Parking structure

As the foliage falls and gathers on the ground, the trees are gradually becoming bare and drab, as if their color has drained from the tips of their twigs to their deep-down roots. As the days shorten and the landscape fades to gray, we humans also dig deep, seeking sustenance in the mundane routines that keep us grounded: walking and writing and steeling ourselves for another monochromatic winter.

Two maples after dark

After days of drizzle, the ground underfoot is carpeted with fallen leaves: a slick and sodden carpet destined to decay. Although foliage forecasts try to predict when trees will reach the height of color, I prefer days when the trees are past their prime, their ragged tops blown almost bare and the ground beneath their branches dappled with detritus.

How do I explain this preference? Is it that I, too, am past my prime, rounding the corner into late middle age? Or is it that II, too, feel perpetually belated, having missed the hoopla and arriving at the party just as it is ending?

I suspect I suffer from a stubborn streak of contrariness, preferring the time after leaf-peepers have left and the streets are once again the sole domain of early morning dog-walkers and intrepid joggers. September and early October are as bright and festive as a party dress, but late October reminds us of the true mood of autumn: a season less fun than funereal..

Ginkgo gleaming golden

Yesterday at Babson College, I spent my office hour preparing today’s classes at Framingham State University. Today at Framingham State, I spent my office hour preparing tomorrow’s classes at Babson. This is how my semesters unfold: prep, teach, repeat.

The ginkgo tree outside the building where I teach my morning class, on the other hand, has suddenly erupted into gold flame: no preparation needed.


Today is gray and rainy, which I don’t mind since the leaves are still aglow with November fire. The wind is rattling the windows, and I’m happy to be inside at my desk with a mug of tea, writing.


This morning when I walked Roxy, there was a red upholstered chair on the curb outside a house down the street, its arms worn and torn, but its color reassuringly autumnal. The scent of damp, fallen leaves was ripe in the air, and Roxy insisted on sniffing every decaying pile.

Turning oak

November sunlight is my favorite kind. It angles low through gold and copper leaves, gleaming like light refracted through stained glass.

As the days shorten, November sunlight is precious. The days of December through March are dreary in New England: either too dark or too glaring. November light is bronze and burnished. Knowing what comes next, I soak in as much sunlight as possible, storing it in my heart like a battery against dark days to come.



It’s been a weird autumn. Right before Halloween, we had a storm that dumped five inches of snow, and this week, we’ve had a string of 70-degree days. The Japanese maple in our front yard went straight from reddish to brown: we won’t have a red-letter day this year when one corner of our yard ignites in fiery red glory. And today, the trees in our backyard cast off their leaves en masse: just like that, there is a crunchy, ankle-deep blanket of oak, cherry, and Norway maple leaves underfoot, many of the latter still partly green.

Leaf litter

The day after a snowy Halloween, the ground is carpeted with sodden leaves and an occasional candy wrapper.

Autumn oak

I’ve already mentioned that November is my favorite month, and here’s another reason why: November light glows like no other. This year, the end of October was gray and rainy, and my mood was as dismal as the days. But so far, November has been brisk and bright, the waning days gleaming golden.

Golden glow

I’ve lived in New England for more than 25 years now–just over half my life–and that is long enough for me to know this: November light is precious because it is both short and short-lived. The nights are noticeably longer now: the afternoon class that used to be bathed with setting sunlight now adjourns in darkness, and the days will continue to shrink. The beaten-bronze glow of stubborn oak trees–the last to leaf in spring, and the last to drop in autumn–will soon fade and fall. Come December, the landscape will be drab and the days dim.

But for now, every moment of November light is precious. When you know a thing is dying, you cherish every moment you share.


November is my favorite month even though it comes at the busiest time of the semester. Perhaps I appreciate November for this very reason: right when I’ve reached the point when I can’t possibly catch up with my to-do lists and grading piles, Nature herself decides to let everything drop, float, and fall.

Fall comes late in the year, and November comes late in the fall. Night falls early in November, the days shrinking like shriveled leaves. In November, it’s always later than you think, the foliage that was picture-perfect in October suddenly past its prime. These days, the landscape looks slovenly, disheveled, and shoddy, and my own belated ways seem natural, appropriate, and in keeping with the season.