Well, readers, it’s October!
We voted on the first Tuesday; the autumn crocuses are blooming; we’ve had significant frost events; and the pumpkins are all over the place. Even had a festival for pumpkins last weekend. I guess we have to agree it’s officially fall. And we didn’t even have any summer to speak of.
This time of year I always think of fall when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned many times I grew up in eastern Washington/northern Idaho. The season change was gradual but definite: Fall work would start in the fields, and, of course, school would start bringing on high school football and the annual rivalries between communities, some dating back to the dads and even granddads of the current players. The county fairs would gear up and the big rodeos. Back then, farmers markets weren’t a thing. After all we were farmers and grew our own stuff but end of the season community celebrations sprouted up in every town around.
About this time along, some old retired farmer, who couldn’t, quite, would have a big pumpkin patch in his backyard, or a corn field he turned into a maze for the kids, big and little. They’d flock in on designated weekends to choose their pumpkin, or get lost in the maze. Some church or service organization would serve hot chocolate and everyone would comment that it was a beautiful Indian summer we were having.
As the weather cooled, it was time to butcher. Hogs or beef, sometimes both. Butchering usually required a crowd: either family or neighbors. For beef everyone usually moved from place to place, one or two a weekend, or if there was a big number to be done, they may plan a week, going from farm to farm, making a party out of something that could be a tedious and tiring chore if left to one or two guys to accomplish.
There was a local who somehow always knew where the butchering was being done. He would show up about the time all the work was finished and offer to take the hide. Sometimes the owner just gave it to him, others sold it for a pittance, and he’d drive off happy. He was the local character who made most of his living selling hides, both cattle and wild game, to the leather works. He was called Deadhorse Yale for the obvious reason.
Butchering hogs was another story. It still required a group effort and at least a day. Dad had a huge “witch’s cauldron” he put on the fire and filled with water. Someone would dispatch the pig and they’d bring it to the boiling water and dip it in, lowering it on a makeshift apparatus with a rope hanging on a crossbeam and raised and lowered with a winch system. After the dip, two or three guys would get to work scraping the hair off the pig skin, hurrying before it cooled too much and had to be dipped again.
Dad was old-school, so in a suitable interval after butchering, the smoke house would be geared up and brined hams hung to smoke for at least a week. It was a time-consuming process, but he had the reputation of the best hams in the country. He even was known to make black bear hams you’d never know were wild.
As the season progressed into late October it was time to go hunting. If one were hunting for subsistence, although we didn’t call it that, he could probably go to his back 40 and score a white-tail deer. They were prolific in the area and grain fed.
But fall hunting was often a vacation for the guys. They’d go to “The Blues” (Blue Mountains) if they lived in Washington or to the Lochsa if in Idaho. It was a trip that required a lot of plans, paraphernalia, and time. They usually took a week and returned tired, rejuvenated and triumphant, because at least one of the group would have brought home a bull elk, to be divided among the party. This trip didn’t happen every Fall, but often enough it was thought of as tradition.
By the end of hunting it was time to gear up for the holidays. Thanksgiving would be right around the corner and Christmas on the horizon with all the required festivities and other hoop-la.
And here we are! Pumpkins and witches and goblins, Oh my! And the holidays are coming in fast from the back stretch. Makes no difference time or place, Fall is the signal the year is winding down, but there’s another waiting just when we need it most. Let’s hope it’s a little less snowy and a heck of a lot drier!