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Out the door they come! Looks like they're headed down the porch...

Dear Kids,  I broke the news to the Santas and the Snowmen today.  Told them–ever so gently–that you would not be coming home for Christmas this year.

You would never believe what happened next!  They jumped off their tic-tac-toe red and white Christmas board and marched toward the front door.  Every last one of them.  We stood shocked in disbelief!  What were the Santas and the Snowmen going to do? 

And they're trudging through the snow!

We know, don’t we, that these particular Santas and Snowmen have a history of unpredictability.  They are always doing something wild and crazy.  Ever since I won them in that Christmas raffle at Aura a few years back, they have been keeping us on our toes!  Odd things happen all the time, don’t they?

Remember the time when they all looked like they were going to commit suicide jumping off the table in the living room.  A few of them lay helter-skelter on the carpeted floor beneath their kamikaze jumping place.  Remember how we laughed?  How we laughed until we almost cried?  (Silly Santas and Snowmen!  What kind of holiday spirit was that?)

Then remember how every year the darn fellows appeared somewhere else?  One year they climbed near the ceiling and sat way up high near the plants.  Haven’t they been discovered in the bathtub, in the refrigerator, and a half-dozen other crazy places?  Maybe they’ve even been outside before.

But I wasn’t expecting their behavior this afternoon.  They simply all stood up and silently marched outside.

The reindeer are missing you guys already.

Down the porch steps they marched in single file.  Out into the snow.  Toward the cars!  Were they deserting us forever?  Just because you both aren’t coming home for Christmas?  The very first Christmas when BOTH of you won’t be with us?

Stocking hanging outside in spruce tree

I tried to get the leader to talk.  He was a Santa.  “Where are you going?” I begged, “Please come back!”  But on they marched.  “Next year maybe they’ll be home for Christmas!”  I hollered after them.  They refused to look back.

Off they go!

Perhaps they are walking to Manhattan and San Diego.  Perhaps they have booked airline tickets.  It’s hard to say what these Santas and Snowmen will do.  I just wanted you to be the first to know that you’re obviously going to be very much missed this year, you kids.

Even the Santas and Snowmen think so.

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Red strawberry plant...kinda makes you think about Christmas

I have Christmas shopping plans for this weekend.  Maybe not for the Official Shopping Day, Black Friday.  But at least for Saturday.  I’m headed for Marquette (before or after a delightful luncheon with special twins in the Ishpeming/Negaunee area).  But there are a few key Christmas items which must be found.  I will join the throng of shoppers and…shop.

But I decided to first discuss the matter with the Forest on my walk today.  Just to see what the Forest thinks of our Christmas Shopping plans.  And specifically Black Friday.

Me:  Hi Forest!  How are you today?

Forest:  (silence)

Me:  I know you’re not into talking too much in words.  But I have a question for you.  What do you think about all of us humans shopping like crazy this weekend?  What do you think of Christmas?  What do you think of exchanging gifts?  What do you think of all the money we spend?

Teeny tiny little spruce tree (8 inches high?)

Forest:  silence

Me:  You’re not going to say too much are you?  Please?  Just a few words?  Even if the words don’t really explain too much.  Just try. What do you think of Black Friday?

Forest:  Look at my red strawberry leaf.  Look at my little spruce tree.  Look at my goldenrod balls.  What do they tell you?

Me:  Umm, I think…they are telling me…keep it simple.  Don’t make it so complicated.  Don’t shop just to spend money.  Really think about what we’re buying.  Try to buy gifts that express our hearts.  Is that it?

Goldenrod balls

Forest:  give from your heart.  It’s not about the money.  It’s about the small things.  Spending time with family and friends.  Sharing food, drink, beauty, gifts.  Don’t try to buy love or feelings or presence.  Give simply, from your heart, no matter how much money you spend.

Me:  But Forest, maybe we shouldn’t spend ANY money at all.  I know that would screw up the economy and everything, but maybe we should just forgo money and not give at all.  Then we wouldn’t be taking anything from You.  We wouldn’t be cutting down your trees, taking your minerals, using your resources.  Don’t you agree?  We shouldn’t spend at all?

Stick in the mud

Forest:  Don’t be a stick in the mud.  I keep telling you.  It’s not a matter of money.  It’s a matter of your heart.  It’s a matter of looking deeply to see:  What is your real intent?  When you look closely at your real intent, you’ll give simply when simple is required and lavish when lavishly is required.  Don’t just give the way you’ve always given before.  Look into your heart and intentions and then you’ll know what you’re suppose to buy.

Me:  Oh.  OK.  But that’s still hard.  Especially when you’re in the stores and everything looks so good and interesting and entertaining.

Forest:  Don’t just give or buy to satisfy the voice inside you that wants more, more, more. That doesn’t help any of us.

There are a million rocks in the lake. Give stones as gifts.

Me:  So when I go to Marquette this weekend…I am suppose to buy Christmas presents that mean something.  That share the love that I feel for family in friends.  Maybe I should give them some pretty Lake Superior stones for Christmas?  Do you think they would like that?

Forest:  silence

Me:  I wonder what everyone would say if they just got one stone for Christmas.  Hmmmm. Maybe better visit a few stores, just in case…

Pulling the Christmas tree into the woods

Pulling the Christmas tree into the woods

Yesterday we took the Christmas tree down.  I gently fingered the ornaments, placing them in boxes wrapped in newspaper.  The spruce tree smelled sharply fragrant.  Together Barry and I unwound the strings and strings of lights and garland.  The nostalgic post-holiday feeling began to build; the season officially ends with the dismantling of the tree.

Next we lifted the heavy trunk out of the stand and hoisted it out the door.  We opened the door, stepping outside, unwieldy tree in hands.  Sap stuck to our gloves.  All nine feet of the green beauty flew over the deck into the snowy underworld.  Then Barry dragged the spruce across the snow into the woods.

Today I followed his tracks down the hill, determined to find the final resting place of our Christmas tree.  He put it in an unusual place this year, different than most years.  We have several rotting tree-carcasses down another hill directly behind the house; the remains of perhaps six Christmases still visible above the snow.  Most are primarily branches at odd angles; you wouldn’t recognize them as Christmas trees unless you remembered pushing them down the ravine in previous years.

I sat next to the reclining tree and thought about our holidays.  We tried to do a “green” Christmas this year.  We thought about the environment with each decision.  We wrapped our gifts for each other in newspapers decked with recycled bows and ribbons.  We bought frugally.  We attempted to live lightly and simply on this precious planet.  And yet….when it came to a Christmas tree….we decided to buy one.

Our daughter opted for the live-tree option.  You buy a live pine or spruce, decorate it with lights and ornaments, and re-pot it in the spring.  Unfortunately, this option doesn’t work well in our cold climate.  The potted trees can’t survive until warm weather.  In past years we’ve chopped down a tree on our property, but some of us (well, me, I admit) are tired of the Charley Brown look of lopsided and thin and straggly branches.  So we bought a tree for $15 from one of the local gas stations and dragged it home in our ’49 Studebaker truck.

Today it lies in the snow, in its final resting place.  I fondly said goodbye and thank you.  Its branches, needles, bark and roots will eventually dissolve back into the earth.  It will nourish the soil for new seedlings.  New spruce and poplar and maple will grow from its decomposition.  The earth so kindly takes what we use and recycles it efficiently, creating new from the old.

And there it rests....

And there it rests....

Christmas morning sunrise

Christmas morning sunrise

Some of you may know we live within the boundaries of an Ojibway Indian reservation.  Traditional Native Americans, those who honor the ways of their elders, often greet the rising sun with a pinch of tobacco.  This tobacco contains sacred herbs like sweet grass, sage, cedar and other “medicines”.  They do this to give thanks for the rising of the sun, for the dawning of a new morning, for the blessings of being alive to experience another day.

I am imagining what it might have been like to live in a small wigwam or hut a couple hundred years ago.  Although you’d fall asleep snuggled beneath cozy deer or bear hides, with a fire crackling in the center of the hut, you’d undoubtedly awake shivering and cold.  And, although the elders assured you that this time of darkness wouldn’t last forever, you might feel the immensity of the winter snows, black nights, frigid temperatures.

Imagine the appreciation of the rising sun you might feel.  Imagine the gratitude for its warmth, its light, its beauty, its spirit-lifting presence.  Perhaps you wouldn’t take this golden orb for granted.  Perhaps you’d offer a bit of preciousness to the Creator that allows the sun to rise yet another day.

I snapped this picture in the early-morning light and hurried back inside to drink coffee with family members, to open gifts, to share breakfast and laughter.  I think we all felt grateful on this day to be alive, to be together (those of us here in the U.P. anyway) and we spoke of friends and family in far-away places.  We missed everyone, but already anticipated when we would spend time together as the year progressed.  And there would be phone calls of connection later on….

This afternoon I returned to tramp through the snow, mostly across the road.  Snowshoes shall be needed soon!  It’s between calf and knee deep, depending on drifts.  If you walk really slowly, meditatively, it’s not too challenging. 

Today the sun has shone brightly all day.  This is a real gift at this time of year.  How many days pass filled with gray clouds.  The blue sky lifts spirits everywhere….people smile more frequently.  Even though the journey of the sun only reaches half-way up the trees, there’s an incredible beauty in the way the light glints and glitters against the snow.  At 25 degrees it feels balmy. 

Gratitude fills my heart this Christmas Day.  Gratitude for the sun, for the earth, and for friends and family everywhere.  Blessings and love to all…..

Ornaments in the snow

Ornaments in the snow

Do the woods know it’s Christmas Eve?  Do the trees have a clue?  Do the chattering chickadees know that it’s a holy night?  And how would we know anyway?

Now before you scoff and insist, “the woods!  are you crazy?  this is a human celebration!” I ask you to pause and consider.  After decorating one of the baby spruce trees with ornaments and considering the photo opportunities, I ventured off into the woods in about a foot of fluffy snow.  That question kept surfacing, repeating itself like a mantra:  Does the forest know it’s Christmas Eve?

So what might be a good definition of Christmas Eve?  Would it be a feeling of sacredness, of holiness, of stillness?  Would it be a hush, a silence, an awareness beyond the Everyday? 

For humans, would this holiness translate as a feeling that inspires us into a deep appreciation of the preciousness of Life and all that it entails?  Would it be a momentary silencing of our incessant thoughts?  And a deep inner soul-knowing that we are more than our limited understanding, more than what we can see, more than what our thoughts can reveal?  That the world is infinite and glorious, and that there exists a dimension beyond our finiteness that might provide hope, teaching, love and joy?

We humans all have different definitions of the sacred.  Yet what exists in the woods, in the spaces of trees and wildlife and snow and earth, often brings us to an inner stillness and connection with something beyond ourselves.  Something holy.  Something sacred.  Something magnificent.  The very rawness of nature sometimes transports us.  It carries us into the arms of something larger. 

People call that “something larger” many different names.  On Christmas Eve, in a stable long ago, a baby birthed that ignited that sacred feeling in many people.  Other traditions have birthed other beings that lit fires of love and connection in other humans.  We sometimes argue which tradition is “true”, but the spirit of Christmas Eve might be described as a hush where we recognize the sacred in All Things. 

I proposed the forest does know it’s Christmas Eve.  The woods lives in the spirit of that sacred hush and carries the ability to transport us into holy moments, 365 days a year.  All days are sacred.  The woods knows that.  It’s wiser than we suspect.

Overlooking Lake Superior as it freezes

Overlooking Lake Superior as it freezes

It would be very easy to cheat with this assignment.  (here’s how, if you’ve decided to spend time outside every day and document it with photos and words.)   Drive around, looking for the perfect photo opportunity.  With crafty eyes, find something beautiful.  Leap out of your car with camera in hand.  Snap picture!  Scurry back to car.  Drive home carefully on the icy roads.  Upload picture, write blog depicting photo, and smile with satisfaction.  An outdoors experience!  Right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  In my book an Outdoors Experience has to be something where you deepen into nature.  You spend time walking, looking, watching.  You let the elements have their way with you.  You get cold (or, I suppose you get hot in the summertime…..only a dream for many months to come…..heat!) 

So today I had an appointment to get my hair cut in our little town.  It’s  a tiny wisp of a town bordering Lake Superior.  I thought it had 1,500 folks within the village boundaries, but my husband has corrected this estimate.  There’s 2,500 men, women and children.  We are not included in the village count, as we live twelve miles away. 

So I thought, “here’s an opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors of our little town.”  Everyone drives from store to store around here.  When we’ve visited larger cities we’ve always been amazed to see that people actually walk.  Here we motor from one end of town to the other.  But not today!  In the spirit of Outdoors, I decided to park the car at the IGA and hike across town.

The wind was blowing mightily.  The wind is always blowing.  It whipped off Lake Superior with ferocity.  It stung, it bit, it snarled.  Even though the bank thermomenter boasted a 21 degree temperature, it felt colder than cold.  It felt warmer the other day at 5 degrees (without wind). 

I headed down Main Street listening to the tinny Christmas carols blaring through the loudspeakers.  Oh, Nostalgia.  “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….”  Wreaths and holly and red ribbons decorated the poles along the street.  People smiled, holiday-warm and friendly.  (It’s the best time of year for friendliness, isn’t it?)

I headed down to the lake.  You see above a snapshot of a lone bench sitting in a deserted park overlooking the lake.  The bay is freezing!  My ice fishing husband will be grinning to discover that tidbit.  I slipped once on the icy side road, but stayed upright.  Then it was back towards Main Street.  Thoughts kept babbling sounding something like this, “it’s cold, it’s freezing, my fingers are numb, my feet are numb, it’s cold, it’s freezing, but man oh man it’s exhilarating!”

On the way back towards the IGA, I heard a lot of quacking nearby.  Oh my!  Please look at the photo below.  There were dozens of ducks lying in the snow.  They obviously weren’t freezing.  Or, if they were, you couldn’t tell.  They didn’t even run from the camera.  A few stretched and waddled, but most remained comfortably cuddled near a small river. 

Anyway, just wanted to tell you I’m not cheating.  This amounted to at least 30-45 minutes of walking.  Honest. 

Ducks in winter

Ducks in winter

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