October fires


This particular effort is, in so many ways, a massive example of the In My Backpack web site in development, the From the Backpack project in practice, and the way ideas circle and recycle and weave together around me in general.

“October fires” has been worked on many times, and produced in a few places. It has been a class project in school and a chapter in Time Just Drifts Away. I’ve left most of the material in this post intact from what I could find as the most recent version that had appeared on the web site. So… it may seem a bit confusing in the ground it covers in the introduction, but for me that only demonstrates how much some of my material continues to stay with me and cross into other areas.

Oh yeah… The reference you see to the name and its involvement in a separate project… well… that idea remains true. October Fires is the name I am using for a large effort I am working in that has nothing to do with this essay. Hopefully a curtain rising isn’t too far away on that one. Easiest explanation… I just like the name.

Ok… here we go… the 2018 posting of a 2012 book chapter from a 2003 posting of a now roughly twenty-five year old essay that can trace wisps of inspiration to a fall evening about thirty years ago…

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From the Backpack

Over time I have accumulated quite a collection of articles, poems and such that have never been published. Some were turned in for school projects. Others were developed for different reasons. This column is intended to be an on-going effort to revisit them. When possible, I will include a brief introduction to the piece, trying to include when and why it was produced, and also if I have modified it.

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I have been fascinated by the title “October Fires” since the fall of 1989. I was a student at Syracuse University at the time, and October nights were normally crystal clear and cool. Often it was early in this month when the first incredible scents of autumn fires would fill the night air. I was walking with some friends of mine and thoughts just flooded out for a multitude of projects and future goals.

Today, I am using this title for a different project that stays true to that original theme… one which I hope is destined, of course, to be the next Harry Potter-like phenomenon, in theaters and bookstores near you shortly... but this old essay has a soft spot in my thoughts regardless of where the name may travel.

I believe it was written in the fall of 1991 for a class I was taking at Rhode Island College. I have reprinted it here with absolutely no changes to the final version submitted at the end of the semester. Take note of the man walking the dog. My grandfather used to love to run errands so he could sneak a cigarette. A small nod to Pepe.

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October fires

The fireworks of nature fade as darkness approaches. I step out onto the front stairs of the house, the metal upon metal slam of the screen door echoes through the neighborhood. With no particular destination in mind, I begin to wander through my little portion of the city.

The four walls in every room of the apartment are far too confining. I am looking for a release, and I find it, in the everyday tasks, the carefree world of children, the crystal clear sky and the evening air.

Across the street, a gentleman walks along with his Dalmatian, pretending not to notice me. He pauses to light a cigarette, not so much sharing a moment with man’s best friend, but using it instead as an excuse to disguise his indulgence of a condemned pleasure. The dog looks up at me then looks down, apparently finding the stick in front of him more interesting. Answering to a silent tug of the leash, he leaves his discovery to again race in front of the figure along the sidewalk.

I move slowly along, and cross the street after about 100 yards to enter a parking lot. In front of me, a fading chalk hopscotch outline invites me to skip toward the concrete and brick building beyond it. I turn to the left and cross a playground, where four by four wooden beams extend out from the shreds of old tires that pad the ground. I can still hear the laughing of the children who woke me this morning ringing in the air.

I spin around with my back now to a swing and sit, my arms curled around the chains and my hands in my pockets. The stars are out tonight. The shadowy arms of the surrounding oaks reach for the tiny sparks of light, as though chasing a dream or two of their own.

The cool breeze carries the aroma of the first fires of the season being lit. Not like those to be made in upcoming months for warmth, but fires with the wonderful smell belonging to a crisp autumn night.

The dog is on the opposite side of the road, heading the other way now. I glance again to the clear night sky, thinking maybe it’s time to go that way too. I stand, raise my hands to my jacket collar, and turn it up as I retrace my steps back home.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com