Saturday, December 24, 2011


Already 3 weeks ago, when I first heard Bing Crosby’s dreamy crooning, I too began to dream. And even wish out loud for snow. Not mountain-top, ski-slope snow, but snow right down here in the lowlands. I know my wish was childish, say around 10 years old with a new sled under the tree. I know my wish had traffic-snarling, jet-grounding impact, but all I cared about was my dream, and well, Bing’s too, and any other number of crooners who’ve tackled the song. Ask someone who grew up in Wisconsin, there is nothing like a white Christmas.
So weeks ago I began with the dreaming. In some sort of neo-shamanistic ritual I sprinkled popcorn along the rails of the deck outside the kitchen window. I told Michael it was to entice the birds closer to the house, but under my secret wishfully dreamy breath I was also trying to entice the weather gods to give us snow.
It’s not that I am ungrateful for the incredibly mild December we’ve been having. Nor do I mind the dense fog that the inversion layer kept pushed down around our ears for weeks now. I actually like the truncated visibility, turning the swamp surrounding our farm into a gothic masterpiece inhabited by spirits wearing moss pelts and opalescent pearls of dew. I love to walk through the valley this time of year when most others avoid it.
As I walked through this river of fog a few days ago and the season hung drab all around me and my dreaming about snow crescendo’d and collapsed, a strange sensitivity awoke in me, as if the low levels of light made my eyes more sensitive to subtle color variations. We grumpily refer to this weather, the fog, as the gray as if it were one thick coat of paint over everything. But it often reads blue especially early and late in the day. Sometimes even a vague sort of yellow when there is incandescent lights near by, haloed with eery greens.
And sometimes you enter pockets of the purest white. I had entered such a pocket on my walk that day when what to my wondering eyes did appear, actually it was my ears first that caught the magnificent trumpeting. A jubilation. Then just over my head out of the white sky a flock of 8 swans, a multitude of heavenly hosts, dropped from invisibility just yards over my head. They had not seen me either and a honk-honk-honk of warning echoed among them and they banked. The breath from their 16 wings brushed my upturned face. Then they vanished in the swaddling opaque fog. As this sublime monochrome moment opened and closed a shimmer like a shutter went through me. It was nothing that electricity could duplicate. Or, alas, words convey.
By solstice the weather had shifted a little. Shifted I say because there has been no wind to speak of, no great change, just a sleeper shifting under blankets of fog and clouds. The sun broke through. At first it merely laid on the fallen leaves, the walls, the blacktop, not penetrating, not heating. Even in the bluish shadows I could see it’s presence though, cool as electricity, skittering across the pebbled pavement, the rough trunks, and the smudged window of the Salvadoran restaurant where I ate pupusas.
Then through a slow persistence that seemed to bare no force heat came through. As I walked northward from the restaurant to my parked car I could feel this heat massage it’s way through 2 layers of wool and 2 layers of cotton and touch my fog-pallid skin. I forgot about summer and everything I did to keep the suns burning rays from damaging my oh-so-pale and cancerous skin. My skin called to the sun that day, nearly lifted off my shoulders as if desperate, as if starved for the closeness of those warming rays.
The sun left that day smearing the western horizon with an explosion of oranges, reds and yellows. I tipped my hat, so to speak, knowing it was now on it’s way back. And shivered under my for layers, a little wet with sweat, as I scurried through the crowds of shoppers back to my car.
Here its is Christmas Eve already. No sign of snow, not even in the mountains, much to the skiers’ chagrin and this snowshoer’s. It seems ironic the the classic Northwest Christmas song is written by Brenda White and extols the blessings of a “Christmas in the Northwest / a gift God wrapped in green.” Looks like the lyricist name is the closest we’ll get to a white Christmas this year. Why am I so obsessed with a Christmas that is a certain color?
About 20 years ago when I was working as ‘Mr. Christmas” for Molbak’s Seattle Garden Center in the Pike Place Market, there was a big push for a jewel tone Christmas by the people selling decorations. The traditional silver and gold, red and green were being replaced by multi-syllabic colors like turquoise, amethyst and aquamarine. Classy colors. I’m all for reinventing the wheel. But when it comes to Christmas I’m a traditionalist. I don’t want any Chippendale mermen on my tree, or chili pepper lights or jewel tones.
Give me silver and gold.
Give me the mono-syllabic red and green.
And, please, oh, please give me a white day after Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Rhododendron 'Ostbo's Red Elizabeth' blooming again the day before Christmas. Eat your hear out all those of you who are blanketed in white.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I love prune brown, though I would never eat these old pear leaves, frozen, rained on, in decay. But the color to me is as rich as chocolate, savory as braised lamb, hefty as pumpernickel. Who needs pink this time of year? There’s a bucket of potatoes to be peeled for dinner.

Friday, December 9, 2011


How precious the light. I don’t care how high the price of gold goes. This time of year when the clouds break, you have to stop and catch it. Not just with the camera, or the skin, but with the very fiber of being. That is all that will sustain us until the clouds break again. Decorations are distractions, but the way this fading Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) shines under the wash of sunbeams enlivens.

Friday, December 2, 2011


As I searched through my my fiery vocabulary for a metaphor to describe the generous beauty of this sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum), I ran up against trite words like “volcanic”, “molten”, unsatisfying phrases like “engulfed in flames”. Then I tried invoking the the gem-like quality of poisonous cinnabar, or the sugary cheeriness of cinnamon bears, to no avail. I exhausted quickly up against this beauty. And then I found these words of Rabindranath Tagore:
“As the season ends let everything go in an orgy of giving away.
Come, thieves of hidden honey; come now bees—
The year has chosen to marry death and wants to give all as she leaves.”