The first of November dawned bright and crisp. I enjoyed the flat, soft light and brisk breezes of the morning as I paced my front porch with the first coffee of the day. My stomach was, perhaps, a little grumbly from the taste-testing I had done the night before to make sure the treats we handed out to some 211 tricksters the night before were safe and edible and worthy of the holiday, but it was nothing compared to the satisfied glow of a self-sacrificing task well done. I can provide that number with some confidence, because I semi-carefully kept track as my wife oohed and aaahed over costumes and cheerily gave each little visitor their choice. Not because I cared, but because I was curious.
As we waited for the on-and-off stream of princesses and werewolves and dinosaurs and devils that appeared at our doorstep, it occurred to me that Halloween trick or treating is one of the few things that hasn’t changed much since I did it a long time ago. Kids still dress up and run from house to house, dragging along parents or older siblings and dreaming of the wonderful year they are deemed old enough to do it by themselves. They shout “trick or treat,” without much real idea of what a trick should or could be, for which I am thankful. Some say “thank you” and some don’t, but it really doesn’t matter as they revel over the sugar-based buffet of goodies provided by my clever companion. She is, after all, an imaginative purchaser and provider of new and unusual treats, and while it’s not exactly foie gras and smoked salmon on the menu, it always receives rave reviews from those lucky hundreds who partake in it.
But now it’s November.
I can tell, because the chill in the air is in earnest. I have finally agreed to welcome cold weather with my annual, grudging, upward spin of our thermostat, so the boiler in our basement chugs and rumbles as warming steam bangs its way through the cold pipes and radiators in our hard-to-heat house. I can tell because the leaves have changed and fallen, and even the majestic pin oak in the park across the street has begun to display the dusty gold glow that is often the final step towards a barren winterscape.
The crops are mostly out of the fields now, with the backroads crowded with trucks and tractors pulling the tools and fertilizers that will finally prepare the ground for its winter sleep.
We wonder about upcoming trips, with a journey planned for Minnesota later this month, no firm plans for Thanksgiving yet, and with hopes that winter weather and busy schedules will cooperate enough to see children and grandchildren in our home for Christmas.
But you never know. It’s November, now, and the weatherman is even talking about snow this week. My older son Colin, the erstwhile southern Illinoisan turned Minnesotan, sent me a picture the other day that showed a jolly jack o’lantern layered with their first white stuff of the season.
“Happy Hallowinter,” I laughingly replied. But now it’s November, and the real winter weather can’t be far behind.
A shiny box of apples sits on the table, along with the last crumbs of the cider donuts I couldn’t resist, while hot soups and crusty bread have re-entered our diet. Salty, my self-tamed, hand-fed squirrel has almost entirely deserted me now as his interests turn from the fast-food crackers I hand out to hardier stuff, like the nuts he’s buried for the what’s to come.
Even his arch-nemesis, my surly cat, Max has noted the change of seasons.
He was waiting for me the other night when I got home after covering a late game. It was almost 11, and the moon and stars shown bright on the frosty landscape. He came inside with me to try and con me out of some extra grub, then asked to go outside again. Max enjoys the nighttime, where I know he stalks and hunts and otherwise acts like the feral little beast he really is.
I opened the door for him and he started to slip over the threshold. Suddenly, from the park across the street, came the low, throaty hoot of a great horned owl, looking for his own cold-weather repast. We hear those owls all year long, but now the cry sounded hungrier, somehow, as all wild creatures wait to hunt and to be hunted in readiness for a new season.
Max looked up at me, his eyes big as saucers.
Slowly, he backed away from the door and crept back into the house. Then he streaked upstairs, where he crawled underneath the covers with his sleeping mistress.
“Welcome to the food chain,” I called to him. “The wrong end, that is.”
It will frost and frost again. The trees will shed every last leaf soon, and those leaves will dance and blow and burn and disappear. Many of the birds have headed to their winter nests, with squawking, chirping backyard-summer days replaced by the quieter, windblown sounds of autumn.
But it’s not just falling leaves and busy squirrels and hungry owls that mark this time of year.
We recently overheard a waitress in a New England cafe, who was talking to some customers who were inquiring into her background. She was, apparently, a local girl, who had lived in sunny Florida for several years before returning to her native Vermont.
“It’s just not natural for things to stay green all year long,” she exclaimed. “The seasons need to change. Things need to rest for awhile.”
People, too, I guess.
Soon enough, it will be yet another time of year. We will fight the cold, the snow and all the other weather-related challenges that face us. Wintertime and the holidays will plunge us into a desperate orgy of decorating and gatherings and celebrations and shopping. We will be busy beyond belief, because that’s how we are supposed to be.
But not yet.
Because right now, it’s November.