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November Brooding

This time of year, it can be easier to burrow into our dens, throw covers over our heads, and wait for the snow to fall

By Maggie Doherty

November isn’t my best month. Although I’ve lived my entire life above latitude 45, the dark and gloomy days make it a rough go. It’s an in-between month in some respects, too. We’re moving away from autumn and its fanfare of colors and descending into winter, but there’s not enough snow to ski, yet. I remember long ago when the lifts would spin by Thanksgiving, and it was part and parcel to make a dozen runs before tending to the turkey. Ski resort operations have changed over the decades, and so has the climate.

So, I brood in this interim period with too many dark days at my disposal. It’s also largely an occupational hazard of being a writer and often useful to contemplate a story or novel, this time of year it can tip away from the creative flashes of energy to a more depressed state. It’s the reckoning of the holidays and the end of the year is nigh – two markers of time that make me slump in my chair and wonder just when the heck I’ll even publish my novel and if I did any good work in the world.

To combat the seasonal fatigue, or as the brilliant British writer Katherine May has described beautifully as “wintering,” I make sure my brooding accompanies tangible action like stacking firewood. In the early days of starting my sobriety journey, stacking and splitting wood helped me immeasurably. It was work that I did with my own two hands, increased my heart rate, and kept my mind focused, especially while swinging a maul. Plus, I really enjoy spending an evening in front of the fire. It gives that much-needed light and warmth to those dark days, and with a slight ache in the lower back (a newer development now that I’m in my 40s), I can look at a full wood box and know that I made it through another day. And that more wood needs splitting and stacking.

Heartbreak knows no seasonal timeline, but November seems to gnash a bit more than May. Perhaps you too know that sting of darkness and also that tension between wanting to welcome the holidays in with open arms and a looser waistline but also some of those old heartaches coming caroling at the doorstop, welcome or not. During the “wintering” season, I’ve eased into this more fallow period with a bit more compassion than I used to. I get my fresh air even if it’s sleeting, duck into volumes of poetry that speak to the heart like none other, and tell my family and friends that I love them. Everything’s dreamy in July but come this time of year, it can be easier to burrow into our dens, throw covers over our heads, and wait for the snow to fall. We can hibernate and still be friendly, for you never know if someone else is finding the lack of daylight troubling or if memories of those who have passed on make this year’s Thanksgiving dinner harder than it seems.

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