Time to reflect and remember as the dark seasons descend

November is always a dark month, what with the ‘time change’ which brings the longer evenings and usually dark and grim weather, writes John Arnold
Time to reflect and remember as the dark seasons descend
A winter's morning near Dun Laoi at the junction of South Mall and Grand Parade, Cork 20/01/1948 /Ref. 447C

BACK in 2009, around this time of the year, I wrote: “A friend said to me that, but for Halloween, Christmas would be starting in October.”

I laughed at him at the time but his words were prophetic and now here we are, barely in the second week of November, and the festive season seems just around the corner with shops and stores and supermarkets all reminding us how few shopping days are left!

A few years ago I’d be upset by this trend. After all, I grew up in the 1960s when annually the Church Holiday of December 8 marked the ‘coming of Christmas’ for us. Going shopping then didn’t mean a trip to Boston or London or Paris — not even Dublin or Cork. Going ‘to town’ for the 8th meant a trip to our local town of Fermoy.

As children, that sense of wonderment and amazement was engendered by pressing our faces against some shop window where plastic farm animals, jigsaw puzzles and maybe Dinky cars were on display.

All’s changed now half a century later — I won’t say “utterly changed” as that might indicate a sense of disgust and disappointment at the way things have gone.

No, maybe time has mellowed me or I just have to accept that things will never be the same again. That’s life and while I may look back with rose-tinted glasses at a simpler time, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Memories are great and I love recalling times past with older people, especially at this time of year, but I have come to accept, as I get older, that things change.

Sometimes, however, I feel changes are made for no good reason — simply for the sake of change. An example of this is the new fixtures regime just adopted by the GAA, which virtually means that ordinary club hurlers and footballers that never pull on a county jersey are being marginalised to April and the autumn.

It’s seldom enough I’d use the words anger and shame in the same sentence but those words spring to my mind in relation to what the Corke Park suits have done.

That’s change for the wrong reason, well, for no good reason. The early ‘coming ‘ of Christmas is another huge change. Most people say it’s a case of Christmas being over-commercialised and no doubt there’s truth in that, but then we must roll with the times, I suppose.

The lead-up time before Christmas was usually referred to as Advent, a time of preparation — now it’s just a longer time spell. I feel there’s no point in raging against it, simply embrace it and make the most of it.

November is always a dark month, what with the ‘time change’ which brings the longer evenings and usually dark and grim weather. From a farming point of view it’s a time of winding down in preparation for next year.

Despite the time of year, we can still get ‘pet’ days — like Tuesday last when blue skies belied the low temperatures. We still have most of the stock out on the land but how long this lasts depends on the weather entirely.

Grass has been growing right up until recent days, though the rainfall of recent weeks has made the fields very soft. On Monday night last we kept the cows indoors for the first time since early April and fed them on silage. It was a joy to see them lying contentedly in their winter quarters — food, water and shelter, all they want. They were out grazing on Tuesday for a few hours.

That’s the way ’twill be for a few weeks, unless we get torrential rain altogether. Then, by the end of the month, all the animals will be housed. The land needs a rest too. If you’re ‘kind’ to the land it will return that kindness by a hundred fold.

As temperatures drop and growth slows, the soil takes a break from its toil and goes into a hibernation, the end of which is determined by the cold or heat.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that global warming and climate change are here to stay. Extremes of heat and cold, hurricanes, excessive rainfall and un-seasonal conditions are now the norm.

As a child I knew the seasons and the pattern of the seasons off by heart. Winter meant winter and almost daily low temperatures, often with frost was expected from then until near St Patrick’s Day. Patrick Kavanagh summed it up well in his poem 'Winter';

Christmas, someone mentioned, is almost upon us

And looking out my window I saw that Winter had landed

Compete with the grey cloak and the bare tree sonnet

A scroll of bark hanging down to the knees as he scanned it

Now we can have autumn-like sunshine on Christmas Eve, grass growing strongly in January and floods in midsummer. That’s the way things are and we can’t deny it or blame it all on the Chinese!

Getting back to November, the first ‘dark’ month of the year — it was always the time to remember those who have gone before us. Please God, I will visit maybe two dozen or more cemeteries this month to say a prayer at a graveside of people I knew over the years.

I suppose the cynic would and could say ‘Sure, can’t you pray for ’em at home, one prayer is as good as another’ — a fair point, but some traditions I like to observe. I am not a dinosaur living in the dark ages but certain things are still sacred to me at different times of the year.

People that know me often say ‘John, why do you go to so many funerals every year?’ I immediately reply that maybe 40 or so years ago I put that question to my mother. Mam said: ‘The time you spend going to a removal or a funeral — maybe an hour, maybe half a day — is not time wasted, you’ll never again meet the deceased person in this world so saying a real goodbye is worth doing.’

I’ve never forgotten those words, similarly with cemetery visitation in November. I suppose I’m getting a bit melancholic in my older years so now I can look forward and back in equal measure and try to see the positives in each.

Many years ago there was a lovely song out, Try To Remember, written about the month of September. It lauded the value of remembering times past — even what happened just a few months ago. It’s a song I’ve never sung but one I must learn as it applies to many seasons of the year — including this November period;

Try to remember when life was so tender When no one wept except the willow. Try to remember when life was so tender When dreams were kept beside your pillow. Try to remember when life was so tender When love was an ember about to billow. Try to remember and if you remember then follow... follow.

At the end of this month, I hope to visit Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. It will be 50 years since the death of Patrick Kavanagh. I’d like to visit Glassdrummond and Shancoduff and other little places the poet spoke about. He was genius.

A farmer who struggled to eke a living from the stony, grey soil, Kavanagh was, by his own admission, ‘a bit cracked’ — thanks be to God for people like him! 'His Memory of My Father' begins

Every old man I see

Reminds me of my father

When he had fallen in love with death

One time when sheaves were gathered.

I cried the first time I read those lines many years ago as my father had died in the month of September, 1961. Local man Pad Connors told me ‘ we were threshing for Mrs Dooley in Bartlemy when your father died’.

I have no real memories of Dan Arnold, my father, only what I heard from others.

Remembering my Father, 1995

He’d be eighty-two this year if he lived

Maybe worn, maybe grey, maybe bent,

Would he still have greyhounds like before?

And hives of bees with golden honey

And maybe we’d have power of our own

From the waterwheel over in the glen

And he might fix the tractor engine

Or any other engine that needed fixing.

Cutting timber to lovely shapes in the workshop

Soldering little broken bits and pieces

Playing with grandchildren who never knew him.

He’d be eighty-two this year if he lived.

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