I went to see my family in Baltimore for Thanksgiving weekend. The day after Thanksgiving, we went for a walk up and down Roland Avenue, one of the main north-south streets in Hampden, where I spent most of my childhood. Just as we were leaving, I remembered my camera. I took a bunch of pictures, and one in particular stood out. Through a gap between the houses near 38th Street, a yellow ginkgo tree stood out against a dark cloudy sky:
You can't see it, but one end of the Johns Hopkins University campus lies between the houses in the foreground and those tall brick apartment buildings in the background. My mother and I moved to one of those buildings (the Ambassador, which also featured briefly in a Homicide: Life on the Street episode) during my first couple of years in high school.
It's far from the best picture I've ever taken, but I've been staring and staring at it since I got home and uploaded it to my computer. There's something about the light that I managed to capture — that oblique late-fall light that you see at three or four in the afternoon this time of year, not yet winter sun but getting there — that brings back every fall from those years in Baltimore. The shortening days with the golden hour stretching earlier and earlier into the day, the somber sky and the last bright leaves, another school year well underway, another Halloween retreating into the past, the promise of snow somewhere in the near future. The little rowhouses transformed for a moment. And the unimaginable farther-off future like those buildings in the distance, with their windows glinting in the late-afternoon sun.
It's a mood I associate with the endless reading I did at the time, the trips to and from the public library as the evenings got darker and colder, and, a few years later, reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot and any number of others. Around the time my mother and I moved to the Ambassador, which you can just see a bit of in this photo, I was reading The Great Gatsby at school and starting to forage through the "serious" bookshelves at home. Looking at the gold tree and the far-off roofs brought a bit of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" (another school reading from those years) to mind: "Fall made him clinch his hands and tremble and repeat idiotic sentences to himself, and make brisk abrupt gestures of command to imaginary audiences and armies. October filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic triumph." And even though Fitzgerald's hero strikes me as kind of irritating on rereading it twenty years later, I remember the feeling. It hasn't entirely gone away, either.
All those years in the Midwest made me hate November, which was always drizzly and gray and signaled the start of another endless, dark, depressing winter. But I think I just rediscovered what I always loved about it.