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2006 10 31
All Hallows Eve in Hogtown

Tonight after the last of the carved gourds has guttered into darkness, the leaves will divulge their final secrets and the soil will sigh in its bed. Around midnight the wind will shift and almost invisibly the season will turn toward winter.

In the city it is still possible to sense this turning. Even if our harvest is second-hand, we fatten ourselves like squirrels, bulging suddenly in thicker coats, our eyes bright and covetous of the season's spoils. Like cattle treading reluctantly toward pasture on a chill morning, we jostle against one another in the subway, our breath bright and visible until warmed in these slow-moving subterranean stalls. All along the highway the sound of traffic is muted, headlights disappearing periodically as if into a sudden fog. Cyclists spin past unnaturally quickly, despite seeming almost to lumber in thick coats and gloves. The city appears to move in a single direction; inward.

The city is liminal on this night at the threshold of winter, and our celebrations signal our ambivalence about crossing it in either direction. Because at All Hallow's Eve we acknowledge not only the turning of the season but also the passage of our own lives. Even if we do not believe that spirits walk among us on this night, at the feast of Samhain we allow that they might. And if we have shortened the ritual from eating with the dead to simply eating them in the guise of skull-shaped candies, still we commune with them.

But if the turning of fall to winter signals a kind of death, it also reveals parts of the city that remain hidden to us during the rest of the year. The contours of the city's ravines, appearing suddenly at the verge of our daily commute, show us how the city rises above ancient river valleys at the edge of the old lake bed and remind us that our travels take us across not only hours and days but also across seasons and epochs. Visible all at once, as if trees and buildings have parted to reveal it to us, the CN Tower blinks at each of us from across the city, its cadences remote and impenetrable but comforting at the same time. At this season it looks very much like a giant carved pumpkin, grinning at the city through gritted teeth. And when we creep inside it and look out through glittering eyes, what do we see of this city at the verge of the season's change? Its topography laid out before us in regular or uneven rows, its streets and buildings peering back or looking away, people moving through it like a thousand stray cats searching for a warm corner to sleep in? A city preparing for a long night, preparing to sleep before popping up like mice under the cover of snow at the first retun of light?

Still, this morning the little birds sit outside my window eating cedar buds. Despite the grey morning, the last leaves glow as if lit from within. Today will be mild and perhaps damp. But tonight, after the candles guttering in so many overripe pumpkins are extinguished, the city will shift a little on its foundations and the wind will rise as if bellowed by a long series of opening and closing doors.

At All Hallow's Hogtown turns toward winter.

(The pumpkin image was taken by Toby Ord and is used under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.)
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 10/31 at 11:58 AM

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