Columns

Gimme Shelter: October, the month I fell in love with Shelter Island

October is the beautiful one at the party, turning heads, glamorous and dazzling.

Seated between whimsical, not-quite-sure-of itself September (summer still, or suddenly fall?) and dour November, October swans in with brisk mornings fading to soft afternoons and chilly nights. In daylight hours, it dresses itself in bronze, scarlet and amber, with just enough green to make sure you know it has made an entrance.

And October moons celebrating harvests shine extra bright for romantics everywhere.

People come from all over the country to the Northeast to see October leaves showing off. According to the Associated Press, New England businesses rake in (apologies) more than $3 billion during October and the rest of the fall. Public relations outfits coined the term “leaf peeping.” If that doesn’t make you gag, some are now referring to the act of appreciating October’s beauty as a “leaf peep show.”

But forget marketing ploys. A trip into the woods on bright days is exhilarating, and even spotting from a car window a maple tree alight in red can give you a sense of wonder.

The 10th month of the year, it was originally the eighth in the Roman calendar, and it took its name from the Latin octingenti for eight, according to Dicionary.com. When Julius Caesar padded the calendar to 12 months, he wisely decided to leave October’s lovely name alone.

The website also reports that the word October came to us though Old English, which took it from Old French, replacing the wonderfully weird Winterfylleð. Or wonderfully wyrd, as those Old English people would have it.

The month is said to be the month of revolution, since the Russian Revolution is often called the “October Revolution.” October can take credit for it, but the Bolsheviks were working on the old Russian calendar, so it was actually November for them when they seized power and changed the world.

Oktoberfest, which started in Munich as a harvest day celebrating the German people’s sense of community through the touchstones of food, beer and music, has now turned into an opportunity for many young and not-so-young folks to crowd into places cheek by stein, chugging brews and later throwing up on their shoes.

But we must not be cynical. Oktoberfest keeps oom-pah-pah tunes alive, so be grateful.

The month concludes on Halloween, which comes down to us from pagan revelries celebrating the fact that the dead are all around us, and also within us. Nothing is more true, if we think of those we love who have died, but live with us every day. Edna O’Brien has written: “… you know that in fact a whole entourage of ghosts resides in you, ghosts with whom the inner rapport is as frequent, as perplexing, as defiant as with any of the living.”

October has a particular significance for me. Nine years this month ago I began shadowing Reporter Editor Peter Boody to learn the ropes to take over from him, writing stories, editing copy and getting to know my colleagues.

When a storm named, sweetly enough, Sandy, barreled up the east coast, it struck the Island on Wednesday, our production day when we put the paper together to send to the printer in the afternoon. It was clear we would have to tear up the front page and re-write most of the paper to cover the storm that was howling all around the Island.

When the power went out in the Reporter’s office, Fire Chief John D’Amato invited us across the street to the firehouse, which was running on a generator. We hauled monitors, a computer tower, and laptops across North Ferry Road and began cranking out the paper.

The staff was set up at long folding tables in the middle of the large room on the second floor, a room big enough to hold a considerable party and general department meetings for the volunteers and the Ladies Auxiliary.

The firehouse was the hub for the Island during the storm, and we were lucky to be there (thanks again, John), with our sources coming to us, as firefighters, police officers and EMS volunteers filtered in, as well as people who had come seeking shelter and information.

It was an introduction for me to a community, and how it works. The generosity and spirit of Shelter Island was shining on that October day under dark, rushing skies, and it was impossible not to fall in love.