The cold slope is standing in darkness
But the south of the trees is dry to the touch
The heavy limbs climb into the moonlight bearing feathers
I came to watch these
White plants older at night
Come first to the ruins
And I hear magpies kept awake by the moon
The water flows through its
Own fingers without end
Tonight once more
I find a single prayer and it is not for men
Look at winter
With winter eyes
As smoke curls from rooftops
To clear cobalt skies.
Breathe in winter
Past winter nose:
The sweet scent of black birch
Where velvet moss grows.
Walk through winter
With winter feet
On crackling ice
Or sloshy wet sleet.
Look at winter
With winter eyes:
The rustling of oak leaves
As spring slowly nears.
My winter garden is unkempt and bedraggled. Any seedheads left in the decidedly unmanicured herb bed are magnets for the juncos, goldfinches, and chickadees. I have plenty of nyjer and black sunflower seeds in feeders, and suet cakes hang from tree branches. But the seedheads from sunflowers, oregano, lemon balm and spearmint are visited through the entire day. For the gardener this is a mixed blessing. Seeds that are shaken loose and not eaten will result in an army of volunteers. But for the birds they are a winter banquet.
The chorus from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem should be put up on every highway in America, using the old Burma-shave format. These could serve as guideposts for a chaotic and troubling time.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Many writers have articulated what I find so hard to describe, this vague uneasiness about the future we now face. Terri Windling and Sylvia Linsteadt have written compassionately about our role in keeping goodness in our world. Theirs, and other essays and posts, are remarkably positive. And the message is the same. Artists, activists, gardeners, journalists,teachers,store clerks,doctors (and the list goes on), all can contribute in small or large ways by adding to the collective light.
I have been purposely seeking out examples of individuals, organizations and businesses that contribute to the overall welfare of our complex society. Today I would like to take notice of Beth Owls Daughter and her continuing the tradition of the Solstice Advent Prayer Wreath. The concept is simple and similar to the Advent Wreath I grew up with. Each Sunday at sunset I join participants from places around the world and light a candle (or candles in successive weeks) and direct my thoughts to peace.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about focused thought. It can be easily dismissed as new age, much the same as focused prayer. But the least I can take away from lighting my candles is a sense of peace on a Sunday evening. Anything else, well, who knows?
Approach of Winter
The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
where the salvias, hard carmine,—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.
~William Carlos Williams
In his introduction to Katherine White’s collection of her New Yorker garden columns, Onward and Upwards in the Garden, E.B White wrote with equal measures of fondness and bemusement of the elaborate rituals his wife would undertake during the annual bulb planting.
As the years went by and age over took her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion–the small, hunched over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there wold be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting here with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.
And so it is. I may now use Excel spreadsheets for the plotting but the ritual continues through the years. This year I am finishing a bit late, though here in the pacific northwest our bulb planting window continues into December.
Not for the fist time I was seduced by the big warehouse bulb companies and their low prices. (They’re low for a reason!) I had found a collection that sounded good. The name alone should have raised a red flag but I ordered the BEN’S DIRTY DOZEN GRAB BAG thinking it would contain what was described on various pages. After much planning and noting a great deal of information about each selection I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that only one cultivar of the twelve described was included. All the rest were different colors, flower types and bloom times. Back to the computer, but it was raining anyway. Fortunately I also ordered from the ever reliable Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and Park Seeds, who seems now to be associated with Jackson and Perkins.
Our days are quite short now, and the storms blow through with some regularity. I, too, hunch over beds and pots in a wintry wind to plant next spring’s glory, but I feel to be in good company. I have joined the exclusive group of little old ladies “calmly plotting the resurrection”.