Sunday, December 31, 2006

A wish for the new year

Abandoned cranberry bog at Whitesbog in the Pine Barrens

"No year stands by itself, any more than any day stands alone. There is the continuity of all the years in the trees, the grass, even in the stones on the hilltops. Even in man. For time flows like water, eroding and building, shaping and ever flowing; and time is a part of us, not only our years, as we speak of them, but our lives, our thoughts. All our yesterdays are summarized in our now, and all the tomorrows are ours to shape." - Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

My friend Kathy and I went to Whitesbog yesterday hoping to see the Tundra Swans that winter there. We didn't find any swans, nor did we find any sign of winter. The closest we came to any waterfowl were a few shed feathers - white - on the shoreline of one of the abandoned bogs about two miles into our walk. So the swans are there somewhere in that big emptiness. The Pine Barrens feel truly barren at this season; there is nothing but the wind and the sun, and yesterday, the company of a friend.

A more results-oriented person might say that we saw nothing yesterday in our six hours of wandering; because we didn't see the swans we set out for, but I would disagree. Turkey vultures were our chaperones as we followed deer and raccoon tracks along the elevated dikes of the bogs and there was the play of sunlight on the tea-stained water of the bogs. We caught glimpses of the pygmy pine forest along one of the many roads that bisect the barrens and found pitcher plants amid the spaghum moss at Webbs Mill Bog. Even in this time of rest that should be winter but is not, even in this barren place there is beauty and promise for spring and the new year.

My wish at year's end is that we shoud all find hope and beauty, even the unexpected, in the coming new year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

*Good Planets* here in January

I'll be hosting Good Planets on Saturdays during the month of January. Anyone is welcome to submit photos depicting the beauty of our earth to me at lc-hardy AT comcast DOT net for inclusion in the carnival.

If you're not familiar with it, Good Planets was started back in August by Robin Andrea and Roger of Dharma Bums as a way to showcase and share the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Their call for photos has grown into a weekly carnival and now has its own Flickr gallery maintained by Pam from Tortoise Trail.

Be sure to check out this week's photos at Journeys with Jood and please consider submitting a photo or two during the month.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Longwood Christmas

Comparing the conservatory at Longwood Gardens to a greenhouse gives the wrong impression. When I think of a greenhouse, I think hoses and dirt and uncomfortable heat. The conservatory at Longwood is a 4 acre garden that just happens to live under glass. You stroll from garden to garden hardly aware that you're inside at all, except for the occasional temperature change when entering one of the areas with plants that have special needs.
The only other *famous* garden I've visited is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, so I don't have much to compare it with, but I was very impressed. Everywhere I looked there was something beautiful and absolutely no sign of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into caring for a garden of this magnitude. I did not see a single insect and every plant, every leaf was in perfect condition. How do they do that with more than 200,000 visitors during the Christmas season?
The photos I'm sharing today were taken in the main holiday display areas - the Orangery, the East Conservatory, and the Exhibition Hall. The other areas also had holiday displays, but they were more subtle and in keeping with each garden's theme. The pic above is the 25 foot Douglas Fir decorated with a living garland. Of course I didn't write down the name of the plant and can't remember what it was, but it reminds me of an artemesia.
Poinsettias were everywhere, of course, and while I don't much like this plant, I do have to say that they looked very pretty. Narcissus, amaryllis, primroses, and lilies were heavily used. I liked all but the lilies; too strongly-scented and associated with Easter (and funeral homes) in my mind to enjoy them.
Here's a plant combination you'd never see together but under glass - tulips in the foreground and winterberry holly in the background. The holly was used in most all of the displays and was striking! Does anyone know if winterberry holly is deciduous? I don't grow it, but my husband was surprised to see a holly without any leaves and I wonder if they weren't removed just for effect. Will have to look that up in one of my garden books.

I bought a few of the books for sale in the gift shop that describe the history of the gardens and have pictures from all seasons. Were my first visit in the spring or summer I don't know that I would have even bothered to go into the conservatory - the outdoor gardens and fountains are so beautiful in the photos. I plan to visit again and see it at all seasons.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

12/28/06 Mid-week bunny fix

This explains why Santa didn't bring any gifts for the bunnies - Boomer ate his list!

I'd been trying to get some *posed* pics of the bunnies to maybe use next year on Christmas cards and brought the Santa doll from its usual spot just outside the bunny room and placed it next to where they were lounging. For the most part they were afraid of it; then they did what all bunnies seem to do to learn about new things - they tested it with their teeth. They are very suspicious of anything new or out of place and will approach the suspect object on tippy-toe with their necks stretched out - very cute to see this survival strategy in action. Usually it's nothing more dangerous than a misplaced dog toy, but anything smelling like the dog is enough to send them to the other side of the room with a thump.

They'd been investigating the Santa doll for a week or so during their daily forays into the living room - they still won't hang out in there other than a quick dash behind the couch - and I had hoped they were comfortable enough with it that I might get a few cute pics. Not exactly what I had in mind, but they made me laugh, as usual.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Longwood Gardens at Christmas

I've always wanted to visit Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. This is their centennial year and my husband and I have the week off, so we decided to take the trip today and see their Christmas display. Of course this week after Christmas is their busiest and neither of us do well with crowds, most certainly not after 2+ hours in the car, but the crowds weren't bad until we were ready to leave.

We spent a few hours wandering around the indoor conservatory and then walked the grounds for an hour or so at dusk and left just as the outdoor lights were looking their best. I had to do a lot of experimenting with the camera to be able to get decent pics of the gorgeous light festival, but I managed a few to share. This first pic is a favorite from the Beech Allée; at the end of a dozen or more Beech trees was a display of snowflakes and stars that seemed to be falling from the sky.

This blue spruce at right was gorgeous decked out in frosty blue lights and icicles. This is the main tree in the fountain garden which is done all in blue lights - really beautiful.

There was a lot that we didn't take the time to see in our hurry to be on our way home, like the ice-skating performance and lighted fountain show. I enjoyed just wandering along and seeing the way each tree was lighted to its best advantage. Many of the light displays had a garden theme - daffodils, crocuses, lilacs and wisteria formed from lights were blooming in the garden beds along the pathways - very unique and beautiful, but hard to photograph in the dark.

Tomorrow I hope to share some pics from the conservatory.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Year in review meme

From Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest. The idea is to post the first sentence of the first post of each month.

It occured to me today that I hadn't yet posted a photo of my first bunny, Miss Buns. More...

Here comes February, a little girl with her first valentine, a red bow in her wind-blown hair, a kiss waiting on her lips, a tantrum just back of her laughter. More from Borland...

March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievious smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice. More from Borland...

April Fool's Day is usually when we resume feeding the goldfish, using cheerios at first, because they're easily digested. More...

When I was a newly-minted master gardener I went out and bought two great reference books so that I would sound smart when answering questions on the helpline or during community events where we volunteer. More...

June is the year at the altar, a bride with a bouquet of roses and forget-me-nots, veiled with morning mist and jeweled with dew, gowned with sunrise and romantic as a full moon. More from Borland...

My friend Michelle sent this along to me tonight - can you imagine watering all these pots? More...

August is the year at early harvest, a farm wife with a baby napping in the crib, a preserving kettle on the stove, fryers in the freezer, new potatoes in the pot, and a husband in the hayfield baling the second cutting. More from Borland...

Can I rant a little about work? More ranting...

This month's edition of The Festival of the Trees, celebrating trees and tree-ish things, is up at Hoarded Ordinaries. More...

November is the aging year, a woman whose Springtime children have grown and gone their way but whose hair is often spangled, whose gray eyes are often alight, and whose dress of grays and browns is neither dour nor dowdy. More from Borland...

December is the year in age and wisdom, a woman with starlight in her frosted hair and a snowflake on her cheek and a sprig of holly on her coat. More from Borland...

A new year of blogging will soon be upon us and with it the challenge of 365 days worth of posts. Some days it's so easy; on others I'm glad to have the regular weekly or monthly fixtures like the Borland posts or the bunny fixes that don't require very much thought. I haven't decided yet what I'll do instead next year, but will have to come up with something besides Borland's monthly musings, as much as I enjoy them.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Santa was good to us...

He brought that macro lens that I had asked for and he brought my husband the 24-in-1 ladder thingamajig that he wanted. There was food and laughter and the chance to spoil our nieces and nephews and Richie's mom in a way that we wouldn't usually.

We had the evening to ourselves to enjoy our gifts. I had to take a few pics with the new lens to show my husband what it can do; in the same way he had to take the ridiculously heavy ladder out of its box and demonstrate for me just what its purpose is. I think both of us are glad to have the other ask for a particular gift - I don't much care what it is or what it does - only that he wants it and wouldn't buy it for himself. We're not extravagant people, but at Christmas it's nice to throw frugality to the wind.

As happy as I am with Santa bringing the macro lens that I wanted, it's not my favorite gift. Actually, there are two favorites. One, from my husband, is a tree identification guide that he picked out all by himself. I love it because it's useful and shows that he does sometimes listen to me when I rant about wanting him to help me learn trees. The other favorite, pictured at right, was made by my brother Brian and is a model of our church. He made it entirely from cardboard to look like the village buidlings that surrounded the train set we had as kids. My SIL had been telling me for weeks that Brian was making me something, so I didn't know what in the world to expect. I never would have expected this.

Anyone want to share what their favorite gift was, expected or otherwise?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Topsy-turvy tree

Happy Christmas to you! Yes, it's supposed to look that way.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Festive frog

This frog perched pondside is the extent of our outdoor decorating this year - I like it, but worry that it might be keeping the fish awake! My husband loves outdoor decorations and would have the yard filled with obnoxious stuff if I let him have his way. He came home with this gem following an unsupervised shopping excursion with his brother a few weeks ago. It makes me laugh when I see it there in the middle of the dark yard, so it can stay.

We're just about ready for company tomorrow; the house is mostly clean, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, and my husband is out doing the traditional *cookie run* to our friends. In good years we bake; the last few we've bought delicious trays of the best Italian cookies we can find to give as gifts for neighbors and coworkers. I have some cooking to do still and then plan to spend the rest of the night staring at our pretty tree from the couch.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Winter!

"Thus the beginnings of a solemn festival of peace and hope and understanding in which nations the world over join this week. A festival of life newborn when the year is at its nadir, of faith and hope in the midst of Winter dark. A festival of lights and greens and gifts and prayers, for its symbols and its ceremonies are many and diverse among the nations. But everywhere a festival of peace and goodwill, vigorous and verdant as the greens we gather now." - Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Thursday, December 21, 2006

12/21/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Santa dropped the ball with not having these available in time for Christmas delivery. Just what every bunny-loving gadget geek needs!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just the thing

The past week at work has been crazy with holiday parties, cookies and fattening goodies everywhere you look, and coworkers bearing gifts for one another. In the midst of so many distractions I've been trying to get my desk cleaned up so that I can have a week's vacation without feeling too much anxiety about the state of affairs I will return to after New Year's. So far I haven't made very much progress, but I hope at least that my office phone won't be ringing off the hook the whole time I'm away from my desk.

The small group of people that I work directly with has a gift-giving routine of one sort or another each year. Some years we do a grab bag, but the last few years we've been doing a Secret Santa where each person draws a name and buys a gift for a particular person. This year each of us included a wish list to help with purchases and that seemed to make everyone happier about the gifts they received.

Some of us also exchange gifts more privately, and that's the point of what I want to write about tonight. I bought Julie Zickefoose's book, Letters from Eden, for two of my coworkers. For Anna, I thought it might be something of a stretch; a gift given more to reflect my interests and share some of the passion that I feel for nature. For Kathy, I knew it was just the thing. Or at least I had hoped so.

I'm really terrible at buying gifts for people and struggle to come up with ideas. But this gift, this book, is perfect for her and I knew it as I watched her flipping through the pages this morning when I gave it to her. She was admiring the artwork and kept returning to this page and the illustration of the bullfrog and hummingbird. That was sort of a surprise because I had expected to see her pouring over the turkey vulture drawings because she thinks of tv's as her totem, but no; it was this page and an opossum in another essay that caught her eye.

I wish that I knew more people that I could share this book with, it is just so beautiful. I say that without even having really allowed myself to read it yet. The artwork is so wonderful and lovingly drawn. It was just the thing my friend needed this day.

Thank you, Julie, for putting a smile on my friend's face.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas tree bird count

Birdchick wondered if anyone had any fun bird ornaments, so I thought I'd post a few pics of some of the ones that grace our tree. We used just the glass ornaments to decorate this year, so the really *fun* ones stayed tucked away in the attic. If you're a bird lover, I'm sure you have lots of *fun* bird ornaments that people have given you over the years. I'm not talking about nice ornaments; I mean the cheesy ones that people grab because they have a bird somewhere on them. I've got quite a few of those (that don't resemble any natural bird I've ever seen) - mostly given by my SIL. And Kevin, not your wife, you know which SIL I'm talking about here! The type of ornaments that make you hesitant to admit to a hobby, for fear of what you might find wrapped beneath the tree with your name written on the tag.
Junior wanna-be?
Sometime before Christmas I need to learn how to take in-focus photos of the tree and ornaments.
Had I wanted to be cruel, I'd have posted fuzzy pictures of the not-quite-accurate, but still pretty ornaments and asked you to identify them.
These may be hard enough to ID without a good imagination. In addition to birds on our tree, we have lots of butterflies, dragonflies, and many other insects and animals thanks to the NWF catalog. They make nice sets and have new designs each year. My husband is a good customer.
The last few years they've offered lots of owls and herons, but only this eagle and no other hawks. I'd like a red-tail or maybe a handsome kestral.
We have a few ducks, mostly some variety of mallard, but this wood duck is a favorite. What's on your tree?

Monday, December 18, 2006

First trip to the Adirondacks

My first visit to the Adirondacks was on our honeymoon. We spent most of the week in Lake Placid NY and I fell in love with the mountains and all the trees. It snowed day after day during our stay. Neither of us are skiers, but we took advantage of the weather with lots of snowball fights, ice-skating, and evenings by a warm fire. We moved from one bed and breakfast to another, getting a sampling of what each had to offer. Two were rustic-type ski lodges, and the third was a fancy Victorian style place that made us a fabulous dinner on Christmas Eve.

Being away from home at Christmas was actually really nice because we were removed from all the usual hustle and bustle. Christmas night was a little lonely and we had to struggle to find a place that was open for dinner; if I remember right, I think we found an Italian place and had dinner early - traditional lasagna, of course.

I've been back to Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain (pictured at right) many times since, but always in early summer when the fields are covered with blooming orange hawkweed and the sound of a running stream is somewhere in the distance. The Adirondacks are beautiful then, but seeing it for the first time, so stark and white and cold, is something I will always remember. I have dreams of moving there, when we're old and gray, to live beside some quiet lake in the middle of nowhere. When I imagine that day in the future, it's always a winter's day with snow falling and a view of the ice on the lake outside my front window.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Anniversary day

Today is our wedding anniversary - 13 years ago I was at the most expensive party I barely remember! I picked out a few of my favorite photos to share - bear with me as I reminisce. It was so cold on that Friday night when we were married.
I arrived at the church in the traditional way, but my husband and his groomsmen came on the back of a firetruck - too bad there's no pics of that!
Our church was gorgeous - a friend of mine says that to this day it was the most beautiful wedding she has ever been to. There were candles burning in the windows and the pews were decorated with sprigs of pine and gold bows that a friend from work made for me. We also had the church bell-ringers playing carols while the guests waited for the show to start.
Detail of my flowers (white roses, stephanotis, and holly with just a few red berries) and dress (off the rack on sale!) and beautiful wedding rings. I remember being totally surpised by the cold and people tossing rice at us as we left the church - this is one of my favorite pics of the day.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Christmas Church

While out and about to do some shopping today, my husband and I visited a church in the neighborhood where I grew up. It's always been a favorite of mine because of its Christmas ministries and their beautiful candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

I tried getting a nice pic of the poinsettia star in the sanctuary, but even climbing up the stairs to the balcony didn't help much. The star is about 15 feet across and made up of hundreds of plants - really very pretty. Part of why my husband and I chose Christmastime for our wedding is because churches are so beauitiful at this time of year that we didn't need to spend any extra money on flowers to decorate with.

The church also has a few displays that tell the story of Christmas and of the life and ministry of Jesus. I wasn't able to photograph either, but there is a reproduction of Herod's Temple and a Putz. The Putz is a sound and light show that brings the story of the nativity to life with a 40 foot model of Israel and the three main cities of the Christmas Story.

Outside the church is a creche with donkeys, sheep, and goats - which of course is my favorite of all the displays. The church has been doing this for more than 50 years and it draws a lot of people to the site who then wander inside the church and maybe learn a bit more of the meaning of our Christmas celebration. The creche was what first brought me to visit this church as a teenager, and I have nice memories of attending services on Christmas Eve and then stopping by the creche to see the animals in the quiet after midnight on Christmas Eve.

I was a little bothered by signs on the fence letting the public know that the church has the animals checked out by a veterinarian and the SPCA and reminding us that they are farm animals and able to withstand our *frigid* NJ winters and are well-supplied with food. Apparently they've had a hard time with people worrying over the welfare of these animals! That didn't stop a lady from feeding them two loaves of white bread, despite the signs asking that the public not feed them, never mind the hay strewn about everywhere for the animals to eat. Some people just can't help being silly, I guess.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I'd rather be...

I gave my final exam last night and am desperate now to get them marked and final grades done. I'd much rather be doing anything else. I'm trying so hard to concentrate, but keep getting distracted by the lights on the tree, the funny stories you all share on your blogs, the bunnies scampering about, you name it!

I'm glad to see this semester coming to an end and will be glad for the break from students until mid-January when I'll start all over again. This semester has been the least enjoyable and least rewarding in the 5 years I've been teaching at the college, mostly due to the change in curriculum that was implemented by my department. It's not working for my students and their final exams make that fact all too obvious.

Anyway... don't mean for this to turn into a rant... back to that stack of papers. Have a great night!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

12/14/06 Mid-week bunny fix

For the past couple of years I've done a Christmas Card Swap with other members of the PetBunny email group; most years there are about 40 people who exchange cards. Most often the cards have *bunnies* as a theme, but as you can imagine these are hard to come by at Christmastime, so instead some people make beautiful handmade cards or send photos. Sometimes people will also send along a little gift with the card.

This year I decided to send refrigerator magnets with my cards. I made the mosaic above from some favorite pics on Flickr and asked a friend of my husband's (who owns a sign shop) to print up the magnets for me. We got them tonight and they turned out beautifully, plus he did them for free! Now I just need to find some nice bunny cards to mail them in.

The card swap is one of my favorite things about the PetBunny list - most of the members are total strangers to me, but we all share a fondness for pet rabbits. Each Christmas the bunnies here get more cards than my husband and I do!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A story of cedars and flutes

The Eastern Red Cedar is a vital source of shelter for birds and mammals in winter and the popularity of its berries is evidenced by its ability to quickly populate abandoned fields and disturbed areas. Berries are borne on female plants; the males have tiny cones that spread pollen in late winter. Due to its resistance to rot, the wood is often used for fenceposts or in furniture making. American Indians use the wood for flute-making and LauraO at Natural Notes 3 prefers them for her Christmas Tree.

Laura's mention of flute-making in that post sparked my curiosity and I found this American Indian story to explain why cedars are prized for flute-making. I don't know that I've ever heard the sound of one, but this wonderful story gives me an idea of what it might be like. It's long, but like all good stories, worth the read.


"The Legend of the Flute "

Well, you know our flutes, you've heard their sounds and seen how beautifully they are made. That flute of ours, the siyotanka, is for only one kind of music, love music. In the old days the men would sit by themselves, maybe lean hidden, unseen, against a tree in the dark of night. They would make up their own special tunes, their courting songs.

We Indians are shy. Even if he was a warrior who had already counted coup on a enemy, a young man might hardly screw up courage enough to talk to a nice-looking winchinchala -- a girl he was in love with. Also, there was no place where a young man and a girl could be alone inside the village. The family tipi was always crowded with people. And naturally, you couldn't just walk out of the village hand in hand with your girl, even if hand holding had been one of our customs, which it wasn't. Out there in the tall grass and sagebrush you could be gored by a buffalo, clawed by a grizzly, or tomahawked by a Pawnee, or you could run into the Mila Hanska, the Long Knives, namely the U.S. Cavalry.

The only chance you had to meet your winchinchala was to wait for her at daybreak when the women went to the river or brook with their skin bags to get water. When that girl you had your eye on finally came down to the water trail, you popped up from behind some bush and stood so she could see you.

And that was about all you could do to show her that you were interested. Standing there grinning, looking at your moccasins, scratching your ear, maybe.

The winchinchala didn't do much either, except get red in the face, giggle, maybe throw a wild turnip at you. If she liked you, the only way she would let you know was to take her time filling her water bag and peek at you a few times over her shoulder.

So the flutes did all the talking. At night, lying on her buffalo robe in her parents tipi, the girl would hear that moaning, crying sound of the siyotanka. By the way it was played, she would know that it was her lover who was out there someplace. And if the Elk Medicine was very strong in him and her, maybe she would sneak out to follow that sound and meet him without anybody noticing it.

The flute is always made of cedarwood. In the shape it describes the long neck and head of a bird with an open beak. The sound comes out of the beak, and that's where the legend comes in, the legend of how the Lakota people acquired the flute.

Once many generations ago, the people had drums, gourd rattles, and bull-roarers, but no flutes. At that long-ago time a young man went out to hunt. Meat was scarce, and the people in his camp were hungry. He found the tracks of an Elk and followed them for a long time. The Elk, wise and swift, is the one who owns the love charm. If a man possesses Elk Medicine, the girl he likes can't help sleeping with him. He will also be a lucky hunter. This young man I'm talking about had no Elk Medicine. After many hours he finally sighted his game. He was skilled with bow and arrows, and had a fine new bow and a quiver full of straight, well-feathered, flint-tipped arrows. Yet the Elk always managed to stay just out of range, leading him on and on. The young man was so intent on following his prey that he hardly noticed where he went.

When night came, he found himself deep inside a thick forest. The tracks had disappeared and so had the Elk, and there was no moon. He realized that he was lost and that it was too dark to find his way out. Luckily he came upon a stream with cool, clear water. And he had been careful enough to bring a hide bag of wasna, dried meat pounded with berries and kidney fat, strong food that will keep a man going for a few days. After he had drunk and eaten, he rolled himself into his fur robe, propped his back against a tree, and tried to rest. But he couldn't sleep, the forest was full of strange noises, and the cries of night animals, the hooting owls, the groaning of trees in the wind. It was as if he heard these sounds for the first time.

Suddenly there was a entirely new sound, of a kind neither he nor anyone else had ever heard before. It was mournful and ghost like. It made him afraid, so that he drew his robe tightly about himself and reached for his bow to make sure that it was properly strung. On the other hand, the sound was like a song, sad but beautiful, full of love, hope, and yearning. Then before he knew it, he was asleep. He dreamed that the bird called wagnuka, the redheaded woodpecker, appeared singing the strangely beautiful song and telling him, "Follow me and I will teach you."

When the hunter awoke, the sun was already high. On a branch of the tree against which he was leaning, he saw a redheaded woodpecker. The bird flew away to another tree, and another, but never very far, looking back all the time at the young man as if to say, "Come on!" Then once more he heard that wonderful song, and his heart yearned to find the singer. Flying toward the sound, leading the hunter, the bird flitted through the leaves, while its bright red top made it easy to follow. At last it lighted on a cedar tree and began hammering on a branch, making a noise like the fast beating of a small drum. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and again the hunter heard that beautiful sound right above him.

Then he discovered that the song came from the dead branch that the woodpecker was tapping his beak. He realized also that it was the wind which made the sound as it whistled through the hole the bird had drilled.

"Kola, friend," said the hunter, "let me take this branch home. You can make yourself another."

He took the branch, a hollow piece of wood full of woodpecker holes that was about the length of his forearm. He walked back to his village bringing no meat, but happy all the same.

In his tipi the young man tried to make the branch sing for him. He blew on it, he waves it around, no sound came. It made him sad, he wanted so much to hear that wonderful new sound. He purified himself in the sweat lodge and climbed to the top of a lonely hill. There, resting with his back against a large rock, he fasted, going without food or water for four days and nights, crying for a vision which would tell him how to make the branch sing. In the middle of the fourth night, wagnuka, the bird with the bright red top, appeared, saying, "Watch me," turning himself into a man, showing the hunter how to make the branch sing, saying again and again, "Watch this, now." And in his dream the young man watched and observed very carefully.

When he awoke, he found a cedar tree. He broke off a branch and, working many hours, hollowed it out with a bowstring drill, just as he had seen the woodpecker do in his dream. He whittled the branch into the shape of the birds with a long neck and a open beak. He painted the top of the birds head with washasha, the sacred red color. He prayed. He smoked the branch up with incense of burning sage, cedar, and sweet grass. He fingered the holes as he had seen the man-bird do in his vision, meanwhile blowing softly into the mouthpiece. All at once there was the song, ghost like and beautiful beyond words drifting all the way to the village, where the people were astounded and joyful to hear it. With the help of the wind and the woodpecker, the young man had brought them the first flute.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Containers for One Deep Breath

christmas traditions
stashed away in boxes
trinkets of our love

Read more container poems here.

Each year, usually for our wedding anniversary, I can expect to receive a new crop of ornaments for the tree. We favor glass ornaments of all shapes and sizes; the quirkier and more unusual the better. Each is unwrapped from its tissue paper and carefully placed on the tree where it shines briefly before being packed away again in the attic. My husband takes the tree down and puts it away. Left to my own schedule it would still be standing at Easter; I find that job to be too depressing on any but the brightest of Spring days. I love the distinctive glow the tree lends to the house at this season and hate to see it go.

We live with the boxes spread around the living room for a week or so, and decorate the tree a little at a time, beginning with the largest or most treasured ornaments and finally placing the plain colored balls at the last to fill the empty spaces. I'm often surprised to find a particularly beautiful one that I don't remember buying or being given.

Monday, December 11, 2006


"We fly toward Forever on unknowing wings
Our destination hidden in the mists." - Joan Walsh Anglund

This is my parent's wedding photo. I wasn't sure of the year and had to check it on the inscription inside my mother's wedding band which I wear sometimes. The month and day I know because it is so close to my own wedding anniversary on 12/17.

Although my father probably told the story of their wedding lots of times, I'm beginning to forget many of the details that I'm sure my dad included in his telling of it. He was stationed in France with the Air Force during the Korean War during the time leading up to the wedding. I think my mother may have loaned my father the money to buy the engagement ring and she completed much of the planning via letters to my dad in France. She paid most of the bill for the wedding, with her father throwing in an extra keg of beer for the party afterwards.

Beyond that I don't know, but like any two young people starting out together, they were hopeful and in love as they said their vows of marriage. The time between then and now: 52 years, 5 children, 2 grandchildren, and countless moments of joy and heartbreak.

*Note: My brother Kevin left his response to the Chrsitmas Meme in the comments on that post. He has a good sense of humor and an interesting perspective as the *big brother*. Have a look and a laugh.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In the thick of it

Emerging briefly from my sinus-infection-induced-stupor to mention that you might want to reconsider purchasing a pre-lit Xmas tree because someday you may have to re-string all those lights. My poor dear patient husband has been at it all day. Innocently I asked what we could do to prevent his having to ever do this again. He said he'd take it outside and light it on fire and dance around it before he'd do it again. Well!

Back to the couch and my blankie and a full box of tissues. The house is beginning to look glittery. Everything is sort of glittery; I guess because my one eye won't stop running. Why is it that when I get a cold it's all on one side of my head?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Snow fun

Passing along a suggestion for a fun little book for the snow lover in your life: Snowmen: snow creatures, crafts, and other winter projects includes instructions for making more than twenty creations from snow and easy to find materials. Why make a traditional snowman when there are so many other possibilities for sculpture!

The snowbugs at left are made with wooden skewers, pine needles for antennae, raisins for eyes, twigs for legs, and snow spots colored with dry tempera paint. Just the thing to brighten the winter garden.

I bought this book a few years ago for my husband who likes to play in the snow when he's not out plowing it. One year he made a big teddy bear holding a bright red heart colored with food coloring on our side lawn - very cute! Mostly I've used the ideas in the book and really enjoyed making the porcupine, although those long pine needles were hard to find in the neighborhood. The authors suggest using a layer of leaves instead to make an armadillo.

If you have kids or a sense of whimsy yourself, I think you just might enjoy this one. So far, there's no snow for me to play in, but I know some of you have had a fair amount already. Get out and have a little fun!

Note: All photos are scanned from the book and weren't done by me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas meme

From Lynne at Hasty Brook:

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate? I'm not crazy for either, but eggnog is much better with kahlua and lots of ice.
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Santa wraps and he prefers vintage papers and lots of bows.
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White.
4. Do you hang mistletoe? No.
5. When do you put your decorations up? Usually during the week before.
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? My SIL's sister makes a fantastic sweet potato casserole. My husband and I like to make a casserole with brussels sprouts and roasted chestnuts. Growing up we always had lasagna on Christmas and that was the only time my mom made it. My dad used to make a great antipasto platter for Christmas Eve while we decorated the tree.
7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? The first year after my parents were divorced my brother Kevin and I went to my dad's while he was out and put up and decorated a tree for him, so that when he came into the apartment and switched on the lights only the Xmas tree came on. I still remember him calling and how surprised he was.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I'm not sure I know what you mean. Is Santa hiding some dark secret?
9. Do you open gifts Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Christmas, although it's usually late that night when my husband and I get around to exchanging gifts because we're running around to family all day.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? When we get a real tree I like to use country-style and handmade ornaments. Our artificial tree is sort of unique and on that one we use all glass ornaments - thousands of them.
11. Snow - Love it or dread it? Love it, love it, love it!
12. Can you ice skate? Sort of. The last time I did was on my honeymoon.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? (as a child) I think it may have been that game called Simon - I played with that forever.
14. What's the most exciting thing about the holidays for you? Being off work for a week!
15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Homemade cookies. I love Mexican Wedding Cakes (some people call these butterballs).
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. We also spend forever opening gifts and I love to shake all the boxes and try to guess what's inside, which drives everyone nuts.
17. What tops your tree? That depends on which tree we decorate. I have a Santa that I put on the real tree. The fake tree is a little complicated to explain. ;-)
18. Which do you prefer- giving or receiving? I love to give, but have a hard time coming up with good ideas.
19. What is your favorite Christmas song? "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
20. Candy canes? Blech! Hate them. Give me a cookie instead!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

12/7/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Cricket's happy to be home, but not so happy about having her picture taken or medicine shoved in her sore mouth twice a day. I can see that the right side of her mouth is a little swollen. She's on antibiotics and pain meds for a few days and I need to be sure that the discomfort doesn't keep her from eating.

Yesterday she had a growth removed from her lip; the doc couldn't be sure what it was so he sent the tissue off for testing and we can expect a histopathology report in about a week. He thinks it might be that a scent gland in that area became inflamed.

This is the third time that Cricket's had odd growths removed. The first was within a month or so of when I got her from rescue and the vet found that her mammary glands were swollen and severely infected. It took two months after surgery with daily antibiotic injections to get rid of that infection. I'm sure that it was a result of the slaughterhouse that she was rescued from. The second time was an odd little growth on the bottom of her foot that made her limp around. No surgery was required for that, just my vet rooting around in her foot enough to get a tissue sample. That turned out to be nothing. I'm hopeful that this time will also turn out to be nothing.

In the meantime I'll worry and fuss over her. As will Boomer. Lynne at Hasty Brook did a post a while back about the difficulties with medicating her bunny. I had given her some suggestions about how to do it more easily - none of which are working with Cricket! I have to actually sit on her and force the syringe into her mouth. I just hate it and apologize to her the whole time. But I think it's better than giving her shots like I did two years ago. Wish us well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

One of those days

I'm in the middle of one of *those* days. I left work early because I wasn't feeling well. As I pulled into the driveway the radiator on my car self-destructed, spilling antifreeze all over the place. I'm glad it waited until I got home to decide that it needed to give up the ghost! I couldn't reach my DH for a while, but finally got him on the phone and he went in search of a new radiator at 5 o'clock. So, here I am trying to figure out how I'll manage to pick up Cricket and Boomer from the vet later with no car. (Cricket had her surgery this morning to remove the thing growing on her lip.) And I still don't feel good. And there's laundry to do. And prep work for my final exam review tomorrow night. Can you hear the tiny violin in the background?

Apropos of nothing there's this photo of wooden grain shovels that I took at the gristmill at Walnford a few weeks ago. The sunlight was streaming through the windows onto the old equipment on display and I thought it was very pretty. I forgot to use the fill-flash so my original pic was underexposed and didn't show any details. I played around a bit with the highlights and shadows in Photoshop to bring out some of the grain in the wood. I really had no clue what I was doing, but thought the pic looked better afterwards.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge-
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts-
That hope always triumphs over experience-
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death." - unknown

Anyone remember Robert Fulghum, he of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" fame? I loved his books when I was in college! At some point I lost track of his writing, or lost interest, but was reminded of him this evening during the ongoing holiday clean-up project to straighten out the bookshelves. I poked around on the internet and found that he has a website where he publishes occasional journal entries, if you're a fan.

The quote and artwork above, which Fulghum calls the Storyteller's Creed, were included on a postcard that came with his second book. I liked it and it's hung beside my desk ever since. In the preface to that second book Fulghum requests that readers approach his book like the game of Show and Tell. He says his essays are like the odd treasures that children bring to school to share with their classmates. He asks that when we find something that resonates strongly - we share it - because he believes that, like children playing show and tell, there are some things that we as individuals attach a strong amount of importance to, thinking that we are the only one who values it, or cares about it, or thinks it to be true. But, he says, once a thing is shared, we oftentimes find that we aren't alone in the meaning and importance we've attached to it.

I tried to remember things that as a child I might have brought to school for Show and Tell because they were so important to me or worthy of showing off. I can't remember a single thing, of course. But I have to wonder if I were to play that game today as an adult, what one thing might I slip into a paper bag and bring to show off to my friends? What would you bring? What if it weren't a *thing* that can easily fit in a bag or a box, but instead a *quality* - a way of thinking or feeling or being?

I'd like you to play along with me and share a quality that you value. I'll go first. I value imagination. I don't have a picture to show you what imagination looks like, but instead share this quote from J. Ruth Gendler, copied onto looseleaf paper and tucked in my wallet many years ago:

"When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.

Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don't understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to leave school early and interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes come true.

Imagination is studying photography now with an eye to making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before."

Your turn. ;-)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Close Up for One Deep Breath

the lotus unfurls
beneath stained-glass wings; dragon
grasping the sacred

This week's prompt for One Deep Breath is Close Up (Close, Closer, Closest). Writing haiku is much more difficult than it would seem at first glance, but I so enjoy the challenge and the stumbling steps I'm taking with it. I may just add a haiku *how-to* book to my Xmas list this year. Santa always appreciates a suggestion or two! Also on my list this year is a macro lens for my camera; I've offered to pitch in to Santa's fund with the extra $ I make teaching... we'll see if Santa is feeling very generous this year.

I've posted this dragonfly and lotus pic before, but it is one of my absolute favorites - a happy accident from beside the pond - and especially nice to look at now that the fish and plants are asleep for the season.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sandy Hook Light

As much as I'm prone to fuss about the lack of visitors during my monthly 5-hour stint at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory, I do appreciate the quiet of sitting on the porch and watching the boats in Sandy Hook Bay. Today there were a few Buffleheads and Red-Breasted Mergansers for company, but the Oldsquaw I look for were a no-show. In a month or two, if I'm lucky, I'll find harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocky shores of the bay.

I finally got caught up with paper-grading that I've avoided for the past few weeks. Glad to not have that hanging over me anymore! I had only ten visitors all day and they all showed up at the same time. So while I was trying to give info to a pair of enthusiastic new birders, I was also trying to monitor the lady shopping for new binoculars. Birders are an honest group and we encourage people to scan the bay as a means to getting a feel for a pair of binoculars. In the midst of so many visitors coming and going and asking questions, I admit to a bit of nervousness with the lady walking in and out of our shop with thousand dollar optics to test them on the porch. For all of my cajoling she left without buying, but the new birders got more information than they probably wanted.

I passed by the lighthouse on my way and took a pic for any of the lighthouse afficionados. Sandy Hook Light is the oldest standing lighthouse in the country and is now landlocked; more than a mile from the ocean's shore at the tip of Sandy Hook due to the shifting sands of our shoreline, when once it was just 500 feet from that point.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Things I love

1. Pretty horses that pose to have their photo taken. My love for horses is totally illogical; I know nothing about them, but love to look at them.
2. Flowers, and the critters that visit them.
3. Staying up late and sleeping in the following morning.

4. Walking in the woods, surrounded by birdsong.
5. Granny Smith apples and fresh strawberries.
6. The silence following a snowfall and the way it transforms a familiar landscape into something magical.
7. A new long-awaited book by a favorite author.8. The beach at any season, but particularly in the spring and fall with raptors migrating overhead.
9. Storytelling and the laughter of friends and family.
10. Afternoon naps. Not a luxury I indulge often, but wonderful when I have the chance.

In response to Endment's post, which I came across this evening, just when I needed something to inspire me. Feel free to join us by sharing the things that you love.