Astrogator's Logs

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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Lights in Bleak February

Valentine’s Day is not part of my natal culture and I find it manipulative. It carries an unmistakable whiff of smarm and commercialism, Hallmark on an estrogen binge. Instead, when I was a child, February was the season of Carnival, the descendant of Saturnalia, with its masked balls and processions and the license granted in them. Its Hellenic name is Apókries (“away from meat”), heralding Lent with its special dishes—unleavened bread, fish roe salad, legumes, olives, grilled seafood—and flying of kites in the March wind. And when I came to New England, February became the month of howling snowstorms and numbing cold that turn sidewalks into tunnels and cars into igloos.

But since 1993, February has been something more. It’s the month in which Mr. Yeti and I knew we loved each other and started to share our lives. Ever since then, a gorgeous arrangement (most often ikebana style, my favorite) arrives in early February, rain or shine, snowstorm or hurricane. Given the weather at that time of the year in New England, it’s a wonderful way to keep spirits buoyant and give the senses a feast.

And since we’re speaking of flowers, I’ll share one more story of resilience and discovery. Any of my flowers that survive the fall come indoors for the winter, and their final fate is determined when the time comes to reconstitute the flower boxes in May. Among these I’ve long nurtured a small ficus tree, the type called Indian Laurel. Summers on the porch, winters in the living room.

One year it started getting root-bound and mounted the usual response: namely, it unfurled small ivory cantelabras which then became tiny purplish berry-like fruit. I carefully plucked a couple and chewed them, to discover they taste exactly like figs. At which point I looked the genus up, and found out that, indeed, the two are first cousins. I should have sussed it out from “ficus”. I gave it a larger pot as a reward, and it’s still at the archway between living room and study, currently losing leaves galore but determined to see another spring.

Image: this year’s ikebana, with Lilipad, the crypto-saber-tooth micro-tiger, hiding behind the lilies (inspired by Rousseau’s Dream).

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