The Japanese Garden is resoundingly still when I enter it on New Year’s Eve Day. The chill wind ruffles tops of trees and bushes. I pull my jacket collar up and circle the lower pond. Frail ice slicks the dark surface. Brilliant colored koi are nowhere to be seen; the waterfall is a rush of sound. The teahouse is closed, its pale frame stark against the forested hill, so I take a path that leads higher into trees and other wonders. My breath preceeds me, opaque gusts that linger. The frosty moss clings to earth and branches along walkways. More water lies undisturbed, blackened with shadows, until a stream is released under a small stone bridge. Pines sigh as I pass the formal beauty of the rock garden and climb narrow slab steps. Here is the pavillion, now empty and shuttered, where only two months ago I had admired an exhibit of elegant indigo and linen panels glowing in sunlight. In the distance rises snowy Mt. Hood, watching over behind the skyscrapers of downtown Portland. It is a study in pewters and charcoals with flashes of white, delicate pink and coppers, permutations of green. In this garden are some of December’s secrets. Stillness is a gift.
This was not always my winter, rainy or damp days and nights stretched between the greeness that roots itself here. Once I lived in a place of wild winters, awakening to five foot or higher drifts. I would make my way to the skating rink with worn Hyde skates tossed over my shoulder. There I sought the ice with avarice, as though time was not sufficient to satisfy my need to leap, spin and race, bitter cold reddening my cheeks, breath ragged in my chest.
Or there was the toboggan run where jumbles of children barreleed down steep icy runways only to crash at the bottom, laughter trailing them as they picked themselves up once more. There were snow caves to be made in the back yard or front, digging out the center for room to curl up, imagining the Arctic, majestic wolves singing and white bears plodding across the tundra. And there was snow like velvet, soft against the lips, quiet upon the earth, sparkling under streetlamps when walking down the middle of the blanketed road, no cars, no worries. It was just the snow and night and perfect stars above, the thin hiss of my own breath in the crystalline air. Mesmerizing white, winter magic.
Now as I walk across the bridge at the pond, the Japanese Garden shimmers in a surprise of opulent sunlight. Everything holds its breath until the light again is like the water, cool, tranluscent, silvery. I breathe in the ubiquitous scents of water and moss, cedars and Douglas Firs. I sometimes long for Michigan snow in dreams but this is the place I want to be the last day of December, 2010: winter in Portland.