By James McGuire
November begins—and it didn’t take long for this eleventh month to establish its authority.
On the night of arrival, November delivered a skift of snow—the season’s first. Not just a few flurries, but enough to carpet the newly fallen leaves in white—that lingered through midmorning.
November’s seriousness was further reemphasized the next morning. As the dog and I headed out in pre-dawn darkness for her initial reconnoiter, my weather station temperature read a measly 27 degrees!
November had announced its rule. Cold and snow within 24 hours of flipping the calendar page! Weather we haven’t seen or felt since last March—both prelude and warning:
“Enough of this Indian Summer balminess,” November seemed to be saying. “Let’s get down to the business of transitioning from autumn to winter.”
Still, you can’t hold such natural inclinations against November. As abrupt and disconcerting as this was, from start to finish November is always a month to savor.
November begins in brilliant autumnal dress—a countryside still sparsely adorned in patchwork shades of orange and red and yellow leaves. Not so much a leftover look but more the appearance of a party yet to end.
As the month progresses, the last of these multicolored leaves will come sifting down, loosened by changing winds—floating, falling, blowing, drifting. Like scattered colors strewn from a paintbox, leaves pile upon the forest floor, gather into fluffy windrows, and scatter before errant gusts.
Vivid leaves that crunch underfoot and smell of tangy tannins.
To walk a woodland pathway carpeted with remnant leaves is to trod the very substance of tomorrow, the essence of botanical reincarnation because—given a time allotment of winter’s weathering space—these same leaves will break down, decompose, and recycle into nutrients used for fueling next year’s emerging foliage. Our boot lugs simply hurry the process.
Any tree in the forest is a product of reissue and reinvestment, an annual reinvention of its former self—plus a variable mix of its neighbors near and far, depending upon luck and the capriciousness of November winds.
Wind is always November’s paramount voice—especially during the latter weeks.
Often, while exploring the southeastern hill country, I’ve stood upon the crest of a high ridge and heard November’s wind sweeping through the woods below—listened as it moaned through the sycamores, whispered amongst the hemlocks, wailed like a banshee within the chinkapins.
As a hunter, I’ve heard many November wind voices.
The sibilant hiss of wind slithering over tawny meadow grass where rabbits hunkered.
A rattle-clatter wind in the cut corn stalks as I slogged through ankle-deep mud in search of pheasants.
An unceasing and cruel wind that constantly sapped my energy and whittled away at my will as I hunkered in a lakeshore blind—finally beating and driving me back to the heated shelter of my pickup truck.
In the hill country, I’ve listened to the primordial growl of wind roaring down from the north, spitting sleet. Wind that unnerved the local partridge, inducing them to spook wildly, invariably beyond range. More than once I’ve stood wiping stinging eyes and watched hard-won grouse go sailing quickly away on the November wind—birds which flew off with that unmistakable look of remaining forever lost, no matter how many coverts I pushed through.
But of all the November wind voices I’ve heard over the years, probably the one I remember most vividly is the sound of an end-of-the-month storm beating against a tent wall in a solitary hill country camp.
Cold and tired from a long day’s rambling, I’d fallen asleep listening to the ringing chop of a distant coonhound. The wind came about midnight when the fire had died to a few winking embers.
Suddenly, I awoke with a start, wondering what on earth was making that pulsing lament. Wendigo or sasquatch?
Listening to November’s wind voice while alone and camped on a remote hilltop induces a dichotomy of reactions. There’s snug gratefulness as you burrow deeper into the warmth of your down-filled sleeping bag—but gnawing apprehension that your flimsy protection might give way before the onslaught, thereby exposing you to the elemental teeth of that great nocturnal beast incessantly snarling just beyond the thin canvas.
You really can’t hear a November wind the same way from the security of a well-sealed house. I probably lay awake in my little tent for an hour, listening to the rise and fall of that wind—thrilled, afraid, amazed.
Still, wind alone—even in all its marvelous variations—isn’t November’s only voice.
You can also hear November in the passage cry of wild geese migrating in the night. A lonely, excited gabbling that occasionally wakes me from my dark slumbers to stir my soul.
November’s voice can be heard in the owls, too—barred and great horned—a quavering, eerie hooting that carries well in the empty night.
Wind and geese and owls; colored leaves, gloomy days and days of bright sunshine. I’ve always enjoyed this eleventh month—have always delighted in its contrasts, and savored its varied personas. For above all else, November is a month of mercurial temperament and singular character—qualities a moody Celt can forthrightly grasp.
If you think of the year as circular, and arrange the months as numbers on a clocklike face (for some reason I’ve always viewed this listing in a counterclockwise arrangement), then it’s quickly apparent that November lies at the polar opposite of May—month of my birth, and the definite midpoint of rebirthing spring.
A telling position and an interesting counterpoint of spiritual balance and harmony along this circular journey. One connecting with my own need for equilibrium and symmetry.
Beauty and balance, harmony and variety. Reason enough to enjoy November to the hilt.
Reach the writer at [email protected]