The afternoon I stood with Jeff Fowler in his yard on Government Hill this week, it was so cold, I felt like the moisture on my eyeballs was turning slushy between blinks. We stood under a crabapple tree hung with frosted plastic ornaments and lights that flashed along with to a tinny version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
In my immediate view: a pair of glowing Christmas giraffes, an illuminated holiday dolphin, a festive miniature blimp with two penguins in the cockpit, and a glowing baby Jesus in a manger. To be honest, there was much more in my immediate view, but I couldn't fit another description in that last sentence. The Fowler Christmas yard is a thing to behold. You might say it is beyond words. I started to count the glowing characters there but quit after I got to 65.
You can't miss the Fowlers on East Harvard Avenue. I asked Fowler if he thought you could see his house from space. Probably not, he said, but you can totally see it from across the Government Hill bridge.
Fowler, who works as a traffic signal technician, started decorating his yard this way 15 years ago, thanks to an after-Christmas sale on yard decorations. He began doing it for his kids, Now he does it for his grandkid. It takes a couple weeks to set it all up. People in the neighborhood tell him that they like it. Cars slow down so people can take pictures. He doesn't mind that it doubles his electric bill.
"Could there come a time," I asked him, "When this stuff gets out of hand?"
"You mean like over the top?" he said.
"Yeah, like over the top," I said.
"Maybe when it becomes too jumbled to where I can't figure out some semblance of order," he said. "It was getting very close last year."
But this year, he said, his yard is organized into a series of diorama-like displays. There are the animals going down the zip-line with their presents, the nativity area, the zoo, the dinosaur zone with the T-Rex, the collection of cartoon characters including the Snoopy and the Abominable Snowman, Rudolphs in several sizes, inflatable Santa Clauses in planes with buzzing fans and a red and green runway, a miniature chairlift that goes from his gutter to the lawn, the sleigh with moving reindeer near his chimney, and the giant inflatable Frosty the Snowman on the roof, which tends to list a little in extreme temperatures.
Below-zero cold seems to be the challenge this year. It gums-up the characters that have moving parts, he said. Other years it has been melting or windy. Given his experience with traffic lights, he's pretty good at troubleshooting problems.
I was about to leave when he mentioned that I had not yet seen his back yard. He led me to a small display that you can't see from the street: a glowing Eiffel Tower, a large poodle and a peacock. He set them up for his wife, he said. Those are her favorites. He put them up right where she gets out of her car. It's good for a person's mood, he said, to get to see something bright in all the darkness.
Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Reach her by phone at 257-4591, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @adn_jomalley.
By JULIA O'MALLEY