A North Country Almanac: November

As I’m writing this, snow flurries are dancing at eye-level just outside the window of my old room. It feels like I am peering into a giant jar full of pure-white lightening bugs; they are going berserk, crazy with the hope of escape. Or perhaps my nose is pressed against the glass of a huge snow-globe that some mammoth hand has just set down from shaking, its insides still bearing witness to the disturbance in the fury of their dance. Such is the snowy tumult through the glass.

Yet the fields are not completely covered. Looking to my right, through the other window, a swath of green still shows through the translucent wash of white. The dry ghosts of the summer’s tall grass also pokes brown fingers up from the ground, but these are currently hard to see because the wind has picked up and is now causing snow dust to obscure the view. I can barely see the fringes of the woods a hundred yards away. It is spectacular. It puts me in mind of wind storms on the prairie, though I’ve never witnessed one outside of my imagination.

It is so beautiful, so mesmerizing, that I can almost forget the bleakness embodied by the bare landscape in most of the November days preceding this one. Almost. Once the snows come, it is as if a burden is released: Nature lets go a stale breath she has been holding too long. Before that, most afternoons are so dismal that it’s hard to do anything after I get home from work besides slip into my pajamas, slump downstairs, and straddle the heating vent in the floor, shivering, clutching a mug of something hot, and gazing out the window to where – by only 4 o’clock – darkness is swiftly conquering.

To my chagrin, I don’t really have any further insights to add on the seasonal changes-both new to this year, and so, so old-going on outside my window. I recently read somewhere (beats me as to exactly where) about the gifts of both variety and steadiness being combined in the rhythm of seasons; the one stimulates and invigorates, the other comforts, reassures, stabilizes, anchors…so many words. I’ve also read some interesting things about words lately. And I do actually remember the sources: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. The first discusses the inadequacy and fallibility of words:

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

Nouwen talks about the overabundance and abuse of words in our society, which results in the loss of their potency. He also contrasts these with the Word made flesh:

…when our words are no longer a reflection of the divine Word in and through whom the world has been created and redeemed, they lose their grounding and become as seductive and misleading as the words used to see Geritol…The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses.

Makes one question the value of word-choked blogs. It also makes me appreciate the visual arts more, and instrumental music – the fine arts that are at least a little freer from the incessant mediation of words; although, they say you can’t recognize or really “see” something until you can name it…but this speculation on language is starting to get out of my depth. I’ll leave it to stronger – and more experienced – swimmers.

Regardless of all of the above, there is one sure assertion I can make about the North Country: it continues to be beautiful, even in the bleakest, gloomiest days of November.

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