And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
It’s the “false spring” one day, and the next, not. When I was at church to bake communion bread, it was spring for sure. Of course the dough knew it, and behaved accordingly.
Yesterday, the wind and various other factors contributed to further thaw the bones of my soul. While I was in my own garden trimming the lemon tree, pomegranate bushes, lavender and a few other plants, a series of great gusts came up suddenly, and made a clattering of doors and toys and other blowing-around stuff in the neighborhood.
The poem below doesn’t originate in my area of the country, so it will never perfectly fit the weather here, but I love the spirit of it, and I’m sure it will please a few of you in more northerly parts of the world. If you tend to be impatient with poems, try reading this one out loud.
TO THE THAWING WIND
Come with rain, O loud Southwester! Bring the singer, bring the nester; Give the buried flower a dream; Make the settled snowbank steam; Find the brown beneath the white; But whate’er you do tonight, Bathe my window, make it flow, Melt it as the ice will go; Melt the glass and leave the sticks Like a hermit’s crucifix; Burst into my narrow stall; Swing the picture on the wall; Run the rattling pages o’er; Scatter poems on the floor; Turn the poet out of door.
Because we haven’t had any rain in several weeks — or has it turned into months? — I had to put the hose on potted plants that aren’t on the automatic drip system. Hidden behind one big pot, this little great-grandbaby of a cactus I started was in full baby bloom. I brought her indoors to brighten up my kitchen, still lit also by the fairy lights, which are there for the days when spring is clearly not. yet.
This afternoon I stood on a bridge overlooking the creek, and watched a Black Phoebe for about ten minutes. He would briefly perch on a branch near the surface of the water, and then fly up, do a quick whirl of an aerial pirouette, and come down on the same or a nearby twig. Over and over again… he must have been catching insects.
It took me a while to be sure that he was a phoebe. I had only seen those birds in my garden one other winter, some years ago. I tried taking pictures but that didn’t work out too well, as you can see.
Just down the path from the bridge, about half of the town’s wild turkey flock were grazing — eight of them to be exact. I took their picture, too, but they kept their heads down in the grass, and I really only got this presentable shot.
The birds that gave me a rush recently were bluebirds. Three of them were checking out my birdhouse several days in a row. First there was a pair: they flew back and forth from the trees to what was designed to be a Bluebird House, but which chickadees have used most often; they sat on top briefly, they flew back to the tree. The girl went in the house, then the boy. Then a second boy showed up! He also went in the house to look. I can see they have some decisions to make, about their relationships and about where the family will start out. They all three sat on the fence for a bit, but it didn’t seem long enough to have the necessary conversations.
I hope the girl makes her choices before the chickadees show up to take a tour of my lodgings, and most of all I hope she decides on my place, and that it’s not too late. Though, come to think of it, the other time bluebirds hatched in there it was midsummer. Anyway, I’d love to see something like this again:
The daphne by my front door has been blooming like crazy this year; twice as big and flowery as last year, which means a double dose of its heady scent every time I come and go.
Tomorrow is the last day of January I will be doing that, but February is a good daphne month, too. It was in February many years ago now that my neighbor brought me daphne blooms at the birth of my dear Pippin. Who would have guessed that her bouquet back then would make me remember her so often, this far away in time, as I do nearly every day… The sweetness of the memory and the scent of the flowers by my door get mixed up together, and make winter delicious.
“From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
-Katherine S. White
I received a Christmas gift of flower seeds, which made me realize that I really do need to get busy and finish the upgrading of my greenhouse that was begun by my neighbor Bob in October. He supplied it with electricity and installed grow lights, but it remains for me to set up the heater, thermostat, fan and timer.
Then I can get seeds started a little earlier than would be otherwise possible during this season when the greenhouse sits in the shade of my two-story house. In the meantime, neighbor Terri and I can talk about our gardens past and future. Yesterday she gave me this heavy Pink Banana squash she grew last summer, evidently a good keeper!
I can eat one thing from the garden currently: collards — and I found a wonderful, vegan recipe for collards in coconut milk that I will try to post here. Fruit from the arbutus or Strawberry Tree got spoiled by the rain this year, but before that, at least it didn’t have anything like the mysterious pests or diseases of last year, which was a big relief.
I received New Year’s gifts in my garden, not plants flowering or fruiting but birds visiting. Their energy and personality are even more welcome when the landscape is dark. On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day a pair of Northern Flickers came by; they got my attention fast, such big birds acting like woodpeckers on the pine tree, but nothing like any woodpecker I’d ever encountered before. They hopped around the garden for hours, pecking in the bark mulch, so I had plenty of time to leaf through all the pages of Peterson’s guide until I found them. This was the most exciting Bird Event (repeated this morning!) since my first sighting of Hooded Orioles at the hummingbird feeder some years ago.
A different sort of event was when a bird flew into my slider and sat stunned on the mat for such a long time that I was able to take its picture. I had been thinking that these were some kind of sparrow, but once I got such a clear image, it was hard to fit the little creature into that family.
Attached to a suggested blog post in my WordPress feed that very evening, I glimpsed a photo that looked very much like mine. It was a blog post about Pine Siskins — what do you know! It’s Pine Siskins that I have been enjoying here for a couple of years at least.
They feed alongside sparrows, finches, and warblers, while chickadees and bushtits enjoy the suet feeder nearby. Juncos and titmice, jays and doves fly in and away. Occasionally a towhee visits… then the Cooper’s Hawk swoops down for the kill and adds drama, only three feet away from me across the glass. If I don’t take a break from watching these busy birds, I won’t get any seeds planted. Yes, that could happen….