After marking the Winter Solstice and a wedding anniversary last night with a nice dinner at our new favorite restaurant, I was further cheered this morning to discover that my Christmas cacti have begun to bloom...or at least they have set blossoms, albeit some buds just the size of uncooked short grain rice. I was afraid they weren't going to bloom this year -- not having a Christmas tree is one thing, but this was serious! But there they are, the little nubbins of blossoms popping out just as yang starts to rise.
Last year the plants, despite neglect and abuse (which I think they actually thrive on) blossomed twice...at Christmas time, and again toward Easter. I love the cosmic clock of nature. It just ticks on with or without my intervention.
A concatenation of circumstances has led to the third time in my life I have not had the pleasure of a real Christmas tree with which to mark the season. And a long one...I usually get my money's worth out of the tree...it has been known to last far beyond the 12 Days of Christmas (12/25 to 1/6), sometimes through to Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day or Ash Wednesday. (It's always been gone by Easter; that would be doubling up on sacrifices.)
The shipments of Oregon produce to Hawaii this year were smaller than normal...and some of the containers (they come on container ships) were rejected because they were infested with bugs and slugs, illegal aliens wisely not admissible through Hawaii's agricultural inspection. I personally would have accepted the vermin (having come to accept the local ubiquitous cockroaches, cane spiders and lizards), but the State is cautious about such things. Our usual vendor did arrange a last minute shipment of trees, flying in 600, for a line of folks who started queueing at 3 a.m., like fans trying to score rare concert tickets. The Wizard called me after visiting this vendor to say, "They just announced there are 30 trees left and there are 200 people still in line ahead of me."
"Come home now," I said, "that's potential riot." It wasn't, Hawaii people being generally patient and orderly, and I am satisfied to know there are some children who have a tree that we didn't buy out from under them. I do wonder if there were tree scalpers. I hope not.
The alternative is an artificial tree. My first qigong instructor said that plastic plants fulfill the same feng shui function as real ones, although that may just be disinformation spread by the Hong Kong silk and plastic flower industry. But a fake, more like furniture or a decoy, doesn't have the sacrificial quality that a real tree does, and I don't want to pay money for another thing to store...it's bad enough to store all the ornaments.
The other alternative is a locally grown Norfolk/Cook pine, above, a tropical evergreen that is lovely to look at, and available as a Christmas tree, but lacks the density of the traditional Northern Hemisphere firs, spruces, pines. (I once had one as a potted houseplant in Appalachia; I would decorate it, but it was second string to the spruce we usually cut ourselves.) The Christmas tree tradition is after all a Northern European, old religion sort of thing. I expected a big rash of illegal Norfolk pine rustling, and I may actually scavenge some ironwood branches, below, which have a kind of oriental pine look about them, to do at least some greenery decor.
So no tree. We will donate the money we would have spent to our local homeless charity. And in a sour grapes spirit, I don't have the CHORE of acquiring, decorating, and undecorating, to say nothing of time-consuming visits to the storage locker. In the meantime, I will be content with the lighted ceramic tree, which reminds me of one my Victorian-esque Aunties had; the little orchestra is a family heirloom, the figurines are marked on the bottom: "Made in Occupied Japan."
There's also a tiny tree, below, 2.5 inches, smaller than our usual 7-foot Noble fir, with awestruck mice (the Wizard has a thing for these tiny miniatures), and a clever hand-made crocheted tree, right, bought from a local crafter. It is on my desk in my office, cozily displayed next to a ceramic fireplace, chair, bag of gifts and, again, some mice, a cat in a Christmas stocking hat, and a Chinese dragon.
So in lieu of the actual sacrifice, I at least have some tangible references to it. (Sort of like crucifixes, but more cheerful.) And I do have lots of lights on hand, not in the storage locker, to string all over the place.
In the meantime, while burning scented candles and playing holiday music, I will offer incense to the memory of the albizias that were pointlessly sacrificed, destroying the view from my lanai and the habitat of a lot of birds. I know this seems all contradictory and conflicted. That's the nature of sacrifice.
I got kind of weepy this morning when I saw the maiden flight of Boeing's new big old jet airliner, the 787 "Dreamliner," innovatively made of a carbon-titanium composite, essentially plastic, not aluminum, expected to be more fuel efficient, thus environmentally friendly and cheaper to operate. The hint is the 57 carriers who have already ordered more than 800 of the $150-million planes MAY pass their savings on to consumers...yeah, right, we'll see. I only hope a little blip turns up in one of my 401(k) accounts -- there must be some Boeing in there somewhere. I am happy of course for the Boeing employees who have jobs building these things.
I was weepy partly because my late mother would have liked to have seen this; she wanted to be a pilot, (romatically inspired by Ameilia Earhart, St. Exupery, and the Spirit of St. Louis) trying to get licensed during the early years of WWII, to ferry trainers around from the Piper plant in Lock Haven near where she grew up. Her old-school mother, like a feudal tai tai, forbid it. When Grammy discovered what Mom was doing on those afternoons at the airfield, she insisted that Mom either pay rent or move out if she was going to do something so improper as to take flying lessons. (We never much talked about the details of her submission to her mother's wishes. Needless to say, I got away with a lot of impropriety in my fledgling years.) I still have her flight logs, just a few hours short of solo.
I never wanted to actually fly a plane, but I always have enjoyed traveling in them (generally,** prefering a train, really), nose-to-glass in window seats, something that I'm not sure my mother ever actually did as a commercial passenger. I'm pretty sure my first-ever flight was one she arranged for me in a DC-3, (the Underwood typewriter of aircraft) and through the years I enjoyed bigger and bigger planes, until the ultimate pleasure of the 747, (the airline equivalent of the IBM Correcting Selectric, both pinnacles of late 20th Century technological achievement) usually on cheap Korean Air flights to Hong Kong. I used to book flights for a petulant Hawaii–D.C. frequent flyer who always insisted on the 747, seat 1A, UPSTAIRS. A plane with a second floor! Since then, the 757, the 777, the ubiquitous 737s (short-hop planes, one of which tragically lost its top and a member of the cabin crew on a routine flight around the Islands) but more likely now, I find myself seated on the too-accurately named Airbuses. (Like Dell laptops? I'm carrying this analogy a little far, but the 787 may be a really snazzy MacBook Pro.) I've always suspected the A in A-300 stands for abominable...a French word.
Boeing always sounds sort of romantic..."big 707 set to go" scans a lot more poetically than "L-1011" or "A-300 Airbus". And I always assumed the "big old jet airliner" was a 747. I'm just wondering how Airbus will respond to this new challenge of Boeing's. Will they devise...a paper airplane? They could recycle it, that's environmentally friendly. And then when booking our tickets on-line, we could get to choose our equipment: paper or plastic?
**Once I woke up in a 747 with a cold brown liquid dripping on me, apparently from the overhead luggage compartment; it was very disturbing. Turned out it was coffee from the upstairs coffee maker which had "malfunctioned," as they say.
Been trying to catch the Christmas wave, but it's not that easy in Hawaii. (Well, some waves are, and we've been having some BIG ones.) The commercial shopping stuff fails to light my candle, there are no strong seasonal weather cues, except maybe the big waves...so I turn to music.
Amazon just delivered Bob Dylan's Christmas album to my mailbox, so fast, the appearance of which I predicted (like John the Baptist predicting the Messiah) many years ago...just wait, I said, someday he's gonna...and he did. I think it fits in the baby-boomer nostalgia spectrum somewhere around Polar Express. (If I wasn't deep in a TVB drama, I might watch that movie tonight. I'll save it for Christmas Eve.)
But back to Dylan, hearing all these old classics by someone whose acid laryngytis is even worse than my own is kind of heartwarming. Sometimes he seems to be channeling (some might say ripping off) Leon Redbone. (Really though, who did what first anyway?) And the packaging of the album (a charity fundraiser) has some funny surprises. Front image, a kind of Classic Coke-style/Currier and Ives Christmas sleigh ride; back image, three camels (loving it); and inside...a Christmas pinup of Bettie Page (red-bordered silk stockings, a Victoria's Secret image of the '50s)! The album cover pretty much covers everything Christmas.
I put it on the CD player, along with a new Verve jazz Christmas collection, and Vol. Three of Christmas Cocktails(included in the Amazon shipment, shipping three for the price of one, please do not tell me I should have downloaded them). And pulling from the library, our very favorite favorite, Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas (someone once said to me at a party I was spinning music for, "That's not Christmas music!"). And our second favorite favorite, The Christmas Collection, with a whole lot of versions of The Christmas Song, with deep-throaty jazz saxophones and Hammond organs with Leslie speakers, the kind of music you would hear at 3 a.m. in a really sleazy bar on Christmas Eve/Morning.
Maybe all this music--five albums I might just keep in the CD changer through Epiphany, despite a collection which includes everything from Gregorian chant to medieval Hungarian carols, Handel to Bing Crosby, and every Windham Hell Solstice album ever issued--with a glassbottle of my favorite cheap cabernet, will get me in the mood. And tomorrow we search for a pre-sacrificed Oregon Noble Fir. It seems like a chore, but then, so does every ritual until you accomplish it.
So, Bob Dylan singing Little Drummer Boy, how bizarre and lovely, starts the holiday, and will see me through it. My only quandary will be when it's all over...do I shelve the Dylan CD with the other Zimmie stuff or store it with the Christmas albums? It doesn't really matter: it'll be available anytime on three iPods and my laptop. It will be a delight to hear Christmas Blues turn up in a shuffle.
TAO 61: A great nation flows downward into intercourse with the world. The female of the world always prevails over the male by stillness. Because stillness is considered lower, by lowering itself to a small nation a great nation takes a small nation; by being lower than a great nation a small nation takes a great nation. So one takes by lowering itself, another takes place by being lower. A great nation wants no more than to include and nurture people; a small nation wants no more than to admit and serve people. Both get what they want, so the great should be below. translated from the Tao Te Ching, Thomas CLeary