postcardswallowtail2.jpg                                                                      Black Swallowtail – gouache on vintage postcard      (c)Val Webb

The narrow, still space between Christmas and the New Year is a contemplative time… a chance to cast one final glance in the direction of 2007 as it trudges away over the horizon and then enjoy a brief rest while waiting for 2008 to arrive on the doorstep.

Out in the damp chill of the winter garden, the crucifers are ripening faster than we can eat them: friends and neighbors are finding themselves the recipients of bagged broccoli crowns; crinkly savoy cabbages were distributed along with Christmas gifts. I plan to test the theory that tender collard greens, consumed with blackeyed peas as a New Year’s Day meal, attract prosperity. Our cauliflower and snow peas — unhindered by the swarms of borers and chewers that plague warmer seasons — look like the pristine pictures in seed catalogs.  Ahhhh. The garden almost seems to tend itself. I love winter.

Contemplation is also the common thread connecting three books I’m reading now. The first is Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau, the great-granddaddy of simple living. It was written during Thoreau’s two-year sojourn living in his tiny, handmade cabin at the edge of Walden Pond. I’m glad I somehow missed being assigned to read this book back in my high school American Lit days, because Thoreau’s insights on community and closeness to nature would have been lost on my globetrotting teen-aged self. This is a book to be nibbled at and digested bit by bit. I enjoyed this 1845 comment on vegetarianism:

One farmer says to me, “You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with;” and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plough along in spite of every obstacle.

The second book is Elizabeth Gilbert’s rich and satisfying Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It’s the fun and constantly surprising account of the author’s journey in search of life’s deepest lessons (and world-class pasta). Stitched into this crazy quilt of a travel memoir are flashes of pure insight. If this book doesn’t fill you with wanderlust, nothing will. Enjoy!

My current garden-related read is a visual feast, a kaleidoscope of scribbly botanical art goodness by Manhattan urban gardener Abbie Zabar. Her year-long illustrated journal, A Growing Gardener, is a thoughtful (and very, very colorful) account of her work to transform her apartment building’s rooftop into a garden paradise. It’s peppered with recipes, garden plans, lists of source material — lots of interesting stuff. If you happen to live in one of those unfortunate climate zones which are currently snowbound, this is some seriously inspiring fireside reading. Entertaining, too. And beautiful.