Starting now with the darkest season upon us, it’s time to shut shades and shutters against the dark and light candles for solidarity, candles for early morning yoga, candles at dinner always. Twinkle lights inside and out.
As times change and families grow, I miss my old friends and our holiday rituals. I’m thinking of my friend who lives on Bainbridge, her fondness for the cheer of lighted candles – even the glow of a candle on the breakfast table.
And though she’d try not to, she always used to cry during the “thankfuls” around the Thanksgiving table. And I might get teary this year with so much to be grateful for (including electricity – truly a miracle when recently unpredictable because of storms). I’m so eager to see everyone and the little cousins together again.
Thank you for being wonderful readers with thoughtful comments, I appreciate all of you. I wish you warm gatherings radiant in candlelight, festive with food and family and friends!
For weeks here on the bluff we’ve had very warm days and glory sunsets. Some days (while we were away) the air didn’t move and the temperatures rose to unfamiliar heights – hard on our Pacific Northwest shade-craving house sitter.
And now wind from the north bears smoke from scores of forest fires raging on Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Alaskans here recognize the yellow-tinged clouds, smoky air, and gray cloud cover – a common Alaska summer phenomena, but usually not this dire until August. A fire even burns in the Washington rain forest.
The drought in Western Washington is unprecedented. Record warm winter left scant snow pack, and reservoir levels are far lower than normal for early July. Winter rains are far away.
My niece, home briefly from the East Coast to a sweltering Seattle, wondered aloud if her generation would survive. They will enjoy recent joyful improvements to life – reluctantly provided by a divided Supreme Court – but suffer our degradation of the natural world. Although the respected Washington weather guru, Cliff Mass, writes that the heat wave is an anomaly and not explained by gradual climate change, it’s hard to think it isn’t a taste of what’s predicted later in the century.
And now, after the fire clouds cooled the air and land, familiar moisture from fog and mist drips from trees and buildings. Denial and hope descend again.
At the beginning of March, sunshine and daffodils in yellows warm and pale lit up the world. Cold mornings gave way to warm middays, and all day the sun shone into my workroom onto bird photos and paintings. Welcome rain returns this week, but I loved sitting and painting in warmth.
I discovered other amazing bird photographers to add to my acknowledgement list, most specially Alan and Elaine Vernon’s beautiful photos. They are generous and their site a fine resource: www.naturespicsonline.com.
With frets in the air about the early spring and low snowpack, I wait for the migrants to return. No sign yet of these two, the White-crowned sparrow and Violet-green swallow, but I hope to see and hear them soon!
On a pouring rain day at the end of February, a lone bright-red anemone, scattered crocus, and many snowdrops bloom in the garden. Hellebore cluster together on straight stems and bow their blossom heads. An acid spring-green colors a proliferation of not-yet-blooming forget-me-nots, the sharp spears of new crocosmia, and thick moss on garden bed edging logs and pavers. That newborn green shines against the dark gray of winter forest, and amid a discouraging amount of standing water.
Indoors, I consider the bird project – begun with my very favorite and one of the smallest – the winter wren (maybe finding its shape, but not yet background.)
Last December, when we went to London with our younger son and his sweet bride, I thought about my favorite parts of the holiday, wondering if we’d find what I treasure – joy and laughter and love for sure, the cheerful ghosts of Christmas past, and some specifics in the present.
We brought family with us – a critical component, and made a bare bones flat in Notting Hill home base. It was the sweet bride’s first trip to London, Harry Potter and Harrods’ led her list, but by the 21st the fact of Christmas became more pressing.
Friends – a warming Christmas element – were in short supply. We did eat dinner one night with our English friends at their cheery house (ironically, they left the next day for the States to spend their holiday). They gave us a small, bright red poinsettia for the flat’s fireplace mantel.
London provided wintry weather aplenty – rain and wind or clear, cold days – appropriate for the woolen hats and scarves we bought as small gifts to stuff stockings from home, and hung by the fireplace with care.
Solstice night we joined a walking tour to view Christmas lights – Covent Garden and Oxford Street a-twinkle, and giant white snowflakes glittering between the buildings in the tiny lane leading to St. Martin’s Square. Shoppers gathered in front of store windows with Victorian Christmas scenes – the kind that only huge and old-fashioned department stores can offer.
My family later reported spotting that Christmas tradition, “Love Actually,” playing on a big screen in the outdoor part of a pub. I missed it while talking to a fellow walker or I would have returned!
We played Christmas music on a tiny speaker for the iPhones, and heard the live BBC broadcast of the Festival of Carols. (I associate that with early morning on Christmas Eve in Anchorage). And by Christmas Eve, awash with the memories that color the holidays, I wanted to gather food for a feast – even if small.
Dramatic Christmas trees decorate public London – each year the City of Oslo presents the people of London with a huge tree that dominates Trafalgar Square (given in gratitude since 1947, for assistance during World War II), a red velvet tree designed by artists for the Victoria and Albert Museum filled the foyer there, and in Covent Garden’s Piazza giant red balls and white lights covered an enormous tree that stood in a whiskey barrel of startling size.
The bay windows of London townhouses seem designed for Christmas trees, and in our neighborhood one stood out. I opened the gate, snuck inside the tiny front yard, and took a photo. A book tree! Books artfully piled and strung with white lights, broad at the bottom and tapering to a skinny top where an artist’s wooden figure stood with arm raised in good cheer.
We had noticed trees for sale in lots tucked into spaces beside churches and in the entrance areas of big stores. I longed for one in spite of impracticality.
Finally the sweet bride and I cobbled together a tiny tree – evergreen boughs fresh with fragrance from a florist shop tied together with red ribbon, decked with a miniature string of colored lights, and topped by a star cut from shiny paper.
The basics of Christmas magic in place – off to bed!