Savor the short, gray gifts of November

BX0v5wpCEAE0BHl.jpg-largeMost of you probably remembered to set your clocks back one hour last night before shutting out the lights, and thus scavenged an extra hour of sleep. I have always liked that bonus hour.

Here in the center of Lincoln, the end of daylight saving time means that the sun is going to fall behind the hills to the west right around lunchtime. That’s an exaggeration, of course, unless you eat lunch around 3:30 in the afternoon. But you see my point. The days, which have been growing shorter since the last third of June, are now the size of those “fun size” candy bars we all gave away earlier this week on Halloween.

But here’s the thing: There is something oddly comforting about the combination of the chill in the air here in Vermont and the reality that days everywhere now start late and quit early. This time of year nurtures our need to cocoon.

There are a lot of reasons for this. As the Mamas and Papas observed decades ago, all the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. The ground is growing hard: Already there is little give beneath the grass in my front yard, despite the fact there are more moles living there than there were twerking teddy bears backing up Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards. There has also been snow across the higher peaks of the Green Mountains. We had houseguests from New Jersey the other day, and after visiting us they drove on to Stowe. Father and son showed us photos of the two of them playing in the snow in the woods atop the Lincoln Gap. My daughter’s birthday falls in the middle of November, and when she was little I was often shoveling the driveway before the festivities could begin.

The reality is that even if we ski or snowshoe or hunt, for the next few seasons most of us here in northern New England will be spending more time inside than out. We will be making hot soup. We will (finally) wade through the detritus that has grown inside our homes this summer like the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center: Books and photos and magazines. Old clothes. We will be reading in front of the wood stove. I am always very content on Sunday afternoons in November, the sun almost set, when I am lying on the rug in my den with a fire in the wood stove and a cat asleep on my back.

But it is the encroaching darkness that makes this sort of domesticity permissible. After all, what alternatives do we have? It is because the sun has set before dinner that we allow ourselves these moments of well-earned quiescence. I can watch a lot of football inside in November. But I can’t imagine being inside on a summer Sunday. There is too much to do outside the house: Too many walls to paint or gardens to weed. There are too many roads to bike.

Moreover, in weeks there will be the wondrous chaos that marks the December holidays: Christmas and Hanukkah. This year, the joyful madness will descend upon us fast. Hanukkah commences in three and a half weeks – on the day before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving arrives this year on the 28th, the latest possible date on which it can fall – which means the holiday shopping season could not possibly be any shorter.

Have I stressed you out? Not my point. My point is this: Savor these days in November, the sunlight scarce and the daylight brief, the Vermont sky likely to be spitting snow. Reward yourself with your family. Reward yourself with the chance to slow down. Take advantage of the fact that the world once more is giving you a moment to breathe.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published earlier this year.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.