Saturday, January 25, 2014

a polar vortex

a polar vortex
births a trio of pink blossoms
on the old jade tree

Once a decade my old jade tree blooms. Crassula ovata, which hails from the wilds of South Africa, propagates readily from fallen branches or even a single leaf. One fat green coin fallen on soil will sprout roots within a month, generating a new plant. Apparently, flowering is not essential for reproduction of the "money tree." 
          On the magical occasions when my "lucky plant" chooses to blossom, pale pink blooms cover the elephant leg stems like bright stars among the shiny leaves. But this year, during a cold, dark, dry winter, a mere trio of white buds appeared at the top of the plant. They stayed closed for a week and then, after a roaring polar vortex sent frigid air streaming through hidden interstices in the house, the buds opened, revealing crowns and scepters. 
          Oddly, the middle bloom has but four pointy petals while its flanking companions bear the usual arrangement of five. I would not have noticed this anomaly if I had not been looking closely. I take it as a sign from my "friendship tree":
different forms
living side by side
spring from the same source

Monday, January 20, 2014

years roll ever on

years roll ever on --
what happens when you measure 
another birthday
with a number instead of
never-ending wonderment?

Or as my favorite poet says, "Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished." -- Mary Oliver

gazing at the cosmos

gazing at the cosmos --
reflection of shawl-swathed face --
blending together

Sitting in the meditation room on my birthday, gazing at the cosmos: thangka mandala expanding from indigo point to ever-widening, overlapping circles in six colors, interwoven with cloud orbs and white-tailed black comets. Around the indigo bindu, gradually darkening blue rings surrounded by an eight-petaled pink lotus floating in a white pond. Circling the center, six spheres in red, green, indigo, orange, white and yellow, bearing the Tibetan symbols: Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ.
          Gazing back at me, my face, swathed in a pashmina shawl, manifesting within the cosmos, remaining in some form of matter through some space of time, blending this and That.

Friday, January 10, 2014

curled up close to fire

curled up close to fire
in buckets of tinder our cats
on the coldest night

On the coldest night of the new year (-13 F; -25 C), we ran out of propane. We could have gotten by without LP gas for cooking or washing, but on such a cold night we really needed the fuel to keep the water circulating in our in-floor heating system. 
          John was having trouble keeping the pilot light lit on the hot water heater, so he went out to check the gauge on the propane tank. It read 30 percent, but he thought it was stuck because it hadn't moved in months. Maybe it was close to empty.
          I was smelling that rotten egg smell of leaking gas and getting nervous. When you smell that odor, you're supposed to do two things: call the LP company and vacate the house.
          John called the LP company. They must have had a lot of calls that day, but they put us on their top priority list. Well, we didn't immediately vacate the house and for once I was glad, even on this bitterly cold night, that our leaky windows keep the house well ventilated. John placed a small electric heater in front of the hot water heater to keep the pipes from freezing and I kept the wood burning stove stoked, which barely made a small circle of warmth. Our cats curled up in buckets of tinder on either side of the stove, as close as they could get to the radiant heat.
          It was getting late and still no LP truck. Finally at 10:30, John couldn't even light the burners on the gas range. We're completely out, he said, and called the gas company's emergency number. At 11:00, a guy showed up and the men went out to the propane tank. The gas man couldn't get the bolts off the gauge, so he went back to his truck and came back with a hammer. He gave the gauge a good whack and it popped open. Sure enough, we were down to fumes.
          While the gas man filled the tank, he explained that the sulfur smell was not due to a leak. Of course, we already knew that they add a chemical to make propane, an odorless gas, have a detectable odor. He said the chemical is called ethyl mercaptan and it is so effective that they only need to add a tiny amount, about 1 to 1.5 pounds per 10,000 gallons of propane. It's heavier than propane, so it sinks to the bottom of the tank, and that's why, he explained, you smell a lot of the odorant when you're drawing from the bottom. That's also why they try to fill the tank when you're down to 25 percent, but since our gauge was stuck, nobody knew it was so low. So thank goodness, we weren't in any danger of asphyxiation or an explosion!

Monday, January 6, 2014

epiphany brings

epiphany brings
a divine manifestation
of fire and light

Epiphany, the day the Magi found the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. We don't really know who they were, where they came from, how many of them there were, or when they actually arrived. They may have been astrologers from somewhere to the east who traveled by camel, following the omen of a bright celestial object, possibly a comet, and visited Jesus with his mother Mary, perhaps as long as two years after his birth. In any case, they expected to find a divine manifestation of fire and light, and brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold.
          I got the idea for our creche from The Christmas Cat by Tasha Tudor. In this sweet children's story, on Christmas Eve a farm family gathers around their creche, where the boys' old plush donkey and little toy goat stand in the hay next to Mary and the baby. When my sons were young, I started putting together a nativity tableau with their little stuffed animals and some of my small dolls, set up on an antique walnut hutch. Over the years the menagerie keeps growing, as I continue to collect animals and dolls from all over the world. In addition to Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, Magi, and the traditional donkey, cow, sheep and camels, there are chickens, ducks, rabbits, mice, a cat, a donkey, a horse, deer, a zebra, an elephant, yaks, llamas, alpaca, antelope, giraffes, owls, songbirds, hummingbird, a hedgehog, squirrel, raccoon, fox, bears, a wolf, a coyote, yaks, antelope, giraffes, seals, a penguin, a kiwi, an ostrich, and a stork. Alas, no dog yet!
          Every Christmas I have continued a family tradition of giving each son a new ornament for the Christmas tree. Once they were grown, I gave each of them their ornament collection for their own trees, but I still have mine from when I was a child and the ones Santa continues to give me. Lately, I've stopped using a "live," that is, cut tree, feeling it is just too wasteful, and I don't really like the fake plastic trees either, for the same reason. So I've acquired a wrought iron "tree," with five tiers for hanging ornaments and candle holders, for real beeswax candles which I light only on Christmas Eve.
          Tonight, since the Magi have come and gone in this bitterly cold weather, I will take down the tree and the creche and pack them carefully away until next year. I wish I could ask them what message they received from Comet ISON.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

trinity of fallen

trinity of fallen 
shingle oak leaves enfolding 
a heart of snow

Yesterday, temperatures rose to above freezing. Coming out of church after our friends' wedding, we were greeted by a benediction of plump, lacy flakes. 
          By nightfall, bitterly cold air and strong winds moved in, creating dangerously low wind chill values, down to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (-46 C). We canceled our trip to Minnesota, further north and even colder.
          Today, when I venture out for firewood, I discover a trio of fallen shingle oak leaves caught in the lilac bush by our gate, their pointy lobes embracing a heart-shaped pocket of snow. 
          Shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria), a type of red oak, is distinguished by its single-lobed leaves. Quite common here in southeastern Iowa, it was so-named by early settlers who found that the wood split easily and could be used for shingles or shakes. The leaves persist on the tree all winter, even after they have turned completely brown. 
          Today, however, gusts of 35 mph (56 kph) are sending many leaves skittering across the snow like toboggans. By chance, this particular trio fell into the lilac bush, creating an icon of wings enfolding a heart of snow, and by chance I behold them.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

a new coat of snow

a new coat of snow --
the license plate turns into
a mournful blue-eyed face 

If you came round the back of our pickup as I did after a fresh snowfall, you might see a pair of blue eyes in a mournful face muttering, "Not more snow!" 
          Personification turns up in the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

waking on New Year's day

waking on New Year's day
to frigid air filled with light snow,
vandalized mailboxes

Happy New Year! Someone must have gotten pretty drunk last night and decided, like the guy in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, to vandalize mailboxes all along Glasgow Road. I can hear him gloating, "Ten in one blow, man!"
          They look like they're bowing down, all their mouths open, a couple of pieces of mail lying white in the white snow, and our red tray, to make it easier to extract the mail, hanging out like a disembodied tongue.
          Second time this has happened in recent years. Sheriff came out to view the damage, but not much they can do to catch the culprit. Going to be expensive to replace all those mailboxes and new posts. Wonder how that guy would feel if it was HIS mailbox!