Penn Station was crowded, more so than usual for a late fall Saturday morning, but having learned the trick of going to the lower level until boarding time, I was able to get onto the train well ahead of the masses. This advantage, however, did little to lighten my mood, one that matched the damp, gray, heavy and lowering sky outside.
I chose a seat toward the center of the car (not over the wheels, something else I learned a long time ago) on the right side, where the scenery is far more interesting: the wetlands of Connecticut, the ocean, the inlets, lighthouses and old New England architecture.
“Is this seat taken?”
I turned to see a lovely gray-haired woman, one who seemed too elegant for coach class on Amtrak.
“No, please have a seat.” I said, nodding and gesturing in a way that I hoped was inviting and that matched her elegance. She smiled and sat, and I noticed she had nothing in the way of luggage with her. I assumed she was making a local run to somewhere up the coast.
The interminable trek through the East River tunnel finally, well, terminated, and we were once again out in the gray November morning. We rode in silence for a while, me occasionally looking out at the industrial dreck that abounds in the rail yards of the Bronx, and fighting with a difficult crossword puzzle; she reading whatever was contained in the small blue book she held.
Eventually we came to the wetlands, with all the muted colors to be expected: all in the browns, ochers and grays, with the gray mist and sky blending into the near monotony of it. I guess I sat transfixed long enough for her to notice, and guessing again, I felt she had she picked up on my mood.
“My November Guest,” she said. I turned to her, thinking she was reading something from her book. It was a title, but not from her book, which was closed now. She, too, gazed out the window and she began reciting a Robert Frost poem from memory:
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
A warmth spread through my chest and a grateful smile cracked my face as I turned to her. I told her that was beautiful, and we talked at length about Frost, frost, fall and the coming snow.
She became something of a welcome enigma, having distracted me from my somber mood, yet at the same time riding through it with me and validating it by the recital she had just made. When we arrived at her stop I was sorry to say good-bye to her, but the warmth I felt carried me all the way through to spring.
I often remember my November guest, and wonder where she is and who is fortunate enough to be at her side.