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Our views of the landscape are filtered through our own hopes and desires. The sight of all that uncut timber makes strong men weak, while the limited wilderness still available makes others cry. The welcoming waves call many to sea, while the secure hold of Terra Firma is the greatest relief another can feel. Trimmed shrubbery and orderly beds are the essence of civilized life, and threads of embellishment planted in a wall brushing forest are sophistication and finery. So it is with the Christmas lighting.
This time of year the eruptions of holiday lighting and outdoor displays transform commonplace landscapes into fairylands of color and excitement. Driving through the neighborhoods is a visit into the souls of the families who live there. The nighttime fantasy landscapes are flowing over the static daytime scenes, and with these shortened days there is no question which is more influential.
Walls of light open the shielded spaces to the gaze of passersby, twirls and waves of brightly colored inflorescences writhe up spruces and alders separating these chosen ones from their millions of unblessed siblings. Balls, stars, boots and stocking shapes overlay the blackness, Santas and reindeer rise from the decks of fishing boats, and entire worlds of characters and scenery emerge from lawns and flowerbeds as we travel through the town.
Edie and Jack Trambitas changed their family gallery of dolls, bikes and swings for a Holiday on Ice theme. The Northern Light neighborhood is aglow with good humor and gaiety. Wildmeadow shows giant decorated trees through the forest. Steve and Cindy Bohay have the huge spruce tree by their greenhouse decorated in glorious colors. Above Twin Lakes there is a welcome to Alaska Airlines passengers as they make their final descent into Juneau.
I love the opportunity to change the ordinary into the superordinary, and this brief release provided by our holiday lighting is a perfect example. Another is the interior landscape. We bring in trees, site them as icons in our windows, and treat them with the care and reverence due to precious symbols. They are anointed and groomed and dressed in the ritual finery of the holy season. We light them with many colors and gather around them singing; they are as altars in the home. They are not the worshiped being, they merely serve as a focus, but in so using them we give full license to our creative abilities.
Family heirlooms with stories of their own, handmade gifts made by children and the brilliant baubles from the market are combined into individual moments of art. Themes vary and methods change from year to year, but the symbolic trail of Christmas trees ripples down through our lives like no other event. Annually renewed, and yet each bearing unmistakable imprints of all the previous ones, these sacrificed (which means made sacred) trees indicate our faith in the continual cycle of the seasons.
Glittering with flowerlike explosions of color, predicting the springtime bloom of the whole world, we call forth the coming season while paying homage to the evergreen that carries us through the winter. Wreaths, garland and holiday table decorations carry the aroma and textures of these special plants. Spruce, fir, cedar, pine, juniper, rhododendron and holly are gathered and displayed. Some glitter with gold spray, sparkling glass balls serve to reflect and highlight the scenes, and candles and tiny lights add to the show.
Nativity scenes and their derivatives, the snow villages and theme models, provide gateways to thoughts of the basics of the holidays. The long-ago birth in Bethlehem, with wise men, shepherds, cattle and the Holy Family, and all the secular reminders of the old-fashioned faith and values that these symbols signify. We create landscapes in miniature, with archetypes and well-known ritual events linking us to our culture and belief systems. These small scenes are instant connections to the childhood memories and experiences that have made us who we are today.
Our interpretation is what defines these objects; the outdoor creations, the decorated trees and holiday plants, and the dioramas of sacred events or idealized history. We create our experiences of these landscapes by the preconceptions we bring to the moment, as we do all year long. Each individual sees what they believe, experiences what they want to feel, and creates and passes on the moment to their families and to those with whom they share their lives. This is the power of the landscape and of our lives in it, and this time of the year it shines out into all the world.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.