Shawnee News-Star Weekender January 5th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Traditionally, today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Twelve drummers drumming. Tomorrow is the designated day the three Magi (or three wise men or we three Kings) visiting Jesus.except for the fact there may have been many more Magi who possibly arrived months or even years […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender January 5th 2019

My mixed up “Twelve Days of Christmas” tray.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Traditionally, today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Twelve drummers drumming. Tomorrow is the designated day the three Magi (or three wise men or we three Kings) visiting Jesus.except for the fact there may have been many more Magi who possibly arrived months or even years after the birth. January 6th is considered a Christian feast day. My friend in eastern England insisted it was bad luck to leave up Christmas decorations past the twelfth day. She also considered it unlucky to bring lilacs inside a home. This I discovered after my bouquet of fragrant lilacs wound up outside on top of the woodpile!

On this Twelvetide, begin your celebrations by singing all twelve verses of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', a game played on the twelfth night. This song dates earlier than 1780, probably originated in the Newcastle area of England (quite close to Scotland), and was designed as a 'memory and forfeits' game. If you missed a verse, you had to pony up something in return such as a kiss or gift.

If your version has 'four colly birds' instead of 'four calling birds', it is closer to the original which meant black as coal (blackbirds). Five gold rings may well refer to ring-necked pheasant in keeping with the bird theme of partridge, French hens, colly birds, geese and swans.

The annual PNC Financial Services Christmas Price Index estimated the total cost of all gifts to be given–not counting the repeat of multiple verses"as $39,094.93 in 2018, an increase of 1.2% from last year. Cost of nine of the gifts held steady from 2016, but the volatility of the swans is problematic. Seven swans-a-swimming cost $13,125 compared to eight maids-a-milking at $58. The partridge (in a pear tree) dropped $20 this year due to an increase in supply, making the combo worth $210. Two turtle doves rose from $290 last year to $375 this year. French hens are cheaper at $182. If you are good in math and total up all the presents mentioned in the song, you should arrive at 364 gifts, just one day off from a year's total of days, unless it is a leap year. That happens next year in 2020.

The gingerbread house that decorated my table throughout the season goes out today for the wildlife. Under the bird feeder the edible creation will remain until nothing is left. This year I plan to see how long it takes for the house to disappear. The bird populations have been rather low until the last cold snap. Missing red-winged blackbirds began showing up in increasing numbers to compliment the white-crowned, Harris and other sparrows, cardinals, juncos, downy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays and cedar waxwings. The waxwings tend to avoid the feeders, but I know they are here by the plink, plink, plink sound as small blue balls from redcedars hit the patio, accompanied by high-pitched whistles.

Gingerbread House ready for the outdoors

Redcedars have volunteered their services around my house with an immense amount of help from said birds. The waxwings knock off as many redcedar seed cones as they eat. Twelve minutes. It takes 12 minutes for a redcedar 'berry' to pass through the digestive canal of a cedar waxwing. Not only that, the seeds germinate three times better than undigested seeds.

The larger problem, on an epic scale, has been the Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) a tree that is 1 feet in diameter and stands 50 feet tall. This guy, and I know it is a male because the tree produces no fluffy seeds, became established while we were out of the country. Probably too close to the house. I think the tree saved the west side of our house during Tornado Bob's visit in 2013 by taking the brunt of the tornado's force. Many branches on the south side of the tree were ripped and twisted off as the tree was rocked back and forth, breaking up the sidewalk that lead into the house, but the house was spared.

Brave Arborist on the cottonwood.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Although the southside limbs have been slow to grow back, the northside group have more than made up for leaf production. I have watched those branches elongate every year, reaching over other plants, trees and part of the roof of the house. Time for action.

Before this Christmas, the tree trimmers came. The offending cottonwood limbs, nearly 30 feet above the ground, were pointed out. No problem. What about a ten-foot tall spindly Bradford pear that had cropped up under a blackjack oak that had survived the tornado but now had to fend off this uninvited guest? Can do. I walked the men to my Eastern redcedar avenue planted almost 30 years ago. At that time I envisioned the small baby junipers would form, in the future, a beautiful tree-shaded semi-circular driveway. The future was here, and the redcedars, reflecting the abysmal condition of the soil where they were planted, had grown to less than 20 feet tall.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) can actually reach 50 feet in height during their long lifetimes. One old tree in West Virginia is nearly 950 years old. Near Lake Keystone live have lived over 500 years. In Kansas, the redcedar, only native tree in that state, grows to 35 feet. Wikipedia states in poor soil redcedars may never go beyond bush status.

My trees were growing in thick red gumbo clay. Frankoma, the pottery company now located in Sapulpa, would drool over such perfect clay. On that wet frigid February day so many years ago, we wondered at the time if it was a good idea to plant any tree in that soil. Our boots would sink out of sight and, more times than not, our feet pulled out of boots faster than the boots out of the clay. A loud sucking sound meant the boots had come out. Planks of wood were laid alongside the tree holes being 'dug' although scooped, pried and scraped were better descriptions of working with the soil. I'm pretty sure we suffered frostbite and each of our boots weighed 50 pounds afterward.

Although shorter than they should be, the surviving redcedars were now close and tall enough that their shaded lower branches had died over time, forming an impenetrable barrier. Could the dead be removed on the inside of the avenue opened up? Yes indeed.

Red Cedar Avenue