The most beautiful and stirring twilights of the year arrive in November. We say that to one another at the end of the first shortest day of the season, the surprising day after turning back of the clocks when the five o'clock close-of-day routine suddenly begins nearer to four. Even after a wild day such as this one, when for an hour or more this morning a driving snow fell sideways, product of a northeaster steeper in its plunge into low pressure than predicted locally and so arriving with a sort of unexpected hurricane punch this weekend. That freight-train scraping sound tearing through the house at one point in the late afternoon was made by the wind loosing a porch chair and dragging it across a wood floor to toss it down on the front garden. The wind thought that would be fun.
Meanwhile the clouds parted for a golden sunset, offering a deeper pink in the western sky than we've seen since I can remember. It turned deeper still, minute by minute, painting a rose window in the quickening alchemy of November skies.
The end of daylight savings time is the trumpet blast that begins the dark season in the northern hemisphere.
Savoring what we had, for as long as we still had it, we drank in the last of October foliage, picking a mild day last week to pay a visit to the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard's arboreal fantasy land in a rolling piece of baronial property on the edge of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston.
All season we watch the perennials flower display in turn, the spring reveille of bulbs and the low spreading violet-tinted groundcovers, the quick burst azalea, rhododendron and peonies, June's burst of bloomers, the lush lilies of July, the somewhat more muted and yet wilder blossoms of late summer and September, and the last lunge of mum and aster and spotted purple toad lilies in the month just ended -- but, truly, October belongs to the trees.
The perennials are all but finished, though sometimes our roses last into December, and I don't know what will remain of the potted annuals after the storm that greeted the first two days of this month. The prospect of freezing temperatures by early tomorrow morning drove me out in the night winds last night to rescue the house plants from the danger of overstaying their summer vacation out of doors.
But, frankly, this time of year is about the trees. We usually visit the Arboretum on a weekend, so our weekday stroll reduced the number of fellow visitors and gave us a different view of this well-groomed playground. We saw the staff out, riding the foot paths in their vehicles, one man even using a leaf blower (destroyer of rural peace) to clear the ground under a shrubby little tree near the visitor center. Others gathered up brush or previously trimmed branches gathered into piles by the roadside. It was like visiting a mansion arriving in time for the vacuuming. People watching is always good there, even on light days. We saw fathers keeping watch over very small children. A woman walked six dogs at once, each on separate leads. Each groomed canine kept perfectly to his lane, but I had to wonder how much fun this was for the dogs.
We saw a giant maple (top photo) round outward in a perfect expression of its innate drive for space and air and sunlight. The tag named it a "painted maple," but the paint had yet to be applied to leaves that were still green.
On the arboretum's "Evergreen Trail" we saw tall and stately spruces standing their ground, including a huge Canadian spruce (second photo down: a Mountie or two could hide behind it) and a grand Asian spruce (third photo) well over a hundred years old.
Another evergreen, the golden larch (fourth photo), in fact lives up to its name, spinning its needles into gold each autumn. And the ginkgo tree (fifth photo down), a product of northern China, Korea and Japan, turns a pale yellow bright as any spring or summer flower.
Then there is that shrub, or small tree, whose name I can never keep track of, that produces a full wardrobe of soft violet foliage (bottom photo) I cannot even describe. We've seen it in other well-tended properties, grown and maintained especially for its winter-long color.
Back home with the calendar page changed, we know where else to find color this time of year, even when the last of the trees shed their leaves. In the sky.