The Veil

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It was a pack of cards with optical illusions printed on both sides, it was a stamp of a skeleton, it was a book about a mysterious girl with a colorful cover, it was a gilded leather jewelry box. It was memories: the memories of times gone past, of another life, of being oh so much younger. Held onto for years, they were tucked in the corners of old trunks and the shelves of bookcases.

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Moving, packing, sorting, organizing: de-possessing. Communing with all of the things in this cabin in the woods: holding each item in my hand and examining where it came from, who brought it, what it meant over the passing of time and asking myself, honestly, whether it had a place in the house anymore. For most things, surprisingly, the answer was yes. Over the past few years, I have done a really good job of shedding the errata, the flotsam of life defined as possessions.

What does it mean to let it go? It is a phrase that we often utter ourselves or hear others utter in terms of life and its myriad experiences. Let it go, we say, not really knowing what that may mean to others or to ourselves. This week is the beginning of spring, although you wouldn’t know it here on the coast of Maine where snow seems firmly planted in our landscape everywhere you look, but nonetheless, Friday is the spring equinox and the beginning of the sun’s warmth beckoning the living things back out from under the ground, under the snow. Shortly, Persephone returns to us and her mother will celebrate by giving us flowers and leaves again. Shortly, the days will become much longer and we will be able to celebrate the feeling of the warm air on our shoulders.

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Let it go….let go all of the stuff that is holding growth, feeling, evolution back. That pack of cards went into the fire, that stamp went to the growing free pile, the book went to the library. Such magpies are we: holding on to shiny objects, putting them up on shelves or in drawers to be gazed upon during the dark moments. What does it mean to really glean from our lives those items that have meaning and purpose, and to slough off that which doesn’t? Does it mean we are losing or gaining ourselves? Does it mean that we are better at the growth, or worse at the remembering? Does it mean we shall find ourselves at some future date wondering where that bit or bob went? Possibly, but after all, it is just stuff. You can’t take it with you, as the other popular saying says.

Spring is a natural time of cleaning, sorting, and developing better habits for the warmer days. It is a time of reckoning with oneself and with the earth as we witness the huge shift that is happening beneath our feet and around our heads. It is an antsy time: a time of intense preparation, hesitation, and promise.

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Where are we all going on this tiny blue planet hurtling through space? What will happen to us in this new year, after the beginnings of it have been so slow and so cold and so dark? The only thing I know is that I don’t know: I feel like I know less as I learn more about this game of life we all are lucky enough to play.

Lately, I have been trying to appreciate something about the place in which I live each day: mostly I notice the mountains that I can see from my front garden: the dooryard, as it is called here. In front of me each morning is a line of graceful, arced mountains that are dotted with trees that appear black and stand out of a uniform field of white. Behind them, during the day, the sky is either white with snow or blue with sun. At sunset, the sky transforms into a pink-purple-salmon wonderland that casts the roll of those mountaintops in beautiful relief. The lake at their base is beginning to melt: the ice is going out, again, as they say here.

As we all make this grand transition, again, as our axis posits us in greater exposure to our central star, my goal is to remember something simple, something about being in the present moment, something that goes something like this:

“Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”

Frida Kahlo

A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.

Otoño y La Gracia

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This morning, it was autumn. I woke up at sunrise to the sounds of the street sweepers and noticed a copper light cast across the tops of the buildings and caught in the leaves of the trees. Cadillac Mountain, standing so stately at the end of the street, was highlighted by a glimmering sheath of coppery-gold-red-and-yellow very early this morning. The slant, or angle, of the light is so sharp now as the Sun’s light is bending around the curves of Earth! Take heed for soon it shall start to slip away…and away…and away.

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This is my bedroom, or at least, a part of it. I have spent some hours over the last few weeks decorating its nooks and crannies for winter. I have added tropical plants and candles and nicely smelling things. I have stared out the windows, wondering how it will change. I have thought about my own feelings of this house’s temporary feel: never have I felt that I will stay here for long.

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I ended up here on Saturday night: a club called the Oak and Ax in Biddeford, Maine. I watched some friends perform beautifully, and I watched a couple in paisley and beige dance. I watched young people dressed like the Beastie Boys sing space trip-hop. I spoke to a girl wearing a white polyester dress she had bought at the Goodwill-by-the-pound in Gorham. I smoked a cigarette with a man who sang like Stevie Wonder backed by synth beats. I danced, and was happy, because, beside my friends who I was attending the show with, I knew no one and was happy in a brief moment of true anonymity.

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Out beyond ideas

of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field.

I’lll meet you there.

Rumi

Fall is a season of overturning: of watching the colors of our landscape change before our eyes. We can feel the energy drain from the surface of the Earth to its undercarriage: the Sun begins to wane and the light disappears, the leaves turn red-orange-yellow-brown, and the wind becomes sharper and colder. We ourselves learn to spend moments feeling the cool wind blow on our faces and the warm sun shining on our backs for just a little while more. We can watch the clouds move in the blustery wind and hear it shake our windowpanes as the cold blows in off the water, and down from the North.

One of the themes of late, for me, is a feeling of letting go, of accepting new beginnings whatever they may be, and to try to say goodbye to a feeling of fighting for fighting’s sake. It is time to transition and to take off the battle garb: to look into your lover’s eyes late at night and see light flash and listen to your souls laughing. It is time to feel one another’s skin between sheets and hold another’s head in your hands: appreciating in moments the beauty of hair and skin and bone. It is time to hold hands while sleeping, and to be tender in whatever moments you are lucky enough to express it.

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“I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

In The Light

“At last I began to realize . . . that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by. . . . I began to realize that prayer was not a formality or an obliga- tion; it was a place which was there all the time and always available. “

Elfrida Vipont Foulds

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I was standing on the village green the other night, eating hot chile chocolate ice cream in the dark, and staring through the front windows of a shop at the woman working inside. She was dusting and rearranging, and sighing, and wondering where all the people were.

I was on the phone with my friend, listening to her cry and cry and worry and be frustrated at her own emotions and wondering why she couldn’t be the strong person, the person others could depend on in moments of crisis, anymore. I listened and tried to tell stories or relate other events to her experience, but mostly, I just listened to her and asked her to try to stay present, to not worry so much, and to take some time off.

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“Yes. There definitely is a certain attraction.”

This morning, I was sitting in the grass of the Masonic Hall, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in the early morning, hot summer light. On the sidewalk, two ladies walked past us in running shoes and pastel-colored athletic tops and ball caps: they walked with purpose. I sat in the grass, listening to my friend relate her spring and early summer to me, ruminating on families and relationships. I think we both were wondering how any of us ends up where we are, and how it can be so confusing. I chose to listen, and smell the freshly cut grass, and think about all the small bugs crawling under our thighs in the grass.

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“Don’t get officious. You’re not yourself when you’re officious: that’s the curse of a government job.”

This evening, I sat in my friend’s impermanent abode, a small cottage in Hulls Cove, a perfect summer rental with IKEA furniture and well-styled cutlery, eating curried haddock and rice, and listened to him lament the island, its problems, its inadequacies. He constantly asked me why…and I had no answer for him other than that there is reason that this place was once called Eden.

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“Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”

I have been writing here for almost two years; two years ago, I was living in the basement of my parent’s house, in a giant tent made of old sheets and scarves and curtains and mosquito nets that I made one day with one of my oldest friends. I spent my days knitting and watching movies and occasionally going outside into the light, only to retreat again into the dark. After awhile, I began to live in a house in a tiny town called Seal Harbor, and then left on a wild adventure, only to come back to the House that Floats in Northeast Harbor.

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“See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are *this* [points to a daisy], and allow themselves to be treated as that [points to the field of daisies].”

So….after two years, and what feels like a lifetime of reflection, how does one make the switch from a person who stands, bewildered and gaping at the power of all of it, at the profundity of life here, of the connections to nature and to other people, now change to a person that listens to others who are experiencing something similar? The perspective shifts from one of intense self-focus to one of a listening ear: a person who sits on lawns and decks, who holds the phone close, who feels, finally, able to be the listener instead of the speaker.

Tomorrow is a day of tomato plants and irises, of jewelry-making, of sunshine, of light, of hoping that all who have shared their consternation with me this past week will take the time to look up, look at the clouds, feel the wind, smell the lilacs on the breeze, and hold themselves in the light.

“For me, prayer is more about listening than talking. “

–  Deborah Fisch

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“Oh Harold…that’s wonderful. Go out and love some more.”

Endings and Beginnings

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“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end. “

– Jo March in Little Women

A year and four months ago, I moved to the small town of Northeast Harbor after a month-long trip around the country. In two weeks, I will leave Northeast Harbor for the much larger town of Bar Harbor. Twenty minutes away and boasting a population of almost 1000, my new town is the big city of these parts.

I am conflicted about leaving this little town, because I love its quirks and characters. I love its beauty and its quiet.  I met several great friends here who have since moved out, too, and soon I will go and move into an old house and still be able to see the ocean. But my new ocean will be facing north, while this one faces south.

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New directions and opportunities have to be the themes of 2014 based on all the tumult and tumbling going on. For Valentine’s Day this year, I made flags spray-painted with red hearts. There are ten of them, and I installed them on snow mountain: the pile of dirty snow that sits beside my house in the parking lot. The snow plow guys scoot all the snow over here during every snowstorm, of which there have been many this winter. The flags were flipped and flapped all day yesterday by gale force winds, but maintain. This morning they wave more gently in the winter sunshine.

Tonight another snowstorm descends upon us, another 12-18 inches of the white stuff will drop downward onto the ground and into the branches of trees. My friend just told me that she has never seen anything like this winter, and I have to agree. In moments it is beautiful and inspiring and scary with its stark nature, and in other moments, it is somewhat defeating. The winter is so powerful here, just like the summer was in Texas. The difference is that the summer in Texas was just hot. Winter in Maine is dark, cold, snowy, icy, windy, and very, very long.

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I am trying to motivate myself to take care of business, but have a case of the Februarys. This is why I made the flags over the last couple of weeks, when I was working on two Valentine’s Day commissions for clients. I learned today that one of the pieces that I made with an old typewriter ball was met with tears and love, because said typewriter ball was found in my friend’s mom’s house shortly after she passed away. I love that there is so much love in the things that are important to us, even if those of us who transitionally handle those things don’t know the back story.

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The flags to me mean love for Valentine’s Day for everyone in my town: they are a prayer of sorts. The town seems to be changing but no one can see what the changes will look like. As the year round population shrinks again, as I move and a few others do as well, this town needs love and brightness. The flags mean appreciation for my friends here, for the family that I have found. They also mean gratitude for the safety of the four of us who were in the accident two weeks ago. The flags also mean focusing on endings and beginnings and being aware of the give and take of transitional times. I, historically, do not like change and have a hard time accepting that endings actually exist. I try and try and try to keep energy flowing in my spheres of influence so that life is a creative process rather than a destructive one, even though I acknowledge that creation and destruction, like the sides of a coin, are a yin-yang of sorts; you cannot have one without the other.

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Right now I am sitting in my bedroom, my favorite space in this little house. This room reminds me of a train car due to its size, cramped nature, and lack of windows (there is only one). My house is steadily being taken over by boxes. The funny thing about moving out of a tiny house is that there is nowhere to put the things you are packing. The tiniest of houses begins to feel absolutely small when stacks of boxes are pushed up against any nook or cranny of (non-existent) extra space.

When I look out my front window, I see those small flags coursing in the wind: red against the white and blue and green of their surroundings. I remember moving here two autumns ago, when I knew nothing of living here or of its people. Now, I know more, and am beginning to understand life here. But just beginning.

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At the End of a Grand Year

Chinese Lanterns

(On my birthday, we had only two, but it was still beautiful)

Frida necklace13“Pies, para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar?” – – – Frida Kahlo

2013, lucky 13, was a year of great changes and growth. It was a year full of walking and ice skating and driving around my new home of Downeast Maine. It was a year of new friends and a new life, of teaching art to children and adults, of becoming a craftsperson full time, of, in general, adjusting and changing and adapting to this place that adjusts and changes and adapts as the seasons switch and the days appear and disappear, ever different, no two the same.

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Last night, while yet more snow fell and the skies looked ominous and grey-orange in the lateness of a December night, I spoke about how I felt that the winter here is more beautiful than the summer. My friend who I stood with, in the dark, said that he cannot really appreciate one without the other, implying I suppose that the contrast between the seasons, the starkness of this place, is what inspires the wonder and awe that I feel when finding myself on a porch at night with sleet and snow pelting my curly hair.

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Last year’s first snow, magnified on my windows

“I like it when I take the controls from you, and when you take the control from me. I really am a lucky man…” says Bill Callahan in his song, Small Plane, one of my favorites of his and a perfect song for the last few days of what was a huge year for me.

Jordan Pond January 5Ice-scape from Jordan Pond

A year ago, I lived in a beautiful but cold apartment that sat up above a quiet street in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I named it the House that Floats, and soon after, I moved into The Caravan: the tiniest house in Northeast Harbor. I packed my life into a space that is less than 350 square feet, and made a life there by planting flowers and vegetables, sewing, and making jewelry into the wee hours. It is a house with few doors and no closets: it is like living on a very small ship, with everything battened down into its appropriate place.

early morning coffee cupsEarly morning coffee cups at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Soon I will move into a new place, and I am not sure what its name is yet, only that it is a very blank slate in a very new town. I realized whilst walking around it the other night that I have no furniture at all anymore to put inside it: no table, no bed, no anything at all save a workbench, a sewing machine table, a cabinet and a bookshelf. So I suppose I do have some things, after all. If I have learned anything from life, it is that our magpie nature dictates that we fill our spaces in no time, and no doubt, the new house will fill up quickly with what I consider to be beautiful things. I decided a little while ago that one of the gifts of all the transitions over the last few years is that I get to decide what and who comes in my door, that this life is mine to create in beauty to the best of my ability.

laboriousA Laborious Mosaic

This past year has taught me a thing or two about beauty, and about cultivating a beautiful life. I have done my best to keep moving forward in this new place, this place in which many people have been for years. I still feel very, very new here: a feeling only amplified by the choice to try a new town on the same island. My newness is exposed almost daily as I remark on sea smoke on the ocean, or ice on the branches of trees, or on the discovery that a good winter coat really saves you in the cold days that seem to be with us with full force. Tonight we go down to 0 degrees, and over the next few nights, to much below that as we enter January. As far as I remember, January was the coldest month, last year full of ice skating on fierce winter days, and that by February everyone is ready for the bitterness of winter’s chill to be over, only to realize that at least two months lie before us before the warmth returns. February, as one of my friends said, is when everyone goes crazy for a while, just dealing with being in the middle of it, rather than at the magical beginning, or the slushy end.

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But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here we are, on December 30th, one short day away from a new year. I am sitting in a beautiful old house in Bar Harbor, housesitting and catsitting for friends who are out of town. I am eating pasta alla carbonara and drinking French wine that I bought from the folks who run the restaurant that took all my time and energy this past summer. I am thinking about what I want for the new year, what I am grateful for from last year, and what to do on the very important last day of 2013.

2667_1127644710456_1297271_nPlanting strawberries: another life (2007)

I have a few habits for New Years Eve; I clean my house very well, I take out all the trash, I pay all the bills, I sweep the dust out of the door. I light candles and eat good food and try to reach the people that I care about. I think about resolutions in a realistic way, as far as what I can really do with my time in the new year. This year I am resolving to be more organized in my business and teaching, and to believe all the compliments that people give me in order to be helpful and keep me going on this path. I am trying to let go of some fear and terror that has held me back for a few years in the hope that it is only a roadblock put in place by my survival skills and instincts. Fight or flight has no place for me here in my new home: this is a place of peace and forgiveness and acceptance of differences. This is a place where people help each other.

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Last night, during another long conversation, a friend and I spoke about the North Pond Hermit and other Maine characters of special significance. A friend of mine who used to live here was complaining the other night about how anti-social everyone is: how everyone stays home and expects others to come to them, about how everyone entertains themselves with various projects. I agree that it is a different sort of place in that way: we all are here for some reason, and I think that reason has something to do with peace and solitude, with creativity and independence, with being away. It is hard sometimes to communicate with people who do not wish to live here about the power of being away here, away in a small community of independent spirits, who occasionally gather together over dinner or a fire. Is it escapism living here? Sometimes I wonder about that, wondering if it is a sense of escaping the external world into a world of your own making. Sometimes I wonder if that is bad, or good, or neither. There is a power in creating your own world, and there are few places where you really can do that; in most places, I think the external forces are so strong that you are challenged to create an inner world at all, much less one that can influence and forge your external world in a meaningful way. There are so many people here who do so many things: small things that add up to a very rich and full life. Some people might think that life too quiet, and that, I suppose is why there are so few people here. Another friend said a few months ago that the beauty of this place is that there are so few people, and the ultimate downside is that there are so few people.

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Is it a place of contrasts? To be sure. Is it a place of introspection and quiet? Again, to be sure. Is it the end all be all? Most certainly not, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a place like that at all, or if life, is, indeed, what you make it.

Egon Schiele Landscape 1913Egon Shiele, 1913 —

I pasted this to the front window of my house. Each day as I stared outward, the landscape reminded me of this painting.

So, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year. Tomorrow night, during the new moon, we will all listen and watch as another year ends and one begins. My prayer for the new year is that we spend more time noting the present, thinking about the future, and are less hemmed in by our past.

I hope to spend more time thinking about where I am then where I have been or where I am going.

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The Gift(s) of the Magi

sunriseSunrise with silhouettes and magic lantern slides…

After much silence here on the blog, I promise to return, with intention and frequency, very soon! I am even buying a new computer that will surely reinspire my fingertips to transpose creative ideas and deep thoughts from my neurotic, swirling brain, to you, the reader.

In the meantime, here is a story quite apropos to my life at the moment, and maybe to yours. Sometimes, in moments, I have a hard time understanding why, sometimes, we choose to make this all so difficult. In those moments, I try to be more like Jim, and sit on the couch with my hands under my head, but most of the time, I am much more like Della.

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THE GIFT OF THE MAGI

by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

dans garden end of august 2013 058