The Long, Wet Gray

Or Putting the flower beds to bed

“Baby, let your light shine down”

Something remarkable happened a couple of days ago … I saw and talked with six of my neighbors while I was putting up our Christmas lights! What makes this so remarkable is that it was early November, and most of us have retreated to our caves to hibernate for the next six months, so sightings of neighbors is a rare happenstance.

Up in the Northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest, we “joke” that we have two seasons – the Long, Wet Gray (LWG) starting as early as mid-October and lasting until mid-May, and Partly Sunny. Oh sure, we can get a couple of weeks that passes for Spring, and maybe a bit more that can seem like Fall, but when the LWG arrives, everyone knows it. On Solstice this year, the sun will rise unseen behind a thick veil of clouds at 8:01 AM, then quickly set at 4:16 PM, although the light begins to seriously dim about 3:30.

“Rose, rose, rose,rose – will I ever see thee bloom?”

We were able to participate in an annual ritual this year that occasionally gets rained out – Putting the Flower Beds to Bed. Once the first frost hits, we know the LWG will soon follow. The flowers, once so vibrant and lush are brown and drooping back to the soil from whence they sprang. I’m sure there is a fabulous metaphor here as we pull up the withered annuals, and cut back the perennials to within a few inches of their life. The rose bushes seem the most dramatic to me, once a colander of glossy green leaves spouting beautiful red blooms, wafting an intoxicating and heavenly scent, now reduced to a few short and forbidding thorny vestiges like a glimpse of the weeks and months to follow.

Silent and empty, hunkered down for the winter

I admit we put off putting the gardens to bed a bit this year. Like so many of you, we have severely  limited our life primarily to our tiny little corner of the world, finding an inordinate amount of joy and comfort from the shelter of our gazebo as we gazed out to the most prolific display of mesmerizing beauty our little flower beds may have ever produced. The brightness of the blooms and the baffling beauty of Hummingbirds eliminated the shadows on our souls cast by the dark spell of a microscopic seed planted in humankind all across this world. What a marvelous medicine it was!

I remember when I was young, going to bed, sitting up and reading, totally caught up in whatever book had caught my fancy. But then my mom would come up and say, “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” Sometimes she would give me a few more minutes if I was persuasive enough; otherwise, I’d turn off the lights, wait a few moments, and then break out the flashlight and read under the covers as long as I dared or until I finished the book. While those days have long since passed, it’s as if Mother Nature has come to me – to us – and said  “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” The blooms are gone, the bears have gone to den, and we are tucked into a blanket of clouds. “To sleep, perchance to dream” to borrow a line from the bard. 

May start a new tradition…

But, like that little boy, I will not go gently into that good night. I love a line from a Bruce Cockburn song – “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” and that will be my touchstone during the Long, Wet Gray. I lighted up our Christmas lights the day I put them up on November 10th instead of waiting until Thanksgiving per tradition. Yesterday Terri and I did something we’ve NEVER done before – we went through the drive-through at Dairy Queen and got two Blizzards! And … those of you who know us well will be SHOCKED .. we are making plans to pick up some kind of a fast-food meal at a drive-through to eat in the car as we find a place of beauty and tranquility to savor an uncommon moment. And who knows what other wild and crazy norms we may bend as we kick at the darkness? What about you? What will you do this winter that is uncommon? Whatever it is, stay safe, ‘cause we’d really like to see you when we emerge from the dual hibernation of winter and pandemic.

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