As I've driven through the winter-barren countryside lately, the most dominant presence has been hawk after hawk expertly balanced in trees and sometimes on signs or posts.
One in particular caught my fancy a couple of weeks ago — it was perched atop a tall evergreen, its white breast shining like the star on a Christmas tree. The bough he sat on bent slightly, and I wondered, as I always do, how hawks can perch on what seems the thinnest of wood.
It has to do, it turns out, with balance. A good thought for this week, when daylight is at a premium. Every night when I think it must be bedtime I look at the clock and it's only 6:30 p.m. When I wake up in the morning and it's light outside I know I've overslept. Tuesday is the shortest day of the year, and the first official day of winter. Once we get past that, the balance of light and dark will once again be on its way to being restored.
So we look elsewhere for light, and the best place is always in the heart. "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly" goes the famous G.K. Chesterton quote.
One thing that helps me at Christmastime (what would we do without it in these drear days?) is jingle bells. This year at Pier I I found a red jingle bell stick, and I keep returning to buy more for no one in particular. It just seems to me everyone should have the gift of bells, especially at $4 a pop. I've been leaving the sticks on my car seats, and now when I hear the jingling I don't know if it's from the beginning or ending of a Mannheim Steamroller song or the sticks as I'm driving over a bump in the road.Another cheerer-upper I've seen while Christmas shopping has been the tomato keeper. This is generally a red plastic container that looks like a big tomato and is supposed to keep tomatoes fresh in the fridge. While I don't expect to try that again for several months _ and I always try mightily not to refrigerate tomatoes, but you have to if you have leftovers _ the sight of the keepers has been a bright spot. Food for Thought has not one but three kinds of keepers, including one that binds to the cut end. I wouldn't mind running an experiment with all three keepers, and maybe a trio would be a good gift for a big tomato grower.
Tonight is the last night to see Botanica alight for Illuminations 2010, and I wouldn't miss experiencing it any year. You can also Christmas-shop there. Memberships to Botanica have been popular gifts this year, Mia Jenkins of Botanica says.
"I think it's a great gift because it's so practical. I like to give experiences or something you know people can use," Mia says. "It's nice _ you can use it year-round and it can fit anyone's household." The prices are $45 for an individual plus a guest; $55 for a family; and $70 for a family plus a guest. People over 62 and in the military get a $5 discount.
Mia says other popular items at Botanica's gift shop have been my book, "Best Garden Plants for Kansas," (that lightens my heart), as well as colorful Jellybean indoor-outdoor rugs that are washable.
At Tree Top Nursery, people are finding light in LED willows and pussy willows, says Cindy Lindquist of Tree Top, along with gazing balls for gifts. Tree Top also carries a variety of stands for displaying the globes.
Some other cheery gift ideas:
* Johnson's Garden Centers have some fun stocking stuffers: tiny, real succulents or cactuses in a clear tube that can be put on key chains or a necklace, and little thermometers. Brass rain gauges and outdoor thermometers are popular gifts for men, says Sallie Strole of Johnson's, and a new item this year is a bird waterer that is like a tube feeder but that holds water instead of food. (You'd want to bring it indoors at night, Sallie says.)
* At Hillside Feed & Seed, always popular are food items including Hillside's own-label jams and jellies, and honey from a beekeeper in Niotaze in southeast Kansas. Seasonal favorites include cranberry relish, cinnamon apple jelly and jalapeno jellies, George Sander of Hillside Feed & Seed says.
* Nancy Farrow at Green Elephant by Nancy reports that the whimsical Patience Brewster reindeer have been big this year, as have Byers' cheery carolers.
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.
Or at least light.