October. Derived from the Latin name for “eight,” October
use to be the eighth month of the year. The Ancient
Romans, by decree of Julius Caesar in 46 BC, implemented
the Julian calendar to give order to the chaos and
October was number eight. That calendar system lasted
until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian
Calendar and shifted October to its current arrangement.
This Gregorian calendar provided for a 365-day year and
a leap year every four years. It differs from the solar
year (roughly 365 ¼ days long) by a mere 26 seconds – accurate
enough for most timekeepers.
let us put Gregory and Caesar aside.
I have always been a “fallaphilic” – someone
who loves the seasonal period between summer and winter.
Even as a kid I never minded raking the endless piles
of leaves at our New England home because the air was
so crisp and pure I thought it could be bottled. I loved
the mosaics of color produced by the maple, oak, walnut,
and locust leaves as they were piled high into mounds.
I loved the lure of a north wind or the reminder of summer
on a warm day. I loved the thin veil that existed between
the seasons and the spirit world as October waned into
October was a time of harvest as we picked the last vegetables
from the garden before the killing frosts came. We cut
firewood and built walls of split logs outside our kitchen
door. We visited the apple and pumpkin farms, drinking
the sweet, tart juice or picking out the orange globes
to adorn our doorsteps. We hunkered inside whenever the
storms would bring chilly winds and leadlike raindrops.
twenty years later, and twenty years ago, I
came to love October for another reason. I
was working for the National Park Service back
then as a seasonal ranger. The end of September
or early October meant that the season was
nearly over and that the last day of work were
Not that I minded because I knew that October in the
Canyon Country was an excellent time to be out hiking
trails or floating the river. My wife and I would take
extended trips into the backcountry lasting one or two
weeks long. Sometimes we would do these trips back-to-back,
ignoring the lure of society for the magic of the canyons
and the clarity of desert skies.
might think that the face of unemployment did
not look favorably upon us. We didn’t
care. We had no responsibilities, only a Post
Office box forwarding address and a desire
to be out on the land.
When I turned thirty, we spent twenty-eight days in Salt
Creek down in the Needles District. That was before Backcountry
Management Plans and assigned campsites. We spent our
days wandering up side canyons and found hidden places.
We tracked Outward Bound groups learning their high routes
and ways to drop into other canyons. We listened to herds
of deer thunder by in the night spooked by some unseen
predator. We turned into lounge lizards and pack rats,
hoarding our food to stay out longer in the backcountry.
Now that was an October to remember.
Today, everything is different. Although I still love
the fall, space and time separate me from my beloved
Canyon Country. Our circumstances and situation is very,
very different than twenty years ago. Though I only need
to close my eyes to be back, my soul longs for deserted
canyons and golden cottonwoods.
the time being I will have to be satisfied
to look at old photographs, talk to friends
about the current weather, and dream of sandstone
and sunshine. Though I still have time, I feel
the warm breath of my fiftieth birthday on
the back of my neck.
The tradition in my family is to have a reunion, a party
to celebrate the day. When asked where I’d like
to meet I start naming canyons and rivers, natural bridges
and stone arches, multiple permits and logistics.
They say history often repeats itself; in my case, that
is something to look forward to one of these upcoming “Eighth