Lanier’s note: Twenty years ago, my best friend Rachel married an Australian and moved 10,000 miles away to that breathtaking Great Southland down under (which she affectionately refers to as “Oz”). In the years since, Rachel and her husband have raised a lively, intelligent and imaginative flock of children, all with a strong sense of their mother’s decidedly Southern roots. Rach is one of the most articulate people I have ever known, both in speaking and in writing. It’s my joy to introduce her here in this place, and to share her exquisite words and images with you.
It has been a wonderful year for hay, and curvaceous bale lines contour golden hills. I watch a rare haze shimmer as it rises to join a borage blue sky and the last of the cumulus. The “long dry” that defines central Victoria is almost upon us.
Summer holidays have half begun: year’s last breath, a warm relieved sigh, deep and slowing. We are on the unwind; teen exams, final award ceremonies, graduation dinners, performance, all just at an end. Much to our youngest one’s disgust, however, the primary school tends to go on for an extra two weeks longer than secondary. He soldiers along while the rest of us begin to succumb to snatched moments of sprawled collapse. Of course this is interspersed with wild plan-making, as every teen perversely seems to embody that first flush of freedom energy, like colts let loose in the paddock.
There is still a flurry of shopping going on–and sleep-overs, work break-up parties, friend picnics, etc…, to exchange early Christmas gifts before everyone scatters over the continent for family holidays to beaches far flung.
My exhausted ear is aware of a distant clamour, intensifying for days.
“We need to start preparing! Time to welcome in Christmas! When are we going to hang our stockings?? Let’s go! We need to get a tree!!”
“It’s such a hammock sort of heat,” I beg from the verandah, my hands brushing languidly, longingly, past sage in bloom. “I’m being deeply spiritual, contemplating all sorts of Jesus birthday things just fine from here. Come join me!”
A Summer Advent requires the summoning of enormous intentionality. And the right time of day–preferably dusk…
But the excitement is beginning to seep inward, even to my weary bones, and there is gold dust glimmering from heart to heart and a quickening of anticipation in eyes.
For my Australian brood, all it takes is the fragrance of fresh-mown grass, mint, sweet rye ripening in the sun, and the longer days, they say, to herald the approach of festivities to their senses. A real “Make way, the King cometh,” season.
Not so with me, as the same things signal a powerful alternative. “Rest. Rest. The King is present here.”
Life is such a Both/And.
Our life is a wild and wonderful convergence of such opposites: different birthlands, cultures, language, associations, perspectives, nuances.
My children and I find a gentle meeting as we begin Advent every year by total immersion in Nature.
The idea of “bringing in the green” becomes a wander down to the olive grove to take some prunings as the afternoon cools to evening.
I think I will wear my snake boots…just in case.
But, it is gold I am distracted by: gold sheen on the back of bottle green “Christmas” beetles; gold of sunset caught and tossed by shoulder height golden grass. And the intense gold flash of dandelion and yam daisy peeping through as far as the eye can see.
We temporarily deviate, and make pilgrimage to one of the few Northern Hemisphere conifers on the property. The kids know–there is nothing else for it. To deeply breathe of spruce, warm and sticky with sap in the heat: this is Mama’s Christmas awakening. In the absence of all other familiar markers, it acts like a strong whiff of smelling salts to the memory and revives my Southern soul to the reality at hand. (A small branch is also useful for swishing clouds of tiny flies away. Deep breathing is, after all, a fraught exercise in Oz.)
One of the olives has budded! Hurrying home, we pile tables with our green finery and “found” objects (like feathers–I adore feathers, feathers everywhere for Christmas, dropped perhaps by angels gathering–can you hear that low musical hum? “Make way…”).
Then, the race to ensure every stem finds water quickly, in a vase, wreath, or garland, before needles begin to fall in prickly showers–by which crucial point we have lost every male in the family!
Daughter whimsy wraps candles in olive and bay, but they insist on looking Puck-ish instead of Pinterest worthy. It is somehow befitting.
Such candlelight delights us at dawn the next day, carried by barefoot St. Lucias, and we are invited to greet the summer Morning and the coming of the Light with Saffron buns and eggnog, merry giggles, and piles of pillows.
“Make way, the King cometh! Let us rest in His presence.”