Flower of June: Roses

 

Venus Verticorida by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Venus Verticorida by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As I write this page, I am swimming in the sweet, spicy scent of the ruffled pink rose sitting in a vase of water on my desk.. Having recently been introduced to the serious art of wine tasting, I am educating my scent palate to register smells like tar and tobacco in wines. And I find the same acuity extends to flowers. Roses no longer just smell like roses; some are black cherry and others have the spiciness of carnations. This pink rose, however, is all rose: but on the peppery edge of rose.

The name rose simply means rose, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, although other sources derive it from Rhodes (where, apparently, roses grew) or from a Greek root meaning “red.” The word for Rose in Avestan, the language of Zoroaster, is vareda and in Armenian it is vard; and we see this root in the name of the midsummer festival Vartavar, the Flaming of the Rose. The Persian word for rose is gul, which also means flower, and is close to ghul, the word for spirit. Rose water is called gulab, as is a beverage made from water and honey or syrup, from which (via Arabia julab) we get the julep in mint juleps.

I have found more confusion in flower lore than anywhere else in my research. Of course, part of the problem with flowers is that it’s often hard to tell which plant is referred to by which name. But that seems hardly likely for roses. Still of the twelve books about flowers on my desk, every one tells a different (unattributed) story about the early references to roses.

What is clear is that the rose was cultivated by the Greeks. One source says Venus pricked herself on a thorn of a white rose and stained it red. Or that Cupid spilled red wine on it. But I can’t find these stories in my usual source for Greek mythology, Robert Graves.

stylized roseThe Romans adored roses and used them liberally in festivities, so liberally it is said that at one party, the guests were actually smothered by rose petals falling from the ceiling. This is not the origin of the term sub rosa. That comes from the Roman practice of hanging a rose over a conference table, which was supposed to indicate that everything spoken there would be held in confidence. For many centuries, roses were carved or painted on the ceilings of dining chambers to indicate that the diners could talk freely.

Horace in the Odes said: “Nor let roses be wanting to our feast.” The Sybarites slept on mattresses stuffed with rose petals. The rose garden of King Midas was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Apuleius in  Metamorphoses, gives them as decoration to Venus, who after an evening of revelry is described “Heavy with wine and all her body bound about with flashing roses.” Many legends aassociate the rose with Venus. It is her flower, par excellence.

For a while, because of the bad reputation roses had acquired under the Romans, Christians did not allow the rose in church, but eventually it was adopted into Christian iconography. Christ is shown crowned with rose thorns and Judas supposedly hanged himself from a rose tree. Mary is addressed with various rose titles, including Rose of Sharon, the Rose-bush, the Rose-garland, the Rose-garden, Wreath of Roses, Mystic Rose and Queen of the Most Holy Rose-garden.

To the Arabs, roses signify masculine beauty. It is said that the white rose sprang from the sweat of Mohammed on his journey to heaven.

In Germany, the rose is under the protection of the dwarfs or fairies and you must ask their permission before picking one, this is the mistake Beauty’s father made when plucking the rose from the Beast’s garden. In a reversal on this motif, other legends tell of people who were enchanted and turned into animals who regained their human form by eating a rose, for instance, Apuleius in the Golden Ass and St. Denis, the patron of France.

For many centuries in Greece, Rome and China, the rose was a funeral flower. In Switzerland, the cemetery is sometimes called the Rosengarten. In England it is customary to plant a rosebush on the grave of a lover who dies before the marriage, thus combining the themes of love and death. Seeing the petals of a rose fall is a sign of death for the Germans although it can be counteracted by burning some of the petals.

An Indian legend tells about a quarrel between Vishnu and Brhama about the most beautiful flower. Brahma insisted upon the lotus (the flower of July) until Vishnu showed him a rose.

A Brief History of Roses

rosa canina

Rosa canina

Roses have been cultivated in Greece and China for over 3,000 years. The earliest rose is the dog rose (Rosa canina). Fossils of this species from 35 million years ago were found in Montana. I just smelt a dog rose as I strolled home in the midsummer sunshine and it has the most intense fragrance of any rose.

Rosa gallica by Pieree Joseph Redoute

Rosa Gallica by Pieree Joseph Redoute

The next oldest rose is the  rosa gallica (gallica officinalis), a symbol of the sun in the 12th century BCE. It has a rich cherry color and flowers the size of a field poppy. This was the rose used as a symbol of Lancaster during the War of the Roses. A striped Rosa Gallica called Rosa Mundi commemorates Henry II’s mistress, Rosamund, hidden by him at Woodstock near Oxford, and murdered by jealous Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is also known as the apothecary rose because it was used by herbal healers.

The next distinct rose type comes from 1000 BCE and grew at the Temple of Aphrodite at Samos. It has loose petals, voluptuous and scented, and was known as the damask rose in England, supposedly because it came from Damascus. Because of its wonderful scent, it was used primarily used to make rose water.

Rosa damascena by Pierre Joseph Redoute

Rosa damascena by Pierre Joseph Redoute

Another early rose is the sweet briar or eglantine (rosa rubiginosa), which is mentioned by Chaucer and also appears in The Song of Roland:

On white carpets those knights have sat them down,
At the game-boards to pass an idle hour—
Checkers the old, for wisdom most renowned,
While fence the young and lusty bachelors
Beneath a pine in eglantine embowered.

translated by CS Moncrieff

I believe this is the rose in the rose hedge observed by Richard Jefferies, a naturalist, near a farm at Wick in Wiltshire:

Some of [the] briars stretch forth into the meadow, and then, bent down by their own weight, form an arch crowned with flowers. There is an old superstition about these arches of briar hung out along the hedge-row: magical cures of whooping-cough and some other disease of childhood can, it is believed, be effected by passing the child at sunrise under the briar facing the rising sun.

Chinese roses first arrived in Europe near the end of the 18th century. These were the tea-roses, possibly so-called because they were imported along with tea. In China they were often named for poetic concepts, like “Clear Shining after Rain,” while in France, new varieities were usually named for men, wives and mistresses. When crossed with hybrid perpetuals, these roses produced most modern roses.

The rose is a member of the Rosacae which also includes strawberries and raspberries, apples and almonds, plums and apricots.

For a much more thorough discussion, see:

http://www.csulb.edu/~odinthor/oldrose.html

 

Rose Holidays

There are many holidays associated with roses, many of them in June. And in fact, June is national Rose Month (so declared in America in 1969).

Rose Monday is celebrated in Germany on the Monday before Lent begins, with parades, masked balls, parties, satirical speeches and other Carnival events.

Several saints with feast days in June are associated with roses. The yellow rose is the symbol of St. Nicomede whose feast day is June 1st. And the three-leaved rose is associated with St. Boniface on June 5. And on St. Barnaby’s day, June 11, it was customary in Great Britain to decorate churches and houses and even clergymen (who wore chaplets of roses while officiating)with Barnaby garlands of roses and sweet woodruff. Red roses are associated with St. George, whose feast day is April 23.

Ginzburg citing studies by Nilsson and Ranke says that the Christian festival of Pentecost derives from the Rosalia (a Roman ceremony honoring the dead, celebrated on May 10 and May 31). According to posts at several web sites that study ancient Roman religion, the standards of military units were brought out on these days and decorated with a garland of roses, presumably to honor soldiers from the unit who had died in combat.

The day before Pentecost is a day when many Christians visit and decorate the graves of their loved ones (and it may be the precursor of Memorial Day). And on Pentecost in Messina, according to Urlin, great quantities of roses wee dripped from the ceiling of the church during the singing of the famous Come Holy Spirit.

The Armenians have a festival called Vartavar or Flaming of the Rose. Originally a Midsummer festival, it is now celebrated at the same time as the Transfiguration, 98 days after Easter, but still involves the pagan customs inherited from the older holiday: decorating churches with roses, spraying each other with water and releasing doves.

Rose Water

The 16th century English herbalist, Gerard, recommended rose water for “the strengthening of the heart, and refreshing of the spirits and likewise for all things that require a gentle cooling. The same being put in junketting dishes, cakes, sauces and many other pleasant things, giveth a fine and delectable taste.”

Jean Gordon in her book, Cooking with Roses, provides instructions for distilling rose water:

Gather about a pound of fresh rose petals [be sure they have not been sprayed] from fragrant roses. Fill an aluminum tea kettle half full of water, strew rose petals thickly over the surface. Close the kettle and set over a low heat. Attach a clean rubber hose to the spout of the kettle and place the other end in a glass jar on the floor. Arrange the rubber hose so part of it is submerged in a pan of cold water. The essence of the rose petals will be extracted by the heat and carried off with the steam generated by the water. The vapors, on passing through that part of the rubber hose which is under water, are condensed and run into the glass jar in the form of rose water. Be certain the temperature is low, the petals do not clog the spout and that there is no obstruction in the tub, as the pressure of the steam may force the lid from the kettle and scatter petals over the walls and ceiling of the kitchen. Aside from this danger, rose water is not really difficult to distill. The first attempt may take time and patience, but after that success is almost certain.

When using rose water in cooking, Gordon suggests adding it near the end as the flavor is delicate and easily lost during baking and boiling. Add rose water to cakes, to frosting, to cookies (especially those with a delicate flavor like shortbread or sugar cookies).

Arabs use rose water with honey and butter to glaze a roasting chicken. In Greece, it flavors candies and pastries. In Turkey, a bottle of rose water sits on the table and is sprinkled over food for flavor. This same sprinkler is called attardane in India.

Rose water has also been used for baptisms and to purify mosques and temples. The Romans used rose water in their fountains.

Eating & Drinking Roses

Why not design a rose meal? You could serve rose sandwiches (rose petals and cream cheese), scones with rose jam or rose butter and rose tea (made from adding a few dried petals to black tea when steeping in the pot). For dessert, baklava or rose-flavored shortbread cookies or a rose cake decorated with crystallized rose petals.

For beverages, serve rose punch or rose wine, and use roses for cups. Lucy Maria Boston gives parties where she asks each guest to choose a globular rose to drink from. “It is rather a dribbly business,” she writes, “the roses leak, but utterly delicious; also long drawn out, the process can’t be hurried.” Shekinah Mountainwater suggests sprinkling rose petals in a cup of red wine or rose water. As you sip from it, the petals will caress your lips and the scent your nose.

Rose Blossom Punch

This punch recipe, which I believe comes from the Evelyn and Crabtree cookbook, features roses both visually (frozen in a block of ice) and with the flavor of rosewater.

3 pink unsprayed roses with about 6-inch stems, rinsed
8 cups dry white wine, chilled
1/2 cup kirsch
1 to 2 T rosewater
To serve:
small pink unsprayed rose petals and leaves, rinsed, and patted dry

To make the decorative ice cube:

The day before you plan to serve the punch, thoroughly rinse a cardboard milk or juice carton. Cut off the top and trim the sides to 7 inches. Put the roses in the carton and fill it to within one inch of the top with boiled and cooled water. Freeze overnight or until solid.

To make the punch:

Combine wine, kirsch and rosewater in a punch bowl. Remove the cardboard from the rose-studded ice cube and place in the bowl. Float small rose petals and leaves on top. Serve in long-stemmed wineglasses.

Rose Wine

The Gulistan, a collection of Persian wisdom, mentions a rose wine so strong that “a glass could make the sternest monarch merciful or make the sickliest mortal slumber amid his pains.” The Siberians make a bright red sparkling wine from the leaves of the wild rose, called Shimpovka.

1 quart dried rose petals
2 oranges
4 quarts water
2 lemons
2 pounds sugar
1 1/4 oz yeast cake

Add 2 quarts of water to the rose petals and boil for 20 minutes. Cool. Add lemons and oranges sliced very thin, the sugar and yeast dissolved in warm water. Add 2 additional quarts of boiled water. Let stand 8 to 10 days, stirring 2 or 3 times daily. Drain and put in a jug, lightly corked, until through working. Strain and pour into sterilized bottles and cork.

Rose Petal Jam

Gordon got this recipe from the Turkish Information Office.

1/2 pound red rose petals
1/2 pound white rose petals
3 pounds sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Place the red rose petals in a large jar in alternating layers of petals and sugar until all the petals are used. Press and pack tight. Using a different jar, repeat this process with the white rose petals. Set aside the remaining sugar for later use. Pour 3/4 cup hot water into each jar and cover each with a piece of damp cloth. Let stand for 3 days.

Strain the juice from the jar of white petals; discard the petals. Take the remaining sugar and add enough water to dissolve it; boil in an enamel saucepan to make a heavy syrup. Add the juice and petals from the red-petal jar and the juice of the white-petal jar. Bring to a boil and simmer until the mixture reaches the consistency of honey. Add the lemon juice and stir. Cool the jam and ladle into screw-top jars.

Every country has a slightly different way of preparing this treat. In Greece, 1 pound of rose petals are kneaded with 1 pound of sugar. This mixture is left to stand for a day. The following day, it is put into a pot, along with 3 pounds sugar, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 3 glasses of water and boiled until it becomes a thick syrup.

rose nougatRose Conserve

There is also a way of making an uncooked rose petal preserve or conserve which seems very appealing to me. In Persia it is called Gulkanda, from Gul (for Rose) and Kanda (the same word which gives us candy). In India, a similar concoction is called Goolakund.

1 pound rose petals
3 pounds sugar3 pounds sugar

Crush the rose petals. Place a layer of sugar in a large jar and alternate with the crush petals until you’ve used all the sugar. Close the jar tightly and leave in the hot sunshine several days until all the sugar is melted. Serve as a jam.

Since it may be hard to obtain a pound of rose petals, you can reduce the quantities and use a cup instead. You can also use brown sugar instead of white. This was called Rose Tobacco in Colonial days.

Old Rose Recipes

Rose Butter

I love old recipes, both for the language and the technique. This one is over a hundred years old.

Wash rose petals and put them in a stone jar, sprinkling them with fine salt. Next day gather some more and repeat until the jar is almost filled. Keep the jar well covered at all times with a lid and also wrapped in a coarse cloth. When you plan to make rice pudding or cake, weight the butter you intend using and put it in the jar on top of the rose petals overnight. By the time you take it out, it will have absorbed a very fine rose flavor, superior to that of rose water. Rose petals may be kept in this way for a year, until they bloom again.

Rose Conserve

This recipe is even older. It comes from the 16th century English herbalist, Gerard.

Take Roses at your plesure, put them to boyle in faire water, having regard to the quantity; for if you have many Roses you may take more water; if fewere, the lesse water will serve: the which you shall boyle at the least three or foure houres, even as you would boile a piece of meate, untill in the eating they be very tender, at which time the Roses will lose their colour, that you would thinke your labour lost, and the thing spoiled. But proceed, for though the Roses have lost their colour, the water hath gotten the tincture thereof; then shall you adde unto one pound of Roses, foure pound of fine sugar in pure pouder, and so according to the rest of the Roses. Thus shall you let them boyule gently after the sugar is put therto, continually stirring it with a wooden Spatula untill it be raw conserve, as well for the vertues and goodnesse in taste, as also for the beautifull colour.

Rose Treats

Baklava

1 package phyllo dough
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 t mace
1 cup ground almonds or chopped pistachios
rose water or Baklava Rose Syrup (see below)

Lay a paper-thin sheet of phyllo dough on a buttered cake or pie tin and spread with melted butter, using a brush. Add five or six additional sheets, buttering each, then spread a mixture of the sugar, mace and nuts on top. Add 5 or 6 more layers and repeat. Do this until the baklava is about 2 inches high. With a sharp knife, cut crisscross slits on the top, about 1-1/2 inches apart. Bake in a 250 oven for about 1 hour. After you have taken it out of the oven, sprinkle it with rose water or Baklava Rose Syrup. Serve it with black coffee.

Baklava Rose Syrup

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
juice & rind of 1/2 orange
1 T rose water

Mix together the water, sugar, orange juice and rind. Boil for 3 minutes, then add the rose water.

Candied Rose Petals

2 cups fragrant rose petals
1/2 pound sugar
1 cup powdered sugar

Boil the sugar in 2 cups of water until the syrup spins a thread. Set on ice to cool. When the syrup starts to crystallize, dip the petals in with wire tongs or tweezers, a few at a time. Then take out and spread on waxed paper. When they begin to dry, dust with powdered sugar on one side and then on the other. Store in airtight containers.

Crystallized Rose Petals

Beat the white of one egg to a foam. Dip a small pastry brush (or use your fingers) in egg white and brush well over the sides of the rose petals. Be certain that no surplus egg white remains on the petal but that both sides are moist. Shake granulated sugar on both sides and place on a tray to dry in the refrigerator.

Rose Sugar

Bury a small fragrant rose in a screw-top glass jar full of sugar. Set on a windowsill that gets sun for several weeks. The scent of the rose will permeate the sugar.

Rose Fragrances

A story is told that the secret for making attar of roses was discovered by a princess at her wedding feast when she noticed that the rose petals floating in the water were leaving behind an oily residue as the sun made the water evaporate. This oily deposit was skimmed from the surface to make rose oil. Sixty thousand roses were required to make a single ounce of oil.

Tincture of Roses

Place the petals of fragrant roses, without pressing them, in a bottle. Pour some good spirits of wine over them. Then close the bottle and let it stand until required for use. It will keep for years and smells similar to attar of roses, which is much more expensive and difficult to make.

Attar of Roses

Fill a large glazed earthen jar with rose leaves, carefully separated from the cups; pour upon them spring water, just sufficient to cover them, and set the jar with its contents in the sun for two or three days, taking it under cover at night. At the end of the third or fourth day, small particles of yellow oil will be seen floating on the surface of the water. In the course of a week, these will have increased to a thin scum. The scum is attar of roses. Take it up with a little cotton tied at the end of a stick (sounds like a Q-tip to me) and squeeze it into a vial.

Rose Toilet Water

Press rose petals from the most naturally fragrant roses into a bottle. Add glycerin and keep tightly corked for four weeks. Strain or use directly from the bottle. A few drops added to rainwater make a fragrant rinse.

Rose Crafts

Roses and Rosariesrosenecklace

Many of you have probably heard, as I have, that rosaries were originally made from rose beads. But that is actually a fanciful derivation. The original rosaries were probably knotted ropes, and for gentlewomen, lovely strings of precious stones, much like the lovely Goddess rosaries Lunaea Weatherstone makes and sells.

But you can make beads from roses and one of my Living in Season friends, Eyln MacInnis, has created a Kindle book and a website devoted to explaining this craft. The rose bead necklace in the photo to the right is one she made.

References

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc, Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Book of Days, Oxford Univ Press, 2000

Boston, L.M, Memory in a House, Macmillan 1974

Castleman, Michael, The Healing Herbs, Rodale Press 1991

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, first published 1653, reprint version published by Wordsworth Editions (Cumberland House, Crib Street, Ware, Hertfordshire) 1995

Digby, Sir Kenelm, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, ed by Anne MacDonell, London: Philip Lee Warner 1910

Frazer, Sir James, The New Golden Bough, abridged by Theodor H Gaster, New American Library 1959

Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, edited by Maria Leach, Harper & Row 1972

Gerard’s Herbal, edited by Marcus Woodward, London: Senate (Studio Editions, Ltd) 1994

Ginzberg, Carlo, Ecstasie: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbats, translated by Raymond Rosenthal, Pantheon 1991

Gordon, Jean, The Art of Cooking with Roses, Walker & Company 1968

Goudge, Elizabeth, The White Witch, Popular Library 1958

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987

Luard, Elizabeth, Sacred Food, Chicago Review Press

Martin, Laura C., Garden Flower Folklore, Globe Pequot Press (Chester CT 06412), 1987

Mountainwater, Shekinah, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, Crossing Press 1991

Perlman, Dorothy, The Magic of Honey, Avon 1971

Rago, Linda Ours, The Herbal Almanack, Washington DC: Starwood Publishing 1992

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs, edited by Claire Kowalchik & William Hylton, Rodale Press 1987

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman’s Press 1937

Urlin, Ethel, Festivals, Holy Days and Saints’ Days: A Study in Origins and Survivals in Church Ceremonies and Secular Customs, Gale Research 1979

Ward, Bobby J., A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth &Literature, Timber Press 1999

Wells, Diana, 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 1997

Web Sites:

On Roman festival of Rosalia:

http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Post/347224

For sources:

http://omega.cohums.ohio-state.edu/mailing_lists/CLA-L/2006/05/0435.php

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Dallying with Dahlias

dahlias 2Every autumn the Puget Sound Dahlia Association plants a dahlia display garden at Volunteer Park in Seattle, along the edge of an open grassy field. My friend, Lori DeMarre, the photographer, first took me there on one of our monthly photo expeditions. Now I return every year (this time with my writing group) to wander among the fantastic blooms.

The dahlias glow in the autumn sun. Criss-crossing back and forth between the plants, trying to avoid the spider webs dripping with dew, I admire the sheer excess and exuberance of the species. Yellow dahlias, as big as salad plates, shining like miniature sunbursts. Tiny pompom dahlias of deep maroon. Petals of magenta and maroon curling inward in a perfect geometric pattern, like those designs I created as a child with a Spirograph. Dahlia stems, snapped in half, broken under the weight of the flowery burdens. The Mingus Toni (dahlias have fantastic names as well as fantastic colors) with magenta petals, streaked with splashes of red, exploding from an orange center.

My favorite last year was a big red dahlia called Mars. A magnificent red-orange, it blazed like the Fiery Planet itself against the dark shrubbery. With its eight single petals, it was probably similar in form to the original dahlia, which comes from Central America and Colombia and was known to the Aztecs as cocoxochitl, or at least that was the version of the Aztec name recorded by Francisco Hernandez, physician to Philip II, who compiled a thesaurus of medicinal plants from “New Spain.” In fact, I chose the Dahlia as the flower to feature for the month of August, because it’s not a North American or English flower originally, unlike many of the other flowers on flower-of-the-month lists.

Statue of Coatlicue in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City

Statue of Coatlicue in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City

According to a legend reported by Diana Wells in her book on flower names, the Aztec goddess, Serpent Woman, used to visit an eagle to gain knowledge of the sky gods. On one of her visits, she met a rabbit, holding a dahlia with eight red rays in its mouth. The gods told her to pierce the flower with a sharp spike of agave and hold this to her breast all night long. The next morning, she delivered a full-grown son, the War God, Utzilopochtli, who had gained strength for war and thirst for blood from the dahlia. However, I have not been able to find this legend in any online references for Aztec mythology.

The usual story told of the birth of Huitzilopochtli makes him the son of the Aztec earth-goddess, Coatlicue, the goddess of life and death, who was always depicted wearing a necklace of skulls and a skirt of serpents. She found a ball of feathers and tucked it into her skirt, thus becoming pregnant. This angered her other children and they plotted to kill her. But when they dragged her up on top of a mountain to sacrifice her, she gave birth to Huitzilopochtli, the war-god, often depicted as a beserker humming-bird, who slew his treacherous siblings in an orgy of blood.

The militaristic Aztec culture which ruled by fear downplayed Coatlicue’s connection with birth and instead emphasized death. Fray Diego Duran, one of the early Jesuit missionaries (but I always get nervous when Catholic missionaries describe the customs of a people they are trying to civilize as they are wont to exaggerate the barbarism) reported on the custom of enlisting a young woman to represent Coatlicue, who disappears into a lake, leaving behind a cradle containing a knife, a signal that the goddess wants more sacrifices. According to Wells, every eight years when the Aztecs sacrificed prisoners to the War God, removed their hearts and placed them on stones surrounded by dahlias and agave.

It would be interesting to know how the hummingbird became a symbol of carnage. I would assume it would represent appreciation of beauty or fertilization, not slaughter. Perhaps it represents a shift in values, just as the ancient Roman god, Mars, was a god of agriculture originally, rather than the god of war.

The dahlia of Central America, the dahlia pinnata (I love the name with its suggestion of a pinwheel) had a very simple form: eight single scarlet petals around a yellow disk. (The Spanish conquerors also found another dahlia, the tree dahlia, acocotli or dahlia imperialis, although I don’t think that’s the one they brought to Europe). Perhaps because of this simplicity, the flowers, were not at first valued by European gardeners. Instead scientists experimented with preparing the tuberous root like a potato but found it lacking in taste. However, the Aztecs had used the roots to treat epilepsy. And in Europe and America, until insulin was discovered, diabetics were often given a substance called Atlantic starch or diabetic sugar made from dahlia tubers. And the Chinese, after testing 400 plants, have chosen the dahlia to be one of 31 herbs used to treat HIV.

Jamaica Kincaid, writing about gardening for the New Yorker, has often commented on the way plants, seized during the conquest of the country, go through a colonization process. In the case of the cocoxochitl, it was renamed after a friend of Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, named Andreas Dahl. Thus the flower name dahlia is a Swedish name, meaning “from the valley,” as I discovered to my surprise when I looked for its meaning and ended up at a baby name site.

In the language of the flowers, depending on which source you use, the dahlia means gratitude, dignity, pomp, instability and misrepresentation. Geraldine Adamich Laufer provides these even more specific meanings:

Double dahlia by Redoute

Double dahlia by Redoute

double dahlia—participation
single dahlia—good taste
variegated dahlia—I think of you constantly
white dahlia—gratitude to parents
yellow dahlia—”I am happy you love me”

From L'illustratoin horticole

From L’illustratoin horticole

The dahlia didn’t really become popular in Europe until people discovered how to hybridize the flower and produce the incredible variety of colors and shapes which exists today. They were probably at the peak of popularity in the 19th century, since the Victorians loved the flamboyance and variety of the flower which could be raised in hothouses and then placed in beds for spectacular displays of color. A prize of one thousand pounds was offered in 1826 for a blue dahlia, but no one has yet produced one.

Looking at any dahlia organization website is like going to a pedigreed dog show, where the emphasis is all on classification. Dahlias range in size from AA (Giant), over ten inches in diameter, to MS (Mignon Single), up to 2 inches in diameter. The array of shapes includes formal decorative, informal decorative, semi-cactus, straight-cactus, incurved-cactus, laciniated (a twisted, fringed effect), ball, pompom, stellar, waterlily, peony, anemone, collarette, single (like the original dahlia), orchid, and novelty. Dahlias display every color but blue and black, but they seem happiest with the warm, rich, velvety colors of autumn: flame and bronze and lavender and yellow. I have only one dahlia plant in my garden this year (the rest were devastated by blight last year), but it is a color I would describe as cinnamon pink.

Dahlias are pretty easy to grow. They like rich, well-drained soil and plenty of sun. They can be planted as seeds but then need at least a year of growth before they will flower. The most common way to plant dahlias is to plant the tubers, either purchased or acquired through dividing the roots of an existing plant. The tubers are planted in spring, about two weeks before the last frost, in trenches, about four inches deep, with the buds pointing up, then covered with about two inches of soil. They will need plenty of water and support (drive a post into the dirt beside the tuber) or else they will break under their own weight. As they grow, add more dirt to the trench until it is level with the ground. When the plant is about one foot high, pinch off the top to encourage lateral growth. The more you pick them, the more blooms they produce.

I love to bring my dahlias into the house where their vivid colors warm my days. The scientists at the University of Nebraska Extension (who also have plenty to say about dahlia diseases and pestering insects) advise cutting them in the early morning or late afternoon when the blossom are almost fully open. Remove the lower leaves and place the stems in 110 degree Fahrenheit water in a cool, dark location for 24 hours. The stems should be cut again every day, removing about 1/4 inch and placing them in fresh water, or use a floral preservative.

Dahlias, used to a sunnier climate, are sensitive to frost. After the plants have been destroyed by frost, dig up the tubers on a sunny day, shake off the dirt and store them in a dry, cool place. I must admit that I have never dug up my dahlias (but then the Northwest has relatively mild winters) and they keep producing blooms year after year. This poem written by Edith Matilda Thomas, and printed by Bobby Ward in his book on flower lore, captures both the beauty and the melancholy of this season when the dahlias bloom.

Frost To-Night

Apple-green west and an orange bar,
And the crystal eye of a lone, one star . . .
And, “Child, take the shears and cut what you will.
Frost to-night—so close and dead-still.”

Then I sally forth, half sad, half proud,
And I come to the velvet, imperial crowd,
The wine-red, the gold, the crimson, the pied—
The dahlias that reign by the garden-side.

The dahlias I might not touch till to-night!
A gleam of the shears in the fading light,
And I gathered them all,–the splendid throng,
And in one great sheaf I bore them along.

In my garden of Life with its all-late flowers
I heed a Voice in the shrinking hours:
“Frost to-night—so clear and dead-still. . .”
Half sad, half proud, my arms I fill.

 

Resources:
American Dahlia Society, www.dahlia.org
Carbonell, Ann Maria, “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros, Melus, Summer 1999, www.findarticles.com
Killingsworth, Brian, “Dahlia Basics,” www.dahlia.org/basic1.html
People’s Daily, “Chinese Find Cactus, Dahlia Useful for Curing Diseases,” June 9, 2003, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200306/09/eng20030609_117907.shtml
Sander, Reinhard, writing a review of Diane Simmons’s book on Jamaica Kincaid for www.thecaribbeanwriter.com/volume10/v10p194.html
Steinegger, Donald H., John E. Watkins and Frederick P. Baxendale, “Growing Dahlias,” a publication of the University of Nebraska Extension program, http://www.ianr.unl.edu/pubs/horticulture/g189.htm
Ward, Bobby J, A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature, Timber Press 1999
Wells, Diana, 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 1997

Illustrations:
Picture of Coatlicue: Del Campo, Edgar Martin, http://members.aol.com/emdelcamp/mother.htm

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Pysanky: Ritual Eggs

Decorating eggs is one of my favorite spring time rituals. Every year around this time, I set out the pots of dye and the cartons of eggs, the tools and the candles and the beeswax I need to make pysanky.  And for the few weeks before Easter, I spend a few hours every night or so, inscribing patterns on eggs. I can get lost for hours, totally absorbed in this process.

The art of decorating eggs may be the oldest art form. A recent find in South Africa of colored and etched ostrich shells dating back 60,000 years has scientists speculating on their meaning. Having made pysanky for years, I recognize them as ritual eggs, and the designs chosen as those that are easiest for beginning egg artists to create.

These eggs are magic talismans.
Eggs are  symbols of spring, found in cultures and ritual meals all over the world. Some of the most beautiful decorated eggs come from the Ukraine where they are called PysankyPysanky feature elaborate designs made with beeswax resist and are always raw. These eggs are magic talismans. The designs on the sides are messages (pysanky comes from a root word meaning “to write”) invoking fertility, long life, luck, protection and hope. Eggs with wheat and fruit designs might be buried in the fields to encourage the crops. Eggs with blue and green meander designs were kept in homes and carried around a fire to contain it.

I learned how to make pysanky from a book called Ukrainian Easter Eggs written by Anne Kmit, the Luciow sisters and Luba Perchyshyn. They have written many books on this topic but also sell tools and provide instructions on their web site: Ukrainian Gift Shop. Pysanky were always made by groups of women working together, late at night, during the week before Easter. The children were in bed; the men were not invited; the eggs were always fertile eggs. The women asked for specific blessings for each egg they made and sang traditional songs as they worked.

The eggs were distributed in a ritual manner. One or two eggs were given to the priest. Eggs were placed on the graves of family members. Eggs were given to all the children and godchildren. Unmarried girls exchanged eggs with the eligible young men in the community. A few eggs were placed in coffins to be ready in case someone died. Several were kept in the home to protect from fire and storms. Two or three were placed in the trough or the stables so the animals would have many young. One egg was placed under each beehive and one was saved for each grazing animal to be taken out to the fields with the shepherds in the spring. An egg with wheat symbols was placed at the start of the first furrow plowed and another at the end of the last. A bride would take an egg to her marriage ceremony in her skirt and on returning home, drop it saying. “Let me bear the child as easily as the egg falls.” If that didn’t work, the husband might receive an egg with a rooster on it or an oak leaf.

Every aspect of making the egg was important from the colors chosen to the designs. The most ancient and widely used symbol was the sun. Certain eggs, covered with symbols of water, flowers, growing plants and little wings, were used to “call spring.” Other eggs, called “noise insect eggs” depicted birds singing, crickets and the chirping noise of the forest to invoke the sounds of spring.

Here’s a list of some symbols.

Star: Success

Birds:  Spring, good harvest & pushing away evil

Hearts: Love

Fruits, vegetables, wheat: Good harvest

Flowers:  Beauty and children

Spiders:  Healing powers and good luck

Animals, especially deer:  Prosperity and wealth

Ladders (given to older people):  Moving to a new level of existence

40 triangles (a traditional pattern):  Wishes for the many facets of family life

Circle: Protection

Thirteen years ago I finally purchased the appropriate tool for making Ukrainian eggs, a kistka (I got mine in the art department of my local university bookstore). Ever since then, I’ve been hosting egg-decorating parties for me and my women friends. Each woman brings some eggs (either raw or hard-boiled). Meanwhile I set up several tables with kistkas, blocks of beeswax, a candle for each woman and some way of holding the egg steady (paper towels are the simplest—we also use the little plastic tables that come with your delivered pizza). The same stores that sell kistkas and special beeswax (dyed a darker color so it’s easier to see) also sell lathes on which you can turn your eggs so you can achieve perfectly even lines. We’ve never used one of these. The same stores also sell electric kistkas but I’ve scorned these as too modern. I like the simple ancient process.

I love the delicacy of the designs, the smell of the wax and the flickering light of the candle, which combine to create a trance-like state.

However, I do buy the packets of Ukrainian dyes—most of which are highly toxic—because they produce brilliant colors—turquoise, black and maroon, among others–you can’t find in ordinary Easter egg dyes. These are made with boiling water so mix them ahead of time so they can cool. I also use the regular Easter egg dyes you buy in kits at the store, particularly because I like the little wire dippers that come in these kits, handy for putting eggs in and out of the jars (I use wide-mouthed canning jars). We also use spoons for this task. I leave my dyes out, often for two or three weeks, so I can continue working on eggs. I love the way they look: the gleaming jars and the brilliant colors.

To make the design, you put a little bit of beeswax in the funnel of the kistka, then melt it over a candle flame and draw on the eggshell with the molten beeswax. Begin with a white egg and put wax on all the areas you want to stay white, then dye the egg yellow, and cover all the areas with wax which you want to remain yellow, and so forth through orange, red and a dark color (brown, black or purple). When the egg is done, place it in a low-temperature oven for a few minutes to melt the wax, which is then rubbed off to reveal the intricate designs and glowing colors of your egg. I love the delicacy of the designs, the smell of the wax and the flickering light of the candle, which combine to create a trance-like state.

If you don’t have a kistka, you can decorate eggs using a pin. Simply dip it into melted wax and drag it across the surface of the egg. It will leave a little comet-like trail. When done in concentric circles, you will have created sunbursts. The eggs, even though they are not cooked, can be kept for many years if they are stored so the air can move around them freely. I store mine in egg cartons in the basement but I have had an occasional egg go bad. Last year, I put varnish on all the eggs, hoping this would help preserve them. It’s a messy process (since there’s no way to hold an egg without getting varnish all over your own fingers) but it seems to have helped and it certainly brought out their colors. You can also blow the inside out of the eggs after they’ve been painted.

For more information on making Ukrainian eggs, you might enjoy this website created by Artist Ann Morash. For inspiration, or just amazement, check out the stunning examples of pysanky from Kolomiya Museum of Hutsul Folk Art. This web site featuring the work of Sofia Zielyk shows the way an artist might interpret this traditional craft. And then there’s Martha Stewart. She features 56 different ways to decorate eggs on her web site including marbled eggs, glittered eggs (very classy), gilded eggs, eggs dyed with natural materials, silk-dyed eggs, lace eggs, stenciled eggs and many more.

First published Mar 12, 2010

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A Poem for St David’s Day

FebruarySince March 1st is the feast day of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, I thought I would share a Welsh poem with you. And since March 1 is famously the start of a windy month (March either comes in like a lamb or like a lion, reversing its nature at the end of the month), I wanted to share a poem (see the YouTube video below) about the Wind by Dafydd ap Gwilym (who is named after the saint as Dafydd is the Welsh spelling of David).

Dafydd ap Gwilym is one of my favorites of the Welsh poets. He wrote in the fourteenth century and his poetry is clearly influenced by the troubadour tradition. His favorite topics were nature and romance and he combines them beautifully in poems about trysting with the woman he loves in a grove of birch trees. In this particular poem, the poet addresses the wind and asks him to carry a message to his beloved.

If you would like to hear the Welsh version of this, you can listen to it here.

For a really interesting (but somewhat academic) article on the meter of Welsh poetry and why Wales has produced so many great poets, check out this article on “Extreme Welsh Meter” by Gwyneth Lewis from Poetry magazine: I’ve tried writing poetry using Welsh meters myself while I was in Wales and it is both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. Can still recite whole verses form the poems I wrote because the rhyming and meter schemes made it so memorable.

The photo of the bird flying over the ocean was used to illustrate the month of Windy in my French Republican Calendar in 2013 and was taken by Melissa Gayle West. The French Republican Calendar for 2016 is still available and Melissa’s wonderful photo of sprouting moss decorates March (the month of Germinal, Sprouting).

First published February 28, 2015.

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Candlemas Collages

My New Year’s practice is to make a collage that represents the experiences I hope to enjoy in the new year. For the past few years, I’ve been making Soul Collage (R) cards to embody the themes I’ve chosen for the year.

To the left, you can see my three themes for 2010 as works in progress: Refreshment, Sustainability and Sovereignity.

On the other side of the table you get an upside-down view of the collage my friend Janis made.  We love this ritual which we have been sharing for years. We light candles, make wishes, drink tea, nibble on cookies and play with images.

In 2011, my theme cards were Spaciousness, Clarity and Surrender to the Mystery.

Spaciousness

Clarity

(I did note that most of the images in this card were out of focus and the goal remained fuzzy as well; however the bird theme really showed up in my life in 2011)

and

Surrender to the Mystery, a theme that stayed mysterious all year.

Here’s a photo from my 2013 session. This card is called Presence, not pasted down.

Once they are done, I put them up on the wall in the entry way of my home where they will remind me every time I enter of my themes for the year.

Here are my 2016 collages on the piano:

new year collages

From left to right, Creative Expession, Rising Above the Drama, [mystery card? maybe Flow?], Spaciousness and Abundance.

Originally published 2/9/2010.

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The Year End Book

My collage for 2009

One of my favorite rituals of the year is my ritual of review. I reserve the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as a time of reflection on the year past. (I share this ritual through my 12 Days of Christmas class and also a book I’ve put together that contains the ideas below and much more.)

I go over my records of the past year (my journals, my planners, the photos I’ve taken, my financial records) to get a sense of the year. My journals contain dreams, writing logs, kvetches, reviews of books read, and new ideas, all neatly indexed at the back of each notebook, so this is not as onerous a task it might be. I developed this indexing system to make this process easier. I make top ten lists, print financial reports, look for an image or title that describes the year (I’m currently playing around with the idea that it has been the Year of Hiding).

I know other people use different systems for conducting a year-end review. Chris Guillebeau uses metrics and a spreadsheet. (I love his system!). Several of my Facebook friends are currently posting their Status clouds (I get nervous when a FB application says it’s going to access all my information, including the names of my friends, so I haven’t tried this yet). I think you could come up with something similar on your own (just pull out the status reports you like, put them in a block with adjusted spacing and wing-dings between entries, and add some decorative elements).

I like to end up with something concrete, something that can symbolize the year. One year I invited all of my friends to a creativity party and asked them to bring something that symbolized the year past. People brought poems and collages, paintings and sculptures; one woman did an interpretive dance! It was pretty amazing and entertaining.

Last year I found a software program that helped me create a gorgeous little book that’s like a love letter to my year. I’ve been dancing a happy dance in my brain all year, just anticipating the pleasure of making another one this year.

The software is called BookSmart and I found it at a web site called Blurb. You download the software to your computer and use it to create your book. It does have a learning curve; it’s not terribly user friendly but it is intuitive. Basically you get your choice of different templates and you can pull your photos and text into them. It reminds me a little of the old design program we used to use to create The Beltane Papers. You choose templates (you can use a different one for every page) from the top left of the screen. You can also upload your pictures to a bar on the left and then just drag them into the screen.

This screen shot shows two sample pages from last year’s book. (if you click on it, you can see a larger version.) At the bottom of the page you can see the thumbnails of other pages in the book. That yellow triangle with the exclamation point is trying to tell me one of my pictures isn’t of high enough resolution to reproduce well. I just ignored it because this wasn’t for professional purposes, just for my own entertainment.

Of course, you could create your own book using a design program that you know well and then turn it into a PDF and then send it to a print-on-demand company like Lulu. I used them happily to publish my Slow Time book. But the advantage with BookSmart is that they’ve come up with a design template that is ideal for arty little books. The disadvantage is that they’re a little more pricey (per book) than other print-on-demand companies but since I’m only using them to make one precious, glossy, pretty copy for me, that doesn’t bother me. There are also options that allow you to share your book with your friends online, for instance, via Facebook.

I hope whatever rituals you employ to reflect upon and summarize your year are satisfying.

Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher and dancer. She founded School of the Seasons, edits Living in Season and is the author of Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life.

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Solstice Traditions

My usual practice for solstice is to spend the day in silence. I don’t answer the phone or turn on the TV, radio or computer. It’s a short and quiet day of sleeping and reading, topped off by a long walk at dusk in the nearby park and a bubble bath by candlelight.

Jennifer Louden wrote about her Solstice in 2009. She lit candles in every room in the house, then went for a walk in the dark to talk with her sweetheart about the year and all it had brought, then turned the corner towards home to find the house blazing with light. It sounds like a brilliant idea (as long as you leave someone at home to watch the candles).

I hope you have a Solstice tradition you enjoy. Perhaps you could share it here.

First published December 23, 2009

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Making Bath Bombs

bathbonbsI always enjoy making Christmas presents but don’t always allow myself enough time to enjoy the process. This year I decided to make bath bombs (inspired by my daughter who is making shower melts). I have to say it’s such a wonderful winter holiday activity. Keeps me entertained for hours and my apartment smells great.

After perusing any number of recipes I found on Pinterest, I came up with one I really like. The ingredients for ONE bath bomb are listed as:

Dry ingredients:

2 T baking soda
1 T citric acid
1 T cornstarch
1 T Epsom salts
optional: rose petals, lavender buds, etc.

I had all of those things already. Citric acid is the trickiest one to find. You might find it at your grocery store, at a natural foods store or a crafts store.
I simply multiplied those by 4 to make four bath bombs at a time. Whisk the dry ingredients together thoroughly.

Wet ingredients:

¼ tsp oil (I used almond oil, a light olive oil would be fine)
¾ tsp liquid (can include strong tea, essential oil, rose water, etc.)
food coloring (1 or 2 drops)

Again multiply all of these by 4 or whatever number of bath bombs you want to make. Combine all the liquids and stir vigorously to combine.

I used rose water for the rose-scented bath bombs and orange blossom water in the one scented with lime essential oil. I used lavender oil for the lavender one and that was probably too much oil. The woman whose recipe I was copying made green tea and cinnamon bath bombs with liquid from strong batches of tea. Be careful with essential oil. You don’t want to add too much because of possible skin irritation and certain oils (like cinnamon oil) should never be applied to the skin.

The trickiest part is combining the wet with the dry ingredients. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry mixture a few drops at a time (if you put too much liquid in, you’ll start the chemical reaction and end up with a fizzing bath bomb in your mixing bowl).

Several recipes online recommend using bath bomb molds but I didn’t have any so I adapted the technique recommended in one recipe by putting them into cupcake wrappers in a muffin tin.  I notice that many people just use the muffin tin without the cupcake wrappers but I liked the corrugated edges. The trick here is to go around the edges with a fork to tamp down the edges, and then go over the bulk of the bath bomb with a spoon to tamp them down. They need to be compressed as they dry. I let them dry for one day, then removed them from the wrappers.

bathbombs2I’m still trying to come up with the best way to package them. Thought about putting them in mason jars but I’m afraid the different scents would bleed into each other. Putting them into clean cupcake wrappers might also be fun but it would be best to combine that with a cellophane bag so the scent doesn’t dissipate.

 

 

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Twelve Days of Christmas

by Waverly Fitzgerald

Photo by Cate Kerr

Excerpt from the Yule holiday e-book:

In Babylon, the 12 intercalary days between the Winter Solstice and the New Year were seen as the time of a struggle between chaos and order, with chaos trying to take back over the world. Other cultures (Hindu, Chinese, Celtic) also viewed this as a time for reversing order and rules.

This idea survives in the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas which end on January 6 with Twelfth Night. In Wales, they were considered ‘omen’ days. In Scotland, no court had power during the twelve days. The Irish believed that anyone who died during these days escaped purgatory and went straight to Heaven.

In medieval England, all work was suspended during the Christmas holidays. Women could begin spinning again on January 7, the day after Twelfth Night, which was called St Distaff’s Day. According to Germanic tradition, the goddess Holle, dressed all in white, rides the wind in a wagon on the Twelve Days of Christmas. During this time, no wheels can turn: no spinning, no milling, no wagons (sleighs were used instead). Holle punishes women who disobeyed the taboo. Women were also forbidden to work on the days of certain female saints whose holidays fall during the winter. Lacemakers and spinners take a holiday on November 25, St Catherine’s Day. And any woman who works on St Lucy’s Day (December 13) will find her work undone the next day.

Helen Farias suggests that the twelve days were originally thirteen nights, celebrated from the dark moon nearest the solstice through the next full moon. Greek women celebrated a Dionysian ritual on the full moon nearest the Winter Solstice.

Photo by Cate Kerr

The Greeks told a story about the halycon days, the two week period before and after the solstice when the kingfisher built her nest on the waves and the sea was calm while she hatched her chicks. Aristotle refers to a poem about this time written by Simonides of Ceos: “when in the winter month Zeus brings calm to fourteen days that earthlings call the time when the wind is forgotten, the holy breeding-season of the many-colored alcyon.”

Shakespeare refers to this legend in this passage from Hamlet:

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, I, i 157

Thanks to Cate Kerr for permission to use these amazing photos.

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Signs of the Season: Early Dark

Photo by Terry Musgrove

by Kelly Fine

I haven’t yet adjusted to the early darkness.  It’s only five-thirty but my house feels like a towel-wrapped birdcage.  No, it feels more enclosed than that:  these walls are solid and they seem to be wrapped in a thick comforter.  Or, to put it another way, my house feels like an isolated burrow deep in the solid earth.  I mean that these walls feel oppressive and that my living room seems dense with yellow lamplight.  Cream soup steams up my windows.  Smoke from a buttered pan hovers, finding no broad space where it might dissipate. These rich warm foods seem too substantial now, and I crave air.

Photo by Mikko Karttunen

Early darkness itself does not oppress me;  it’s only when I stay indoors all the long evening that I feel cramped.  Going about my business inside my lit house, I can’t see the skunk wobbling down my driveway or the raccoons splashing in the water saucer.  And on a cold night like this, my husband asks me to close the windows early, so I can’t hear the wind in the elms or the coyotes yipping from the drainage basin.  My house is part of a vast and lively night, but I can’t sense that.  These lights and these closed windows wall me off from the space beyond my house.

So I try to spend time outside every winter night.  Winter nights are gentle here in Los Angeles, but I spent most of my life in Minneapolis, and still I went out most nights – I just dressed for the season and kept moving.  In Minneapolis, I liked shoveling my driveway after dark, hearing the occasional car push through the new snow and, after it passed, only the scrape of my neighbors’ shovels.  When I lived in Calgary, I walked beside the Bow River every winter night.   I treasured those snow-crunching walks, the long blue shadows of poplar skeletons, a lone jackrabbit watching me from atop the snow crust, one owl inviting another to cross the moonlit river.

Photo by Terry Musgrove

If this early darkness threatens to suffocate you, go outside.  When you first step out, the darkness might seem to be a substance crowding up against your chest.  But as your eyes adjust, you will find that you can breathe, that you can see, that the darkness is as thin as color.  Go see how night has changed your neighborhood.  Whatever you find, you’ll return home knowing that you live in a space much vaster than your cluster of lamplit rooms.

It’s time for me to go see what space my house inhabits.  The sky looks still and cold.  Its stars twinkle like pure water.  My neighbor drags her heavy garbage can to the end of her driveway.  Its wheels scratch the gravel and even seem to spurt trapped twigs.  Electrical wires stream across the infinite sky, side-swiping the Pleiades.  I hear a hose ease on.  Water flows out to the soil and air and night.  The fat shadow of a parked car spills down the street to me.  Two people are clomping down a steep road near mine, but all I can hear of their conversation is its melody.  A few blocks away, a siren passes, and all the outdoor dogs sing along.  The closest dog bays low, and his hot happy breath spreads into the night air.  The L.A. skyline shouldn’t be visible from here, but there it is, winking at me.  The night that holds the stars has descended from the sky to claim my street.  How can I sit whining in my house?

Kelly Fine writes from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles.

The photos are used by permission from the photographers. To see more of Terry Musgrove’s work, visit his Flickr page.

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