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November is autumn’s burial, and the smoke of victims sacrificed is thanks for harvest and magic as we go into ourselves like maples for winter’s bear-sleep.We make transition by way of feast and anticipatory snow, toward the long, white, hard hundred days, the true winter of our annual deaths.
It is substance, almost the idea of substance, that turns grass, driveway, hayfield, old garden, log pile, Saab, watering trough, collapsed barn, and stonewall into the one white.
We finish early in November the task of preparing the house for snow—tacking poly over the low clapboards, raking leaves against the foundations as high as we can rake them.
Some of us, on the other hand, cherish the gradually increasing dark, which we wrap around ourselves in the prosperous warmth of woodstove, oil, electric blanket, storm window, and insulation.
Often October has shown one snow flurry, sometimes even September.
Over the twenty-eight years that I’ve been a naturalized New Englander, I’ve developed a personal tradition: every year, I must artisanally hand-shovel the first snowfall.
In fact, I try to avoid using a gasoline-powered snowblower for as long as I can into the season.But I forged ahead and did my work, and in the process reminded myself of why I had concocted my silly tradition in the first place.It had something to do with being rugged and stoic in the face of daunting odds and conditions, which I’ve romanticized as a New England trait.An 1815 volcanic eruption in Indonesia did it—though at the time our preachers thought the source more local and divine wrath explicit.Winter starts in November, whatever the calendar says, with gray of granite, with russet and brown of used leaves.This ceases to be practical after the second or third foot of snow has fallen in as many weeks, which eventually does happen.This year the first real snowfall came pretty late—December 28th.When the first real snow arrives, no dusting half inch but a solid foot, we complete the insulation, for it is snow that keeps us warm.After a neighbor’s four-wheel-drive pickup, plow bolted in front, swoops clean our U-shaped driveway, and after we dig out the mailbox for Bert’s rural delivery, it is time to heap the snow over leaves and against poly, around the house, on all sides of the house, against the granite foundation stones. When bright noon melts inches of snow away from the house, reflecting heat from the snowy clapboard, it leaves cracks of cold air for us to fill when new snow falls all winter long.Snow is white and gray, part and whole, infinitely various yet infinitely repetitious, soft and hard, frozen and melting, a creaking underfoot and a soundlessness.But first of all it is the reversion of many into one.