Here, in November, all things that grow upon the Earth choke on the cold, wet air and die unceremoniously in masses of brown death. Each November brings a pestilence of darkness. The sun goes to bed early and sleeps late every morning. The cold, nearly-frozen rain taunts the landscape, but stays just on the liquid side of snow. November will have no brightness upon its bleak gloom; it will not stand for it.
On some days, November’s air has the smell of death about it and no matter what I do, I can’t help but smell it. My woodland walks grow briefer and my melancholy grows deeper; my thoughts turn from sanguine to sorrowful. I become disconsolate and sullen and spend more and more time locked away from the world in the gloomy house of shadows that is my mind.
November is a month I’d rather not have to endure. Even the memories of happy Thanksgivings past cannot break or shake the melancholy of November. No barrier can stop its gales; no wall can stop its morbid fingers from strangling the flowers and trees to a cold, heartless death.
Death shadows are brown and everywhere. The sun for sorrow dares not show his head.
I look out and see some of the trees still clinging to life and others that have given up against the swift, sad November wind, and now stand lifeless and brittle against the never-ending, never-changing, always steel-gray November sky.
The month of gray and gales has fallen upon this dreary landscape, ushered in by the dribble of raindrops falling cold and heartless on the gloomy world below. Rivulets run icy, twisting in the mud and trees that were once colorful bouquets of life, but now appear diseased, dead or dying. Soon they all will be weary, creaking skeletons with useless gnarly arms reaching up in vain for help from a bleak unforgiving sky.
They will find no help. The sky has none to give. It hovers over the disintegrating life below like a lion crouching in the deadfall lying in wait for a meal.
I walk the shore of the lake they call Erie. Lake Erie is the shallowest and meanest of all the Great Lakes. When November’s gales come calling, the waves in this shallow basin grow monstrously high, yet mighty freighters still traverse its angry icy waters until the hard, blue-gray ice of winter stills even the angriest and mightiest wave.
Over two thousand ships lie on the bottom or Lake Erie. Two thousand ships with tens of thousands of souls aboard, most of them claimed by the lake, a reminder to remember the gales of November and its deathly breath that sucks the life from the land and the sea.
Mighty November gales will soon taunt the Great Lakes with waves too big to sail and rain too heavy to navigate. Sailors too brave to seek shelter will ride the waves in ore boats too big to sink – but many have. Many now lay rusting and dead in the deep. The bottom of the mighty Great Lakes are littered with the sad, sunken, rusting hulls of ships too proud to seek shelter, yet too fragile to sail through the gales of November.
Do the souls of the sailors still sail on as demons down under the sea? Or have they been mercifully released from their earthly tethers to float without feeling between the silent stars and galaxies in the heavens above.
Or are they bound to being specters? All now ghostly sailors for eternity, always meeting the same tragic end, and all devoured by the heartless and unrelenting wrath of November’s gales.
According to a legend of the Chippewa tribe, the lake they once called Gitche Gumee “never gives up her dead”. The Great Lake known as Gitche Gumee, now known as Lake Superior, is the final resting place of the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald and its crew of twenty-nine souls.
“The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the ‘Gales of November’ came early….”
(Gordon Lightfoot “The Edmund Fitzgerald”)
The tragedies of the Great Lakes are too numerous too count. Many ships and souls have found their tragic end in the month of November.
I can’t find anything good about November. It is, after all, the month that claimed my mother. She died on a cold, dreary, morose, windy November day, as I, a young child watched. It scarred and damaged me. I will never find anything but death and shadows in November.
November is a chilly and dark reminder that death comes to us all. November is a sentry and winter’s gate. We have to pass through it to get to winter, and winter is the season of death.
This Sunday, November will get even worse and more sorrowful. This Sunday we turn the clocks back mocking my hatred of November and making the darkness of night come an hour earlier. My November melancholy shrouded in painful memories and long dark nights will last long into the season until December takes the trenchant torch from the sad hand of November.
The days will still grow shorter and the nights will still grow longer, and I am reminded once again how short our lease of life is upon this Earth. How sad and sick the folly of humanity – endlessly seeking wealth, material things, power and prestige, when none of any of that matters at all.
In my life, November is the month of sadness, darkness, death and gloom. Yet it has its place. It is a good reminder not to get too comfortable with life or time – because nothing is so sure as change.