Jim McGuire: November’s exhilarating light


October has come to an end. November awaits, ready to take immediate occupancy and commence it’s 30-day reign.

By the calendar, autumn as a season is now halfway over. The downhill segment lies ahead.

Unfortunately, this latter portion of autumn doesn’t get much fanfare or respect. Most folks overlook the month’s worth and individuality, paying little mind to the month’s distinctive character. If it weren’t for Thanksgiving and the changeover from Daylight Savings Time back to Eastern Standard next weekend, poor November would likely be disregarded entirely.

Too often simply November gets viewed as merely a gloomy transition between colorful October and icy December. A gray and chilly partition dividing autumn from winter.

Many poets share a similar opinion. They tend to ramble depressingly about November—waxing ponderously in dank metaphors about death, dying, and hopeless dreariness. Melancholic stuff that doubtless demands to be read in a sepulchral voice.

There are, of course, exceptions.

Hoosier lyricist James Whitcomb Riley saw November through a countryman’s eyes, calling it the “rapture of the year.”

Dayton native Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote of the “precious boon of living, in the sweet November days.”

On the whole, though, positive November verse is relatively rare. Which presumably indicates poets share the populist view that November holds little in the way of natural beauty or appealing outdoor possibilities. I suspect the truth is those toiling scribes were too busy concocting rhymes of starry-eyed lovers gamboling merrily amid the glories of spring to actually venture outside and see what November offered.

Whatever the excuse, it’s generally left to the old nature essayists such as Hal Borland to interpret November with any degree of sympathetic observation.

November skies, Borland once noted, are often “so deep, so blue that April and June were almost murky by contrast.”

This morning, as I gathered an armload of firewood to carry inside and feed into the woodstove, I looked up and was suddenly transfixed.

The sky above the huge sycamores lining the Stillwater was an intense and incredible blue! Oceanic blue—the same hue I remember seeing off the coast of Cuba when our small fishing boat crossed into the sweeping flow of the great Gulf Stream.

Brilliant and deep, that early sky above the trees gleamed like a polished jewel. A long blue wedge sliced from pure sapphire.

Indeed, one of the qualities we so often seem to forget when it comes to November is its wondrous light.

Days in early November can be filled with a rich, golden luminosity. Extraordinary light that bathes the landscape in tones which could have come straight from Rembrandt’s own palette.

Later in the month the light clarifies, turning more crystalline. But not yet into that hard, brittle light of mid-winter—harsh light which rakes the land like the tines of a fork.

Rather, it’s still a friendly, scintillating illumination that magically etches the now-leafless trunks of trees, draws shape from the hillsides, and casts long afternoon shadows in shades of umber and plum.

From beginning to end, November days are filled with remarkable and occasionally fantastical light.

Amid this sublime light we outdoor ramblers rove fields and forests, haunting old, abandoned homesteads where we fill our pockets with wild apples; fruits whose beauty lies not in appearance, but in taste—crisp, tart, sweet, the very essence of the season.

Sometimes we stomp the weeds for cottontails, or ply the hill-country puckerbrush for partridge. On alternate outings we visit our favorite autumnal waters for crappie, saugeye, and bass.

But no matter our chosen activity, we’ll do it under the clean light and stirring skies which gives the month its singular character.

Even the nights appear to somehow benefit from this distinctive and wonderful light. Stars seem closer, brighter. A couple of weeks hence, November’s enchanting light will bathe the Full Beaver Moon as it rolls along like a plump pearl through the star-spangled darkness.

I don’t know how, but I swear November’s compelling light even seeps into the ringing bawl of a coonhound hot on a scent, and in the hoots of great horned owls hunting along the river.

Yes, November can sometimes be overcast and rainy. Weather can turn damp and cold. But not always…and even when it does, there’s always the light which follows—a glorious flip side to any dank and chilly dreariness. Even when it’s sometimes a bit waning in vigor, the therapeutic potency of November’s sublime light remains. An uplifting reward.

Henry David Thoreau recognized this when he said, “The thinnest yellow light of November is more warming and exhilarating than any wine.”

November deserves our attention. Its days may be taking us toward winter—but the rewards along the way are many and worth savoring. Plus the light is breathtaking!

Heading downhill is fun!

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