In November the Methow Valley turns gray. It is still, silent. Nothing moves. The trees, having lost their golden crowns, are stark outlines against a leaden sky. Driving back from town I see cows standing motionless in a field. They seem to be frozen.
Smoke rises from chimneys, promising warmth within, but outside it is cold. Cold enough that I’m wearing my winter hat and gloves, knee socks and a heavy sweater over a warm shirt. Selecting the right shoes is tricky business. I don’t want to put on my snow boots, though they provide much-needed warmth. That is the final giving way to winter and I’m not yet ready to yield. So I have on my tennis shoes and step smartly, hoping to get home before my toes start to tingle.
In town the talk is of snow, when it will start, how long it will last, how deep it will get. Old-timers compare the feel of the air today with the feel of years gone by. They remember winters when the snow was as high as telephone lines, winters when it didn’t snow at all and the ground froze eight feet down. They all have evidence to back up their predictions for the season to come. The evidence involves hair on horses and caterpillars, the size of nut piles put away by chipmunks, how and when wildlife left the valley.
Though there are fewer daylight hours in the weeks ahead, November seems darkest, I guess because we are always caught by surprise by the end of Daylight Saving Time. It is dusk when the school bus drops the kids off. We send them back outside to collect toys before they are lost in the snow. Invariably some will be missed and show up rusty and dented in the spring.
November is hushed in Mazama. The hunters have gone home; winter visitors have yet to arrive. When Highway 20 closes in November, it is a signal that the season has changed. We mark the growth of our children by snow boots that no longer fit, and by how much easier it is for little ones to put on their mittens.
The last leaf falls, the first snowflakes follow. In the bleak time between Indian summer and serious winter, the valley is muffled and raw. But inside we stoke the fire, brew a cup of tea, and settle down with a long neglected pile of books and magazines.
Mary Rea of Mazama is the author of the novel “Ladies Night Out.” Her blog, which follows where her mind wanders, is at maryreabooks.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org