In November, the golden days of autumn give way to bleak winter. The hours of daylight dwindle down, night comes early and dawn comes late. The fields are devoid of life. Tired leaves fall to earth and carpet the ground, their green summer youth forgotten. In the hedgerows, all that was fair and blossoming lies rotting on the sodden ground, swathed in tendrils of mist and clinging dew. We are surrounded by a rank and decaying earth. The powers of growth are winding down, while the powers of darkness and cold gain ascendancy. This month sees the first of the snows and frosts.
It feels like a melancholy month when the colours have faded out of the world and all becomes grey – grey skies and grey heavy moisture in the air. Nevertheless, there are wonderful compensations in the clear, frosty mornings, vivid winter sunsets, the bare brown earth and the beautiful naked branches of the trees. We turn to the hearth and the warmth of the crackling fire and the cheer of the singing kettle on the hob. This month sees festivals that signify keeping a light burning in the darkness, with bonfires and fireworks, with Martinmas, Bonfire Night, and I usually attend Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights in nearby Leicester where the biggest celebration of Diwali outside of India takes place.
During this time, we start to look for artificial light and warmth, and many of the folk festivals reflect this idea of keeping a flame burning in the darkness, with torchlight parades and bonfires. During late October, right up until the late 1980s, children would have been out in the streets of England collecting money and wood for Bonfire Night (5 November), pushing carts and wheelbarrows containing scarecrow-like figures called ‘guys’, beseeching ‘Penny for the Guy!” In the North of England, this was called Cob-Coaling and children went from door to door in the days and weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, asking for wood for the fire, as well as money for fireworks: “We’ve come a cob-coaling, cob-coaling, cob-coaling,/ We’ve come a cob-coaling for Bonfire Night.”
As the sunlight fails during this month, the hedgehogs in my garden are seeking a place to hibernate, the squirrels in the woods are spending more time sleeping, and the badgers keeping more often to their dens. In the garden pond the frogs and newts have disappeared, probably sheltering in the muddy bank or in the compost heap away from the frost. Snails huddle together under heaps of dead plants and woodpiles; they hate the cold and glue themselves together and withdraw into their shells. Butterflies are dreaming through the winter in the leaf litter, or in the nooks and crannies of my sheds till spring. Even the owls will fall silent in November. I know that many small animals and birds will die over the winter of starvation and cold, whatever preparations they make.
This is the death time of the year, when Mother Nature sleeps and the world falls silent, and we enter the season of the Crone, the Hag of Winter.
© Anna Franklin, November 2020