Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Photo by Darrell Lynch

Autumn foliage by the Little River in East Tennessee, flowing  between Sugarlands and Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mountains.

Autumn foliage by the Little River in East Tennessee, flowing between Sugarlands and Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mountains.

I have a dear friend who visits for only thirty days every year.

I eagerly await the arrival and grieve the departure. The only comfort is knowing this friend will revisit — again and again and again.

I speak of November, one of my favorite pages on the calendar.

Let poets wax eloquent in June. Let songwriters compose silly verse during those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Let merchandisers and the party crowd celebrate throughout December.

No contest. November holds sway over them all.

Please understand that I rank months of the year the same way I do brands of beer: There’s never been a bad one; some are just better than others.

That’s November in a nutshell. From the dawn of All Saints Day ’til the clock strikes midnight on the 30th, November is a pleasure to the senses. As Goldilocks discovered with Baby Bear’s porridge, November’s not too cold, not too hot. It’s juuust right.

OK, so maybe April runs a close second. That’s especially true if we’ve endured one of those drizzly, chilly Marches that clings to the woodlands like gray glue. In the nick of time, April wafts in on southerly breezes, bathing the landscape in sunshine and dotting the forests with dogwood, trillium, and bloodroot in full flower.

But let us not think of spring at this moment. Let us savor the final days of fall.

Real fall.

Not the faux fall of September—which, in reality, is summer in disguise. Or the alleged fall of October — which applies only to Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and the covers of L.L. Bean catalogs.

Agreed, the foliage extravaganza around here debuts before Halloween. But invariably it waits until all the trick-or-treat candy is gone before ripening into sure-nuff, eye-popping, breath-taking maturity — a proverbial kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, purples, yellows and browns. Anyone who tires of this performance ain’t human.

What’s more, November offers a period of pre-holiday laziness, quiet calm before the building Christmas storm. This respite is as comforting to the psyche as a second helping of pumpkin pie —or third — is to the belly.

Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way if I had to spend Thanksgiving week inching along some distant interstate or standing in lines at crowded airports. Such are the benefits of being a native in November: Everybody travels to you, not the other way around.

Havilah Babcock (1898-1964) understood this seasonal euphoria completely. During his 27-year tenure as head of the English department at the University of South Carolina, Babcock wrote copiously about the joys of autumn in the Southland.

One of his most memorable volumes is a book in my office library. Rarely does a fall go by that I don’t take it down, pour a glass of elixir, poke at oak logs glowing in the fireplace, and reread Babcock’s essay that lent its name to the title: “My Health Is Better in November.”

So is mine.

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at