Wreathes of the Season

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“There is something about saying, ‘We always do this,’
which helps keep the years together.
Time is such an elusive thing
that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting,
but never do it,
year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness
being expressed in making gifts, surprises,
charming table settings, and familiar food.
Tradition is a good gift
intended to guard the best gifts.”
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Edith Schaeffer

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“All you need to enjoy this world
is imagination, not money”
.
Vineet Raj Kapoor

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Christmas eve invites nostalgia from the most contemporary and practical among us.  Like our own birthday or wedding anniversary, Christmas eve is one of those still points on the wheel of the year where we pause and remember.

Christmas eve invites, and perhaps demands, that we observe the rituals learned from our parents, adopted from our friends; inherited from the literature of our evolving lives.  We light candles, make music, prepare our family recipes.  We share the evening with loved ones.  Anticipate giving and receiving gifts.  Re-tell familiar mystery stories.

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Christmas eve celebrates the great mysteries of our lives and loves.  As the year winds down towards its close, we hope our dearest wishes will be fulfilled in a sparkling starry magical way that gifts us with wonders we have not earned, and perhaps can never explain.  However practical, whimsical or existential our wishes may be, we dare to believe they will be granted on this magical night.

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Christmas, as we know it, is a relatively ‘new’ holiday built on ancient customs and symbols.  One of those ancient symbols is the evergreen wreath.

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Once again this year, Colonial Williamsburg is dressed in its Christmas finery, wreathes upon most doors.

Although Christmas was barely celebrated in the colonial era, and ran more to parties and church services than to elaborate decorations or shopping, visitors find beautiful della robia wreathes and other decorations made of evergreens, fruits, nuts, pods, berries, flowers and twigs throughout the Colonial part of town.

We enjoyed the wreathes as we walked through CW earlier this week, and I hope you enjoy these few photos I captured.

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On this Christmas eve, I wish you and yours the merriest of Yule celebrations tonight.

May you be with those you love, and may your greatest gift this year be a heart filled with happiness.

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“Take the time to celebrate stillness and silence
and see the joy that the world can bring, simply.”
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Tony Curl

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“December is full of the beauty of Light
and love we can bring into our life.
You can chose to be stressed
or you can choose to let the small stuff go
and be peaceful this Holiday season.
It really is a choice you make.”
.
Eileen Anglin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“We are travelers on a cosmic journey,
stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity.
Life is eternal.
We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other,
to meet, to love, to share.
This is a precious moment.
It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
.
Paulo Coelho

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Sunday Dinner: Finding Peace

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“My country is the world,
and my religion is to do good.”
.
Thomas Paine

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“Until he extends the circle of his compassion
to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.”

.
Albert Schweitzer

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“Leave behind the passive dreaming
of a rose-tinted future.
The energy of happiness
exists in living today
with roots sunk firmly in reality’s soil.”
.
Daisaku Ikeda

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“Can you look
without the voice in your head commenting,
drawing conclusions, comparing,
or trying to figure something out?”
.
Eckhart Tolle

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“Peace is present right here and now,
in ourselves and in everything we do and see.
Every breath we take,
every step we take,
can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.
The question is whether or not
we are in touch with it.
We need only to be awake,
alive in the present moment.”
.
Thich Nhat Hanh

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“World peace must develop from inner peace.
Peace is not just mere absence of violence.
Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”
.
Dali Lama

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Let the peace of this day
be here tomorrow when I wake up.”
.
Thomas Pynchon

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Photos from Colonial Williamsburg and the Bruton Parish churchyard

Native Trees: American Sycamore

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North America’s trees were considered one of its greatest treasures both by European colonists like John Bartram and his son William, and by European gardeners eagerly awaiting shipments of seed from ‘the colonies.’

Our many varieties of conifers and hardwood are as beautiful as they are useful.  North American trees were planted extensively in European gardens soon after Jamestown was settled.  The early colonists were always on the lookout for ‘useful plants’ to send back home.

These same prized trees still grow wild here in Virginia, today.

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The American Sycamore grows on the bank of Jones Millpond in York County, Virginia

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One of my favorite native American trees is the American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.   Also called ‘bottonwood tree,’ named for its round fruits which persist through winter, the sycamore may also be called an American plane tree.

I particularly like this tree’s mottled, light colored bark, and its beautiful branching form.

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The sycamore prefers moist soil and can often be found in the wild in lowlands and near bodies of water. Yet it will grow in many different environments in Zones 4-9.  It’s native range extends from Florida, north into Canada, and westwards into Texas and Oklahoma.  It is also considered a native tree in Oregon.

The sycamore will quickly grow into a massive shade tree, with a thick trunk (to more than 6 feet in diameter), a broad canopy, and a mature height of over 130 feet.  Its extensive roots can damage nearby walls or sidewalks, yet it is a common street tree in cities.  A sycamore can handle the heat and polluted air of urban areas, where it is enjoyed for its beauty and its shade.  Its dense canopy helps filter the air.

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This Sycamore grows on the banks of the James River near Jamestown Island.

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I enjoy visiting this lovely sycamore growing on the bank of Jones Millpond, alone the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown throughout the year.  It is pleasing in all seasons.

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There are several notable sycamore trees in our area.  Their interesting branches and bright bark make them easy to recognize.  In winter, the seedpods hanging from their branches playfully sway in the wind.

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A sycamore tree’s wood is useful for making things, but it isn’t a preferred wood for furniture making.  It doesn’t produce edible nuts or leaves.

It is valued more as a beautiful landscape tree and for the shade it gives in summer.

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The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus

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The sycamore ranks high among my favorite native American trees.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Even when pruned hard in a style called pollarding, the Platanus is easily recognized by its light colored bark. This tree grows in Colonial Williamsburg.

WPC: Ascend!

Rose window, Bruton Parish, Williamsburg VA

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From the sublime…
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To the strange…
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There are many opportunities at Colonial Williamsburg  to ‘ascend’ this holiday season!
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The reconstructed ‘Governor’s Palace’ at Colonial Williamsburg, dressed for the holidays.

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“If we are serious about dreaming our awakening into being
and creating a peaceful, loving earth
in which the heart, spirit and soul are the only true leaders,
we must continue to keep our focus on thoughts of unity
and all that truly brings us together.”
.
Diane Hall
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Ascend

Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Determined to Live: Ebony Spleenwort

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“Perfection is born of imperfection.”
.
Richie Norton

We were surprised today to find tiny ferns growing in the cracks of an old brick wall encircling Bruton Parish church in Colonial Williamsburg.   Near the end of our walk to photograph this year’s wreathes, we were headed back to the car when tiny bits of green growing from the mortar between old bricks caught our attention.

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“Being strong is not just about your physical strength, no,
it is about your capacity to handle
difficult problem with ease.”
.
Nurudeen Ushawu

We noticed patches of moss, which is not so unusual, growing near these very persistent an determined ferns.  This part of the wall is shaded by an ancient live oak tree.   The wall itself dates to the mid-eighteenth century, and has stood through good times and dangerous times in the colonial district of Williamsburg, Virgninia.

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The Bruton Parish chuchyard, where prominent Virginians have been buried since the late 17th Century.  We found ferns growing on the outside of this wall.

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“Continuous effort –
not strength or intelligence –
is the key to unlocking our potential.”
.
Winston S. Churchill

The ferns are native to Virginia.  Commonly known as ebony spleenwort, these small ferns grow in little clusters in moist locations throughout our region.

They can be found in many shady places.  But they particularly enjoy growing on calcareous rocks and between old bricks.  Growing on a vertical wall doesn’t phase them, and they can also sometimes be found on rock walls, rotting wood and old fences.

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“Dripping water hollows out stone,
not through force but through persistence.”
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Ovid

I admire the perseverance of such determined little plants.  Their airborne spores landed in a crack in this centuries old mortar, in a moist crevice where they began to grow.  Despite  past summers’ droughts, the tiny plants have found enough moisture to keep growing.

No gardener waters them or grooms them.  These tiny plants look out for themselves season after season.

These are evergreen ferns, and will cling to their crevice and to life no matter what weather this winter coming brings.

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“Most of the important things in the world
have been accomplished by people
who have kept on trying
when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
.
Dale Carnegie

If you love ferns growing in your garden, you might consider growing ebony spleenwort.  Please don’t collect from the wild.  The fern you dig or rip out will leave much of its roots behind.  You may or may not be able to replicate its habitat.

No, please buy a nursery grown fern and establish it in a moist, shady spot in your garden.  These ferns like lime-rich rocky soil, and you may be able to get them to establish in a rocky area, or even on a wall in your own garden.

I actually found a pair of these little ferns growing in some mulch carelessly left on top of some Juniper fronds over the summer.  They had rooted into the moist mulch, and I could easily lift them and re-plant them in soil in a shady spot nearby.  Once established, they will produce spores each year, and these spores will spread and allow for new ferns to grow nearby.

Ferns sometimes pop up as if ‘by magic’ in our area.  And natural magic it is, this miraculous journey from a tiny spore into a growing fern.  But that is another story best left for another post.

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Asplenium platyneuron, ebony spleenwort, is named for the ebony colored stipe and petiole of each frond.  This fern was once thought to have medicinal properties for curing diseases of the spleen. 

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Woodland Gnome 2017
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
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Seneca
Many thanks to Helen Hamilton for her field guide, Ferns and Mosses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain

 

Winter Planting

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Winter weather is forecast to hit us hard this weekend.  Snow will begin to accumulate here on Friday evening and we expect snow most of the day on Saturday.

If the forecast holds, we’ll have a low of 12F on Sunday night.  Now that is very unusual for us here in coastal Virginia.   We aren’t generally prepared for such cold, and many of our garden plants don’t respond well to cold.

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Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant thorughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.

Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant throughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.  TheViolas will fade in early summer’s heat, but eventually, the ivy will fill the basket and persist indefinitely. 

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Because our winters tend towards mild temperatures, many of us keep on gardening between November and March.  Although we get an occasional blast of  freezing rain or snow, and often have night time temps down into the 20s; we also enjoy long stretches of days in the 40s and 50s.

Occasionally we enjoy days, like today, with temperatures into the 60s.   We have lots of song birds and squirrels playing around the garden, owls hooting from the ravines, hawks hunting from the tallest oaks, and even a moth clinging to the windows now and again.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weatehr in our garden.

Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.

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And I’m just in from transplanting a few of the first seedlings appearing from the bright red Arum italicum berries I planted into a protected spot last August.  Tiny curled leaves have appeared, poking above the soil, since Christmas.  And I moved a couple of them to a pot on our porch to keep a closer watch over them.

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As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.

As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring.

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Arum italicum appears in autumn and grows beautifully here all through the winter.  Its leaves produce their own heat, melting ice and snow from around themselves, emerging brilliantly green and unharmed from a snowfall.

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The leaves remain pristine and provide a lovely ground cover under shrubs and around spring bulbs through early summer.  They bloom and fruit, and finally begin to fade away at the height of summer when one barely notices.  They remain dormant until the show begins again the following autumn.

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I can’t imagine why these beautiful and useful plants aren’t already wildly popular in our region.  They fill an important niche in the garden year, are too poisonous to interest deer, spread easily, prove hardy and easy to grow, and provide three seasons of interest.  What’s not to like?

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Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

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But I’ve never found them at a garden center potted and growing.  I’ve only seen them offered in catalogs as dry tubers, and have gotten ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.

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Brent and Becky's display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camelia. The Heath's call Arum and 'shoes and socks' plant because it works so well around shrubs.

Brent and Becky Heath’s display garden features many fall and winter blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heaths call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well around shrubs.  After a few years, it spreads and forms a beautiful ground cover.

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Another useful, but often maligned, evergreen for winter gardening is ivy.  Like Arum italicum, ivy owns a spot on the ‘invasive plant’ list in our state.   But I’ve always appreciated the elegance ivy will lend to a pot or basket.  Although it can eventually swallow a tree, if left undisturbed, its growth is slow enough that an attentive gardener can manage it.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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Ivy, Hedera species,  can tolerate very cold temperatures and emerge from snow and ice unharmed in most cases.  There are many beautiful cultivars with variegated and beautifully shaped leaves from which to choose.  Shade tolerant, it can also manage in sun, and eventually produces both flowers and small berries for wildlife.

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Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

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I like ivy as a ground cover, too, and it is used extensively at Colonial Williamsburg in the gardens around historic homes.    It will eventually crowd out other plants, if left unchecked, much like Vinca minor.  It roots from each leaf node and produces a prodigious root system over time.

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Beech Tree With Ivy, August

Beech Tree With Ivy, August

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Hellebores have become a  third indispensable plant in our winter garden.  Also evergreen, like ivy, they maintain a presence throughout the entire year.  But they grow best during the cool months, awakening again in late autumn with fresh new leaves.

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Hellebore

Hellebore

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As the older leaves begin to look shabby, it is good to cut these away to make room for their emerging flowers.  Although the root system continues growing larger each year, the plants themselves may be renewed with annual cutting back of their old leaves in early winter.

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February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

In February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern and strawberry begonia, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

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Hellebores, also poisonous, will not be affected by grazing deer or rabbits.  Early pollinators appreciate their winter flowers, as do we.  I grow these in pots and in beds, pairing them with spring bulbs, Violas, ferns, Heuchera, moss and ivy.

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By choosing plants wisely, we have found ways to garden year round here in Williamsburg, enjoying beautiful foliage and  flowers each and every day of the year.  Even as we get an occasional snow or Arctic blast, these hardy plants bounce back quickly and keep giving throughout the season.

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. These shrubs bloom between December and February, providing nectar for pollinators during winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Wednesday Vignette: Reflections

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“Sometimes, you have to look back

in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”

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Yvonne Woon

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“Just as a snake sheds its skin,

we must shed our past over and over again.”

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Gautama Buddha

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“Silence is a time of reflection

to bring peace and meaning to your life,

and to those around you.

This deafening quiescence will mean

different things to different people

but if they listen carefully, they will understand…”

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Virginia Alison

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“There’s always a moment

that separates the past from the future,

and that moment is now.”

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Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

All photos taken in Colonial Williamsburg

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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

Where the Paths May Lead

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The last few days of December find  us nostalgic for other times and places. 

As the little ones among us look ahead to Christmas Day and the promises of wishes made real; many look back across the years to joyful moments passed.

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We remember loved ones no longer with us.  We look back along the winding pathways which led us to this particular moment.

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It is a time to take out stored memories, like the treasured ornaments we place on the Yule tree each December.  Normally wrapped up and put away, we allow them to breathe and shimmer for a short time each year.

As our collection grows it takes on a certain luster of age, a patina wrought of familiarity.

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Some recollections bring us an echo of joy across the wide space of years; others fresh waves of sadness or regret.

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It is part of being human, I believe, and a hallmark of a lifetime’s journey.  For our paths aren’t always straight and clear.  They meander through fate and circumstance, opportunity, and those choices we claim and those  we reject.

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Sometimes we can see paths which parallel our own, but can’t find the gate to access them.  Sometimes our paths wind in spirals or loops which feel closed off from further progress along the way.

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Other paths feel inevitable, wide, clear and straight.  We travel them with groups of loved ones and friends who share the same destination we hold before us.

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But always, at this time of year, we finally look ahead; considering where to journey next.  Whether to continue on our present path or to seek a new one.

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What goals do we hold out for ourselves in the months ahead?  What changes do we need to make?  What special wishes will we hold in our hearts at this magical time of Winter Solstice?

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Are we seeking fresh challenge or warmth and comfort?  Is there a cause calling to us, or is it time to enjoy a span of  peacefulness and rest?

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Is the way ahead clear, or are there obstructions we must  move before we continue on our way?

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In the quiet space we find in late December, we have an opportunity to ponder our life’s path.  Time away from work and the normal routine invites us to ponder where we have been and where we are going in our lives.

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We can enjoy the peace this season brings us to look both behind us and ahead of us.

And perhaps there is a bit of child-like wonder in our hearts, yet.

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As we articulate our wishes to the Universe, we can almost hear sleigh bells in the distance; and once again believe in the magic this season holds.

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All photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg, December 23, 2016.

All photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg, December 23, 2016.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Path

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In loving memory of those we loved and lost in 2016. 

May they continue along their eternal pathways

in light and in peace.

~

december-23-2016-cw-wreathes-055

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