The Rogue Leaves

by katiclops

The unsung silver lining to Victoria’s long, silvery-white, drizzly winter and pale fall, is that November is nice. Instead of 30 days of grey-brown slush and ice instead we have saffron alders and big leaf acers, sepia-orange oak and walnuts, and a smattering of wine red silver maples and cherry trees. While the rest of Canada faces barren streets, slush and ice, we are washed in a third blossoming of foliage, as snowstorms of leaves rain down scantily lit night skies. They dance their way over thresholds the city-over, swirling over doormats and forcing shopkeepers to sweep their entry constantly.  No one here believes in the double door system of the east and the golden leaves a nearly festive atmosphere about the place, as if we were all decorating for the arrival of someone terribly important.

The gusts of November prove a feat for cycling, but ensure the most vital attribute of island weather: change. Rare are the November days when dreary skies will muck up the air for entire days or even weeks. Instead they usher in-and-out clouds of cumulus, bright sunlight and winter rain. Short holding patterns will emerge. Rain in the early morning, clearing with sunrise, sunny until clouds form in the afternoon and rain away the sunset; clear, cold, windy nights. Runs need to be decisive, early and brisk.

Rogue leaf, our apartment, November 2011

November here is a time for silence. A time to listen to the wind and the rain. To listen to the quiet of the empty city.

I am struggling with reading this month. In part the challenge comes from the restlessness of the weather: it’s hard to commit to anything when the season is so variable. The momentum of the Christmas season is also starting to rear it’s frenetic head. I’ve also felt at a bit of a loss for settling my teeth into my next read. The days of the Times Colonist book-sale have come and gone, and the shelves I’ve procured have been culled more than once of the ones I had been most eager to read. Many of the ones that remain were picked up because I have passed over them once too often: part of that internal master list so many of us have in our brain. The books we should read, the ones we should know. I have a stack of commentary in international relations texts, Jane Jacobs and well over a dozen classics I’ve never really come around to reading (i.e., Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, and East of Eden for a start). After six years of school, the last thing one ever wants to do with their “leisure” reading is feel obligated to slog through something they’re really not enjoying. Especially when there are thousands of totally decent books in the world.

Lately I have taken most of my direction through word of mouth, and proof of merit. I tend to read books in torrents and association: everything by Eugenides or Ondaatje. Read Franzen because you like Eggers. The others have been through refferrals by friends, friends of friends, friendly bookstore owners and interesting looking people in coffee shops (yes, I am that person who is also voyeuristically and oh-so-indiscreetly attempting to figure out what you’re reading from across the way). Books are hard. It is almost impossible not to judge a book by it’s cover. I’ll go see music with zero expectations, because their poster looks reasonably cool, I like the venue or I know who is opening. Friends have taken me to see shows willingly based little more on “it’s a bit folksy with a little rock, fantastic vocals,” or a few snatches of a youtube video. It is seldom to see a movie without successfully enjoying the preview in advance, but when was the last time you bought a book based on a commercial?

The latest book that I picked up, highly touted by a few friends as “if you only read one book this year…” was Cloud Atlas. I had been advised by everyone to (at all costs) avoid watching the preview of the film until after I had finished the book, and preferably until after I had finished watching the movie. There was a huge relief in this, of actively deciding to avoid advertising and reviews. These days, cutting yourself off can be just as hard as immersing yourself; saying no just as hard as saying yes. But with it comes freedom and clarity. Shutting off the internet finally gives you space to breathe. As many of my previous posts would indicate, I am an NPR addict, but this month I’ve found myself shutting off the radio and working in the kitchen in silence. Wandering down forgotten avenues of memory, cleaning up and putting away things that haven’t crossed my mind in years.

I watched Cloud Atlas earlier this week, a hundred pages short from finishing the rest of the book. Since then my mind has been crowded, overwhelmed by the three hour long film, trying to commit to finishing David Mitchell’s novel. Trying to enjoy instead of dissect. Trying to be silent.

And it’s really, really hard.