Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas fern


I saw this lovely Christmas fern yesterday in the woods near Ashley Reservoir (Holyoke, MA). The day was misty and mild, more spring-like than typical of December days. I recognized this distinctive fern by its little leaflets shaped like Christmas stockings all in a row. My mother taught me that identification clue years ago in Danvers, and I've never forgotten it. 

Today I saw many other examples at the Mount Tom State Reservation, and paused along the Bray Lake trail to take this photo of a few Christmas ferns by a small flowing brook: 

The New York Times published a related article online today: The Christmas Fern, a Cold-Weather Frond by David Taft. He writes, "There is little mystery about how the Christmas fern got its name. Its timing was right; it is green when much of the natural world is brown, absent or dormant. There is, however, a more subtle reminder of the holiday season to find among its fronds. Each of the pinnae — the individual leaflets of any fern — is shaped like a little Christmas stocking, and with a bit of imagination, you can picture the little feet marching up the fern’s central stem, or rachis."  
Exactly.  Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sleigh bells

Old sleigh bells on leather straps hung for years by our front door in Danvers – one strap on each side of the doorway. The bells were made of heavy brass. My mother called them Russian sleigh bells, but I don't know where she obtained them, or why she called them Russian. I loved the sound and the look of those vintage bells.

Years later, when I had inherited one strap of the sleigh bells, I decided to apply some saddle-soap or leather conditioner to help preserve the very dry leather belt, which felt brittle and cracked in places. As my fingers worked along that belt, rubbing the ointment into the old leather, I encountered some lettering that had been stamped or embossed into the leather long ago. The letters were English, not Russian, and spelled CHICAGO.  I also saw the name "SEARS" so I realized these were American made. Perhaps my mother considered them Russian style bells.

I now use the bells each December in Christmas concerts played by the South Hadley Community Band, accompanying my husband Ken, who plays cornet.
This photo was taken December 4, 2015, when we played outdoors on the South Hadley Commons while families lined up to greet Santa Claus.

I stand quietly with the bells slung over my shoulders, waiting for my parts.  The best one is Jingle Bells.  I jump up and down to make the bells ring. They give a wonderful sound.

I used to shake them in my hands, but they are heavy and my arms tire quickly. I prefer to use my shoulders and legs to support the bells.  It is fun to jiggle up and down, playing these bells with the band. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rug hooked by S.M.Morse

Here is an old photo of the hooked rug made by Sadie May Morse for my parents' first house at 120 Nichols St, Danvers. My mother gave Sadie many images and ideas to incorporate into the design. Sadie patterned the rug after a much smaller Swedish "Tree of Life" rug; note the branching structure in center. Above that, you can see a couple dancing – my parents swinging in a square dance, no doubt.

Click on image to enlarge 
Look closely, and you'll find many other representations of my parents and what they loved: my mother's horse, my father's sailboat, someone playing ice hockey, a horse jumping. The symbol for the Putney Ski Club (a duck on skis) is even included. My parents were skiers and had met in Putney, VT, though I don't know if they ever skied there. My mother, Janet Cutler, worked two summers in the late 1930's as a camp counsellor with the horses at the Putney Work Camp, while my father, Nick Nichols, sometimes stayed in a youth hostel there when he came to visit his good friend Al Green, who worked in Putney.

Nick and "Cut" married June 1940. Her initials JCN and his initials NPN can be seen in corners of the rug. Another corner shows the date 1940, and in fourth corner (not visible in the photo above) is the date this rug was made, 1942.  Sadie's last name is also included in the rug, but cleverly hidden.

The geometric patterns around the border of the rug and the big zig-zag lines inside provided structure to childhood games my sister and I invented. The lines were at times "roads" or tracks for little vehicles. Various shapes and spaces on the rug became "pastures" for our farm animals, and so forth. It was a very rich landscape for our play.

See my previous post for more memories of this rug and our little house, especially my father's Tiddlywink golf course using circles and other shapes in this rug as putting greens or "holes." I am writing my next column about that Tiddlywink golf game we so loved.