by George Ball
October closes with Halloween, the most misunderstood holiday, due to its roots not in horror but in rain. Just as seed is the first and the last—the seed and the fruit—so too are rains the alpha and omega of the growing season. Only after the dry heat of summer and early fall—unique to Western civilization, including the Mideast—do the rains (or snow) finally fall and prepare the earth for surviving winter and providing seed with the soil from which it can grow in spring.
The demons emerge on Halloween to show us, ironically, their marginal, subordinate status, and their submission to the rule of the natural, agricultural laws we must follow. They taunt us as we proceed at our work, to remind us that we must persist. Halloween is amusement, pure and simple.
Perhaps its peculiar contemporary mode (“trick or treat!”) foreshadows the vulgarization of Christmas, when the children have the tables turned on them; they are scrutinized, measured and subjected to greater or fewer gifts at least in Santa’s traditional form. But, no matter: Halloween exists to mark not only the agricultural calendar in our collective memory but also the return of the rains of autumn and the moisture to the soil.
If you are fascinated by the alpha and the omega that distinguishes the world’s great religions, you need look no further than seed.
While rain contributed to the evolution of plants it lacks the vivid quality of illustrating literally not only “the first and the last”, but also time itself. The seeds of flowering plants seem like the seconds of the earth’s cosmic clock—an endless flowering followed by the ticking and tocking of seeds fruiting, ripening and variously covering the expanse of our planet’s land surface.
Indeed, mankind invented the calendar to organize and regulate seasonal sowing cycles which, in turn, are caused by the earth circling the sun.
If seeds are the seconds, annuals are the minutes, vines are the hours, perennials the days, shrubs the months, and trees the years: a perpetual clock devised by the proverbial invisible watchmaker.
However, seeds—like seconds—are unique. Only brief and ephemeral moments contain the acts that change everything in our lives, from World War I to falling in love. Indeed, seeds remind me of the “alpha and omega” as figuratively expressed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We plant them, as well as eat them. We transform them into bread, the staff of life. Seeds do not take energy—they give it. As tools for survival, seeds are perfect, as long as you store them carefully (water destroys them and mice love them).