The burning yule log is symbolic of the light that will return after the dark days of early winter and gives us an excuse to gather with family and friends before a roaring fire. The tradition is an old one, going back to the Druid custom of choosing a large log from an apple or oak tree, lighting it afire, and praying that it would burn forever. In England, the log was selected months before Christmas. Because it was believed that all who brought it in from the woods would be protected against harm for the year, everyone lent a hand, making the event itself a festive time.*
We don’t have a fireplace but this year we have our own version of the traditional yule log. It was a gift.At the southeast corner of the main house is a silver maple with multiple trunks. It was sort of small when we first bought the house in 1996, but has grown considerably since then. In 2000 when we did the major renovation we had the tree limbed up so as not to hang over the roof and the top shortened so as not to be too top heavy. As happens with prunings of trees or even rose bushes, the cut ends died back some. There have been several nestings of downy woodpeckers in those cut ends and many enjoyable moments listening to the rat-tat-tat of those birds and others as they hunt for tasty insects in the decaying wood.Recent storms with high winds sent a log from above onto the daylily hill with a loud thump. At this time of year little damage is done to garden plants by the falling tree parts, it is just exercise that we are in dire need of to pick up the fallen branches. This log was fairly large and showed a nice hole drilled from pointy beaks. Hmmm, this gives me an idea.Showing unusual restraint in material selection, the log was placed on the glass top deck table and festooned with juniper, holly, ivy and nandina berries. A white candle was snatched from inside the house and fit snugly inside the woodpecker’s hole. Moss was wreathed around to hold the candle tight and some loose berries and leaves finished the job.The nandina berries needed to be picked to help control the nandina population explosion in our neighborhood. The Gold Coast Junipers were growing into the driveway and the pruned branches will not be missed. The variegated ivy came from the planter on the front porch that gets trimmed up in winter so we can safely enter the house without tendrils grasping our ankles.
The winter solstice on December 21 is one of the two times each year when the Sun is at its farthest point from the equator and appears to stand still. This year, 2008 this happens on December 21 at 7:04 A.M. EST (4:04 A.M. PST). The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol, or “Sun,” and stitium, or “stoppage.” The days are now starting to get a little longer every day.*
That is the best news for gardeners and civilians alike, spring will return! Hooray!We thank the resident woodpeckers of all stripes for this timely present to help celebrate the returning light with the yule log.
*From the Old Farmer’s Almanac