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  • Claire Sandys

The season of November

My Why audio version of this blog available here.

Well, it’s finally here. November. I think I’ll start by reminding you what I’ve said about this month in previous season blogs in this series.


In May I mentioned it as “dreary November”, in June I said “being stuck in June is definitely better than being stuck in November”, in July I mentioned that in our family we have at least one birthday every month of the year, except November and I remarked ‘we’ve all managed to escape that dark month’, in October I mentioned that Halloween only makes it into October by the skin of its teeth and if I had my way I'd drop kick it into dreary old November”.


However, as with all of these season blogs I try to stay impartial and just see where I am in life as they come around, sometimes they surprise me and I find myself in a much more enjoyable place than I expected, sometimes it goes the other way and I find myself not in a great place for a month I fully anticipated I'd enjoy. So, who knows where this blog about November will take me.


But before I get too judgemental about November, let’s take a look at what we actually know about the month.


November is now the eleventh month in the calendar, the penultimate month of the year, the fourth and last month to only have 30 days in it, and the fifth and last month to have fewer than 31 days (because of February’s short-lived experience). In Latin ‘novem’ means ‘nine’ so it used to be the ninth month, as we’ve heard about with other previous months that got shifted along when January and February entered the mix for the Roman calendar. Why they couldn’t have just renamed them all then and there and saved us some hassle, I don’t know. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s considered late autumn.


Dull November brings the blast; Then the leaves are whirling fast. The Garden Year by Sara Coleridge

But in the Southern Hemisphere it’s late spring (lucky them), the equivalent of our May. It feels really weird to me to think of people associating May weather over here with the month of November. So while they’re dusting off the barbeque and growing flowers for inside the house, we're digging out the knitted blankets and hats and lighting candles. In fact those of you in the Southern Hemisphere might want to listen to my May blog instead this month. This is all just another reminder to me that our small corner is such a tiny part of what’s going on in the world as a whole.


In England it’s the first month to start after the clocks go back an hour, back to Standard Time, rather than Daylight Saving Time. Which means we enter the month with much darker evenings. Currently Google is telling me that the sun will set today in my area at 4:41pm. Which feels very strange when not long back we were drawing the curtains at 7:30pm, and not long before that it was still lightish at 10pm. This results in many Brits walking around trying to comprehend just how dark it gets at 5pm and telling each other ‘do you know, it was dark when I left work today’ as if it’s never happened before. For those of you in countries where this change doesn’t happen, it’s probably strange to imagine, but equally you never fully get used to it. You know the sun will be around for longer or shorter times throughout the year, but you just never get to a point where it isn’t a bit weird.


To think that so many of us are experiencing different seasons, different times, different daylight hours across the world is fascinating to me. Near the equator, in places like Kenya they get 12 hours of daylight all year, the sun pretty much rises at 6am and sets at 6pm, shifting only by mere minutes between summer and winter. We had some Kenyans stay with us a few years ago and the thing that fascinated them the most (apart from the robots that milked cows at a friend's farm) was that it was still light at 9pm. Parts of northern Norway, located on The Arctic Circle, see up to 19 hours of daylight in the summer and in the winter the night can last for 18 hours where they experience something called the midnight sun where the sun is low on the horizon but doesn’t fully set. And further north it can get even more extreme than that. Also, depending on how far you are from the equator dictates how long the sunset takes. A sunset near the equator only lasts around 20 minutes, but in Norway it can be up to 75 minutes.


Few more things there to add to my bucket list to experience one day.


What’s really spooky is that I’d already written up to this point in the blog when I started looking for quotes about November and I came across this one:


November always seems to me the Norway of the year. Emily Dickinson

[I didn’t hang around to find out what that quote meant, but it was so spooky I just thought it needed mentioning.]


So there’s the potential, in the northern hemisphere, for November to have a lot going against it.


November is the start of things getting very dark (sunlight wise).


November's entry comes through Halloween night when everything’s a bit dark spiritually, and in the vegetable world (pumpkins).


November's weather is often pretty grey and wet here in England, so it really reminds you with a thump that summer is over, autumn is now just leaf clearing and winter is on its way. Today as I record this I’m shutting out wind noise instead of children playing outside.


No matter how hard you try, Old crying wind, you cannot make us cry, You make the poor leaves sorry—very, But we shall keep on being merry; It's good it's true Not all the months behave like you, Blowing mean, and blowing cold, November by Annette Wynne

She does come round to liking it a bit more because of Thanksgiving and so she ends with:


And so, cold old month, you're not so bad!

But it’s still not a glowing endorsement.


November is the only month of the year in the UK (can’t speak for other countries) when there are no school holidays and teachers have to work a whole month - just like everyone else (that comment will get me in trouble with someone somewhere!)


Also, Christmas starts to arrive and if you live with a die-hard ‘Christmas belongs in December’ man like I do, that evokes a lot of Bah-Humbuggy type comments. We went to the garden centre near us at the end of October, only to be greeted by the full Christmas display and the selling of Christmas trees, which I have to admit was a little early even for me. Although I do have a very good friend that breaks into the mince pies as early as they’re available, much to her delight and Chris’ disgust.


November’s birthstone is the topaz which is a symbol of strength and honour and I do feel like November is a strong month, I feel like no one is pushing November around and if you met him a dark alley at night - well, he's not going to be the one limping out the other side.


November at its best—with a sort of delightful menace in the air. Anne Bosworth Greene

November is also the month for Movember, giving us all images of men attempting to grow moustaches throughout the month for charity - images that most of us would rather not have seen. It has two star signs in it, Scorpio and Sagittarius.


Elsewhere in the world November is the month where they celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Which, much as it sounds scary and morbid is actually a great time of celebration for those that have gone before. In ancient Europe, pagan celebrations of the dead also used to take place in autumn, some of these customs survived and the Roman Catholic Church adopted them into their celebrations as All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Though my experience of those is less celebration, colour and dancing. And if you want to learn more about the Day of the Dead I thoroughly recommend the Pixar film - Coco.


In the UK we have Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night on 5 November - where for some reason we celebrate ‘treason and plot’, well, the foiling of those things to be exact. Basically some naughty men tried to blow up the House of Lords and were caught, then people lit bonfires to celebrate around London and it became an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. I’m not sure many people remember the origins of it now, so much as enjoying the fireworks that we’ve introduced and moaning about loud bangs and the effects on their pets.


The other day that’s nationally observed in the UK is Remembrance Day on 11 November. This is also known as Poppy Day and I can’t hear that without thinking about Katie Joy Duke now from Episode 25: Loss of a full term baby (check that episode out for more on why). For those not familiar with this, it’s a day when we remember the First World War when they ceased hostilities at 11am on the 11th of 11th month in 1918 (and yes that would have been cool if it had been 1911!). We now remember all those lives that are lost or affected by war, whether in the World Wars or in more recent conflicts through a two minute silence at 11am. We also observe it in churches and services on the nearest Sunday which is known as Remembrance Sunday. Already we’re seeing people wearing poppies, they’re displayed in towns and villages, and all the professional people on TV will be wearing them as well. And the reason we use poppies is because they are the flowers that grew up across the battlefields after World War One ended. That’s one of the more lovely sides to November.


It turns out that November has some pretty weighty stuff in it; remembering the dead, being thankful we’re alive, and men grow moustaches of course. And I’m clearly not the first to notice this because there are numerous poems about November. I couldn’t even work out which ones to use, they were all so beautiful in how they described the virtues, and loss, that November carries.


L.M. Montgomery was an author who came up a few times when I was looking at November, she seems to have a liking for it and I noticed she was born in that month.


But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods… for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

It was November--the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Again, there’s a weightiness to this imagery, either that November contains this sacred, vulnerable space in the wood between losing all its leaves and awaiting the covering of snow, or there is a sadness to it with parting birds and ‘sad hymns of the sea’.


I particularly love how she talks of ‘passionate wind-songs’. Our house is sort of on a corner of our estate that leaves it more exposed to the wind than you’d imagine. So when it’s really windy at night our bedroom especially takes the full force and makes it sound a lot worse that it actually is outside. I used to feel cosy and warm when the weather was roaring outside but when my hormones caused bouts of anxiety I found myself troubled by it, almost as if it was whirling through my head instead of just through the gaps in the window. It felt aggressive and threatening. But through this description I love the idea of turning that around to see the persistent November weather, the rain, the grey clouds and wind as; ‘passionate’, ardent, fervent, zealous, eager, intense, fiery.


Sybil of months, and worshipper of winds, I love thee, rude and boisterous as thou art; And scraps of joy my wandering ever finds Mid thy uproarious madness—when the start Of sudden tempests stirs the forest leaves Into hoarse fury, till the shower set free Stills the huge swells. Then ebb the mighty heaves, That sway the forest like a troubled sea. I love thy wizard noise, and rave in turn Half-vacant thoughts and rhymes of careless form; Then hide me from the shower, a short sojourn, Neath ivied oak; and mutter to the storm, Wishing its melody belonged to me, That I might breathe a living song to thee. November by John Clare

In the first part of his poem, November, William Cullen Bryant says:


Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun! One mellow smile through the soft vapoury air, Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds ran, Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare. One smile on the brown hills and naked trees… November by William Cullen Bryant

Such a sense of passion in the first poem and loss in the second, both described with much affection. It strikes me that there’s a romance to it and that the same wistful poems might not have been written in a country where it is always sunny. And as with all loss, it needs a time to stop and recognise it, feel and explore it, and maybe that’s what November is here for?


I suppose one glance at nature in November and you could be forgiven for assuming everything is dying. Of course there’s a lot of amazing autumnity plants and winter bloomers that are popping through but overall things are retreating.


The leaves are fading and falling, The winds are rough and wild, The birds have ceased their calling, But let me tell, you my child, Though day by day, as it closes, Doth darker and colder grow, The roots of the bright red roses Will keep alive in the snow. November by Alice Cary

Plants retreat to strengthen under the soil instead of above. Humans do the same. We’re found indoors a lot more in November (again apologies that there is Northern Hemisphere bias here). We become more reflective and it’s as if the darker mornings and nights allow us time for this. We look back at the year and tie up loose ends before the craziness of December arrives which sweeps us out of this year and into the next.


Our twilight month November is, The evening of the year. The brilliant summer noontide left A pallor soft and clear November by Ruby Archer

And that made me think, yes, November does feel like ‘the evening of the year’. And what do we do in the evening? Evenings are a time for stopping, reflecting back on our day, preparing for the night ahead, slowing down. If you have children it’s probably a time when the bedtime routine kicks in. I’ve watched enough Supernanny’s to know the first thing she does with almost any family is establish a good bedtime routine for the sake of all in the house. It only takes one basic Google search to find research that shows the benefits of a routine before bed helps children sleep earlier, sleep quicker, sleep longer, wake less, enhance mood and emotional-behaviour regulation, promotes cognitive development, language, emotional health, learning, it helps them feel safer and secure etc, the list goes on. And the benefit of a routine is that it happens every day, anyone with children or animals will know that if you break those routines you end up paying for it somewhere along the line. The same can be said of adults. We were never built to go from full speed to unconscious sleep quickly, the evenings are a time of progression that take us from one to the other. So maybe November is that time between the end of a busy summer and the start of a slower winter. As adults we might not slow down with a bubble bath and a story before bed (although I know a lot of women that do!) but we all know the benefits of taking time out to allow our brain and body to slowly relax and switch off before we go to bed. Interestingly the tips for adults to sleep better and with less vivid dreams is similar to what is recommended for children - a routine before bed that is meditative or relaxing. It’s an important time of transition.


And this November I find myself, sort of unplanned really, having a month of change and switch off, but as I type this I realise I’ve also booked some time to seek out that passionate weather I was talking about too.


A few months ago we watched ‘The 100 foot wave’ a documentary where big wave surfer Garrett McNamara journeyed to Nazaré in Portugal to conquer the sought-after 100-foot wave (which is the equivalent of an eight story building to give you some context of this thing), and it occurs courtesy of Europe's largest underwater canyon. Anyway, we loved the programme and I’ve always been so fascinated by the majesty of big waves (we saw a few in Iceland, although I lost the pictures! Grrr. See 'Episode 53: Loss of photos' for more on that), but nothing on this scale. So we decided at some point we’d go to Nazaré to see if we could time it to see some of these giant waves. The best time for them is between October to February, so we booked five days there in November. The weather might be like a millpond, it might be like a storm, you have to go and take your chance but I’m very hopeful to see some and I promise I’ll be posting them on social media if I do. I’m also, for the days that I’m there, going to take photos from one spot that I find and use those on my new Instagram get-out-of-the-house Instagram account. For those not aware, I set up a new account to get me out of the house during the day and away from the computer. So I walk to the same spot (marked by a small square stone that I take another 5 minutes to find each time), take a photo of a tree and the view beyond, and post it on Instagram and that’s my motivation to get out, and it’s working. Same pic, different day. If you want to follow me and the changes over the seasons check it out at instagram.com/aviewobserved. I’m envisioning some very wet and windy trips out of the house over the coming months.


November rain! November rain! Fitfully beating the window pane: Creeping in pools across the street; Clinging in slush to dainty feet; Shrouding in black the sun at noon; Wrapping a pall about the moon. November Rain by Ellen P. Allerton

And I’m hoping for a snow photo too one day over winter.


Anyway, so when I’m away from home I’ve decided that if I’m in the same place for more than three days I’ll post a picture from the same spot in that place too.


Anyhoo, because we’re going away in November, I decided that as I’ve put out the podcast every single week for over a year now, it was time to take a break and focus on my writing and just final tweaking my novel so I can get that sorted. So I’m taking a week off either side of our trip to do that as well (there’s a very short podcast episode going out on Tuesday to explain it a bit more). It was originally planned in October but when the Queen died everything got pushed back so we could cover that. And so without it being fully intentional, November for me is turning out to be a switch off month, with some passionate weather thrown in (hopefully) - which sort of sums up what I’ve been exploring in this blog. It’s almost like it was all planned out.


I’m warming to November, but it doesn’t help that with all the negative things I’ve said against it, it became an underdog, and I’m hopeless at resisting an underdog. And somehow it tricked us into going away in November, for the first time ever, to see giant waves which I love, and to have time writing which I also love, and Google must be in on it because it threw at me beautiful poetry describing November’s passion and honest facing of loss. So, I find myself in danger of loving the month I’d berated as it passionately blows its way into my heart. Well played, November, well played.


So as November is winning me over, the sadness and gloom that I projected onto it is dissolving for me amidst all the passion and poetry which hints at hope, joy, and intrigue about the month. The Wuthering Heights type weather, the strength in its convictions of what it is, the time of transition, the loss that it embraces and doesn’t hide from, it’s not a month that gives you expectations only to let you down, it generally is what it is and, if anything, has the power to delight you instead - with unexpected sun, blue sky, or even snow. Maybe it’s so confident because it knows whatever it does to us, the tail end of it will be covered in Christmas lights, mince pies, Christmas trees and things that draw people into December. Maybe that’s why it swirls in anger because it only gets the middle of the month to announce its presence and be seen, the start and end snatched away by the months either side, as the shadow of Halloween blinds us from taking a moment to welcome it and Christmas rushes us to December without pausing to wave it farewell. Just as the evening can be missed as we rush from the busy day into bed, November can get lost between autumn beauty and Christmas lights, despised because it falls between the two with merely its grey skies and wet pavements. Maybe that’s why the weather is passionate, why it doesn’t hide from loss, why it unapologetically makes us stop and face it. Makes us stop and reflect. Makes us stop and note the power of nature through the wind and the waves, as it clears away the leaves and helps strip the trees. As it waters the ground that so needs it and washes the dry dirt away. I feel like I’m writing a poem and asking November to stay…


[shakes head] uh! This tricksy month almost had me writing poetry.


The next blog that I’ll be putting out will be the season of December, and we’ll see how November has treated me when I look back on it. Will I calmly stroll into December refreshed from the November evening lull or will the passionate November toss me around and spit me into December feeling dazed and unprepared for Christmas? Who knows. I feel like I’m going on a first date with November this year, seeing it for the first time and just waiting to see if I’ll love it or if we’ll part ways with a big storm. Either way, I know I’ve found a new appreciation for this month, and I hope you have too. And I’ll definitely be back to let you know.


I’m finishing with a poem by Mary B. C. Slade called, A November Day, and if this doesn’t warm you to November, nothing will:


I come, a sad November day, Gray clad from foot to head; A few late leaves of yellow birch, A few of maple red. And, should you look, you might descry Some wee ferns, hiding low, Or late Fall dandelions shy, Where cold winds cannot blow. And then, you see, I'm not all gray; A little golden light Shines on a sad November day, A promise for the night. For though gray-clad, in soft gray mist, Floating on gray-cloud wing, I know that I the way prepare For brightest days of Spring. And though witch-hazel's golden flowers Are all the blooms I know, They promise—so do I—the hours When sweetest Mayflowers grow. A November Day: by Mary B. C. Slade

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