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Darkness and light

November 11, 2011

In the countryside, the falling leaves are oblivious to calendars and to the strange world of binary numbers. Mystics and mathmos are no doubt enjoying their various ecstasies today over the remarkable date. It is pretty remarkable, isn’t it? (Somewhere, someone may have had a baby at 11.11.11 on 11.11.11. Let’s hope it was someone who followed the Gregorian calendar!)

Here, though, it’s just another short day at the fading end of the season. And it is ridiculously dark here today. The sort of day that makes me think of that poem about ‘No sun, No light, No-vember’ and wonder again who wrote it and where on earth can I find it again. The sort of day that is the reason for so many people thinking that November is the most depressing month of the year. Yesterday, I walked in the woods and it was mild and perfectly still and a deer watched me from the rusting bracken and the mist lay lazily in the hollows, and I thought I’d write a post about how I love November. All that, plus the scent of woodsmoke, and Christmas coming! And the melancholy pleasure of the year closing down and snuggling in, rather than Spring’s more challenging joys of the year opening up with possibilities, which always fill me with a sort of existential dread. Or maybe the dread is just the memory of summer term athletics. (I’m sure one’s preference for summer or winter reveals a good deal.)

Today, however, I have been struggling to like dark November. So I thought I’d better go out and face it, with dogs and camera as always. On the first photo, the camera decided it needed a flash to see. This was the result:

That, as you cannot see, is a picture of a lochan with two wild swans on it. At lunchtime. See what I mean? Well, no, of course you don’t, it’s too dark. I switched off the flash and tried again.

There is a sort of quiet beauty to this weather, isn’t there? (Isn’t there? she says rather desperately.) In the city, the lights from shops and windows outface the gloom. Here in the countryside, you just have to try to make the most of it. I noticed the subtle shades of grey-green, layer upon layer as the hills recede. And the tracery of bare branches, ink black on the pewter sky.

Underfoot, fallen leaves on mud made for treacherous walking conditions. I slithered along cautiously. Here and there, a leaf still inexplicably green brightened the dark ground.

But it’s no good. I’d rather be hibernating. Heading home, I knew how lucky I was to have at my disposal the age old weapons against the dark and cold (not that it’s particularly cold at the moment): light, fire and hot food. The family den was so dark when I got back to it at around 2 p.m.,

but in the kitchen I put some soup on to warm and switched on the new fairy lights strung across my beloved kitchen dresser. The lights were inspired by a friend whose house we visited recently, arriving as dusk was falling: a magical cottage in the hills, lit only by candles, pumpkin lanterns and strings of fairy lights. These little sparks of light are an uplifting antidote to dark days: alternatively, you could say that without dark days, we couldn’t enjoy fairy lights so much.

Now my soup was ready: sweet carrots and onions from the garden, a couple of leeks and some chicken stock. Perfect comfort food.

As I ate, I thought about Armistice Day and the young men in the mud or dust of battlefields, who were not able to come home to these simple pleasures. I have been really struggling with the symptoms of my head injury this past week or two, and feeling pretty low about it all. But the old adage about counting your blessings still holds true. Food, warmth, light; and peace in which to savour it: even our dark November is full of blessings. Yes, I do like November.

You might enjoy more seasonal musings in Pathetic fallacy, or the light-in-darkness of Winter Solstice.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. Toffeeapple permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:23 pm

    It can be very difficult to remain up-beat when the day doesn’t brighten at all. It has been similar here today and I have been struggling but I’m sure that I shall feel better tomorrow because I shall make myself go out. Stay smiley!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 11, 2011 9:41 pm

      Really, homo sapiens is still such a simple animal: we are helplessly uplifted or oppressed by the state of sun and cloud! Dogs are my lifeline – they make me go out even on the most miserable days. Let’s hope for the return of some bright, crisp weather before long. You stay smiley too! 🙂

  2. November 11, 2011 6:43 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear that your injury has been giving you a heavy time recently – not helped, I suspect, by the gloomy weather. it makes for more of a struggle through the days. Several days of endless grey here ‘down south’ as well – though mild, for which, much thanks!
    I know would be comforted by the delicious soup that you have made…and yes, by warmth and the sparkling lights as well – and what IS it about a stuffed-full old dresser that is so comforting? i understand THAT sentiment as well, very well!!
    I wish you warmth, comfort and light in the days to come, though taken at a slow pace (I am sure we humans still have more than a vestige of the hibernating instinct about us in winter).
    Your comments on the date also struck a chord with me…I’ve been musing on it for a reason of my own today, as you might be interested to see here :-))

    Rest well and become well in the warmth of your home and the bosom of your family, dear Dancing Beastie!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 11, 2011 9:47 pm

      Thank you for such warm and kind thoughts, Roz. I can imagine that the dresser would appeal to you. You will know, I am sure, of the way each piece of china holds a story!

      I enjoyed your Armistice piece and have commented there. This time of year…a good time for remembering…but, as you say, also a time when I think that we were designed to be semi-dormant. How grateful I am that I no longer have to put on a pin-strip suit and catch the commuter train to breakfast meetings: the seventh circle of hell! 🙂

  3. November 11, 2011 6:54 pm

    Seems like we’re both very aware of the growing darkness just now. I must say that as a country girl I prefer your version. So lovely to come in from absolute darkness to twinkling lights indoors. Your decorated dresser is a thing of beauty.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:34 pm

      Well, it makes me happy. Simple pleasures are the best, really.

  4. Perpetua permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:59 pm

    A lovely, reflective post, DB. You do write so beautifully and your pictures are extraordinary. There’s nothing like homemade soup to brighten up the dreariest day (and yes, it’s been just as dark and miserable up here on the north coast – and windy too). We’re having soup for supper instead. 🙂

    So sorry the effects of your head injury are troubling you at the moment and I do hope things start to improve for you soon.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:36 pm

      Thank you, Perpetua. More soup-making is required, I think!

  5. November 11, 2011 7:04 pm

    I must admit we fare better here on our tiny island in the Pacific Northwest! That’s truly dark!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:37 pm

      I guess that winter will reach you eventually in your lovely corner of the world – but hope it holds off a while yet!

  6. November 11, 2011 10:23 pm

    I’d enjoy that weather for a little while; it would be like morning all day.

    Next year is the last year until next century that we’ll have such a date – 12.12.12.

    Do hope you’re feeling better,

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:39 pm

      Thanks, Alaine. The thought of lingering dusk being ‘like morning all day’ is very cheering!

  7. Margaret Lambert permalink
    November 12, 2011 2:22 am

    Darkness and Light seems to be a pervasive theme of the season, at least in the northern hemisphere. We fall towards the darkest day of the year, then celebrate the move back towards the light with all the ancient traditions of the holidays. Some of us are more ‘phototrophic’ than others, and I appreciate the effort it takes to shine, when all is dark around us. I join my friend Roz in wishing you warmth, comfort and light.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:44 pm

      Thank you, Margaret, and the same to you too. I think lighting candles and fairy lights and so on is a good way of, not fighting the darkness, more working with it, or complementing it. Making the dark nights appealing. I’ve always hated the soulless glare of an overhead bulb. Bright office lighting feels so unnatural, especially in this season of darkness. I love the way this season culminates in the lights – both actual and symbolic – of the solstice and Christmas.

  8. November 12, 2011 2:56 am

    Thank you for the beautiful photos & words. I love autumn too although here in Melbourne it’s early summer & gloriously sunny. I prefer autumn & winter so, although I’m enjoying the sunny days & watching my first roses blooming & the cats playing in the garden, I’m not looking forward to the heat of summer.
    I’m sorry your head injury is being troublesome, I hope the soup, light & warmth helped. The soup looks wonderful by the way.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:48 pm

      Ah, you’re an autumn/winter person too! 🙂 I bet it’s lovely in Melbourne at this time of year, but I don’t envy you the hot summers, I must admit. (Nor the red-back spiders! I was born in Melbourne and remember being told of mum finding a nest of them in the garden!)

      Thanks for your kind thoughts. I think I need to make more soup.

  9. November 12, 2011 4:07 pm

    There’s been quite a stretch of dark days up here as well. Today it seems to have broke finally, but I had to work, and now that I’m home again it’s 4pm and the sun’s just set. Oh well.
    I was trying to explain to my family in Canada about these strange dark days, and there was just no way to make them understand… I’ll have to show them your post I think! Hope you feel better soon!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:50 pm

      Thank you, Jodi. Do you never get dark days in the Canadian autumn? Perhaps it’s just our misty isle that’s prey to them. Yes, it was nicer here today too, and still very mild. Hope you get a good day tomorrow and can enjoy it outside.

  10. November 12, 2011 5:59 pm

    Dark and dank as three day old dishwater here, if you can imagine something so depressing – can’t get over the gloom – so having read your piece, I’ll try and think of it as serene and tranquil – honest.

    Love the fairy lights and the soup – its real soup and baking weather isn’t it?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 6:51 pm

      Hah, great analogy, thanks for the chuckle! Funny you should mention baking: having finished the soup, I’ve now made a cake. Definitely comfort food season. 🙂

  11. Val permalink
    November 12, 2011 9:24 pm

    First off, would it be this poem by Thomas Hood?

    Secondly, although the result would certainly be grainy, I can bring up either or both of those dark photos for you if you like (I work with Photoshop, usually colouring old photos and photo restoration). You could send it to me via my email you can see in your comments admin area – and I’d do it and send it straight back to you. It wouldn’t take long. A gift from one person with brain fog to another – maybe it’ll make you feel a bit better!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 12, 2011 10:57 pm

      Val, you are a star! I am delighted to see that poem again. It is a very satisfying litany of disgruntledness. Thank you so much!

      Your offer to bring up those photos is very kind and much appreciated. In fact, I don’t need to trouble you with it, as I can do the same sort of thing on iPhoto (I’m on a Mac). I did try – very grainy, as you say – but I thought they had more impact in their original state!

      I’m sorry you’re feeling ‘foggy’ too. Let’s hope the sun breaks through soon.

  12. Val permalink
    November 12, 2011 9:26 pm

    Sorry, the link to the Thomas Hood poem didn’t work: Let’s see if it does this way:

  13. dancingbeastie permalink*
    November 12, 2011 11:00 pm

    That’s perfect, thank you. I’ll keep the link here for anyone else who might enjoy it.

  14. November 13, 2011 12:33 am

    One thing I’ve always loved about these gray days is the sense of mystery and magic, of what might lie inside those low clouds, or on the other side. I much prefer the mountains here when they are draped with clouds rather than fully visible on a clear sunny day. To me, winters are perfect for writing because of that sense of mystery they bring. And of course, perfect days for sturdy soups and hot fires.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 14, 2011 7:19 pm

      Although this day really was too dark for fun, in general I agree with you entirely about the hills. They look far more majestic and romantic when they are part hidden in cloud. We Scots are programmed to apologise to our visitors when the weather is not bright and blue, but really it’s often more appealing when there’s a bit of ‘Celtic mist’ about! And yes, winter is so much more conducive to writing.

  15. November 13, 2011 1:12 pm

    I must say that this is one of those posts where I’m enjoying the comments as much as the original post. Great fun.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 14, 2011 7:20 pm

      Hear hear – I often think the comments are the best bit!

  16. hmunro permalink
    November 13, 2011 8:08 pm

    What a beautiful, evocative post, DB. I have little time to spare at the moment, so rather than posting a long comment I’m going back to read it one more time. x.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 14, 2011 7:20 pm

      Thanks for dropping by, I know you must be very busy with preparations!

  17. November 13, 2011 10:17 pm

    By the time December rolls around I am much more inclined to be ready for the darkness and the hibernating and the snow and Christmas. until then, I just find this whole month depressing. So I am rather glad I am not living so far north that it is that dark at noon!!
    I seem to remember from when I lived in Holland they had a saying about the November being the “dark days before Christmas” – so very true.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 14, 2011 7:21 pm

      Well, yes, I do rather agree with you. I’m doing my best to see the good side though! 🙂

  18. November 14, 2011 3:40 pm

    Armistice Day was very dark and accompanied by heavy rain to add to the misery. As if on a signal, the next day the hybrid poplars around my old house dropped their leaves and standing on the doorstep I could hear their muted sounds as they fell to the ground. I do look forward to the lengthening days after solstice, but still, my favourite season is autumn. Soup and apple crisp will be on the menu for tomorrow I think!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      November 14, 2011 7:22 pm

      What a wonderful, vivid description. Seems like most of us in the northern hemisphere are fixated on soup just now! 😀


  1. Nocturne in green and grey | Dancing Beastie
  2. Celebrating the last of autumn | Dancing Beastie

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