Christmas by the Golden Rule

Give Unto Others As You Would Have Them Give Unto You. 

For your esteemed consideration, a brief list of gift possibilities that have nothing whatsoever to do with endless asphalt parking lots, elbow-throwing shoppers, overworked credit cards, feelings of anxiety and resentment, and/or inevitable, near-horizon additions to your town’s overtaxed landfills.

If I could give the sort of gifts that I would love to receive they would look like these.

For someone ready to move into the next phase of his/her life: Folded neatly and tied with cotton twine; a recently-shed and very magical snake skin, found during a hike along an abandoned railroad grade high, above Oregon’s wild and beautiful, Deschutes River. A gift that will remind your loved one that shedding what no longer fits and then moving on, though sometimes fearful, is as natural as the progression of days within a life itself.

These gifts might not cost anything in dollars, but in each case they would cost their givers in time and awareness, and intention, which really, seem far more valuable as currencies.

A hand-carved Pine Bark Bunny, whittled while leaning against an immense sun-baked rock, surrounded by the pungent heat of a summer’s afternoon. Whether used as a Christmas tree ornament or a bookshelf chotchky, this little bark bunny is a gift of hope and playfulness, and a reminder that magical totem creatures may be found in the least likely places to help you in your journey. (I was first introduced to pine bark carvings as a very young boy by my dad who surprised me with a wonderful toy he’d carved for me while he was conversing with an old friend along a summer lake shore. They have fascinated me ever since.)

From the very edge of the earth . . .

Stones and Shells gathered on a rainy, healing winter’s walk along the beach: Here then is a gift that acknowledges the beauty of an ever-changing shoreline, honors the beauty that remains from a life that was, and that reminds its recipient of the softening, hard-edge smoothing effects of those crashing waves that sometimes pound against us.

Flavorful medicine for the chills of winter and the senses of the imaginative soul:

Wild-gathered mint, enough for at least a couple of pots of healing tea. So many of the medicines our hearts and bodies need are out there within the living, breathing world, as opposed to being found within the cello-wrapped packages on store shelves. This bundle of wild mint, gathered in a lowland seep along an untamed river has been drying and breathing within a cool, dark closet since summer, awaiting its chance to enliven the senses and relive aspects of its midsummer glory. Steeping these fragrant leaves within steaming, pure water will release healing essential oils and dream-inducing smells, and magically some of that warm summertime calm may reanimate and share itself with the sipper from within a china cup.

An invitation to consider what lies beneath and to risk letting it be seen:

Chestnuts resting in their prickly husks; Just beneath the spiny surface of so many wondrous things, flavors and colors and the tactile sense of utter smoothness. How many of us have built up spiny exteriors as a means of protection from those things we fear will touch our lives in ways we do not welcome or understand? And how many of us, having grown that prickly exterior, now feel trapped within it, so that those we love are now afraid of us and reluctant to even try to get very close. This is a gift that says, “I see you. I see beneath that gruff exterior and know that there is such a wealth of goodness, even softness buried just beneath it . . . and I am calling out to you to shed some of those thorns, if only for me.” What imprisoned soul wouldn’t find a tiny jolt of recognition and relief at receiving such a gift?

A reminder to live beautifully wherever you are, to draw warmth from the coldness of others and nourishment from the very air you breathe.

Here is the one gift in this humble gift collection that required any ‘buying’, for Tillandsia (air plants), simply do not grow wild in this region I call home. However, an air plant this size can probably be obtained from your local nursery or garden store for between five and ten dollars, and given that it needs no soil in order to live a healthy life it strikes me as a particularly powerful metaphor for a gift. One simply needs provide one of these magical plants a humble place to reside and no matter how poor its surroundings, it will find a way to gather what it needs, both to thrive and to grow ever more beautiful. This particular tillandsia lives atop a beautifully weathered ‘lava’ rock brought home from a camping and fishing trip along a lonely stretch of high desert river. Taken together, this handsome twosome provides a study in contrasts that continually dances with my imagination.

And so it goes, you see…

Of course, not everyone would understand such gifts, and some, inevitably would see them as uncool and unfair, as ‘cheap-outs’ or tight-wadded attempts to save their givers money rather than deeply thoughtful gestures that were intended to be delivered with a story and an implied, “I see you and love you.” Perhaps you will be able to see some of the gold that this soul suspects would result if each of us began to celebrate all of our holidays in closer accordance with that magical golden rule, giving as we would most like to be given to. And really, unless you just hunger for some useless, five, ten or twenty dollar trinket from WalMart that comes bubble-wrapped in plastic and that will be broken beyond any usefulness within a few weeks, and then headed for the landfill, why, why would you, or any of us ever resort to such gift giving inanity for someone else, just so we could check them off our gift list? Perhaps it is time to reclaim the essence of gift giving, investing the time you’d otherwise spend working to pay off the credit card bill generated by purchasing some of those silly gifts and instead, thoughtfully gathering and making, and weaving a personal story for your loved ones.

Which, if any of these gifts would you most like to receive? And what is the first of this type of gift that you imagine giving? Would there be some inherent metaphor or message behind it, or would it just be a simple gift of beauty?


(And for those interested in such things, all of these photos were captured on an iPhone 5 using the Camera+ app and then processed in the iPad version of the same app, because it has more variables and control. All of the items were placed upon a sheet of kraft wrapping paper and lit with a single, affordable, incandescent Tota-light, diffused by a white cloth.)

It started with these . . .

I made a trip to the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market on Wednesday last week because I needed a bunch of Narcissus flowers for a photo. You see, we had this pesky little blank space on one page of our book project and I wasn’t quite satisfied with any of the pictures I had that fit the general topic. But I did have an idea about how to fill it.

We’re in the late stages of weaving and editing The 50 Mile Bouquet together into book form right now, before it goes off to the printer, but not so late a stage that I won’t still fight to make it even better, wherever I can. After five years of giving it my all, I’d be crazy to start taking the easy way out now.

Unfortunately there were no cut daffs available anywhere I checked within my neighborhood, not in the grocery stores or the florists shops. And truthfully, there weren’t any at the wholesale flower market either during the first week of January, but a quick phone call did confirm that there were dozens of little pots of forced bulbs available. Of course, none of them had any blooms yet, but they did have a few buds, so I boogied on down to Georgetown, bought several of the most mature looking pots, then took them home, watered them and put them in a nice warm place. And, voila, by midday Friday I had the requisite handful of blooms . . .

I needed to make a shot like this:

Having achieved my objective by mid-afternoon last Friday, I’ve long since moved on to other pages and other problems seeking solutions, but that hasn’t stopped me from many more delicious moments of pure pleasure as I’ve watched these Narcissus cyclamineus ‘Jet Fire’ bulbs I brought home continue to push out even more cheerful blooms. Finally, this morning while I was waiting for the teapot to boil, I used the few minutes to snip several more opened blooms to add to that first handful, and this, this is the gift that now graces my kitchen window . . .


As you can see, the blue mason jar, the green stems and the rich yellow and orange Narcissus blooms absolutely vibrate with life and color on an otherwise dreary day. And there beside them, and in stark, curvaceous contrast is an oyster shell from an early morning beach breakfast with Miss Mary, gathered last summer when we vacationed on Hood Canal, and emerging poetically from within it, a single, gray-green, Tillandsia, an air plant.

Sweet and salty. Lush and arid. Warmth and cool. During this time of year when all those run-together, amalgamated tones of gray prevail over so much of the Northwest’s visual landscape, it feels especially decadent to have such abundant color upon which to feast ones eyes. But I wonder, is it only me that revels just as completely in the metaphorical palette cleanser of the stark bromeliad seaform beside my opulent jar?