Of Magic, Reality, and Equilibrium

A poem posted by The Little Old Lady Who on Friday got me thinking about illusion, magic and reality. Her poem on some level was about Christmas decorations and the differences between what they look like lit up (and inflated in some cases) and deflated flat on the grass in the morning or with nicks showing in the plastic in daylight.


I brought out some of my Christmas decorations this week. Some of them are quite old for what they are, dating to my childhood.

This angel came on a package for me my first Christmas.

This angel came on a package for me my first Christmas.

These elves, which have pretty ghastly complexions, were the height of Christmas magic for me and my brother.

These elves, which have pretty ghastly complexions, were the height of Christmas magic for me and my brother.

Others are new.

There used to be purple one, too, but it went the way of many ornaments...

There used to be a purple one, too, but it went the way of many ornaments…

Some are hand made.

I'm not sure whether my mother or one of my aunts made the sequined stocking.

I’m not sure whether my mother or one of my aunts made the sequined stocking.

And I made more votive stars and a sun!

And I made more votive stars and a sun!

Some look a little worn if I look too close.

A bit speckled, even for an owl...

A bit speckled, even for an owl…

On the other hand, hardly anyone looks that close. The ornaments come out, go on the tree, sparkle in the lights and get wiped off and put away after the Epiphany. We grant them their short-lived power in the same way we suspend belief at a carnival. Look too close and you’ve pulled back the curtain on the wizard; or don’t look too close and accept that the wizard is back there. It’s okay.

The frog appears to have been in some scrapes...

The frog appears to have been in some scrapes…

I think this carries over to other aspects of life as well. I went to the garden today because I knew I had some lovely parsley and greens and I thought I’d harvest some. I also wanted to check in on my cold frame lettuces.


My kale was beautiful. Some of the leaves looked sucked a bit dry though and on closer inspection I saw that most of them were covered with the nymphs of harlequin bugs. Enough that I figured it would be hard to wash them all off. Even though an entomologist friend of mine says we eat bugs all the time (eaten wild mushrooms? You’ve had fly eggs…), I’m not all that keen on it. So, illusion of perfect kale, reality of…


I did harvest some beautiful chard and some abundant parsley.


Then I had a wander around the garden. Don’t we all have the perfect garden in our heads when we think about gardening? Beatrix Potter illustrations of straight rows of perfect little vegetables. When I see anything approximating it, I am astonished, pleased at such near perfection.


Still, every year I’m thrilled with the exuberant, unruly lushness of my garden. It’s nothing like an illustration. And while many gardeners put their plots to bed, others simply abandon them at some point, so that over winter the plots look derelict. The collapsed fencing, skewed stakes and stacked rusty coffee cans lend it the look of a dump…if you’ve never seen a garden in winter.


Next to our community garden, up the hill, is a labyrinth. For some years, it was in the meditation garden of Whitman Walker Clinic in Arlington, which served people with HIV. When the clinic closed, the labyrinth was offered to the county, which took it and held onto it for a number of years while looking for a site. Three years ago, the county installed it in the park next to our garden.


I have walked it periodically. It is a nice setting, and being a public park, it sees use by children, who scamper into its center and drag sticks along its paths, people who simply come to sit, people walking their dogs, and people who know the labyrinth and its use. I imagine it could be a place remembered by a child as magical and mysterious.


This time as I came to the entrance of the labyrinth, I saw that some of the park denizens had left spoor. There’s been a lot of drinking in public in this little park and all the litter that goes along with it.


I had a walk to the center, where someone had dropped a rose. Then I picked up the litter.


Standing in the center looking out is like being in one of those old maps of the world looking to the outer edge.

Standing in the center looking out is like being in one of those old maps of the world looking to the outer edge.

There’s nothing wrong with having that image of perfection or magic in your head. Sometimes you get it for a brief flash and sometimes you don’t. But the knowledge of imperfection, wear, tawdriness and worse is a good thing to have, not because the world is a horrible place, but because part of keeping equilibrium means not getting blind-sided. The amusement park full on, brightly lit in a blanket of darkness is a different thing than the one in early afternoon with the electrician repairing the bumper cars and the carpenter gluing an ear back on a carousel horse. We need both.

And perfection might be fresh flowers in mid-December.

And perfection might be fresh flowers in mid-December.

This entry was posted in Community, Local Pleasures and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Of Magic, Reality, and Equilibrium

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Loved this, Lisa. Perfection might just be the old rose, the tarnished but beloved ornament or a walk in inclement weather. It is all on how we perceive it!


  2. It is lovely seeing your collection of precious ornaments. I no longer have all my old Christmas tree decorations – everything is either new or hand made. I gave them all away when I downsized radically and had to really weigh what to keep very carefully.

    You should have seen my garden when I started to clean it up this past spring. I had simply shut the door and left the courtyard untended and unloved for four months – it’s amazing what a couple of days hard work and a bit of time can do 🙂 I was thinking as I read the ending of this post that when I’m out on my daily puppy walk I am so often annoyed by the sight of dog poo left lying about the street or the park. In the end I decided to start cleaning it up rather than be annoyed. I have my trusty supply of bags and have to clean up after my boy so a few more makes no never mind – the bags don’t cost that much after all and I feel better for not being annoyed so therefore the leavers are assisting me in feeling good. 🙂

    Your bowl of flowers is beautiful The labyrinth is wonderful and the flower in the middle is magic!
    There’s an apocryphal story of Christ walking with his disciples when they see a dead dog on the roadway. The disciples all grumble and complain about the stench and decay, the flies, the ugliness of it all. Christ indicates the head of the dog – look at the teeth, he says, see how perfect they remain, are they not beautiful? I like this story.

    Have a wonderful week Lisa. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    • arlingwoman says:

      I usually clean up the garden because it is easier then in the spring, but really, it’s the same amount of work, just divided up differently. I’m so glad you have you nice newly done up patio to sit in for the lovely summer weather. It has been so warm here that the birds are singing now as though it’s spring. I noticed it yesterday morning as well.

      We could use you here for the dog do! Sometimes, I do the same thing–clean something up just to avoid being irritated–though so far, that hasn’t included poo. These people who drink in the park can really trash it. Well, they’re drunk, so what would you expect? But I did just what you do–I wasn’t going to fulminate about it. Just pick it up, then it’s gone.

      I’m looking for your Christmas decoration post!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A lovely post, Lisa. The memories engendered by a lifetime#s collection of Christmas decorations; a reminder of how gardens change over time; the rubbish, not so good.


  4. I love your Christmas ornaments, they tell stories!!! And some might look a little worn on close inspection but…the magic is always there when you plug in the lights and sit down with your hot chocolate, right? Garden looks still great in wintertime…edible bugs and all;o) xo Johanna

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Tang says:

    Although I did not grow up with the tradition of celebrating Christmas, I appreciate the sentiments that you expressed in your post; thank you for sharing.

    Here Down Under, the garden slackened its pace in winter but the changes in my orchard was unremarkable. We are enjoying summer but Sydney is warming towards tropical weather in recent years and some days are hard to bear.

    Love your last photograph; the flowers, the vase and the view that framed a wonderful composition.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your handmade sun! I shall be burning a tea-light just to try to make one!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Those ornaments in the first photo—I have some exactly like that. I was told that the striped ones were all the rage during The Great Depression. Walking a labyrinth is nice, too. One of my favorites was made with bales of hay in a huge field in NH. And I agree with Bruce….that handmade sun is a corker. I have many stars, but now I’ll try that one; it looks like I should use curved fingernail scissors….


    • arlingwoman says:

      No special scissors. For the sun, I started at the lower right of one of the one eighth sections and cut a curve up to the upper left right angle. Easy peasy. Yes, some of my ornaments are from the depression and the 20s. They came from my maternal grandparents. Someone once told me some of them were from the teens, but I kind of doubt that…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jennypellett says:

    I so enjoyed delving with you into your decorations, and the meanings they have for you.
    And the labyrinth. With the rose…magical.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. starkwe says:

    My Christmas tree is always a mix of old and new, handmade and factory made, nothing like a decorator tree. But the memories of the ornaments and the imperfections they’ve collected are part of the magic of Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gorgeous post Lisa and I loved the sun! :)) we had the same angel when I was growing up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. KerryCan says:

    Such a lovely, thoughtful–and thought-provoking–post. It really drew me in. I’m quite content with imperfection, especially if the dings and scratches come from love and use. And I agree–without knowledge of tawdriness (love that word!) and flaws, how do we recognize and appreciate magic when we are lucky enough to encounter it?


  12. A beautifully written and thought provoking post, Lisa. So much to take in here.
    I love looking at our tree at the end of the day with all the sparkling lights. It is magical. I no longer have childhood ornaments, but enjoy the ornaments I do have dating back at least thirty years.

    I worked in theater for many years and took part in the making of magic on stage. It was always extraordinary to see what the lighting designer did to the costumes we made, how a set enhanced the artistry and how lights could make our break a scene. Backstage actors were flinging off costumes,dripping with sweet while we wore our “blacks” (dark clothes) so that we were never seen while helping an actor change backstage. Someone this post made me think of all of that.

    It’s always sad to see debris in a park or public place. And if one is drinking in a park, they either don’t care or are too drunk to notice that they’ve left trash behind. Thanks for being that person that puts things right.

    It’s interesting how idealized gardens seem in story books or magazine spreads. The reality is weeds, bugs, blight and if we’re lucky a morsel or two for the table. Will we ever give up? NO! We’re gardeners.


  13. arlingwoman says:

    I think a lot of things create illusion and then when you look at the pieces, they seem so ordinary. Theater is like that, so I understand why it occurred to you. Gardens have that image/reality thing going, too, but mostly it’s reality, isn’t it?


  14. Boomdeeadda says:

    Loved you post Lisa. I’m gobsmacked that you can still dig in the garden. Our gardens are basically like cement right now. Frozen solid till spring. used to go banana’s in our home (before I went back to work). Everything sparkling, nothing out of place. Then one day, I had some neighbours over for a meeting and one of them (just a casual acquaintance who hadn’t been inside before) said, “wow, it hardly looks like anyone lives here”. I think I said something like, “oh dear, that can’t be good”. It wasn’t the look I was going for at all. I was going for homey and welcoming. Since that day, I’ve eased up on the compulsion to have everything ‘just-so’. We all have our own measure of ‘well-loved’ or ‘lived-in’. What I might think is un-tidy may be another homemakers triumphant day. I suppose the same is true for gardeners like yourself. An array of pots left askew or supports falling down is evidence of a summer of home grown food going from the dirt to the sunshine then the table. Seems more like a job well done! Bravo xo K


    • arlingwoman says:

      Oh, you’re so right about the gardens. It’s that difference between the magic and reality and how that works. I like the way they look in winter, resting, sort of, but we’ve actually had complaints from neighbors in the area!!! Anyway, I’m glad you relaxed about your house. I’ve gone through periods where I did the same thing, and I think you’re right, it has to do with focusing because you need to expend some energy. That’s not a problem any more!!! I do love my old ornaments and have quite a few I don’t actually use, since my tree is quite small. I also have a “little Christmas” box for light decorating inside the Christmas box, so I can go big or small depending on the mood and time available. One year, like you, I just didn’t do any, and that’s okay too. I enjoy them most between Christmas and new year actually…Have a good trip and Merry Christmas, Kelly.


  15. Robin says:

    I love this post, Lisa. ♥♥♥ Your ornaments are lovely, even those that are worn or have interesting complexions. And that rose in the center of the labyrinth where there is also trash on the ground perfectly illustrated the balance of perfection and imperfection.


  16. reocochran says:

    I like to think I accept life and friends imperfect as I am. I like the old expression,”I loved him, warts and all.”
    I should know this, but is your winter coat completed? I remember choosing buttons, Lisa. . .
    A perfect day is good to remember as long as one doesn’t dwell on the ones inbetween, I believe. Smiles from me to you, along with many best wishes for a special and memorable Christmas.


    • arlingwoman says:

      Thank you for your good wishes, Robin. I send them back multiplied. I did show a picture of the coat in a fairly recent post. I think coat is in the title if you’re inclined to search it out. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s