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New England Gray

Russell Baker, a journalist for the New York Times, called it “New England Gray.” He coined the phrase in a column for the paper in early December, 1985 which I remember reading no doubt because it perfectly described one of the things I love most about New England. Some people are put off by New England’s gray days. They lament the lack of sun, the dullness of the colors, the unbroken mass of clouds sitting low on the horizon. Personally, I like the way the clouds muffle sound and blanket the world. Gray days are quiet. Without the sun to stir up the wind, the trees stand still and the landscape takes on the appearance of a painting. On gray days, even the crows sail through the still air without their usual cacophony of croaks and barks.

Now that November is upon us, however, I’m reminded that not all gray days are created equal. November gray days have a particularly doleful aspect coming as they do at the turning of fall into winter. The days become increasingly short, the landscape is littered with brown and broken foliage, and the bare branches of the trees creak and clatter in the wind. This is also the month in which camo-clad, gun-toting hunters roam the woods posing real threat to walkers and their dogs who are, presumably, expected to refrain from outdoor exercise for the duration.

Baker calls Thanksgiving “the quintessential New England holiday” — an attempt to brighten the season with yellow squashes, golden pumpkins, and bright cranberries — efforts defeated by the remains of the gray turkey carcass which casts a pall over the ensuing days. I’ve never been a fan of Thanksgiving. I remember the work my grandmother and mother put into the yearly preparations for the feast only to have it ruined by the fussing of my diabetic cousin and his alcoholic mother. These days, I prefer to treat Thanksgiving as just another Thursday albeit one in which no mail is delivered and my favorite fitness class is canceled.

The remaining months of the year, I find much to like in gray days. The muted light is gentle on the eyes and does not require the frequent manipulation of the sun visor while driving. During the winter months when the snow lies thick on the ground, the gray of the sky takes on a serene pearl-like luminescence and even in April, purported by Eliot to be “the cruelest month,” the lengthening days and lowering skies are ripe with the promise of spring.

Someone once told me the sun shines in Colorado 360 days a year, a statistic that made me cringe. I consider that much sun akin to suffering the bright lights of an interrogation room or hospital operating theater. That much relentless sun would send me inside behind closed blinds where I would immediately schedule a flight back to Vermont.

Vermont knows that gray is the best color for day to day living. The sun, showy and bright, should be saved for special occasions. It should be rare enough to be cause for celebration, an opportunity to marvel at the blueness of the sky, the knife blade polish of the grass, the way its rays turn a blanket of snow into a carpet of glittering crystals.

No, dear reader, the beauty and wonder of a sunny day is not lost on me. Indeed, it is a treasured gift, but as King Midas learned to his regret, there is such a thing as too much gold.

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