November’s afternoon darkness holds a tingle of anticipation and excitement. We’re closer to the winter solstice and very close to the holidays making these months so celebratory. The darkness begs to be lit, begs for color, and is background to winter festivals with lights and food and family.
Some of my spirits rising phenomenon is left over from Alaska. November meant snow – a little glitter to reflect city lights. Here, forest and ground stay dark green and afternoons end abruptly – time to shut the shades, cook the meal, light the candles.
Our older son told me once in his world travelling days that he tried always to be in place for the sunset. I’ve imagined that meant knowing where he would eat and stay that night. Then he could enjoy a few minutes with his book in a lighted place – a traveler’s routine – a homey feeling.
This time of year I think about a scene from a book by Margaret Drabble – my favorite contemporary novelist. When I first read her, as my friends and I did, as the novels came out – her characters’ lives almost paralleled ours – just a little ahead – your own life narrated in a richly descriptive way. I’ll never manage to read “Don Quixote” the prescribed three times (youth, middle and old age) but I relish rereading Drabble with eyes changed by time and age.
In “The Radiant Way,” Drabble writes of her character Alix’s trepidation at visiting a grown son and girlfriend in an uncertain living situation, nervously fretting about what she would find: “What would it be like, would it be warm, would it be habitable, would the food be edible, would there be any food?”
But she finds instead a “paradise” – “And wonderful it was, like a fairy story, a Bohemian fairy story. The little room was illuminated by candles, by a paraffin lamp, by crackling packing-case twigs in a real fire in a real Victorian grate; its walls were painted a dark midnight blue, its floor was painted a deep red with a dark blue and green patterned border, wooden painted chairs stood at a table covered with a white embroidered cloth and painted bowls and plates, huge cushions lay in heaps in a corner, there were two comfortable chairs….” Alix and the rest of the family are offered: “glasses of firelight-glinting red wine, with olives on a white plate, with nuts on a blue plate.”
I love her words of real things, describing this home where “an island of colour and light had been salvaged from the darkness by long hours, great pains, great ingenuity.”
Upending a lack of parental faith amuses me, as Drabble honors the young people’s creation. And always I find inspiration for “islands of colour and light” against the dark. Ole!