Friday, November 14, 2014

Why November is my Favorite: A Story about Dahlias

in case you forgot which ones are the Dahlias
In our Dutch class this week, we were all telling "our news" in three sentences. As my last sentence I threw in that "deze maand is mijn favoriete maand" which led to all sorts of other questions. Why is November your favorite month? And with my limited ability to communicate I gave some reasons I love November, including that I like the change in weather. In October and even September you can feel a bit of crispness coming into the air, but in November you know the change is not coming, it's come, and I love that. I love bundling up in wool sweaters, coats and scarves to go outside. Then coming in to make and eat hot soup, drinking hot tea. I love lighting candles as the evening comes earlier and earlier. In Rochester, where I grew up, often the snow first comes in November, and I love that too. When I was small I found the snow particularly compelling, so beautiful, so sudden, such a joy in its quietness and its immensity.

half killed by frost

I didn't really learn to love November though till college, when I went to Houghton, a beautiful campus set in "the middle of nowhere," where there is not a single stop light, and making a proper grocery store run is a 40some minute trek through farmland and forest. Coming off of campus there is a certain road, named "Centerville," where I would walk several miles nearly every Sunday afternoon during three of my years at Houghton. It was a special pleasure in the fall, as each week more of the trees would turn crimson or orange, and then the colors would all fade to ashy gray. After all that color, the browns and yellows and grays seemed so peaceful, so rugged even. Perhaps it seemed particularly peaceful in contrast to the increasing workload of the semester. In a conversation about the month years back one of my friends said that a November landscape in very romantic, in a harsh, wild, Bronte-esque sort of romance. Another friend wrote a poem about November as the glowing center of a hearth when the fire is burned down. We were very connected to the seasons at Houghton, and we liked to talk about these things.

struggling against the cold
What also happened in my undergrad years is that I learned that my Dad liked November best of all the months. This surprised me, as he's an artist so I thought for sure that May or October or something would appeal more to his eye, but he said that there were several reasons. He loved that the world changes so much, that without leaves on the trees suddenly a whole new world is visible past the foliage. He also loved looking forward to the holidays. I can relate, since Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorites, and these days it is an American holiday that I can feel whole heartedly proud of, not just it as a current reminder to gratitude, but also the history of friendship with the Native Americans so terribly abused in much of the rest of the history of the US. And I feel also that expectation holds much of the joy of the holidays, so November can be even more happy than December (which can feel like a perpetual party) but then he told this story.

When my dad was young, his mother grew dahlias in their yard in Detroit. And in November the flowers would still be in bloom so very evening before a hard frost he would help her cover the dahlias with newspaper to keep them alive until morning. They would do this many times during the month, each threatening night putting up little paper barricades against the cold. But there would always come a time when the weatherman disappointed, and the cold was harsher than he and his mother expected, or perhaps they would have covered the plants only to find them the next morning edged in frost. And for that little glimpse in time before the sun rose the dahlias were more beautiful than ever. He would run inside for drawing paper and then sketch the frozen blossoms with his chilly hands, quickly before they melted and turned brown.

I know that November can be harsh and dark and ugly, and people have good reasons for disliking it, especially here in Holland where the spring is such a feast for the eyes, but I still love it. The long shadows, the golden light in the cold air, the wool socks, the snuggling up with covers, or the smell of dry leaves, or their crackle underfoot. I love the raw skies with their long, blue-gray clouds. It seems there is always so much to be thankful for, and so much to love.

Heartfelt thanks to Frank Richards and Jennifer McCallum for allowing me to use their beautiful photos of dahlias. 

1 comment:

  1. I will definitely share this with Dad, Clara! How sweet! We had our first bit of snow overnight, mostly staying on garage and porch roofs. Our grandkids are super excited. Colin arrived last evening with a handful of snow he wanted preserved in the freezer!

    Last night also, our spectacular Japanese maple dropped all its remaining leaves in a crimson puddle at its feet. I have mixed feelings about that, but it is still lovely!


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