Almanac For Moderns: Autumn’s Saturnalia
[More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.]
I try each year to disbelieve what my senses tell me, and to look at the harvest moon in a cold and astronomical light. I know that it is a small cold sphere of rock, airless, jagged and without activity. But the harvest moon is not an astronomical fact. It is a knowing thing, lifting its ruddy face above the rim of the world. Even to the thoroughly civilized mind, where caution for the future is supposed to rule all impulse, the orange moon of autumn invites the senses to some saturnalia, yet no festival of merriment. The harvest moon has no innocence, like the slim quarter moon of a spring twilight, nor has it the silver penny brilliance of the moon that looks down upon the resorts of summertime. Wise, ripe, and portly, like an old Bacchus, it waxes night after night.
Now is that opulent moment in the year, the harvest, a time of cream in old crocks in cool, newt-haunted spring-houses, of pears at the hour of perfection on old trees bent like women that, as the Bible says, bow down with child. In the field the grain stands, a harsh forest of golden straw nodding under the weight of the bearded spikes, and in that, it has been swept and all its fruitfulness carried off to fill the barns.
One will not see here, save in the steep tilted Blue Ridge farms, the man reaping by sickle in his solitary field, while his daughters bind the sheaves, nor the bouquet of wheat and pine boughs hung above the grange gable that is crammed to the doors. But we have our own sights and sounds at harvest time. There is the roar and the amber dust of the threshing machines, the laughter of the children riding home on the hayricks, the warfare of the crows and grackles in the painted woods, and the seething of juice in the apple presses. Then night falls and the workers sleep. The fields are stripped, and only the crickets chant in the midnight chill of the naked meadow.
Already the woods are filling up with grackles, gathering into bands. They storm like a black cloud through the groves and descend with a sound like the pattering of rain drops, as they alight with their little guttural exclamations in the boughs. They are not going very far–perhaps no more than south of the thirty-first parallel, but they make a much greater to-do about it than many bound for the tropics. Al this fussing and gabbling and preening, and starting only to scurry back, reminds me of the New England old maid who said she would rather be ready to go and not go, than go and not be ready. Such people never will go far, and the majority of them will never be ready. Only those who start without demanding that they shall be comfortable en route and able to maintain a well-preened appearance, will ever see Vineland rising from the wild brown foam.