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Henningsen: On Bleak November

(Host) Teacher, historian and commentator Vic Henningsen says that this is his least favorite month - and he's got plenty of company.

(Henningsen) April, said the poet T.S. Eliot, is the cruelest month. But I'm willing to bet he never spent November in Vermont.

Thanksgiving aside, as far as I'm concerned, there's little to recommend this month. When the fall rains come, the poet Stanley Kunitz writes,

The iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

Hereon Thetford Hill the rain slants sideways, blows in my ear, and trickles down my neck as I trudge from undone chore to undone chore. It soaks my gloves, streams off my coat onto my pants, now drenched from the knees down, and slides into my boots. Glasses misted, fingers chapped, I take twice as long to do everything, which gives me plenty of time to reflect on how long I've put off doing it. Even the trees look tired.

The mostly-frozen ground sends water along the roadside where pools spread gradually toward the barn. It's truly a cheerless prospect! The windswept pond is swollen with runoff from the upper pasture; the fields and trees are brown and grey, brown and grey. It calls to mind William Bradford's description of the Pilgrims' arrival on Cape Cod:

I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition ... Which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a weather beaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue.

I remember one dismal fall afternoon up on Mount Mansfield when I was a cabin caretaker. Rain, Rain, Rain, complained one weary hiker as he oozed into Butler Lodge, all it ever does up here is rain.Does it ever change? Well, said my co-worker, Sometimes it snows.

Another time one of my students and I were trudging along a sodden path on the way to class. Rain, rain, rain, he griped. I'm so sick of this endless rain. A passing Latin teacher stopped us in our tracks with the observation, If you were a tulip, you'd love the rain.

Was he trying to cheer us up or had it gotten to him too?

Oh,sure, there are occasional bright mornings and soft afternoons - just enough to tease us into thinking it isn't so bad. But for most of the month, I think the English poet Thomas Hood got it just right:
No sun - no moon! No morn - no noon!
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day -
No sky - no earthly view -
No distance looking blue -

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,


Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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