Monday, November 1, 2010

What is it about November?

It's November and nature knows it. My office windows look out on the tops of trees a block away; some are turning fiery red and others have already lost their leaves. Squirrels have been squirreling away their acorns for weeks. The song birds have flown off to sing in warmer places, leaving behind hardy pigeons and gulls, sparrows and starlings, red-tailed hawks and Canada geese. The days, meanwhile, are racing toward the winter solstice; last week I was startled to find myself in darkness when I emerged from the subway just after 6 p.m. The days are also getting colder: this morning it was 38 degrees at 7 a.m. 

I decided to look for a November quotation or poem to mark the new month and found myself wrapped in relentless gloom relieved only by brief flashes of mordant humor. This is Melville:
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can."
And T. S. Eliot — we all know he said April was the cruelest month, but this excerpt from Murder in the Cathedral makes it clear he wasn't too wild about November, either:
"Since golden October declined into sombre Novembre / And the apples were gathered and stored, and the land became brown sharp points of death in a waste of water and mud."
Maybe my soul just isn't black enough. When I think of November, it's not about death and despair — it's about taking a break from our overstuffed, 24/7 lives. Hibernating creatures find their burrows, and in a way, so do we. Those of us who choose to live in cold climates find ourselves drawn to the scents of fir trees and firewood and bayberry candles and to the warmth of soups and stews and winter vegetables. It is also the start of the holiday season with its fancy lights and fun. Before long, there will be snow. It's the time to settle down with a good book.

But there's something else, too. For me, one of November's blessings is the way it slowly reveals the beauty that remains when things are subtracted. 

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crop'd, break from the trees
And fall.
~ Adelaide Crapsey, "November Night"


  1. This is utterly lovely, Michele. "...the beauty that remains when things are subtracted" is poetry. And your photos are stunning. I'm so happy to be walking briskly in 40-degree temperatures with a bright orange fake-pashmina scarf at my throat and my battered leather jacket—I feel that this is the moment I've been waiting for. Thank you for celebrating the moment.

  2. Thank you, Susan. You sound like the very image of NYC in autumn — how's that for a California girl transformation? I can't take credit for the photos, though — they're from a stock house I use.