S is for Showman

“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”
– Ray Bradbury, The October Country

So autumn begins, my first autumn feeling like I belong here. One of the interesting things about living in the desert was that the seasons are not quite the standards you expect. I don’t mean spring – summer – winter – fall, though that’s true too. Summer is when the leaves crunch under my feet, and autumn is when life comes back.

Of course, it was the only place I’ve ever been where the October people show up in October. (That is – the State Fair is in October.) Then the late winter is the time all the traditional circus-fair-type productions come through. You know, they show up on a bunch of sixteen wheelers and unfold a bunch of attractions that only look passably safe and a some sketchy-looking games and a funhouse and maybe some crappy food, and they set up for the weekend in a parking lot somewhere.

Last year, to celebrate that first equinox heralding autumn in so long, I went to Oaks Park. Part of the magic of amusement parks is that they should not exist – they’re a kind of permanent liminal place. Carnivals are meant to come and go, and even amusement parks tend to have their seasons. (Disney is… an entirely different kind of magical space. Suffice to say that once you’ve invoked Walt, the park is never quite the same.)

My time of year has always been the span of Needing A Sweatshirt, from the first crisp morning until it snows. Of course, I’m on the other side of the country, in an entirely different weather pattern now. I can make my sweatshirt work for most of the winter, here.

It creeps in a little ahead of the equinox, here and there: honey crisp apples at the farmers’ market and a few wet days in the 60s. The equinox makes it official, though.

And in the face of that, I can’t help but think about Odin, and the faces he’s shown me.

Once the autumn touches you, and your leaves go red and orange and yellow, and your afternoons get cold and your evenings come early, well, that’s not the sort of thing that gives up easily.

And the Professor, once he gets his fingers in, well, he doesn’t give up easily either.

Autumn was always my favorite season, even before I figured out the obvious. But that really took shape for me in college, when I suddenly had all the freedom I’d imagined even if I was only a few hours from home, and I seemed to have all the crisp dawns and crystal cold midnights I could stand. Yes, even the autumn of my freshman year ended eventually, but it waited a good long time – past Thanksgiving break that year, ridiculously long for that part of the country.

After being inspired to revisit the Oz books, I gave some serious thought to the Wizard of Oz as an archetype. There’s something to be said for starting from faking it and learning as you go, after all. Somewhere along the way, he started talking back.

The Wizard is a humbug, but in the books he’s a fucking clever humbug. Eventually he does learn magic from Glinda, but by that point he’d already accomplished everything interesting. And since they were both carnival men, I couldn’t help associating the Wizard with Professor Dark.

It wasn’t until more recently that I made the final leap – Odin himself was traveler, con-man, teacher and storyteller, as like to deal you fair as to take you for all you were worth. The line between showman and shaman is perhaps thinner than we like to admit. When a mess of tents and a man with a vision roll into town, it can be hard to tell if he’s a faith healer or a carny at first glance. (And Oz is, don’t forget, on the other side of the rainbow.)

I have plenty of context for Odin now. I’ve studied the myths and the lore, and I would most likely recognize him if he came to me in floppy hat and traveling cloak. The face of Odin that most resonates with my experience of him is the wanderer and storyteller, traveling in human guise from one home to the next, facing whatever adventure was around the corner.

Often, when I see him, he still chooses the face of the showman for my benefit. With as many names as he has, I’m certainly not going to begrudge him two more.

0 thoughts on “S is for Showman

  1. I love the way you discuss associating with Odin.

    Even more the way you describe autumn–it used to fill me with indeterminable sadness, and a need to fly, to migrate, this urgency to just GO. But I learned to embrace the crispness of its blaze, and the quietness of its being, and I’ve realized all that it gives to me. Spring is this tenuous promise of green, summer demands my labor in the heat, but autumn is a time of bounty and reflection. It’s when the plants and my thoughts all come to fruition in harvest.

    I love showmen, too. Through my cousin, through growing up in a family blessed with fiddlers and other musicians, magicians, and storytellers. It’s funny you would say a showman and a shaman are so similar–they seem to have a balancing aspect to them, even if it’s by throwing everything off kilter for a bit. They bring a sense of wonder and splendor that allows us to suspend our reality for a moment. And it can lend perspective if you want, or simply be a break.

    Dad always took us to fairs and things, but I found it silly he spent more time there trying to make me afraid of carnivals than enjoying himself. He talked about the dangerous rides, and the shifty folk running them, and how expense they were–don’t even start on the food. That kind of made me love them all the more in an unconscious rebellion. Carousels especially, for reasons I don’t really know, though I’m sure it’s something to do with wheels. I’m a horrible travelling companion because to this day, if I get even the hint of one near by, I insist on stopping to visit.

    I blame Bradbury for associating carnivals with autumn, but one little town I grew up in had a harvest festival very late in the year, late September to early October. It seemed far more magical than the county fair, because of the way the chilly darkness swirled around the sparkling lights and overly enthusiastic piped music.

    Now I want funnel cake. ;c

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