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Letting the joy of Christmas linger a bit

Plus: The virtues of quietude

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Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 11:19 am, Thu Jul 22, 2010.

"Christmas was the warmth hidden beneath the frozen crust of winter suddenly billowing up like a long dormant ember."

— Jack Slocomb, from his book, "Come the Snow Owl."

I think that ember can warm us long after the day and this month are over. For some, the days immediately after Christmas are the time to take down all the decorations and the tree and get back to "normal," whatever that may be. As an Episcopalian, I am glad we actually have the twelve days of Christmas, which began on Dec. 25 and end on Jan. 6, Epiphany. For us, that is the day the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

I have always felt the week between Christmas and New Year's Day to be a resting period: a time to savor decorations, look more closely at Christmas cards, and rest and read before beginning to cope with a totally ordinary routine. Then there's also the Specter of Taxes Present looming ahead, with all the headache of preparing records. Let's not go there right now!

These gloomy overcast days don't make joy easy, but at least we are getting some of the water we need. Toby cat doesn't like it, for certain! The birds are out in force, and the feeders need filling far more often. I have seen two little ruby-capped kinglets lately; they don't often come around. And there was some kind of thrush, with a tan spotted breast, checking out the hummingbird feeder and what he could see through the kitchen window. That feeder has attracted more than hummingbirds. There was a small gray-brown bird with a short sharp bill actually drinking from it, and an even larger bird contorting itself so it could sit on the perch and still reach the outlet. Birds are great to watch. Of course, there are all kinds of finches and sparrows, and two very noisy jays. They like the peanuts in the squirrel feeder, and the squirrels have to battle for their share. All this wildlife keeps me busy getting and putting out food, to say nothing of providing for a 20-pound black cat. Never a dull moment!

Small world department: the new Antiquarian shop on Pine Street (former Frames and Fine Things) is owned by Bonnie and Steve Schneider. When I went in the other day, there were two friends I often see in the House of Coffees — Tom and Bob. Bonnie is Tom's sister. She came up here from their home in Aptos to look after her mother; Steve commutes by the half-week, as his job is with Santa Cruz County. That shop contains an eclectic selection of just about everything.

Had a great conversation the other day with Rex Reynolds about the Metropolitan Opera's productions of "Tosca" and "La Boheme," both of which I saw on Channel 6.

The first was a filming of the staged performance at the Met, complete with the new, much talked about stage setting of dominating tall brick towers and walls, with black doors and black gates. The opera is a tragedy, but this was a harsh production, with much more emphasis on the villain, Scarpia, than on the doomed lovers, Tosca and Mario. I felt that Puccini's wonderful melodic music was like a butterfly beating its wings against an iron cage. "Boheme" was presented much differently. It was presented like a movie, with no set stage, no acts — just changes of scene and camera angles. None of the story was changed; it was made more realistic, but in no way was the music interfered with. It bound the whole story together.

Rex is involved with stage design; he designed the set for "Annie Get Your Gun" at Stockton Civic Theatre and will be designing the set for their spring production of "I Remember Mama."

I was sorry to read about the passing of Marie Hohn. I always enjoyed chatting with her at the House of Clocks, and she could always make my recalcitrant battery "bird song" clock behave itself. That is such a great shop to go into — all those clocks working away tick-tocking and chiming. Speaking of tick-tocking: lately, my 1836 shelf clock (with a pendulum) has been saying, "six pack, six pack." Wonder where that came from?

Had a great chat with Joyce Harmon the other day, Joyce, as everyone knows, is Lodi's tree lady. It is she who urges, and rightly so, that home owners take care of their trees, particularly watching for mistletoe and cutting it out. Really bad clusters may even result in cutting off a limb so that the tree will not be further infected. Mistletoe left untended will eventually kill the tree. I have seen far too many Modesto ash trees with more mistletoe than leaves. Trees are some of our greatest friends. They should be cared for and nourished.

Joyce also told me that Tree Lodi, which she heads and which includes such people as nurseryman Vern Weigum on the board, has been a non-profit foundation since 2005, and as such can receive donations to help with their work. On Dec. 12, the group planted a large coast redwood by the main entrance of Lodi Memorial Hospital in memory of members of Cappies, a retired nurses' group of which Joyce herself is a member. Also on that date, with the approval of the city and of Marty Weybret, publisher of the News-Sentinel, they planted three oaks on Locust Street across from the library.

In 2010, Joyce says the foundation will be planting 218 trees at DeBenedetti Park on Lower Sacramento Road. This effort will involve some 400 volunteers. What a great project!

Going back to the beginning of this column, here is something apropos to its ideas. An Episcopal priest, spending time in retreat at a Benedictine monastery, remarked that the theme he felt most acutely was one of emptying, particularly that of superficial connection. To that end, he left his cell phone in the car and his watch in a drawer, ridding himself of the incessant need for information and the constant sense of urgency. The bells of the monastery called him to prayer and to meals. He speaks of the "blessed silence," not missing the useless chatter with which we fill our lives. He says,

"I think we have equated speaking with existing … to empty myself of the need to speak is about emptying myself of my own inflated sense of importance."

There is a reminder here for us all, I think. Happy New Year!

Gwin Paden has been in Lodi since 1957 and has been chattering on in this column about one thing or another since 1999. She has had a number of different careers and a lot of community involvement in numerous groups and causes.

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