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.]

Bittersweet

I’m visiting my hometown of St. Louis this week, and the trip is bittersweet.

It’s a beautiful time of year here in the heart of the Midwest. I’m having a chance to reconnect with a childhood friend, visit favorite places, and discover what has changed since I moved away about 18 months ago.

But I also lost a first cousin earlier this month, which was a shock to everyone because he had appeared to be in great health. Being back home brings up lots of memories of him and other family members who are gone.

I know there are plenty of people who find autumn sad and depressing… summer’s long, verdant days and warm nights, barbecues and baseball games, fireworks and theme parks have had their day in the sun, and the days are shorter and darker now.

It’s been a difficult year for so many people. Even though I count myself as extraordinarily lucky, it can still be hard to wake up to yet another natural or manmade disaster and not lose sight of the positive.

But I’ve always loved this season, with its colorful trees glowing under cobalt blue or slate gray skies, frosty-crisp air, wood smoke, and long shadows. I find the cycle of seasons comforting… a progression, not an end.

Walking through familiar neighborhoods or in a beloved city park or the well-tended botanical garden, I found plenty of evidence that the world is both solemn and radiantly beautiful.

 

Share your thoughts, observations, and images of bittersweet autumn in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Stanley Zimny, dustinphillips,Bhanu Tadinada, Thomas Hawk, Tom Bastin, and Thomas Hawk© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]