Blue Light Special

When I first started college, before I decided to become a wildlife biologist, I was an art major. Science and the arts (including music and writing) were always competing for first place in my heart, at least until I realized I didn’t have to choose between these two loves.

Now that I no longer think of my interest in words and colors and sounds as a distraction, I’ve come to recognize that my eyes are tuned in to subtleties in the quality and spectrum of light that not everyone appreciates. Maybe they don’t notice, or perhaps their eyes are tuned in to stations I can’t pick up.

Winter has a signature wavelength, as do the other seasons, of course. December is the year’s blue period, and it’s never easier to see the sky snuggled up close to the land than after a snow.A long time ago, I read somewhere that the human eye can perceive more shades of blue than any other hue. I don’t know if this is true but I do love noticing the variations of sapphire, denim, indigo, ultramarine, and slate stretched out beneath a tree, or huddled beneath a stone overhang.
Once the cloud clear and the temperatures warm up, beautiful topographies form as the snow blanket settles and conforms to the contours of the land beneath.Light and shadow and texture add to the diversity of blue notes, creating a tune that’s perceptible only to the eyes, not the ears.

On a sunny, sparkling, snowy day, there’s nothing sad about having the blues.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Jussi-Teppo Toivonen, Ed Suominen, Doruk SikmanCindy ZackowitzPhil Roeder, Jussi-Teppo Toivonen, Marilylle Soveran, Evelyn Berg, and Larry Lamsa© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Technicolor

If you’ve ever looked at a Maxfield Parrish painting and wondered if the vivid colors depicted in his skies are pure flights of imagination, then I doubt you have ever been to New Mexico.I lived east of Albuquerque for about 10 years, on the edge of the Sandia National Forest in a small community along the scenic Turquoise Trail that winds northward to Santa Fe. When I first arrived, I would step out onto the deck each evening, drink in the kaleidoscopic sky, and marvel at my great good luck to be in this amazing landscape.It’s a fact of life, however, that human beings are quick to habituate to their surroundings, even when the sky at end of every day looks like the psychedelic dream palette of a Fauve painter.

I know this, but I was still shocked when, after only a couple of years of residency in the Land of Enchantment, the truth of how easily the fantastic becomes commonplace hit home. I was driving into the sunset with my mom, who was visiting for the holidays from St. Louis. Lost in my own thoughts, her gasp brought me back to the present with a jolt. I automatically tapped the brakes and looked frantically for whatever I was about to hit… but there was only empty asphalt ahead.

“What! What’s wrong?!” I said, completely confused.

“Nothing’s wrong… but, oh my god, is it always like THIS?” Mom replied, with a tone of awe in her voice that didn’t make the situation any clearer for me.

“Is it always like what?” I asked, truly befuddled.

“The sky! Look at all those colors! Are the sunsets here always like this?” she wondered in a hushed tone, almost to herself.And in that moment I was brought back to beginner’s mind, and really saw the sky and my surroundings again.

“Oh,” I said, feeling a bit stunned now myself by the depth and intensity of the hues splashed across the horizon just beyond the windshield, and not a little chagrined that I had been so oblivious. “Yeah, most of the time it is like this.”

“You get used to it.”

“Unfortunately.”[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Thomas Hawk, Colin Gallagher, Mr.TinDC, Howard Holley, Jodi GroveThomas Hawk, and Mike© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Evergreen

Now that the bright reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn are gone or fading, it’s nice to see a little green on the landscape. I wonder if that’s why Christmas trees were able to make the leap from German tradition to what would now be termed going viral.

Conifers are a reliable source of verdant life during the winter months, but there are other plants that stay green, or even bloom, when temperatures drop and stay in the teens or lower, or when snow and ice come calling.

Cedar trees keep their greenery and they also smell great (to my nose, at least).

Snowdrops aren’t afraid of Jack Frost, or Frosty the Snowman either!

English ivy isn’t a native son (or daughter) of North America, but it’s become so ubiquitous you could be forgiven for not realizing it’s an invasive, as well as a reliable source of greenery in December (that may have contributed to it’s popularity with homeowners, and it’s spread across a new continent).

Pines and firs aren’t the only traditional winter holiday plants, of course. There’s holly…and we can’t forget mistletoe!
I know, I know… mistletoe is a parasite so I probably shouldn’t make any promotional efforts, but hung above a doorway it provides a great excuse to smooch with your sweetie so I’ll let it slide.

These are just a few examples of plants that brave winter’s chill… share your favorites in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: It’s Raining, It’s PouringShawn Harquail, Bob Travis, Susanne Nilsson, Merv Stapleton, Hornbeam Arts, and Kay Wrathall© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Chile Weather

 

Thanksgiving in New Mexico… and since this is a holiday that celebrates food and hospitality, along with a dollop of mindful gratitude, what better to focus on as Dash and I wander and explore than the vibrantly colorful entrances and chile ristras that grace adobe abodes?

Deserts are so often portrayed in movies as sepia monotone landscapes, but New Mexico is one of the most richly pigmented places I’ve ever lived… it can feel like I’ve stepped into a Maxfield Parrish painting.

There are two aromas that transport me immediately to New Mexico: piñon pine, and roasting chile peppers. There’s something visually warming about a stash of dried chiles hanging near the door or on a gate, even on a cold, snowy day. Even when the ristra is a little weather-worn.The citizens of Santa Fe are both serious and playful about art; something as utilitarian as a door warrants extra attention and effort… and why not? The entrance to your home or business can help with the public-private life transition, the shift from street to sanctuary.

Later this weekend I’ll visit my favorite spa on Earth: Ten Thousand Waves combines southwestern architecture with a Japanese esthetic. I have some lovely memories of starry nights, fragrant pines and shimmering aspens nearby, snowflakes falling softly onto my nose and eyelashes as steam rises from the private hot tub in which I’m basking. I intend to add a few more of those memories on this trip. I know my shoulders will begin to cautiously climb down from their usual position near my ears the minute I walk over the threshold.

I’m grateful to be walking in this beautiful place on Thanksgiving, surrounded by spectacular vistas and artwork, earth-centric architecture, good food, heavenly aromas, and terrier-boy at my side.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Denise Womack-Avila, Larry Lamsa, Shawn Clover, slack12, Eric Baggett, jennifer yin, Christopher Rose, Michael Swigart, and Todd Dwyer© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]