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 dies. I am just the opposite. October’s sights and sounds fill my senses and soul.
In northern Indiana where I grew up, seasons are more sharply defined than in southern Indiana, which is now my home. Harvest is in full swing in October, if not finished. Beans and corn are picked; winter wheat is planted.
By mid-October, it is a little chilly for evenings on the front porch. As a child, I loved sitting between my grandparents on their front porch swing at Homeland Farm in Tunker, Indiana. Our low-tech activity was looking down the country road for headlights appearing at the ridge of the hill toward the state highway.
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 in 1830 from Pennsylvania to Indiana. A Hoosier cabinet, a spinning wheel, the old farm bell that now adorns my brother’s yard, a plow, and an Aberdeen Angus were pictured on the blue and white tiles around the fireplace.
October was also a glorious month for outdoor activities. Occasionally, the church youth hosted a bonfire and weenie roast in a farm field, with spires of lighter fluid-induced flames lapping at the autumn sky. We seared Eckrich hot dogs and ate sticky s’mores made from Hershey bars, marshmallow, and graham crackers. The best s’mores were cold in the middle and burned on the edge.
When I went to college in central Indiana, the old campus was rich with color—like a preschooler’s new Crayola crayons.
My blue and white bicycle was locked to a metal rack in front of my dormitory, Hurlbut Hall, ready for use at any time. Every weekday I pedaled through the central campus to the journalism building. The east campus had few trees and many utilitarian stone and brick modern buildings.
However, the west campus was filled with trees and old stone buildings dating from the 1930s. Riding my bike on a crisp autumn day, I entered the old campus. I rode into a central green space where paths have been worn in every direction by generations of students. My bicycle tires crackled through red, maroon, and gold leaves that dropped from walnut, sycamore, maple, and oak trees. The autumn breeze gently licked my face. I never wanted the downhill trip to end.
Betraying my love of Indiana in October, I moved to Florida after college. Every October in the Sunshine State made me miss the tremendous colors of the Hoosier State. The first autumn away from Indiana my friend Doris mailed me an envelope full of dried leaves. Imagine the wonderful scent coming out of the simple manila envelope, bringing lovely, crunchy pieces of home to me. What a tremendous gift!
While still living in Florida, I came home to be married more than twenty-five Octobers ago. We married at the same 100-year-old country church I attended as a child. My parents were married in this same tiny church more than half a century ago.
We had the lovely good fortune of having a perfect Indiana October day for our wedding. In front of the church was a huge elm tree with limbs that reached prayerfully to the country sky in every direction. The mighty elm shimmered with its remaining copper and bronze leaves, that fell gently and blanketed the earth. As the old church bell tolled the call for worship, the picture-perfect day filled every sense.
After my husband finished graduate school, we felt the pull of Indiana. We came back home again to a new life in southern Indiana. Because of regional cultural differences, northern Indiana and southern Indiana are almost different states. People from northern Indiana often used a pejorative to describe anything south of the old National Road as “Kentucky.” I didn’t know what to expect in this unknown land. That slander was simply wrong. The land and the people of southern Indiana are wonderful; it is now my home.
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 around Lincoln State Park where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy from 1816 to 1830.
A ribbon of heavily wooded 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 have stayed in the cabins many times during October, spending several days in paradise, the first time when our son was five years old. The cabins are simple, reminding me of my $100 a month apartment in graduate school.
On our visits to Lincoln State Park, we arrive with many books, board games, and food for grilling, even breakfast, outdoors. The beds are uncomfortable, the living room furniture is wooden and stiff, and the kitchen features orange plastic stack chairs. It is not the Palmer House.
Nevertheless, does the Palmer House have a huge 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 that reflects the trees and dying autumn sun?
Today is October 1st. The month lies before me, rich with unknown experiences. It is time to find my favorite sweatshirt.
Published July 2011 in “The Luxury of Daydreams” available at amazon.com.