We went back to school in September, after Labor Day. We did not know that summer was over even after an adult commented on the beautiful Indian Summer we were having. The days were shorter, but not tragically so. We still had plenty of time to play in the golden sun after we got home from school. The air was chillier and we donned light jackets but, like the ancient Celts, we were still living the summer. A few leaves yellowed, a few more turned red, hundreds blazed orange, and thousands turned brown before most dropped to the ground. Still, we played our summer games and reveled in the summer feel of life. Even the World Series and a stellar performance by Mickey Mantle did not change our sense of season. After all, the World Series was played by The Boys Of Summer.
My ancestors, the ancient Celts, recognized only two seasons, summer and winter. For them, summer began with the coming of May and it was marked with a large fire festival. The end of summer came the last day of October and was celebrated as Samhuinn, which has become our Halloween. The next day was the first day of winter. Our concepts of seasons has changed but a link to ancient ways remains through pumpkins. It was not the jack o’ lanterns of Halloween that had seasonal significance for the night of goblins was still summer when I was a boy. Our seasonal boundary shifted only when there was frost on the pumpkin.
We surrendered our imaginations to winter when the whitish film of cold crystals lay across the land. Frost never came in the summer. Instantly, we put on our heavy coats without being nagged and were sharply aware how short the days had become and how quiet the nights were without chirping crickets. Hot tomato soup no longer reviled us. The lights in our houses suddenly felt much cozier. We stowed our baseball bats and roller skates and retrieved our guns and hunting boots. Our blood ran urgently and quickly. It was time to take to the field.
We had no way to understand it but nature had just sent us a dire message that our ancestors had received for thousands of years. The frost on the pumpkin warned that the sun might be dying. Plants had already stopped growing and the days were shrinking. It was time to provision while the weakened sun still lived. We felt this deep call to arms even though our grocery stores were not less laden with food than they had been. We found the rusty tins of saddle soap and cleaned our boots. We coated the clean, brown leather with mink oil. We cleaned our guns until the insides of the barrels looked like mirrors made from slate.
We attacked our knives in a strict ritual. Using a scythe stone, we removed any rust and nicks from the blade. Next, we worked the blade with a Washita stone to level the deep burrs left by the scythe stone. The edge was now massaged with a soft Arkansas stone and machine oil. When the blade began to glisten, we carefully rubbed it with a hard Arkansas stone and machine oil. To finish our edged weapons, we smeared a line of jewelers rouge on an old barber strop. Carefully, we polished the feather edges of our knives. At last, we were ready to subject our blades to the Richard the Lionheart test. With a sword, Richard could slice a tossed handkerchief as it fluttered in the air. We heaved dirty rags in the air and hacked them to pieces with our hunting knives. We were ready to take to the field.
We passed many frost-covered pumpkins as we hunted the cold farmlands, cutovers, and wooded hills pursuing deer, grouse, quail, rabbits and squirrels. Even as we stood knee-deep in icy water on the edge of a dark swamp into which a fine buck had retreated, we did not think of summer. When we rested to eat our cold lunches and clumped together out of the wind to smoke, we did not dream of fair weather. The frost on the pumpkin had made us winter boys and winter boys we would remain until May. Steam escaping from the suddenly exposed entrails of a deer did not cause us to long for warmth. We were faithfully following the ancient tutelage than ran deep in our blood.
There are only two seasons in life: the hard season and the season of ease. In the season of ease, you must love, sing, celebrate, procreate, consider, beautify, and honor. In the hard season, you must gather, resolve, act, strike, fortify, defend, secure, provision, and endure. In my youth, we were more creatures of nature than the two-legged creatures who stumble about now, never able to happy with themselves, disconnected from their own spirits and very uncertain why they live at all. We were golden in our contentment during the season of ease. After the frost first covered the pumpkin, we were argentine in our wisdom and integrity. We knew that when we were finally felled by death that we had lived for something, had given each season its due, and would point the way for others when, lying like the pumpkin, the frost would cover us too.