October is the wistful month -- but it begins in glory. As the sun slides down the southern sky, the trees explode into flame, inciting Sunday drives in the country -- especially along the Spoon River. The sky seems larger. Empty fields stretch forever to a blue-hazed horizon. The soybeans are gone, and the last few fields of cornstalks stand yellow-brown in the slanting sunlight. Huge trucks growl along the two-lanes, filled with shelled corn headed for market.
The thermometer imitates the stock market in ups and downs. Heavy jackets and caps are necessary for Friday night high school football, but October afternoons still allow shirtsleeves for Saturday college games.
Power saws howl in the woods: fireplaces need fuel for the cool, lengthening nights. (City folks will get fooled again on exactly what ''a cord'' is...) Roadside stands on country roads sell pumpkins and Indian corn and jugs of apple cider, ready for drinking cold or hot -- or for setting out to let October nights harden it into poor man's applejack.
Wives begin to nag their husbands about putting up the storm windows and doors. Husbands wonder where the snow shovel and rock salt are. Maybe they'll materialize when the lawnmower is put into storage.
At night, the sky is clearest in October. The Milky Way resembles the Spirit Path the Indians called it. The stars are brightest and the planets are approaching Earth. The Aurora Borealis may do its dance of the glowing veils. Far overhead, migrating geese cry warning of approaching winter. The Alberta Clipper begins to unfurl its sails. Friday the 13th brings a Full Hunter's Moon.
Frost appears one morning on the lawn. The leaves have a last riot of color, then fall -- dancing down in reds and golds that shimmer in the low sunlight. The wind piles them in drifts that kids run through, kicking and yelling. Once we burned them and jumped over the fire in imitation of our ancestors. Now we bag them for burial or let them clog the curbs and drains for chilly October rains until a streetsweeper collects them for piling out behind the Holiday Inn Express on East Main.
The World Series finally arrives. It used to be an October spectacular, but now, after weeks of play-off games, the title teams are more like survivors than champions. The games are played at night in 40-degree weather with lots of visible breaths and fans dressed for football in Green Bay.
As the month dwindles down, youngsters drag their doubtful moms off to buy the latest costume craze at Wal-Mart. Neighbors stock up on bite-sized candies and take in their portable yard ornaments. The police and sheriff's departments dig out their files on anti-vandalism procedures. Churches fight Halloween greed and superstition with Harvest Parties, but the spirit of the Druids' Samhain dies hard.
The month ends with a shock. The last Sunday marks the end of Daylight Saving Time, and the sudden arrival of darkness on top of the minutes already drained hits the body's diurnal clock hard. We find ourselves with bare trees, dormant yards, empty fields, and a melancholy yearning, a pensive longing for we aren't sure what. What we are certain of is that another year is dying around us and drear November lurks ahead,