Gathering Dusk and A Christmas Tree

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Light fades slowly from the winter sky, blushing, as the sun eases below the horizon.

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Late afternoon found us at Colonial Williamsburg on Christmas day.  I wanted to photograph the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, that we had found the evening before.

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We were out on Christmas Eve enjoying the lights in our part of town, when we spotted a blazing tree, covered in white lights, visible from Francis Street.

And I vowed to return, camera in hand, to photograph it in all its brilliance at dusk.

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And so I lingered nearby, watching colors shift in the evening sky as lights popped on against the gathering dusk.  But the Christmas tree remained unlit.

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My partner parked and eventually joined me.  And we waited together as the minutes crept past.

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We watched a silent flock of geese glide overhead.

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Clouds glowed bright, illuminated by a sun no longer visible from where we stood, moving ever further beyond the horizon.

But the Christmas tree remained dark, melting into the shadows of the coming night.

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We began walking towards our car, shivering now in the evening chill.  Slowly, hoping for a flash of sudden brightness to draw us back, we covered the blocks of the old town still filled with visitors and costumed staff.

But the only lights greeting us flickered in windows and on lamp posts.

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And though a little disappointed to have missed the photo I hoped to take, we were glad to be a part of the community in this place and on this special night.

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It was the following evening when we found the tree lit again in all its glowing glory.  We had been away all day, and drove to the tree on our way home.  It was already long past dusk when we arrived, but the Christmas tree was lit, and I hopped out while my partner circled the block.

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One feels the weight of years and lives here most at night.  Shades of those long gone from daylight still linger in the shadows near these historic places.

The elder trees, still growing, hold memories, too; as they stretch their protective branches over the land.

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But the blazing Christmas tree drew me ever closer, and I set off alone across the field.   Others were gathering around it too, basking in the warmth and comfort of its lights.

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In this season we celebrate the power of the light.  We reaffirm our deep belief in the powers of goodness and love to push back against the gathering and ever-present darkness of our  world.

We know there is an ever shifting balance between darkness and light; greed and generosity; kindness and anger;  love and ambivalence.

And all of these forces live and shift within each one of us; none of us is beyond their power.

But it is always ours to choose; to seek the light, even when we must walk through the darkness to find it.   And as we journey ever closer to the light, we find good company sharing the walk with us; so that we are never left alone in the darkness.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“It is neither wealth nor splendor,

but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.”
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Thomas Jefferson

Sunday Dinner: Merry Christmas !

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.

To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy,

is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

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Calvin Coolidge

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“Are you willing to stoop down and consider

the needs and desires of little children;

to remember the weaknesses and loneliness

of people who are growing old;

to stop asking how much your friends love you,

and to ask yourself if you love them enough;

to bear in mind the things that other people

have to bear on their hearts;

to trim your lamp so that it will give more light

and less smoke, and to carry it in front

so that your shadow will fall behind you;

to make a grave for your ugly thoughts

and a garden for your kindly feelings,

with the gate open?

Are you willing to do these things for a day?

Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

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Henry Van Dyke

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“Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

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Dale Evans Rogers

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“Learn to light a candle

in the darkest moments of someone’s life.

Be the light that helps others see;

it is what gives life its deepest significance.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell,

but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.

Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer

hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old,

the bell still rings for me,

as it does for all who truly believe.”

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Chris Van Allsburg

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts

can change his life, his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit

in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

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Harlan Miller

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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Apples, Pine Cones and Artichokes: Ornamenting the Wreath

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What is beautiful?  What is not?

Our answer is often a Rorschach test of our own personality.

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Wreathes, a most ancient symbol of eternity and eternal life, come to us from deep antiquity.

We find traces of them in the earliest evidence of civilization we can find.  Whether made from precious metals and ornamented with gemstones, carved in stone, or woven from olive branches; wreathes remain symbols of celebration and commemoration.

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Wreathes woven from evergreen branches mark the winter solstice holidays.  They symbolically promise that despite the ever shortening days and cold weather, life goes on and the sun will soon return.  And we decorate these evergreen wreathes with the seeds of new life.

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Fruits, cones, berries, cotton puffs, nuts and seed pods, our favorite ornaments for our wreathes, all bear seeds inside them.  They contain the promise of next season’s fertility.

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The early Virginia colonists likely brought branches of evergreen trees into their homes to mark the  Christmas holiday.  But the certainly didn’t construct the beautiful fruit laden wreathes we admire around ‘Colonial Williamsburg’ today.

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To quote Theobald and Oliver, writing on the official Colonial Williamsburg website in an article called, ‘Deck the Doors,’  :

“Never mind that no one in the eighteenth century would have been caught dead with real fruit tacked to his front door.  Anyone hanging fresh fruit outdoors in the middle of winter to rot or be devoured by squirrels would have been thought, at best, highly eccentric by his neighbors. “

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The unique handmade wreathes, swags. sprays and baskets, constructed of only natural materials and lacking ribbons and bows, were first created in the late 1930’s; after the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation opened up for business and wanted to attract a crowd in all seasons.

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They were greatly admired and photographed.  Soon a contest for the most beautiful wreathes in this style evolved, and the ‘Della robbia’ or ‘fruit covered’ wreath style of Colonial Williamsburg was launched.

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In some ways it makes sense that these beautiful wreathes, constructed of ‘found’ materials, caught on at the end of the Great Depression years in America.  Wreathes in this style may be constructed very inexpensively with whatever may be at hand.

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They are also a reaction, at least in part, against the commercialization of Christmas.  They feed our romantic notion of what life could have been like ‘back in the day’ before silver tinsel trees and Christmas ornaments imported from Asian factories became the norm.

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But the truth is, even though wealthy residents of 18th century Williamsburg might have eaten pineapples and citrus fruits imported from the Caribbean colonies, they didn’t fashion outdoor decorations from them.

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And the Colonial Williamsburg wreathes today ask us to broaden our thinking about what is appropriate as a Christmas decoration.  Dried okra pods?  Skeins of yarn?  Artichokes?  Why not?

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Beauty often transcends the materials and shines through the design, the geometry, the harmony, and the  colors used.

The making of these wreathes is a 20th Century phenomenon; not an 18th Century fashion.  But they blend so beautifully into this reconstruction and reinterpretation of a Colonial Virginia town.

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If you find them beautiful, please try your hand at making a della Robbia wreath of your own.  Begin with a wire, straw or grapevine base.  Gather some evergreen branches or Magnolia leaves.  Bay leaves and citrus leaves work well, too, if you have them.

Then gather things you find beautiful and meaningful:  fruit, cones, shells, pods, dried flowers, vegetables, nuts and berries.  Use wire, hot glue and floral picks to build your design.

You might even make an ‘edible’ wreath of fruits to serve at a party.

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The trick is to express yourself and create a wreath which has meaning for you.  Create something beautiful to ornament your own home at the holidays.

The materials don’t matter, so long as they bring you joy.

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Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a 'Star Wars' theme.....

Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a ‘Star Wars’ theme…..

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All photos were taken in Colonial Williamsburg this December

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'Light Sabers...."

‘Light Sabers….”

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar,  featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015, is  available now.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

Is It Christmas Without A Tree?

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We are chin deep in preparations for Christmas today.

The morning was devoted to writing cards and wrapping gifts. We have brought our cut tree inside, and the last hour was devoted to getting last year’s lights working. We will enjoy unpacking the ornaments and hanging them this evening.

In the meantime, you might enjoy a little post I wrote this time last year about Christmas trees. Like so much of the holiday traditions, it is hard to imagine a time when families didn’t decorate a Christmas tree each December. But Christmas trees are a fairly modern innovation in the Yuletide celebrations.

And I’m so glad Christmas trees gained acceptance in the United States, because I’ve always loved having a tree full of lights and color at Christmas! It took only a few minutes for the fresh, crisp aroma of our tree to fill the house.

This is the wonderful smell of Christmas we enjoy so much.

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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