By Linda Fippin, President of the Board of Trustees
At this past Sunday’s annual winter solstice service, the Westside choir sang a song that included the refrain “winter is upon us.” It wasn’t meant to be a prediction, but it certainly does appear that winter weather is bearing down on us here in East Tennessee. It seems somehow ironic that on the one hand the winter solstice is the end of the shortest days and longest nights of the year, but on the other hand, it is the beginning of winter with its cold, cold days that are often so dreary and gray, one can’t even tell that the days are getting longer. I find, though, that when a sunny day finally comes after a spell of cloudy gloom, it lifts my spirits not only to see the sun but to notice it hanging about in the sky for a few minutes longer than the last time I saw it.
Having lived most of my life in either the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento Valley or coastal California, where low temperatures below the 20s are a rarities, I am not a fan of cold weather. As it happens, I have a large camellia bush in my front yard that is also not a fan of cold weather. Camellias are familiar garden shrubs in most of California, especially in Sacramento, which bills itself as the “Camellia City.” My camellia starts blooming in mid- to late November, continuing into December, and provides a welcome splash of pinkish-red flowers after the fall foliage has faded away to somber browns and rusts. And on mild fall days when the temperature may get up to the 60s, honeybees may be found burrowing into the blossoms seeking a last sip or two of nectar and covering themselves with pollen. I rarely see honeybees even in the height of summer and I have no idea where they come from or how they make their way to my camellia, but it always gives me a happy little buzz to see them.
The camellia blossoms and unopened buds will not survive our pre-Christmas “gift” of single digit temperatures, and even many of the rather thick and leathery leaves will be badly frostbitten. But they’ve been frostbitten before, and the bush itself has carried on and is much bigger than it was in 2017 when the photo above was taken.
So the camellia is a reminder to me that even though “winter is upon us” with cold and gloomy days ahead, and I may feel like my blossoms and buds are falling, there will be bright sunshine after days of gloom and the camellia will shed its shriveled leaves and send out new ones in the spring and eventually provide lovely flowers and a welcome late-year snack for the honeybees before the cold sets in for real. It’s a good reminder!