Jim McGuire: November’s marvelous mess

By Jim McGuire - Contributing columnist

“November is simply too untidy for my liking,” an elderly neighbor once told my mother.

Miss Westcott lived two doors up the street. She was probably in her mid-70s at the time, with perfectly coiffed hair the hue of stainless steel.

It was a glorious day—high blue sky, shirt-sleeve cool, just a hint of breeze to gently stir through the newly-fallen leaves and carry the smoky hint of neighborhood burn-piles.

Miss Westcott had brought Mom a paper bag filled with bulbs. I’d just commenced rake duty, starting in the front yard because it had relatively fewer leaves. Mom’s big japonica—or flowering quince as they’re called nowadays—had dropped its leaves weeks earlier. But the neighbors on either side had multiple maple trees, and when leaves come down, property lines are irrelevant.

Moreover, the leaf situation in the backyard was a different matter. Way worse. An ankle-deep flood from a couple dozen trees—several being huge specimens—which I dreaded tackling. I was, therefore, happy to temporarily evade such an ordeal by eavesdropping on Mom and Miss Westcott’s conversation.

Mother and Miss Westcott shared a mutual passion for flowers—though they had decidedly different philosophies when it came to their actual plantings.

Mom’s approach was haphazardly utilitarian. She planted whatever she had wherever she could find room along the fencelines and foundation walls, with necessary concessions to tolerances for sun and shade. Additional pots of annuals got scattered indiscriminately around the yard. Think “cottage garden” run amok, but on the whole, wondrously stunning.

Miss Westcott’s geometrically-precise raised beds were severely formal, strictly arranged by bloom height and plant size, every square foot color-coordinated—no overpowering reds or clashing yellows. Boisterous plants got pruned into compliance; continued offenders and disappointing performers were summarily yanked and tossed onto a compost heap near the alley.

I could well understand why November, with it’s weeks of blustery winds to scatter and rescatter all the downed leaves, might pique her disfavor.

What surprised me was my mother’s reply.

“I think November’s really pretty,” she said, looking around at the multicolored autumn leaves carpeting yards up and down the street. “I don’t mind the mess.”

Miss Westcott gave my mother an appraising stare. Mom looked back. A moment of judicious silence passed. Then Miss Westcott glanced at me.

“Well, you’re raising a rambunctious son,” she said, “so I’m sure you’ve learned to tolerate a fair amount of clutter and disorder.”

I’ve never forgotten Miss Westcott’s pronouncement. Negative, yes, but smack on the mark: November is messy! A gloriously delightful month-long natural aftermath to a party that began way back in March.

Like my mother, I’m perfectly at ease with the seasonal mess—a dandy jumble in which I find both comfort and joy.

Perhaps such blasé acceptance also explains why my writing room—even in this digital age—remains incorrigibly awash with books and papers. If a clear desk is indeed the sign of an empty mind, I’ll never be in any danger of drawing a mental blank.

November is messy—both literally and figuratively. A transition month between autumn and winter, but uniquely neither.

November is moody. Heartbreakingly blue skies one day, sullen gray the next—possibly ominous with scudding black clouds.

I love such wild days. They energize me to my core, stir my soul, as if awakening ancient feelings and latent powers that might hearken all the way back to quirks in my Celtic DNA—possibly a wizened druid lurking amongst the family tree.

All I know is that both the cluttered landscape and moody weather—the ongoing drama and daily disarray—somehow fit my personality with exciting, unpredictable portent.

So hooray, I say, for marvelous, messy November!


By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at naturalwanders@gmail.com.

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at naturalwanders@gmail.com.