An acquired taste

When I was a child, November always seemed to me a sort of ''nothing'' month. Trees were bare, skies dreary, and the mornings chilly enough for mother to counsel the wearing of ''long stockings'' to school and the consumption of hot oatmeal for breakfast (two measures on which we could never agree). Apart from our ''Bluebird'' group, which met once a week in the basement, school by now was losing its glamour. Thanksgiving notwithstanding, November was mostly a waiting-for-Christmas month.

In retrospect, though, I can see a good deal was going on. Reading was rediscovered in November, along with the movies and the games in our closets. In our house there was a heat register in one corner of the living room which each of us children coveted. Whoever captured it first would shove a hassock beside it and then sit over its delicious heat until his flesh nearly roasted. Scores of fairy tales were digested in this manner, as was every mystery Nancy Drew ever investigated - not to mention mountains of comic books. Similarly, whole afternoons were absorbed by Monopoly tournaments, or in games of Parchesi, Michigan, and Old Maid. But never Saturday afternoons, which were reserved for the movies. No matter what the program, there we repaired, long lines of us, each the twin of his neighbor in his possession of 11 cents and an eagerness to be enchanted.

Weather was yet another passion. On stormy November nights, when snug in bed, we would thrill to the wind-driven rain drumming against the house. By day, we gloried in the gales that lashed our street. When a noreaster pounded the coast, we would beg to be driven to the beach, reveling there in the drama of surf crashing against rocks and dashing spray on our cheeks. As hungry for life as we were for our suppers, we dined, as it were, on the country and the cold. Called home for the night, we would tumble in the door, half drunk on air that was an intoxicant.

The joy that is so heedless in a child is, in an adult, a conscious pleasure. One is aware of a new lease on energy in November. Dour days don't depress with thoughts of coming winter, as October sometimes does, (for all its beauty), but acts as a stimulant, as an invitation to enjoy the hardy side of nature - one's own included. If spirits rise as the temperatures drop, one also takes delight in elements more varied than those blasts that stirred the child (though the melancholy side of the month retains its charm for many a grown-up). There is weather in November as azure as the summer's; days whose tone is amethyst or topaz or rose. To say nothing of November's ruby gloamings.

Far from being humdrum, November is a month rich in interest. Simplicity comes into its own at this season and in a landscape stripped of its foliage. There is a loveliness to woods freshly denuded and rising from a rosy-brown carpet of leaves. If form is an end in itself in late autumn, so is the brilliance of flamebush and sumac. (And of a random leaf so scarlet it is as if all the life left in the tree had run down into that solitary appendage.) Birds must be numbered among the wonders of November, from its stately pheasant to its strings of geese. And scenting the air is earth's flossy bouquet.

Unlike the child, whose gaze is literal, an elder rejoices and is glad in November, no matter how monochromatic its scenes. For maturity perceives the need for lying fallow, and for change which is good to one who loves the year in all its phases and understands a truth that youth has yet to grasp - that outward things must sometimes be informed by inward grace.

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