I wrote this nearly two years ago. Tonight, as I read about Rachel Carson, as I read about astronomers, as I contemplate the universe, I thought, too, about this piece.
October is a month for breaking.
On the heels of the equinox, the autumn, the fall, October whispers in like a predawn fog. October is for caving in, for losing hold. October is for weeping. October is for breaking down, for tearing apart.
October is a month for breaking.
I knit wool socks on slender needles and bake cakes puddled with the flesh of red plums. I pretend that I am not breaking at all. I pretend that the world is not breaking, either, that the center can hold.
The center cannot hold. And every day I wait for that last wobble to send everything I know careening off into the oblivious emptiness of deep space. Paralyzed by a sense that it is a matter of fate, already written, I cannot imagine what I could possibly do to effect any meaningful change. Already so many voices shout and hands labor and to what end? Another wobble, another quake.
Maybe it will be better after. Maybe when the center is lost and we are all forced to fight not just for principle and theory but for food and survival, maybe then it will be better.
In October, all of the herbs that were fat and green under the summer sun fade to brown and gray and olive, and the seedpods they have grown break open, spreading next year’s hopes to the wind.
Except for rosemary. Rosemary, for remembering, hangs on through the early light frosts. Rosemary is the last to leave and will come up again in spring of its own accord.
In October, the fog comes. These are the days when it gathers in the sunken beds of the cranberry bogs, crops of mist, harvests of smoke. Each morning and each afternoon, I cross back and forth over the canal bridge, and these are the days when the canal is a river of white roving. These are the days when I cross within a cloud, the world beyond the car windows shrouded and uncertain. So close to the sea, nothing is fixed. Coastlines and tides shift by the hour. Populations rise and fall with the seasons. This place where the earth slides into the sea and the sea laps at the earth has always played its tricks.
Early in October, a friend is riding in the car with her spouse and her young daughter, running errands for a birthday party they will host later that evening, when they see a pedestrian trip on a curb, stumble into the street, hit by a car. The friend felt the collision in her stomach and in her heart, heard the screaming of the motorist who didn’t mean to, saw another woman come out of a nearby shop and recognize the body.
A few days later, a woman I work with at the farm totals her car. This woman had already been breaking open. For six months, her entire world has been crumbling around her, piece by piece. Her husband’s true nature laid bare, her belongings taken, her support system gone spiny with briars and poisoned thorns, everything shaken, and then her body collided with her car when it collided with another car. She is bruised and shaken and trapped without a method of transportation.
That same day, a pair of bombs goes off in the capitol of Somalia and tears the life from more than thirty human bodies.
October is a month for breaking.
And for burning.
Starting a shift at the farm, I set public radio streaming from my phone, jam it in my pocket, and begin loading the truck with bins of produce. It is cool enough now that moving between cold storage and the world outside no longer fogs up my glasses.
On the radio, the interviewer is visiting a crematorium in Los Angeles, talking to the twenty-two-year-old man in charge of burning the bodies and packing up the remnants.
It’s beautiful, he says, as he and the interviewer watch a body return to dust.
I lose signal. When it returns a few minutes later, there’s a new voice, a new story.
Searching for bodies is more like archaeology than search-and-rescue, the voice says. It’s just dust and bones. A firefighter in northern California, where untold acres of farms, homes, vineyards, forests, lives are burning.
I climb into the truck and survey the trees, all quivering flames of foliage.
The night before, I narrowly avoided an argument with my husband. He is scalded, sensitive, rubbed raw these days by work obligations and the state of American politics and by his sense of time passing. He can’t catch his breath for the smoke, can’t keep his balance as he crosses the bed of coals. Like a volcano about to erupt, he signals with puffs of smoke and ominous rumblings.
Thirty people did not perish in the bombing in Somalia. Three hundred did. Days later, not even half of the bodies have been identified, they are so burned and broken, scattered among the shrapnel of buildings and cars.
The pedestrian my friend saw hit was only a teenager, on lunch break from her first day at a new job.
Where is the season I know, the one that comes in a whisper of dusty, tiered skirts, in the dropping of dried fruit and petals, rose hips and goldenrods and hydrangeas? October, October, where is your gentleness? Where is your kindness, your quiet shifting? Where is your steaming pot of milky tea, where your cinnamon, where your sweaters that smell of attic dust and lavender sachets?
In the newspaper, a story that I hear no one talking about. Scientists were surprised and elated one August morning when their instruments began to record undulations in space-time headed toward earth, like ripples in a pond gently breaking at the shore. Then a gamma ray burst. Suddenly, all of these scientists were on alert, morning classes and meetings canceled, observatory night owls pulled back out of bed on just a few hours’ sleep to see what they could of two neutron stars, having circled one another for eleven billion years, a spiral dance, measured and calculating, collide.
Countless eyes fixed themselves on telescopes and gravitational wave detectors as they watched an event wherein two stars, each the size of a large city, crashed into one another. They made fireworks that, in a single day, spread to an area the size of an entire solar system. It was a marriage of obscene ostentation, entire planets’ worth of platinum and gold flung into dark space.
Before this day, the astronomers and physicists had hypothesized, made models, debated, dreamed, but no human had ever seen such a thing before. And it happened more than a hundred million years ago, but it took all of that time for the evidence to make its way across the galaxies to our tiny, insignificant earth.
I read the article over and over, unable to fathom these lengths of time, these volumes, these distances.
I ought to visit my coworker. I ought to bring her something. Comfort.
You don’t have to, my husband tells me. She’s not even really your friend.
It’s true. We’ve not been to one another’s houses, not met outside of work. But, I want to tell him, that’s not how it works, this web of women. It isn’t about one woman owing another. There is no angry god to enforce the rules of justice and duty.
There is a web, a weaving. There are threads that bind us all together. There are small kindnesses women offer each other when they can. Women do not make sacrifices to god. But they do perform these rituals, these acts, these manifestations of prayer, for one other, for the web. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It is a simple and necessary work.
October is for breaking, for burning. But sometimes that means a collision of stars, a raucous celebration that rocks the universe for eons. And sometimes it means just enough comfort to balance the scales. You cannot make hot tea without a low, steady flame. You cannot build a friendship without breaking down walls of privacy and politeness. You cannot forge the iron of marriage without a torch and a hammer. You cannot make gold without shattering stars.