It's a time for long nights and long thoughts. For those not addled by the video chaos of Network Sweeps Month, the time is propitious for considerations of the future -- first, for survival of the winter with its inevitable natural gas gouge of our budgets -- for getting one more traumatic season out of the aging family car -- for avoiding flu and other disabling diseases. Then, for the eventual return of Spring. Will the roof need repair? Is this the year to paint the house? Can we afford siding? Will the mower get through another summer?
And beyond these considerations lie others. Some minor --like whether to go out for Thanksgiving dinner or stay at home and make our own. Some not so minor -- how much can we afford to spend for Christmas? The answers, of course, affect not only ourselves but local restaurants and stores -- what the TV Jeremiahs glibly call ''our faltering economy.''
This year, more than the threat of cold days and nights tends to make us indoor dwellers. Other people are carriers -- of colds, flu, bad news, possible biological contagion. Is that spilled white powder on the counter sweetener or anthrax?
Where did the wastebasket in the post office go? November has been a time of fear etched into our limbic memories from when we all cowered in caves as the days shrank and terror prowled the long nights. Then, courage was a club and a large fire at the cave mouth. Today, the danger has invaded our mailboxes.
As profit-hungry company execs chop workers from their payrolls to make the year-end books look better, we want to lock up our pocketbooks like our lawn chairs and mower for the winter. Let's ''fort up'' and emulate the Scotsman with the padlock on his purse.
No matter how much Alan Greenspan cuts the interest rate, an economy is built on confidence - and that's in short supply in this November. The other C -- caution -- is in command. We've seen how the Wall Street wolves have pack-attacked to drive the Dow and NASDAQ up and down again.
We've seen the worship of Mammon, the obscene salaries and bonuses of CEOs, the unholy pursuit of profit. Sure, you can buy an SUV now for NO INTEREST -- (Henry Ford is doing 360s in his casket!) -- but it will cost as much as the average house in Abingdon. And that odor we smell is not the last of the autumn leaves burning. Something stinks in our world, our society, our system; and the crisp winds of November can't quite clear it from our nostrils.
So we consider the woolly worm. How big are this stripes, how furry his coat? How rugged will the winter be? Regard the frantic hoarding of the squirrels. Shall we imitate them? Is there someplace we can migrate to follow the robins?
Better check the palisades for loose logs. Pack more mud into those chinks in the cabin wall. Lay in a good woodpile. This year, the Four Horsemen may ride aboard the Alberta Clipper.
Such are the night terrors of a nervous November 2001.