Celebrating Halloween on cold fall nights (Oct 27 newsletter)

In a break in the storm, I’m sitting in the dooryard, on the tarmac of the driveway, clearing the rinds from black walnuts. I’ve never done it before, but this part is easy. Pick up a fruit, set it on the stone — and stomp on it. Then pick out the hard-shelled nut at the core.

When they fall off the tree, they’re green and round as small oranges, and they smell like lemon and resin. It’s not the way I thought I’d be coming into Halloween week, but on a cold, wet night it’s surprisingly satisfying.

A lot of us seem to be tired, right now. It’s something I keep hearing, sometimes right out and sometimes in the tones of voices. The sun sets early, and it’s dark before we get out of work. The nights are turning cold. The season is quiet and winding down early, like the leaves. And uncertainty gets old. Can anyone trick-or-treat safely this year?

Maybe it can feel like a small question, when so many graver ones weigh in. But I think about the energy of Halloween night, the last time I handed out candy. The streets filled with people, laughing, talking, knocking casually on doors the way we never seem to do in New England. I was living in half a house on a quiet street, and for the first time I knew almost all my neighbors. But I’d never seen the streets alive like this.

It was an unexpectedly warm afternoon after another long, wet fall. My neighbor’s niece and friend sat with me on the porch, handing out candy together. They were putting together a Halloween playlist, and we sat in the sun and tossed ideas back and forth for new songs. Defying Gravity from Wicked. Nicki Menaj’s Masquerade. They played music on their phones, and kids came up in shoals and ran on by. The street was a river of people. It’s a kind of energy we rarely turn up that high in a small town.

And that energy is the question, isn’t it. Halloween is usually the bright flash this time of year. Light a candle on a frosty night, get a sugar rush, put on a mask, dress up and run outside in the dark, and drum up courage before winter.

A friend suggested to me that maybe this year we have more ghosts to carry than we’re used to. Even if we’re lucky enough to be healthy, to have warmth and food and shelter, we’ve had a long two years. Maybe we need some of that energy now.

A year ago we were running on adrenaline — restaurants reorganizing their whole spaces outdoors, even theaters performing outside around flame heaters. Now the pace has changed. Some of our local gathering places and and creative places are banking their fires until spring.

And we do still have jack-o-lanterns and live music, and places to dance or beat a drum or get up in costume. Maybe we’re turning to smaller gatherings. Within a mile or three from home, I can wander into tarot talk at Wild Soul River or a writing group at the new Bear and Bee Bookshop, or listen to poetry from Bennington College while I’m trying to figure out how to crack several hundred black walnuts.

It’s a mast year, and the local trees are full and heavy. To walk out into the backyard and fill a generous bushel basket makes the world feel generous.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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