Wednesday, November 18, 2009



Emilio SanchePerrier ( 1855-1907),

oil on panel.

Some comments on Monday's post, by Moonmouse, Sandra, and Written, in particular, made me think on how I view November.

It seems that after the garden furniture is stored away (aka heaved in a tottering, avalanch-prone heap in the garage), after the leaves - with joyful help from the dogs - are raked and either composted or bagged, the roses mulched, the peonies and such cut back, and the fountain is drained and secured from ice, that I withdraw from boundaries of my property.

I release my mental pickets from their vigil and position them instead as sentries within the walls of my old house. My mind retreats to a fortified redoubt to await attack from the armies of winter.

A curious thing -- this contraction of awareness -- to give up seisin for a season.

And it led me to consider, in my convoluted fashion, the ways which writers approach landcapes. Much like painters, perhaps. Some surreal, some impressionist, some precisely realistic. Most novels, I think, benefit if the writer can imply some symbolism in their landscapes. At least, to attach an understated metaphor to their descriptions of mundane streets and houses, fields and forests, cities and countries.

One of the most memorable stories I've read using this painterly method is an old post-war mystery by Marjorie Allingham called Tiger in the Smoke. A murderer loose. A London fog. A miasma of confusion among twisted streets.

"The sky was yellow as a duster and the rest was granular black, over printed in grey and lightenedby occasional slivers of bright fish colour as a policeman turned in his wet cape... Already the traffic was at an inevitable crawl. By dusk it would be stationary. To the west the Park dripped wretchedly and to the north the great railway terminus slammed and banged and exploded hollowly about its affairs. Between lay winding miles of butter-coloured stucco in every conceivable state of repair.

The fog had crept into the taxi where it crouched panting in a traffic jam. It oozed in ungenially, to smear sooty fingers over the two elegant young people who sat inside."


Charles Gramlich said...

Living where I do, I've pretty much forgotten the "battening down for winter" kinds of behaviors. We do none of that sort of thing. Maybe that's good, maybe not. The routine of planning for winter has something to be said for it.

Ric said...

Autumn, this year, consists of warm days and comforting sunshine, letting me wash windows, tuck screens away, nail down the odd piece of siding. Rain gauge put away, bird feeders up, garage cleaned out at least enough to get the car in.
And I do love your picket sentries.
While the passage is wonderfully descriptive, I can't help but imagine an agent and/or editor going into cardiac arrest. Does anyone else find it a bit "much"?
It does set the scene, yet, it overdoes.
Perhaps, these days, given all the sensory inputs we have, a simple invocation of London Fog would deliver the setting. (He says this having seen way too many Sherlock Holmes movies and looking forward to the latest due out at Christmas)

Natasha Fondren said...

My husband keeps saying it's a week until Thanksgiving and I just don't believe it!

Yeah, totally love landscaping in books. When it's fun, too, or a character, like Jersey in Stephanie Plum. I like the landscape to be real and living and a character. :-)

Bernita said...

"The routine of planning for winter has something to be said for it."

Perhaps, Charles (she said dubiously)All endings need ceremonies.

Ah, Ric, she was writing for a more leisurely reader, I think, when such detail was both expected and approved.

Our Thanksgiving is much earlier, Natasha...probably because of our bloody climate.

BernardL said...

My younger brother told me once when he visited my Uncle Pete who was near to passing that the one thing left in his slipping memory was leaves. Uncle Pete methodically raked every leaf for hours nearly every day. In the hospital he told my brother 'you know what if I had it all to do over again... #%&* the leaves!' :)

raine said...

Ahhh, I have missed this. :)
Thanks for sharing that, Bernita. It makes me want to curl up with a good mystery, lol.
(And Bernard, I agree with Uncle Pete).

Bernita said...

Bernard, after stuffing the composters and then stuffing about 20 bags for the curb-side pick-up, like Raine, I'm inclined to agree with Uncle Pete too!
But if you leave (ha!) them, they tend to kill the grass.

And a very charming heroine in this tale of Allingham's too, Raine.And some very nice policemen.

laughingwolf said...

wow... what a great descriptive quote

as for winter, about all i have to recall is to push the button on my console that puts the car from summer to winter mode :O lol

apartment living, and all that rot...

Steve Malley said...

I take my cues from the great cartoonist Wally Wood: Landscape sets a scene but distracts from action; choose only those details that specifically inform the story.

Of course, he was talking about comics, where every brush stroke counts. Still, I've found the guideline useful since I've turned to prose... :)

Bernita said...

I tend to agree, Steve.
The art of deliberate detail. It's delicious to discover nuances reinforced later.

writtenwyrdd said...

I find that if nothing else the perceptions of your character should color the landscapes as described in a story. Which means both that the character's personality is underscored by what the writer has them perceiving; and that the writer is observant enough to choose the right details.

I love it when it's subtly done, even if the allusion is pretty obvious. Like fog = confusion, something hidden.

And I've always said $!!*##2@ the leaves. They mulch nicely on my lawn. But then you likely have far more trees.

Bernita said...

Several dozen, Written, there's one 100 year-old ( at least) maple on the west side of the house that produced ten to fifteen bags all by itself!

Kate Thornton said...

In my sun-drenched world, we have only the daintiest of deciduous little trees - 2 Japanese maples, a peach, a fig and a pomegranate. Well, the maples - a red and a light green - are not exactly bonsai, but they are dwarf, and no more than five feet tall. I could pick up every shed leaf in my hand and admire it before tossing it into the leaf bag. The fig leaves drop in whirling flat fancies from the three tall but narrow branches - there are lots of them, maybe as many as thirty...maybe just enough to pick up, again by hand, and admire in their pizza like crispness.
The peach - well, it's a pluot, really, but who knows what that is? - is also a dwarf and the leaves from it just fall to the bit of ground where they mulch away until the little dogs romp in them. They just go into the loose ground with little bones and sticks and other buried treasures of the kennel. And the beautiful pomegranate, it's red fruit looking like ornaments, drops a snowstorm of tiny leaves that disappear. I don't honestly know where they float off to - is there a neighbor down the street wondering the same thing in reverse?
Oh, Bernita, you make me think about my pretty leaves.

Bernita said...

Glad to have done so, Kate!Your description is delicious.
Mine are also very beautiful - in a maco kind of way. I just wish there weren't so many of them

Suzanne Perazzini said...

In the north of New Zealand we have very few leaves fall in Autumn because most of our trees are evergreen but then we don't get your splendid autumn colors either and that's a pity.
Lovely writing, by the way, both yours and hers. Very evocative.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Suzanne.
Some years, fall here - to paraphrase a poet - are like a scarlet trumpet across the hills.

There are times, in dull late January though, when evergreens are the only solace for my yearning for green.

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, I'm so glad you're back. You've been sorely missed. Autumn is the most painterly of seasons, for sure. Except for spring, which is the Impressionist's season.

Bernita said...


Have been trying to sort my favourites list and finally found your new site to bookmark and visit when I can do more than flit. It looks wonderful! I owe you a dozen congratulations for your success.
(Thank God, good things are happening for a few good people at least.)

Carla said...

You're back! Welcome, welcome back, Bernita.
I love the Marjorie Allingham quote. That style may be (sadly) out of fashion these days, but I still love it.

Bernita said...

"That style may be (sadly) out of fashion these days, but I still love it."
Me too.
Thank you, Carla!
I have a lot of visiting and catching up to do.