Category Archives: Late fall

Late fall

There are many things that I like about this time of year. I like it when the leaves are finally off the trees, and it feels as if you can really see the truth of the landscape and the cityscape. I like seeing the winter waterfowl on the harbor: I saw my first Buffleheads of the season, bobbing in the chop kicked up by the cold north wind. Even though I chill easily, I like the feel of the cold air.

But there is one thing that I truly dislike about this season. I hate the sappy versions of Christmas music that you hear in supermarkets and malls and just about every retail establishment. Christmas carols do not translate well into light rock. The Christmas songs from the 1940’s and 1950’s do not translate well into Musak, or whatever horrendous brand of eviscerated pseudo-music a particular store happens to be playing. I dread going into stores at this time of year, becauses I hate having to listen to debased Christmas music they all play.

‘Tis the season to not go shopping. ‘Tis the season to freeze your butt off outdoors, or to sit at home with a good book from the library.

First snow

About four o’clock it started snowing lightly. By seven, the roads and sidewalks were covered with a thin layer of snow — cat-track snow, just enough to make everything look white.

By ten, when I finally left church to head home, the air temperature had gotten just above freezing. A light freezing drizzle, barely enough to notice, was settling down and making the snow on the ground slippery and crunchy. The freezing drizzle left a thin film of ice on the windshield of the car, which the wipers barely cleared away.

As I walked back from the parking garage to our apartment, I could see the drizzle as a light fog or haze around the street lights. The city was as quiet as I’ve ever heard it.

‘Tis the season

Brief observations from the Christmas season:

  • Even if I’d somehow managed to miss the endless Christmas carols and the hideous red-and-green displays in all the stores, I’d still know it’s the Christmas shopping season because of the sudden increase of spam — both email spam and comment spam on this blog (could it be that the evil spammers sell more Viagra during the Christmas shopping season?).
  • Our church was on the annual New Bedford Holiday House Tour, and we carefully prepared scripts for our tour guides telling about our huge Tiffany glass mosaic and our renowned Flentrop organ — but what people really wanted to know about was why there were doors on the end of the pews (to keep the drafts out in winter).
  • ‘Tis the season to eat rich foods — at our church holiday fair today, the baked goods sold far more quickly than anything else (we bought our share: two jars of jelly and three loaves of pumpkin bread).

Only twenty-five more days before life becomes calm again.

December morning

The alarm went off at seven o’clock this morning, just as it does every morning in our house (except Fridays). I staggered out of bed. “It’s dark,” I said.

It was indeed dark: not just because the sun rose at four minutes to seven this morning, but because the clouds were thick and heavy and dark. Something was hitting the skylight.

“It’s raining,” I announced authoritatively, still swaying slightly and waiting for my eyes to fully open and come into focus.

“No it’s not,” said Carol, her voice muffled by the pillow. “I’ll bet it’s snowing. It’s supposed to snow this morning.”

As usual, Carol was right: that was snow, not rain, coming down out of those thick dark clouds.

“Blah,” I said, and stumbled off to the shower. The water in our apartment takes forever to get hot in the morning. I made the mistake of getting into the shower too soon. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm. Blah, I thought to myself.

I managed to get dressed and cook breakfast, but even the nice pot of hot tea didn’t cheer me up. I pulled on my winter coat and kissed Carol goodbye.

As I turned to walk out the door, she started to whistle:
“Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Suddenly my mood lifted. I whistled back:
“When it snows, ain’t it thrilling
Though your nose gets a chilling,
We’ll frolic and play the Eskimo way:
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland.”

By the time I went out the door, we were both whistling.

And sure enough, the sun came out by mid-morning.

Late fall

I took a long walk this afternoon, out to Fort Phoenix beach in Fairhaven. The wintering waterfowl have returned to the waters around Fort Phoenix: goldeneye, mergansers, loons, Brant, scaup, Bufflehead, grebes. I found myself crossing the bridge from Fairhaven to New Bedford just after sunset.

It had been a warm day, but as soon as the sun disappeared it started to get cold. The sky was one of those clear skies that you get in late fall or winter, and in the west it glowed orange-gold. I could see low dark clouds along the sourthern horizon, probably a bank of fog out to sea. I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts on Pope’s Island for a small decaf and a plain doughnut, and I watched it get dark while I sat there desultorily reading the newspaper. Not even five o-‘clock yet, and already dark.

Except that when I went back outside, it wasn’t completely dark. The sky was still bright from the setting sun. The moon, just a few days past new, added its own brilliance to the sky. Even though I was walking along a four-lane highway in the middle of the city, it all felt just a little bit magical.

Slow food

Because tomorrow is a holiday, I worked on my sermon today. It did not go well. The sermon remains unfinished. It was a gray, gloomy day, with spatters of rain now and then, and by the time the sun went down I was feeling pretty gray and gloomy myself. Carol got home at a quarter to seven, bringing groceries. I gave up on the sermon for today, and we began cooking for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

We had been assigned to cook squash, turnips, and pumpkin pie. I cut three butternut squash in half, took out the seeds, and put them in the oven to bake for an hour and a quarter. Then I peeled some more squash for the pumpkin pie (if you don’t tell anybody about it, squash makes a better pumpkin pie than does pumpkin). Carol cut it up and steamed it. When it was soft, I ran it through the food mill and turned the resulting mush over to Carol, who did whatever magic she does to turn it into a pumpkin custard. While she was doing that, I peeled and chopped up two huge Westport turnips, the really mild variety of turnip that’s grown around here, boiled them, and put them through the food mill. By then it was time for the squash in the oven to come out and get run through the food mill, and the pumpkin pies went into the oven. While the pumpkin pies were cooking, I cleaned up the kitchen while Carol finished writing the article that’s due in a couple of days.

We both work more than full time, so usually we cook on the run, making a quick stir fry or some pasta. It’s easy to forget how satisfying it can be to cook “slow food,” something that takes longer than fifteen minutes from preparing it to eating it. I’m not feeling at all gloomy any more. Yet by the time Friday evening comes around, after I have spent the day finishing that sermon, dinner will be another quick stir fry with some buckwheat noodles. Even though some slow food would probably help restore my soul to balance.

Late fall

At the beginning of last week, the tree in front of our apartment window was still half-covered in leaves. We could sit at the dining room table and brilliant red leaves filled our view, obscuring the scaffolding some workers had erected against one wall of the Whaling Museum across the street. But the wind and the rain of the past week and a half gradually stripped leaves from the tree; we’d see small red leaves dotting the glistening road beneath our windows; sometimes a few leaves would flutter away while we watched. The workers finished the work across the street, and took the scaffolding down. A particularly strong wind came up, stripping most of the rest of the leaves away, revealing the freshly-pointed red brick wall beyond.

A few leaves still cling tenaciously to the dun-colored tree branches. But now the view from our window is a view of late fall: wide open, hiding nothing.

Late fall

I drove up to Boston today to take part in the demonstration in support of same-sex marriage. The state legislature was meeting in joint session today to consider whether to put same-sex marriage to a state-wide ballot test. Personally, I don’t want same-sex marriage on the ballot. It would be one thing if the ballot question could be fairly and honestly decided, but that wouldn’t happen. Opponents of same-sex marriage from out of the state would swoop in like vultures to try to subvert our state’s decision-making process, spending huge amounts of money. Money is not democracy. When you’re trying to decide whether or not to remove a fundamental right enshrined in your state’s constitution (in this case, the right to marriage for all persons), you don’t want to say that whoever has the most money gets to decide.

So I drove up to participate in the demonstration. I knew there would be no parking in Boston. I knew that the parking lots at the Riverside and Alewife subway stations would be full. So I decided to try a few secret parking places we have discovered in Cambridge, where you can park within a ten-minute’s walk of a subway station for several hours for free. I drove around for forty-five minutes, but our secret parking places were all full today. And by that time, it was just too late — I had to be back in New Bedford in the afternoon — so I gave up.

On the way back home, I stopped in for a quick walk in the Blue Hills Reservation. The footing was bad:– everything was still wet from last night’s rain, and the wet leaves on the rocks made for slippery walking. I had to keep my eyes on the trail pretty much the whole time: the golden-brown of white oak leaves, the rusty red oak leaves, the golden beech leaves, the wet stones all blue-gray with bright green lichen. The sun came out while I was walking, and the warmth made me remove my coat and tie it around my waist. I walked up one of the lesser hills, stopped for a minute, and I could see Mount Wachusett to the west, Mount Mondanock to the northwest, and Boston Harbor to the north east, with dark clouds moving far away to the east. By the time I got back to the car, I had forgotten everything:– my frustration with politics, problems at work, worries about a family member;– all fallen away, leaving nothing behind but the bare bones of life: earth, sky, mountains, downed leaves, putting one foot in front of the other.


We moved into this apartment in late August, 2005 — over fourteen months ago. Last night, I was looking for a potato masher. I know we have one, or at least we had one. Maybe it had gotten lost in one of our many moves over the past few years. Then I remembered that there was at least one box of dishes that we had never unpacked.

I brought it out from the closet where we had unceremoniously dumped it, and began unpacking it. I found Carols’ old “Victory Garden” mug, another mug that says “REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE,” what’s left of the old plates and bowls that my mother made me buy for my first apartment back in 1979 (Carol says they are ugly, which is true, so they got stored in an unused cabinet), half a dozen bowls and plates that came from my grandmother’s house in Staten Island (also stored in that previously unused cabinet), a quiche dish that we never use, two of Carol’s favorite soup bowls, a pretty green plate with a raised floral design that Carol had found at a yard sale years ago, another plate from a yard sale with pink roses twined around the outer edge, the rest of the large white dinner plates.

One of the large white dinner plates, right in the middle of the pile, had shattered. None of the other plates or dishes had been broken, and I am at a loss to explain how that one plate broke while the others remained intact.

I also found some glass mixing bowls deep in the box, and three plastic travel mugs that read “Ferry Beach.” I did not find the potato masher.