Moments from November

Text, reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal, November 5: A mild and moist November morning, no wind, low clouds, the pungent smell of fallen leaves. Most of the brighter leaves were torn down by recent windy rains. Only the tall pear tree in the lower garden lifts its limbs with fire colors, like painted flames of praise, into the somber morning light.

With a wide spectrum of subtle textures and sounds, rich browns, rust and deep maroons, late autumn quietly thrills us, if we give to ourselves the present of pausing, listening, actually seeing the kaleidoscopic world whirling around us. November calls us to quiet our hurried hearts, to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons, this waning of the natural year. There is an essential ebb and flow, rising and falling, a delicate timing for everything. We enjoy the annual cycle in the bright pageantry of passing flowers---from the first snow-white bloodroot blossom in the late-winter woods, to the last pale asters lacing the edges of November.

Across the oyster shell of morning sky, a ragged stream of vultures flows silently from east to west. They’re flying out of night-roost deep in a pine grove behind the old white clapboard Methodist church. These dark wide-winged scavengers fan out over the land with ghoulish silhouettes, soaring in all directions with sharp eyesight and keen sense of smell, scouring the roadsides, farmlands and riverbanks for dead animals.

“Buzzards” perform a necessary sanitation service, cleansing the land of decaying flesh. Their gut is specially designed to handle the deadly bacteria breaking down the carrion. In this cathartic process, the fallen energy of death is transformed, lifted into the aerial life of vultures and passed on, nourishing the hungry earth, which feeds everything under the sun. Only bones are left, to bleach in the sun and snow, gnawed by woods-mice for the mineral salts. I stand in awe of the wisdom and majesty revealed in the interlocking layers and rhythms of the created world.

October 31: The last of my fifteen uncles died this week. After his funeral, late this afternoon I walk across the autumn fields alone under windy gray skies. Crows are calling in the distance. Summer trees have become skeletons again. Cold wind tears down the last gold and crimson leaves.

November 6: A pleasant “Indian Summer” afternoon, late-autumn, the sun descends slowly through bare trees, making long thin shadows. Above the garden a glistening ball of midges spins up and down, revolving in the warm air. I hear the high plaintive whistling of whitethroat sparrows again, returned just this week from nesting far to the north. They are here for the colder months, lilting wistful songs all winter. A slight breeze rises and falls, making a dry whisper of November leaves---a sound like someone stepping softly through the empty woods, walking away…..