Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

October 24th, 2004

October

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 too long.

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 mysterious.

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


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