The Annual Burning of the Greens

Winter ornamental fruit

Party in our backyard last night, featuring a conflagration of 50 Christmas trees. This solo tree was planted in the snow and torched in place, pre-party, then festively adorned with a single red ball.

Snow is so deep we had to plow a walkway out to the plowed and packed bonfire circle. Some decorative fat flakes began to fall just as it grew dark and guests arrived. My husband used a handheld propane-fueled roaring blowtorch to start the fire. It’s his annual shining moment. The evening continued to exhibit a lot of oo-rah masculinity. It seemed like there were more pilots in attendance than there actually were.

In the pondhouse, the woodstove was fired up to keep us and two big pots of my chili warm. I also made Cuban sweet rolls and people brought snacks and desserts, beer and wine. There was Kahlua for hot chocolate, and Scotch for the oo-rahs.

The trees burned in twos and threes and fives as men lifted and tossed them on the fire. Damp green would simmer and glow and erupt in a straight-up column of wonderful hot flame and starry sparks, a cheering immolation of Christmas and the old year.

“We couldn’t do this in White Plains,” said one husband to his wife.

Partiers cleared out a little earlier than usual this year. Well before midnight, a woman friend and I were the last to walk up to the house, popping the caps back onto the tiki torches along the path to extinguish the little flames, leaving Cold and Dark and Night just behind.



Sorry: no pictures of our pretty snow, our hip-deep snow, because I’m bored with white.

Instead: an oil painting in progress, by my daughter. It depicts a young girl with a Coke bottle in a market in Morocco. It is inspired by her memories of a trip a year ago, and the bottle with Arabic script she brought back as a souvenir. Her dark-haired friend posed for a photo, wearing scarves.

When I steal a glance of the young artist at work, I perceive the appeal of the slow, organic process of layering rich colors on canvas. By contrast, writing seems insubstantial – an arrangement of tiny black sticks and insect legs on empty white.

Following on an internet whim, I just ordered Color: A Natural History of the Palette on Amazon Prime… Two-Day 1-Click!

The Way Back

I’m looking forward to this movie: The Way Back, by (wonderful) Peter Weir.

A young military officer leads an escape from a hellish gulag in Siberia during WWII. Making a pact with six companions, the group embarks on a daring mission across Asia to hopeful safety in India.

It is “inspired by a true story.”

Anne Applebaum: A real-life look at the gulag

“The Way Back” is a unique and groundbreaking film: It represents Hollywood’s first attempt to portray the Soviet Gulag, in meticulously researched detail.


The Curious Case of the Zombie Children of Winter Middle School

Day three of test administration. Seven a.m. Five degrees. Half-light dawn. Eerie crystalline fog. Snow banking the roads. A claustrophobia of whiteness. I’m driving to the middle school, passing shadow children waiting for the bus, or walking to school. They should be dressed like Eskimos today, but many have no hats, no gloves. Sneakers instead of fur-lined boots. Insubstantial coats. One girl is wearing a zip-front hooded cotton sweatshirt, standing quite still at a corner bus stop.

Eight-thirty a.m. We test ladies are preparing test booklets in the library. We are wearing layers, sweaters, pins on our sweaters, eyeglasses on chains around necks. Our papers rustle. We talk about the weather, our families, upcoming jobs. We are mostly retired teachers (not me). At a table nearby, I can hear an adult speaking in a half-whisper to a small group of students. She tells them to write down on a piece of paper what they are going to do today to help their school be more inclusive. “Do you know what I mean by ‘inclusive?'” she asks. No one has an answer.

Nine-thirty a.m. Subject: Math. The timer is blinking the seconds. I am proctoring an “accommodation” test session to three eighth-graders in a small office with motivational posters on the walls and one window looking out at a brown-slush parking lot backed by white-limbed trees. Students scratch paper with number two pencils. None of them are fidgeting, asking questions, or even doodling in the margins. Boy and girls, they all have the same hair long enough to hide eyes and expressions with a simple adjustment of head angle. In the snowy silence, I begin to daydream that I am a teacher with a small group of students in a school called The Field Trip School, based out of an Airstream trailer. We are nomadic. We travel with the seasons. We cook bacon over campfires. We exist in a perpetual state of exploration sparked by curiosity and whim. Everyone gets a turn with the map.

Cry me a big river

I'm guessing they don't use the front door

Roof fangs, West Road, Rye.

Getting out of the house is one reason I’m doing this biennial testing job again. Morning One of actual test administration, today, it was -8˚ and, ironically, out of the house was the last place I wanted to be.

On the 25-mile ride to the antique three-story elementary school on a hill, I mitten-mashed my iPod to Shuffle and re-discovered some great songs I forgot I owned, such as Johnny Cash – Big River.

It’s a sad song, if you go by the lyrics, but you can’t help but get happy and happier if you sing along loudly, three or four times in a row, alone in your car driving northwest on dirty roads through cold-smoke car exhaust on the most frigid day of the year.

      G                             C  G
Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry,
                               G7         A7         D7
and I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
        G                           G7              C7       
And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River.
     G                   D7   G D7    G
Then I'm gonna sit right here until I die.


Valerie Bertinelli before-and-after infomercials, for example

The Young Cicero Reading, Vincenzo Foppa, 1464

If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity. – Cicero

Cicero said it better, of course, but I am thinking something like that when I’m on the treadmill or elliptical at the gym and the 12 or 15 televisions are glaring down at me. I stuff headphones in my ears and listen to my iPod, but I need something to put in my eyes too.