Slouching Toward November

Been running around quite a bit this month, promoting the new book. The response to The Last Altruist has been very gratifying, more so than any of the previous books. I’m particularly grateful to Longfellow Books, Sherman’s Maine Coast Books, and the South Portland library for the boosts. And, of course, thank you to everyone who’s read and/or bought The Last Altruist.

It’s a bleary rainy October Tuesday morning on Trout Brook, which reminds me how close November is. November has always been a mixed blessing for me. We’re more clearly losing the light (commonly rendered as “the days grow shorter,” which isn’t quite accurate). The garden is cleared out, the soil turned. Garlic planted, the dead asparagus fronds cut back and composted. More bulbs and perennials planted against the need for color when we need it the most: come spring.

Most of my life I’ve dreaded November, feeling it deeply as the dying of the year. The brown and the gray take over the green, the rain takes over from the sun, the chill buries the memory of warmth. It’s always a temptation in November to indulge the lugubrious side of my nature.

This past year, I added a couple of rocks to that bag. As some of you know, I lost both my parents in quick succession last year at this time, my father on November 7, my mother on December 12. I still think of them every day, of course, and though the loss doesn’t diminish, it becomes more manageable with time. But it darkens November that little bit more.

I’ve learned to manage my own response to the slow dance of November, though, by not taking on grand new projects, by doing my best to recognize it’s a better time for me to batten down the physical and emotional hatches against the cold dark days and nights ahead. What sustains me, too, in a transition to rest is the love of my remaining family and the care and feeding of, and by, my friends.

We speak knowingly of natural cycles, acknowledge how weather and the natural world undergo periods of activity and contraction, flourishing and rest. We wax on about the gorgeous foliage without remembering that the death of the leaves makes possible the next crop. And we rarely apply our knowledge of nature’s cycles to our own natures.

We push ourselves through our schedules and our disciplines, often without acknowledging our need, like everything else in the world, to rest and regroup. Which is why I’m trying to learn to see November as an opportunity, rather than a time to be gotten through on the way to somewhere else, an opportunity to rest, to be calm.

If you can find it in yourself to breathe, to allow yourself a little rest here and there, I’d recommend it. The work will always be there, as will the responsibilities and the expectations we carry. The road is long. A breathing space will not brighten your month of November, but it could very well ease your heart.

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5 Responses to Slouching Toward November

  1. John Clark says:

    May this November bring you unexpected joy.

  2. Frank O Smith says:

    Dick, another fine, probing yet reflective piece. You articulate for me my own ambivalence about November. Without being fully aware of it, I’ve been letting go of my hard squeeze on October to maintain the year’s momentum to get more done. Thanks for the reminder to surrender gracefully to the grace of life.

  3. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Thinking of you, and your folks, after reading this. I appreciate your perspective on November, and the seasonal shifts that affect us all, whether we’re attuned to those patterns or not.

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    May their memory be a blessing. I, too, think November is pretty bleak. All the more reason to find that joy John talks about. For me, that’s my granddaughter’s 6th birthday, and the family gathering for Thanksgiving. I just won’t look out the window.

  5. Sandra Neily says:

    This was just so lovely and poignant, and I think, very November true. Thank YOU! My November solace is the beech true, which holds leaves almost golden when other trees are bare. That and the brilliant white bark of the birch. I don’t want the leaves to go, a reminder that October also has a very sad anniversary for me, but I think the beech and birch help me though. Thank you for digging down and sharing so much.

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