The Hardest Time of the Year

Sun, 11/01/2015 - 7:45pm

Too late, I think, for it to be sunrise, I open my eyes to a bank of color along the eastern horizon, that “red sky at morning, sailors warning” that makes one want to burrow deeper under the covers on the best of days. It is late October, and however beautiful it can be in mid-day, the daily journey of the sun is crushingly diminished.

This coming weekend the clocks “fall back.” The morning light, but from a decidedly different angle, will be as it was Sept. 6, Labor Day weekend, a delightful change. Then afternoon will come only to vanish long before that six o’clock line in the sand drawn when we were children and the sound of the musical intro to the news announced the arrival of evening.

It is all how the calendar, this man-made attempt to make order of nature, has days fall in a given year; this season we gain that hour on the night between All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. My mother was a Massachusetts Congregationalist turned default Baptist; my father an agnostic, the only one of his parents’ five sons who was not an active church member. Saints were as unknown as pagans, although the latter may have had an edge in our old house with an open view of the sun rising from the ocean and a full exposure to the winds.

This year, this liminal moment, this threshold when the walls between the worlds are weakest, when spirits float and ghost ships are said to sail, is when we gain that hour. The sun will rise at 6:17 but will set at 4:42, the price we pay for the restored morning, a concept of dour old New England if ever there was one. Now, the days, no matter where they start and end, rush to darkness. In June, when we loll around the summer solstice in a surfeit of sunlight, their length is barely altered from one day to the next.

Now, when every moment is precious, tomorrow two-and-a-half minutes shorter than today, our bounty is in the harvest, the fleeting sun captured in the skins of pumpkins and squash set out on doorsteps. I think of the novel “Harvest Home,” into which I tumbled one year long ago. It was penned by Thomas Tryon, a former actor, before Stephen King had created an industry finding horror in everyday things and I had no expectation where a tale of life in a seemingly idyllic, if somewhat isolated, New England town would lead. Later, I wondered how I did not see that end coming, but I didn’t; for pity’s sake, “raise the song of harvest home” was from a hymn we sang in church!

All these years — all these decades — later I wonder if anyone else even remembers this unsettling book, and am a bit surprised to find so many current comments on various websites. One reader who rated it with the maximum five stars began his own review with “This was a powerful story, but I still wish I had not read it.”

Then I walk outside in the fading light, thinking my own dark but safe thoughts, that in less than a week the sun will have set an hour earlier. It is the haunt of this latter part of October that erases — briefly — even the most disturbing plot line of that long-ago read book. Out to the north lot I go, through an open gateway where wildflowers, butter-and-eggs, still grow, past the asters and a variety of red-leafed briars that demand my attention lest I trip yet again. I follow a worn track down one gentle slope and up another, crossing the swale where water will stand another time of year, when it froze solid last winter.

It is not until I turn to walk back toward the house that I see the eastern sky, that deep blue it is after the sun has set and, against it, the Hunter’s Moon, great and luminous, the palest shade of gold fading to white. The Dying Grass Moon it is also called although this very day I have been noticing stubborn greens, the renewal of color in yards that comes with cooler temperatures and early fall rains.

It is a supermoon, I read, the last of the year. Supermoon, a term coined by an astrologer. Yes, astrologer. I have been telling myself it is the language of the world, but I really thought we were through with this nonsense last month.

The article continues that before that naming some 30 years ago, “scientists just called such occurrences perigee full moons or perigee new moons.” They “just called” them that as though in some universe far removed from my own, supermoon is an improvement! Although, I must confess, I have no explanation why I am reading, much less quoting, an article that also tells us perigee means “near earth."

It must have been a justification of all these supermoons, defined by this astrologer as when the new or full moon was “at or near (within 90 percent of)” — its closest to earth. It is not the unabridged dictionary definition, nor is it the one my dad’s cousin, the late Capt. John Robinson Lewis, used.

That said, the moon baffles me. As recently as last year, I looked out to the east and for a split second thought Clay Head was aflame. It was the moon, brightly orange, rising through the winter bare brush. It happens every couple of years and I feel I have been caught, again, at a game of “gotchya!”

The tumble into darkness is the hardest part of the year, worse to me now even than March with its endless pretense, its constant dashed hopes of spring. This moon, great and bright, technically not full until just before dawn tomorrow, will shine the whole night, washing away thoughts of anything other than its bright white gleam.