Ode to Autumn, Country Fairs, and Charlotte’s Web


Each October, I visit the Topsfield Fair. Fairs are wondrous, tying us in with traditions and our agricultural roots. Adorable bunnies, cavies (guinea pigs), chicks, sheep, piglets, and dignified llamas, cows, and horses abound.DSC_1045

We cheer on the pig races,DSC_1032 ride the ferris wheel, admire the prize-winning pumpkin, and visit the cozy bee building with its hives, candle-making, and honey. Our son plays games and goes on fair rides with friends now, but I fondly recall our times shared when he was young.

Along with nature walks and local farms, such fairs are ‘real-life’ connections to E. B. White’s classic, beautiful book, Charlotte’s Web, which I re-read every autumn.  I also re-watch the warm, funny movie, featuring Dakota Fanning as Fern and fantastic voice-overs by stellar actors and actresses, along with a screen adaptation whose scriptwriters really ‘got it right.’  You have to love talking animals, perhaps. But isn’t literature filled with brilliant stories that use animals as stand-ins for humans?

The question is, what compels me to do these things every autumn? For the sake of tradition? Perhaps.  But mostly because they remind me of the cycles of nature, life, and the meaning of friendship. They also soothe the anxiety that creeps in every year around this time.images from Charlotte's Web 003

September, not January, has always felt like the new year to me: new beginnings, new schools, classes, and, with the change in weather, a certain melancholy, a drawing in, preparing for changes in light and weather, and wondering about life in general. What’s my purpose–where am I going? September was the time to ‘figure it all out.’ Would I make friends in my new classes and/or schools? Why did I struggle in some classes? Should I try some new activity, hobby or sport? What made a good friend–a true friend–anyway?

The answers lie in Charlotte’s Web I’ll always be grateful to E.B. White, whose books made such a positive impact on my life and love of reading. Just like in Charlotte’s Web, life changes as seasons change. We become sad when we lose people we love. Charlotte's_Web_2006images from Charlotte's Web 016

Things can seem sad in general when there is less daylight. Colder, darker days settle in, causing self-doubt.  Yes, we may look forward to cozy fires or hot cider or chocolate to warm us, or holiday gatherings, or that magical first snow as a snowflake melts on your tongue in the bright white of a peaceful landscape. But winter also reminds us of our own mortality–and those who’ve left us. Charlotte, a humble spider, has only a short time on this earth. But she fills it with wonder, purpose, friendship–and love. A sweet pig named Wilbur is her inspiration, as she is his.

images from Charlotte's Web 010In a passage quoted from Chapter 21: Last Day, Wilbur says:  

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I didn’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my true friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a trememdous thing.”

  – – – * * * * * * * – – –

Life in the barn is gritty. It’s a greedy rat scavenging for scraps. It’s prejudice against a spider. It’s a girl who wants to save a pig from a pig’s usual fate. It’s also warmth, and hope, even in winter–and all the way on into spring. It’s a spider who, beautiful in Wilbur’s eyes, touches lives. And a pig who appreciates a true friend. It’s living, and all that entails, including worry, messiness, death, and mourning. But it’s noticing those moments of happiness, wonder, and grace–and holding onto them when they come, that’s important.  We must hoard these memories in our hearts as Templeton the rat hoards each precious find. Because they are what will get us through the falling leaves and cold, dark days that living on this earth tosses our way.DSC_0527

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte’s_Web (2006_film))


Please Note: All Charlotte’s Web book images taken from my personal copy of the 50th Anniversary Retrospective Edition of Charlotte’s Web, published 2002, Harper Collins Publishers, Text copyright © renewed 1980 by E.B. White; Illustrations copyright © renewed by Estate of Garth Williams, Colorizations copyright © 2002 by Estate of Garth Williams.

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