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As my maple tree turns an exquisite color, I anticipate a season of warmth and song

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Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2008 10:00 pm

My large Japanese maple tree has come into its own at last, with its leaves turning a wonderful color that is hard to define.

It is red, gold, amber, and a touch of coral all combined into a presence that warms a cold gray day and lights up like a stained glass window when the sun shines.

This tree is on the west side of my back garden. On the east side is a sizeable crape myrtle that has been a brilliant yellow, and in between is a smaller maple whose color bridges between the other two trees. I have been blessed this fall with this view during a time when my personal life was not so bright due to a siege of sickness for most of November.

But it is December now, and sickness has to take a back seat to the joys and projects of the season! Bit by bit the house is getting decorated, and some cards are on their way and gifts are being bought - locally. Sorry, I never was much of a shopper and wouldn't dream of being ANYWHERE at four in the morning, let alone in front of a store!!

I love Christmas and always have. It is the time to let the inner child out, to wonder, to feel, to slow down and absorb the real spirit of the season. I like it all, especially the music. From the depths of Handel's Messiah to the tinkly tunes about Rudolph and Frosty, it's all about this special season. So much is in the anticipation, the build-up to The Day of Gatherings. For children, of course, this means the gifts under the tree, the stockings by the fireplace.

For those of us who are older, it's the warmth of being with family or friends or of having done something to assure a better Christmas for someone in need.

Lately, I have seen a couple of newspaper stories about the Mission Inn in Riverside, down in southern California. The last time I went by Riverside, many of its gracious boulevards were criss-crossed by freeways. It was so disappointing. I remember Riverside and the Inn in 1945 when my husband and I were stationed at Camp Haan, south of town.

No freeways then, just streets, and lots of orange groves around town. March Field was just across the highway from Haan, and the bar in the inn was the favorite gathering place of all the military. I think it was called El Mundo, because there was a painting of a map of the world on the back wall.

Every day, at about five o'clock, the carillon played an old song, "When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day." The song was written by Carrie Jacobs Bond - at the inn, where she happened to be staying. That was a long time ago, maybe even a hundred years. Hearing that wistful song made the end of each day a peaceful time. I guess they don't play that now. Gentle old songs seem to live only in the memories of older people.

The other day some good friends, who have provided me with many memorable e-mail attachments which I have carefully saved, sent me the 10 best views from the Hubble telescope. They were awesome - in the truest sense of the word. There was one called The Saucer (I think) which indeed looked like a saucer rimmed by bright stars and full of lots of smaller, dimmer stars. What made it more awe-inspiring is that it measures 50,000 light years across. There were other views just as staggering, marvelous in colors and shapes. All I could think of was that mankind as we know it is just one troublesome species on one planet in one solar system in one of thousands of nebulae. And we think we are so important. The Psalmist was right: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visiteth him?"

Which brings me to something troubling - all this push and blether by atheists and anti-religionists against God and religion and Christmas and all the traditional mores and beliefs most of us have followed for years. I can only think that all of it is triggered by guilt, envy and fear because these people's souls have not been nourished, and the souls of those who follow some religious belief have been. It is always so much easier to denigrate something one doesn't have than to make an effort to acquire it.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas, everyone, and special thanks to the readers who tell me that they like my columns

Gwin Mitchell Paden has been a Lodi resident for more than 50 years, and has long been involved with many community organizations and affairs. She is a retired Delta College/Lodi High English teacher, and has worked in advertising, radio, and news reporting. She was an officer in the women's Army Corps during WWII. This is the ninth year that she has been writing this column.

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