Posted tagged ‘traditions’

Monsoon Report from the Patio

June 30, 2011

It is the end of June and we are sizzling in Tucson with 110 °F almost every day. Wow! “Where is the lovely monsoon rain?!” I ask myself, as many Tucsonans also ask lately. As of yesterday there was no sign of it.

It is so unfortunate that recently other states in the country have been suffering from too much rainfall and too high water levels in their rivers. Devastating floods were the nightmare and the reality. Meanwhile Arizona firefighters struggled for days and days with beastly wildfires. We had not had a drop of rain for a long, long time. Maybe that’s why it feels like the monsoon is late this year. I am also late with our departure to Cape Cod for this summer.

“Such intense heat as we have experienced lately, plus some winds, should bring the monsoon rain soon,” I tried to convince myself, feeling fatigued by the heat as never before. Yesterday ended no differently than other days – a mostly clear sky above and our patio unwalkable in bare feet beneath. The hope for rain went to sleep along with the sunset.

I went to sleep too, but did not sleep well at all. Around 3 am I decided to start the new day. While sipping coffee from my favorite mug, I glanced through the book Sing Down the Rain which has been with me since I began living in Tucson. It is a children’s book written by the professional storyteller Judi Moreillon and richly illustrated by Michael Chiago whose art work is inseparable from his Tohono O’odham heritage.

Cover of Sing Down the Rain
….When the sun is white hot, in May and in June,

This dry land is waiting — rain will come soon.

….Clouds swollen with rain that’s waiting to fall

Will bring cooling water for one and for all.

The poem-story is about the Saguaro Wine Ceremony which is one of the most important celebrations of the Tohono O’odham Nation of southern Arizona.

“The majestic saguaro cactus provides the fruits used to make sacred wine used in the ceremony,” explains the publisher’s note on one of the book’s flaps. “For two nights, the men, women and children dance in the ‘Rain House’ to ask for plentiful rainfall.”

Knowing this story, I often comment half-jokingly that we – the newcomers living in this area – do not dance enough and that we should follow the tradition of the people who are rooted here and know how to bring down the rain. While reading some passages of the book again, I discovered suddenly a little tap-tap-tap sound on the roof. Could it be the sound of falling rain drops? I jumped to the door, opened it widely and… there they were — the very first drops of rain falling on the warm, rough surface of the patio! It was 3:30 in the morning and just a few minutes later the impressive lightning and roaring thunder arrived. The rain became intense. I ran across the patio to my studio to open its door and let the smell of rain come in. Then I sat and watched the beautiful performance of Mother Nature. I wish I knew how to take good photos at night! I tried anyway, but without much success. However, I salvaged a couple just to share with you.

Water on a brick patio Feet on a wet patio
Rain on the patio at night

“The storm” ended a bit after 5 am and I had fun wading in the puddles on our patio. When my shadow, my faithful companion, regained some strength with the rising sun, I took a few more pictures.

Reflection of clouds and umbrella in wet brick patio Photographer's shadow and her feet on wet brick patio
Reflections (umbrella and my shadow) in a large puddle on the patio in the early morning

At 9 am the patio was still walkable and the sky a bit hazy with the clouds whispering about rain. That whispering faded away by noon.

There is a lot of hope for more rain on this long 4th of July weekend. We in Tucson should dance and sing (and perhaps skip the fireworks) to celebrate the arrival of the monsoon season as well as Independence Day. Our friends on the Cape and in Boston can truly enjoy fireworks and dry weather with a touch of sunshine after some wet days there in the past weeks.

Happy Fourth of July wherever you are and whatever you do!

Alicja spelled out in freworks

The credit for this photo goes to the Falmouth Fireworks Committee on the Cape. Kudos for such a clever design of the fund-raising card. I bet people smiled, as I did, seeing their name in the sky — if only on the postcard.

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Text and photos (other than book cover and card) copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Blue Days of December

December 17, 2010

I am in a “blue” mood — dark blue as can be. That is to be expected. It happens every year. It is December, the month of traditional holidays and the month when I get my dose of the traditional blues! Yes, I know it is pretty common — many people get the blues around Christmas for a variety of reasons — mine are caused by nostalgia. I am wrapped in it like in that dark blue fluffy tissue which comes with other colorful tissues for stuffing gift boxes and bags.

For some years it was nostalgia for my native Poland and my family there. Since I moved to Tucson I have an additional one — a nostalgia for Massachusetts, specifically for Boston and Cape Cod. I miss my good, long term friends — who through the years became my extended family — whose children grew up with mine, went to school, graduated and flew into the world.

This double-dose nostalgia intensified for me in recent years — my parents are no longer waiting for me in Warsaw…only their graves. Of course some friends and members of the family are still there, but somehow after my mother’s death I can’t gather any excitement for going there. Well, maybe next year….

Christmas card from Poland Polish paper-cut tree (Wycinanka)

I will always miss the Christmas cards that my mom wrote. She made sure that they would arrive on time, because she always included in them a traditional Polish oplatek — a thin wafer that symbolizes bread to be shared with others at the Christmas Eve table.

I truly love living in Tucson with its warmth and blue skies, but at this time of year I can’t help but miss pine trees and the little chill that makes us sit at the fireplace and sip warm apple cider or red wine. Mostly I miss the traditional Christmas Eve, the aura of it, the anticipation, the charm, and the magic of the traditional Christmas carols. I believe some things that we learn to love as children stay with us forever.

I wrote about my childhood Christmas times in Poland in my book Looking at the World Twice. You are welcome to download and print that story, Christmas.

Actually I was able to recreate that special mood and importance of my favorite day of Christmas — Christmas Eve — in our home on Cape Cod.

It all started the first winter of my single motherhood. I wanted to have a Christmas as in Poland — magnificent and magical for my children — but did not have any family to share Christmas. My Polish family was across the ocean in the hostile political system of those times and the American family was gone — as happens after divorce. I was truly scared, especially before such an important holiday, that no one would invite us to share it with them. I was scared to be just the three of us — two small boys and I at the big, lonely table — so I decided to invite others to that table for my traditional Christmas Eve.

I invited a very friendly family in the neighborhood, a family of six — a couple with three children and grandfather. It was one of the best decisions of my life! Grandpa Lloyd became a very important figure for us and especially at Christmas — he read the traditional Christmas stories to the kids (and us) after supper every Christmas Eve. The next year another family joined us, then another, and some friends. The traditional sitting at one table was not possible anymore, but we did not mind.

Later, I got remarried. Some of the families had new babies. More friends and families joined our Christmas Eve gathering. It became huge! … so did our Christmas tree. We all listened to Polish carols (from a record) and sang American ones (from printed books and notes) — we ate, we drank and we were merry, plus a bit tired that night of Santa’s arrival, but again we did not mind. The Christmas Eve at our home became an annual event that nobody wanted to miss — it was our tradition for 17 years.

Christmas tree Christmas tree detail
Christmas tree detail

Now I miss the huge Christmas tree in the house on the Cape. Our home’s raised roof allowed us to “invite” such a big tree for Christmas. It felt and smelled as indeed the forest had come for a visit.

Decorating the tree took long hours. After finishing, we listened to my favorite Polish Christmas carol. I found that carol on YouTube so you can listen too.

Now in Tucson I miss those Christmas Eves very much, but it is impossible to recreate them. We are all in very different stages of life and far away from each other. In Tucson with 75 F warmth it still seems strange to me to shop for a Christmas tree — an activity which in the Northeast was so much fun on a cold, crispy day with a bit of snow on the ground.

Christmas has a different charm in Tucson. Here it is fun to wait till the 45 F or so of the evening, put on some light boots and a jacket, and walk in a park or in a neighborhood to enjoy colorful lights on lavishly decorated homes and trees. Also the traditional luminarias, characteristic of this region, add to the enchantment.

So perhaps it is time (for me) to give up the idea of a large Christmas Eve gathering and to create another possibility for being with others during the winter holidays — maybe a New Year’s Eve celebration?! It fits better with Tucson’s starry nights and our southwestern house with the large patio. I will let you know.

Happy Holidays!

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Copyright © 2010 by Alicja Mann

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