NOW NOVEMBER. OUR BROKEN CULTURE, BRITTLE AND STALE. Each day brings more dispatches from the dark side of paradise. The sexual harassment inferno flames and crackles along, engulfing movie producers, politicians, and actors that burn like good dry wood in country furnaces.
Analysts try to decode Vladimir Putin’s hamster-like expressions, as if reading tea leaves. Will X be next? Meantime, a century since the great October Revolution that actually took place in November. Little black-and-white silhouettes of crumpled bodies on Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg.
It’s fitting, now that I think of it. Something so otherworldly could only happen in November.
These are our headlines, this is our life, or so we are told, or so it may seem. I’ve given up on providing any explanation of it to our daughters. “But why is Trump so bad?” Ten-year-old Anna asked me one black morning while I was making buckwheat porridge. This happened to be the week when he had said about a recently killed soldier, “He knew what he was getting himself into.” Trying to explain the situation to her was impossible. Words like “good” and “bad” become useless when you are engulfed with circus and more circus. In the end, I just shrugged it off. Away she went to school on her bike, gliding away through November’s various shades of gray.
To be honest, I have tried to raise my children away from the circus. I turn off the radio, and, if there happens to be a TV on somewhere, I turn off the TV. I am not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I grew up in a household where we watched the news every night. Every night I watched President Reagan meeting with Comrade Gorbachev. Every night I watched the the Palestinians battling the Israelis, the Iraqis fighting the Iranians. The month I was born, the Iranians stormed the American embassy in Tehran. All of these things have just been going on forever.
I awake in darkness, make myself morning tea under the spotlight of a solitary kitchen lamp. Is this really what our lives consist of? News-fed moments of elation and sorrow?
When we have nothing to do, during those few hours of pristine white sun and blue sky with that beautiful specter of night that stalks all November days, I take my children as far from civilization as I can get them.
We drive northwest, disappear into Soomaa, that swampland wilderness with all of its treasures. It takes forever to get there, and to enter the refuge, you have to get out of your car, open the gate, drive through, and then get out and close the gate again. One path leads to another, which carries you over forest streams to a third, and then a wooden platform bears you over the windy swampland, where only brave crooked pines bother to grow and the bog water is red wine red.
In the swamp, I found a great stick, curvy as a narwhal’s tusk, one that would make a good cane in old age, and promised myself that no matter how cold it got this winter, I would never burn it. In the distance we inspected scattered humps of earth, moss and wood, which we imagined had once been an active village of beavers. Our youngest daughter stuffed my pockets with pine cones and loose fluffy white moss she collected from the edges of the platform.
The morning after the expedition, I displayed the pine cones and moss on a table at the cafe for all to see. The sun was supposed to have risen, but it was still gloomy and gray in the streets, but I didn’t mind. Instead I felt content with the whole scene, and it occurred to me that I actually liked November. I was grateful that I had been born in such a dream of a month.