The Locking Time

(Here’s my contribution to the series of Upper-Midwest-in-November posts that was started by whiteray at Echoes in the Wind and continued by Jeff at AM, Then FM.)

I first came across the phrase “locking time” years ago, in a “Farmer’s Calendar” essay that appeared in The Old Farmer’s Almanac. I can’t lay hands on the essay right now; neither can I find much about the phrase online, but if I’m recalling correctly, “locking time” is used by some New Englanders to refer to the period “between” seasons—like the period we’re in right now. Mid-November, in the Upper Midwest at least, is not really autumn anymore. The trees are mostly bare, although the leaves piled up in yards and gutters haven’t gone to brown and to rot just yet. The sun is still capable of warming an afternoon, not merely lighting it (which is about all it will be able to manage in a month or so). And yet, if you step outside after sunset, which is coming around 5:00 now, the chill will send you back inside for the jacket you haven’t needed much since March. And if you park your car outside overnight, you’ll probably have to scrape the windows in the morning.

As much as I love autumn, I am also a charter member of the winter-is-better-than-summer club. (Motto: “You can keep putting clothes on, but you can only take so much off.”) As a result, I am never sorry to see locking time arrive, and I welcome the portents of winter that come with it. One of them is Small Change by Tom Waits, which finds its way onto the box a time or two every November. It was released in 1976; I first heard of it sometime in college, although I didn’t own a copy until the late 80s, and that was on an ancient cassette that got buried in a box during one of our moves. A couple of years ago, I fished it out and listened for the first time in quite a while. At the time, I wrote:

Small Change really is perfect for those November days just after the colors of fall have stolen away, when they’re still close enough to remember but far enough away to be irretrievably lost; when it’s cold enough to make you want a shot of something strong to chase away the chill. Not that Small Change is going to warm you up any—but you’ll understand why you’re cold.

Locking time is also supposed to be a period for reflection. (Around this blog, that means every day is locking time.) So here’s a taste of Small Change in which Waits is doing some reflecting himself: “The One That Got Away.”

BTW: Please keep contributing your most surprising and most inappropriate wedding-reception tunes in the comments here. Also, the Vinyl District has a dead-solid-perfect selection of hits from 1976 up today. If you want to know precisely what that year sounded like to me, hie thyself thither straightaway.

5 responses

  1. […] more thing, added a day later: Our pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also has a few things to say about November in […]

  2. Another song that captures the general ambiance of November is Paul Davis’s Cool Night.

  3. […] November in the Northland. Readers got autumnal takes from Jeff at AM, Then FM, from JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and then from Perplexio at Pieces of Perplexio π. And now it’s my turn again to write about this […]

  4. Quick comment on “locking time” –
    See John Gardner’s novel October Light (Knopf, 1976, chapter 3, page 120 – and elsewhere in book):
    “It was early, but dark as a pit outside. When they happened to look out, turning from the oval wooden table near the bar, it seemed to them all, one way or another, a surprising and vaguely unnatural thing – though they’d seen it every year of their lives – that sudden contraction of daylight in October, the first deep-down convincing proof that locking time, and after that winter and deep snow and cold, were coming.”

  5. […] hockey, Thanksgiving (which is my favorite major holiday), the coming of winter seasonal beers, and the locking time. December gets a boost because I enjoy the trappings of the Christmas season, but also because I am […]

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