I’ve spent a lot of time in the past 8 months thinking about windows (though maybe not in the most traditional sense). Rather, I’ve been thinking about windows of time and how to ride the waves of this pandemic.
I was so fixated on this in the summer, trying to find the best window of time when it might be possible to travel. When restrictions would lift and case numbers would fall and when it might feel safe enough to venture out and take a trip, or when it might be okay to see family, and friends.
The fall has been like this too, and I think it’s why, in October, I took a few weekend trips and made an effort to get together with friends/family for hiking and coffee as much as possible (well, for me, an introvert through and through, “as much as possible” really means “on the weekends”, but I digress).
November started off strong, fall was still chugging along at full steam, the colors were never more vibrant, the sun was still shining, the air was warm enough for outdoor get togethers.
But all at once (or so it seems), we’ve reversed course. The fall/winter pandemic wave has descended, and even though I expected it, that doesn’t lessen the jolt of its arrival.
I canceled plans, work goes virtual in December (I work in a school and right now it’s only for a week but that could stretch into something much longer), the Thanksgiving table was small.
And yet, despite it all, November held a lot of good moments. I used to think that October was the most beautiful month of fall in the northeast (at least where I live), but in the past few years I’ve found November to be almost as good. And this year it felt as though fall stretched longer than ever- with crisp and sunny days, and the trees displaying a slow and long unfolding of color (are the Japanese maples always this spectacular in November? The reds never seemed so red!)
Here’s my roundup from November, maybe not as full as October’s, but nearly just as satisfying.
Bryn Coed Preserve, Chester Springs, PA: My local Camino chapter gathered in early November (well, actually, it was the last day of October but it didn’t make it into last month’s roundup, so I’m including it here), to hike the trails in the Bryn Coed Preserve (which means “wooded hill” in Welsh). This preserve is part of the “Natural Lands”, a nonprofit organization in PA and southern New Jersey that aims to save outdoor spaces in order to connect people to the great outdoors. There are 16 preserves in the greater Philadelphia area and I’ve been to four of them so far; one of my winter hiking projects is to visit all 16! This was my last meet up for the foreseeable future with my Camino group; due to the rise in COVID cases, all of our scheduled group events have been canceled. Our group only started up again with organized hikes in early October, and I’m grateful I got to several of them while it lasted. Here’s hoping that late winter/spring will bring a return to the Philadelphia-area Camino group hikes!
This was the only notable hike of the month; I was scheduled to hike with my Camino group in Havre de Grace, MD, to see the bald eagles at the Conowingo Dam. I did this hike 2 or 3 years ago and it was spectacular, we saw dozens of bald eagles fishing in the Susquehanna and nesting in the trees; the hike was canceled this year but if travel restrictions are eased I might try to make it there sometime this season; eagle spotting is good between November and February.
Otherwise, it was a month full of my local walks. I zipped out to the Harvey Run Trail in the Brandywine valley several times (this is a small network of trails totaling about 5-miles that I discovered in the spring; there are wide open spaces, fields of wild flowers, hardly any people, and the trails wind past the studios of N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth. One of the bright spots of the pandemic was finding these paths!)
I also made an effort to hike down to my local wildlife preserve, the place I frequented in the spring when I was working from home (a quick ten-minute walk from where I live).
When visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, in Lancaster County, I walked in loops around the park at the top of the neighborhood. I’ve walked in that park so many times that it doesn’t feel notable, but then the light hits the fields just right and I raise my camera to take a photo and realize just how beautiful the landscape in this area of the state is.
Watching and Making and Listening
The best show I watched this month was The Queen’s Gambit, on Netflix. It was so wonderful! My initial thought was that a series about chess would be slow and a little dull, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The fashion, the music, the characters, the drama… I highly recommend it!
Listening: this song.
The best thing I made this month was my annual Thanksgiving cheeseboard; no cooking or baking involved, just a bunch of cheese, meats, crackers and some fruit, throw it all together on a big tray, and voila! I love putting this together for my family every year, and even though our Thanksgiving was small, the food was plentiful and the company was good.
This month I did something to try to jump-start my writing: I attended a writing conference! It was an all-virtual event out of Philadelphia, two days of lectures and talks. A lot of it was geared towards writers who were in the final stages of their book writing, and ready to pitch an agent or go after a book deal. Even though I’m not quite there yet, I took a lot of notes and it was so helpful to visualize what the book publishing process would be like. It made it feel like, when I’m ready, I’ll know the steps to take to try to find an agent, what that relationship would be like, the steps to getting published, etc. It also helped me realize that I’m solidly in the “re-write” phase of my book, and that I need to stop hemming and hawing and just get working. I’ve already rewritten chunks of the book but the beginning and first half need a ton of work. But I’m encouraged, and- for the moment- more focused. It feels good!
My essay this month on Patreon is about a Camino date with an Italian man who gave me a necklace (it wasn’t really a date, but then again, on the Camino, it’s so easy to pull up a chair, sit with a stranger, have a drink, and drop into a deep and interesting conversation. It happens all the time, and I wish it were the sort of thing that could happen more in my real life!)
I also wrote a blog post about my summer road trip through the US, here it is in case you missed it.
Around 11am on November 7th, I heard a bell ringing bright and clear, it sounded like it was coming from the house next door. I thought for a moment, then leapt up and grabbed the bell that sits on my mantle. I raced outside and rang and rang, adding to the chorus going up through my neighborhood, all to announce the news: Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States! I knew that it could be (and I’m sure will be) a long two months until he is inaugurated, but in the moment I only felt joy and hope.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it every year: are there any skies more beautiful than November skies? It can be frustrating to contend with the dwindling daylight hours, to race against the sun to get a post-work walk in, but so often I’m treated to the most stunning sunsets as I round the corner and head towards home:
When I think back on this month, more than anything it feels quiet and calm and still. I think that feeling is going to continue all winter as the pandemic forces me to retreat even more, to hunker down, to be cautious and safe. There will be hikes, bundled-up rendez-vous for coffee, hopefully some Christmas spirit sprinkled in, maybe another backyard fire with my parents, some freshly baked bread, a stack of good books, a few bottles of wine. It might not be an easy winter, but as ever, I’m going to keep my eyes opened to the beauty and the joy.
Hoping everyone is safe and healthy and finding your own moments of joy. More soon.