October 6, 2017 — This piece is from my first book, “The Luxury of Daydreams,” )2011).
Mature corn, ready for harvest, stands in neat, geometric rows in Indiana fields. The Hoosier sky has gray clouds outlined in an almost black line etched against a blue-green sky. Sometimes the clouds look surreal as if painted with oil tempura on an elegant and forgiving canvas.
I am born again every October. The tenth month of the year is my month. Some find the season of autumn depressing as annual vegetation withers and die.
October’s sights and sounds fill my senses and soul.
In northern Indiana where I grew up, the seasons are more sharply defined than southern Indiana, which is now my home. Harvest is in full force in October if not completed. Beans and corn are picked, winter wheat is planted.
By early October, front porch evenings are waning. As a child, I loved sitting between my grandparents on their front porch swing at Homeland Farm. Our low-tech activity was looking down the country road for headlights appearing at the ridge of the hill toward the state highway.
Late October evenings were too cold for the front porch. Nearing Halloween, we might have a fire in the home’s fireplace, under the mantel of custom-made tiles that depicted family history in Washington Township. My ancestors came to Indiana in 1830. A Hoosier cabinet, a spinning wheel, the old farm bell that now occupies my brother’s backyard, a plow, and an Aberdeen Angus adorned the blue and white tiles on the fireplace.
October was also a glorious month for outdoor activities. Occasionally, the church youth hosted a bonfire in a farm field, with spires of lighter-fluid induced flames lapping at the autumn sky. We seared our Eckrich hot dogs and ate sticky, s’mores made of Hershey bars, marsh mellows, and graham crackers. The best ones were cold in the middle and burned on the edge.
* * *
When I attended college in central Indiana, the old campus was vibrant with color–like a preschooler’s new Crayola eight-pack–throughout October.
I lock my bicycle in front of my dormitory. Every weekday I pedal through the central campus to the journalism building. The west campus bloomed with trees and featured old stone buildings from the 1930s.
Riding my bike on a crisp autumn day, I enter the old campus. I ride into a central green space with paths worn in every direction by generations of students. My bicycle tires crackle through red, maroon, and gold leaves spent from walnut, sycamore, maple, and oak trees, and the breeze gently licks my face.
I ride slowly, hoping the trip never ends.
* * *
Betraying my love of Indiana and October, I move to Florida after college. Every October in the Sunshine State makes me sad. The first autumn away from Indiana my friend Doris sends me an envelope full of dried leaves. The pleasant scent of lovely, crunchy pieces of home is a beautiful gift.
My beloved and I come home to Indiana in October for our wedding. We marry at the same 100-year-old country church I attended as a child. My parents married in this same tiny church more than half a century ago.
An elm tree with limbs that reach prayerfully to the sky in every direction stands in front of the old church. Our wedding afternoon is a perfect Hallmark card cover. The mighty elm shimmers with copper and bronze leaves, still falling.
As the church bell tolls the call for worship, the picture-perfect day fills every sense.
After my husband finished graduate school, we feel the pull of home. We return, with a new life in southern Indiana. Northern and southern Indiana are almost different states. I do not know anything south of the Old National Road.
While I treasure the symmetry of central and northern Indiana farmland, I love the curves of southern Indiana. My favorite place in southern Indiana is Lincoln State Park in Gentryville, near where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy. A ribbon of heavily wooded state highway slices through the state park and the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Monument in Spencer County.
Within the park is a pine forest, which as my father told me, is not indigenous to Indiana. Planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the trees now rise above the park and offer permanent shade.
We stayed in the cabins many times in October, spending several days in paradise, first when our son was five. The cabins are simple, with furniture like my $100 a month graduate student apartment.
On our visits to Lincoln State Park, we arrive with bags of books, board games, and food for grilling meals outdoors., even breakfast. The beds are uncomfortable, the living room furniture is wooden and stiff, and the kitchen features orange plastic stack chairs. It is not the Ritz Carlton.
Does the Ritz Carlton have a screened-in front porch, and the combined scent of pine trees, dying cottonwood, sycamore, and maple leaves? Can you hike on a quiet October morning around a deep blue-green lake, which reflects the trees and disappearing autumn sun?
Today is October 1st. The month lies before me, rich with unknown experiences. Time to find my favorite sweatshirt.
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