Kate Flora: We had a quiet post-Thanksgiving weekend. No trips to the Mall. No frenzy of on-line shopping. Just walks in the autumn woods and plates of leftover turkey and of course, pie for breakfast. I used to love the crescendo of color that fall brought, but I’ve never been able to embrace November. It has always seemed to me to be a month of browns and grays, of fading and decay. And as the years has passed and I’ve become less of a spring chicken and more of an old hen, fall can be a reminder that time–like the days–is getting shorter.
Since my impetuous premature birth one July day many years ago–startling a mother who’d just moved into a farmhouse on Sennebec Hill and who was expecting a baby in September, I’ve been rushing through life. Once I described it as going through life the way I walk on ice, going quickly over it so I’ll be on the other side before I fall down. But rushing through life comes with a price: too often, it means not seeing what is around me. So this fall, instead of rushing, I’m slowing down. I’m remembering to be present at the holiday table instead of worrying about the next course or the dishes. I’m trying to see the world I’m in instead of rushing toward the next season.
Slowing down and seeing lets me enjoy the more subtle tones of November. Instead of dismissing this world as ugly and dull, and sighing for the new greens of spring or the vibrant colors of my summer garden, I am seeing the beauty in shapes. In subtlety. In the surprises of a lingering mum or a rose that doesn’t want to stop blooming and the enormous hen of the woods mushroom that’s popped up in my lawn. I am looking at the seedpods of the ligularia and the gorgeous tassels on my grasses and making a different kind of bouquet. Without the distraction of green, tree bark is revealed in all its textured glory and different varieties of trees show their own distinctive shapes. I walk on carpets of leaves and scuffle like a child through drifts of fallen pine needles and feel how different they are beneath my feet.
Do people raised in cities or suburbs also feel this? Are their ears attuned to the different bird calls and notice who is around? Why are there so many more blue jays around? What does all the bird chatter mean? I need to dive back into a book I found recently, What the Robin Knows, and learn to pay attention to the different songs birds use as they go through their days.
I’ve been frustrated at my desk for several weeks, not getting much done and struggling to find my way into the work. Now I see that I need to carry this lesson of slowing down and enjoying what I’m doing and where I am back into my work. Instead of my usual insane rush through story, I need to slow down and enjoy the process. Not rail against my mind or my attention span because the work is going slowly and the words are hard to find–always part of the challenge of writing nonfiction–but just let it happen. Watch the story unfold, as I’ve learned to do yet keep forgetting, so that you, the reader, can be captured by it, immersed in it, and see how the world is for the characters. The characters are real, yet it is my “writer’s job” to help you see them. Now, it seems that perhaps the lesson of November is there if I will learn it: Notice. Be attuned. Slow down. Appreciate. Let the story speak the way I am letting the world speak. Then share what I am seeing.