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 Thanksgivings past cannot break or shake the melancholy of November. No barrier can stop its gales. No wall can block its morbid fingers from strangling the flowers and trees to a cold, heartless death.
Death shadows are brown and they are 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 the 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 waves.
Over two thousand ships lie on the bottom of 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 both the land and the sea.
Mighty November gales will 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 – yet too many have. Those now lay rusting and dead in the deep. The bottom of the mighty Great Lakes is littered with the sad, sunken, rusting hulls of ships too proud to seek shelter, yet too fragile to sail through the mighty 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 sail without feeling through the silent stars and galaxies in the heavens above?
Or are they bound to be specters? Ghostly sailors for eternity, always meeting the same tragic end, and all devoured by the heartless and unrelenting wrath of the gales of November.
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 to count. Many ships and souls have found their tragic end in 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.
It is the month that claimed my two best friends, both of whom died before their time, both claimed by the unfeeling, sad month of November.
November is a chilly and dark reminder that death comes to us all. November is a sentry. It is winter’s gate. We have to pass through and live through it to get to winter.
And winter is the season of death.
November is the month we turn the clocks back making the darkness of night come an hour earlier. My November melancholy shrouded in painful memories and long nights will last long into the season until December takes the trenchant torch from the melancholy fingers of November.
The days will still grow even shorter and the nights will grow even longer. And I am reminded once again how short our lease on life is upon this Earth. How sad and silly is the folly of humanity – endlessly seeking wealth, material things, power, and prestige? The irony is that none of those things matter at all yet so many spend so much time seeking them.
In my life, November is the month of sadness, darkness, death, and gloom. Yet it has its place. It is a trenchant reminder not to get too comfortable with life or time – because nothing is as sure as change.