story and photos by Bill Banaszewski
November is not a favorite month, from what I’ve read and in the minds of many folks. “Gray” and “dreary” seem to be the most frequently used words to describe the 11th month of the year. Thomas Hood sums up that sentiment in his classic poem, “No!” Here’s a passage, below:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
Although this shortened version of Hood’s poem is catchy, a few people actually enjoy November, and I am among them. I’ve noticed that here in the Finger Lakes and especially close to the lakeshores, autumn conditions seem to linger longer and longer with each passing year. Warm temperatures and fall colors can hang around to the end of November. Nevertheless, I take pleasure in the cloudy, foggy, calm days and the muted colors of November.
Looking back, it seems to me that November is a mellower month than most. I especially enjoy long walks in the woods, taking in the quiet surroundings and the subdued colors. I used to enjoy the sense of adventure during deer season, but these days I am content to simply observe and photograph the rituals of the whitetail deer.
After I harvest my last red raspberries and fall vegetables, and put my garden to bed for the season, I take to my labor of love – cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood. There’s a common saying that wood warms you many times over – when you cut it, split it, stack it, and then when you enjoy the warmth of a crackling fire in the woodstove on cold winter evenings.
Usually by the middle of November, the leaves of red oak trees are scarlet. Gradually they turn to brown and will remain on the trees until spring.
November mornings at the lake are often flat-calm and blanketed in fog as cool air settles onto warmer water. Images of cottages and the surrounding hillsides reflect in the still water.
In the valleys, the fog hangs low, almost making the trees look headless. The subdued and soothing late-fall colors typify November.
The fog also has a surreal effect in the forest, where the leafless trees are silhouetted against the grey. The forest itself seems endless with mysteries and discoveries. When the sun rises and the fog burns off, the forest appears warmer.
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.
As November progresses there will usually be some glorious days yet to enjoy. If there hasn’t been a hard frost, the Japanese maple in my yard will still be a brilliant scarlet color. Avid paddlers won’t miss the chance to head out and enjoy the last excursions of the year.
On late afternoons I often drive the back roads, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fading colors. I am not disappointed as rays of sunshine cast a spotlight on the remaining colors of autumn. Further down the road, harvested farm fields glow in the amber light.
How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.
At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.
Elsie N. Brady
Near dusk a small flock of geese flies overhead. These days most of the geese remain here throughout the year, but I get a little nostalgic for the times when they gathered in large formations, honking overhead as they migrated south for the winter.
As November wanes there are usually a few signals of winter to come. The weight of an early wet snow causes the bright yellow leaves of soft maple to fall onto the white carpet, creating a beautiful contrast of color.
I saw the lovely arch
Of Rainbow span the sky,
The gold sun burning
As the rain swept by.
In bright-ringed solitude
The showery foliage shone
One lovely moment,
And the Bow was gone.
Walter De La Mare
Finally as November ends a hard frost comes and temperatures dip well below freezing. The night is cold and clear, the stars are bright, the trees are nearly naked, and the landscape is at rest.