Gray low-hanging clouds block the blue and sunshine. The air is warm, but the violent wind hisses this won’t last long. It rips leaves from high branches and sends them flying.
Down a hill and off the path, we swish our feet in fire-colored leaves already on the ground, ankle deep.
In fall, things morph–
night kidnaps morning,
owls spook from skeleton branches.
A walk in the woods makes you feel like you’re living a page in a mystery story.
Everything you see starts to look like something else.
“Is the headless horseman real?” Farah says at the sight of a rotted out tree with a face. The mottled bark twists to make a Sleepy Hollow monstrosity, an eye-socket out of place and a mouth gaping as if it’s trying to scream but can’t eke out a sound.
On the ground, a section of weathered wood looks like the shape of a howling wolf. Vines tangle, hovering in mid-air, swinging in the wind like monster tentacles or a hangman’s noose.
“Someone has been here,” Elliot says stumbling upon a tiny roofless and doorless cabin built from stray sticks.
I remember my own childhood, exploring the woods with a friend, coming upon mysterious plywood hideouts, and being curious yet relieved we were too young to hike the path at night. At our sleepovers, we’d make up scary stories about the woods and keep ourselves wired without the help of caffeine.
In my room back home, my sister and I would pull up the covers up to our eyes and try to stare down the crazy elm outside our window, telling ourselves it wasn’t real, willing ourselves to be brave. Two scars in the shape of its leaves were set at just the right places on the trunk. Eyelids ever open, the elm glared at us through the top of the pane never curtained.
I’m not so much for the gory and grotesque, but I’m okay with a little bit of eeriness. Whether to create a feeling of solidarity or to learn how to handle fear or even just for a little adrenaline rush, writer Allegra Ringo says that humans have always enjoyed scaring themselves or each other “through all kinds of methods like storytelling, jumping off cliffs, and popping out to startle each other from the recesses of some dark cave…. The Graveyard Poets of the 18th century, who wrote of spiders, bats, and skulls, paved the road for the gothic novelists of the 19th century, like Poe and Shelly. These scary stories provided, and continue to deliver, intrigue, exhilaration, and a jolt of excitement to our lives.”
Like the the Graveyard Poets, who were mostly Christian clergymen, the Dark Romantics used their writing to dig into the reality of “human mortality and man’s relation to the divine.”
Breathless from the hike, and maybe the haunting, I call the kids near, check for snakes beneath the leaves, then throw my jacket on the ground. We sip our hot cider and I read out the riddlish rhyme of “The Raven.”
“Other friends have flown before–On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.” Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee–by these angels he hath sent thee Respite–respite and nepenthe from the memories of Lenore….” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“On this home by Horror haunted–tell me truly, I implore– Is there–is there balm in Gilead?–tell me–tell me, I implore!” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
“Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore– Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
“Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
Our fears, hurts and questions have everything to do with how we read the scene in front of us.
My counselor says there’s a time in childhood, around ages 4-6 and again in the mid-teens, when a child collects evidence to keep in their fear database. They look at what’s in front of them and decide what’s scary and not scary, what is worthy of panic and what is not.
When a fear is faced and conquered, the child records it as a non-threat. When a fear wins and physical or emotional injury proves the fierceness of the object, creature, or situation, the brain connects the experience to a chemical response and stores it in the database to use in filtering all future experiences.
It helps to have a trustworthy adult along to guide a child through potentially frightening situations.
“To really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment,” says Allegra Ringo.
Elliot tugs hard to break off one section of a fallen branch and then another. Brother and sister swing the sticks in the air, fencing, and then jab them into the ground.
Farah wields her weapon, launches herself from a fallen log, flies through the air, her dress billowing up, her hair streaming behind her.
In the woods, up close and personal with spooky things, we practice being brave.
Soon, they climb onto the slithery vines and use them as swings.
In this season of shadows, their bold play hints at future things. Fear and melancholy fade at the thought of kingdom come: “The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.”
Happy All Hallow’s Eve, saints.
We love Running Press’ miniature series of selected works from classic authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen.* They are compact enough to fit in a child’s hand or cargo pocket. For the past few weeks, my son has been toting them around and devouring them on his bus rides. Even if the language and story lines are over his head, the books are still allowing him to get a feel for each author’s work. As for me, I have found them a nice alternative to checking my phone during the lulls of my day.
Feel like reading something spooky? As you can guess, several of the poems and short stories in our tiny book of Poe are a great match for the mood of fall. As a Dark Romantic, Edgar Allen Poe did quite a job of exploring human mortality and depravity in his macabre stories:
- In “The Raven,” a mourner on the edge of insanity is visited by a raven who answers each of his questions with the foreboding word, “Nevermore.”
- The poems “A Dream Within a Dream” and “The Bells” lament the passing of time and our lack of control over it.
- “The Masque of the Red Death” deals with mortality and how some mistakenly think our wealth or position can insulate us from aging and death.
- “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Black Cat” all explore murder, guilt and the insanity that results from trying to hide the truth. And the use of closed-in spaces in those three tales sends a shiver up my spine.
How do you feel about the changing mood of fall? Do you like creepy things or prefer to avoid getting spooked? What is your favorite way to experience the season?
*This post contains affiliate links. All purchases through these links will provide me with a small commission to offset the costs of operating this site…at no cost to you. It’s a win-win. And, as always, I link to things I personally enjoy that I think you’ll enjoy too.