Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The approach of winter

It's coming; I can feel it. A week or two ago it suddenly turned quite cold, and the grass, so recently green, is starting to show brown in patches. The autumn colors have become even more autumnal and muted.

But in its winter-is-fast-approaching slumber, the garden retains a certain spare and faded beauty. One has to get into a certain frame of mind to appreciate it--it's not immediately accessible as in spring and summer, or early fall.

Here, take a look:

For me, the worst thing about this time of year is the early sunset. Now if I want to take my three-mile walk outside, I have to start by 3:15 PM--any later and I end up stumbling home in darkness. There aren't as many other walkers as there used to be; just a few intrepid dog owners and the grimacing grim-faced runners who never quit, come ice or snow or sleet or wind.

Yesterday on my walk I heard a strange cacophonous cry that sounded like a bunch of small atonally yipping dogs. It took me a moment of looking around and seeing nothing to realize I had to look up, and when I did, there was a flock of Canadian geese in ragged V-formation. They sounded different from any other geese I've ever heard, and when I got home and did some research, I discovered that different-sized varieties of geese have different calls. These must have been the smaller ones, described as having "high-pitched cackling voices."

The day had started out cloudy to begin with, but now that it was getting to be twilight it was even darker. Since Thanksgiving is over, people have begun to put up their Christmas lights, and there was a family--father, mother, and two-year old boy--stringing their bushes and trees with glowing colors, looking for all the world like some sappy holiday greeting card, only real.

I searched for a poem appropriate to the season, and came up with this one, Robert Frost's "Reluctance:"

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Yes, we're reluctant to embrace the end of fall and the beginning of the long cold winter. But it's always good to remember that in the coldest darkest time, when there are so many more months of winter ahead, the days start lengthening and the sun begins its slow but inevitable return.


At 6:08 PM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Here in Southern California, I do miss autumn of all seasons. What you wrote and the Frost poem reminded me of my favorite Shakespearean sonnet: 73.

That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

At 6:09 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger RickInNY said...

"Reluctance" appears on the Robert Frost Trail at Middlebury College's Breadloaf campus.
Most appropriate for the passage of seasons, upon us this week.

At 9:40 PM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE this cold weather. We had a mini-snow storm yesterday, though it had all melted by the time I got home. I love the crisp fresh air and cuddling under a warm blanket with a roaring fire...all in front of my laptop. :-)

At 11:55 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Meade said...

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' in the photo?

At 4:42 AM, December 01, 2005, Blogger Yaakov Kirschen said...

so many of us are caught in the day to day hysteria of facing the int'l jihad and its unwitting supporter/appeasers in our midsts that we sometimes forget to "smell the roses".
Dry Bones
Israel's political comic strip since 1973

At 5:16 AM, December 01, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Now is the winter of our discontent...well, soon anyway.

At 8:04 AM, December 01, 2005, Blogger IchobanaRose said...

winter's alright. i do agree about the sunset however.

At 11:11 AM, December 01, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Meade: You got it: Sedum "Autumn Joy."

At 3:21 PM, December 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After catching up on all of my daily political blogs, this post was like a breath of fresh air! Thanks for taking the time to write this.

At 3:56 PM, December 01, 2005, Blogger Knucklehead said...


Thanks for this piece. This time of year is an interesting mental exercise to get ready to bear the cold and dark. For me its like mentally trading this for that. Giving up the green to get the colors and then giving up the colors to be able to see into the woods. Giving up the warmth to get the richer scents.

But there's nothing one can trade that compensates for the loss of daylight. Gotta either begin or end your walks in the dark.

Getting the all-weather game face on is tough. The trade there is the wierd feeling of accomplishment when all but the hardcore walkers are gone until spring. One rarely meets a stranger when one is out walking in a cold, soaking rain or a blizard.

At 10:14 PM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Harry said...

I enjoyed your post, neo-neo. The Onset is another Frostian poem of the season that I always think of when the first snow comes.

At 2:50 PM, December 03, 2005, Blogger Nicholas said...

> For me, the worst thing about this time of year is the early sunset. Now if I want to take my three-mile walk outside, I have to start by 3:15 PM

Move South, madame, move South.

It doesn't get dark here in Northern Florida until 6:30ish, and it's daylight by about 7am... not to mention the balmy 70 degrees it is outside at noon.

At 2:00 PM, December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is kind of interesting, to me at least...

Although everyone knows that the shortest day (i.e., least number of hours of sunlight) is the winter solstice which occurs on Dec. 21, in fact, the earliest sunset happens on Dec. 7. After that, the sunset starts to get later. But the days are still shortening, because the time of sunrise is still getting later faster than the time of sunset.

After Dec. 21, the days begin to lengthen, even though the time of sunrise is still getting later. The latest sunrise happens on Jan. 4. But between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4, the time of sunset is getting later faster than the time of sunrise.

All this has to do with the tilt of the Earth's axis. I think I understand it intuitively, but it's hard to explain.

These dates are only true at 40º latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. For different latitudes, and in the Southern Hemisphere, the dates will be different, but the phenomenon still holds.


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