Bleakness and Blessings

November can be a dark and dismal month, but it doesn’t have to be; it’s really all in the way we choose to look at it. Join the Mountain Farmgirl as she sheds some personal warmth and light on the comings and goings of this traditionally short and chilly month, and how her new view of it has changed her for the better.

November used to be my least favorite month of the year. In the mountains of New England at least, its 30 shortened days are so gloomy and gray, and in such sudden contrast to October, whose bountiful harvests and rich palettes of color symbolize what is perhaps my favorite month of all. For weeks on end pumpkins, cornstalks and colored leaves abound amidst gloriously blue, cloudless skies until one day, POOF!  the first of November rolls in like clockwork, cold and dismal, with limbs suddenly bare, its early darkness closing in around us. (And a dampness that chills to the bone!)  At least in my part of the world it does. How does November know that the calendar has turned its page?

But that gloomy impression of this actually comforting month was my opinion before I became an innkeeper; before the month of November became synonymous with solitude, rest and reflection. An ‘off” time in an innkeeper’s (and a Farmgirl’s!) year for sure, November has become a time I now anxiously anticipate; a countdown time to recharge my batteries, to take care of things I have put off all year for want of the leisure time to do them. Oh how I now look forward to these 30 short days, which fly by all too quickly!

Years ago I started (slowly!) warming to the month of November, when a dear friend, my former 5th grade teacher, gave me a beautiful poem artistically penned by a calligrapher, and composed by her father-in-law, poet Harry H. Shapiro. I always love sharing its beautiful words:

A hushed autumnal avalanche
From every branch upon the hill
Drifts slowly past my window sill
And gently, on this early dawn,
Blankets the clover covered lawn;
Revealing boughs, exposed on high,
Stretch naked arms across the sky;
And now the mountain king is seen,
His graven contours face the hour
Of tempest; with majestic power
He stands, courageous and serene.
                      - Harry H. Shapiro

The pure poetry of those words started subtly working on me years ago, softening my prejudices against the ever darkening days of November.  Instead of feeling depressed, I now feel enveloped by them, enjoying the comfort and safety of an enforced sort of hibernation, warm and safe in front of the woodstove.  Instead of feeling ‘bare and exposed’ as I used to, I now take comfort in the strength of nature that reveals itself to us in these times, the bare-bones simplicity that supports us but is seldom seen through the cloak of finery that hides it in other seasons. There is an austere comfort in this; everything has its season.

Way up north where I live (only an hour from the Canadian border), the sun sets early ... waaaay early! This time of year the sun is on the other side of the big cliff behind our inn at 3 p.m.   Lack of sunlight effects emotions, it is true, and I have always been hard hit, but we can learn to make the best of it. I find myself getting up a tad bit later in the mornings these days.  We also snuggle in earlier in the evenings, hungry and ready to eat supper at an hour that would be more akin to a late-late lunch in other months of the year! But no mind, it’s November, and we deserve the privacy, the rest and peace that it brings. If I were to look objectively, I would probably see that I work as hard or even harder during these days; I accomplish so many projects! All those things I’ve put off ‘till later’: the rest of that wood to stack proudly on the porch (we Farmgirls are, after all, famously proud of our woodpiles!), Christmas gifts to make,and  that ever-there ‘To Do’ list. But truth be told, the subjective part of me relishes the change of pace; this different kind of ‘busy-ness’ is so refreshing and I am energized by it. It’s a time to call my own, and for once (in my innkeeper’s world anyway) there is no one to have to talk to, or around whom to plan my day! So healing is November…


November is a time for knitting. Fibery wools and balls of yarn I’ve been saving come into the open now to be created into fashionable and useful things. Right now I’m knitting Christmas Stockings for my two oldest boys and their fiancés. Although they themselves have flown the nest, their childhood stockings which I lovingly cross-stitched for them before they were born, must remain with me for a while longer, for those future homecoming Christmas mornings which may perhaps some day bring the pitter-patter of new little feet!  One stocking is almost done now, three are “in progress”, as you can see ... A comfort to me during the long, quiet evenings.

November is also a time for soup and homemade bread, the big pot simmering on the back of the woodstove, with daily additions thrown in to make each bowl hearty and unique, a modern version of Stone Soup. Hearty and filling, it nourishes the body as well as the soul. But the crowning glory of November comes late in the month: Thanksgiving, that wonderful time of gratitude for all our many blessings. Regardless of the number of physical blessings we have been endowed with (which varies from person to person), just waking up in a country where we are free is blessing enough. Everything else we can name is like gravy on the turkey! I just finished reading a book by Janice Holt Giles, an author who wrote historical fiction – a genre I seldom ever read. Giles became somewhat of an authority on the settlement of the Kentucky frontier, her husband’s homeland, and wrote many books about its pioneer women – it’s original and illustrious Farmgirls. If ever we get discouraged, we need only to look back to what our pioneer mothers and sisters endured and triumphed over!  It gives a whole new perspective on what is really important in life and how blessed we are. Thanksgiving is the highlight of this short month, this time of inward, thankful reflection and outward giving. It is the time of ‘family’, be it your own blood relations or of extended family and friends. November is a  time to take stock. Since this holy-day will come and go before the next time we’re together, I send you all the most joyous and abundant wishes for a truly thankful Thanksgiving! May you enjoy each other’s company and the bounty of your hard work with open and thankful hearts.
Till next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Debbie
On: 11/14/2010 10:25:16
Hi Cathie and Happy November!
Yes, I'm one of " THOSE" people who can't get enough of November... Maybe its' because I was born in mid November and it's always been such a celebratory and happy month for me and that its also deep autumn helps a little too! I DO know what you mean though about feeling a dip in the emotions during this time and if we stare too long at bare trees bare ground and darkened skies can bring ones spirits down in a quick hurry...And I empathize with folks who experience SAD ( Seasonal Affect Disorder) It's very real indeed.
That being said, I LOVE all November offers too... change of pace,cozying in, focusing on handicrafts, holidays, embracing a different season and the glorious color of fall leaves, cooking warm tasty meals, and of course, more of EACH OTHER.
Here's wishing you and yours a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving...

I look forward to your next post just the other side of November...

Beach Blessings,
By: Wendy Brown
On: 11/15/2010 17:37:53
I love your stories. I live in the mountains of Georgia and your story made me shiver as I read the first paragraph. It's getting just as you described here. I wanted to suggest a book to you and your readers. Love Comes Softly by Jeanette Oke. They are humorous and very, very farmgirl. I wrote to her years ago and told her how much i enjoyed her stories and she wrote back to me. I loved all of her books. I hope you like them as well. A farmgirl from Georgia.
By: Peggy
On: 11/15/2010 18:43:55
Another great post Cathi. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
By: Heidi
On: 11/15/2010 19:03:13
I actually feel this way about January. November to me is filled with anticipation for the upcoming holidays. It's also a time when my online antique business is booming. I'm busy listing items for sale, packaging them up and shipping them around the world. I really appreciate this blog post and will reread it once the new year wraps itself around us all.
By: Debbi Fair
On: 11/16/2010 06:14:38
So glad to read your article and I must tell you that I am so thankful for meeting you and Dana when I visited the Lodge in July. Being there and discovering the White Mountains we so wonderful for my husband and I. You have been quiet on your blog and I was a little worried about you. Oh, could you please send the email address or name of the place you get your cereal? I too love the slowness of November, even with the early darkness and how I love the soups and warm bread.:)
By: Peg Short
On: 11/16/2010 06:55:44
Janice Holt Giles is one of my favorite authors. I have all her books. Have you read the whole line? They follow the same family through time. Her book Forty Acres and No Mule (nonfiction) is a true farm girl classic.Thanks for the reminder.
By: Janice
On: 11/16/2010 07:17:02
Thank you for helping me to accept the comfort of November after the glory of October! This Thanksgiving, I will be grateful for so many things in my life.. and that includes your wonderful writing.
By: Susie
On: 11/16/2010 09:27:16
How lovely! I am going to pass this on to others because I live in the Pacific Northwest and we lose our sun (if we have any) at three o'clock too! My husband and I love living here, we live on the Hood Canal in Washington.We also are enjoying "snugging in" and are eating more comfort foods and getting up a little earlier to enjoy the sunrises as we both miss the sunsets now! It's good to be able to revialize our bodies and our spirits. I am busy planning how we're going to decorate for the holidays and what foods to bring for Thanksgiving. We still are enjoying the fall colors, but they're allmost gone now. Thanks again for your inviting article. God bless!
By: Malinda @
On: 11/16/2010 12:02:00
What a beautiful post! I was just commenting over lunch to my children & sister-in-law how I love to see the giant cottonwoods near by this time of year. I can see their lovely bark and structure- covered other times of the year by leaves. The cottonwoods seem to be dancing. Like you, I havn't always thought that November to be a month to enjoy, but dread.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights.

By: KimberlyD
On: 11/16/2010 15:55:41
Happy Thanksgiving! I liked the poem. I hope its okay to copy and paste and save it. So sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea next to your fire and knit away.
By: Marilyn K. Khadduri
On: 11/16/2010 19:07:21
Hi Cathi,
Even though November is a gray month here in Virginia, I have always considered it as
one of the "celebration" months. October is my very favorite month of the year, and
then there's Thanksgiving in November, followed by all the preparation for the Christmas

During November's gray days, I burn candles all over the place, even in the daytime!
I, too, love making soups and stews, and I bake my own breads and rolls. November seems
so earthy to me. In this month, I use lots of veggies in soups, and grind grain in
my Nutrimill for my bread. You know the song we used to sing--"all are safely gathered
in, ere the winter storms begin." Somehow it makes me think of the women in our past,
several hundred years ago, and how they worked to take care of their families, especially
during the cold, snowy months of winter. I love all that preparation!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite part of November, but November 13, 2008,
my husband of 41 years passed away. That Thanksgiving I was on auto-pilot. Last
November was a little easier. This year I am so thankful that both I and my sons have
made a lot of progress! We were so blessed to have had such a wonderful husband and
dad, for as long as we did, and we celebrate that fact as we continue on our own journeys.
Our lives are blessed, and we thank God for that!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about this month, and I trust your
Thanksgiving celebration will be wonderful!

Blessings, from a thankful heart,

By: Pam deMarrais
On: 11/17/2010 04:27:10
Cathi, you write so beautifully! I lived in NH for 12 years, and I haven't forgotten how short the days are as December approaches. My birthday is November 16th, and it seems to be the dropping off point to gray weather. It also marks the beginning of the holiday season, and I find that I am energized by the opportunity to make things for my loved ones, from pies at Thanksgiving to handmade gifts for my friends and family.
Thank you for your wonderful reflections. I look forward to them every month!
By: Cathy Harvey
On: 11/17/2010 06:36:48
Thanks, Cathi, for another inspiring blog! I love your knitted Christmas stockings! I do a large number of crafts but have never been able to master the art of knitting or crochet, other than rag rugs, so really admire your workmanship!
I hope you achieve everything on your to-do list this winter. Enjoy and keep the blogs coming!
Happy Thanksgiving!
By: Janeen
On: 11/17/2010 10:58:29
I would like to know the name of the book you were reading by Janice Holt Giles. I am a lover of historical fiction books that focus on the pioneer spirit. My daughter and I have consumed many Dear America books on the subject.
By: marceedee
On: 11/17/2010 12:16:48
Cathi you eloquently state my feelings. I moved to Washington State after living most of my life in the southwest. I really struggled with the dark winter months, but now I do find relief, rest and revitalization in November. After summer months that I hardly sleep because it is so bright, I am ready to rest by November! Thanks for your blog!
By: Cindy
On: 11/18/2010 06:27:48
I love this blog. I am having my whole family in for Thanksgiving. We will all be together for the first time in over 10 years. It will be a very special Thanksgiving and this makes me like November even more..
By: O'Dell
On: 11/19/2010 15:13:59
Hello Cathi,

You have summed up my feelings of Novemeber well..the love of baking bread, curling up with my hobbies (quilting), and having some quiet time to myself. The yardwork slows down, once I've gotten the leaves under control, so there's time for cooking some chicken stew for an early supper. You say you live near the Canadian border? We have purchased land in northern Maine, and hope to build there soon. It too is not far from the borders. We were told that last year they had 6' of snow! So, we'll be getting our canning done as well, to make sure we don't run out of staples! We have one neighbor a 1/4 mile away, so we know we can't take chances!
I want to wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving also...all the best!
P.S. love your photos of previous posting....of the land..very heavenly!

By: carolj
On: 11/20/2010 11:45:45
We are all truly blessed. Your "letter" this month reminded me of that. In the South we never really experience those long, dark winter days, but I do relate to the idea of stopping our regular routine for a time. Sometimes that stop comes with the let down (day after Christmas) feeling, but after a brief pause, it is easy to see the potential for a different kind of productivity. Be blessed during this season.

By: Christine
On: 11/22/2010 04:15:30
Enjoyed your blog. I don't care much for Nov. either. because it's when my allergies flare up. I have them until the next year until May. June, July and August are the only months I feel great. Would love to move somewhere warm. But thats not going to happen, so I try to deal with it the best I can. I curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea on our enclosed porch on sunny days and let the warmth of the sun fall upon my face.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir