In these tumultuous times that grow more volatile by the day, it’s comforting to appreciate simple but priceless gifts like the one before us: October.This sentiment may be a minority view in the Ocean State, with its murmuring breakers, salubrious breezes, and seaside clambakes that make summer a perennial favorite.
Still, there are those of us who would never trade October, refreshing as a Honeycrisp apple, for the hazy swelter of August.
We agree with Anne of Green Gables, who through author L.M. Montgomery exclaimed, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
You could hardly blame her: To her author, October was a time “when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green…”
That’s how October clothes Shalom Acres, our hobby farm in Rhode Island’s Apple Valley; every sunrise turns our own birches into a sampler of shimmering gold.
Now the pokeweed is heavy with purple berries, and late afternoon shadows creep into our woodlot, darkening glades that hide the owls and the deer.
Summer struggles to keep a foothold, but the colors shout that its time has passed.
Blazing foliage is the formal announcement, but October wafts in on whispers, as well. And nothing whispers its name more seductively than our wild maitake mushrooms, which rise overnight like spirits.
Do not look for them before the week leading up to Columbus Day, for they will not be here. Always faithful to their mysterious calendar, one morning during that week they appear.
These are mushrooms with exotic names: Maitake comes from the Japanese word for dance, and in Japan where they were first discovered they are indeed known as “the dancing mushroom.” Legend has it that those who first found them were so overjoyed at the flavor that they began to dance.
The maitake is equally appreciated in Italy, where it’s known as signorina – the young woman. Many in this country call the maitake “hen of the woods,” since with dozens of fronds it resembles a chicken with ruffled feathers. Some call it “king of mushrooms,” apropos of it large size – a maitake has been known to hit 100 pounds.
Ours are more modest, but 15- to 18-pounders are common.
These pop up in our little meadow, and grow to the size of cabbages by the time we harvest them for drying and freezing. Each October, four or five appear. They ask no tending or watering, but I suspect they did take offense when for years, not knowing what they were, I mowed them down with the John Deere.
But one autumn, an Italian visitor spotted them and explained that I had been spurning the signorina, a delicacy that can sell in markets for $20 a pound.
Ever since, we have considered the maitake one more reason to appreciate the value of a special month.
Social reformer Henry Ward Beecher couldn’t have said it better when he observed, “October is the opal month of the year. It is the month of glory, of ripeness.”
Leave it to a Rhode Islander to capture the smell and taste of it, though.
Ken Weber, my late colleague at the Providence Journal, once observed in his nature column, “October, here’s to you. Here’s to the heady aroma of the frost-kissed apples, the winey smell of ripened grapes, the wild-as-the-wind smell of hickory nuts, and the nostalgic whiff of that first wood smoke.”
Anne of Green Gables and I couldn’t agree more.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), an occasional contributor to What’s Up Newp, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.