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October’s whispers, subtle and unobtrusive, drop clues of gardens’ metamorphosis: drooping purple cone flowers having had too much sun; sagging lamb’s ears losing their springiness; yellowing edges of hostas collapsing on the ground; browning of once lavender sedum blooms sagging over ceramic pots; black-eyed susans and sunflowers bereft of seeded centers; sparse knockout roses clinging to nearly-bare branches; and clumps of yellow and white mums boasting hardiness into November. Annuals have already been dug up, their colors having brightened passersby.

Upon these same whispers also float changes in shrubs: red berries cresting drooping dogwood leaves, yellowness creeping up forsythia branches, gray-greenness puckering lilac leaves, blushing berries clustering on branches of Christmas hollys, evergreens spitting pine cones on walkways, London plane tree’s bark hardening before the onset of winter’s thievery, lackluster leaves on viburnums grieving the approaching cold, and so much more.

Such perennials have to die, but with proper care return each spring. 

And with these changes also appear boisterous Jack-o-lanterns, gourds of yellows, oranges, whites, and greens, ornamental cauliflower heads, broomstick-riding witches, ghosts, skeletons, werewolves—prelude to Halloween’s deepening darkness and meditation, if so moved.

Whether it’s October’s whispers or shrieks, we’re invited to take stock of this strange beauty and listen. No October is like any other.

Trick or treaters, masked as princesses, pirates, ghouls, inflated by assumed identities, may again canvas our neighborhoods this Halloween, their parents watching from the sidewalks. Winds will nip ankles, flit crisped leaves across lawns beneath a waning moon. The drama, the hilarity will deepen.

Perhaps you have also donned a mask for such haunts when a kid or for Mardi Gras carnivals? Perhaps experienced masked performers in a play or ritual performances of native peoples? Or worn masks for Covid protection? Or still do?

You are not alone. Peoples from cultures all over the world have donned masks for such purposes. The oldest one, made of stone, dates back to 7000 B.C., the pre-ceramic Neolithic period; it is kept in the Bible and Holy Land Museum in Paris, France.

But there is another way of considering masks.

As children growing up in troubled families, we can develop masks or defense mechanisms that later thwart significant relationships in family and at work. A gnawing emptiness results. Nothing is significant. Addictive behaviors soon follow. Some visit the consulting rooms of psychologists or other helpers and begin the painful process of owning their self-constructed masks and learning to discard them.  Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they experience their spiritual center and live from this Source. They thrive, at whatever age.

I know. I’ve been through this process. And here is the result – I keep it in my study!

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