The Quiet Month

Halloween, All Saints Day and my husband’s birthday are all past now.  My birthday is in August, so Kerm and I are the same age for 2 ½ months, but now he is older again.   November begins what should be called the “Season of Baking Cookies”; there are so many events scheduled that require snacks or dessert. My “to do” list now includes more inside tasks; cleaning, sorting and baking to be ready for all of the coming events. But even with these activities, November always seems, in my mind, to be a quiet, often gray, brooding month; a time of meditation and preparation. Besides the birthdays of people I care for, November also holds Election Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving.  As I said —- a month for thoughtfulness and gratitude!

As for outside tasks, we are still winterizing, but are slowing down. I managed to get all the bulbs planted. Next spring we should have lovely blue anemones, yellow hyacinths, and fragrant white Madonna lilies. This is the last chance for those lilies; they are expensive bulbs and I’ve tried them nearly every year since we’ve been here, with disappointing results. They sometimes blossom and then do not return the next year.  Sometimes, they are spindly or don’t come up at all.  So this time, I prepared an ideal space and hope they will find it good. If not, I’ll simply have to remember how lovely they were in my mother’s garden and plant something less picky but equally as wonderful with delphinium.   

Even this late in the year, there are still days when being outside is delightful. November has its mild, sunny hours — just not as many as October.  And of course, we can get snow any time (and did last Friday).   I enjoy seeing the bare branches of trees emerging as the leaves compost below.   I also like the soft stillness that seems to be over the land at this time of year.  Well —- until deer season.  Then the guns resound from 7 AM to twilight.  I’m wondering how the deer on our hill are faring.  A several-acre solar farm has been installed next to us, eliminating habitat for quite a lot of wild life.  Perhaps that means our own population of creatures will grow, or more probably, they will just leave for better living conditions.  Our hunter may have to go elsewhere for his venison. 

Wildlife is an oft-discussed topic around here.  When we moved to Spencer in 1979, deer, rabbits, foxes and raccoons were pretty much the only wildlife encountered on our hill.  And usually there weren’t encounters at all; they hid when they heard feet ascending.  The boys camped there, we gathered ground pine and wintergreen, we’ve cut fire wood and no one worried much about any wild tooth and claw.  But currently, our feral population includes bobcats, bear, coyotes and — if observers are to be believed — the occasional black panther prowls about our region.  We also have flocks of turkeys although their “wildness” is a bit suspect since they enjoy sunflower seeds along with the cardinals and blue jays.  I have a winter photo of turkeys and deer browsing together on our back lawn, with cats watching closely by.  Our increased songbird population may be a result of the planting we have done since we came here; trees and shrubbery, providing more cover.   I seldom see rabbits hopping about anymore, but the coyotes often “sing” on our hill.  I imagine there’s a correlation.  Now that the weather is becoming chillier, deer will be making night-time trips for the apples and tender blueberry bush twigs.  They go running off when they see our car lights coming up the driveway.  Squirrels are packing away the chestnuts and acorns, and sometimes, if the weather turns very snowy, we see a fox nibbling sunflower seeds.

For humans this is definitely soup season.  Soups and stews are a good transition from summer salads to winter casseroles.  Actually, soup is just fine year round except for the hottest July days.  And on those days, it is time to try some of the excellent fruit soups we experienced at the Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskills.    They kept a kosher kitchen and so served meatless soups for lunch; a very good one was buttermilk-pineapple.   A few years ago, one of our sons asked me for my soup recipes and I laughed.  Oh I do have a couple — one for a yummy potato soup and another for cream of broccoli.  But mostly, the kettles of soup on our stove are a bit of this and some of that — often whatever is in the refrigerator.  A recent pot of soup included small pieces of beef, some left-over ground ham, a bit of hamburger in sauce that I’d used for stuffing peppers and then potatoes, carrots and bulghur (a ground and roasted wheat product).   Soups may be done in crock pots, cooking much of the day to blend flavors or they may be made an hour before dinner, in a pot on the stove.  Occasionally I’ve put the ingredients in a covered kettle to bake in the oven, before church.  It is so good to be coming home to a hot lunch in an aromatic kitchen.   I agree with the warbling rendition by the Mock Turtle from Alice In Wonderland: “Soup of the evening— beautiful soup — Beautiful sou – oop….”*

Another indication that autumn is well upon us are the numbers of classes, workshops, and meetings that one may or must attend.  There was a task force on mental health offered last week at school, several meetings about the medication overdose problem, and I noticed a session scheduled for Ithaca to discuss end-of-life issues entitled, “It Won’t Kill You To Talk About Dying”.  This same group did a workshop for our church a couple of years ago, and the content was excellent.   There are very practical things one needs to know — wills, trusts, health proxies, possibilities for care, funeral options, costs, etc.  But there are also less pragmatic discussions around how one wants the end of life to be.   We can’t control everything, but having some plans in place and letting family know our desires eases some of the angst.   Kerm and I had an appointment last week to finalize our financial decisions, our health proxies and our wills.  It is actually a comforting feeling to know that so many scattered details are pulled together in a way that will make the end of our lives easier for our families.  

One of the laughable things I once did during some kind of session was to inscribe my tombstone.  I had great fun with this and designed several.  Paper is much easier to etch than granite!  If one views death as the end —- this might be a depressing activity.  If, as I believe, that no life is wasted but goes on into another realm, then leaving this one ought to be something of an occasion.  So I had a good time though all of my designs would probably be embarrassing to my descendents.   But truly, talking about subjects close to the bone is something we all ought to be able to do as we mature.  If there is absolutely no one with whom we can be transparent, life is not as good as it could be and is lonelier than it has to be.   If our innermost thoughts are never shared with someone, there is a painful gap in our lives and our relationships.

Going from death to life, I was supposed to attend a baby shower last weekend.  At the last minute, I felt too unwell to go, but I am still in awe at the wonderful things available now to get one through babyhood.  Disposable diapers were just coming in when our eldest was born, but they were expensive so we only used them when traveling.  Instead, we labored with cloth diapers and I can still remember how frozen my hands felt hanging those diapers out, before we had a dryer.  Of course, those same fabric diapers, later in life, made great dust cloths, polishers etc.; they were so soft and nice.  I learned about a boppy when our first grandchild was born —- a convenience for nursing mothers.  And now there are even more unique things to make parent-hood easier.  Of course, those are only things.  The real struggles of being parents continue as they always have.  As Kahlil Gibran** said: “Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.  You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow………”  It is good to remember that though we are entrusted with children they should be encouraged to be the best people they can be, with their own dreams and choices.”  Not easy for parents to accept or remember sometimes!

On this November day, I’ll close with a favorite poem by Dixie Willson***:  I like the fall, the mist and all.  I like the night owl’s lonely call – and wailing sound of wind around.  I like the gray November day, and bare, dead boughs that coldly sway against my pane.  I like the rain.  I like to sit and laugh at it – and tend my cozy fire a bit.  I like the fall – the mist and all.”  

Carol may be reached at: 

*Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

**Kahlil Gibran — The Prophet

***Dixie Willson “The Mist And All”

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