David Nightingale: November '17

Nov 19, 2017

October changed into November. The leaf peepers came to the mountains, took photos, and left. I'm not sure if they saw the peak of colors they wanted, for many roadside trees still have leaves -- brown and orange. Despite low temperatures, nature still shows bright red bushes and full green trees.

Colossal flocks of what look like blackbirds rise into the sky from the fields.

Just before Labor Day all was vibrant –  and it was still possible to swim in a Catskill lake. We'd almost forgotten how seasons change on us; how the virile grass shooting through driveway stones would turn into atrabilious wisps. Lovely word that -- atrabilious. A walk through the woods, put off because of August's mosquitoes, ground wasps and ticks, is now different. It's difficult to recognize pathways under November's first quilt of leaves, which should soon be added to.

The sun comes through as far as the kitchen's rear wall now, shorter-lived and lower in the sky. No more ground-hogs; only the deer. More and more used to humans, the deer no longer run. They just watch. People walk by, and all they do is chew, with that circular staccato motion that is almost impudent. The stately animals stare for a while, flicking ears and tail, but are too confidently lazy to run (as I seem to remember they once did.) I think they believe they're now part of our households.

My blue wheelbarrow, 30 years rusty, stands by the saw-horse, waiting for me to fill it with firewood.

The tomato plants are shrivelled. The few tomatoes I brought in earlier didn't succeed, going from green to black to rotten.

Flowers that have been hanging outside since May are now inside. A white begonia, a red geranium, a spider plant, an avocado – and a massive rubber plant that enjoyed many summer showers, which cleaned its big dark leaves – back again now to collect dry winter's inescapable formation of dust. Quite a chore that, dusting 100 leaves. And morning glory seeds, planted carefully along a fence in the spring had only achieved, by the end of summer, flowerless growth. It wasn't until October turned into November that they burst into a brilliant blue. I couldn't resist counting those welcome but tardy flowers: at least eighty of them.

We've put our clocks back now and said goodbye to the transition. If we are skiers or hikers we'll be clad in good thick things now, emulating the denser fur of animals. They will burrow of course -- and so will we, by the old-fashioned fire -- or for those more technically advanced and further up the evolutionary scale, by merely flipping a switch or adjusting a thermostat.

The sky has been clear some mornings, but recently turned to a wan white, with ridges of thick grey cloud piling up in the distances. It wasn't exactly cold outside at 40 Fahrenheit – and there was work to be done, cutting, splitting, raking. But last week an Arctic blast came down from Canada, forcing the fetching of gloves and -- as our Canadian neighbors say -- woollen tuques, until the rhythm of piling logs got the circulation going again.

The blast shrivelled the mums, and my eighty trumpets of morning glory gave up the ghost after a much too short life.

Today, after that Arctic blast there is heavier cloud in the west, yet sunlight in the south. The black mailbox receives that radiation, but is barely tepid to the touch -- instead of almost a burn, as in July.

Sleet and snow soon. I love the variations.

That's the mix of November in the north-east.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at NewPaltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

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