Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Defense of November

"November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."
- Emily Dickinson

My favourite season is spring when every single good thing is before us, when the days are lengthening noticeably, when every green sprout is a wonder, when the air is like a kiss, and gardening seems like pleasure and not chore. I love the smells of the promise of spring.

"No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -
- Thomas Hood, No!

I always tell myself I hate fall, but this is not entirely true. What I do not love is early fall. I hate the hot, wasp-filled, over-ripe fruit, overblown garden days of early fall in all its gaudy colours. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, I am glad I live in a country with four seasons. But early fall is the tawdry cheap cousin of summer. Early fall signals the end of things and I protest every single time. Early fall means school must begin again. Early fall means frost may come. The pool must close. The tomatoes are done. Holidays are packed away. The days are visibly shorter.

By October, I reconcile myself. I cook squash-ginger soup and pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie. I turn the fireplace on. I rejoice in the victory over the weeds in the garden – for now I am ahead of them. I snuggle in sweaters and socks. I turn the fire on and light candles. I decorate with gourds and dried Chinese lanterns. We carve pumpkins and plot costumes and collect candy.

"The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.
The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.
And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain
- John Updike, A Child's Calendar

And then it is November. So many people jump ahead in November. They rip down skeletons and spiderwebs and put up Santa and snowmen.

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
- Andrew Wyeth

I think they miss the best part of fall. The air is crisp and the ground dazzles with frost. Half the leaves fall from our trees in one morning. I can rake patterns into the lawn. The trees reveal their shapes. Geese flap their wings as they fly overhead, rarely directly south.

I read a novel recently in which a character was dying of all sorts of cancer. She had come to the place beyond anxiety where she accepted the end of things and her own end in particular. I think that’s what’s behind November for me. It has been an acquired taste but I like the sparseness of November, the baldness, the noise and smell of fallen, decaying leaves. I’ve accepted the end of the summer before November and I can enjoy the ends of the year quite peacefully.

"The thinnest yellow light of November is more warming and exhilarating than any wine they tell of. The mite which November contributes becomes equal in value to the bounty of July."
- Henry David Thoreau

1 comment:

  1. I think people unconsciously associate mid/late fall with the beginning of the end. That could be why we celebrate All Saints in November. I don't have any proof of that, but something tells me that it's true. We watch the leaves struggle against the cold wind and lose their leaves, looking naked and vulnerable, exposing our frailties, perhaps rubbing our noses in our limitations. Those tree become like mirrors, even if we only see them out of the corner of our eyes. All Saints helps us to remember those who struggled against the wind and won.

    It's been said that people become more reflective in their autumn years. And while I haven't yet gotten that far, I've seen it on others. They struggle with issues of meaning and significance. They reconcile damaged relationships. They where their regrets as badges. They learn to walk with a limp. They learn to value the wisdom that a reflective life can bring.