Celebrating in the Dark

I’m about to commit a sacrilege.

Read on out of sheer, audacious curiosity, or safely avert your eyes. It’s all the same to me. Friends in Alaska, Puget Sound, the Midwest, and the East Coast brace yourselves.

Here goes:

The winter sun in Colorado stares everyone in the eyes. It’s a cheer monger. A brilliant bully. Relentless. Annoying. Its best moments happen just below the horizon, when it fires up the sky and paints with crimson the bellies of overflying geese. Otherwise, it’s an arrogant stalker. It should be arrested for indecent exposure. Hey! Try wearing a cloud or two, Mister! Would ya?

There. I’ve said it.

Really? You think I’m nuts?

I suppose I am. I need some rest. Too much sunshine makes me edgy. Just like too much dreary weather used to make me sad. Very sad.

During my sophomore year at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, the sun went missing for 16 days. Headlines told us the suicide rate shot up. I believed them.

Ten years later and still farther North, in Grand Marais, I woke one August morning from a nightmare. The green and flowering meadow where I lived was suddenly, irreversibly covered in snow. All color and contour eradicated. I wrote: It was the face of someone loved, first waxen and dead, then, fallen off to white bone.

You bet. This nightmare signaled big trouble. I was already depressed. Soon, I spent whole days unable to leave the house and had earnest thoughts of suicide. Fortunately, I found a therapist who saw me through until April.

It’s not unusual in northern climes to dread the onset of winter. There are real hardships. But our antidote was to pitch ourselves into Christmas. To prove myself among the Swedes and Norwegians, I pushed hard. I made all my Christmas gifts, and got them done on time. I baked for an army. I threw parties. After Christmas (still 4 months of winter to go), I read and wrote fiendishly. None of it helped. Each year, the onset of dread came sooner, until I felt the weight of winter nearly all year long.

In the summer following my months in therapy, my therapist handed me a copy of Psychology Today. The article he wanted me to read was about Seasonal Affective Disorder. There were my symptoms described in orderly fashion. There was an explanation of the pineal gland’s response to lower sunlight countered by our cultural training to thrust on, be outgoing, spread cheer. There were also shocking modes of dealing with S.A.D.. Back off. Avoid sweets. Exercise outside. Do less. Light candles. Take hot baths.

I decided to live.

I wrote my parents announcing my intention to not “do” Christmas. I baked just enough to warm the house with good smells. I bought strings of little white lights. I didn’t entertain. I sweated once a week in a dimly lighted, wood-fired sauna. I walked or skied or snow-shoed nearly every day. (Even 15 minutes would do). And I rested. And it worked.

Over the next couple of years, I learned to thrive in winter. Winter became my favorite season, and the winter solstice my highest holy day. I also taught myself to create ceremony. That first time, I was alone. It was the longest night. I turned out every light. The fire hummed in the stove as the darkness settled all around. As I called out to all that I knew as Holy, I felt the darkness open up to me, hold me. The darkness in me also opened up. It was as big as the night sky.

When, at last, I lit a candle, I knew the primal relief that the longest night was over. I also knew a light within me. It illumined the darkness, like starlight, without obliterating. It would carry me into my days and into the world.

Our kind evolved with a planet that has a night as well as a day. No matter how well we’re adapting to our advanced technologies, our DNA is still prehistoric. I believe we turn our backs on this truth and on darkness at great peril.

In a culture of flashy screens, glaring security lighting, and 24/7 demands, we’ve turned darkness over to the demonic, the violent, the terrifying. We feed an addiction to adrenaline. Next thing you know we’re preying on our own sanity, our own kin, our own selves. How many examples do you need? Look anywhere on the streets, in the headlines.

We’re frayed, sleepless, agitated, enraged, frightened, caustic, ineffective. We could use a deep soak, weeks of rest, a dormancy to ensure the production of fruit.

So, I will celebrate the season as I have for 30 years: In the dark, in gratitude for the dark, honoring the dark and my need for it. And in the dark, in ceremony, a place will open within me to welcome the light.

Maybe, just maybe, it will snow.

Come on, could ya? Cover up for a couple of days and give me a break? Just this once?

That would be nice. (Scroll on past the photo for an update)

The center of the Milky Way by W. Keel, University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Taken in Cerro Tablo, Chile. http://www.public.asu.edu/~rjansen/localgroup/localgroup.html

The center of the Milky Way by W. Keel, University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Taken in Cerro Tablo, Chile. http://www.public.asu.edu/~rjansen/localgroup/localgroup.html

Well, you might have guessed it. Next morning, old mister sun had pulled on a nice dark pair of clouds and sprinkled a little snow around. Tee-hee!

If you’re interested in how some other garden-blogging friends celebrate the winter season, please look in on Garden’s Eye View. Donna’s blog is rich in both heart and content.

 

Home is Where Your Madness Blooms

on the line

Last summer, hanging a week’s worth of gardening garb out to dry, I noticed that some of the T-shirts were more faded on the back than in the front. Chuckling to my self, I thought, “You know you’re a gardener when this happens.” Quicker than the proverbial wink, the question followed: When did I actually know I was a gardener? Did it really begin when grade-school-me planted carrots in the sandbox outside the kitchen door?

Those questions sprouted into something tasty, like one of those beds of multi-colored lettuces. When does a person become a gardener? Are we born this way? Does some latent gene kick in when we’re exposed to grandparents bending over a zinnia or row of beans? Or is it environmental? Is there a virus that enters through the eye, under the fingernails, or in the perfume of a peony? How do you know you’re a gardener? What are the signs? Is it madness?

I’d been listening to my own true confessions on this obsession when I encountered a blog called PJGirl. There, I learned you just might know you’re a gardener if, after an hour of gardening first thing in the morning, you realize you’re outdoors in your pajamas. Madness delighfully confirmed.

Here we are. It’s February, and all the gardeners we know (in the northern hemisphere, that is) are swooning over seed catalogs or readying shelves and window sills for those little starter pots. We’re reading books, cleaning and sharpening our tools, sorting thorugh last year’s notes and photos. We’re pining for the smell of mud and can’t wait to come into the house with wet trouser knees. Is this how we know we’re gardeners?

Well, I’d like to find out.

Gardenhood turns two this week, and I turn 60, and the questions just won’t stop.

Today’s questions: Would you like to help me celebrate? Would you be willing to share your true confession? How do YOU know that you’re a gardener? And if you say you’re not, how are you so sure? (Hint, killing plants might actually mean you are). You’ll notice there are no qualifiers here. I didn’t ask you if you’re a real gardener, a talented gardener, or even a successful one.

Let me prime the pump with a few confessions of my own.

You know you’re a gardener when watching a movie — even a thriller or a stunning romance — you’re naming all the plants. Worse yet, you pause the DVD to get a positive ID.

You know you’re a gardener, when you get what it means to have a “gardener’s gap”. Moreover, you have a swath of tan there.

You know you’re a gardener, when you miss weddings, meals with friends, and your monthly book-group meeting because it’s May.

True confessions can be posted in the comment section, or if you’d rather, send an email to gardenhood88@gmail.com.

Thank you for two great years. May your madness bloom with joy.

Returning

From the center of a clutch of undead and pirates standing with open sacks on my front porch, she chimes, “I’m a princess.”

She takes two fun-sized sweets from the basket. “I see! What is the name of your country, Princess?”

She buckles her brow while the others dip into the stash. “I’m dressed UP as a princess,” she says, unbuckling.

“Oh, I understand. I’m dressed up as a grown-up.”

She buckles up again before turning with the others, chorusing thank you down the walk.

Thus begins the fourth year in the gardenhood.

I could have stayed longer in Switzerland. My welcome was robust, and I was so at home. And yet, when I made my travel plans last summer, I wanted to be back by Hallowe’en. I’m happy feeding the goblins.

Last year, the porch was dark. I took the bag of treats to my dad’s house. My brother answered the door. I’d spent half the day planting tulips, narcissi, crocus, and lilies in a new garden. Or was that the next day?

A crew of painters worked on the trim of the portales framing two sides of the garden. One of the young men listened to his i-phone, the 1930’s sound track to The Wizard of Oz. “If pretty little bluebirds fly…” Uncanny. I remembered Dad telling me what a crush he had on Judy Garland. Dad was big on beautiful girls.  A storm was blowing in.

The year before that, I had to put a gate across the studio door. Willie the terrorizer was definitely against the idea of ghouls and toddling bunnies at the front door. This year, the flat corner lot is spooked by Edward the Handsome, a pure white cat, his sea-green eyes pale in twilight. I don’t remember if Ed hid from the begging mobs at Dad’s door last year. Last night, however, he curled and closed his eyes on the futon.

To say Ed is happy I’ve returned from Switzerland wouldn’t be a stretch. He’s spent the last two nights curled up against me in bed and breathes easy now in my lap, head bowed, ears still, answering my slight movements with tiny grasps of his huge, polydachtyl paws.

While I prepared to depart home for home, Sandy blew up the East coast. Friends on both sides of the pond worried about my flights. There was little room in me for angst as I filled my senses with final views of the village I love. Still, in thoughts that crackled like static, I wondered how new blogging friends, Kevin and Donna, were faring. Last I heard, long-ago sweetheart, Les, was living and golfing on Long Island. High school theatre comrades, Erik and Susie, pursued their dreams in NYC. Was everyone safe? How oddly grounding to have my thoughts returning to these people never-seen or last seen forty years ago as the hours droned by and the plane chased the sun to Chicago.

I’m just about 40 hours back in the gardenhood. Leaves cover lawn and beds, collect in small drifts by the chain-link fence, a perfect haunted look for celebrating the supernatural.

I’ve dragged the hose all around, run the duster over the creaking floor gathering up Ed’s generous offerings of kitty down, unpacked my suitcase, and sorted all the contents. I’ve answered all the emails, generated a few more, filled out my mail-in ballot, and paid my bills. With business taken care of and vampires plied with candy, some not-yet-returned part of my consciousness believed I would wake up this morning under Mucca and Maria’s roof. Like Griffin in Men in Black III, parallel universes converge and separate behind my eyes.

The not yet returned part of me expected to wake up here this morning.

The gardenhood waits for my integrated footsteps.

While part of me still walks here, behind Maria and little Anna-Lu, having just bought 6 loaves of fresh bread from a farm an hour’s walk through woods and pastures.

Admiring Mari-Ursla’s work.

Mumala and Anna-Lu under the fig tree in the last of summer’s sun.

Mo sccots to join them.

Stones garnered from wet places, the colors of fog and glaciers.

In the gardenhood, dry-place stones.

Nebbelmeer, a sea of fog, closed the sky over the valleys, but left the mountains in glory.

Rain.

…turned to snow.

The village disappeared from the rest of the world.

Barely visible beyond the gardenhood, the foothill neighborhood of last summer’s fire.

The newly homeless from Sandy’s wake, like those from the Waldo Canyon fire, sleep in so many hotels, spare bedrooms, and livingroom floors, certain cells of their being wondering where they will awaken. Where does a dream end and life begin?

By grace, no trauma has tossed me home from home. I’m returning by dreamy, gentle stages to the gardenhood. Yes, and though my costume is downy from a lap-full of cat, I’m still dressed up as a grown-up.

Homecoming Season

Cowbells chime, are you listening?
In the valley, a river’s glistening.
A beautiful sight.
I’m happy tonight.
Traveling to the lovely Switzerland.

Mucca watching Maria arrive at the Feriehuesli, a little cabin in the woods (2005).

The garden surrounding the Laberehuesli (Swiss dialect for the “little house on Liver Street”), isn’t just an outdoor room in the manner of landscape design parlance. It’s lived in, a place for meals and tea and reading and conversation and celebrating.

While lovingly tended it remains as tussled as curly hair allowed to dry as it will.

I know this garden almost better than my own. I know, too, every sound and scent of the house at its heart.

That’s where I’ll be for the next couple of weeks.

See you in November.

Now is the Month of Maying

While the USGS predicts a sizzling, dry summer for the gardenhood and far beyond, Spring has been among the earliest and most glorious in memory.

In the long list of glories, the 12 x  12 Cotoneaster in the back yard is dressed in shimmering pearl. The blossoms smell salty and have been dancing with bees, moths, and painted ladies. A fecund celebration.

Weeks ago, when everyone started asking, “Do you think this means we’ll have a hot summer?” I gave long, rambling answers about Colorado’s erratic weather history. Truth is: I thought so, but wasn’t saying.

Why tarnish the pleasure? No matter what lies ahead, spring will end. Don’t they all?

I’m sticking to my guns. This spring is more than revel-worthy, and revel I shall.

So, will you join me in a little musical celebration?

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass. Fa la.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness, fa la,
And to the bagpipe’s sound
The nymphs tread out their ground. Fa la.

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth’s sweet delight refusing? Fa la.
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play at barley-break? Fa la

– Thomas Morley

See you this summer!

Imbolc

The first 2012 seeds arrived on Thursday last week. They were pricey, but so worth it. Those little nuggets of promise were locally grown which, among other attributes, made them irresistible. I love that my purchase, in some small way, connects me with and helps preserve the Hobbs Family Farm in Avondale, Colorado. Knowing that these seeds were grown in soil and conditions similar to those here, on the flat corner lot, gives me an exciting expectation of success.

Provider Beans

The packets, holding four kinds of beans and Hopi Orange Squash, went from brown envelope to shoe box in a chilly closet where they continue to dream, as do I, of warming soil and fulfilled potential.

I chose heirloom and traditional varieties, yes, for the greater good, as a way to keep real foods alive and adapting to our changing world. I also chose them so that I might touch the history of this place and better feel my own roots mingle with those of the people who were nourished here for many centuries. I, too, will participate, tasting what they tasted, blessing what they blessed, saving seeds for whomever comes next.

This reaching down and backward gives me strength, fuels my sense of wonder and belonging, keeps me moving forward.

When I came across traditional celebrations based on the ancient lunar calendar of Ireland, it was like striking a tuning fork, shifting my perspective on the seasons and how to relate to them. We all know about solstices and equinoxes, and most of us grew up with those events marking the beginning of their respective seasons. We also grew up celebrating May Day and Hallowe’en, but with little understanding why.

The Old Ones from stephanhoglundphotography.com

From the very old days, however, each season begins on a day that rises between an equinox and a solstice. Think of it: Summer beginning on May Day, Autumn on the first of August, and Winter on the day after Halloween. That puts us, now, at the first day of Spring.

Although winter weather isn’t over, days are stretching and light and warmth returning. It’s truly a time to celebrate and look for the earliest signs of new life. Gardeners do this instinctively. Even when the garden is buried in snow or hunkered under heaps of leaves, trees and birds send signals. In the gardenhood, house finches practice their reckless mating trills, chickadees twee-dee, and the willows along Shooks Run blaze a brighter gold.

This year, when Punxutawney Phil pokes out his prognosticating head, dance a jig. It’s spring. No matter what his peepers see, the circling earth on her tipped axis, gives us every reason to expect a positive outcome, and that is the very definition of hope.

This is the first anniversary of Gardenhood. Thanks, so much, for coming along on the journey.