A month out of time

The sights and sounds of October, the October light, the October air, seem to restore the old agricultural order to the land, if only for a few weeks

NEWFANE — In the heart of the heart of the fall arrives a month that is, somehow, out of its time. By October, the tenth month, the year is old. The golden light of the afternoon partakes of age, and of a certain honest weariness and well-earned rest.

But the curious thing about this long month is that it evokes not only the repose of age but also its devotion to memory, to the past. In October, as in no other month, the years - the decades - fall away.

Nowhere is this more true than in the foothills and narrow valleys of Vermont.

For 200 years, Vermont was mostly a farm state, and its landscape was an agricultural landscape: open, well-tended, domesticated.

Over the past couple of generations, however, the state has been undergoing historic changes, in occupation, in settlement - and, therefore, a change, as well, in aspect. It's now a wilder, more-wooded, less-worked-over setting than it was.

Unquestionably, Vermont today is no longer a farm state in the way it was. But sometimes it still looks like one and it still feels like one, never more so than in this retrospective month. How it is we can hardly tell, but the sights and sounds of October, the October light, the October air, seem to restore the old agricultural order to the land, if only for a few weeks.

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Take yourself for a drive on an October day, and see if you don't find the same thing. On either hand, woodsheds are filled to their eaves, and more firewood is put up beside the houses in long, dun-colored stacks and walls. The big barns have a stuffed look, the look of abundance stored up.

In reality, some of them are empty, and some have been turned to other uses, but in October even the obsolete barns have a fat and thriving look. They seem to have been transported back to the days when they meant business.

Across the intervale, three or four black-and-white cows in a pasture, half a dozen sheep on a rocky hillside, add to the landscape their familiar agrarian meaning. They preserve the memory of the millions of the same beasts that defined the state in the days when their kind had the people outnumbered 10:1.

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Today, as in the centuries of Vermont's farming prime, October is, preeminently, the month of harvest. In our time, however, another, later, harvest has come to follow the traditional harvest of the fields and mowings: I mean the gathering-in of the red and yellow leaves.

By mid-October the leaves are down, and they lie in the woods, beside the roads, and among the houses in unimaginable numbers.

Perhaps it's just because of this unfailing annual overflow that October is a month that seems to come out of the past. The crops, the stock, the old farm life, these things change. But the cycle of the year, which that life reproduces, does not change, and it has its image in the year's final gift, the bright harvest of the leaves.

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