This last day of the year is when I typically take stock, reinvent myself. I've spent it looking across the harbor where the Hawaiian king was born, stillborn; climbing to the Anasazi caves in the red sandstone valley, facing the sun, smelling the pungent juniper berries on my fingers; lighting the Chinese fireworks with long poetic names. Today, in New York, I spent the afternoon with the French Medieval saints, the sage Cycladic figurines, and the rhapsodic colors of the Bonnards and Gauguins. The ruins of the year are beautiful, like these in Mallorca, and I treasure what I have been and seen. image: Christie B. Cochrell, Mallorca 2013
This is my favorite
Christmas card, in a year of cute cards. My favorite of the
low-carb cookies I have baked:almond shortbread with lemon zest. The favorite things
I’ve done this week:walked the
labyrinth, gone to the spice shop. My favorite carol:“O Holy Night,” sung by Jonas Kaufmann
(though the “Huron Carol,” posted by one of my favorite authors, Louise Penny,
is also wonderful—a new favorite). My favorite other
find this week:a gold wire
Christmas tree that stands inside a wine glass (my favorite Shakespeare Santa
Cruz wine glass) on the table.
I’ve always thought
of the winter solstice as the low-tide mark of the year, the shortest day, the final
test of endurance after which the light begins coming back.But today I’ve been challenged to think
of it in another way—to celebrate the darkness.For itself, its healing powers, the dreams it allows.
I’ve been telling
myself that though this day is the shortest, nothing has been lost—the night
will be the longest.The glass is
not half-empty at all, but half-full.(Or all full, only of different things; which reminds me of a favorite
line in Murder by Death,
“this room is full of empty people!”)
Pacing off the day,
I walked the labyrinth, feeling the turns in my body the way the year now
turns.Inward, and again outward;
the long half circles and the short; the journey centering myself. The center is the fifth direction, where
the other cardinal directions join.
I walked through
the New Guinea spirit house, after, among the carved wooden figures and crocodile drums, and gathered short-needled evergreen that
had been trimmed from the trees there. Then I went to the spice store and
bought rubbed sage, French lavender, juniper berries, crushed red pepper, garam
masala, cinnamon.And a piece of
swordfish, remembering the island where the seller of swordfish—spada—came around in a three-wheeler with a bell;
and I was taught to marinate it in a blue bowl with lemon and olive oil and a
Later perhaps I’ll
try this meditation on the riches of the dark that call us home—
meditation for the winter solstice is a simple one that some of you may already
know. It is the star in the heart. The evening of the winter solstice, turn out
the lights, light a candle, and meditate quietly for a while with the candle,
and then blow it out. Sit for a while in the dark. Notice what arises. Is there
a fear of the dark? Does it feel peaceful, relaxing? Ask that dark to guide
you. People are fond of asking the light to guide them. But there is guidance
in the depth of the night, in the darkness of the night sky. Imagine the night
sky. Imagine one star coming closer and closer and closer to you, until it
enters your heart. Feel that star in the heart . It is radiant. Its bright
white light permeates your being, pulsates within you. Feel yourself as a star
in the sky, the darkness around you, the light within you, the energy that
radiates from you. You, from your heart, by simply being, illumine the
darkness. That radiance guides you and illumines the path for others. Light the
candle again. Notice the shadows, the interplay of light and dark. You are
participating always in that dance of light and...”
This week has
slipped away.I wonder where they
slip away to,
weeks?Like the spotted horse,
appaloosa or pinto, I dreamed about last night, disappearing down a
cross-street in some busy city, maybe the cobbled shopping district of Pisa?Or like a full-rigged sailboat
zigzagging off toward the far horizon?(The flotilla of boats, masts strung with lights, that I remember coming
down the Kona Coast on Christmas Eve?)Like the minnows we tried to catch in our cupped hands, the darting
sunspots reflected on floor or bedroom walls my cocker spaniel chased?Impossible to stop, impossible to
quantify or qualify.
Somewhere there is
a lake of time where all those slipped-away weeks have collected—vast,
meandering, between high blue-hazed mountains.It looks something like Lake Como, I imagine, and you can
sit out on a terrace there and eat grilled lake perch with saffron risotto, or
wander in striped espadrilles along it to the villa with the devastatingly
orange wall imprinted with the memory of sturdy old shutters, the sleep of
centuries, the morning’s waking, opening, barefoot and silver-sparkling, the
unlimited day ahead.
better here.The tree is up
(straight and sturdy!) and has our favorite ornaments on it and smells
deliciously of Noble Fir.I’ve got
the Whiskey Sour Balls stirred up, and they have just to be rolled into shape,
four dozen of them.
A big storm is
coming, they say, so I’ve got things laid in to eat in case we lose our
power.Eggs hard-boiled for egg
salad, a giant can of tuna and one of diced green chili (one of my favorite
combinations), some Genoa salami, smoked cheddar, hummus and avocado, and before
long a sausage pizza with a cornmeal crust.Nothing better than cold pizza!But in the morning I’ll make the egg muffins too; I’ve
caramelized some onions for those, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted multi-colored
baby peppers.There’s mint in the
garden, and marjoram.Of course
I’ve got enough emergency provisions for a whole week, or more!The makings for sangria, too, with lots
of fresh oranges.And Whiskey Sour
Balls for the third week…Nothing
like weathering a storm in style.
A lovely older
woman found me poring over brown mushrooms at Draeger’s, and was as delighted
as I with their robust round earthy mushroom nature.She told me about going out and picking mushrooms like that
in New York somewhere, when she was growing up.It made my shopping special to have her share that with me.
So the season’s
shaping up again.The purple
carnations and fir branches help too, giving the kitchen another moment of
With this lovely picture I’m try to improve my Christmas karma,
which started out so well with the carols on Saturday (some wonderful new
things like John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music” and Otto Goldschmidt’s “A Tender
Shoot”), but then fell apart yesterday.
The Christmas tree lot nowhere to be seen; the tree I chose arguing with
its stand and then the stand leaking all over the living room carpet and some inherited
linens I had in the wicker chests I’d set it on; and then the tree not fitting
in our other stand, and toppling over, and over. As a result I got no baking done, though I’d wanted to make
some whiskey sour balls with orange juice concentrate and coconut and bourbon. And no cards, and no writing.
But thinking positively has helped.The Christmas tree is up, finally. I’ve put the lights
and favorite ornaments on it, including two glass balls (La Traviata, and a
Tuscan bird) which we bought in Lucca in a most tempting pottery shop.
Now we’ve got trout baking for dinner, and yellow cherries in a
bowl.I believe things are coming ’round.
Torrential rains yesterday evening, as I was driving back to the Press from a shopping run (guacamole and chips; two berry scones; eggs to make egg muffins over the weekend; a Côtes-du-Rhone for sangria with Cointreau and orange slices). The parking lot was inches deep in rain in just a quarter of an hour. But it all cleared, and we listened to Mozart calmly on the way home. And tonight will be the annual Festival of Lessons and Carols on campus, in the chilly gold-and-song-lit church, and I'm trying to summon energy to go because it's always cheering at the start of this so-busy season. The things that stay in memory from my week are the raccoon dead in the road that made me sad and the bicycle built for two parked by the walking trail, a child's seat and wheel behind the adult's, gracefully and sweetly joined. So it begins, the descent into winter, the thoughts of hibernation and all things to keep off the chill.