Milkweed pods

Wednesday afternoon was gray and colorless; on Thursday it rained incessantly. Neither “gray” nor “wet” makes for good pictures, nor does spending most of several days reading, commenting on, and returning student essay drafts. The colors in these pictures are muted, and that seems appropriate. In Moby-Dick, Ishmael described the “damp, drizzly November in my soul” that drove him to sea, but in my case, gray November days drive me to a long list of tasks. Does it matter if it gets dark by 5:00 if you’ll be spending the evening grading papers inside?

Originally, I’d planned to drive to Ohio this weekend. I have plans here in New England for Thanksgiving, and I typically visit Ohio in November: one last chance to travel before winter weather gets too unpredictable. But this year, the thought of scurrying to finish face-to-face teaching tasks before packing my car with a daunting load of online work seemed foolish. If I’m not hurrying home for a particular Thursday in November, wouldn’t it be easier travel home in January when my teaching load is lighter?

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When my mom returned my message explaining I wouldn’t be driving home this weekend, she was supportive and sympathetic. “It gets dark so early these days,” she remarked. “At least when you drove here in August, there was light to drive in.” This morning as I was walking Reggie here in Newton, the still-colorful leaves underfoot were wet with last night’s rain: muted. It felt good to be walking rather than driving, and I felt strangely happy to be heading into a weekend where all I have to do is work. What kind of person enjoys gray November walks and working weekends? The kind, I think, who enjoys muted colors for their quiet calm.

Now in late November, I remember all those years when my ex-husband’s moods took a marked turn for the worse as winter approached. The period between our anniversary in early November and his birthday in late March was always a tenuous time; along with the constant undercurrent of seasonal depression, there was the sporadic drama of manic surges and surly slumps. Like the fabled hare, my ex was prone to fits and spurts of productivity punctuated by sudden urges to travel as an escape from the routine. I, on the other hand, was a tortoise who preferred to stay at home precisely because my shell was my home: why do you need to dash off anywhere when all you need is right at hand?

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In those mismatched, married days, I remember coming home from teaching with a nervous dread: what Mood would I encounter upon arrival? Would my husband be upbeat or sullen, mad as a March hare or hopping with enthusiasm? This morning as I walked Reggie on the same sidewalks we take every morning we’re in Newton, I realized how thoroughly predictable my life has become. Tortoises thrive on stability, and here I am surviving a workload that would crush those with thinner shells. This morning, I felt grateful for the dependable monotony of my own incessant presence, Reggie’s nonstop dogginess, and J’s routine reliability: whereas C dreaded winter, J loves it. These days, I’ve traded the excitement of mood swings for the merry-go-round of the routine, and I love the slow, steady spin of that predictability.

It would have been fun to see my family this weekend; a change of scenery always offers its own kind of thrill. But Ohio in November is a known entity, and so is the experience of coming home to a daunting to-do list. Many times in the past I’ve returned from a whirlwind weekend away then pulled an all-nighter to prepare for class the next day: being married to a hare will do that to you. But I, it turns out, am a tortoise, and this weekend in Newton is my turtle-time. This weekend, I’ll enjoy the quiet tranquility of essay drafts and lecture notes as the semester heads into the backstretch of its last month. In January, there will be time for fun and family; for now, working slow and steady offers its own reward.