A sense of November in stone and marcescent beech leaves. Photo by Dana Wilde

One morning last week I was looking out my door into the branch-bare, copper-colored, late-autumn quiet. This is exactly what November looks like, I was thinking. “The still point of the turning world.”

Just as the words came into my head, light glinted from a straggling, yellow beech leaf directly into my eye. It was as bright as a star. It shone diamondlike for a long few seconds. Then flickered and faded. The backyard returned to still, brown, Saturnian November.

The mechanism was simple enough. A beam of light traveled from the sun at approximately 186,000 miles per second to Earth. Earth rotated the beech leaf at about 1,000 miles per hour into a clear path through tree twigs and branches. The light ray traveled a southeasterly path the width of a silk thread through the tangle of pine, spruce, fir and deciduous skeletons and struck the dew-wet leaf. It bounced off the leaf at exactly the right angle onto the back of my eye.

This cosmic alignment lasted one still moment. The Earth continued to rotate and swept the stems and branches in Troy, Waldo County, Maine, North America, Northern Hemisphere, into the path of the sun ray. The star-leaf glinting on the back of my eye winked out. November’s shadows returned. At the point where I was standing, that is.

The condition that allowed the light to strike my eye was November Earth. Because it’s tilted by 23-and-a-half degrees on its axis with respect to the sun, the Earth’s poles angle toward and away from the sun once each in the year-long orbit. Now, the Northern Hemisphere is approaching its maximum tilt away. Light rays angle in lower and lower every day. They hit full tilt Dec. 21, the shortest day of lowest sun and longest midday shadows. November and December sun rays filter through the trees. In June they stream in unobstructed from high above the entangled oak tops.

Angles of light make November what it is. The somber colors carried on electromagnetic waves. Bare, shadowy trees. A leaf glinting at the still point of the turning world.

It feels like the cosmic truth. What that truth is, I can’t say. Not the glint, not the leaf, not the dew, not the rotating Earth, not even the angle, and certainly not the words. Just the cosmic moment, glinting.

To keep up with the careening world, keep moving. To keep up with the cosmos, keep still. Suddenly, from out of the shadows, come light rays beaming into your eye, neither from nor toward.

November is an astonishing revelation, year in and year out.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His book “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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