"A book of verses, underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness --
Ah, wilderness were paradise enow!"

-- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Light

Armistice Day

The neighborhood was quiet when I stepped outside Sunday night.  I could hear traffic in the distance, but, after weeks, the constant hum of the harvest had stopped: the combines were in from the fields and the blowers were resting from drying the corn.

We ourselves spent the weekend finishing our winter preparations: organizing the barn, moving hay, filling the bird feeders, sweeping the patio and porches, running the lawnmower out of gas, draining and putting away the hoses, putting up driveway markers and the snow gauge, digging and storing tuberous begonias and dahlias for next year.  I harvested the last of the carrots; we observed that anyone who had time to style a carrot for a photo shoot couldn’t seriously complain of any real problems in life.

We had time even though the news told us the storm was coming.  The farmers had time to finish the harvest.  The weeks before, the harvest had been running behind schedule.  Farming is always done in the tension between time and weather: will the corn mature before the first hard frost?  How long can the corn dry in the field before the first snow?  (Afterwards, it can be harvested, but with losses.)  Once this storm was first forecast, midweek beforehand, the farmers were in the fields twenty-four hours a day, finishing the harvest.

Monday morning, the snow was less dire than predicted – the storm shifted 50 miles north of the projected path – but these early “gales of November” can be brutal.  This storm came on November 10, the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  November 11 is the anniversary of the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard, when the temperature dropped 50 degrees in a few hours and 145 people died.

We grumble about the lack of precision in the weather forecast, and about the abrupt end to our autumn.  It’s easy to lose sight of how much weather forecasting has improved, especially within our lifetimes, and how that saves lives and trouble.  Weather satellites and elaborate computer models let us see, generally, what’s coming, days in advance, and prepare – the gift of time.