No. 192. This is Not a Christmas Tree.

He rather wanted a tree--mostly because it reminded him of the warm Christmases of his past, when his children had been young and there had been a turkey the size of the family dog (he was a vegetarian now) and steaming plum pudding with hard sauce (no reason to make it just for himself). But he wasn't about to buy a tree that had been cruelly cut down specifically for this compulsory two-week period of mandatory frivolity. Nor could be bring himself to purchase a fake tree--made of god knows what horrifying space-age material--and then put it away in a box, like a body in the morgue, until next year.

What he finally did was to cut himself a tree from a big piece of packing-case cardboard. His original intention had been to paint it lavishly with convincing ornaments and tinsel--an impulse that, however, predictably failed him during a moment of crumpling lassitude.

All he could manage, in the end, was to haul his cardboard tree up onto the wall in a tip-down position and leave it dangling there. This was not some para-anthropological attempt to negate Christmas the way certain demonic cults mount crucifixes upside down during their anti-rituals. This was more a palpable gesture of Christmas despair, of holiday depletion. Hanging listlessly down into space, his cardboard tree hung there like a jagged tear. In the end, he couldn't bear to look at it.

No.179. Sanctuary

Ever since his left eye had declined into cloudiness and had been repaired, his gratitude for a clarified vision had burgeoned way beyond his lifelong romance with painting and had now reverted--or was it progressed?--to a realm of desire that dwelt in nature's minute, transformative moments. He was all at once experiencing a new hunger for trees, for hours spent by the shore, for animals of every stripe, for the vaulting birds, cloud forms. Grasses and weeds. He found the bushes of goldenrod burning beside the roads he drove on to be miraculous, manifestations of a floral El Dorado.

He was an artist and he had turned his back on nature for most of his life. Now it was insistently there again--as it had been when he was a child--seductive, promising, hectic and soothing at the same time--Andre Breton's convulsive beauty, without the artifice.

A couple of days ago, he had purchased at a garage sale a book called A Sanctuary Planted. It is by someone named Walter J.C. Murray, and had been published in London in 1954 by The Country Book Club (for "subscribers" only; you couldn't buy the book at the time). It's an account of the author's decision that, despite the Battle of Britain raging overhead ("War ploughs the heart and harrows the mind"), to secure a piece of land and plant a vast, complex, all-encompassing garden there. "I would plant a woodland," he writes, "where where every living thing would find sanctuary. I would encourage birds to come and live near me with trees and shrubs and mown paths, with food and water, and never the sound of a gun. And he does. That's what his enchanting book is about.

He entered the book as of it were an abode. What longings it engendered in him!