Hard Tellin’: Negotiating November


If there is a month with a bit of baggage here in Vermont it has to be November. 

November – how do I say it nicely – isn’t getting punctuated with any kind of exclamation marks. Nobody’s scheduling any weddings in November. November is the reason we start talking again about putting Prozac in the water. 

The November Mindset, if I could call it that, might really be about mental preparation (or maybe mental surrender) to the coming terms of a Vermont winter. A month meant to remind us of the fine print on the Vermont Winter Contract we residents tacitly agree to. A glass of cold water in the face of Winter Denial. 

Sure, we’ve all heard a few good jokes about Mud Season. But you’d be hard pressed to find any good humor about the November pseudo-season we call Stick Season (which may also spea

k to this mirthless time of year). Frankly most of us are just a bit melancholy about a landscape reduced to grayscale that just weeks ago had us all giddy with its colored leafery.

One of the more charitable analogies I’ve heard is that November is pretty much a loose equivalent to when house guests finally leave. It is, after all, a time when our state exhales all those leaf-peeping tourists and we all resume normalcy. What’s overlooked in this metaphor is that it is also a time when even our own residents seem to be sneaking southward. November, it seems, might be more like house guests leaving….with a few family members stowed away under the hatchback.  

It is interesting also that while November is far from poetry month (that would be April), curiously rhymesters have not been silent on the subject. Emily Dickinson once wrote “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year” which certainly does not sound like a compliment. And poet Thomas Hood most probably wasn’t singing November’s praises, when he toyed with the month’s rather unfortunate moniker: “No leaves, no shine, no birds, no flowers…No-vember!”

Recently I was grumping about my November disaffection to an artist friend, and was soundly scolded for my irreverence. November is a time to enjoy Vermont’s austere beauty! he lectured. His gritty early winter landscapes are typically painted with boney trees and overcast skies. A Thomas Kinkade painter he is not. Those scenes of hop-scotching children in perfectly pastoral New England settings are deeply aggravating to him. I’m paraphrasing here, but I think he prefers that other Vermont- perhaps the unvarnished one. The Vermont that has room for the grayscales of November as well as the colors of October. That late-year Vermont that really wants to know how deep our affection runs for these northlands. 

But if there is a more severe scolding I usually get from neighboring November-lovers it’s that I simply haven’t learned to love this month for its smells. If October is known for its sights then November might be better appreciated with the nose I’m now told. (All of which seems like a rather desperate attempt of overly-optimistic Pollyannas.)

The cultivated November nose, I’m told, is really about taking in the perfumed aromas of hearth and home. November, after all, it that time of year when we collectively fire-up of those pungent woodstoves. A kind of Aroma-therapy for the disaffected. A time of year when we follow those fragrant smells homeward to even better smells of apple pies and cheesy casseroles. Comfort foods for the coming uncomfortable cold! 

It is a point I will take into consideration under my sun-lamp.

And what about the fact that November is Gratitude Month I am often told. (Yes, and here is where I really begin to feel truly guilty and unworthy as a Vermonter) Because I suppose if we can really reach down deep in hardy Norwegian fashion and find something good to say even when the sun is setting unreasonably at 4:30, I suppose there’s something really commendable going on. 

I will try harder. 

But if there is any lasting November wisdom I will confess that it comes from those that say my expectations are just too high. Like maybe expecting that dried rice cakes can somehow be made tasty. What’s really called for in the 11th month is a kind of Scandinavian Stoicism. (Aren’t those guys still scoring high on the international happiness scale?)

It is a good point. And this too I will diligently ponder. With an extra serving of mashed potatoes and gravy by the woodstove. 

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