Oh, good Lord, the chill has arrived. As much as Fall in the mountains inspires us with its palette of gold and firelit scarlet and melancholy reverie, that chill is not a welcome visitor. No, not at all, not for us summer folk. That chill stays too long and gets more comfortable the longer it settles, and before you know it, the crisp air turns into full blown winter brown and bluster enough to cut you in two. But until then, the harvest has come. And let’s all hope we’ve sown something worth reaping.
And in the meantime, Granny has those persimmon seeds all spread out on the table, all of them cut through and opened like tiny pearls of wisdom. Spoons, she says, and shakes her head. Sure enough, there are spoons inside the persimmon seeds, and good Lord, soon enough we’ll be looking at heavy snow instead of a firelit mountain. And those woolly worms that make their way up to the porch to bask in what’s left of summer’s noonday shine, their beginnings and ends are black as tar. A dreadful winter is a coming. Spoons. Black worms. And the goldenrod is swaying and beaming in the field right next to the Indian corn shocks. Oh, it looks pretty now, but soon enough all that gold will be tarnished by heavy frost, and so will the memory of the barefoot dog days.
Some of the summer folk wander over to the house in the twilight of the evenings, their pockets lined with offerings for Granny. Oh, Granny is a rich woman, she says. She might not look it, but she ain’t ever and will never want for nery a thing. Those visitors trade good money to have her look into their cups and see their futures in the coffee grounds they leave behind. Whether by luck or by sage, she is rarely wrong about such things. And we summer folk will gladly pay for all that amber honey that Granny has charmed out of the honeybees; it’ll stave off the bronchitis that’ll likely be lurking in winter. They’ll buy up her dandelion salve to soothe their heartaches and shed light on dark times and the darker spirits of fear and anger. A bitter heart will kill ya long before you’re dead, Granny says. And that rich elderberry tea she brews can run the influenza off, and that’s the truth, and we summer folk know it.
And that ain’t all she’s got. Lord, no. The linden tea can unbreak your heart, and the hawthorn berry brew could lift even the deepest of spirits out of despair. And if you’re too far gone, she’s got plenty of ‘shine still stored up, too. We can sit on the porch all night long and sip and snicker until we don’t care whether they love us back or not. They weren’t that wonderful anyway, were they?
Oh, and the naysayers do their talking behind our backs, and they call Granny a witch and a conjurer and warn her that her tinctures and brews will bring the devil on her head.
But this ain’t witchcraft. This is wildcraft, and honey, that’s real magic. Us summer folk are wild, not wicked. And like Granny, we ain’t ever laid eyes on the devil, but we’ve seen those dark times and darker spirits that the dandelion salve can ward off, but those golden jewels only bloom in the springtime, and honey, you’re too late. The chill is upon us, indeed.
The problem with Granny’s salves and spells is, well, they work. They’ve always worked. And that scares the daylights out of the naysayers and the common folk. And fear is a powerful creature. You know it’s the truth. It is fear all by itself that has made you behave all these years, to hide your wild, wicked or not.
But the veils are parting, summer folk, and you know what that means. The darkest night approaches, and you best have your lights on and the sweet offerings on hand, lest you run the chance of attracting mischief makers from this life and the last. The Old New Year comes, ready or not. This is an ancient game of tag, oh yes, and as Scorpio sails backward across the sky, we hide and they seek. We paint and mask our faces, just as the old ones did, in hopes that we won’t be tagged it.
Granny thought it was all so grand that even the naysayers’ children came cloaked in costumes and Samhain regalia, in the name of fun and games, of course. Nothing more. She placed big red apples in a tub of water and told us to try to catch one with our teeth alone, and whoever should bite into an apple first will be the next to be married.
Now I recollect the old days at Granny’s, the Halloweens of our youth, those bright last days before winter came, when we were still untainted by the coming chill. The supper table was a sight to behold; all those candied apples and balls of sweet kettle corn that we’d harvested ourselves, and a roasted wild turkey and Kentucky runners and sweet bread, all laid out for our benefit. An empty chair was pulled out ever so invitingly at the head of the table, and Granny said that if we were quiet enough, we just might get a visit from the beyond, for the veil between our time and theirs was as thin as Autumn air.
After supper we’d sit on the back porch steps and listen as Granny told her ghost stories—and they were scary only because we knew they were true—about her and her own granny sittin’ up with the dead back in the winsome Kentucky of her youth and of poor Naomi Proffitt drinking her fateful poison, and how what’s left of Naomi still roams the house, despite her being good and dead for going on a hundred years. Off in the dark of the mountain where we could not see, the wail of a black panther would sound, telling us that they were real, too.
Spoons, indeed. Soon the firelit mountain will be laden white and sleeping in a seemingly silent grave. But beneath the resting cedars, deep below the earth of these hills, the elderberries and dandelions are waiting to rise up once more. And we’re more kin to them than we think we are, you know. Our elusive summertime will come home again. It always has. In the meantime, we won’t curse the coming snow. A bitter heart will kill ya long before you’re dead, as Granny said. And perhaps, on some distant Scorpio eve, after our last summer has come and gone, we will be invited to sit in that silent chair at the head of the table ourselves, and partake in the feast.
There are no brooms to ride here. No cauldrons. No book of spells or conjured enchantments. No warts, neither, other than the ones that Granny can charm clean away with nothing but her belief and a breath. This is wildcraft. Not witchcraft. This is the real magic. We are wild, not wicked.
And the scariest story was yet to be told, and to this very day, I’ve not forgotten it. Some folks aint what they seem, Granny told us. Don’t fear the painted faces and witches that come knocking on Halloween. Beware of the monsters that disguise themselves as people. There’s more of ’em out there than you can shake a stick at.
While we wait for summer to come home, we might as well pull out a chair. The harvest has come. And if you’ve not sown anything worth reaping, there’s always next year. Granny’s got plenty for us all. The barefoot days will come again before you know it.
But for now, the Old New Year comes, ready or not. And we will sit on the porch all night long and sip and snicker until we don’t care whether they love us back or not. They weren’t that wonderful anyway, were they?
And Granny twirls on the porch, not caring who sees her or what they think, and she sings the words of Burns…
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine:
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since Auld Lang Syne!