Which Holiday is It, Again?

I am always just a little (or a lot) behind around here.  I like life busy and crowded and interesting and very creative, so that means there are often a few loose ends.  Then throw in the occasional crisis, or diversion like my eye surgery, and things really go to pot.  So, as I geared up for the Valentine’s Day party I have thrown for my children for many years, there were some holdovers from previous holidays.

This pumpkin was one of seven which I had purchased right before Halloween when they got deeply discounted.  All the others went moldy and were composted, this one has hung on, although on its lower left flank you can see it starting to go.  We kept one pumpkin until Easter one year, whereupon it collapsed spectacularly into a puddle of goo, ruining the top of a tansu chest.  We never learn, although this one is more prudently being kept on the floor.

Then, there is the Christmas tree.  Still up, no one has lighted or watered it for weeks.  I don’t decorate for Christmas so was unable (and disinclined) to take it down because I didn’t know where any of the parts went, except the tree itself (I know where things go outside).  I made many appointments with the youngest child, who knows where all the stuff goes, but something always intervened, so we ended up with a very sad tree in the middle of February.

However, because I am also completely behind in the laundry, I had a festive, and appropriate shirt to wear for the dismantling because it was the only clean one in my closet.

Thus attired I corralled the kids and we got the tree undecorated, the ornaments put away, the boxes labeled with my spiffy new label-maker, and the rule made that in future years nobody can go back to college while the Christmas tree is still up.

dry trees shed a lot of needles

Once we got the previous holidays resolved we were able to move on to the current one.  And after a lot of cooking, and cleaning, and fussing around in the craft-supply boxes, this is what we got.

The Valentine’s Day party is a tradition of many years standing now.  It started as a surprise after-school snack for the older kids prepared by the youngest one and me when he was only two or three years old.  We cooked and decorated and made Valentines all day long and they came home to a fun event.  We all loved it, and so it continued, with the surprise element wearing out after a couple of years.  Then, as schedules got more fragmented, and Valentine’s came on the weekend a couple of times it became a party where everyone pitched in to help put it on.  The format and the menu has remained unchanged, however.

heart-shaped sandwiches and pink milk

pink-tinted rice krispie treats

sugar cookies with lemon glaze; the heart quins are new this year

chocolate cake with a powdered sugar heart

There is also fruit salad, but we have never found any way to make it thematic, so it is just cut-up oranges, apples and frozen blueberries.  Very important are the home-made valentines of various levels of effort and skill (the oldest son’s cards this year wished us all a Merry Valentine’s Day, perhaps inspired by the presence of the very dead Christmas tree).  I make a different card each year.  This year’s card I made on the sewing machine, with the heart and the spider added by hand.  The inscription read “You’ve captured my heart”.  Corniness is strongly encouraged.

We also had a new element this year, in the spirit of “use what you have”, which was the very touching heart pumpkin.  Only time will tell if this becomes a permanent part of the event.

We all had a lovely time, then once again everyone scattered, leaving this in their wake.

leftovers, yum

Sigh.  Well, at least we finally got the tree down.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody, however, and with whomever, you celebrate.

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I am a westerner through and through.  I am proud to be the granddaughter of a homesteader and a cattle rancher, I run a tree farm, I am married to the great-grandson of a man who came west alone at age 14 with a wagon train.  I’ve been shot at,  spent days walking out of the mountains ahead of a forest fire, and can kill and gut a mountain trout before cooking it over an open fire.   I am so devoted a westerner that I barely recognize that the East exists, despite the fact that our country is run from there and even the Supreme Court has become a haute-nerd version of the Harvard-Yale game.  I was in New York a couple of times as a child, loathed it, and have never been east of Denver since.

As such, one of my personal heroines has long been Mary Walker, one of the first three white women to cross the Rockies.  She was a diarist so we have a vivid picture of her time on the trail and her early years in the Oregon country.  She was the wife of a missionary, but also had a mind of her own, was a devoted student of natural history and possessed tremendous courage.  Perhaps death loses its ability to terrify if one is confident that subsequently one will be sitting at the right hand of God, but there were a lot of Christian women of the era who never forsook everything familiar in their lives to follow their husbands to the ends of the continent.   My favorite quote from her was uttered when she was in labor with her first child (she went on to have six) and said that she “almost wished that I had never been married”.  I have always loved that “almost”, that little bit of tempered rebellion in her heart against the constraints of her era, faith and gender.  At any rate, after a long and eventful life Mary started to decline cognitively.  To soothe her her children set up her old side-saddle , the one she had ridden on the trail (let us stop for a moment to think of riding to Oregon, on a SIDE-SADDLE), and there she spent hours, wrapped in her old travel cloak.  She spoke of her time on the trail, and seemed to return to that time in her own mind, when she was young, newly married, and facing the complete unknown.

I have no such adventures to recall if my mind ever starts to weaken and fail, and I certainly don’t want to spend my declining years in a side-saddle, but I have always hoped that, in such an eventuality, I would still retain the ability to read, and that my more child-like state would enable me to return to the enchanted world of children’s literature.  I read obsessively as a child,  more than 200 books in first grade alone.  I read a lot now, and whenever I feel myself starting to implode a few hours alone with a book is always the best way for me to re-boot, but I have never been able to read as wholeheartedly as I did when I was young.  Then, the world inside the book was the only one that existed.  Now, like an alert dog, I always have one ear cocked for trouble or dissension, one lobe of my brain still ruminating on problems, finances and schedules.  I don’t want my mind to fail, but if it does I hope I can find consolation in the very same books that provided so much when I was young.

In this eventuality one of the very first books I would read is Mary Poppins.  This is a book of  magic and enchantment, with improbable events presented with such complete conviction that they are rendered utterly plausible.  The world of Mary Poppins is the world of upper-middle class Edwardian London, but in many of the stories the urban world disappears almost completely.  In real life people were dying in droves breathing London’s foul air and drinking its foul water.  But in the books the stars come alive, the animals talk, and Spring is carved and painted into existence by a woman and her uncle.   Assisted by Mary Poppins they then install Spring in the park, turning it overnight from a snowy expanse to a meadow dappled with flowers and inhabited by gamboling lambs.  Nellie-Rubina is a direct descendant of Noah (of the Ark), Uncle Dodger is  her hapless flunky (and only related on the other side), and Mary Poppins in their honored guest.

I was exceedingly fortunate to have Nellie-Rubina and Uncle Dodger visit me this year.  I don’t recall them ever coming here before, and I am sure I would have remembered.  Nellie-Rubina brings spring overnight, and that is certainly what has happened here.  It was so unexpected and unfamiliar that it took me a couple of days to recognize it  First, one evening in the twilight, weeks before they should have been here, I heard the familiar, slightly hysterical calling of the robins, then I saw them scrambling around the tops of the alder trees.  Next, walking around very early in the morning when it was barely light I kept smelling a sweet, rich fragrance that surely must be exactly how hope should smell. It took me quite a while to recognize it, addled as I still am by the winter, but it was Sarcococca humilis, the clump which I took from my mother-in-law’s garden years ago and which is now three feet across and in full bloom.

Then, while digging,  I straightened up to find a witch-hazel which I had planted in the late fall studded with just a few sulfur-yellow blossoms.

Still recovering from the trauma of being moved, these weren’t enough to be fragrant but they were enough to send me on a treasure hunt through the garden for all the other witch hazels.  All of the yellow ‘Arnold’s Promise’  were in bloom, and smelled heavenly, rich and acidic at the same time.

At this point I started really looking and discovered that all the hellebores were also blooming.

And the filberts, so common, and uninteresting most of the year, have the most beautiful catkins I can ever remember seeing.

And, just one more, here are the soft, gray, furry buds on the Magnolia stellata.

Everywhere I looked there were the tips, shoots and snouts of plants emerging from the soil, and from heretofore bare, lifeless branches.  The birds are singing more, and there were even four fat, fluffed-up mourning doves in the bird feeder the other morning.  Back home from wherever they spend the harsh depth of winter, they didn’t actually feed, just sat up high and enjoyed the view.  And so, after all the months of waiting and anticipation, it was just that quick and Spring is here.  Thank you, Nellie-Rubina.


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Green on Green

Recently I was unable to garden or do much paperwork for two weeks due to the limitations imposed by eye surgery.  So I worked on knitting and quilting projects and watched the big, juicy series The Tudors.   I was captivated by this family as a teenager: such drama, such scandal, such fortitude and perseverance, such larger-than-life individuals upon whom to project my uncertain and embryonic identity.  Appalled (and enthralled) by Henry, admiring of Elizabeth, I made them the focus of many papers for years.  However, that was long ago, and I had forgotten almost everything I ever learned, so this series has been almost entirely new.  The drama is all there, but there are two peripheral aspects which captivate me almost as much.  Often when the camera pans back from the espionage, fornicating and bloodshed there is a meticulous CGI image of various parts of London, Paris or Rome as it would have looked at the time.  These images are brief, but compelling.  These places were once green!  These truly were villages that had grown, were becoming great cities, but still retained the human scale which all have now lost.  They cause a yearning in me for places I have never been, and can never go, but which are still echoed in places I have seen.  These ancient villages are entombed in their modern cities.

The other fleeting, but riveting, images in this series are the gardens.  These are not CGI, but are actual gardens, and not faked or tarted up in any way (as opposed to, say, all the women in the series). The revelation to me (since I don’t know anything about garden history) is that they are simply gardens of green, there are almost no flowers in them.  They have very few kinds of plants because, of course, the exploits of the plant explorers are centuries in the future.  And they are strongly architectural.  In the depth of every winter I always wonder if there is something I could do to give my garden more presence.  The architectural nature of these gardens and their simple plant palette are making me question my own garden.  Now is certainly the time to do so because it isn’t even finished yet.  If I am going to rip it up and start over at least now there is only half a garden to uproot!

In the series the garden we see most often is the ultimate in simplicity.  Centered by a large pool which is edged with a shaped stone coping and filled with waterlilies, it is a series of concentric ovals.  Radiating out from the pool are a gravel walkway, then a low hedge of boxwood, clipped flat, not rounded.  Finally, this is surrounded by tall walls of what appear to be pleached and clipped beech or hornbeam.  There is a fountain in the middle of the pool, and four figures surrounding it, which I ignore as being extraneous to the otherwise perfect simplicity of the garden.   Water, stone and three gorgeous plant species, plus taste, taste, taste and a laser eye for proportion.  Are the ingredients for a great garden really that simple?

I am thinking that maybe there is a fork in the garden path down which I have been walking all these years, and that it is time to take it.   I have enjoyed myself immensely, and there are still days in the spring when, incomplete and ragged as it is, my garden makes me agog with wonder at its beauty.  This is not to brag because the features of which I am in awe are the plants and the light, and I cannot claim any credit for either of those.  However, I would like to love my garden all year ’round, and I have been working toward that result unsuccessfully for a long time.

When I first started to garden seriously I read in a book by Ann Lovejoy that she allocated her garden plants by thirds–evergreen, deciduous and ephemerals (those herbaceous plants which disappear in the winter).  She seemed to know what she was was talking about, and the gardens pictured in her books were gorgeous so I took roughly this ratio as my own.  The math I failed to do, however, was that this meant that for nearly half the year the garden would only be one-third clothed, which is far too skimpy for my taste.  Also, like most gardeners, I started gardening to have flowers (in one of her books the Duchess of Devonshire says, as I recall, that gardeners start with flowers then move on to bark, leaves and then the undersides of leaves).  I still love flowers, and leaves are really growing on me (I have a couple of plants which I grow solely because their leaves are beautifully reticulated in bright yellow), but more than anything else I increasingly crave GREEN in the depth of winter and the height of summer equally.

In recent years I have added green with a small lawn, and by planting many dwarf conifers and boxwoods, both of which seem to like it here.  That is helping, but the effect is still spotty and unsatisfying in the winter.  Perhaps that is partly because the garden is so young, and so the plants are still small, but it feels like there is another element missing.  My garden lacks the structure which I see in these Elizabethan gardens.  But I don’t want the fussiness of parterres or boxwood knot gardens.  I can’t be counted on to maintain twelve-foot high hedges with crisp edges and smooth walls.  And I don’t live in the 16th century.

Then last week I went to a lecture at the Garden Club given by the venerable landscape architect Wallace K. Huntington.  The topic was his own garden in the French Prairie area.  Huntington and his wife, interior designer Mirza Dickel, restored the historic William Case house from a shambles and then Huntington surrounded it with a stunning two-acre garden of his own design.  The lecture was too retrospective for my tastes since all I wanted were pictures of the garden as it is today, but the few current slides which he showed made my mouth water.  Again, I was overwhelmed by the greenness of it, and just as I had felt watching The Tudors I yearned to be enveloped in that green.  Huntington’s garden still had structure, but it was so much more informal.  There is lots of boxwood, but it is often left natural or just loosely clipped.  The garden is well established so these plants are big and billowing.  There is also lots of lawn and there are big, mature Douglas firs.  Within this structure he does have flowers, including a large number of magnolias, which is  a special plant to him.  But the overwhelming impression is of green.

I have not decided exactly how all of this information is going to change my direction, but I am certainly looking at my garden with new eyes.  And I keep thinking that this is not a change I can “tweak” into existence.  I am thinking that I will really need to start over, with a clean slate and an actual plan, which I have never had.  Despite all this, however, my eye now healed, I went out into the garden today and continued to do what I do: plant,  move,  weed, water and mulch.  It was as satisfying as always, no less so because it may all have been work that will sooner or later be undone.

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Happy New Year

I have always found it a bit odd that we celebrate the new year ten days after the winter solstice.  It seems so clear to me that the solstice represents the depth and end of the old year, and that the returning sun can only be emblematic of the year returning as well.   Perhaps the ten-day lag was the work of some superstitious medieval functionary who wanted to make absolutely certain that the sun was really going to come back this time before we drank all the mead and depleted our stores of explosives (did they even have explosives back then?  Maybe in China?).  You can’t be too careful with these huge cosmic events.  Anyway, we have had the solstice, and, comfortingly, the ten days have passed, the days are clearly getting incrementally longer, and now we are at the new year.  I will spend the next three months incorrectly dating all documents that come my way, but other than that my mental image of the next few weeks is that we are slowly climbing our way out of a very deep basement.  Trudge, trudge, trudge we go back up to the light, following in the footsteps of Persephone, of Orpheus, even of Theseus as he left the Minotaur’s labyrinth.  I celebrate the sun and the light every day and any daylight after 5 PM fills me with joy.  It is still too early to see much change in the garden, especially with this very wintry, cold weather.  Our huge oceans keep the effect of the solstices offset for some time, so I will not expect to see any real change until Valentine’s Day when spring comes for me and my garden.

However, a glimpse of the near future was provided for me in a blog that I follow.  Margaret Roach was, at one time, the editor of the magazine Martha Stewart Living.  I have a few clippings of her houses and her garden, and have long admired both.  Her taste is simple, but detailed, her style very clean but still rich.  In short, I am more interested in her point of view than in Stewart’s.  A year or so ago she left the corporate world and moved full-time to her country house in upstate New York.  Her blog is awaytogarden.com, which is also the title of her first book, published a number of years ago.  Another book of hers entitled and I shall have some peace there is coming out in a month or so.  In her most recent blog post she included a video of Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape designer and plantsman, in his wonderful garden just as it was emerging from winter.  The subject of the video is hedging, but as the camera pans the beds enclosed by the hedges there is this wonderful picture of all the truly nose-like snouts of the perennials emerging from the ground into the sunshine.  And at the very end of the video Mr. Oudolf says “From today on it will only get better.”  I loved the optimism of that statement, especially from a man who has been around for a while and has doubtless experienced more than his share of horticultural heartbreaks since he gardens not only for himself but also for clients.  Nevertheless, he looks at his garden and sees only hope.   So that is my New Year’s wish for all of us.  That from today on it will only get better: brighter, greener, flowerier, warmer, lusher.  The weather, even though very cold, has been obliging us with beautiful sunshine and an exquisite sunset tonight.

I hope it is an omen of hope for us all.  The sun is ever so slightly farther north already, and even though it is cold, the promise of warmer days is just around the corner, and with that warmth the earth will burst forth once again with its unimaginable riches.  So, hunker down for a little while longer, but when the time comes I hope your compost is crumbly, your spade sharp, that you always prune just the right branch and that your plants fruit and flower as never before.  Happy New Year.

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It happens every year around this time.  I encounter a run of difficult weather that defeats even my gung-ho “let’s garden all the time” attitude.  Yesterday it was a two-inch rainfall.  I went out, but only to walk the dog, and I even carried an umbrella.  I have a wussy dog who spends the beginning of our walk trying to convince me that this is a really stupid idea and that we should turn back right now and sit by the furnace vent (or, preferably, in it) until winter is over or our bladders have exploded.  She has a variety of hopeful faces for this effort, but her trump card is when she just refuses to go any further.  She stands, watching me walk away, miserable, casting longing glances at the front door, and then looking back to me.  The intent is to get me to capitulate and return to the front door and the house and all the warm, dry, windless delights therein.  I have a bigger trump card, however, which is that I am the alpha.  I am a good alpha, I never waver, she never wins, I always do.  We go walking into the wind, the rain, the snow, the hail, even the darkness with the scary creaking trees, undaunted by her dislike of everything other than a mid-day 68 degrees with a high overcast (she’s from L.A.). And, just like a three-year-old, she finally likes it.  After a few minutes she stops looking pleadingly towards the house and does dog stuff, sticking her nose into meaningful holes in the ground, sniffing the same blackberry vine, where something incredibly serious obviously happened, every day without fail, trotting and running.  We always have a good walk, but also like a three-year-old, that never really registers, so we go through the very same routine the next day and all winter long.

So I did go out, but even with the umbrella I got very wet, and gardening with an umbrella is really difficult so there was no gardening.  Not even my fall-back of potting on the porch.  Instead I filed.  And watched that wonderful, riveting, addictive, surreal television series Mad Men on dvd.  I spent the whole day filing, throwing out my goal of 50 pieces of paper (give or take) a day, and getting the rest into files so that I can find them if needed (it isn’t about storage, it is ALL about retrieval).  In the process I found many pages torn from magazines that contained pictures of mouth-watering plants that I intend to grow someday, projects (like a flock of topiary boxwood chickens!) that I hope to undertake, and routines that I would love to get established.  My files are full of wishes and dreams, just like my head, only now they are better organized and more accessible; my head is notoriously random.

And all I can think now is that I really hope and pray that I have a lot of somedays ahead of me because I have enough to do in the garden to fill up several lifetimes.  Geoffrey Chaucer, quoting Hippocrates, wrote “the life so short, the art so long to learn”.  Chaucer was referring to love, Hippocrates to medicine, but really it applies to everything.  Just as we are starting to get good at something our powers start to slip away.  And when we find our passion in mid-life our powers are already going before we even get started.  Until that time machine gets invented, however, we just take what we have, and do with that.  I do not know if my garden will ever get anywhere close to being completed because, in some twist of Xeno’s paradox the goal gets ever farther away even while I work towards it (flocks of topiary chickens and the like are definite goal stretchers).  But I keep working on it because if we don’t have passion, and goals in our lives they are poor beyond reckoning.  So, while I take my little weather-enforced break (today it is snowy), I am also celebrating my garden in all its incompleteness, in all its imperfection, in all of its presence mostly in my head, on paper, in the future, and in other non-existent realms.  Maybe someday it will be realized, maybe not, time and circumstance will tell.  But I keep dreaming, and keep working, and that gives my days meaning and hope.  And, in my life at least, that is enough.

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Happy Winter Solstice

It is finally here, the day I start dreading on June 21st, and then start looking forward to about November (just looking forward to getting it over with, and yes, every single year).  A big part of the problem in winter for me is the way the garden goes to pieces about mid-October to mid-November.  This year that was hastened by our unseasonable cold snap that literally froze the flowers as they bloomed and did not permit us to even have that fragile fading into winter we usually experience.

Despite that, however, it has been a wonderful prelude to winter this year.  I have loved all my time out in the garden, doing the most prosaic tasks, tidying, straightening, seeing the structure of the plants when they aren’t covered with all those leaves and flowers.  It has also been a lovely, and very dramatic, autumn to be outside.  I don’t remember the sky and the clouds being as beautiful day in and day out in any other year.  I don’t trust my memory that much any more, so it may just be that I don’t remember that every fall is this beautiful, or it may be that the mental lenses through which I see these days have changed so much.  I feel ever more intensely how grateful I am to have gotten the chance to be present on this stunning, complex planet.  Watching the clouds as they move with infinite variety across the sky, seeing the sun set in a slightly different spot every night, feeling the minute variations in the intensity and direction of the wind, the moisture content of the air, smelling the plants, the trees, the earth, all of these activities fill me completely with wild joy.  Each moment is unique and unrepeatable.  If I miss one it is gone forever, so it makes each seem even more precious, more important to experience and savor.  My years of dreading winter have finally been replaced with the ability to enjoy the small pleasures that winter brings, to shrink my expectations to the scale of the season.  I do not want to waste a moment with dissatisfaction, disappointment or dismissal.

Today was no exception.  I went out quite late, and did not expect to stay out long because my hands get so cold, but then, after a session of weeding and raking, as I was briskly putting my tools away suddenly my hands warmed up, and I was able to stay out much longer.  I filled another tub with spent iris leaves and unwanted grasses, and then, since I was stepping on my plants in the darkness, I took the dog for one last walk.  As I headed to the southwest I got a wonderful solstice gift.  The sun had already set, but the clouds parted to the the southwest, and there was beautiful light just at that southernmost point of the sun’s annual arc.

It is the shortest day of the year, but I was able to get every possible drop of light from it after all.

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In The Night Garden

I have been so pressed for time these days with all the non-gardening items on my list that I often don’t get out into the garden until quite late in the day.  I have a powerful Puritan need to do all my necessary work before my gardening.  This has two consequences:  I do all the mundane stuff carrying around a big load of resentment, and the garden gets the absolute worst of me.  I go out when I am tired, distracted, and often frustrated and irritable.  Generally the act of gardening solves all of these problems, but in the meantime I haven’t gardened as well as I might have earlier in the day.  I suppose the day that I say that these priorities are completely out of whack is the day I truly become a gardener instead of a mom/bookkeeper/air traffic controller/medic/volunteer/chauffeur who gardens.  I do hope to be around long enough to see that day.

However, like almost every other experience in this life (there a number of very notable exceptions, but that is beyond the scope of this blog; I am talking about more run of the mill daily disappointments and problems), there has been a significant silver lining to this.  I go out late, and night falls early, and I keep gardening in the dark.  Sometimes there are lights on inside the house which shine out the windows, but for these I am at the mercy of those who are inside, and their movements around the house.  There are a couple of outside lights around the house on motion sensors that I trigger so I have not fallen down the stairs and broken an ankle, but there is also enough ambient light, and the twilight extends long enough that I can generally see to do a variety of activities.  Moving the potted plants as I have been doing for the last few weeks doesn’t require much finesse.  Tidying in general is pretty easy.  I can sweep, dump compost, load barkdust, rake leaves and even spread wood chips on the paths.  Pruning is out, as is plant placement, or even much planting.  It can be hard to tell the difference between a desirable plant and a weed, so I don’t try, but that still leaves me lots to do.  Consequently I have been out after sunset for the majority of nights since we switched to daylight savings time (or away from it, I honestly don’t know how it works) in November.

This has been a simply lovely experience.  I have gotten to see the new moon rise for two months in a row.  The clouds turn subtle, complex colors, tinted both by the setting sun and by reflected city lights,  and form fantastic, shifting shapes.  The stars appear to twinkle both more brightly and more vigorously when the air is cold and drier, and the sky seems darker and therefore even more infinitely deep than ever.  The human sounds recede.  There are fewer cars and airplanes.  Nobody is using those infernal power mowers or leaf blowers.  The barking dogs are indoors.  The only consistent sounds are the wind in the trees, the occasional wail of a coyote and the scuffing of my rake, broom or feet.  Some nights I am wrapped in solitude, enveloped in a cloud and unable to see 50 feet away.   Other nights are clear and I can see 50 miles, past the bright lights of towns in the valley, out to the mountains where no lights shine, and whose silhouettes grow dimmer as the sun recedes behind them.  Beyond those mountains is the Pacific, and while I cannot see it, I always imagine it and its unceasing activity; the waves rolling onto the sand one after the other.

The weather here is always different.  Some nights have been almost warm, others so cold that I have to keep moving or the cold will start to hurt.  Sometimes there is a bit of rain, or a downpour, or it is dry, or all the speeds in between for which we natives invoke our precisely defined language of precipitation.  The wind is nearly always a constant up here on top of the hill.  Its character and temperament, however, change daily, and sometimes its direction does, too.  One night not long ago I experienced the prelude to a few days of the east wind that brings our clear, cold weather in the winter.  After over 50 years here I have never experienced this with such clarity.  The wind was blowing steadily from the west, there was no rain.  Then it stopped abruptly, there was no perceptible diminution, just sudden stillness.  The air felt so warm, soft and velvety; a tangible benign presence.  I just stood still and drank in the quiet and the calm.  This lasted for about ten minutes, and then just as abruptly the east wind, cold and harsh even in its first moments, curled around the side of the house in a strong gust.  I zipped my jacket more snugly against my throat and resumed my work.

This is a gift night brings to a gardener.  The shape and color which so preoccupy our daylight hours are gone, giving us the opportunity to feel the less obvious forces in our lives.  During a good storm from the west I can smell the beach and the ocean in the wind and the rain.   The feel of the air on my cheek (about the only skin I expose this time of year) thrills me with its infinite array of sensations.  The sound of the wind is likewise infinite in its variety and produces a symphony from the forest.  I hear the animals settling in for the night, or getting started on their rounds.  A crash in the woods might be a branch falling or a deer leaping.  If the elk come through they usually do so at dusk or later and their musk is powerful drifting hundreds of feet beyond their location and lingering for hours.  Sometimes the females will call for many minutes, an unearthly sound somewhere between a bugle and a foghorn.

There is one final gift that the night gives me and that is near-perfection in my garden.  Like vaseline on the lens of a camera directed at an aging movie star, sometimes in gardening, especially in the winter, the less information the better.  The lack of light turns the dead sticks of the Joe Pye weed into a dramatic sculpture.  In the daylight this is just another uncompleted chore, but at night it is a landmark and a feature.  It is at night that I am most grateful that my paths are simple and wide, and therefore easy to navigate.  At night light from inside the house shines across the lawn pleasingly, just reaching the edge of the stone wall.  I am happy with the proportions I have achieved there, with which I struggled for years.  I love the way the garden segues into the woods at night, it is much less subtle in the daytime.  For me the winter garden has always been a problem, too much bare ground, too many twiggy deciduous plants, too much gray and brown.  Nighttime erases all those problems.  Distance gets flattened, washed-out color gets deepened to that almost black that is actually a rich midnight blue and mistakes and flaws are impossible to see.  I love my garden in the dark.

So give it a try, take out a lawn chair, and maybe a cup of tea.  Sit back and appreciate your garden and the night.  Just remember to bundle up, you never know when the wind might change!

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