The Dripping of Winter Trees

From up north, my sister sends a photo of her husband. Not a short man, he stands waist-deep in snow. Living in the country, they were snow-bound for four days. In the city, my brother was shut in for three.

Here down south, the cold front brings rain. On the sofa, shared body warmth and hand-crocheted afghans keep us warm as we huddle around the television, the new hearth.

On my morning round, I meet two dog-walkers. One straggles behind me, the other walks toward me. Both have knitted caps pulled low over their brows. Both caps are the dull red of cranberries.

Going Home Again

This year I changed my Christmas tree. For several years now I have had a very elegant tree, all burgundy and gold. This year I went traditional.

I glue iridescence to the tips of pine cones, stringing them to the tree on red ribbon. I make cinnamon gingerbread men, with silver buttons and silver smiles. I pull red and green calico bows off the wreath my sister made for me one year and nestle them among the artificial needles of pine. I stitch a new tree skirt, one of unbleached muslin printed with holly leaves and berries.

I sit for two days, stringing popcorn and cranberries.

When I was a child, we always made popcorn strings for our tree. The light bulbs then on trees were large and, unlike my current set of twinkling white lights with the twelve settings of fade and run, colorful. The lights on my childhood trees were red, blue, yellow, and green. My mother lusted for some years after a metallic tree with a projector that rotated colors. Thankfully, we never had the money for one.

We would sit in the living room, my mother, sister, brother and I, and we would string popcorn. Carols played on the stereo and at some point my mother would make cocoa while I would argue with my brother over whether tinsel should be hung or thrown.

The popcorn breaks more easily than I remember. I separate the firm cranberries from those that have started to go soft. I double my thread, rolling the ends between my fingers to make a knot.

After I loop the popcorn strings branch to branch, I add the white ceramic sleigh bells with the red ceramic ribbons which I found in my mother’s house after she died. Next, I hang the porcelain angels, one for each family member no longer with us. A name tag hangs down the angel’s back, between her wings.

At the top of the tree, I place a red feathered cardinal. Wings spread wide as if caught in the moment before alighting, its crest glitters.

The Sound of Christmas

Christmas at my grandmother’s house was a tiny pink Christmas tree, bowls of ribbon candy, and a wreath on the kitchen door. It was always the same wreath, hung year after year. Small, made of yellowed translucent garland, and adorned with a small silver bell.

Up North, winters are cold. We children would pound up the steps and throw ourselves against the kitchen door. The door would put a mock resistance, then yield gracefully. We would spill into the warmth of that room, its windows steamy from cooking, accompanied by the soft tinkle of the bell.

Now, every Christmas, I hang a wreath of fresh pine and cedar on my front door. This year a friend makes a wreath from the boxwood and bayleaf in her garden. She adds cinnamon and red ribbon.

I add the bell.

At every opening and closing of my door, somewhere, an angel gets its wings.



First Cup of Tea

With the first cup of tea, you are a stranger, goes the Pakistani saying. With the second, a friend. With the third, family.

This week I took son the younger to Dallas to meet Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. We listened, fascinated, as he told his story, showed his slides. (The powerpoint, he said, was done by my nine year old son. If something goes wrong, I can’t fix it.)

It’s been cold. Last week it even snowed. Son the younger says his classmates ran outside and took pictures with their cell phones. I took pictures too. The snow melted so quickly the flakes became drops of water.

On the way home from Dallas, we stopped at Starbucks for hot chocolate. Son the younger curled up in his seat. I double check his seatbelt, then turn my attention to the road.

The sky lightens slowly. For the first hour, I drive in darkness.

The windshield mists. Next to me, son the younger sleeps. From time to time, I sip my cup.

It warms me like tea.

La Belle et La Bete

Son the older and I are watching Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete. A perfect activity for a rainy morning.

On screen, disembodied arms hold lighted candelabras down a long, dark corridor. Soot covered faces, embedded on either side of the roaring fireplace, turn to follow movements in the room.

The Bete’s waist is encircled with ribbons whose tips sparkle with rhinestones. Smoke rises from his shoulders and fingertips.

Belle’s tears are diamonds. The white stallion glitters.

Son the elder and I take our French lesson from the dialogue. “Souvenez vous de votre promesse!”

Remember your promise.

On the Mountain

Two weeks on a mountain top, surrounded by trees and the rumor of bears. Two weeks of writing. Two weeks of no housework. No phones. No internet.

I took a walk down the road, to the place where blacktop became gravel. I stood, listening. The buzzing of the many bees at my feet nearly drowned out the faint sound of running water.

Somewhere down there a creek, mountain cold.

Above and behind me, a woodpecker hammered five times. My signal to turn and reclimb the hill.

Cream-colored, with a Hint of Lime

Yesterday I decided to pay some attention to my much neglected garden. My gardenia bushes have been looking a little peaked. A trip to the garden shop, some greensand, some pine mulch. Once home, the garden hose and lots of water.

I took my spade and loosened the drought-packed earth. Water helped soften the soil so I could pull weeds. I worked my way from one end of the flower bed to the other. My gloves wet and muddy from the sodden soil.

The sky is a bright blue. The sun is beginning to hit hard but a breeze carries off some of the heat.

I half-kneel, keeping my knees out of mud. A flash of red has caught my eye. I lift some overgrowth and there, nestled under the shade of a gardenia bush is a wild strawberry plant.

I weed more carefully now, delicately pulling up spent dandelion stems. When I put down the pine straw, I work around the strawberries.

On the middle gardenia bush, a single gardenia blooms.

A Garden Grown Wild

This weekend I borrowed a room in which to write. I brought fruit and yogurt, which I placed in the frig. I plugged in a clock. I put a candle on the desk.

I looked around the room and then I went downstairs. I’d smelled jasmine on my way in. I found the vine climbing a tree near the house. I chose carefully, plucking, in the end, three stems of the small, white flowers. I do not take the lone, curling tendril whose backdrop is the smooth, honey-colored bark of the tree.

Looking around, I noticed a bucket filled with seashells and rainwater. I chose an open shell, its interior the color of sunsets at the beach, rinsed then filled it with rainwater. I lay the flower stems into the water and, looking around some more, found a river rock, just the right size, which would hold the stems in place.

Back upstairs, I walked the perimeter of the room, holding the shell and flowers in one hand and with the other, fanning the fragrance of the flowers up to my nose.

I spent the evening at my computer, candle burning to my right, flowers and shell to my left. The desk faces a bank of windows. It is a sign of the lengthening days that it was light until after eight o’clock.

When I leave, early the next morning, the air outside is cool, and smelling of jasmine.

The Bamboo Chimes Softly in the Early Morning Air

After a week of illness, a long weekend near the sea. I sit in the garden, strawberries and a cup of tea nearby. The clouds are slowly burning away but for now the air is cool.

Two cardinals fly from one side of the garden to the other, swooping low under the canopy of the trees. Moments later, here they are again.

They perch in the bush, feathers the color of weathered New England barns.

One bird darts away. The other immediately begins to sing. He flies deeper into the bush. Higher but a place I cannot see as well. He repeats his song.

Within moments, the first bird returns and sings his arrival.

When they have finished their reunion, they return to their game. One following the other in close proximity, they fly to the far side of the garden.

Out at sea, the sun begins to sparkle off the waves.

The Opening of Tight Buds

This morning I look in the mirror as I brush my hair. It has grown long these past three years. I twist it high on my head. It looks odd to me, this ballerina bun I haven’t worn since high school. The unframed face, the knot of hair visible only when I turn my head.

At the grocery store, I buy yogurt, granola bars, and a small pot of daffodils.

At home, I drink Irish breakfast tea and read last Sunday’s New York Times.

The moss of the daffodils is still moist. Four or five of the flowers are in full bloom. Half a dozen are still tight buds.

One flower is just opening.