The Contemplative Serenity of November

Published on 11/7/2010

There must be a thousand shades of brown in these November trees. October is the month of spectacular colors in the parks and hillsides of Pittsburgh, but November is more subtle. There’s a kind of pleasant melancholy hanging in the air, especially on one of those long rainy days when the wet leaves spiral downward one by one as if they had all the time in the world–and I watch them as if I had all the time in the world, which in fact I do. On a wet November day, you have all the time in the world. There are no grand excitements, no hurries. Everything is calm. Nothing interesting is happening.

On a rainy November day, the possibilities are endless. You can’t plant bulbs; you can’t rake leaves; the dog would rather not take a walk if it’s all the same with you. So there’s time for all the things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time for. You can read a book. You can write a book. You can teach yourself Russian. Or you can just sit, with a cup of good Darjeeling tea in one hand and absolutely nothing in the other. Just sitting is a sadly neglected art in the modern world, one we should all cultivate. Most of the evils of the world would disappear if people could teach themselves to enjoy just sitting.

But perhaps the best thing to do on a rainy November day is to grab a big black umbrella and go out into the world. It would be a glorious day to take the streetcar downtown and do some window-shopping. The rain comes straight down on these rainy November days; it keeps the crowds off the streets, but the umbrella is as good as a roof over your head.

Or what a perfect day to spend in the back stacks of the Carnegie Library, back in those endless rows of books that even the librarians seem to have forgotten about. Or the conservatory–it’s a perfect day for the conservatory. Phipps Conservatory is between shows right now; there won’t be many people there, and we could lose ourselves in the palm house for hours.

Even just a walk through the back streets of one of the city neighborhoods–that would be a perfect way to spend an afternoon under the umbrella. There’s plenty of time to stroll down the sidewalk, pausing to admire a well-restored Victorian house or a patch of stubbornly blooming snapdragons, watching the leaves spiral down one by one as if they had all the time in the world. Tomorrow the rain will stop, and we can get back to work. But today is our own.