October is the golden month.
I am old enough to experience harvesting prairie crops done by binders, sheaves, and threshing machines.
The beauty of a properly stooked field on my father’s 140-acre farm with sheaves of grain dappling the gold-plated field is still vivid. But the activity surrounding those days of threshing with a dozen men or more, hauling the gilded harvest with teams of horses to the thrasher, other teams hauling the yellow kernels to bins for storage, women busy preparing lunches to be brought to the field and dinners to be served on make-shift tables were short-lived for me.
My father and a neighbour were the first in our district to begin harvest with the combine.
Crops were first swathed providing special beauty again as parallel rows of the cut grain circled the fields. Combines, at first pulled by a tractor, soon became self-propelled and much larger. These machines, now like giant animals lick up the stalks laying in the swaths, digest grain from the straw and push the waste out the rear.
Harvesting the crop with combines was quickly and more easily done. Other farm implements became bigger. Farm sizes increased from a one-quarter section of land to three-quarters or full sections. Larger and more improved machinery continued to advance farm sizes over the years.
This summer I spoke to a man whose family farms fourteen thousand acres, that’s twenty-two sections of land.
October also brings back an early childhood memory of a snow-free Halloween night with a large bright moon.
I can recall the beauty of the blue moonlight eerily illuminating our walk.
My father’s wheat straw stack provided fuel for the huge bonfire my brothers, neighbouring cousins and friends gathered around, playing tag and other games as fire lit up the sky.
Later we returned to our home where mother’s hot drinks and snacks ended our Halloween evening. Little did I know at the time, I was participating in a tradition that dated back beyond the 7th century.
October 31, the early Irish celebrated a pagan festival called Samhain (pronounce saw-in).
November 1 was the Gaelic New Year, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Not only was it a time to give thanks for harvests, but it was also that time of year when the veil between the living and the dead was thin. Fairies and spirits could more easily pass from the realm of the dead to the living. This possibility provided both terrors, as it was thought many returned to seek revenge for wrongs perceived done while they were living, and others returned to commune with their loved ones. Food and drink would be offered, and bonfires were lit to cleanse the air, provide protection, and offer appeasement.
Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, is the evening before All Hallows’ Day – Hallows being the word for saints.
Today, November 1 is known as All Saints’ Day. Whether to replace Celtic customs of superstition and ghosts, All Hallows’ Eve and November 1 became the Christian church’s day to honour the saints and pray for recently departed souls. Festivals of food were part of the celebrations.
But the last day of October has now morphed into a night of costumes, orange jack-o-lanterns and “tricks or treats.” It seems the Christian church’s efforts to put a different spin on the pagan night, lost out.
The old customs of disguising oneself by costume and mask to prevent being identified by returning threatening ghosts has led to children’s costumes and adult costume parties. Treats were first asked for as extortion to avoid vandalism; today treats are offered with little thought of retaliating tricks.
October, the month of Harvest, Halloween, and All Hallows’ Eve is also our month for thanksgiving. As Canadians, we are blest: abundant food supplies, medical provisions, law and order and a country we are not desperate to escape. On All Hallows’ Eve, I remember and give thanks for those passed – parents, brothers, sisters-in-law and friends, all saints, who in their life gave so much to me.
October is golden.