Fade to December

Sat, 12/03/2011 - 5:40am

It has been pointed out to me that by the time this paper is printed, November will have faded into the memory of yesterday and then into the far away depository that is yesterday’s yesterday.

Now, it is still November, albeit November fading fast. We joke in the summer that we have magnificent winter sunsets, only problem is that they come at 3:30 p.m. — always said with the hope that that exaggeration will make the reality of late autumn less harsh.

It is that time, exactly, when the sunny mild shifts to a fast cooling gray. It is the last day of November; tomorrow the sun will set one minute earlier than today.

The surprise, the exceedingly good news is that the earliest sunset of the year will be but a minute earlier than tomorrow. We have come to the wall; these truly are the shortest afternoons, and still the sun shines and the days are mild.

The wind blew last night. Before the rain — so much less than forecast — fell, the sky was filled with the sound of rushing air. There was an oddity to it, more than the surf pounding the beach, rolling banks of stones over each other; there seemed to be something mechanical out there over the water, behind the banks of clouds.

It sounded like blades, helicopters, and my imagination ran wild until I was thinking of myself in one of those scary novels that, against all reason, really are very, very scary, the absurdly thick volumes produced by a writer from Maine. It did not diminish or become any more clearly defined as I went down the road, then up the short one-time driveway to the Mansion yard. There was no moon, no stars, just dark houses and the very distant lights of the harbor, intensifying the mood of defenseless isolation. Finally, I crossed it all with a visual from a film of epic complexity in which a cavalry of airborne battleships flew to a soaring score of grand music written long before such machines existed.

The helicopters would ride out of the clouds like Valkyries, not to drop napalm but to bring some alien species, the sort of thing that seems too often to pester the denizens of Castle Rock, Maine. Thankfully, I was out in the dark with a big black dog, on full alert for the sound of a deer in the night but confident he would repel invaders.

Of course, were my mind completely overtaken by Stephen King — truly, I’ve read but a handful of his books — the dog would join the aliens, or prove to have been part of a scouting party for them.

It is “just the wind” and “just the surf” compounded by a muffled noise in my head, the remnant of a cold that will not quite go away, or so I am convinced just before I reach my door.

It was mild, not the raw cold that comes with such a loud wind, but blessedly mild, and perhaps my flights of fancy were no more than a byproduct of not being distracted by thoughts of keeping warm. There are errant flowers in bloom, cool-loving roses and flowers the colors of autumn unexpectedly showing in a pot here, a flower bed there. The fields, though, are turning to winter, fading into December, brown and gray and sparse.

There is rain in the middle of the night but it is gone by morning, well ahead of the time forecast. The surf is high, the dip in the land that sometimes affords me a view of the changing sea is solidly white. The waves crash into the wind, their tops torn off and thrown back, mare’s manes in the sunshine.

The road again has the scoured look that is becoming so familiar, gravel carried by rushing water, and I wonder if there will be any room for the water in which the mallards swim in the spring or if my poor little vernal pond will be just a puddle spreading out into the field.

There is still something slightly different in the direction of the wind. There is no eerie sound, but the heavy clouds have blown away and daylight has a way of dispelling concern of invasion. The beach has been flattened by the wind, and a few of the great pieces of drift that have been there since late August appear to have moved, impossibly, to the south. The sea is high, the hypnotic white waves moving in different directions, washing over the big rocks where there might be a seal on a calmer day.

There are circles on the sand, perfectly round, not the work of unknown visitors, just the sweep of a tall blade of beach grass. I do not understand how it happens that these blades can bend and turn 360 degrees, leaving a precisely cut edge, but it is a phenomenon I first noticed years ago.

Everywhere, leaves have fallen. At the beach, the roses never bare completely, but they change; and all the trash that has been dumped into them all summer begins to show in the ever-lifting level of the sand. There used to be a path from the parking lot, a walking path, that gullied easily. When the drive was reconfigured and a new entrance opened it ceased being used.

It has been closed over a year, the roses growing together and the sand sweeping up into it. It was there for years, decades, unchanged, then the earth around it was altered and it disappeared. I wonder how many of the people who come here in the summer, filling the parking lot in a way both carefully ordered and totally chaotic, will notice.

Coming back up the path I hear a deer in the privet, but do not see it until it has reached the back side of the field behind the empty houses along the road. There it stands, waiting to see if it is worth running. Caution prevails and it bounds away in the dusk that is the last daylight of November.