Other Kinds of Beauty – Like November

If you allow it, the lure of November is irresistable. Everything naturally quietens down and runs to earth. The darkness closes in and everything gets pared back. If you think the Burren looks luner in mid Summer, you should see it now. Further exposed, with the ash and hazel and hawthorn laid bare and the ferns faded into brown shadows of their Summer-selves, it’s a different, subtle kind of beauty.

The light is gorgeous. I get the best photos in November, when the sunlight turns sharp and white and clear. The light is lower, exposing droplets on webs, the last rotting berries on skinned briars and the grime on my kitchen windows.

November is not a month for venturing out, as it turns colder and windier and meaner in it’s efforts to remind us that it’s time to rest. Time to hunker down and wind down and lay down, which we tend to forget we need. November weather catches you off-guard in a bid to scupper your ability to make plans or go for a walk or get some jobs done around the garden. Last week started out gutsy and gusty with near-torrential rain, turning pleasant towards the end of the week – pleasant enough to shed some of the acquired jackets and indulge in walks while it lasts, because it won’t last. November is unpredictable. It likes it that way, keeps us guessing.

November is a month for surrender and hibernation.

When I was small, when I was in school and going to mass more, November was all about those who had gone before us. It was a month for remembering the dead, especially those who had passed away over the course of the previous year. It was like a darker, less-glitzy Lent where you might give something up or go to mass during the week or visit your family grave more often. That tradition is waning. Where I grew up, in what was a small village where most people were connected, I would have known every person remembered at mass, prayed for on their anniversary. If you didn’t recognise the name you would ask after mass was out, ‘who was that who was prayed for’. And you’d be told and you mightn’t have known them, as a child, but you would know who they were of. I grew up on a road where we only had a few neighbours and many of them were extremely old, the last in their lines, who made it their business to inform the priest about upcoming anniversaries of long-gone family members. Now that they’re gone, I’m not sure who, if anybody, remembers those people anymore. Which I suppose is life, or the passing of it. But it’s a loss – the loss of a connection between us and those who paved the way.

Have you heard that saying about dying twice? First, when you take your last breath and finally, when someone says your name for the last time.

2020 has been the year of looking forward. When will it end? What will the announcement bring? When can I go home? Or my favourite question to Alan, which I ask him far too often in the vain hope he will lie to me; ‘Is this over yet?’

Covid and death and November may be tough to navigate and we might, given the option, happily choose to skip each. But it’s just not possible. The gallop forward to Christmas is understandable – it’s a beautiful distraction and a bright light in a darkening tunnel. But a November crammed with Christmas takes with it the opportunity to stop. Just stop. Life is not without pain and lulls and hardships and conundrums that quieter times of the year give us the opportunity to build up some resilience for and mull over and digest and deal with. It should be OK to have a slow month, with no forward trajectory or clutter or fluff.

Like the landscape – pare it all back.

Now is that time when around here everything becomes so, so barren. And yet we see swans most days on our way to school. Sometimes fairy lights just distract us from other kinds of beauty. Like November.

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