easy enough what with everyone owning a computer.

This was not a town afflicted by excessive curiosity. If anyone other than Annabelle understood what the tree’s name implied, they kept the information to themselves.

The tree was huge and stood alone at the northern end of Main Street. It occupied an open field along the road on a slight rise, so it was easy to see from a distance. Neither an oak or maple, it was a much less common tree, an alder. Not extremely tall, its branches spread wider than its height, an untypical growth pattern for an alder. Huge, heavy branches dipped close to the ground. Rather than arching up to reach the sun, Samhain’s tree seemed inclined to touch the grass, inviting children to swing on low-hanging branches. But children did not play in the tree. No tree houses were built and no one set up a lemonade stand in its shade. When children approached it, they did so cautiously and quietly.

Annabelle had lived in the town as long as it had been a town. As far as she knew, the tree had always been there. It was there when she had arrived in the New World. It always stood alone, first in a meadow, now in a field as if other trees preferred to give it space, not wishing to crowd too close.

The tree was orange and yellow today. It was the middle of October. The air was chilly at night, brisk in the morning. Just another couple of weeks to Halloween.

“That’s what Samhain is to them,” she thought wryly. Well, what did it really matter? It was close enough. Costumes, bonfires, candy, figures made of rags and straw … all done with not a trace of understanding. The celebrants had no clue what holiday they were celebrating. Yet, they had were effectively observing most of the customs. Blindly, but Annabelle felt quite sure that her Goddess cared not at all if those who celebrated knew why they observed the festival and would only care that they celebrated at all. Immortals are not detail-oriented. If more people realized that, the world would be a more peaceful place by far.

Halloween was the next most popular holiday to Christmas. Halloween was the harvest, the bounty of the summer before the little death of winter. Decorations, costumes, candy and parties … terribly appropriate for whatever the reason.

Annabelle was bemused at how celebrations of ancient rituals persisted though virtually no one saw their significance. Ask anyone why did they did all this stuff they do for this rather unimportant holiday. They would stare at you blankly and answer with “It’s just fun.” “We felt like doing it.” “There’s nothing like a great bonfire on a chilly night.” They cared nothing beyond that. They would have laughed had Annabelle told them it was Earth’s magic calling to them.

The weeks passed quickly and as the end of the month drew near, the trees were close to bare. Hard to believe just a fortnight ago, the world had been aglow with color. A few stubborn leaves clung to branches, but peak was gone and icy tendrils of winter sometimes nipped at a nose or a fingertip. Just a reminder from Mr. Frost that he was coming soon, so lay in a supply of wood. Be ready.

“Well,” murmured Annabelle, “Tonight I will build the greatest Samhain fire ever seen in these parts.”

Building her bonfire was no mean feat for Annabelle. She had wanted to do it herself, the way she always had. But in the end, she couldn’t and she’d hired a boy to help her haul and stack things. The kid thought she was a nutty old lady and maybe she was. The years had taken their toll. Her hands were gnarled with arthritis and her balance was askew. She knew she walked at an odd tilt, but she was old enough to not care. Her white hair seemed to give the world leave to ignore her eccentricities.

“No one pays any attention to old people,” thought Annabelle, as she plodded along the sidewalk toward her house all the way at the southern end of town. It had been a short trip when she could drive, but her eyes weren’t good anymore. She didn’t trust her reflexes. At the exact time of her life when she most needed to drive, she had to walk on tired old feet. It wasn’t fair. She supposed she could have gotten an electric chair, but somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Pride? A little. But also a tooth-grinding determination to stay on her own feet as long as she was able … and she sincerely hoped that would be until she no longer needed legs at all.

Which was stupid, because life was never fair.

“I have disappeared,” she thought. “The day my hair turned white, I became invisible to all but other old eyes.” Older people saw her, but younger ones looked right through her. She was the hag who heralded the true fate of all humankind, inevitable death. The hag was never a popular incarnation of the Great Mother.

Invisibility cut both ways, because Annabelle could see right through the pretensions of the younger generations. They seemed to think that they could exercise or maybe straight out buy eternal life. Sometimes, she wanted to stop and ask them “How’s that working out for you?” but she didn’t. It would be rude.

Age might not bring wisdom, but it did bring a certain level of cynicism and shrewdness. You might not be able to read the fine print with your old eyes, but you could see through the veil and easily see through most people. Yet when they looked at her, they saw nothing. Just a bit of white hair wrapped in an overcoat.

Annabelle attended church, if not every Sunday, then often enough. Christmas Eve and Easter at least. When she was younger, she’s gone regularly, but she’d lived in this town so long no one questioned what or who she was or might have been. No one could remember a time before Annabelle lived there. If there was an eternal person, she had to be it. In return, Annabelle was greatly amused by watching her fellow parishioners at church. Some were sincerely devoted to their God, but most were there for some other reason. Obligation. Habit. To show off. Because they liked the music or the Pastor or the sound of church bells … but genuine devotion to any God was rare. Annabelle saw it less and less with the passage of the years.

Tonight was not their God’s special night. Tonight was the night for her Goddess. Samhain was Morrigan’s holiday and though Morrigan had not visited for many years, Annabelle believed with the help of the tree, this time, she could bring her out and end the silence that had grown between them.

In just a few hours, as darkness fell, it would be time for Annabelle to implement her plan.

-

Not the end.

Indian Summer

It rained for a week. We were lucky it didn’t rain very hard and we didn’t get any high winds. Sometimes October storms are fierce. Not only do dying hurricanes meander up the coast from points south, but a nor’easter can strip leaves from the trees, wash away beaches and occasionally cause massive flooding.

Usually, though, we just lose Autumn. Naked trees with a few sad brown leaves still clinging to branches replace the brilliant colors we hoped for. Why do we need the color so much? We yearn for it, dream of it. It’s Christmas for our eyes, the delight of everyone who has a camera.

Yet it’s also an ending, the final breath of summer, glorious and brief.

The rain ended during the night. Today Old Sol was bright and the world was lit with gold, scarlet, russet, and yellow under the warm amber October sunshine.

Everything and everyone looks beautiful in the warm sunlight of October.

It was warm today, warm enough for shorts and tees and sandals. Indian summer is here. If we are lucky, it might last into November … but it might end tomorrow.

No time to waste. Keep the camera batteries charged. Be alert. Stay ready to go and grab the season. Winter will be here soon enough.

Time to hunt for pumpkins, time to carve the Jack o’ lanterns. Time to pick a Halloween costume. Time to enjoy a last burst of beauty and sunshine before New England‘s fickle weather turns our wold to ice and snow.

At the end of summer

Here’s a late summer look at our place in the Valley … even now, the roses still bloom.

The back forty … near where the tepee stood.

All my life, I wanted a lawn swing. I finally got one a few years ago from the Mennonites down the road.

It’s a wonderful place to relax, even in the rain.

The house has changed very little since we moved in here more than 12 years ago. Except for the siding, roof, and we took down the old shudders which were in poor condition. Owen replaced the whole front door some years ago. Unfortunately, it looks like it needs doing again.

The house in late afternoon light. It’s a big breadbox of a house, but comfortable to live in.

The kids already bought a pumpkin. I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it’s still early. I like to get pumpkins when the air is cooler so they will last longer. But the color of this one, with its green mottling was pretty and a great round shape.

Signs of the season to come.

And the roses still bloom behind the 1927 Fordson tractor.

The tractor is part of the garden, no longer just an ornament.

And the holly berries are ripe … a little early for Christmas!

An October Week

What a difference a week makes! Well, actually, 8 days, but why quibble?

Where the river divides and becomes a river and a canal.

October 21st, a bright sunny day by the Blackstone Canal, we watched the water, I took some pictures of bright foliage. It wasn’t a record-breaking year … the foliage was pretty, but without the incredible scarlet and gold we sometimes enjoy.

But the bright trees we still candy for the eyes, and we met a man with a dachshund, chatting casually about dogs, and life in the valley. We have a doxie too, so we could laugh as we enjoyed the mild weather. Eight days later, October 29th,  5 or 6 inches of snow fell. It was a wet, heavy snow and because the leaves hadn’t fallen, the weight of snow piling up on leaves broke branches off the oak trees, snapped saplings, and killed off autumn gardens. When it snows before Halloween, we assume it will be a hard winter … but folklore was wrong this time. Then, that was it. No more significant snow for the winter. How strange that was, and so out of character. But that’s New England. We call it home. Sometimes, we aren’t sure exactly why … but when Autumn comes again, we remember.