Sometimes beauty roars. It stares right at you – an immense chasm of Grand Canyon, billions of years in the making. Or a vast expanse of the Pacific pushing its grandeur towards the shore, wave after rolling wave. It towers over you like giant sequoias or imposing cliffs of the Rockies. This is the kind of beauty that overpowers, overwhelms, humbles. It reminds us how tiny we, humans, are.
But there are times when beauty whispers. It requires listening intently not only with our ears but every fibre of our beings. It demands that we look closely – the kind of gaze that radiates right from our core. This beauty tells of nature’s attention to detail, reminds how much work has gone into creating those perfect lines and curves.
Think about photography. To capture landscapes, we use a small aperture to let in the light. Photographs that focus on one subject, on the other hand, require a much larger opening. Seeing close-up beauty of small things is no different: once we open the aperture really wide, all of a sudden previously unnoticed details become sharp while the rest of the world melts away.
In these moments, as I try to focus on a milkweed pod or a leaf, a hush falls all around me as if I’ve been submerged underwater. Nothing else exists but me and this dried-up husk or a trembling frond. When I pull myself away from the camera, I can’t tell if five minutes or an hour has passed. It’s as if the entire world has stopped for me to see the curve of a grass blade or the veins running through a leaf like a river delta.
November is my favourite month for those quiet meditations. As the forest strips itself of colourful garments and stands still in its naked vulnerability, small details suddenly pop up against an increasingly minimalist landscape. A creaking old tree, crunching leaves under our feet, grass fields exchanging sweet nothings with the wind – every sound is crisp and fresh like November’s cool air.
White milkweed fluff mixes with the first snow. Apples carpet the ground, their round bellies looking deceptively delicious while the underside is already decomposing, sending nutrients into the ground. Nature appears to be sleeping but important processes are underway as fungi and underground creatures are hard at work breaking down fallen leaves and organic matter to feed next year’s new growth.
It’s tempting to sit November out, wait for winter. At least then there are some fun snow activities. Or forgo this entire cold season altogether, coop up under fluffy blankets with endless cups of tea and equally endless episodes of whatever Netflix has on offer. But that feels like missing out on a big part of nature’s life cycle, like sleeping through the ending of a movie.
As always, nature has a lesson for us if we are willing to learn. November, suspended somewhere between the vivacious October and the monochrome perfection of winter, teaches about the importance of slowing down and standing still, about the courage to be vulnerable. As robust colours of the fall slowly melt into sepia landscapes, soon to be wrapped in white blankets to prepare for a vigorous explosion next spring, November is a constant reminder that in nature death is never the end, only a transition to a different state.