From Frost to Thor, with a Cup of Hot Cocoa (Or, the Literary Dualism of a New England Stick Season)

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live year-round in balmy, gentle conditions, where palm trees sway in midwinter and heavy, insulated coats are strange accoutrements only seen on television.  I’ve never experienced anything like that–not even close.  I grew up in Rochester, in upstate New York, famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its long winters and the lake-effect snow machine that produces blizzards and white-outs with alarming regularity.

blizzard

So, what did I ultimately do?  Move to Southern California, the South of France?  Tahiti?  Not quite.  I moved to Vermont, colder and harsher still than Rochester!  I have no regrets.  Vermont is a rural gem, a rugged little state tucked away in the far northwest corner of New England.  It’s one of the most beautiful places you will ever see.  It is also, to put it mildly, a land of extremes.  Few locales on earth experience such robust, exaggerated seasons–there is nothing subtle about the weather in New England.  The region, according to Henry Cabot Lodge so many years ago, yet still as appropriate today as when he proclaimed it, “has a harsh climate, a barren soil, [and] a rough and stormy coast.”

necoast

And yet . . . there is one time of year in New England that is more subdued, nondescript, and soft-spoken, almost shy in its fundamental drabness . . . The month of November, tucked away in hiding for so long, creeps up on the calendar, whisper-quiet, as if inching forward on its tiptoes.  And, once arrived, it has a personality, a starkness, all its own.

novembertiptoes

The flowers and blooms of spring are a distant memory, as are the ripe fields, muggy nights, and poolside gatherings of high summer.  October, with its breathtaking, almost narcissistic display of reds, golds, and oranges, is still fresh in the mind’s eye, but it’s a brief performance, a limited run.  The hillsides, afire with splashes of color only a fortnight ago, now lay stripped, with row on row of gray tree trunks and skeletal limbs reaching for the cold, late-autumn sky.

stickseason

So, yes.  In many ways, November (what the locals sometimes refer to as “stick season” around here) is a somber, even depressive month.  The days grow successively shorter, colder, as the interminable New England winter approaches. There is a stillness to the land, a sharp crispness to the air, and all too often a succession of leaden-sky days with low-lying clouds hovering like bruises over the earth.

There is also, at least for me, a sense of slowing down, of stepping back, looking over the bare, windswept terrain and pausing for reflection.

It’s easy to see, walking along a Vermont country road littered with the desiccated harvest of fallen October leaves, or climbing a knoll and looking out at the ancient, rounded spine of the Green Mountains, how this area has served as an inspiration for some of the world’s great writers and poets.  Something in the rocky soil, the rugged, unyielding terrain, the windswept contours of a rolling New England field in the fall instills a serious quality to an author’s prose, or a poet’s verses.  Frost, Emerson, Thoreau, Plath, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Dickinson . . . the list goes on and on.  Surely, there is something special about this place.

plathariel

 

emersonessays

I feel it throughout the year, but at no point does it affect me more than the month of November.  November brings out the serious and the brooding in my writing, makes me want to try my hand at poetry (a proclivity I rarely feel over the course of the eleven other months) and pen an introspective novel, light on the action and saturated with layered themes, obscure symbols, and tortured, existential characters.  I want to reach, pursue, challenge myself to write about the subterranean undercurrents of life, raging beneath the surface, often hidden beneath a civilized and well-practiced facade.  I want to produce art, works that inspire and examine, question and illuminate.

existentialart

Worthy aspirations, all, but sometimes, when unchecked, they can become an albatross, long-winged and sharp-beaked, weighing me down, choking off my airflow.  I appreciate the masters of the craft and serious literature as much as anyone, and hope a small smattering of my own output can be labeled “literary,” but at the same time, at least for me, there is an element even more important than the profound, more essential than the sublime.

albatross

Thankfully, the month of November also speaks to this lighter aspect.

I find November, with its protracted evenings and roaring, crackling hearth fires and frost-covered windows, to be one of the coziest times of the year.  There are few treats I enjoy more on a cold fall night than preparing a mug of hot chocolate, maybe popping a generous portion of popcorn, and settling in to watch an old black-and-white classic–nothing extraordinary, not necessarily an Oscar- or Emmy-winning masterpiece, but rather something fun, silly even.  Perhaps I’ll binge-watch episodes of The Honeymooners, or tune in to a corny old sci-fi movie with bug-eyed monsters, mutated spiders, or ever-expanding gelatinous blobs from outer space.

theblob

Other times, I’ll dig into my vintage comic book collection, perhaps pulling out a science-fiction title from the 1950s like Strange Adventures or Mystery in Space.  If I’m feeling more superhero-minded, maybe I’ll flip through an old issue of Journey into Mystery with the Mighty Thor or, Mitchell Brant‘s favorite, The Fantastic Four.  Whichever choice I make, a classic sitcom; a cliched but riveting movie produced decades ago, short on character but high on smiles; or a vintage comic complete with nostalgic ads and the musty, old smell all comic book collectors know and love, I’m just glad that Old Man November, with all its grays and dark, wistful sighs, has its lighter side to help me keep things in balance.

strangeadv2

It’s a noble thing, a calling, really, for artists and writers and creative souls the world over to want to imbue their work with meaning and thoughts, words, and images that move their audience from tears to laughter and back again.  It’s something every serious artist should have, and cultivate.  But if our creative process isn’t also fun, if we don’t love what we do, that, too, will be reflected in the final output.

“Write only what you love,” Ray Bradbury once said, “and love what you write.  The key word is love.  You have to get up in the morning and write something you love.”

lovewhatyouwrite

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with some hot cocoa, freshly popped popcorn, and a legion of telepathic crab monsters.

attackcrabmonsters

Thanks so much reading!

–Mike

57 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cindy knoke
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 01:25:44

    Living in SoCal we miss out on much of the seasonal glory, particularly now as we are in one monochromatic drought. I envy your fall colors, hot chocolate, and warming by the fire!

    Reply

  2. cindy knoke
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 01:28:58

    PS- I got cut off…..I envy it so much that we are leaving the warmth of Hollerdom to fly to Europe to hang out in the worst weather of the year in Europe, cold, rain, sleet. high winds. Hey, my husband signed us up while I was grocery shopping, it was a steal-deal, practically freee…….laughing! I know why~

    Reply

  3. John W. Howell
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 01:41:23

    You really know how to craft the feelings of the season. I loved the East Coast when I lived there and now am in one of those palm tree environments where our hot cocoa is served over ice. You have made me miss the November chill, rain, sleet, and roaring fire. Nice job Michael.

    Reply

  4. Carrie Rubin
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 01:52:46

    I have family in New Hampshire, and I consider it my home away from home. I love it there, and I agree, there’s something about New England that inspires writing. After all, Maine seemed to do all right for Stephen King. 😉

    Reply

  5. Karina Pinella
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 02:25:19

    As you might also know, November is National novel writing month (nanowrimo). Write a total of 50,000 words in one month, a book length book. So, write 1,667 words per day if you wish to divide it that way, or just know to write 50,000 total by end of month. Just write it, don’t clean it up until you’ve finished your story.

    Reply

  6. Geetha B
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 07:22:33

    I love the synchronicities I read within your work! Truly amazing. Rochester reminds me of the novel Jane Eyre (I used to picture myself as her when I was a Young girl 😀 ), Frost is my favourite thing about winter, Plath is someone I feel a very strong kinship with though I obviously never knew her personally and discovered her only after people told me some of my writings were similar to how she wrote, Munsch’s scream is a picture that always terrified me and fascinated me (I sometimes had that picture in mind when I wished to scream out but kept within things I wanted to say because it was not appropriate back then), albatross is the first poem I was given by an adult in school who wished to guide me because of my difference and my delving into the poetry world at 12 (he said you are “l’albatros” and gifted me Baudelaire’s “Les fleurs du mal”, “The blob” was the first short story I wrote as a Young girl and it was sci-fi related as I always loved science fiction since a very young age and last but not least your quote of Bradbury which I was given to understand in a dream as being what I should do, basically write only what I love and love what I write, in fact write about Love and the certainty that there is only Love everywhere in the Universe.
    These are the synchronicities that immediately sprang to mind but I will read your work again and check for other synchronicities. Thank you for being the Messenger of such amazing synchronicities. Bless your Heart.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 03, 2015 @ 15:03:56

      Wow–what great comments! I appreciate all of your thoughts and your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.:) And I definitely look forward to continuing to read your work!

      Reply

  7. rosiebooks2009
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 09:48:27

    At least I now know where Vermont is. I’m English and I was convinced it was somehow on the left-hand side of Canada, but your references to New England encouraged me to look it up on the map. It looks and sounds beautiful.

    Reply

  8. teagan geneviene
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 11:03:44

    A lovely post about a lovely place, Mike. I enjoyed your thoughts about your home. Hugs!

    Reply

  9. merrildsmith
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 13:55:32

    Lovely post!

    Reply

  10. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 20:40:14

    Now you’ve made me want to turn on (ha!) the fireplace and make a cuppa hot cocoa. Beautiful description Mike. I think a visit back east might be in the cards for me.

    Reply

  11. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 21:48:50

    You’ve laid out the wonders of the seasons in this beautifully executed essay. Having lived in climates with many extremes, I much prefer one without much of a change. All things being equal, I’d return to Carmel By The Sea, CA to live. However, it’s not in the cards. There, we could have our evenings and nights with the fireplace roaring, those lovely hot drinks outside with the heated lanterns and listen to the waves as they crashed against the rocks. I haven’t been back since the early 90’s and the day time may have changed but at that time, there was no requirement for air conditioning and a mere step outside my office door presented Monterey Bay and the tranquility of all that lay beyond.
    Now, I enjoy the seasons one by one and pray we don’t have the extremes so many other parts of the country have.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 03, 2015 @ 15:08:59

      Thanks so much! And I do have to admit, certainly when it’s February and 20 below outside with high snowdrifts, I do wish I could live in a gentler climate.:) But then spring comes, and everything is all right again . . .

      Reply

  12. joannerambling
    Nov 03, 2015 @ 01:33:16

    I can’t imagine living in an area where it gets super cold or super hot, I like the area I am in usually not too hot nor too cold and it of course never snows here just saying

    Reply

  13. Sherri
    Nov 04, 2015 @ 09:11:29

    Such a beautiful place to live, and I love this time of year to cosy up, best time to write I think. Keep warm, enjoy your hot chocolate and happy writing Mike! 🙂

    Reply

  14. JoHanna Massey
    Nov 05, 2015 @ 20:31:28

    Captured the season so eloquently. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  15. Stephanae V. McCoy
    Nov 06, 2015 @ 15:03:53

    My best friend is from Rochester (she moved back there 2 years ago). I thought we had bad winters here in Pittsburgh but then I was exposed to Rochester. I’ve never been to New England (only seen pictures) but it sounds heavenly. Your writing is so descriptive I feel as if I’m there – beautiful!

    Reply

  16. Amy Reese
    Nov 07, 2015 @ 18:09:34

    Well, I live in California where we hardly get any weather to speak of. If it rains at all, it’s a big deal. People have to dust off their jackets and drag them out the closet. Enjoy the cocoa and the movies. Such a beautifully written post. It was a pleasure to read.

    Reply

  17. sherazade
    Nov 07, 2015 @ 22:54:44

    I love November too (and David Garrett cover)
    Sherazade ciao always from Rome 😀

    Reply

  18. sherazade
    Nov 09, 2015 @ 17:58:39

    You are “SURE BUT FOR ME”sorry !
    Smartphone mistakes 😰

    Reply

  19. Baydreamer
    Nov 10, 2015 @ 15:54:56

    What a wonderful post, Mike, and Vermont is on my list of places to visit. It just sounds beautiful and serene. Living in Nor. Cal. we do see some of the seasons, although we are still affected by the drought. I used to live in So. Cal. and I prefer the northern weather much more now. Enjoy your hot chocolate and warm fires…

    Reply

  20. Sue Dreamwalker
    Nov 11, 2015 @ 15:30:32

    Beautiful post.. Your love of country and seasons shows in every word.. November here is usually colder, but it has been very mild, Windy and wet.. but still awaiting the frosts..

    Wishing you lots of steaming mugs of hot chocolate.. 🙂 as you curl up by the fire..
    Blessings Sue

    Reply

  21. Kar
    Nov 11, 2015 @ 18:34:27

    Thanks for that, it reminded me of our trips to Vermont when I was a kid 🙂

    Reply

  22. thefolia
    Dec 06, 2015 @ 09:25:50

    I love the warmth of the people of Vermont; it’s beautiful if you can get past the extreme weather. I remember crossing the street and a driver tapping his horn simply to wave. Even in the winter months, I recall extraordinary lighting there. Enjoy it’s winter magic with lots of warm cocoa!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Dec 06, 2015 @ 12:01:20

      Thanks so much! Admittedly, there are times by February and March that I get very tired of the Vermont winter.:) But it’s a special privilege to live in such a beautiful state with such distinct seasons. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make some cocoa.:)

      Reply

  23. Christy B
    Apr 03, 2017 @ 16:05:20

    You’re quite right Mike that we have to love what we’re writing or it’ll show in the final product. I love that you include mention of poetry here!

    Reply

  24. ellie894
    Sep 06, 2017 @ 20:44:51

    Beautiful piece! As I write this November is two short months away and I can’t wait! And even in Texas where the colors are not as exquisite but on the other hand last longer, I look forward to all the things you write about. I love November!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 07, 2017 @ 12:53:34

      Thanks so much! Yes, November in Vermont and November in Texas are two different experiences on many levels.:) I think the Novembers in Texas are probably better, actually! As you say, the colors last longer. Here, by November, everything is bare. It’s a quiet time, though, as if nature is readying herself for the long winter ahead. I like the Novembers in Vermont when we don’t get any snow (though some years, there is quite a bit of snow in November up here–every year is different)–just chilly weather, a bare, clean landscape, and a quiet, readying time. It is a special month.:)

      Reply

      • ellie894
        Sep 08, 2017 @ 10:03:20

        I think that is perhaps one of the things I like most about it, the quiet, the letting go, the making space for something unexpected. 🙂

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