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NATURE HAPPENINGS - October 2006


The Eighth Month
by Damian Fagan

Ah, October. Derived from the Latin name for “eight,” October use to be the eighth month of the year. The Ancient Romans, by decree of Julius Caesar in 46 BC, implemented the Julian calendar to give order to the chaos and October was number eight. That calendar system lasted until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar and shifted October to its current arrangement.

This Gregorian calendar provided for a 365-day year and a leap year every four years. It differs from the solar year (roughly 365 ¼ days long) by a mere 26 seconds – accurate enough for most timekeepers.

But, let us put Gregory and Caesar aside.

I have always been a “fallaphilic” – someone who loves the seasonal period between summer and winter. Even as a kid I never minded raking the endless piles of leaves at our New England home because the air was so crisp and pure I thought it could be bottled. I loved the mosaics of color produced by the maple, oak, walnut, and locust leaves as they were piled high into mounds. I loved the lure of a north wind or the reminder of summer on a warm day. I loved the thin veil that existed between the seasons and the spirit world as October waned into November.

October was a time of harvest as we picked the last vegetables from the garden before the killing frosts came. We cut firewood and built walls of split logs outside our kitchen door. We visited the apple and pumpkin farms, drinking the sweet, tart juice or picking out the orange globes to adorn our doorsteps. We hunkered inside whenever the storms would bring chilly winds and leadlike raindrops.

Almost twenty years later, and twenty years ago, I came to love October for another reason. I was working for the National Park Service back then as a seasonal ranger. The end of September or early October meant that the season was nearly over and that the last day of work were drawing near.

Not that I minded because I knew that October in the Canyon Country was an excellent time to be out hiking trails or floating the river. My wife and I would take extended trips into the backcountry lasting one or two weeks long. Sometimes we would do these trips back-to-back, ignoring the lure of society for the magic of the canyons and the clarity of desert skies.

Some might think that the face of unemployment did not look favorably upon us. We didn’t care. We had no responsibilities, only a Post Office box forwarding address and a desire to be out on the land.

When I turned thirty, we spent twenty-eight days in Salt Creek down in the Needles District. That was before Backcountry Management Plans and assigned campsites. We spent our days wandering up side canyons and found hidden places. We tracked Outward Bound groups learning their high routes and ways to drop into other canyons. We listened to herds of deer thunder by in the night spooked by some unseen predator. We turned into lounge lizards and pack rats, hoarding our food to stay out longer in the backcountry. Now that was an October to remember.

Today, everything is different. Although I still love the fall, space and time separate me from my beloved Canyon Country. Our circumstances and situation is very, very different than twenty years ago. Though I only need to close my eyes to be back, my soul longs for deserted canyons and golden cottonwoods.

For the time being I will have to be satisfied to look at old photographs, talk to friends about the current weather, and dream of sandstone and sunshine. Though I still have time, I feel the warm breath of my fiftieth birthday on the back of my neck.

The tradition in my family is to have a reunion, a party to celebrate the day. When asked where I’d like to meet I start naming canyons and rivers, natural bridges and stone arches, multiple permits and logistics.

They say history often repeats itself; in my case, that is something to look forward to one of these upcoming “Eighth months.”

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