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November, For Real

Never mind what it says on the calendar, for those of us in Tennessee, November began last night. Yesterday was warm -- 70 degrees -- and it rained, which we needed desperately. It felt like early April, though the air smelled like fall: that slightly sweet smell of leaf rot that seems always to accompany an autumn rain.

As darkness fell, a line of thunderstorms swept through the area, followed by a chill fog and winds that raked brown and yellow leaves from the trees and sent them spiraling through the night air. And when we woke up this morning, it was November. Our thermometer read 40, but it felt colder. Gusts of wind still rattled the windows and the air remained damp. All day long, heavy grey clouds hung overhead, broken in places to reveal patches of palest blue. Occasionally the sun broke through, but always at that sharp, late-autumn angle, so that it added a touch of gold to bare tree limbs and the occasional stubborn cluster of leaves -- warm brown on the oaks, yellow on the redbuds, fiery orange on the swamp maples.

Earlier in the fall, with temperatures remaining unnaturally high, the leaves refusing to turn color, a part of me wondered if the Southeast would ever see a real autumn again. It's been a bizarre year here: spring began in February; winter returned with vengeance in April, killing flowers and farmers crops, blackening the tender new leaves in our forests; and then it just stopped raining. I suppose a late fall shouldn't have surprised me. Actually it didn't. But it did disturb me. Yes, those warm, clear October days were lovely. But they felt . . . wrong. Usually, I don't particularly like November. It's cold and windy and damp; it presages the wet, clammy winters that have become typical of Tennessee. Once, when we first moved here, we could count on a couple of good winter snow storms. Not anymore.

This year, though, I'm pleased that November has come. I'm relieved. Maybe it will bring a real winter.

People who deny that climate change is real act like the rest of us want it to happen. They see in our calls for reduced carbon emissions and international efforts to reverse the effects of global warming some sort of twisted, anti-capitalistic conspiracy. I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell them without hesitation that I would love to be wrong about this. I wish it was a hoax or a mistake or anything but what it is: a frighteningly observable phenomenon.

I just want the world to be normal again. I want cold winters and hot summers, and springs and falls that carry us gently from one extreme to the other. But I don't believe I'll see that in my lifetime. And so, when November comes, chilling me with its icy rains and cutting winds, I won't complain. Not anymore. Not ever again.

Today's music: Tony Rice again (Church Street Blues)

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