November 10, 2014
BARE NOVEMBER DAYS
MONTPELIER – The firewood is all stacked neatly in its cellar alcove next to the wood-fired boiler. It’s got a few weeks of seasoning to do before I start feeding it to the furnace; the red oak, when I get to it, I’ll just move to the back of the pile for another year. The best-looking small splits – ash, mostly, for Mother’s convenience in feeding the parlor stove – grace the back porch by the entry. There’s still a large smear of bark chips on the lawn that I’ll try to rake up, get into the cellar by this evening, and leave there to dry for kindling. We wait.
The three tamaracks at the foot of the driveway just passed their peak of mustard yellow. The snow tires are on both our vehicles. The boats have all been put away, and the paddles and oars taken to the shop for sanding and refinishing. My ancient Winchester is cocking its eyebrow at me, I fancy, to ask if we’ll be taking some long walks together soon. We will.
For many years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Robert Frost. He was from California, but if anybody ever got northern New England right, he did. Landscape, forests, everyday chores, local vernacular – he saw and heard it all. Every time I think I have something perceptive to say about this unique place we live in, I find he’s been there first – as in “My November Guest.”
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be...
Everybody – except for the diehard hunters, skiers, and snowboarders – is fighting an at least mild depression spawned by the encroaching darkness, melatonic hormones, and deepening cold. Frost knew the feeling, too; in some of his poems he also catches the frustration of plodding old-timers further burdened by the depression of spouses denied the pleasures of outdoor work.
The bird feeder over the front porch hangs by a single wire. These days it’s kept swinging and bobbing from dawn till deep dusk by impatient characters refusing to wait their turn at the trough or the suet basket. The chickadees, who arrive in swarms, are the politest: Each grabs a seed and flies instantly away to enjoy it. Their constant companion, the nuthatch, takes a little longer, hanging upside down to snack on a bit of cold suet. A flock of migrating slate-colored juncoes blew through one day, attacking the feeder in waves. They didn’t seem to like its swinging motion, and left as fast as they’d come. I could actually see that they came from the north, behind the house, and watch them disappear into the pines south of us, headed for winter quarters.
There are two families of woodpeckers, Harry’s and Morty’s. (It should be obvious where they got their names.) They’re going through suet out there almost as fast as the humidifier in here is going through water. The mourning doves don’t care for the perch, and instead vacuum the porch beneath for whatever’s dropped from the tray. I hope they’ll stay, and promise not to disappoint them in the rations department all winter.
The blue jays were all over the the place just after this summer’s fledging, but have lately deserted us. They were far too large to perch comfortably on the feeder, and had to hang there sideways, pecking uncomfortably (try eating while lying on your side sometime) till the next approaching bird chased them squawking away. I miss them, but I know where they’ve gone. They’ve flown to northern New Hampshire, where they’re waiting for me to come stealing through the forest, rifle in hand. Then they’ll scream bloody murder to every creature within half a mile.
I should have known, when we built this place, that it was located smack in the middle of the handiest covert between the swamps out back and the fields across the road. It took the deer a while to get used to the new clearing; but now they seem to know that we’re harmless and mean them no ill. We saw little of them during their summer red phase. Now they’ve turned just the color of drab gray-brown underbrush and seem much bolder. I flip on my high beams when I turn into the driveway after dark, and almost as often as not there’s one looking at me from the other end of the driveway, up by the garage. Two – mother and daughter – stood on the lawn the other evening as I went by about 50 feet away and just watched. They often spook when they hear the truck radio talking, so I turn it down or off as I approach. My goal with them is to be able to walk from the back door to the barn without having them run away.
The turkeys have disappeared. We haven’t seen them since spring. But one of these days soon, when the snow has finally stuck and begun to pile up, we’ll see them in the back yard looking at the house, waiting impatiently for the rolled corn king to emerge with his bucket.
So we watch the darkness deepen and lengthen, and the cold begin to settle in, both outside and, for many people, inside, as well. In the evenings we smell the aroma of freshly started fires, and in the mornings rummage for the windshield scrapers not used for eight months. Me, I try to embrace it all. Might as well. It’s like taking a cold shower when there’s nothing else available. And I rejoice that in just about seven weeks, the days will again begin to lengthen.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow...