“Dull November” is exactly right. It’s a long slog from Witch Week to Thanksgiving, with just a fleeting interlude of political excitement, here in the U.S., on Election Day. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I rarely regret the passing of this month, with autumn’s glorious colors disappearing and the days growing noticeably shorter. Not even that extra hour of sleep over the first full weekend of the month, as the clocks in the northern hemisphere fall back, can atone for the bleakness ahead. But at least it isn’t February!
Not just because I’m in recovery after #WitchWeek2022 will this be a short post. The three authors discussed here have done me a favor in keeping their November chapters calm and quiet.
In Connecticut, Gladys Taber sets the mood for us:
Now in November, the leaves spread cloth of gold and red on the ground. The open fields take on a cinnamon tone and the wild blackberry canes in the swamp are frosted purple The colors fade slowly to sober hues. The rain falls with a determination in long leaden lines, and when it stops water drips from the eaves.
Winter birds arrive, such as the junco in the photograph, which Taber considers her “weather forecast for they appear suddenly when it will be bitter.” Chickadees, bluejays and woodpeckers are other winter arrivals, and Taber’s descriptions make me want to walk the woods of Washington Heights and Inwood (there are at least three) with binoculars and see what avian residents I can spot before the trails become too muddy to hike.
Down in Provence, Peter Mayle and his neighbors prepare for the cold months of late autumn and winter, blown in on the wild Mistral that surprises visitors with its sudden icy gusts. One important task throughout wine country is trimming back the vines and clearing the cuttings before the worst of the rough weather arrives. This practice offers Mayle an opportunity to admire the ingenuity of the French “peasant”, who
is reluctant to discard anything, because he knows that one day the bald tractor tire, the chipped scythe, the broken hoe, and the transmission salvaged from the 1949 Renault van will serve him well and save him from disturbing the contents of that deep, dark pocket where he keeps his money.
When the Mistral comes, the best one can do is hunker down and hope that damage is kept to a just a few tree limbs brought down, or a tile or two blown off the roof.
Lastly, Dorothy Hartley spends much of her November chapter discussing medieval drovers, for November was the month when anyone with too many animals to overwinter would begin sending them to market. This involved a long trek, one more complicated than this city gal would have thought, for several reasons. First, and most obviously, the herds couldn’t comprise mixed animals, because cows, sheep, pigs, and geese all travel at different speeds. The animals also required different routes, and started at different times of the day. Cows, for instance, couldn’t start to move before early afternoon, after they’ve fed and then chewed their cud for a good long while. “Low feeders” had to follow “high feeders.” There might be delays, such as the need to shoe lamed cattle, and the best speed anyone could hope for was about 10 miles per day.
Along the various routes, and especially at the end points (not just in London, but any town or city with a large market), one could find various tradesmen offering services as needed: smiths, butchers, tanners, leather-workers, and saddlers. You can imagine the stink around the abattoirs and tanneries, which were usually located down river from the wealthiest landowners and city dwellers.
As an aside, Hartley points out how a smith could remove styes from children’s eyes.
The little ones were sent to ask him to do it, and he’d say, ‘Just wait till I’ve done this horseshoe”, and the child would push close to watch, close to the heat and the steam, and blink hard, every time the great hammer came down with a bang — till in half an hour the smith would wipe his hands, and look, and smile (for the stye had burst and wept itself away).
I wish there were magical smiths who could so easily cure other problems with no loss to anyone. I suppose I’ll just have to write that story myself.
That’s it for November. December will be here soon. Happy reading, everyone!