(A Reflection from 2003)
“All that was ever ours is ours forever.”[i]
This November day, like all November days, will be soon be gone past the recalling of it. At not-quite-noon, here in my adopted country of Hungary, it already seems to be waning. The sky is white-blue where the sun makes his low arc toward the west. Most of the leaves are down except for the sweet cherry’s, trembling in the cold breeze. And the birches—ah, the birches’ delicate leaves are as golden as the autumn alchemy can render them.
My neighbor is raking her leaves, but I am ambivalent. I love a scuffling walk in their crispness, and I scan the ground for perfect ones to dry between the endpapers of a heavy book. But necessity calls, and my son and I dutifully get our rakes and spread barrow load after barrow load on the vegetable garden, and still there are more. Raking is real exercise, and I’d rather be raking than in a stuffy, smelly gym, puffing away at some machine. Pull—twist—pull—twist; abdomen tightens, arms stretch; bend, stoop, lift, bend, more stooping and lifting and pulling and twisting. And the air—oh, the crisp air going into the lungs! And the little wintering, chattering birds suddenly make me think this is the best place to be and doing exactly this.
And, in this November, I make a discovery, here in my garden. The marigolds have long been hanging their heads, brown and dreary. The brunnera has spread heedlessly, its large, leathery leaves and stalks sodden. I begin tugging mercilessly, knowing full well both will self-propagate, and I will be none the poorer come spring.
But—lo—a wonder! Under a thick clump of matted leaves, a round ball of a living body lies curled up, spiny, and fast asleep! O sweet winter sleep on a cold November day! I call my son over to see the little hedgehog, and then cover up the sleeping body again with its own cozy blanket and add an extra mound of cherry leaves to replace my carelessly ripped-out flowers. My son suggests we bring hot chocolate and cookies at Christmastime. He is certainly thoughtful, my son, especially at eighteen! We laugh, and I picture the little creature waking up long enough to sip and nibble and then curl up again, to sleep till February.
There have been times when I wanted to sleep till February—but not today. I would miss November! I would miss the large, golden moon that called me last evening to look at it, dark as the sky already was at 4:30. And the same moon, small, hard, and silver, staring at me out of a deep teal sky this morning reflected in the bathroom mirror.
I would miss the trembling leaves and the tall, golden beacons of the birches. I would miss early mornings at my desk when the sour cherry is a papercut silhouette just outside the window. I would miss the sunrises, each new day a little different, the paints in the heavenly palette subtle or deep and rich. I would miss coming in from the cold, tingling and energized. I would miss hot chocolate.
I have made a decision about November. The decision is this: I will write about it before I lose it, before it is lost beyond the recalling of it. Last November—just a short year ago—I was with my mother, whom I thought was dying. And so she was. But in November in Ohio, we laughed and held hands, and I gave her rides in her wheelchair in the brisk autumn sunshine. November blessed us with each other’s presence before we were lost to each other beyond the recalling.
Yes, I will write about Novembers to come. I will not hibernate. I will write. And the writing will keep back something of what is lost.
And I will rake my leaves. There will be more next year.
[i] Quote from Amy Carmichael of India (1867-1951)