Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Hail and farewell, October.

Technically, I’ve still got fifteen minutes of October left, so I’m cracking the window just a little to let in the night and the air.

Yesterday, the temperature was up near 70 degrees, and last night, driving back from picking up dinner, it was warm enough for me to put the windows down and crank some music that took me back a couple decades. Today’s high was barely 50 and felt cooler than that thanks to a steady wind.

October’s always been this great swirl of beauty and endings and looking back and settling in for me. Even when I lived in Florida and had to settle for the summer’s heat finally breaking instead of seeing leaves change and smelling fall in the air. (What’s it smell like? Applesauce, pretty much. I kid you not: I got out of my car the other day, and the world just smelled like applesauce, and I thought, that’s fall.)

And while this part of the season always hits my nostalgia buttons, it’s been punching up my Bowling Green recall pretty hard this year, since this is the 20th October since my freshman year at BGSU.

About 15 years ago, I tried to capture a few slices of that period in my life in a short story called “Walking Through October.” At 4,600 words, it was, at that point, the longest thing I’d ever written. I only sent it off to one publication, and while I got a rejection, the editor did include a handwritten explanation about enjoying the feel of the piece, even if it wasn’t quite what they were looking for.

I dug it up today (yesterday, actually: I just looked at the clock and I’m six minutes into November) for the first time in years. As a story, it’s weaker than I remember, and the voice is a little different, but there are parts I still like, and it brought back a few things.

For instance, there’s this bit, based (as most of the story was) in reality:

The plane was cream and gold, a four-seater Cessna with a number on its tail that started with NZ. It happened to be the plane that Jen and I had taken a discovery flight on earlier that year, so that’s why I remembered. We’d seen an ad in the BG News:  “Introductory Flight lessons for $25, two people for $35.” Neither of us had been up in a small plane before, and seventeen and a half dollars seemed a reasonable price for an hour of adventure over September Ohio.

The afternoon we flew, we were so nervous and excited. Both of us were skipping a class, too, so that made it all the more fun, somehow. I remember how fragile the plane seemed, with doors that closed like car doors, but somehow less airtight. Certainly not the cushioned red plush and sterile compartment that a big commercial airplane feels like. In this plane, you knew you were flying, not like the huge jets where you may as well be riding a bus if you’re not by a window. You could feel the way the wind wrapped itself around the wings, the windshield, the slicing rudder, the dangling wheels.

The pilot, Sean I’m pretty sure his name was, although maybe I’m just remembering that he reminded me of one of those faces I knew in preschool, Sean McCartney, gave me some brief instructions and let me take the controls for a few minutes. I banked gently, turning, leaning, looking right and down over the fields below, patches of green, swatches of brown, wandering veins of tiny creeks lined with shade trees. The sun was low and orange as we landed, so far set that when we reached the ground, it had been down for a few minutes already, and we’d just been high enough that we had held onto the daylight just a little longer than the whole rest of the town.

We’d taken a whole roll of pictures on that flight. The film was lost in the mail and I never saw any of them. But I could still feel the vibrations of the rudder pedals under my feet, and the way the yoke responded as it turned in my hands. And I could still see the frightened and thrilled smile on Jen’s face in the small backseat.

The plane passed overhead and disappeared behind the trees of Oak Grove cemetery.

Sometime later that year, I took another flight lesson by myself, but I haven’t been up in anything smaller than a commuter plane since then.

There’s also this bit about hiking on the railroad tracks:

Looking down the length of Ridge street, towards town, I could see the red and white railroad crossing guards pointing skyward at the tracks that marked the western edge of campus. Near the start of the year, my roommate had told me about how he used to go to downtown Cleveland and stand down by the Rapids, the trains. He and his friends would cross the tracks and flatten their backs against a concrete wall and watch the trains rush by a foot or two from their faces, all noise and hot wind.

The idea intrigued me, and although I hadn’t been in Bowling Green long, I had already found out that trains ran through town on a pretty regular basis, especially at night, when their whistles carried far over the fields and you could hear the rails shaking even at the other end of campus, where I lived. So one day I’d taken a walk and sat down on an old unused rail-switcher, or whatever those things are called, and waited for a train to pass. Eventually one did, and I became hooked on the experience, and developed a love for the Midwest trains that rumbled through the fields. I’d flatten pennies, I’d leap to the tracks after a train had passed and put my ear to the icy steel and listen to the buzzing like metal-shaving bees inside. The best part, though was just standing there, in the coal wind and the oil breath and the earthquake, feeling rust and dirt flecks pecking at me, watching the wheels and the doors and the iron walls pound by in a blur.

Another friend, Erin, and I once spent an afternoon walking the tracks south. We’d bought some cold meat sandwiches and potato chips and pop from the cafeteria, and took them to go in a backpack, and just headed out of town on the rails. We actually hiked the whole three miles to Portage and never saw a train. We did find an old abandoned rock quarry, though, nestled within a copse of trees along the tracks. Under the soil was white, soft rock, maybe limestone, I don’t know, and the ground sloped gently into what looked like a pond, but the water was so clear and green, even a yard or two out, where the bottom was three or four feet under, you could see pebbles like you were looking through a Coke bottle. But at that point, the bottom of the pond dropped away into nothing. It was an odd and terrifying and beautiful feeling, imagining how deep that hole was, to make water so clear look so black. Even though the quarry was maybe only a hundred feet or so across, and the water crystalline, I was chilled at thinking about what it would be like to swim over that maw, utterly dark and deep and unknown.

That would be a swim of pure fear, even on a sunny day, knowing that you dangled somewhere at the top of a great chasm, feeling the imaginary stirring miles below of some awakened leviathan, all gaping mouth and smoothly pumping muscle, now rising and rising, the light of day growing in its eye, your thrashing form a speck in the aquamarine, now a shadow, now a figure, now– And the waves paddling the shore softly, softly, settling as the beast sinks again, trailing threads of bubbles from its endless slimed folds of skin.

We ate lunch at the railroad crossing in Portage, and walked back to BG along State Road 25.

I may never really be able to really explain everything October does to me, but bits like these are good reminders.

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November 1, 2009 - Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Ohio, Travel, writing | , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. Somehow not having those photos makes our plane ride even more memorable and more amazing. I just remember how the ground looked like a very large patchwork quilt with hues of gold and orange and a little green. It was so pretty.

    There is definitely something about this time of year that makes me more nostalgic than any other time. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, friend!!!

    Comment by Jen | November 1, 2009 | Reply

    • You’re welcome :) (Expect more to come, I think!)

      Comment by jrbooth | November 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. Your dad and I were to be married the end of October originally but then he got drafted and we moved the date up. But kept the fall colors…

    Comment by Pam | November 9, 2009 | Reply

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