November is a hard month to love, with Central Standard Time’s blanket of early darkness descending like a fiat from the old Soviet Politburo. Boom. Here. Deal with it. The sun, fickle lover, heads south for its annual dalliance with the other hemisphere.
Leaf blowers are deafening in their mindless mission to project all leafy matter into the streets, where work vehicles, fronted by enormous cages, push them into small mountains to be packed into dump trucks for the journey to mulch utopia.
As there is no escaping November — unless you have an alternative abode in sunnier climes — our only choice seems to be learning to love it somehow. If James Taylor is right that “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time,” that includes the changing seasons, even the seasons we love less. Our four-part year doesn’t allow the luxury of complacency, so we are left with celebrating the changing markers and rhythms. It helps to have a vantage point, a perch from which to view the year’s visual slide show.
My vantage point as a kid was the Maze branch library on Gunderson, just north of the expressway, that quaint, book-filled cottage of stone and brick, that marks each season by pasting pastel construction paper Easter eggs, flowers, flags, falling leaves, and snowflakes in the windows of the children’s section, as they have since I was a kid 60-some years ago, and maybe since its doors opened in 1936.
Because the library overplanted trees that obscure this charming structure’s facade during the growing portion of the year, one of the best things about November is the leafless view of the warm lights aglow within during these night-dominant latter days.
And speaking of vantage points, high overhead, sandhill cranes on sunny days can be heard on their bi-annual aerial sprint toward warmer habitats, bleating their never-ending mantra: “Cold, cold, cold! Holy crap! How’d it get so cold?!”
The cranes make a lot of noise as they fly over, in groups of a couple of dozen to hundreds, circling and collecting before continuing south, each V led by a single crane, the others in tight, if fluid, formation. Oak Park is on their flyway path, but you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you hear them before you can see them.
They are all business, their long necks stretched taut, taking full advantage of vast wing spans. And they really move.
When we think of birds flying south, we think of geese. Canada geese, however, have been wintering here for decades, creating an unholy mess after grazing on our grass.
Cranes are the real thing, a mass migration of thousands, driven southeast by a cold northwest wind, guided by unerring instinct, an inbred genetic memory. We, the landbound, find them thrilling, a giant flying chorus of bleating hearts, setting a breakneck pace, pointing toward the future while endlessly re-enacting the past.
They are a metaphor of transcendence for flatlanders, symbols of freedom, but they’re really just getting the hell out of Dodge with winter nipping their tail feathers. They’re locked in an annual circuit that forces them south, then seduces them north again each March. They aren’t free to question their hard-wiring long enough to say, “I think I’ll winter here this year instead.”
Back on terra firma, November’s charms are subtle: the stillness of the world, post-World Series, post-Farmers Market, post-election, post-leaf blowers — the calm before the holiday storm, leafy collages plastered on and framed by sidewalk squares. The primary colors depart, leaving burnished browns and russet reds, the squirrels hurdling leaf piles on their way to building a food stash for the upcoming season of slimmer pickings.
November has its fans. “It’s a time of peace and planning,” says a friend, “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 November, too. This year the thermometer hit 76 degrees mid-month, and a week later it was 14 above zero.
Maybe Brook Benton (“Rainy Night in Georgia”) was thinking of November when he sang, “No matter how you look at it or think of it, it’s life and you just got to fit it in.”