Friday, December 25, 2009

It needed more animals

Christmas Eve 2009.

Downyflake decides to improve the Nativity set.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The smart ones

November and December are duck-hunting season. We wake at dawn each morning, to the sound of gunfire. It takes place out at the far end of the inlet, but resonates. It's not a likable way to wake up.

Our end of the inlet provides a nice escape for the ducks. Hunters aren't allowed anywhere near here. So these hooded mergansers congregate practically in our back yard.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How to use up as much ribbon as possible...

...for the express purpose of not having to tie ribbons on your Christmas packages.

"Well, dern! Out of ribbon. Gotta use stick-on bows."

Another thing I have a bad attitude about is wrapping packages. Tying pretty, neat, evenly-looped, well-placed, creative, color-coordinated bows on packages is a pain. Whoever invented the stick-on bow is my personal hero/heroine.

And remember how, in days long past, the ribbon would come with nice little dividers between each color, so you didn't end up with this tangled mess? No more. A plain cardboard cylinder costs the manufacturer much less and they pass those savings right on over to us consum-- Ha ha! Sorry. Couldn't say that with a straight face.

Extricating a length from this birds' nest only makes using it to gift-wrap even more of a pain. This roll of multiple ribbon colors has been around for several years because I avoid using it.

Meanwhile, last year, Larry wanted to revive his childhood Christmas tradition of making chains out of construction paper. So we did, and we doubled it this year.

And I, who really really doesn't much like craft work, find it the most soothing, delightful activity. Last year that took me by surprise, a very lovely surprise.

It inspired me to keep going and make more construction paper chains to hang on the tree. I hesitated, though, because we use the old-style colored lights and they get hot.

And then the ribbon caught my eye. The ribbon isn't totally fireproof of course, but it is a LOT sturdier, less dry and brittle, more heat-resistant. We never plug in the tree lights unless we're around, and abso-LUTE-ly never leave them on when we aren't home, and I could feel OK about using this to make chains. Lots of our ornaments are string, yarn, wood, and other homemades.

So I put on some music and started chain-making.

This is my kind of craftwork. There is no pattern. There is no planning ahead. There is no measuring. I chop pieces randomly. I cut big loops, I cut small loops. I add them to the chain randomly. I rely on the law of averages to distribute the sizes and colors of the rings, and I don't care at all if I use a color twice in a row, and then don't use it again for quite awhile.

And doing it is wonderful. It's like meditating.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brookgreen in December

Cat-astrophe, by Mary Russell. Part of the current gallery show in Brookgreen.
(I took the photo a little off-center to avoid spotlight glare.)

The other three seasons are a riot of color at Brookgreen Gardens, but winter there has a subtle beauty. In December, Brookgreen is ... green. Mostly.

A few weeks of sporadic cold nights make the water in the pools very clear, and on a still day, you get nifty reflections.

The color that you do see can be eye-catching.

This is camellia season:

Blackeyed Susans. A few flowers ares still blooming, though not in the massive banks of summer.

Even a bee finds some buds to work on
(You'll really need to enlarge this one, but he's there, near the center) :

The gardens are closed most evenings of the year unless there's an event going on, but every weekend in December they have the Nights of a Thousand Candles. Visit in the daytime and you see those square white candle-holders lining the walkways, plus strings of lights, and, in the Palmetto Garden (where it looks like the event is centered) lanterns are strung all through it.

The weather was damp and cold on Tuesday when we were there, so we headed to the indoor galleries when our bare hands got cold holding the cameras.

The current show is of seasonal themes. I love this sculpture. It's called Purity, by Georgia artist Nnamdi Okonkwo, born in Nigeria:

One gallery had the paintings and sculptures. The other, seasonal decorations. These might have titles and probably have artist names, but I forgot to get the info!

This hanging is woven entirely of long-leaf pine needles and decorated with little birds made out of feathers:

I hardly ever dislike a decision that the Brookgreen Powers That Be make, but I'm not fond of this one : they've gathered up the permanent, outdoor sculptures whose subjects pertain to this time of year, removed them from their pretty settings out in the gardens, and stuck them in the gallery.

This one (The Offering, by Marjorie Daingerfield) is so, so much prettier in its usual, ideal place outside, under its stone arch and among the leaves. Here, it's just sitting in a room. Bummer! but fortunately, I have my ten-year-old photo, which shows it to better effect.

Weather has been weird. The next day, yesterday, was hot, muggy, short-sleeves weather, but the chill cut our trip a little short on Tuesday.

Though we did have to stop and wait for a wild turkey crossing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Are places Holy?

So much seems to depend on land. So many people feel their soul is sourced from a piece of earth.

One of my iGoogle widgets is a daily photo of a sacred site. Many are Christian because a lot of our monuments are relatively recent and solidly built in stone, but others appear pretty often. Stonehenge. The pyramids. They used Crater Lake the other day, which was the first I knew of its sacred meaning for the Northwest Indians.

These places fascinate me and, lest you think me enlightened, I am drawn to them, especially to the ones tied to my beliefs. Some primitive part of my brain probably does feel that I'd be closer to God if I stood at the tomb from which Christ returned to life, or walked the same ground he walked.

I had a bunch of New Age friends back in my Hilton Head days (still have several of them) and at that time in our lives we were all experiencing tremendous growth and healing of our addictions, psyches, general nuttiness. It's a lifetime process, and I can't really explain why the place seemed to be such a source of healing energy. We all were in a regroup-and-evaluate phase, and supporting each others' journeys helped us bloom a little faster.

But many friends believed in these global meridian thingies ; that their Higher Power had led them to a place where meridians of sacred energy came together and healing power was stronger. There are books and Discovery Channel shows and all kinds of stuff about global meridians and lines of geographic power, and how people believe sacred sites seem to fall on those lines.

Whether the lines cause the spiritual power or peoples' feelings of spiritual connection cause the lines, I'll leave to each person. I wanted the warm glow others felt and attributed to these ideas but they never worked for me. The theology, if it was a theology, seemed weak and riddled with holes. I couldn't really buy the idea that geography had squat to do with whether the Higher Power had more ... well ... more power, or more interest, in re-knitting the dropped stitches in a soul.

I've tried to be open to the metaphoric nature of this stuff, since I can't believe that God connection is stronger in one place than in another, but do emphatically believe that seeking brings finding. I both loved, and respected the intelligence of, friends who believed these things. Whatever the merit, or lack of merit, in such beliefs, the beliefs have everything to do with holes in the soul, and practically nothing to do with holes in the head.

Once, I was on this mundane trip to a shopping mall with a friend who was, and is, battling the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse. She counseled with her minister, she read books, she craved a spiritual connection. As we ambled from the car into the building, she was talking about reincarnation. About how her abuser had never experienced any consequences for his actions and how she had to believe that he'd face consequences in his next life, since he hadn't in this one.

Well, I thought, OK, this helps her find some rational balance in God, it helps her cope, so it must be a good thing.

I wish I could say that the ugly logic of this hit me like a thunderbolt, but it did not until she said it herself:

"But then," she said, "I wonder what horrible thing I did in a past life to deserve what happened to me?"

Shitshitshit! NoNoNo. The wrongness of the whole thing. The whole, "I must deserve it or it wouldn't happen" thing. No. No. No.

It was the moment that I saw the flawed logic in the Rules mentality that tells me: Learn and apply the right rule, and empowerment will be as reliable as the room light when you flip the switch. Be in the right spot, or do the right thing, and tap into the power.

The problem is its flip side : wrong time or place, and less attention from God. It's a lot like : All creeps get their just desserts, therefore all desserts are earned justice.

Or : you can make the healing happen by geographic location, and therefore the hurt happened because you were too far from God, where his power is weaker.

We want it-- That's a cop-out : I want it to be within my power to summon God's attention and favors ... until I think about what that means. Then, while I can feel for people who seek comfort in these beliefs, I realize that I fear like crazy for the flip side of their comfort source.

I've been to religious services of many many kinds. Many denominations, New Age groups, Native American, Jewish, Baha'i. Usually, my mind has been in 2 states of consciousness at once, feeling as though real power was present, and knowing that, yes, it is, but it's available anywhere and everywhere. I simply can't sustain the connection through the world's noise. At a spot where I manage to briefly cut through the noise and feel a spiritual connection, I kind of feel like I stumbled into a spiritual wi-fi hot spot.

The problem is: I have to apply this across the board.

My standard, that sites are not really sacred, makes no sense if I make an exception. I can't say that believing I'm closer to God at Machu Pichu or Stonehenge is silly, while you applaud me for saying it ... and then turn around and say, "Well, but that's because those aren't the true faith; a site sacred to the true faith really is holy."

I don't say that and I don't believe it. It doesn't matter where any of us lives or where anyone is standing, when we look for God, or God comes looking for us.

I still want everybody in the middle east to quit acting stupid so I could visit the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve someday, but it's better to know that, however nifty that would be, it wouldn't give me anything I can't have any time at all.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Plastic fruit

Nostalgia is just weird. Things that I used to be barely conscious of, or even make fun of, hold this silly sentimentality for me now. OK, aging is weird too. It's occurred to me that mocking something can, just sometimes, be part of the process of growing to love it.

Every autumn of my childhood, as predictable the new fall TV shows and the speciously cheery back-to-school ads, the plastic fruit would appear on our dining room table for its 6-month rotation as centerpiece. A bowl of seashells -- big beautiful ones that my mother collected over the years-- occupied my mother's table spring through summer,

and still does.

In October we'd come home one day to find that the shells had disappeared into their winter limbo and the fruit had materialized in its place.

The fruit was actually rather pretty stuff from some nice home d├ęcor department. It was also mostly kid-friendly. There were only a few ceramic pieces and they were fortunately not as much fun to play with as the more abundant plastic items ; especially the virtually indestructible grapes, which we'd pull off their little stems and pop back on.

Mom didn't shriek when we played with the shells either. If it sounds like a nice house to grow up in, it was. We, naturally, took all the little touches of class and comfort for granted. They lived in the background, set dressing for the little angsts and dramas of our childhood lives.

The fact that the fruit's appearance coincided with school, getting up early, wearing miserable scratchy clothes all day, cold weather, youknowthedrill, probably contributed to our put-down fruit jokes. The shells appeared around tax time and meant that summer really would come. They lifted my heart and honestly, the appearance of the fruit sank my spirits a little. The first few weeks of school had passed by the time it showed up, but it still meant summer really was over. So my nostalgia for it might be a trifle bizarre.

But I'm now School-Free, and allowed to like autumn again, and when you get down to brass tacks, fake fruit is just .... funny.

We could make fun of our family rituals because they were always there, always reliably in place. I can't recall which book, but in one of them, C. S. Lewis observed that the human soul has a deep-seated need for both variety and predictability. The cycle of the seasons, he said, was designed to provide us with constant change and yet a comforting continuity. When I read that, I had one of those Yes moments. All the family routines, even when they meant something a little sad, nevertheless meant that home, parents, and therefore, life, were running smoothly and could be counted on.

My cousins turned up some fruit just like it as they went through their parents' things, and offered it to me. "Haha!" I laughed. Then realized: "Wait! I'll take it."

What?! Can I possibly be feeling sentimental about ersatz grapes? Yeah. It's just like ours and probably came from the same source. The one ceramic piece -- that little pear -- has the same "Made in Italy" stamp as the apples and eggplant my mother still has.

So now I have my own plastic fruit. As we prepped for Thanksgiving and visits from my brother and his wife and kids, I arranged it in this basket on our -- temporarily -- cleared-off dining table, for nostalgia's sake. It kinda gives me that homey feeling.