Sunday, November 20, 2011

`Such Is November'

The kids had raked some of the leaves and left them in piles around the yard, but more had fallen and everything was coated with a thin veneer of ice. The grass crunched and kept precise footprints until the low sun had risen enough to soften the outlines but not erase them.

“The sunlight is a peculiarly thin and clear yellow, falling on the pale-brown bleaching herbage of the fields at this season. There is no redness in it. This is November sunlight.”

We raked and lifted leaf piles frozen into ragged clumps. Dumped into the bin they remained in sheets liked rotting plywood and had to be tamped down with rakes and brooms. The bare spots under the leaves gave off the earthy fragrance of a mid-winter thaw, rich with rot.

“Much cold, slate-colored cloud, bare twigs seen gleaming toward the light like gossamer, pure green of pines whose old leaves have fallen, reddish or yellowish brown oak leaves rustling on the hillsides, very pale brown, bleaching, almost hoary fine grass or hay in the fields, akin to the frost which has killed it, and flakes of clear yellow sunlight falling on it here and there, -- such is November.”

Leaf-covered grass, denied sunlight, bleaches into pale tubers. Among the exposed roots, earthworms writhe in the cold and a shiny black beetle skitters for shelter. Fingers ache with the cold and damp.

“The fine grass killed by the frost, withered and bleached till it is almost silvery, has clothed the fields for a long time. Now, as in the spring, we rejoice in sheltered and sunny places. Some corn is left out still even.”

[The quoted passages are from Thoreau’s journal for Nov. 18, 1857.]

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