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Walt Amses: November blues, as the light changes and the world edges toward gray

This commentary is by Walt Amses, a writer who lives in North Calais.

With no discernible wind, the sun penetrates my jacket enough to warm me despite its being barely above the tree line, lengthening shadows instigating thoughts of winter on a chilly afternoon earlier in the week. 

Even as I try to absorb as much of the waning brilliance as I can, layers of dark gray stratus clouds encroach on the western horizon, a precursor of the season’s first winter storm, scheduled to hit the region overnight with half a foot or more of snow and a smattering of sleet. 

Given a chilly long-range forecast, I’m looking at this walk as perhaps my last in several months without the myriad adaptive equipment necessary for aging bodies to navigate frozen back roads free of incident, accident or embarrassment. 

One senior rule that best embellishes the law of diminishing returns is simple: “Don’t fall,” which I’ve unfortunately broken several times, sidelining me for too many weeks in the middle of what was — up until then — a glorious summer. I’m not anxious to do it again, so I’ll begin gearing up as soon as road conditions deteriorate, which may very well be tomorrow.

I’ve always thought of November as a significant marker, representing a variety of important symbols as the year winds down — one slice of festive, jubilantly colorful autumn gone, replaced by a more foreboding vision of the near future, which over the centuries has been doggedly wrestled to an impasse by religiosity, paganism and ancient astronomy. 

Unwittingly, this unlikely collaboration inadvertently created a festive series of celebrations around the winter solstice, illuminating the darkest time of the year. 

But brightly lit holidays notwithstanding, autumn’s fading light and dropping temperatures affect many of us emotionally as well, most prominently with an uptick in seasonal affective disorder or “SAD,” which the Mayo Clinic suggests may last through the winter with symptoms that include feeling listless, sad or down most days; losing interest in what were once enjoyable activities; and generally underachieving and overeating. 

Although some blues should be expected from a month beginning with the “Dia De Muertos,” this particular November provides a palette of political indigo as well, with Republicans enduring their own Day of the Dead on Election Day, underperforming to the point of embarrassment as their anticipation of a “Red Wave” was washed away in a sea of Democratic Blue by voters who’d had enough of the lunacy. 

While his personally endorsed MAGA-lite candidates, especially those subscribing to the Big Lie, took a beating, the Mara Lago Misfit’s own delusional aspirations were back in play after a lie-filled, self-aggrandizing 2024 presidential announcement that excited almost no one save perhaps the fact-checkers who’d been collecting unemployment and comedians looking for a punch line. 

And while recriminations and whispers of “never again” circulate through their rank and file, Republicans are slowly realizing the dilemma they face moving forward: The Misfit has the party by the collective short hairs and isn’t letting go anytime soon.

I’m startled back to the here-and-now by a deep chill entering a stretch of road that’s shaded much of the day, especially this time of year. The sudden jolt of cold, as penetrating as the sunshine was a mile back, reminds me of the celestial forces at work as another year fades into the background and we drag our feet toward the longest night of the year in December. 

The seasonal variation of the sun’s angle has been shortening days and lowering temperatures since the autumnal equinox two months ago. Coupled with November being Vermont’s cloudiest month and the browning of the landscape, these changes all contribute to the generalized malaise associated with this time of year, no matter your political affiliation. 

But for some of us, November still maintains a mysterious sense of anticipation that transcends the otherwise barren fields, bleak hillsides and early darkness stalking the afternoons.

Probably a carryover from childhood, when looking forward to the holidays was a major preoccupation that took forever in simpler times as adolescents, free of today’s electrified distractions, could immerse themselves in the agonizing wait. Although over the ensuing decades I’ve shed most of the illusions, that anticipation remains a vital part of my Novembers as I look for the first snow, or the last geese heading south; the first wood fire, or the final patch of open ground we’ll see for months. 

The icy breeze dancing over the beads of perspiration on my neck quicken my pace. I make it back into sunshine and, before I can appreciate it fully, I realize there’s still a chore or two to be done at home if indeed there’s snow on the way. 

As I reverse course and head home, I mentally make a list — things that need to be relocated, others that should be covered or battened down, and some better off buried in snow to be dealt with next spring. They all somehow manage to get done before dusk.

Early Wednesday, I wake up to 3 or 4 inches of beautiful new snow with more predicted. As I gaze off into the meadow over a steaming cup of coffee, November is suddenly no longer bleak but luminescent, offering a brightly reflective surface counteracting the graying hillside’s tendency to absorb whatever light there is. It’s quiet too, and still. 

Moving closer to the wood stove, I’m glad I started a fire last night and I’m close to overjoyed the only car in the driveway is as yet without snow tires — time to try out the Yak Tracks and hiking poles. Maybe spend an hour or two reading. The first snow day has endless possibilities.

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