Monday, December 27, 2004

Tempting fate

Coincidence? I think not.

As described in the previous post, we were treated to ice crystal “snow” against beautiful blue sky and thin winter light. But the afternoon brought a warm strong wind. Though no clouds were in sight I awoke Sunday to rain. As the temperature dropped the rain turned to snow, which continued for several hours.

Snow gives the phrase “winter interest” a new meaning for any of us remiss enough to still have tomato cages in the garden. And I am quite certain that garden designers who speak of “vertical features” are not describing bamboo teepees in the snow.

Still, the said garden structures, a mere few hours earlier standing in mute reproach ,were softened and transformed.

Our snows are notoriously short lived. This morning the snow was almost gone and the cages and teepees are once again stern, admonishing me to get off my dead a** and clean up the garden!

Here in the southern part of the PNW there is no winter long blanket of forgiving snow, no white cloak to cover testimonies to this gardener's negligence.

Now if a dry day could possibly fall on a weekend?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

White Christmas

This year my corner of the world has a unique version of a white Christmas. The last two mornings we have enjoyed a frozen fog as thick and white as a dusting of snow. Looking out I was deceived momentarily but could see hard blue patches through the fog and realized that this white frosting was not snow but ice crystals.

Another snow-like phenomenon occurred as the sun and wind worked their magic. Ice crystals began to fall and drift, much as snowflakes. Ephemeral, fleeting, and a bit of an anachronism, the sky by now a cold blue bowl with icy flakes drifting about. A holiday treat to be sure.

A joyous Yule to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Winter solstice

Today is the winter solstice – “sun stands still”. Midwinter. Soon the sun will begin rising further north. In my corner of the world the sun continues to rise later into January but the sunset is later as well and after December 26th the days will slowly begin to lengthen.

I sometimes try to imagine how intense the darkness and cold, how complete the sense of abandonment must have felt to early man. It’s no wonder so many myths find origin around the solstice.

Our lives are woven into the natural light cycles; the day, month and year. Each sunrise, each waxing crescent moon stands as a small reminder of this. Circles within circles within seasons.

Gardeners live by these cycles. We know that the earth is never dead. Beneath frozen ground are seeds, bulbs, corms, roots; all waiting, suspended in varying degrees of torpor, waiting for the light.

Winter solstice has long been my favorite marker of the seasons. When I celebrate this dichotomy of dark and light I feel as if I am part of a force so elemental that it reaches past conscious knowing to both the deep within and the vast beyond.

For we are the stars. For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for it's journey through death.

Excerpted from Song of the Stars Passamaquoddy

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cookie hooky

I took a day off work yesterday to do some power baking. In past years my holiday baking has been squeezed into after dinner work nights and weekends. Circumstances were such that this plan would not work this year. The solution, to take a weekday for baking, was such a rousing success that I plan to make this an annual event.

What does baking have to do with gardening? My satisfaction with the results of a long baking marathon is comparable to the pleasure I feel after a day of early spring garden prep and planting. I laid out the seven large plates of cookies, left the room, and returned for the viewing. They looked darn good. This leave and return method works equally well for a newly planted bed or a freshly cleaned room. Tired but happy, I sealed each type in its own bag. Now comes the enjoyable task of making up tins, plates and bags to distribute or mail.

Another similarity between cookie baking and gardening is the selection process. I have certain standby recipes that I bake each year, much as I plant certain tried and true tomato, lettuce and potato varieties. And part of the baking fun each year is finding new recipes to try. I enjoy this almost as much as browsing my seed catalogs for new varieties to plant in the spring.

This year’s finalists:

Sugar Cookies (not cut out, a melt in your mouth round cookie)
Orange Sable Cookies with Candied Ginger
Almond Crescents
Soft Ginger Cookies (a new spice cookie recipe in the ongoing search for the perfect one, this one is very close)
Cardamom Butter Cookies
Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Chocolate Peppermint Meringues

Monday, December 13, 2004


It’s dark. Dark when I leave the house in the morning, dark when I return in the evening. A friend describes this as “oh dark 30”. In other words, when using light as a criterion there is no reason to put too fine a point on what time it is. It is oh dark 30.

A few days ago Candlegrove pointed out that in her region she would be observing her earliest sunset of the year. An electronic trip the U.S. Naval Observatory provided me with similar information. The earliest sunset in my corner of the world occurred on December 2 at 4:39. Actually this time of sunset has remained static since that day and will not change until December 15. Sunrise is later each morning and the days are growing steadily shorter.

Christopher Dewdney, in his recent book Acquainted with the Night: Excursions Through the World After Dark, describes the three twilights:
…there are three stages of twilight: civil twilight, which arrives shortly after sunset and marks the time when car headlights should be switched on; nautical twilight which arrives half an hour after civil twilight when it is dark enough that the brightest stars are visible for navigation purposes; and astronomical twilight, which starts more than an hour after sunset when even the faintest stars are visible.
Evening twilights are especially observable in the summer when gardeners tend to be outside at dusk. Watching the slow progression of darkness descending is calming, centering and restful. In the winter I find the progression of sister dawn to be more apparent. As I journey to work I can observe the reverse twilight phases as the rising sun dispels the darkness. My alertness increases as dark gray shapes give way to discernible objects.

Hunger for the light in this season of prolonged darkness is reflected in all cultures. It is primeval, a basic need for any non-nocturnal animal. Candlegrove provides a comprehensive look at the role light plays in shaping our annual holidays and observances.

Each year my community holds an early evening Festival of Lights celebration and parade. Robed figures with candle lanterns walk beside marching bands, instruments festooned with twinkling lights. Carolers and young angels with shimmering wings abound and a llama with a colorful light necklace paces regally through the crowd. The city hangs thousands of tiny lights, which are lit as a culmination of the festival. These welcome me home from work each evening. I will do my part today and put up strings of lights, then walk down the hill and look up to my door. The lights never fail to make me smile, small beacons in the inky darkness.

We come together during this time of the year to “drive cold winter away”. We sing and gather to celebrate whatever gives meaning to the season. Reasons to mark this time of year may vary among religions and cultures but the common thread of light unites us. Light in the winter is faith. Our candles and decorative lights are an affirmation.