A picture that a friend posted on Facebook made me feel misty and grey, longing for the late autumn I knew from back home in Romania. And it reminded me of November.
- the eleventh month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the last month of autumn. The name means ninth in Latin, Novem- thus November was the ninth month of the year for the Romans, who were counting starting from March, which was considered the first moth of the year. In ancient Dacia, November was called Brumar – the Frost-Bearer and Vinar, the Wine-Maker
- a code word representing the letter N, used in radio communication.
In Romania, I grew up at my grandparents house, who lived in a place where it seemed that flatland was invented. The smallest slopes were the subject of tremendous joy for me, there were no hills or mountains in sight, just endless fields cut by deciduous forests that existed near rivers. From outside our village, I could gaze into infinity.
November’s low temperatures also seemed to make all green life go away. Whatever was left of the trees, their trunks standing, looked as if they had been frozen in time by a curse that caught them praying to the sky, their naked branches up, their dried fingers yearning to touch the clouds.
November melted all colours into black and nothing. It dissolved leaves, chased away birds – only grey sparrows survived although they were always chirping low, their tune changed, even the omnipresent black ravens were making a new music that felt more like warning sounds, all except for the eagles that were circling too high for November to reach them – I figured. Everyone else was suddenly more vigilant, more present. The frog pond was mute and I could hear no crickets keeping the beat anymore. There was nothing left of life as I knew it, just a cathedral of silence and death.
My spruce tree, the only green thing in sight, brought by my grandfather long time ago from a special nursery – he told me, was the only soul braving the cold, pricking it back with its sharp needles.
Every morning, mist engulfed the forest, floating through as if clouds always listened to the prayers of the trees.
The Frost bearer – Brumar
As a kid, hazy November always confused me. It was biting my fingers with frost in the mornings as I would stand outside in my grandparents’ yard, observing the silver forest (My Forest). I’d be gazing towards it every morning, it was my daily ritual to check on it, see how it’s been doing while I was asleep. A few kilometres away, if you looked straight through the now-bent charcoal-coloured stakes of our small backyard vineyard, the forest was meandering the local river, Argeș. I remember being in awe of its morning colour, covered as it was in shiny metallic grey, which only lasted until lunchtime…. (nooooo). Then, the Sun would melt the silver into mud and I would, day after day, feel so disappointed for the tragic loss.
I could never quite grasp November, never understood the point of it being there. I was always feeling too cold and too hot in the same time, while my senses definitely refused to multitask. November, as a two-dimensional world, had the two extremes happening in the same time, which ironically always made me feel complete, whole, as if simultaneously going through the Alpha and Omega of time.
Romanian November had dubious hues: grey and black. Frost, chernozem, dead forest leaves, and the river, all that was left of life between the clouds and the land, made me feel metallic and heavy, and I kept dreaming of rainbows, wondering if they were real or just another strange memory from afar. It felt to me that rainbows had been merely an illusion that I came up with all by myself, the best kept secret that I imagined from this brightly-coloured wool jersey, which I loved, so I kept wearing it despite that it was always (annoyingly) rubbing onto my sweaty skin… as I was running under the midday Sun, feeling too hot again. I figured that my then-red pores would slightly just open to pour these lost colours into me. I’d be keeping them safely tucked inside my soul throughout both November and the white winter months to come.
Trapped in November
Running was not a November-thing-to-do. Feeling trapped inside muddy and heavy shoes is still a vivid memory. How I dreaded feeling trapped! It was cold, there was no way to be breaking free of shoes like I used to do in the summertime, it was not an option to simply discard them and run bare feet, instead I dragged all that heaviness with me wherever I went… Later on, when not even the Sun could unfreeze the land, with all the mud gone after I’ve painfully taken it off with dead branches-sticks, my November shoes felt to me light again but always hiding toes that felt too cold underneath.
I resented November for making me feel stretched, by pushing my boundaries back, little that I knew about that then! I felt upset on it for forcing me to make choices between things I did not understand nor wanted: black or white but not rainbow, hot or cold but not cozy. I resented it for leaving me no choice but to choose between all these extremes I did not really like, and I always made a choice, as if I were under a spell. Magical and secretive in its misty disposition, sabre-sharp November demanded of me all or nothing and fast! And I always felt compelled to obey it.
The Wine-Maker – Vinar
Years later, I discovered that mysterious and allusive November carried the secrets for the making of the most coveted potion of the mankind. Where I am from, the frost-bearing ‘Brumar’ (brrrr), is also called ‘Vinar’, The-Wine-Maker! Inside the belly of Earth, in hidden wine-cellars, Vinar would cast a spell onto the grape juice to transmute it into wine – the sacred beverage used a long time ago for the rituals of the Thracian God, Dionysos. They said that Dionysos’s blood – the wine, made you immortal. To my Thracian – Dacian ancestors the wine was sacred too, as wine exposed lies and defeated spells. Wine was the only drink that could go to the underworld, the only drink that if dripped onto the ground as offering, it could have been drank by the dead!
The luminaries of the underworld
Even the stars of November’s sky, were in that part of the world, luminaries for the dead. As it’s only in November’s evening sky that the Pleiades lay low on the horizon, to tell about Halloween, a long forgotten glimpse into the underworld.
I know now that ‘cozy’ and ‘rainbow’ are made of extremes, by mixing together the raw essences of things. I miss feeling wild, in-taking all that November raw through me, as I did once only by simply breathing into its wind! My November felt like a battlefield for life inside of a dead dominion. The dominion of No-Man’s-Land which became my training ground for facing all fears I’ve ever defeated.
Rough and mystical, November is now my sacred place, for all that I learned from it.
I am so grateful to November for pushing my boundaries and for not giving me the choice to quit.
And I miss so much diving into it as I once did as a kid.