October’s perfect days

Nature occasionally rewards us with seasonally perfect days. Quintessential days achingly sweet and beautiful, with weather that’s equally ideal. Days to forever treasure. Days you’d give anything to be able to away somewhere and relive again in the future.

Such gloriously memorable days can come at any season, of course. But it seems to me they’re dispensed most freely in October.

As months go, October is just about perfect. Neither too hot nor too cold, too wet nor too dry. Sunlight seems to sparkle. Streams run full and clear.

October’s air is as crisp and refreshing as a cup of cider—every breath a redolent mix of mature fields and falling leaves, windfall apples, fox grapes, hickory nuts, and not infrequently, a whiff of distant wood-smoke. A heady mix that, when taken deeply, seems to invigorate and recharge your soul.

Indeed, October days provide a restorative for overwork and stagnation, a panacea for lassitude and boredom, a superlative tonic for daily overdoses of traffic and concrete, nasty politics and pending-doom prophesies.

Just a few minutes puttering about outdoors can repair and invigorate your whole being.

Last week I spent several hours sawing and splitting firewood for the stove. It was one of those exquisite mid-October days—bright sun, glorious blue sky. Leaves on the ranks of towering sycamores along the river were a gleaming bronze-gold, and every time a light breeze stirred through, handfuls came fluttering down like oversized confetti.

The temperature was simply ideal for my work. Cool enough that even under an extra layer of protective clothing, and in spite of the heavy labor needed to buck and process the pile of ash logs into stack-able firewood, I remained comfortable instead of becoming a sweaty mess.

On other recent days, while engaged in similar necessary tasks, I’ve enjoyed comparable conditions. In fact, I blame this matchless October weather for causing what can only be described as an inspired work fervor. I’ve actually gone looking for chores to do outside!

My wife, having noted my uncharacteristic behavior, got worried. When I recently headed out the back door, machete in hand, and announced intentions to chop new swathes through our ever-rampant honeysuckle, she gave me a long speculative look and wanted to know what was wrong.

“Nothing,” I said, shrugging. “I’ll be fine when it’s not so perfect outside.”

The odd truth of this temporary mood confusion is how October days make me both simultaneously energized and lazy. I want to do a dozen things at once while wallowing forever in each. My ambition to experience the season’s riches full-blast regularly bumps head-on with my desire to slowly savor.

One of the ways I deal with this paradoxical dilemma is by making a singular day-long escape to a certain location in Ohio’s southeastern hill country. I’ve been making this same mid-October trip for so many decades it’s now an annual pilgrimage.

The long drive gives me plenty of time and miles while passing through a variety of diverse settings and landscapes, to soak in a good dose of the autumnal pageantry. Open farmlands, wild fields, woodlots, little villages…and eventually, heavily forested hills.

My highway destination is a barely noticeable pull-off on the side of a narrow country road. A hundred feet from this undesignated parking spot, behind a screening thicket of weeds and bushes, is a trail. A fairly well-used path, from the looks of it, though I’ve never encountered anyone on it, nor noticed another vehicle parked along the road.

The trail winds maybe a mile through a thick and mature Appalachian foothill forest. Big trees and a big woods that stretches twenty-odd miles southeastward all the way to the Ohio River.

After a steep, hundred-yard climb uphill, you come out on a protruding knob of rock. A dizzying perch offering a view measured in miles.

In October, a breathtaking panorama unfolds below—a rumpled patchwork quilt in hues of red and yellow, gold and orange, brown, tan, bronze, and amethyst, counterpointed by scatted dark-green pines.

Hawks occasionally float past at eye level. It’s a special place, and I come here every year to get an infusion of the magic it always imparts.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to this particular stone outcrop at this specific time of the year. There are plenty of similar overlooks scattered throughout the region. And I rarely visit this place during any other season.

I guess it’s a personal quirk. An idiosyncratic necessity.

Looking out from this lofty ledge, I feel a pure sense of wonderment—akin to what a friend described feeling during a visit to the Sistine Chapel, when looking up, he first saw Michelangelo’s handiwork on the ceiling.

October’s perfect days are like that—beyond explanation. Neither words nor paintbrush can do them right…and I suspect that old Italian painter would understand and agree.

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