A Tall Order

It’s amazing what you can get on Amazon. Recently, when I was in Lanesboro Minnesota visiting my friend, I learned that the nearby town of Peterson, population 200, had taken up a collection and ordered an 8 ½-foot gnome to honor their Norwegian heritage (and for fun and to drum up business I imagine). (Who knew you could get an 8 ½-foot gnome on Amazon?) Well, the gnome got lost somehow en route, so Amazon apologized and sent them another one. (How do you lose an 8 ½-foot gnome?)    Eventually, the lost one showed up, leaving Peterson with two 8 ½-foot gnomes. (Apparently Amazon thought it was too much trouble to ship one of them back.) Of course my friend and I had to drive to Peterson to see them. One gnome sits in Peterson’s city park and the other next to a sign welcoming visitors to the town. Turns out 8 ½ feet isn’t as large as you think (though still impressive). See photo. If gnomes are not your thing, we later discovered that the company that made these gnomes also sells (among many other items): A Welsh dragon that is 6 ½ feet high and 9 feet long; An African elephant that is 8 feet tall and 12 feet long; A giraffe that is nearly 12 feet tall and 6 ½ feet long; A charging triceratops that is 10 ½ feet high and 20 ½ feet long; and A Brachiosaurus that is 15 ½ feet high and 18 feet long. These huge items are probably intended for cities or companies, but I laugh, imagining one (or more!) of...

Christmas Sparrow

This month I offer a poem written by Billy Collins. In honor of surprises and wonder, and how they invigorate us instantly. And in honor of the resiliency of the many creatures that quietly live among us. If you have had experiences similar to the one in the poem, I’d love to hear.   Christmas Sparrow The first thing I heard this morning was a rapid flapping sound, soft, insistent— wings against glass as it turned out downstairs when I saw the small bird rioting in the frame of a high window, trying to hurl itself through the enigma of glass into the spacious light. Then a noise in the throat of the cat who was hunkered on the rug told me how the bird had gotten inside, carried in the cold night through the flap of a basement door, and later released from the soft grip of teeth. On a chair, I trapped its pulsations in a shirt and got it to the door, so weightless it seemed to have vanished into the nest of cloth. But outside, when I uncupped my hands, it burst into its element, dipping over the dormant garden in a spasm of wingbeats then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks. For the rest of the day, I could feel its wild thrumming against my palms as I wondered about the hours it must have spent pent in the shadows of that room, hidden in the spiky branches of our decorated tree, breathing there among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn, its eyes open, like mine as I lie in bed...

The Creepy and the Cozy

I like to decorate my home to reflect the seasons. A couple weeks ago I put away the exuberant summer accents—flowers, birds, symbols of growth and play—and brought out those that reflect fall in the Midwest. Last night I put up the Halloween decorations. Yesterday my house had a peaceful, autumn-earthy, cozy feel. Today the serenity is interrupted by bursts of the odd, the creepy and the orange (which clashes with the abundant cherry red in my home). I wasn’t going to; it takes time to haul out the boxes and select and place my adornments, my kids are grown and gone, and most of the neighbor kids have also grown up. But I never thought Halloween was “just for children.” Beyond costumes and candy, to me the holiday expresses changes in the earth that happen only this time of year. Changes that I think are worth noting and pondering. By late October images of golden harvest and crimson autumn leaves don’t tell the whole story. Halloween decorations reflect the apparent death of plantlife, increasing darkness, active night creatures, and the spookiness of the unknown and unseen that darkness seems to bring. Though adding the creepy to the cozy may feel a bit jarring at times, to me the house is more alive, more real, since I did. My decorations generally are not Disney-esque, smiling costumed children and cute animals devoid of anything dark or scary. Nor do I use the gory decorations so in vogue these days: the dripping hatchets, bloody bandages and body parts, bodies hanging in nooses. Or motion activated ones that scream and howl. Given the...