In 1960, John Hay spent the month of November on the coast of Massachusetts.
In 2015, Ms. Jeannie spent the month of November on the coast of Florida.
John Hay was writing a book about the seasonal evolution of life on Cape Cod – a month by month collection of observations he would publish in 1961 under the title Nature’s Year: The Seasons of Cape Cod.
In November 2015, Ms. Jeannie was navigating a bevy of hospital hallways and doctors offices with her sick dad.
John escaped to the beach to think about life. Ms. Jeannie escaped to the beach for a brief break from life. Both John and Ms. Jeannie found solace on the shores of November.
55 years, 1300 miles and 11 states separated John from Ms. Jeannie. Does that matter? Does the seasonal effect of nature change so emotionally at sea? Fundamentally month by month are we more different than alike? Ms. Jeannie thought about these questions while she walked the beach and tried to make sense of the medical mysteries surrounding her father. Decades earlier John thought about these same questions while he walked the beach and tried to make sense of the natural mysteries surrounding humankind.
In this post we’ll be looking at one month from two sets of eyes to see how the natural world compares and contrasts between decades, between states, between regions and between people. Just how different is November from one place to another?
” The clouds cover the sky like gun smoke and the air feels cold and restricting.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In November 2015 in Florida, the clouds also covered the sky like gun smoke but instead of being cold and restricting the air was oven hot and heavy with humidity.
“November rolls into view with cool, solemn, formal consistency…daylight diminishes. The summer no longer pounds at our temples. The fall color is gone. There is nothing to look at and very little to hear… to a city lover it is silent and deadly dull.” John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in 2015, November rolled into view on the body of a heatwave. Temperatures hovered for most of the month in the mid-90’s. The air felt consistently relaxed and languid. If Ms. Jeannie was blind-folded and asked to guess the month she would have said August by the sticky feel of things around her. Summer was holding strong.
“Out on the bay the low waves look as if they have a harder push and pull to make, imbued with new heaviness.”- John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015, the waves are not low. They are tall and fat and strong. So full of energy and life, their crashing chorus’ take up all the audible room in Ms. Jeannie’s eardrums.
“There is a kind of ice sludge being nudged in by the tides along the shore and through rippling purple waters of tidal inlets.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015, the tide drags ashore signs of autumn color in the form of clumpy pumpkin-tinted seaweed that stretches the entire length of the beach.
“Seeds, on grasses and weeds now grow thinner, drier, more colorless, are not only rich in generation on their own account but they provide beyond themselves. The simplest food chain suggests the links in many others. The time for persistence is coming, when those grasses we take so much for granted will hold our earth together.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 as a whole it is easy to overlook the wild greenery in excitement to get to the water. The waves have a way of calling all attention.
But nature s running its course and Ms. Jeannie sees that the Florida beach grasses are also going to seed. Look closely below and you can see a little lizard scampering around the stalks.
Southern beach grasses wave hello and goodbye all at once as they share their seeds with beachcombers of both the two and flour-legged variety.
“The oaks are monumentally persistent. Cut them down fifty times and they will sprout back from the roots. This is their chosen land. The late fall wind makes their leaves rustle and stir…the whole year is full of the collaborative music of air and trees. ” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 there are no oak trees. In fact, surprisingly on the stretch of beach Ms. Jeannie visited there were very few palm trees. But what there was in great succession was a thick barricade wall of sea grape trees. Like an enchanted garden, they formed natural vestibules to and from the street to the beach and the beach to the street. Those are the trees in Florida that have made choices. Those are the ones who will continue to fight for life whether they are cut down fifty times or 1500 times.
“Since Cape Cod is surrounded by the sea it has another depth, another range, were other populations roam while the rest of us wait and shiver.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 the most interesting and immediate animal life to observe was the multitude of shore birds. They provided beauty…
and comic relief…
intrique and mystery…
and even the threat of tragedy…
After a consult with the lifeguard and a call into animal wildlife patrol, Ms. Jeannie was happy to hear that this bird was no sick or injured creature who seemed helplessly hopeless clinging to the sand when she spotted him. Instead he was a just a baby learning how to fly…
“In fact there is no fundamental separation anywhere in this common world of life, despite the greatly various environments of water and and what we use to help us differentiate between the species. Winds blow through. Tides lap over. Each plant and animal is proof of general contact and association.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
After seeing the baby gull and running through the gamut of emotions and feelings of wanting at first to observe him, then protect him, then help him, then understand him, Ms. Jeannie realized whole-heartedly that there is no real difference in the Novembers between years and states and places and faces.
Sure the typography changes and the climate varies but similarities are equally as present. We all just want to survive in the place where we are rooted. November is as much a natural state of mind as it is a calendar month, and although the landscapes may vary from North to South and East to West, fundamentally we are all the same at heart. We are all the little gull plopped down on the sand, learning how to fly. learning how to survive. learning how to make it from one day to the next. We are all the little gull trying to make our way in the big world.
Do you have any natural wonder stories from the month of November – something that surprised you dear readers? If so, please contribute your thoughts in the comment section below. In the meantime, if you’d like to see what John Hay has to say about the 11 other months of life on Cape Cod in 1960, you can find him in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here.
For your palm tree fill, visit Ms. Jeannie on Instagram!
Cheers to the new month of December! May it be equally as enlightening:)
4 thoughts on “North vs. South: The Beach in November”
The picture you show are not mangroves, they are sea grapes. You might want to look for sea beans in the sea grass (Sargasso) on the beach. I collect them. Google it, fascinating.
I also was with my sick father last week in Sebastian FL as he lay dying.
Oh Kathy, so sorry to hear about the death of your father. Deepest sympathies go out to you and your family. Thank you so much for the clarification on the mangroves/ sea grapes. You are right – sea beans are fascinating! Nature is such a marvel. Good for you for collecting such a cool natural wonder. Would love to see some of your collection if you wanted to share a picture.
Oooh, Ms. Jeannie…you’re taking some yummy photos. The beach here in Southern New Jersey has been warm this November and perfect for long walks on the beach. Last week I found the first sand dollar I’ve ever seen washed up here and the most lovely rippling patterns in the sand after the tides rolled out…
Oh rippling sands – how pretty Elizabeth! And such good luck to find a sand dollar. Surely that is a great start to the season ahead.