Rime Time

Whenever the weather predictors forecast a hard frost, Dash and I plan to head outside for our morning walk a little earlier than usual.

I like to see the patterns and muted colors before the sun converted all that silvery solid water into dripping liquid. I think the cold temperatures must add to the olfactory landscape as well because Dash seems to find plenty to explore with his nose on these mornings, too.

One of the things I love about cold weather is the feeling of crisp air entering nostrils, waking up my lungs, and putting all of my senses on high alert.

Frost brings edges and textures into sharp relief. Suddenly, we see not an amorphous dusty brown leaf pile but each individual leaf and hue, every petiole, rib, and vein.

Winter is full of paradox… colors are muted but warming up as the days grow longer, the light can be dull or  bright, the air is gelid at dawn, and then sometimes balmy in the afternoon, causing everyone to start shedding layers… then rushing to pull warm clothes back on when the sun dives behind clouds.

After a spring and summer of profligate foliage and promiscuous flower production, and an autumn spent harvesting sugars produced by green leaves, the plants are spent and all that remains are their fibrous bones… beautiful, even stripped to bare essence.

Dewdrops dance as they freeze, leaving fanciful footprints or the carvings of light-footed skaters on windows, the metal carapace of an automobile, or an icy puddle.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Felix Meyer, Gabrielle LudlowBroo_am (Andy B)Marilylle SoveranAppalachian dreamerKjell Eson,  Alice Radford, and technicolours© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]


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.]


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.]