Cold, drizzly November days like today always put me in the mind of Melville, specifically of Ishmael’s remark at the beginning of Moby-Dick that it was depression that typically drove him to sea:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
It’s a line that’s always stuck with me, not because I want to hop aboard a whaleboat whenever I’m depressed but because it captures the mood of November so well. November is damp and drizzly, and the cold weather and waning light of late autumn often inspire hypos: hypochondria, the 19th century term for depression. Melville’s tendency toward depression is well-documented, and I’ve mentioned Ishmael’s “damp, drizzly November” several times before: first in reference to the times I’ve felt pulled toward the sea, again in the drizzly aftermath of the Keene floods of 2005, and most recently in reference to my ex-husband’s seasonal depression. You don’t have to have a full-blown case of seasonal affective disorder to understand the malady Melville describes; in the Northeast at least, November is a month of climatic mood-swings as Mother Nature fluctuates between sunny grandeur and soggy gloom.
This morning as I drove from Newton to Keene for a Monday morning meeting, I navigated through the complete spectrum of November weather: drizzle to freezing rain to rain to sludgy snow to rain. When I arrived in Keene, workers on campus were armed with rakes and raincoats, determined to clean up the remnants of autumn even while the cold drizzle whispered “winter.” In November, it’s a Sisyphean task to keep up with leaf-removal, as leaves fall as fast as you can rake and bag them; the best you can do is try to try to avoid becoming completely buried. Today, I’m wading my way (again) through several paper-piles, the work of reading and commenting on student writing being its own kind of Sisyphean task. In November, there’s no end of raking and tidying for college grounds-crews and instructors alike. It’s enough to make the hardiest, happiest soul feel downright Melvillean.
I shot today’s pictures last month, on a sunny day that arose after rain. The large oak tree that stands in front of Keene State College’s Parker Hall, pictured in today’s final photograph, is still holding onto most of its leaves, a copper hold-out on a campus increasingly blown bare.