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zwinter6

Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re moving to the darkest time of the year.  I don’t have any white robes or giant megaliths on hand to get us through the solstice, but I thought I might at least cheer up the gloomy darkness with some festive decorations!  As in years past, I put up my tree of life filled with animal life of the past and the present (see above).  This really is my sacred tree: I believe that all Earth life is part of a larger cohesive gestalt (yet not in a stupid supernatural way–in a real and literal way).  Looking at the world in review, I am not sure most people share this perspective, so we are going to be philosophizing more about our extended family in the coming year.  For right now though, lets just enjoy the colored lights and the Christmas trilobite, Christmas basilosaurus, and Christmas aardvark.

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I also decorated my favorite living tree–the ornamental cherry tree which lives in the back yard.  Even without its flowers or leaves it is still so beautiful.  I hope the shiny ornaments and toys add a bit of luster to it, but really I know its pulchritude is equally great at the end of January when it is naked even of ornaments.

zwinter5

Here are some Javanese masks which my grandfather bought in Indonesia in the 50s/60s. Indonesian culture is Muslim, but there is a deep foundation of Hinduism (the masks are heroes from the Mahabharata and folk heroes of medieval Indonesia).  Decorating this uneasy syncretism up for Christmas is almost nonsensical–and yet look at how good the combination looks.  Indeed, there might be another metaphor here.  We always need to keep looking for beautiful new combinations.

zwinter8

Finally here is a picture of the chandelier festooned with presents and hung with a great green bulb.  The present may be dark, but the seasons will go on shifting and there is always light, beauty, and generosity where you make it.  I’m going to be in and out, here, as we wrap up 2016 and make some resolutions for 2017.  I realize I have been an inconsistent blogger this year, but I have been doing the best I can to keep exploring the world on this space and that will continue as we go into next year. I treasure each and every one of you.  Thank you for reading and have a happy solstice.

Argh! SQUIRRELS!

Squirrel damage...

Squirrel damage…

Since December, the garden has been a desolate wasteland. Great sheets of scabrous ice and unwholesome snow have covered everything. Above the frozen crust, only the holly and the yew showed any life. Finally, here in mid-March, Brooklyn has started to come alive again. Little green shoots appeared—crocuses and the tender tips of tulips—only to be ripped off and thrown down by marauding squirrels. How I detest these hardy arboreal rodents!

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I hate the squirrels so much! But I like them and admire them too. The ones in the back yard are eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Their taxonomical name means “shadow tail” for they have distinctive furry tails which look gray at a distance but are actually many subtle woodland colors. If the squirrels don’t want to be seen, they can wrap themselves in their tails and vanish like chameleons—but usually they wish to be observed as they brazenly saunter around the garden committing enormities. Brooklyn needs some more hawks to thin their ranks a bit.

Speaking of thinning, I guess I could feed the squirrels. They are understandably hungry as they use up their final winter resources and start families. It would mean that I spent a bunch of money on seeds, but maybe the distracted squirrels would stop tearing up my spring flowers. Yet, if I do that, the squirrel population will burgeon. These accursed squirrels gnawed a hole in the side of the house and began living in the crawl-space above the bathroom, so doing anything which creates more of them is fraught with peril. Last year, the landlady sent trappers to capture the squirrels in the house (the battle of wits between the squirrels and the wacky band of Trinidadian misfits she found was really something).

What is he eating? Is that insulation foam?

What is he eating? Is that insulation foam?

Gray squirrels are not unlike the tree-dwelling rodent-type creatures from which primates evolved (a group of extinct animals which I need to write about at some point).  Although they seem frenetic and crazed, the squirrels are actually surprisingly clever. There is an intense methodology to how they bury things for winter (indeed, they are saving—something I certainly don’t have the discipline to do). Their loquaciously chatter and chirps are clearly a complex system of communication. Maybe I shouldn’t begrudge them some ruined crocuses and tulips, but, as I write this, I notice that it’s snowing again. Those prospective flowers were all that was giving me hope for spring…and now even those jaunty little bud tips are gone.

Last spring my flower garden was sad.  I planted a ton of daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and irises, but, thanks to squirrel depredations, I ended up with one mangled tulip of indefinite color (which was ripped apart by a squirrel the day after it bloomed).    The squirrels in my part of Brooklyn are angry hungry monsters.  Rap music and powerful Jamaican curries have desensitized them to noises and smells which would scare off lesser squirrels.  No one traps or shoots them–so they do not fear the fell hand of man.

Imp, Monster...Demon!

Imp, Monster…Demon!

This year I have been desperately trying to keep my bulbs alive long enough to bloom properly.  Every evening since mid-March you can see me out back throwing hot pepper and garlic powder on the garden like some maddened chef.    I have spritzed an ocean of animal repellent on the little green buds.  I have studded the garden with glittering mylar pinwheels and festooned it with scary helium balloons. Yet every day another bud is taken.  The crocuses were all ripped up.  In the end, I wonder if anything will actually blossom, or if it was all once again in vain.

I bet the Dutch don't put up with this sort of thing...

I bet the Dutch don’t put up with this sort of thing…

However there is one exception to this story of attrition and doom!  Yesterday the first flower bloomed in my back yard…and it was not at all what I was expecting.  Primulaceae, the primroses are native to Europe from Norway south to Portugal and from the Atlantic coast east all the way to Asia Minor.   Perhaps I should not be surprised that the primrose is first to bloom considering it lives wild in Norway, the land of polar bears, glaciers, and marauders.  Most garden primroses have been heavily hybridized, but last year I bought a specimen which looked most like the common European primrose, Primula vulgaris, and it survived a whole year to bloom again!  The flower has five beautiful butter yellow petals with center around a bright yellow eye.

Yellow Primrose

Yellow Primrose

I was hoping to provide some exciting primrose lore, but the humble flower does not seem to feature in many myths and legends.  According to Wikipedia, it was Benjamin Disraeli’s favorite flower, so crafty parliamentarians should at least be drawn to this article.    Anyway, spring is finally here so prepare for everything to get better.

Benjamin Disraeli in the garden?

Benjamin Disraeli?

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