Sunday, November 25, 2012

Winter Light

Weather: Winter temperatures; last rain 11/10/12; 10:01 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Juniper, red hot poker, yucca, Madonna lily, Japanese honeysuckle, Saint John’s wort, vinca, moss phlox, soapworts, sea pink, pink and yellow primroses, sweet pea, snapdragon, beardstongues, gypsum phacelia, alfilerillo, horseweed, Shasta daisy, pampas, needle and cheat grass.

What’s red: Apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches.

What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, pinks leaves, Silver King artemisia.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds.

Weekly update: Every year, around this time, the sun begins to shine in my eyes when I’m sitting at my desk. I retreat to the kitchen for breakfast.

Even before, the zonal geraniums start to bloom. I used to wonder why the South African natives were putting out flowers when it was their regular summer back home, but was winter here.

I finally realized it wasn’t some impossibly inherited sense of time, but that winter sun, which blinds me, is pouring light directly into the east facing porch for hours.

This year I finally managed to get some petunias to survive the summer by buying some large enough to be beyond the barely weened stage of the usual four packs. When temperatures started falling, I brought them in to see if they could live on the porch.

In late October, came the expected crises when water wasn’t quite the same, and several died. Or appeared to. A few weeks later, the first part of November, new growth appeared at the bases, and in the past week or so new leaves have appeared amongst the dead leaves.

Through it all, one plant has continued to bloom. And, like the geraniums, it’s not the flowers that are beautiful, but the winter light coming through the pigments. Without that, they are just the foul smelling, sticky stemmed, flat colored plants of mid-summer.

This week I looked out the western bathroom window a little after 5:30 and discovered late afternoon winter light can be as magical. The dead leaves on the cottonwoods were golden.

I went out to take a picture and saw the sun, which usually drops behind the Jeméz in early evening, was now behind the black mesa, way to the south. Someone was burning and their smoke was blowing north toward my house. The particles of ash had diffused and were refracting the light that was coming through the trees.

I looked again a few days later. The sun was still falling behind the mesa. The leaves were still golden. But the early winter magic wasn’t to be seen. They were just leaves that should have fallen and now were waiting for the winds to fragment them.

1. Cottonwoods on the prairie around 5:30, 20 November 2012.

2. Zonal geranium on the east facing enclosed porch, 23 November 2012.

3. Wave petunias on the east porch, 23 November 2012.

4. Wave petunias that were blooming near the floor of the east porch, 23 November 2012.

5. Cottonwood in my neighbor’s yard, 20 November 2012.

6. Cottonwoods of the prairie with the smoke at the far left, winterfat in the foreground, 20 November 2012.

7. Aeonium leaves in winter light on east porch, 12 November 2012.

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