We take days like this one for granted in September and October, months that offer up the glowing, halcyon days of autumn. November, though, opens to limited expectations. Here in south-central Indiana, the month tends to be muddled with damp, drizzle, fog, and frost - shifting, uncomfortable weathers on the inevitably downward trend of the thermostat.
I love winter and wouldn't want to live where November didn't forecast it. But I can't help clinging to the last of the natural warmth. And so, when this morning's gentle foggy dawn brightened into an almost summery midmorning, I seized the day. I felt as if it had been pulled out of some special storehouse - like the snowballs my sister, brother, and I once squirreled away in our mother's Deepfreeze and retrieved for a cooling mid-July melee.
This was the kind of out-of-sync gift of a day that makes you appreciate constancy as well as change - because it has a foot in both. The hens, sunning in the leaves and piles of barn-mill sawdust, had drifted back to sleep by noon. The cows, by now used to freezing nights, actually sought out a dappled shade in their thickening coats. Charlie and I peeled off our sweaters for a walk through the woods, our dogs panting delight at the prospect for a plunge in the creek. In November.
Most of the trees have shed their foliage and dropped their seeds, but the last of the leaves still rained and spiraled down. The cow paths rustled and crunched with acorns and maple wings. The beeches, bucking the trend, stood bright in the dappled sun, holding onto their coppery tiers of leaves, clinging as I do to seasons whose days are numbered. Grasshoppers sprang below our feet on the high back pasture, and the green carpet breathed a subtle heat that nurtured a thin crop of late dandelions and chicory.
By the time we returned to the farmhouse, other folks had arrived at the same idea, and on our doorstep. What better day to walk the farm? Gillian and her children collected pears from the small, heavily laden tree near the house and we all walked out to offer some to the languidly grazing cows - retirees from our once-active commercial dairy. Jennifer, the herd elder, hogged the better part of my harvest, thrusting her warm moist nose into my upturned palm as long as the supply lasted. Often our pears fail to soften before they freeze, but these were the most perfectly sweet, ripened fruits that tree has ever yielded. They scented the air. In November.
Joe and his two boys found us all in the timber-frame library at the edge of the back pasture, where we house our collection of illustrated children's books. It's a place that beckons in all weathers, but there is nothing like it when the windows are open to the breeze and the drifting bleats of the calves. Today, with the door swung wide to let in the sun, we lazily visited and read as if winter would never come.
But it will, and must. Soon firewood will have to be cut and stacked, the hay brought down from the loft for morning and evening feedings, and the windows and doors closed in no uncertain terms. I only wish we could store something of a stolen day like this in a kind of vault - then bring it out on some dark brooding and all-too-early January dusk like a reviving circle of warmth and light. Even those of us who welcome winter could use a fair-weather ball to hold on to in the depths of it - like those frigid missiles we cupped in hot hands and let fly in July.
But all we can really do is savor November days like this. Tomorrow looks to be equally, unseasonably fine, and I plan to wallow in it - mindful that it's November. Maybe I can pack the memory of this interlude into a form tangible enough to toss in the face of January when I need to. And maybe, as winter howls this year, I'll think to pack a stash of it in the freezer - for that hot, steamy day in July that begs for some snow to fly.