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I walked outside tonight and smelled food grilling, mixed with October air. The first one’s not unusual; my neighbors always have fresh tortillas and vegetables and all manner of deliciousness on the grill. Nothing, on the other hand, smells quite like October.

That smell (sap, chill, crumbling leaves) brings me back to Halloweens and church carnivals. In the deep South, where I grew up, it heralded the first chill strong enough for a sweatshirt; in the mountains, it often brought the first snow.

When I try to break down the source of October’s scent, I ruin it a little…but I’m willing to pose a theory on why October itself is so lovely.

I think it’s because it’s so distinct.

The particulars of October are lovely on their own; they’d probably retain some of their thrill if they were more common. But I think our joy in Octobers (and our allegiance to them, spawning soliloquies like this and this) is found in their uniqueness.

The end of April and the beginning of May feel more or less alike. As soon as November pulls itself out of the gray-rain doldrums, it’s not dissimilar from December. Late July and early August? Please.

But what other month has frost in the air, but not so much you need a jacket, has the festivity of a childish holiday, but not so much you’re sick with stress?

Only October. So much is reserved — only for October. So by virtue of distinctness, we can clearly link the first frosty air and the first pumpkin-ed porch to all the Octobers of the past.

We need those links to leaves crunching under kid-sized light-up sneakers, and college football games in terrible costumes, and (horrible) clunking our chins on cheap metal bins as we attempt to bite apples out of bobbing water.

Our memories need enough strength to grab us, to get in front of us in the same air, the same sappy smell. We are built on the past.

We are built, in a way, on Octobers.

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