Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
.
Haruki Murakami

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New

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“If you want something new,
you have to stop doing something old”
.
Peter F. Drucker
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“The secret to so many artists living so long
is that every painting is a new adventure.
So, you see, they’re always looking ahead
to something new and exciting.
The secret is not to look back.”
.
Norman Rockwell

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“Change is the end of something you know
and the beginning of something else
that you don’t know.
Something new that holds opportunities.”
.
Kholoud Yasser

~

~

“It is only when we are ready
to give up on some things in our lives
that we could receive new things.”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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“So may the New Year be a happy one to you,
happy to many more
whose happiness depends on you!”
.
Charles Dickens
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
January 1, 2018
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What I am reading this week:  Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher

Weaner and Christopher captivated my interest on the first page.  Theirs is a practical philosophy of gardening, which guides our doings and our not-doings.  They garden to guide a thriving eco-system in the proud tradition of  Doug Tallamy and Rachel Carson.

Many thanks to my dear friend who gifted me with a fresh copy of Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home last week, inspiring me to remind myself of its important guidance.

I am reading these books now to focus on the bigger picture of why I garden,  ahead of beginning my Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener training class next week.

These authors remind us that often less is more; that cooperation with nature always adds value to our efforts, and sparks hope for our ecosystem and the continued viability of life on our planet.

January is my favorite time of year to study gardening books and catalogs.  If you use these frosty days and long winter nights for study, too; I invite you to take a look at these inspiring volumes.

Solstice Sunset

Powhatan Creek at sunset on Winter Solstice.

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Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, that time of year when days are short and nights are long.  Our day in Williamsburg, Virginia, began at 7:17 AM with sunrise, and ended at 4:53 PM as the sun set.  Our day was nine hours and 36 minutes long today.

But, as I look at a table of sunrise and sunset times, I notice that yesterday, and everyday since last Sunday, has been exactly the same length.  The difference is that the sunrise was a minute or two later, but so was the sunset!  In fact,  our earliest sunset of the year, at 4:49 PM, occurred on December 2 this year.  The sun has been setting a minute or two later each day since the 12th, when sunset occurred at 4:50 PM.

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Sunrise continues to come a bit later each day.  Today the sun rose at 7:17, but by Saturday it will rise at 7:18, and on Christmas Monday it  won’t appear until 7:19 AM.  The sun will continue rising a bit later each morning until December 31,  when it rises at 7:21 AM.

It isn’t until the 13th of January that the rising sun reverses itself and comes up a minute earlier, at 7:20.  By January 13, the day will have grown to nine hours and 50 minutes, as the sun is setting at 4:50 once again.

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Each day between now, and December 27, will continue on at exactly nine hours and 36 minutes.  That means that we will have a run of 11 days of ‘the shortest day of the year,’ of only nine hours and 36 minutes of daylight.  As the sun sets a minute later, so the sun also rises a minute later, in perfect choreography, until December 28, when the day grows by a minute to nine hours and 37 minutes at last.  On New Year’s Day, our daylight will have grown to nine hours and 38 minutes, with sunrise at seven 21 and sunset at 4:59.

Perhaps this very long run of short days and worsening weather is why we need the brightness of the  holidays to cheer our souls and help us through this extended period of darkness.  I feel grateful for every light display I see along the way, as darkness gathers in late afternoon, and the wind bites with cold.

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I relish these early evenings, too.  Watching the sky turn bright with sunset color, and seeing our beautiful trees silhouetted against the deepening sky is a breathtakingly beautiful way to end our day.  Except it isn’t the end of the day, is it?

The early sunset may send us indoors, but we enjoy the long, quiet winter evenings together.  We may hear the owls calling to one another in the ravine.  I make tea, fix snacks, and work on holiday chores.   I paint and sculpt, read and crochet.  It may be long past midnight before I give up the day for sleep, knowing that morning will dawn quite late on the morrow!

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We are in the darkest part of the year: Yule.  And that has been amplified this week with the new moon on Monday.  Settling comfortably into darkness, we gather with friends and loved ones, forming our intentions and making our wishes in anticipation of the year’s turning and return of longer days of sunlight.

Some light a Yule log and keep it burning until the days grow longer once again.  Some light candles to warm winter’s long nights, or light lamps.  Here, we string Christmas lights and enjoy their nightly glow.  We keep them up and burning deep into January, when we can feel the year has turned and days have grown longer once again.

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Tonight, we went out to watch the Solstice sunset.  We left soon after four, camera in hand, and enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon drive on the Colonial Parkway.  We were driving west towards Jamestown, and the sun was brightly blazing even as it dipped towards the horizon before us.  I had to wear my shades and still shield my eyes against its intensity.

We may have made a detour…. there may have been mint ice cream involved…

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Suffice it to say, we were running a bit close when we headed back to the Parkway to photograph the setting sun.  Seconds count, and that fiery orb had already dipped below the James River before we were in position.  But the sky was still ablaze, and the new moon hanging in a pristine sky, growing brighter with each passing minute.

Winter Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year.  We have celebrated this day since my own little one was tiny, with special food, and gifts, and music and merry-making.  It marks the passage from weeks of preparation to conscious celebration of the waning of one year and fresh beginnings of the next.  I envy friends born on this special day, and always keep it as the beginning of our Christmas celebrations.

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My mind turns to The Holly King of legend, who shines brightly in our barren, wintery woods.  Aglow in bright red berries, hollies shine through mist and snow and gloomy winter days.  Winter is their prime time, when the oaks and other hardwoods have gone dormant and dropped their leaves.

I wish you a happy Solstice and a Merry Yule.

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These are special days, and I hope you keep them well.  With love shining brightly in our hearts, we journey through these last days of 2017 and find our way into a new solar year.  May peace and happiness journey with you, and may 2018 offer you fresh possibilities, new opportunities and abundant joy.

Woodland Gnome 2017

~

The James River

Eclipse

Sunset over  College Creek, at (Gabriel) Archer’s Hope, near Jamestown, Virginia

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Just as light and darkness maintain their own balance, and follow one another; so too do times of darkness and light follow one another in human history. Opposing forces remain in cyclical tension throughout our planet’s history.

We welcome the darkness which allows us to rest each night, and we awake hours later refreshed and reinvigorated. Our bodies heal and re-energize while we sleep.

Plants also need a period of darkness for their growth and cellular repair after many hours of photosynthesis in the sunlight each day. Many plants need a period of dormancy and rest each year, before vigorous new growth responds to the lengthening days of spring.

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Winter Solstice morning

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Northwestern Oregon, where the eclipse over the United States will begin next Monday, symbolizes the farthest point of our continental cultural expansion during the 19th Century. John Jacob Astor established Astoria, Oregon, in 1811, and his team blazed the trail which opened the Northwest to settlement. He led the economic battle to incorporate the Pacific Northwest, and its resources, into the United States. In those days, the borders between the United States and British Canada remained fluid.

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Oregon’s coast, near where the eclipse will begin sliding across North America on August 21, 2017.

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Our nation’s power and prosperity come in large part from our westward expansion to the Pacific, and the rich natural, human and energetic resources of our western states. This part of our country remains energetic, innovative and largely progressive.

Charleston, South Carolina, symbolizes the first shots fired in treasonous rebellion in our Civil War, which began in 1860-61. This terrible time in our nation’s history potentially could have destroyed our republic. But it did not; and the slow and torturous process of re-unification has played out in our courts, congress, statehouses and streets ever since.

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The James River, just a few hundred miles north of where the coming eclipse will move offshore next Monday.

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This is a critical time in our nation’s history once again. The nihilistic forces of nazism, facism, and communism which were pushed back in Europe and Asia during the 20th Century, have infiltrated our own society and American government in the 21st.

We see this with sickening clarity after the election cycle of 2016, when these forces of hatred and anarchy have been publicly emboldened both in the media, and on the ground in cities across our nation.

And only a week after the tragic and disturbing events in Charlottesville last weekend; we will experience the rare astronomical event of a full solar eclipse beginning in Oregon and ending on the coast at Charleston, South Carolina.

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Jones Millpond, where The Battle of Williamsburg raged on May 5, 1862, in the early years of our nation’s Civil War; remains a peaceful spot along the Colonial Parkway in more recent times.

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Many of us wonder what this means for our country. We are disgusted and uncertain with elements of our own government and citizenry. We are deeply troubled about what our nation’s future may hold, and wondering whether the Republic established by our Constitution in 1788 remains sufficient to order our society today.

At this time of uncertainty, we have given much thought to the meaning and potential effects of the coming eclipse. Historically, many cultures have viewed eclipses as important times of vulnerability as the sun disappeared from the sky, and dramatic changes occurred in the aftermath. There could be several interpretations of the phenomena of darkness falling across a huge swath of the United States, from coast to coast, in the middle of a summer afternoon.

We choose to interpret the coming eclipse as a time of national renewal. Beginning in the west, where our country’s economic destiny was determined with the founding of Astoria and securing our border with Canada; and sweeping eastwards across our nation to the very city where our Civil War began; the darkness of this eclipse will be followed by new light.

The emerging sun, Sol Invictus,  will shine brightly over our nation for many hours on Monday, August 21, after the moon moves on in its orbit, allowing the sun’s light to burst forth once again.

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As morning follows night, we choose to focus on the ‘second morning’ that will occur as the eclipse ends on Monday afternoon as a time of national renewal and re invigoration. Let this ‘second morning’ usher in a time when our Constitutional government will be set right once again, and these current threats of tyranny, hatred, and lawlessness ended.

Let foreign intervention in our politics be exposed and expunged. Let nazis and their ideology, influencing our political discourse, be exposed and expunged.

Let the corrupting influence of foreign and criminally laundered money holding our political leaders to nihilistic political ideologies be exposed and expunged. Let the corruption and lawlessness in our own communities be exposed and expunged.

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Let us use this energetically potent period of a summer solar eclipse to power the necessary changes which will re-claim our communities and our state and national governments for our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of the good.

Let us reclaim our heritage as a land of promise and equal protection for all under fair and just laws.

Let our United States fully become a center of innovation and opportunity; tolerance and love; and a haven for the endless positive potential of humankind.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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Powhatan Creek

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Sunday Dinner: Secrets of the River

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“Have you also learned that secret from the river;
that there is no such thing as time?”
That the river is everywhere at the same time,
at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall,
at the ferry, at the current,
in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere
and that the present only exists for it,
not the shadow of the past
nor the shadow of the future.”
.
Hermann Hesse
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“We must begin thinking like a river
if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life
for future generations.”
.
David Brower
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“Ask the river, where it comes from?
You will get no answer.
Ask the river, where is it going?
You will get no answer,
because the river lives
inside this very moment;
neither in the past nor in the future,
in this very moment only!”
.
Mehmet Murat ildan
~

Black’s Point, Jamestown Island in the James River

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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WPC: Elemental

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For this week’s challenge, explore the classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire.
How do you capture something invisible like air, or the movement of water? Or, more personally, is there a place you go to feel connected to the earth?
Take a moment to explore these elements, in or out of balance, together or individually, as you pick up your camera this week.”
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The ancients teach us that originally there was only one energy, one creative force.  It was, even before the light.

And from its desire to know itself, everything else was created. Every thing we know was explosively generated from the one.

This original energy still animates everything, every element that is; even our own knowingness. 

The continual joy of creation comes from the interplay of all of the elements; every bit of fire and earth, water and air.   These essential elements structure even our own imagination.

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Try to take away even one of the elements, and what is left? Some balance will be restored ….

Our life depends on the interplay of fire, water, air, minerals, and the unique animation we call spirit.

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“I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level,
that our separateness and isolation are an illusion.
We’re all made of the same thing—
the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.
I’d just never felt that knowledge in my bones until that moment,
there, with you, and it’s because of you.”
.
Blake Crouch
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Every particle and spark is important; a part of the whole. Every one of us is important:  a part of the whole; elemental.

*
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

Wednesday Vignette: Take Care of Our Heart

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“People ask: Why should I care about the ocean?

Because the ocean is the cornerstone

of earth’s life support system,

it shapes climate and weather.

It holds most of life on earth; 97% of earth’s water is there.

It’s the blue heart of the planet —

we should take care of our heart.

It’s what makes life possible for us.

We still have a really good chance

to make things better than they are.

They won’t get better unless we take the action

and inspire others to do the same thing.

No one is without power.

Everybody has the capacity to do something.”

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Sylvia A. Earle

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“There is such solace in the mere sight of water.

It clothes us delicately in its blowing salt and scent,

gossamer items that medicate the poor soul”

.

Sebastian Barry

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“What begins at the water shall end there,

and what ends there shall once more begin.”

.

Doug Dorst

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“Water records information,

and while circulating throughout the earth

distributes information.

This water sent from the universe

is full of the information of life…”

.

Masaru Emoto

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“No one can know the infinite importance

of a tiny drop of water better than a thirsty bird

or a little ant or a man of desert!”

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Mehmet Murat ildan

~

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“To be fully alive

is to have an aesthetic perception of life

because a major part of the world’s goodness

lies in its often unspeakable beauty.”

.

Yukitaka Yamamoto

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

For World Water Day 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Gilded

november-15-2016-parkway-003

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As each day grows shorter, the last gilded bits of daylight grow more precious.  Sunset, that magical time when every tree and blade of grass stands bathed in golden, rosy light, calls to me each evening.

I want to watch its progression until the light has drained out of the sky and the first stars grow bright.

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november-15-2016-parkway-039

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The sun’s last rays feel thick and soft reaching across the landscape.    The sun grows immensely brighter as it drops towards the horizon, blazing in defiance as it slips, all too quickly, out of sight.

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And for a few brief moments we bask in its magical light, admiring technicolor clouds, sensing warmth even when there is little left in the evening air.

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The sun’s touch transforms the ordinary into something beautiful.  It draws our attention to details we might otherwise miss.  Like a parent’s loving caress at bedtime, its rays reassure us even as night quickly closes in at its passing.

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november-15-2016-parkway-024

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Even as the sun pulls ever farther away, its daily circuit ever lower and swifter through the autumn sky, we take more joy in its presence.

A sunny day in winter proves a joyful gift; an autumn sunset a gilded treasure.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

photos from Jamestown Island, VA
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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Magic


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november-15-2016-parkway-030

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“Whatever you eye falls on –

for it will fall on what you love –

will lead you to the questions of your life,

the questions that are incumbent upon you

to answer, because that is how the mind works

in concert with the eye. The things of this world

draw us where we need to go.”

.

Mary Rose O’Reilley

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november-15-2016-parkway-043

 

Wednesday Vignettes: The Path

november-15-2016-parkway-051

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“All we have to decide is what to do

with the time that is given us.”


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Gandalf

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november-15-2016-parkway-052

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“Courage will now be your best defense

against the storm that is at hand-

—that and such hope as I bring.”


.

Gandalf

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november-15-2016-parkway-053

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“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

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Gandalf

 

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Halfway Creek

Halfway Creek

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“This is your realm,

and the heart of the greater realm that shall be.

The Third Age of the world is ended,

and the new age is begun; and it is your task

to order its beginning and to preserve

what must be preserved.

For though much has been saved,

much must now pass away;…”

.

Gandalf

~

Jamestown

Jamestown

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“However it may prove,

one must tread the path that need chooses!”

.

Gandalf

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november-15-2016-parkway-013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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november-15-2016-parkway-041

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“He that breaks a thing to find out what it is

has left the path of wisdom.”

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all quotations from  J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

 

Water-Colored

The James River

The James River

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Wetness upon wetness, and still it rains.  Beautiful clouds swirl through the skies, allowing glimpses of piercing September blue high above them.  Great mounds of heavy rain-filled cloud soon follow, and the staccato tapping of rain on the roof and porch heralds yet another tropical shower.

Water oozes with each step in the garden now.  Clear water trickles through the ditch under our drive.  Roadsides and parking lots mirror the sky.

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september-22-2016-parkway-010

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Our long drought has broken.  On this first day of autumn, the equinox, we celebrate each cool breeze over the wet garden.  The land is replenished, refreshed, revived, and reinvigorated.

We see new growth, the resurrection of what had grown dry and desiccated.  We move into the new season with fresh confidence, looking forward to those seasonal changes still to come.

We are fortunate, here in Williamsburg, that the land is riddled with creeks and ravines.  There is always somewhere else for the water to flow.  The land drains, and so flooding remains rare.

Neighbors to the south and east have not fared as well.  Flooding has stopped daily routines in many areas nearby.  This week became an unplanned holiday for many as streets became canals;  parking lots ponds.

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We saw a family of happy turkeys this afternoon, finding their dinners along the roadside.  My partner counted eight.  Dusk was gathering, but their movements let us see them through the gloom.

We found herons and eagles along the banks of the creeks, deer in the open fields, and fish jumping clear of the river.   What rich diversity of life shares this place!

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september-22-2016-parkway-024

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The reeds and grasses in the creeks have turned golden now, and have been beaten down in places from the rain and high tides.  Shorter days and cooler nights will soon reduce them to buff colored chaff , and then the mud will shine through, and before long push-ups will dot the marshes again; homes to small creatures through the winter.

The seasons come and go like the tides; more slowly, but just as constant.  This week we feel the season turning from dry heat to wet coolness; from expansion towards rest.

Eagle nests stand empty in the trees, the youngsters now out exploring the creeks.

Soon we’ll hear the cries of geese flying over the garden each morning.  Whether they stay or go elsewhere, they still gather into great Vs and fly, singing their ageless melodies at dawn and dusk.  They often stop at the pond below our garden, finding food in the shallows and safety on its calm waters.

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And the garden calls me back outside, now that the ground has grown soft and workable again.  I’ve a few shrubs waiting to stretch their pot-bound roots into the native soil.  There are potted ferns, and soon there will be bulbs to plant.  There are beds to weed, some Irises to divide, and perennials which need a bit of grooming.  All these tasks were made to wait until the drought was ended.

But as the garden sits refreshed, so also do I.  The cool breezes breathe fresh energy into us, too.  And Indian Summer is upon us, one of the most beautiful seasons of our year.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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