Trees in November

I picked up a letter from the post office the other day, addressed to me general delivery…

This post comes from our FP contributor, Anna.

I like that, in this age of instant communication and instant gratification, you can still receive mail this way. Right now I have no mailing address, and really, I have no home, so to receive a handwritten letter was a great comfort.

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I turned the sealed envelope over, feeling its weight in my hands before opening it. I read it from beginning to end, and then read it again more slowly, examining the familiar handwriting. I tucked the letter back in its envelope, and thought about what it had said.

It’s fall in the Northeast where you are. In the letter you told me you though I might enjoy the weather. The days are growing short and the nights are getting cold, but lately it’s been warm and windy and the smell of pumpkins is in the air. Not pumpkin spice, you said, but rotting leaves and jack o’lanterns. You wondered if I knew what you meant and I did. You said it was quiet and, as the trees returned to their skeletal winter forms, you were reminded of me. You wondered though, maybe I never liked this time of year anyway.

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I wondered this myself after reading it. It’s fall where I am too, but not the fall of New England. I turned the letter over again in my hands. I tried to remember the feeling of fall, overcome with nostalgia for the past, my own past. Three years ago maybe, and yet it is yesterday:

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I turn on the old electric oven. It’s dark outside. I peel apples while the oven heats up, dropping a little red peel to the dog who waits by my feet. She eats it up quickly, then lays back down. I core and slice the apples, and toss them with cinnamon and a little nutmeg, and slowly pour maple syrup over them, then squeeze lemon juice over that. I begin cutting cold butter into the bowl of flour I have prepared, first with the side of a fork but then with my hands, feeling the butter and flour begin to blend and crumble against my fingertips. I add ice water, teaspoons at a time, careful not to over mix the dough. I smooth out a handful of flour over the countertop, then onto the rolling pin that surely belonged to someone’s grandmother, though I’ve never known whose. Carefully and quietly, I roll out half the dough. The dog at my feet is watching every move, intent on not missing anything I might drop. I place the rolled out dough in a baking dish, and roll out the rest. I pile the apples high, and cover them with the remaining pastry. I crimp the edge around the rim and cut three teardrop holes in the center of the pie.


The oven is hot when I open it, warming my face and hands but only for a moment. Wind begins to howl; through the window I can see the silhouettes of bare branches swaying against the darkening sky. I gather what I need to build a fire in the wood stove — old newspaper and kindling. Soon the house will fill with the sounds of crackling fire, the smell of wood smoke and apple pie baking in the oven.

I opened my eyes. It was still light outside, still warm enough to go for a walk without a jacket. I knew what I would write back. I would say that I did in fact like this time of year, and I longed for it, the way we long for many things that happened in the past. I would say that it is the greatest comfort being able to go back to it in my mind, to recall the crisp air, the smell of rotting leaves and jack o’lanterns, the house filling with heat from the wood stove and the smell of apple pie.

+Where do you find comfort this season? Tell us in the comments!



  1. I’ve been closing my eyes a lot today and envisioning Thanksgiving’s from a few years past. Where I’d walk into my mother’s house, she’d greet me with her sing-song “Helloooo…” and we’d smile at each other. We’d laugh and talk about life, and how funny it is to be a grownup. We’d do puzzles, decorate the house for Christmas, watch a musical, and maybe make cinnamon rolls. The small town where she lived has a holiday craft bazaar every weekend after Thanksgiving, and we’d make our way up there to see all the handmade goodies. Sometimes I’d play the piano while she’d make some treats, and she’d stand behind me reminding me of all the little piano rules I have forgotten since I quit taking piano lessons from her in 1996. “Remember? That means crescendo, get louder and then there, that means to go soft again.” I’d laugh and tell her to stop looking over my shoulder because she was making me nervous.

    She died in 2014 at age 58 from cancer. Since then, this holiday has never felt right. It was our holiday. Last year I spent it in a fog, it was my first holiday without her. This year I’ve foregone the family festivities and my husband and I are having a quiet one at home with ribeye steaks, and for good measure we’ve bought a puzzle to do.

    But when I close my eyes, I can see it all like it’s happening now. I just hate opening them up and realizing it can never be again.

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