by Bill Monson

Here above the 40th latitude, November is the first month of winter. You can argue till you're blue in the face about the winter solstice, but any prairie native can tell you that blue faces usually arrive in Knox County in November. Those of us who mark winter by the first real snow -- meaning one that doesn't melt for over 24 hours -- usually get it in November.

Growing up in Galesburg, I never really minded November snows. By Armistice Day, I was tired of skeletal trees, fallow fields and brown lawns. A covering of snow beautified a sere season.

Technically, Indian Summer -- days of unseasonable warmth -- can come as late as November -- but rarely does. By All Soul's Day, Illinois is usually in the freezer. The less hearty birds have headed south, leaving the cardinal, crow and sparrow kings of the air -- or at least the tree tops. The last seeds have been devoured, and bird feeders take over as the fast food stops of our neighborhoods. Even the squirrels partake. The birdbath usually ices over every night, and the telephone wires are clotted with puffed up avians warming their feathers in the morning sun.

The sun itself is low and wan, but still carries heat as you'll discover with surprise when you climb into a closed car. South-facing bay windows and sun porches begin to make sense again in November.

During the day, the sky Is more frequently leaden than blue. Cirrus overcasts replace the cumulus of September and October. The sunsets grow purpler.

At night, Venus sets at twilight, but Saturn and Jupiter are exceptionally bright. (Saturn Is at its most brilliant since 1975 on November 19th.) So is Mercury in the predawn twilight.

The stars themselves seem cold and remote, but November provides three meteor showers -- more than any other month. They are: November 9 -- Taurid; November 1-- Leonid; and November 25-7 -- Adromedid. In other words, about one every nine days in what used to be the Roman's ninth month, Novembris. Most people miss these meteors because who wants to scout shooting stars on a freezing night?!

November's only real excitement is Thanksgiving, when we share the bird instead of flipping it to each other. The holiday used to mark the start of Christmas shopping; and for a couple of years in the early 1940s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt even moved it to the third Thursday instead of the fourth to extend the sales. People complained, however, (especially Texans for whom the 4th Thursday was not only Thanksgiving but the day Texas played Texas A&M) and it was moved back. Now, the stores start the Christmas season on All Saints Day with a half-price sale on Halloween candy.

As much as I like Thanksgiving (which this year is also my wedding anniversary -- a double celebration), I don't have much else to commend our eleventh month. I share poet Thomas Hood's dour feelings about a dour thirty days:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member--

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -- November!

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 8, 2000

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