Winter Sunrise

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“In the beginning…
when ray and day hadn’t yet come into existence at all,
there was a kind of radiance that illuminates universe.
That radiance is the light of knowledge and goodness.
That radiance will persistently and consistently shines brightly
even after all the stars and moons in this vast universe died out.”


Toba Beta


December 12, 2015 sunrise 004


It continues an odd sort of December:  bare, but warm.  The leaves are mostly fallen now, exposing the intricate lace of bare branches against the sky.  Endlessly fascinating, this living filigree which shifts and changes from one winter to the next.

There were enough cold and frosty nights to wither most of the last of autumn’s perennials; but not all. 

In sheltered places flowers still bloom.  A few golden Susans and scarlet sage flowers linger still. 


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The season began its shift, then reverted. 

We haven’t had a frost now for more than a week.  And afternoons are balmy.  Each day grows shorter still.  But what gorgeous days of bright sunshine glinting from evergreens and berries.  Camellias and roses pump out bud after blooming bud.

We keep burying bulbs in the damp and yielding Earth.  And they have begun to grow.  Fresh green spikes poke up through the mulch and newly fallen leaves; over eager, perhaps, in this phantom spring.  Swelling buds on Forsythia and Magnolia bear witness to the garden’s confusion.


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And the garden calls us out day after day.  It called to me this morning before the sun had even crested the horizon.  And I went out into the damp and misty morning looking for the beauty of this new day.

Winter sunrise grows more precious as each day grows that much shorter.  We’ve almost glided down to the bottom of the year, still losing a few more seconds each day. 


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The sun returns a few moments later each morning.  But it returns, and its warmth adds sweetness to these brief, golden December days.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015


December 12, 2015 sunrise 005



“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar is now available, featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015. 

Write to me at for details.


New Year’s Eve

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On New Year’s Eve I’m reminded that the new is always born out of all that has gone before.

The ghosts of our past both comfort and haunt us, traveling with us into the newness of each day, each new year.

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Our roots run deep into the soil of our life experiences, and our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences.  Our roots live in the  knowings and acts and loves of all of those who came before, and all those who journey with us now.

We draw the energy and motivation to move forwards from the richness of our past .

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As we reflect on our lives up to this moment, there are moments of sorrow as well as joy.  Disappointments mixed in with our accomplishments.

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There are those loved ones we’ve lost along the way, friends estranged, colleagues left behind.

And of course there are those friends and loved ones with us still, who have been our companions for much of our lives.

Each of these relationships, each of these experiences  has enriched us in countless ways.

They are all our mentors. 

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So let us bless it all.  Let us recollect all of those people who have been our companions along the way.  Because our history also shows us our path forwards.

Whether our memories are bitter or joyful, or mixed; let us bless them, forgive them, appreciate them, and acknowledge what we have learned from each one.

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Let us recollect the many experiences of our lives. Let us accept them, the painful as well as the positive ones, as part of our story.  Each one has played its part in bringing us to this moment, at the cusp of a new year.

Our lives are infinitely enriched with the people and experiences of each passing year.

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Let us move forwards in peace, accepting what has been, and forming a  clear vision of the life we intend to live moving forwards.

It is our inner vision, our power of imagination to create the life we desire, which moves us forward.

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On this New Year’s Eve, skip the resolutions and instead envision the life you intend to live from this moment on.  Determine what you want to hear, and see, smell and feel in your daily life.

Our dreams and intentions are the seeds which create what we desire. 

Planted in the rich soil of our life, nurtured with awareness and intent, our vision will grow into reality.

May you walk in beauty and happiness through all the days to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2014

What’s There to Eat?

The morning dawned bright and frosty.  Our temperatures had plummeted into the 20s by sunset on Christmas Day.

The morning dawned bright and frosty. Our temperatures had plummeted into the 20s by sunset on Christmas Day.

The morning’s sunrise revealed a frost covered garden.  Our cardinals’ clicking and chirping drew me to the window.  The fat, scarlet, Papa cardinal was searching through a pot on the patio for something to eat.  His mate rooted through the leaves down on the slates looking for a morsel of breakfast.  Our birds came out with the sun, scouring the warmer sheltered patio for their morning meal.  I took pity on them, and braved the morning chill in pajamas to carry a scoop of bird feed round and sprinkle it on the patio where I could watch them feast.

I offered the birds a little birdseed on the patio early this morning.

I offered the birds a little seed on the patio early this morning.

We rarely put seed out for the birds.  Instead, we make sure there is abundant wild food in the garden to carry them through the winter.  We wait until a hard freeze and then feed the finches and cardinals from a sack of Niger seed.  But I haven’t hung one yet this year, and the cardinals chose to discuss the matter with me this morning.

A few Nandina berries remain in the front border.

A few Nandina berries remain in the front border.

As we’ve watched various families of birds come and go from the patio all day, it set me wondering what food is still available for them in the garden.  It was nearly 80 here only a few days ago, and we saw little flying gnats now and again.  Surely other insects come out on warmer days as a special winter treat for the birds.

When the temperature plummets, and the ground is frozen hard, it is harder for the wild birds to find their meal.  But the meal is still there, waiting for their exploration!

The round bed of Lantana, though frozen, is still the most popular daytime hang out for the birds.

Seed pods from summer's morning glories remain to feed winter's birds.

Seed pods from summer’s morning glories remain to feed winter’s birds.

Its dense thicket of branches provides plenty of cover for them as they hop about in search of seeds.  Today I found an abundance of seed pods left behind by the morning glory vines along with dried berries left from the summer’s Lantana.  Many different species fly in and out of this fast food establishment each day.

Hibiscus seed pods are open, and seeds ripe for the munching.

Hibiscus seed pods are open, and seeds ripe for the munching.

Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon seedpods, now dried and fully opened, still harbor many delicious seeds.  There is enough to feed our birds for many weeks to come on the many shrubs around the garden.

Nandina and holly berries glow brightly red in the borders.  For a while I thought the squirrels might steal all of these, but berries remain.

Holly berries

Holly berries

All of the red Dogwood berries went weeks ago, leaving only the buds for spring flowers on the naked branches.  The holly is evergreen, however, and the prickly leaves are a little harder for the squirrels to negotiate.  Plenty are left for winter’s hungry birds.

The Cedars have not put out as many blue berries as I’ve found other years.  I noticed when cutting greens for wreathes that just as the oaks have taken a break from producing their usually abundant acorns, so the cedar and juniper berries are more scarce this year.

Staghorn Sumac berries are a favorite for many species of wildlife.

Staghorn Sumac berries are a favorite for many species of wildlife.

Wild vines and grasses are still full of seed.  We found beautiful airy seed heads on the Autumn Clematis, ready for birds tiny enough to perch and feast on them.  The clematis on the patio still has its ripened puffy seed heads as well.  Perhaps this is what the cardinals found this morning?

Clematis seed heads, growing in the pots on our patio.

Clematis seed heads, growing in the pots on our patio.

Staghorn Sumac is rich with seeds as well.  Still colorful, their mahogany colored seeds cluster tightly at the tip of each branch, swaying in the winter wind.

Looking up, there are cones of all sizes and descriptions.  Our beautiful native white pines bear cones loaded with small, tasty seeds. Gumballs, open now, cling like tiny Christmas ornaments to every twig of the gum trees.

Trees, like this white pine, remain full of cones and pods, rich with seeds.

Trees, like this white pine, remain full of cones and pods, rich with seeds.

Food is literally everywhere!  And the garden is alive with the flutter of winged comings and goings from before dawn until after dusk.  They are all welcome here, and have plenty of spots to find shelter and build their nests.

Acorns on the beach near the Scotland Ferry dock.

Acorns on the beach near the Scotland Ferry dock.

Perhaps this winter I’ll start a bird list.  Not just a mental, conversational list; but a bona fide official list as hard core birders keep one.  Already today I’ve seen cardinals and tufted titmice; wrens, nuthatches, Canadian geese, a cormorant, a Bald Eagle, and a Great Blue Heron.  Others remained anonymous, just out of focus in the shrubs shadowing me as I walked around the garden.

Trumpet Vine produces large seed pods, full of seeds once its orange flowers fade in autumn.

Trumpet vine produces large seed pods, full of seeds once its orange flowers fade in autumn.

Food is even more important than usual in winter.  Having just feasted with family yesterday, and completed a solid month of baking for special occasions, I’m feeling rather food obsessed at the moment.  Cakes sit wrapped and ready for drop in guests during the week ahead.  Beautiful cheeses wait on the shelves of the fridge; beside a whole tub of Cinnamon and cardamon laced dough, waiting to be formed into loaves or sweet rolls and baked this week.

As soon as my mother unwrapped a wreath made entirely of  bird feed yesterday, she sent my sister out to hang it from a hook on the shed where she could watch the birds enjoy it from her kitchen window.  Our gifts of food, whether to man or bird, are welcome ones; especially in winter.  The wreath was literally covered with colorful little finches, wrens, titmice, and nuthatches all afternoon.

Black Eyed Susans, left standing in the border have gone to seed.  I'll cut them back in late winter.

Black Eyed Susans, left standing in the border have gone to seed. I’ll cut them back in late winter.

They are fun to watch, and I love drawing songbirds close to the windows in winter where we can appreciate their beauty.  I never want them to depend upon such charity for survival, however; and so limit when and how much these little gifts of seed are offered. 

Much better, I believe, to fill the garden with trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials whose seed will provide a steady supply of food all season long, and which will also attract and support the insects birds need in their diets throughout the year. 

And there are plenty here, in our forest garden.

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I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, 1712

Feathers in the high tide line on the beach at Jamestown.

Feathers in the high tide line on the beach at Jamestown.

All Photos By Woodland Gnome 2013

Christmas Eve: Tuesday Snapshots

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The old, traditional holidays always begin at sunset.  So it is Christmas here in Virginia. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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May your greatest gift this Christmas be a gift of love and connection to those who share your life in this moment.  Whether you are near or far from home, close to family or estranged, young or old; may your heart be warmed in the light of love from those who share your path in this moment.  May you find friendship and understanding, support and caring from those with whom you share this Christmas.

December 24 Christmas Eve 003We all have loved ones far from home.  Some are away by choice and others by necessity.  We learn that time and distance can not separate those who hold one another in their hearts.

May you find quiet moments, this Christmas, to remember happy moments from Christmases past.  Whether the same cast of characters will gather with you this Christmas, or whether your family includes loved ones who have passed on or gone away for whatever reason; recall those whose lives have touched yours with love.

Christmas is a bittersweet time for many, perhaps more so with each passing year. december 15 2013 Santas 048 We can best honor those who have loved us by remembering them with love.  Our family stretches beyond the boundaries of time and space to include those who have gone before and also those who will come after.  Each year we welcome newcomers into our lives, and look forward to the time we will share along the way.

Perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is an open heart and warm hand to the new ones among us.   Especially to those who find themselves far from home, who need to be included, and made one with a new family; a family of caring, if not of shared blood.  We are all a bit like children at Christmas, and all in need of a little love.december 15 2013 Santas 073

So I hope your halls are decked in holiday cheer, your table is set, your baking done, and your loved ones are gathering.  The door has opened and we have entered Christmas once again.  Let us keep it well, with loving heart and twinkling eye. 

The spirit of Christmas lives in each of us.

All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013

“Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all Whos, far and near.

Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.

Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.

Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.”

-From the cartoon version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Theodor Seuss Geisel

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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