Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The days grow short. The light begins to fade in the mid-afternoon. Everywhere we look things we love are passing away, but they are almost more beautiful than ever because of the impending loss. It’s the psycho-dynamics of fading light. November light touches us someplace deep.
Declining light at day’s end makes the sky come alive all year round. But in November’s slow, climactic run-up to the shortest day of the year, the sun is so low in the sky it appears to crouch all day in a low, slow approach to its descent below the horizon – to falling off the end of the world. It sits there, like the last leaf hanging in the branch. November’s sun disappears earlier in the day, but takes a longer time doing it, lingering at the end, inviting us to share the moment. From midday’s zenith, when even at its highest point the sun leaves much of our built urban world in shadow, to afternoon’s early sunset is barely enough time to lose ourselves in daily indoor pursuits (“work,” to those of us still lucky enough to have it). When we look up next, the light is fading.
If we can afford a few moments to look at it, the picture is heart-breakingly beautiful. A halo of sky pinks over, then slowly darkens its tone. The color foregrounds by contrast to the brilliant black silhouettes of the newly bared trees.
Sunset is beautiful as well in May and July, but the ambience – everything in nature, that is, reflected in our minds – it wholly different. We aren’t hearing birds chattily busy at building their world these days. We probably aren’t hearing anything because our windows are closed. It’s cold.
In big office buildings, the glass is thick, and the windows are never opened. We wouldn’t hear the birds in these precincts ever, but in spring we imagine them; our brains import the vernal context. In November these big picture windows concentrate our attention on the visual. The spectacle of red-gold sky crowns our piece of the planet. We see the headline news of the day: it was beautiful, and short. Time and space are still in the driver’s seat. We’re just passing through.
That sort of news makes some people sad (or, as we now say, SAD). All things end, and our days end a lot sooner in this post-daylight saving time month when an act of state has sliced an hour of sunlight off the end of our afternoon. The end of days has been hurried up, fast-forwarded. We confront our endings when we are still awake; possibly on the move, outdoors. The workplace releases us, we head for the parking lot. If it’s five o’clock, chances are the sun has already drained from the sky – or maybe twilight is lingering. If we’re earlier sunset is in medias res or, if we are lucky, just about to begin.
Because in that case we get to see it.
Time passes inexorably from minute to minute, second to second, micron to micron. It is always now, but now is always disappearing on us before we can put our finger on it. When the sun sets, darkness advances, new colors coat the western sky – we can see time passing. We can see the difference. Something tangible is representing the passage of time. It’s time in color.
A part of our November self still thinks it’s summer. Some trees still have their leaves; some trees have half of them, or some of them. The weeping cherry outside my study window has only one-tenth as many leaves as a week ago, but each is an incredible bronzed color, a little darker in some spots, lighter than others. I can practically count them. Each one is precious now.
I still have flowers; not so many. Some snapdragons hold their candles in the wind. The back garden mums, a color somewhere south of lilac, have dropped their branches to the ground (or to the jumble of fallen leaves and foliage I leave on the ground to mulch it). The blossoms are there, but receding into the background. The green of the day lilies has been two-thirds replaced by yellow with brown overtones; some of the shrubs have denuded in the last week or two. The ornamental grasses are shades of brown. There is still green in the groundcovers and my few pointy evergreen bushes.
I still have color, variety, texture. But more gaps. November light shines through them. And the long November night is on its way, to darken things down an hour and more sooner than a month ago. It will get darker, yes, and much, much colder in the months to come. But these November days are filled with reflections, both forward and back.
April may be the cruelest month, but November is the most philosophical.