All things on earth point home in
old October: sailors to sea, travelers to walls
and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the
long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love
he has forsaken. ~ Thomas Wolfe
October is the time for dancing in the dark. It
is the season for chasing thunderbirds, searching
for dark wings in the billows of autumn storms.
When the cane fields used to glow with burning
rows, wraiths thousands of years older than this
nation moved through the smoke like they did
around campfires millennia ago. My grandfather
would slip through doors unknown to me in October,
visit people I couldn't see and never knew. He was
magical that way. He had a key which turned a lock
between here and there, from hither to yon. That
key slid most easily into the lock, turned the
latch most smoothly, in October. My grandfather
was magical that way. He was October, all stirring
and wandering and nerves tingling with anticipation.
He was October with all its secrets locked tight
within. Through the doors of October he was no
longer a polio victim with one weak, feeble leg.
Through the doors of October he was "nata," chief,
and a son of Suns.
Over the past few weeks, a gnawing at my bones,
like a deep unsettling, has preoccupied me. I
sulk through October like Kartophilos, condemned
to wander for the rest of my days, but unlike him,
I am confined by the shackles of deadlines,
responsibilities and that ticking dictator on
the wall that tells me when I can do what I
wish and for how long.
The dog and I wander through October along the
back yard of the house near Bayou Teche. She
is an English springer spaniel, and she knows
the coming of winter is near. While she leaps
and bounds through autumn, I trod with heavy
feet. Now and then she stops at the edge of
the water, facing north, and looks at me
questioningly. A soft woof puffs her cheeks,
but when she realizes that I won't follow where
her instincts are prodding her, she comes to my
heel again. I feel sorry for her. We trudge
through October again, myself shackled to
responsibilities and the dog shackled to me,
prisoners both. I feel sometimes that I have
condemned her to a prison she does not deserve.
I find myself growing irritable and short-tempered,
though I do not know why. It is not just the chains
around my feet; not just the clock on the wall that
I so despise. There is something in the air,
something magical coming from secret doors and
locked gates. I feel homesick, though I am home.
Like I am missing someone dear who is absent.
It is hard for me to concentrate on conversations
at the lunch diner, at government meetings I must
cover for the newspaper. Idle small talk among
folks I meet day to day irritates me. There is
something looming in the air, something slouching
just over the horizon, can't they feel it? Don't
they sense the hair-raising of the season?
They don't, and I wander off to corners of
October to brood. It has been six weeks since
I have taken to the water, battling this injury
to my right arm that is slowly getting better.
But for six weeks I have been more confined
and condemned than ever, and it occurs to me
that this is what is making me so edgy. Usually,
in October, I would be drifting through Lake
Fausse Pointe, seeing the leaves turn colors,
watching the nesting squirrels in the trees.
What is it that runs through some people? Day
to day, I meet folks who listen to my words
of water and their gazes go blank, cold and
bleak, like the winter to come. There is no
water floating behind their pupils, and they
do not understand the pricking, restless unease
that comes from being too far away from it for
Six weeks is not long. Once, preoccupied by
forging a life not worth living, I stayed away
from water for years at a time. Those were among
the most miserable days of my existence. But now,
October is revealing doors and secret garden gates,
and the need for water is overwhelming, pounding
at the inside of my skull with iron hammers. I
pass over bridges on my way to and from work, and
the water beneath them flows green-black and
In two weeks, I go on vacation, and will flee
the ticking from the wall to water. There are
no clocks here, no deadlines, no ringing phones.
If all goes well with my injury, I'll be chasing
fall bluegill and coastal redfish and speckled
trout, all the while watching for secret gates
just on the edge of my vision.
My people told of Ustupu, a young Chitimacha
boy who, due to a series of vengeful deeds,
was transformed in a ball of fire along with
his six great hunting dogs and launched into
the skies. It has been said for thousands of
years that Ustupu still chases his six dogs
through the heavens, calling them to him. "Apuck!"
Come! He calls them by their names: "Kins-put!
Tep-kani! Kuc! Kapainch! Neka! Kutep!"
It is said that a Chitimacha can call Ustupu
and his dogs down to earth again, but due to
his torment, the boy will not cease until he
has killed every living Indian in the world.
Only a Chitimacha can in turn send him back
again, but the words to command him are forgotten.
In October, Ustupu and his dogs are close,
close enough to call down from the skies,
but I would never dare to test if his story
is mere myth. My grandfather is wandering
through October, closer to me now than since
he left the world nearly thirty years ago.
His fingertips brush my face as an autumn
breeze whips by me. There are thunderbirds
in flight, and silver warriors flash through
deep, brilliant sunsets.
Pardon my brooding. But I suspect some of you
will recognize the need for water, the call
of October, and the shackles around ankles. ~ Roger