With a gust of wind, November blows the last of the oak leaves from the branches and the clear November light pours down from the emptied gulf of sky above. Now begins the other autumn, the autumn of spare and austere beauty, the half of the season that follows the glorious autumn of September and October.
With most leaves fallen, the cold sun of November floods the woodlands with light. It shines through the bare branches, reaching clear to the forest floor where, for the past six months, the sun had struck in dappled rays alone. For the first time since June, every tree trunk in the woods is lit. Each stem is wrapped, one side in sunlight, the other in shadow.
The angled light of November casts long shadows and sharp contrasts. Shadows show the fluted curves of the trunk of an eastern red cedar. Crustose lichens stand in relief on bark and on gravestones. Fruticose lichens, the Spanish moss of our region, hang beard-like from bare branches. Sassafras bark shows only shadows at the nadir of each deep fissure, as the light strikes the stem at a tangent.
The foliage that remains draws attention. The rugged pitch pine, stem grown askew from years of weathering gales, shares an evergreen cheer with the passerby. The cold sun shines upon the glossy leaves of the American holly, which grows among the boulders on the hills of the moraine. High aloft, dark green boughs of white pine rustle. Reindeer moss carpets the back of wind-scoured dunes. Barren of foliage, winter berries sport bright red fruit and huckleberries bristle with scarlet twigs at the end of each branch.
All are illuminated by the light of November, a cold light and distant phosphor that shines much but heats little. Throughout these shorter days, the sun shines at a distinct angle. The sun hangs low in the sky, and every day hangs lower. It is the angle of the light that gives the days of this month their urgency.
The November light quickens the pace with the vigor of a second spring. The shadows summoning sunset arrive early and the sun itself is down and set by dinner. The angled rays and shorter days call out — hurry!
Hurry to prepare for Thanksgiving, or to finish homework or track a deer before darkness falls. The light urges completion of tasks and preparation for winter. With November’s luminescence, the mind now looks forward — to turkey and cranberries and wreaths, to smoke curling from the neighbor’s chimney, to Orion in the night sky.
This renewal of light, though an annual occurrence, seems novel.
At Thanksgiving, it seems fitting to give thanks for the simple blessing of light, perhaps the most abundant and important natural resource of all. Without light, plants could not photosynthesize, and without photosynthesis, there would be no oxygen to breathe. Life depends on it.
November is in the season of autumn, but the month itself is the season of light.