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Looking out my Backdoor: October, Sweet October


October 17, 2019

Courtesy of Sondra Ashton

Editor's note: See Festival photos at http://www.havredailynes.com.

October is the sweetest month, well, unless one is up to one's hocks in snow, and not the first snow of the year at that! Betrayed by September, that generally docile month.

October, sing raptures of October. Hay is stacked, grain is harvested, garden largess fills rows of jewel-toned jars in the cellar. Yearlings crowd trailers on the way to market. Bank account is fat.

Whoa - don't forget to sing flip side of that nostalgic song while meandering the autumnal path. Snow, gray skies, wind, winterize the house, the vehicles. Watch the flocks of red-wing blackbirds and geese wend southward and wonder if they have more sense than you.

Become aware the butterflies and hummingbirds have disappeared. Stock up on flashlights, emergency candles and an alternate source of heat should the power go out. Drag boxes of winter clothing from the attic, clothing to make the most skeletal person resemble the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Hunker down, sweetheart, it is a long road to spring.

Change the record to play something south of the border, down Mexico way. Autumn, my favorite season, makes its appearance here, too, differently than up north. Here, rather than a "going away," there is a "coming back." Flocks of yellow-headed blackbirds darken the sky, swooping and sweeping in synchronization. Butterflies we haven't seen in months return, harvesting sweet from flower to flower. A rainbow mix of birds return to nest.

Mornings are cooler, afternoons warm and comforting. The summer rains abate though last night's storm gives lie to this statement after a long week of dry. Winds, hail and rain pounded my casita. Thunder shook the foundations, lightning worked magic for three hours, then receded to the background for the night, distant flashes like a candle flicker.

My bottlebrush tree, after a rain-drenched rest for summer, burst into bloom overnight. Hummingbirds are so profuse it looks like the tree is in motion.

But, most importantly, for this little town of Etzatlan, October means Festival. Officially, or traditionally, Festival is a 10-day celebration, this year from the 18th through the 28th. In actuality, there is something happening almost every day of the month.

Festival activities are steeped in religious tradition. Parades of all sorts - I especially like the tractor parade, or the corn parade, or the horses - end at the Cathedral for a blessing, gratitude for harvests, for life. Various statues from the Church lead most parades. Children from all the schools, all ages, have their own day for marching, singing, dancing and riding in pickup truck floats. Bands and floats, dancers in indigenous regalia, all are included.

Earlier in the month, a procession of thousands of pilgrims march the Virgin of Guadalupe from Etzatlan to San Juanito where a feast awaits for the entire city and visitors. Streets are decorated with colorfully dyed wood-chips. Dancers and bands lead the procession. Prayers combine into a continuous song, miles long.

Another prominent event, spread over 10 days before Festival, is the hosting of the Crucifix from the Cathedral at the homes of 10 families from 10 different Colonias. The street is blocked off, and curtains hung to make a tent. Each family provides flowers and candles in abundance. Chairs are placed for those who come to pray, to sit a while, to visit. The procession from Cathedral to Colonia is solemn and joyful. Family sit vigil an entire day and night.

This year Leo, whose family has hosted the event for years, invited me to come sit a while. I felt honored, grateful that Leo knew I would be respectful. I sat for an hour, met other of Leo's family, hugged those I knew, simply sat. When I left, I felt emptied out and washed clean.

Another pre-festival event is the hanging of the crocheted doilies, an all-year project. Often at the plaza or the Mercado, one observes men and women with a lap of plastic twine, crocheting large floral designs into octagons which will be connected to overhang entire streets. This year the city aims for a page in the Guinness World Records.

Watching the men hang the yards and yards of heavy doilies is an adventure in itself, with plenty of breath-taking moments as men hang out from electrical poles, hand over hand along the line to uncoil an overlap, or a foot slips from a ladder rung leaving the foot's owner dangling precariously. Drama in the making and the completed effect is magical.

When did fireworks became part of every holiday, every birth, every death, every reason and no reason? Especially in October, one wakes to booms before the sun rises, goes to sleep with booms until midnight. Nightfall often brings spectacular displays as fountains of colors explode against the black sky.

I'm impressed at how seamlessly this little community, devout peoples, combine indigenous with traditional Catholic beliefs in every celebration. All events are family-oriented. I believe the underlying strength, that which feeds and upholds all the people, is gratitude.

Courtesy of Sondra Ashton

Hang out in the plaza. Here comes the parade of dancing horses. Buy an ice-cream. See the sunlight dapple the street as rays filter through the overhead doilies. Watch that group of boys run and jump through the struts below the makeshift stage, set up for traditional dance groups this evening. Serenaded by a trio of elderly musicians, good voices and a full mouth of teeth among them.

Makes you smile, doesn't it? The feeling of gratitude is almost palpable


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton's essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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