Natural Instincts

When you take away the commercial hype, the holidays are really all about nature and our relationship with it.

First, there’s the emphasis on light. Life on Earth is sustained by sunlight. Compensating for the short days of winter, we turn to our own illuminations. We light candles – to honor and remember, to disperse the dark, to give hope, to celebrate. Lights are strung outdoors wrapping bare limbs of trees, on gates and around pillars, porches and bushes. Lawns come alive with all sorts of illuminated scenes. Indoors, mantles, windows, banisters, doorways and the Christmas tree twinkle like stars. Fireplaces glow and dance – truth be told, we light ours as much for it’s bright ambiance as its warmth.

For me personally, the Winter Solstice is a turning point. The sheer knowledge that with each passing day we gain a minute of sunlight, buoys my spirits considerably. It is life affirming.

In our quest to decorate our homes for the festive season, we resort to nature. The tree, wreaths, garlands, roping, amaryllis, paperwhites, poinsettia and other flowers, strings of nuts in their shells, dried slices of oranges and whole spices such as cinnamon and star anise, pomanders of citrus studded with cloves bring fragrance and beauty to the celebrations. I have cinnamon ornaments made decades ago that still infuse the air with its aroma. One year, we were in Aruba for the holidays – we decorated our tree with sea shells gathered from the beach. So many of the other ornaments are modeled after nature – birds, animals, flowers, fruits and vegetables ( I’m amazed that holiday pickle ornaments are so popular!) abound. Stars, suns and moons made of paper (punched or plain), wood, metal, glass or even plastic allude to our romance with the celestial. Surrounding ourselves with elements of the natural world is important and essential to our physical, mental and spiritual health. Nature – we cannot, will not, must not get away from her.

So, give yourself permission to go all out. Decorate, illuminate, celebrate. It’s but natural.

Happy Holidays one and all. Be healthy, stay safe.

Trimming The Tree

Love hangs memories

on awaiting arms

twinkling happy thoughts

as new stories get written.

While the past is shed

the present unfolds itself

into the future.

                                                                              – Shobha Vanchiswar

Light Affirming

Winter’s stingy light

ekes out thin ribbons

of measured hours

Unlike generous summer

providing lugubrious lengths

of unfiltered radiance.

In the cold, rarefied light

the spirit wanes in echo

Till warm, broad rays

rekindle one’s love affair with life.

                                                                          – Shobha Vanchiswar

The next 6 images: the first  are from driving around neighborhoods and the other 4 are from Untermyer Gardens. Do try and visit!

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Leaning Into The Light

Despite the shorter days, I’ve been feeling upbeat. As someone who is quite affected by the reduced hours of sunlight, this is significant. I’ve found ways to keep me from going down the dark hole of gloom and apathy.

As soon as I wake up in the morning, I do 20 minutes of light therapy. Emulating sunlight, it informs my body that it is time to kick start my day. During this time, I meditate ( another proven health practice) for 10 minutes and use the remaining time to plan my day and get me in the right state of mind.

Following this ritual, I reach for coffee. And then I workout. Not because I’m gung-ho about exercise but because the endorphins after the exertion really keep me energized for the rest of the day. I’ve found this series of steps gets me through the early hours of the morning when it is still relatively dark. By the time I’m showered and at my easel or laptop, I’m feeling infinitely better. Overcast skies can now be managed. If the sun is shining, I’m truly ecstatic.

By lunch time I’ve typically got in a couple of good hours of work and I’m ready for a break. Outdoors. Unless it’s raining, I make it a point to get outside for a minimum of 30 minutes. A turn around the garden can last even longer – it just feels so good to be in it without having any chores! I notice so much more. Recently, I examined the climbing hydrangea and it was full of small, pale green buds. I’ve only ever checked this plant in early spring when I’m busy searching for signs of growth in every part of the garden. So I’m not sure if these buds are normal – similar to magnolias which sport their fuzzy buds all through winter. Or, should I be concerned. A little research is required. Either way, I’d have learned something.

A quick survey of whats doing in the greenhouse can be exciting. If a scented geranium is in bloom, I’ll cut the flowers for a tiny arrangement by my bedside. However, when a jasmine is adorned in buds, the whole pot comes indoors – when the flowers open, the perfume wafts all through the house transporting one to warmer, sun drenched climes.

At present, the greenhouse is cheerful in citrus – Calamondin oranges, Meyer lemons and regular lemons hang like orbs of bright sunshine. I’m always amazed that I’m growing my own lemons! And when I use them in the kitchen, its just so exciting. And precious.

Note: the Calamondin oranges are small, too sour and seedy to eat. So they are good for decorations or squeezed into cocktails in need of something tart.

Most days, I also take a walk in the neighborhood. I observe birds and trees. Often, a friend or two will join me. Its a lovely way to have a quick catch up. Regularly connecting to others is so comforting.

When I get back into the house, I’m revived and ready for several more hours of work. Nature therapy works wonders.

By sunset, I begin to feel the growing darkness impact my mood. It’s a good time to turn on all the lights in the room I’m in. For the next few weeks, my Christmas ‘bush’ ( as my daughter is allergic to conifers indoors, the largest bay standard I own is the stand-in) adds to the brightness in the home. Since strings of LED lights are used, I leave them on all the time. The twinkling sight is such a spot of cheer. Lit candles and a hot cup of tea round out this late afternoon ritual. The practice serves to reassure me that it’s all okay. I’ll be okay.

Paperwhites in bloom and amaryllis in bud are some of the things infusing hope and positivity all around the house. I’d saved some of the spent alliums from late spring and spray painted them gold over this past weekend– they now sit in a radiant arrangement in the living room. Alliums up-cycled! Alliums have served me very well this year. First, they made the garden look so beautiful in late spring. Then, if you recall, I painted a whole bunch of them red, white and blue to celebrate the Fourth. Here we are in December, still enjoying them. I think I’ll hold on to these gilded beauties well into the new year.

Doing the many things that keep one in good spirits takes me smoothly into the evening and I’m better prepared to enjoy it.

Contrary to how the shorter days feel, this is the season of Light. Starting with Diwali – the Indian festival of lights, Hanukkah – the Jewish festival of lights, the Winter Solstice which signals the gradual lengthening of days and finally Christmas – celebrating love and peace. I honor them all. I’m down for anything that commemorates life, love and light.

Note: For holiday gifts and sprucing up your home, do check out the Printed Garden Collection!

Bay tree in festive attire

Alliums in bloom in the spring

On patriotic duty

In the Holiday spirit

Amaryllis coming along

Paperwhites

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

January Jubilation

We’re already half-way into January – where did the time go?! It’s as though the new year was welcomed only yesterday. Yet, the record low temperatures we’re experiencing has made the days seem slow. Apart from a brief spike in temperature towards the end the last week, it really has been unbearably cold. On the up side, this has made me turn to the indoors. I’m reorganizing and rearranging. During the course of the years, so much in the house goes by the way side when engaged in the purpose of living. Now is the perfect time to look around and take stock of all those neglected tasks. A lick of paint, a spot of cleaning, some repair, a few replacements and a whole lot of editing. I’m cleaning up and paring down. In getting rid of anything that is no longer useful and re-purposing other items to serve me the way I now live, I’m giving my home up to my speed. Nothing dramatic or elaborate but significant to me nonetheless. Taking on this ‘project’ is infusing me with an enormous dose of enthusiasm. The sense of aligning the home space to one’s current lifestyle is pure bliss.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking outside. I gaze at the garden in winter from the windows and whenever I’m feeling brave enough, the occasional turn in the garden itself. It is garden-dreaming season after all. The bones of the garden show up clearly in winter. And for the most part, I’m liking what I see. There is sufficient visual interest. The espalier of fruit trees takes on the role of a dominant sculpture. “Wind Song”, the sculpture seems to come alive as it reflects and fractures the light that hits it. And on windy days, it appears to mimic the swaying boughs and branches.

Viewed from the kitchen window one storey above, the potager looks as though it belongs in a cloister – orderly and graceful, waiting to serve again. Along the driveway, the vertical garden hangs as a large piece of abstract art. The whispering sounds of the now dry fronds of ferns add another experiential element in the viewing of it.

In the checkerboard garden, the smooth, white coating of snow on the squares of stone contrast beautifully with the bumpy, dark and light flecked squares of creeping phlox.

Cleared of snow, the walkway looks like a zipper running between the sheet of snow inviting passage to the shelter of the house.

Finally, lets not miss the shadows cast on the snow by the low winter sun. Oh the shapes and forms interweaving between trees and trellis! They move – growing and receding with the day. A slow, certain dance to the silent music of light.

Ah January, you offer up such quiet joy.

Note: I’ve been very inspired by the winter landscape so enjoy the photos and a couple of recent paintings!

Watercolor ‘Winter Shadows”

Watercolor – ‘Winter Pas De Deux’

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar