Okay, I had to wait until November 11th to send this, but have you looked outside? Have you walked out into the slanting light? Into the wakened air? No more sun’s sweaty palm pressing down on you, no more surfeit of light making you squint, no more panting dog of summer. The haze is gone; you can see.
November is the month of sight, and it is not just because of the cool, low-riding sun and the light’s nosy angles. The leafless trees wave their bare limbs; stonewalls emerge from hiding; the river shines with sky. The long view opens up, even as the days shorten. Once, someone said to me that living through November was like looking down a well — it was a dark place rimmed with stone, ending in watery reflection. I looked out my classroom window, toward the boathouse and the sedulous Sudbury, which had crept higher after summer’s starvation. One of the campus redtail hawks waited atop the hemlock, probably scouting for a snack; the air looked like the clearest water. If darkness were to be found it was in the hawk’s eyes — November is, after all, also the hungry season. “You’re crazy,” I said. “Why not take a walk?”
Taking a walk is often sound advice, but in November, it’s necessity. Only a little of the short day’s magic makes it through the window; you have to be out there to see it. Let’s go. Let’s leave the building, walking west into the afternoon’s lit promise; then we’ll turn north over the river and meander finally northeast along its banks.
Yesterday, after time’s slow hands slid south of four o’clock, the sun dropped beneath a western lid of clouds and the brightest light poured into the woods where I walked. I had been ambling along the Assabet River, making my way upstream and away from school in a dreamy fashion, my mind skimming the surface of one thought then another. Streaming light washed through the understory of the woods, even as the treetops lifted still into the falling dusk. It seemed that some impressionist had been turned loose with collections of pale leaves that he had wired to the spare branches of first this thin tree, then that one, stretching away to where they fused into a hammered gold backdrop. My back to the sun, I watched the leaves glow, saw light rise from the matted grasses and ricochet wildly through the limbs and out over the river. Suffused with light, like many before me, I felt lifted; affection brimmed.
And I thought of the work I’d walked away from for short sojourn amid the trees. There is always the grey-brown of routine laced with fatigue – it is always stereotypical November in some classroom, in the pages of some text, in our plodding minds. We read on, calculate odds, solve for our various Xs. Oddly, ironically, the same routine, the same November walking, brings us to flooding light, to moments when insight burns like lit leaves and the whole classroom or mind is bright. “Who knows when it will come?” I said, slipping easily into the long habit of self-address. “Surely tomorrow,” I answered and turned again toward November’s school.
Coda: November happinesses I left out:
• Thanksgiving, the year’s best holiday, the only one imagined from food and talk.
• First snow – thought crystallized
• Cold air laced with woodsmoke
• Russet and magenta show of the oaks
• Reading in a pool of lamplight in the early dark