It’s hard to love November. The penultimate month is the beginning of the end — not of life as we know it, but of life as we knew it … of summer so recently, so dearly and drearily, departed, the collapsed hosta leaves in front gardens providing eloquent testament.
This year, as last, November also marked the end of autumn as late October’s heavy, wet snow and deep freeze stripped the trees of their leaves just before they reached peak hue. It’s hard not to feel shortchanged by November when winter arrives a full month early — again.
It has been an unusual weather year — unusual being the norm now, it would appear, in the era of climate change. Several days of 20-below-zero in January; winter’s last snow falling on April 28; a cold, wet spring lasting all the way through June, depriving us of a full month of summer, though what we had was glorious, arriving just in time for Independence Day and departing just after Labor Day, gone too soon; and the first snow of this winter arriving at the end of October. Six months between the last and first snowfalls. A two-month summer and a two-month autumn. Not nearly enough to fully charge our internal solar batteries for what is to come.
November is a hard month to love, with Central Standard Time, a blanket of early darkness descending like a fiat from the old Soviet Politburo. Boom. Deal with it. The farmers want an extra hour of light in the morning to milk the cows and kids shouldn’t have to go to school in the dark, even though they will in another month. The sun, fickle lover, heads south for its annual dalliance with some other hemisphere. Sandhill cranes high overhead follow in its wake, sprinting toward warmer climes, bleating their mantra, “Holy crap! How’d it get so cold?!” The leaf blowers are deafening in their dutiful mission to project all leafy matter into the streets, where vehicles fronted by enormous cages, push them into small mountains for dump trucks to dispose.
As there is no escaping November, we must learn to love it somehow. If James Taylor is right that “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time,” that includes the changing of seasons. And I do love the changing seasons (even if I mourn the season just changed). The year doesn’t allow us to grow complacent, so we celebrate the changing rhythms and markers. It helps to have a vantage point, like movies that choose a location and show its changing face over the course of a year.
My vantage point is the Maze branch library on Gunderson, just north of the expressway, that quaint, book-filled cottage of stone and brick, which marks each season by pasting pastel construction paper Easter eggs and flowers and flags and leaves and candy canes and snowflakes in the windows of the children’s section, as they have since I was a kid 60 years ago, and maybe since its doors opened in 1936.
Because the library overplanted trees that obscure this charming structure during the growing portion of the year, one of the best things about November is losing the leaves obstructing the view — that and the warm lights aglow within during the night-dominant portion of the year.
November’s charms are subtle. I love the stillness of the world, post-World Series, post-Farmers Market, post-leaf blowers — the calm before the Holiday storm.
I love tip-toeing through the ginkgo berry/crabapple minefields on the sidewalks. OK, not really, but I do love the leafy collages framed by each sidewalk square as I course my way through the village. I miss the primary colors but appreciate the subdued pigments of dried leaves, the burnished browns and russet reds, as the squirrels hurdle them on their way to hording food stocks for the upcoming season of slimmer pickings.
It helps to have a friend who loves November.
“It’s a time of peace and planning,” she says, “a time of looking ahead to the lights and bells and whistles of December. It’s going from outside joy to inside joy. In November you can hear the leaves when you walk. I love the dried hydrangeas. I love November brown.”
November white, on the other hand, is harder to love, especially when it comes several inches deep with icy wind chill. But that’s the November we have at the moment, so we have to come to terms with it.
If a young person’s fancy turns to thoughts of love in spring, an older fancy turns to something else come November — stated best by Ellis Peters in her book, Brother Cadfael’s Penance:
“He had never before been quite so acutely aware of the particular quality and function of November, its ripeness and its sadness. The year proceeds not in a straight line through the seasons, but in a circle that brings the world and man back to the dimness and mystery in which both began, and out of which a new seed-time and a new generation are about to begin. Old men, thought Cadfael, believe in that new beginning, but experience only the ending. It may be that God is reminding me that I am approaching my November. Well, why regret it? November has beauty, has seen the harvest into the barns, even laid by next year’s seed. No need to fret about not being allowed to stay and sow it; someone else will do that. So go contentedly into the earth with the moist, gentle, skeletal leaves, worn to cobweb fragility, like the skins of very old men, that bruise and stain at the mere brushing of the breeze, and flower into brown blotches as the leaves into rotting gold. The colors of late autumn are the colors of the sunset: the farewell of the year and the farewell of the day. And of the life of man? Well, if it ends in a flourish of gold, that is no bad ending.”