Every winter our hollies sprout branches of red berries, the branches long enough in December to be visible from my bedroom window. Like a pat on the shoulder, they remind me that Christmas is coming. Last month we pruned a few sprigs of holly and placed them in a vase with camellia flowers from the front yard, which made a lovely centerpiece for Christmas Eve.
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The camellias were bright pink, although some of the petals had tinted a pale blue, the flowers already battered by wind, rain and weather. They highlighted Christmas as a fragile thing, something that quickly offers up its brilliant extravaganzas before fading away for another year. The homemade bouquet that adorned our party table is long gone, and our other decorations were put away weeks ago.
January can have a film noir feel after Christmas is gone, as the landscape, once blooming with lights and garlands, is now cast into shadow. But even a black and white image can bring joy, as I tell myself every time a chickadee lands at my feeders.
These little birds in their solemn tuxedos are bold creatures, swooping among much larger birds to catch a seed before retiring to one of our sycamores for breakfast. They make me think that even small lives can be bold. It’s an idea to warm your hands each January as the bold optimism of New Year’s resolutions begins to wane.
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I’m also comforted by the thought that even in January, the palette of a Louisiana landscape has its share of variety. We banished our poinsettias to the porch after Christmas, but they continue to thrive, still deep red as they huddle like a conclave of cardinals under our mailbox. Wild violets grow from our herb garden, the violet is so rich that I avoided digging them up to make room for more basil and chocolate mint.
The little rosemary we planted near the front door as a Christmas decoration also proved to be a keeper. I have taken to stroking its fragrant branches as I fetch the newspaper each morning – a gesture of affection I suspect most people reserve for their dogs.
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Coming inside with the headlines of the day, I also notice our galax blooming on the front porch. Its small, bright canary yellow flowers are a welcome counterpoint to the greyness of the news.
January was a mixed month, with hot days alternating with freezing days. But in the new seed catalogs I’ve perused, the year passes happily with its familiar sense of order. They carry images of tomatoes as big as Mars, as well as ears of corn so tall they stand like totems.
Here, at the beginning of January, I turn the pages and dream of spring.