A January Valentine

We might as well revel in winter this year. Some say it’s the coldest on record in three decades. The reveling doesn’t take much for me; I’ve always loved winter. I think the soul loves the season into which one is born, so since this is my birth month, I don’t mind snow and cold and dark from mid December through mid March. Though, I must admit my spoiling: my work takes me to more temperate climes on occasion during the winter, and it’s been years since I’ve felt anything akin to Cabin Fever or SADD, both of which affect a lot of people I know. I spent Saturday and Sunday in the Caribbean, trying to soak up as much sun and heat as possible. Odd, I thought yesterday when I returned, the need to remove a thick winter glove to scratch at a mosquito bite on my wrist.

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These lovely old six-over-six ladies are waiting out the winter propped against our fence, a few feet from the place they’ll be “installed” as a garden ornament in the spring. Last summer, TBM and I discussed the need for a privacy screen of sorts- important to him to shield the street view of our backyard; important to me to shield the place where the Large Breed is digging his way to China. After some thought, I came up with an idea to use windows so that sunlight wouldn’t be entirely occluded. I sketched my idea (which has more to it than just windows) and suggested to TBM that we look for some at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. We happened to be heading that direction that day, and as we pulled into the parking lot, I spied these girls with at big ol’ FREE sign propped against a dumpster. “Hey…!” I exclamed, pointing toward them, and TBM replied, “Hmmm…” with a promising tone (he’s never been much into street finds and laments most of the things I lug home, though lately he’s starting to see the light). We got out of the car and gave the windows a good review: they’re made of wood; all the panes are intact; the sash are painted shut and the paint everywhere is peeling, but we don’t intend to lower and raise them anyway. They were perfect for my idea of the screen, so we loaded them up and drove home.

I hoped we could build the screen before growing season was over last fall, but alas our floor project overtook our existence. For now, the windows are propped against the fence in our back yard, providing a focal point in an otherwise bleak expanse, frosting over on both sides, catching snow on their muntins, and reflecting the sunrise, as they’re about to do here. After I’d taken this photo and left on a walk with the dog it dawned on me I would miss their best show of the day. Nonetheless, the picture is a reminder of something to anticipate when the northern hemisphere tilts again toward the sun, and mosquito bites will be plentiful and easy to scratch because I’ll not be wearing gloves.

Paperwhites

At Christmastime when I was about eleven years old, someone gave my mother a big pot of white narcissus, also known as Paperwhites. My mother was thrilled, as forced bulbs were an uncommon luxury in our small mountain town. She placed the pot in the room we call the Solarium with eight foot windows and filled every winter with ferns and tender geraniums she brought in from the cold. When the Paperwhites bloomed, their scent overpowered everything and to me they smelled just like urine. I could hardly abide being in the Solarium and wondered why on earth a flower like this was special.

Fast forward to the present time and perhaps it’s a case of a mature scent palate, just as a taste palate matures and an adult can enjoy a pungent bleu cheese that sends a child into convulsions. But Paperwhites no longer smell of urine, to me, and their loveliness at Christmas is something I’ve been coveting. A dear friend has a former boss who sends her a tubful of narcissus every year at the Holidays, a galvanized tub about two feet long and a foot and a half wide. She places them on an old wooden table in her kitchen and they bloom till Valentines Day, such a sight to behold.

This year I was determined to have Paperwhites of my own, though my own planting is much more humble than my friend’s tub. I have clear glass bowl I bought at a yard sale, thinking in would be useful in the kitchen. But I’ve discovered the glass is too thin- about the thickness of a wine glass- and I’m always afraid it will break disastrously while filled with food. The bowl has been telling me for a while now, “I’m a florist’s container, silly,” and I’ve known it needed to host Paperwhite narcissus this Holiday season.

I bought two pots of narcissus from a Bodega in Brooklyn the other day. They came filled to the brim with bulbs and potting soil, and wrapped in festive but ugly cellophane. The set up had to go:

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I separated the bulbs from the soil (which of course I saved to reuse) and gave them a good rinsing in a colander:

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Then I got some gravel from a pathway in a corner of our garden, gave it a good rinse too, and made sure the clear glass bowl was sparkly clean:

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I first placed a shallow base of gravel in the bowl, then arranged the bulbs as best I could for variation of height, their roots splayed across the gravel. I gently topped the roots with more gravel and filled in spaces so the bulbs were not touching each other. Then I added a little water to the bottom of the bowl.

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Some of the fronds were growing a little sideways in search of light, but I figured they would straighten on their own, and indeed they have. Two days after planting the bulbs are stock-straight and reaching for the sky. They are not yet in bloom but the tops are really starting to bulge and I can’t wait for the moment.

One thing I wasn’t careful enough about (but also wasn’t willing to re-do to solve) was ensure the roots were completely hidden by the gravel. But I figure if I keep the water level low in the bowl, the roots will seek it and grow downward. Of course, this wouldn’t matter if the bulbs were planted in something other than a clear glass bowl, but I’m happy my bowl has found a better purpose than a food container.

Here’s another glass container filled with beautiful Paperwhites, and a very lovely blog: katy elliott home, art, food.

Winter’s Arrival

The first snow fell Friday night. Rain that followed us on the drive from the City turned to wet slushy flakes in the colder Upstate temperatures, but still we were surprised. The Large Breed seemed nonplussed until his walk around midnight, when about an inch of snow blanketed his world, and a switch went off inside his head: how good it is to roll around in the stuff; how to make doggie snow angels; how to plow his nose through and enjoy the frosty splendor on doggie lips and tongue. But his paws must have been cold, because he chose a round-a-single-block route for his walk, then nestled onto his blanket on the porch for a long winter’s nap.

Though the official arrival of Winter isn’t due until mid-afternoon on December 21, it arrived for us with the snow, and with a traditional celebration in our little town, held each year on the first Saturday of December. From five until eight in the evening, the main street is closed and people from communities all around gather for Winter Walk. The celebration began in 1997 to help lurch along a nascent renaissance of a community that for decades had seen a dwindling of manufacturing and increase of plywood on storefronts and homes. Now, over twenty-thousand participants come each year to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, live reindeer and miniature horses, roving carolers and Victorian characters, street performances by musicians and dancers, stilt walkers and even fire throwers, and to shop and dine at around one hundred shops and restaurants in the downtown area. I think back to the first Winter Walk, how good it must have felt for organizers to be doing something to make change happen in a place once tainted, with a lovelier side than it had willed to show for a long time.

Because TBM was on his hands and knees in our bedroom wearing a respirator (still finishing floors, we are, our Thanksgiving deadline having clucked on by) I attended Winter Walk alone last night. That’s not true: the Large Breed came along, and I think he was a bigger hit than most of the official attractions. How could he not be, at 125 pounds of long, thick fur and a doggie face that melts hearts young and old? I’ll bet we were stopped fifty times so he could be loved on; double that for the number of people who asked, “What kind of dog is he?” Alaskan Malamute, I would say and be greeted by surprise either because the asker hadn’t heard of the breed, or had never seen one so big. But a cute boy of about ten knew exactly what the Large Breed was, telling me he’d taken a quiz to know what kind of dog he was most like, and Malamute was his match (curious, I just took the quiz myself: I’m like an Australian Shepherd. HUGE compliment!!!)

Ah, Winter. I really enjoy the season. First of all, I love the change of seasons. I’ve lived before in places where a change isn’t very noticeable or doesn’t happen at all, but for me life is richer for the altering of ritual, routine, and wardrobe that come with the tilting of the earth and the waxing or waning of the sun’s rays on the planet. I love nesting in wintertime, cozying up in sweaters and scarves, making stews and soups, baking aromatic breads and sweets. And I love me a good snowfall, so Friday’s inch left me longing for the First Real Storm; the chance to sit in our bay window and watch flakes fall then get a good workout clearing steps, walks, and decks of their white burden. Maybe I’ll mind winter when I’m sixty, but for now, bring it on.