Archive for December, 2010

Auld lang syne

May the peace of the holiday season continue to shine on you and your families and may your new year be filled with health, happiness, and good cheer.


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Into the woods

Tom usually awakes before I do. He makes coffee and sets out my teapot and cup and saucer that are waiting for me when I come down the stairs. It is an endearing ritual that starts our days. While the kettle is heating up, I will walk from window to window to see what nature has left during the night. At this time of year, it is looking for deer tracks and damage to trees and shrubs.

It is already a hard winter for the deer herd. Most of December has been snow-covered here and the deer are searching for nourishment, digging in leaves and rearing up on their hind legs to pull tree branches down, and munching on the hydrangea and tree peonies. I doubt that there will be many blooms come spring and tell myself it is what it is on the Cutoff.

We peered outward Wednesday night. In the still of the night, under cloud cover and street lights, Katy and I could see the forms of deer wandering in the vacant land next to us. They moved slowly in the snow, and bent low, digging for plants, munching on leaves.

I began to fret when we first noticed the Christmas buck in the mulch pile for hours on end. At first, as he seemed to struggle to get up, I thought it was just his age. After all, I struggle some days getting up as well, hobbling about, shaking my bones out, slowly descending the stairs to get to my morning cup of tea. His limp, however, has become more and more pronounced and we can see the drag of his right rear leg in the snow. I am certain the shed Tom found is that of the Christmas buck. I saw him hobbling when he had his rack intact. He hobbles still and he is the only buck who has shed his crown.

Coming home Wednesday afternoon, four well-crowned males were out and about. The Christmas buck was resting in the pile of leaves. There was a stand-off between this old king and another. The king still ruled and sat down once again on his throne of leaves.

It was under the dark cloak of night that the real drama unfolded. Kate, ever watchful over our herd, called out that she thought the big buck was out in the leaves once more. We finally saw him after turning out all of the lights, one-by-one, the dimming of day, the acceptance of darkness. The night took on a surreal quality. She and I watched, then the two Toms joined. As we looked from the windows, two more bucks wandered over, one challenging the Christmas buck, who arose, awkwardly, and walked a few feet away, facing the street, his back to his challenger, his head down, his legs splayed unnaturally. To say it was painful to watch would be an understatement. We couldn’t tell if this was a challenge for domination or a respectful tending of a friend.

Our Christmas buck stood, his back to his nemesis, barely moving. One stag wandered off, eating his late night snack, a ghost on the lawn, while the other stood, a few yards behind the king. Would there be a fight in this stand-off? Who would win? Slowly, painfully, the Christmas buck moved toward the road. Slowly, assuredly, the second buck followed, matching steps, until they crossed to the other side. We watched in amazement and wonder and with some trepidation. I had a sense that the king had lost his battle and a new king was leading him home, across the road and into the woods, another of life’s rituals playing out at the end of the day.

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Gifts of the season

Gifts come in many forms during a holiday season.

Gaily wrapped presents tied with a bow or creeping out of a colorful bag. A gift a day as the menorah is lit. The continuing tradition of Boxing Day. It comes in the laughter of children and the smiles of an elderly aunt, glad to have company in the bleakness of midwinter. Like the gifts of the magi, the things we give and receive are far greater than just the colorful wrappings.

The fourth day of Christmas brought such gifts to the Cutoff. There were more presents, indeed, under the tree that we unwrapped with our up north family, visiting, and more sure to follow tomorrow as Jennifer and Jason, as well as extended family,  join us for dinner. I am hoping that other children fill the house as well. The grand niece and nephews, “my grands” as I call them, and our own little Kezzie.

Some of yesterday’s gifts were ethereal; the casting of shadows upon the white lawn and a red tailed hawk soaring just over the peak of the barn as a doe lurked around the corner of the deck. The doe must have been gathering fallen seeds, for she was just under the finch feeder where they flitted about. The hawk was low – a mouse, perhaps, or a squirrel, unaware of his presence. A doe and a buck, still in rut, surprised us as we looked out the kitchen window, back to the far reaches of our property. They were playing – and enjoying some afternoon delight. There will surely be fawn come early summer.

The Christmas buck continues to sit for long periods of time in the mulch pile. He was there on Christmas Eve as we drove in, then disappeared around seven o’clock. I wondered where he went, as he was gone Christmas day. Perhaps he punted as a relief reindeer for Dasher or Dancer or Prancer or Vixen. He was back on the second day of Christmas, his antlers appearing almost before he did. Tom and I watched as he and another locked horns for a short while and we noticed the king of kingdom limping and struggling a bit as he gentled down into the matted leaves.

He left Tom a present yesterday.

Coming back from gathering the day’s mail, my Antler Man looked over at the leaf pile and saw something protruding. With the wonder of a child and the mature experience of past discoveries, he hobbled through the snow, along the deer tracked path, and there, slipping up from the leaves, newly fallen and found before the squirrels or voles discovered its richness, was a coveted antler shed.

A gift of Christmas.

Now, if only I can convince Antler Man that it doesn’t belong on the dining room table.

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It is good to view the world from different perspectives at times, don’t you agree? A different angle of the same room, a snapshot of life through a bus window or the perspective of a low slope – or a high peak. I caught this yesterday through the cutout of a gingko leaf on a chair. We were sitting in the cafe at the Morton Arboretum, sipping on coffee, watching the hearty trudging through the woods on rented snow shoes, their bright red and blue and yellow snow parkas bold highlights against the winter landscape, flitting about like winter birds. It was comfortable sitting along the large expanse of windows, a respite for us on a brisk morning.

We’d been caught off-guard, you see. Lolling about after a filled holiday with family and friends, food and sweets, and a trip to the emergency room, we were enjoying the early Sunday morning when, pop, our electricity went out. Neither of us had showered yet. Tom had been watching a live stream of our church service. I had been dozing off once again while listening to Sunday Morning on CBS. It was the sound going off the stirred me awake. Isn’t if funny how such changes awaken our senses?

ComEd’s recording told us several hours would be needed to restore service.

Let’s go to the arboretum!

So, we did. We bundled up and headed out, our trusty passes in hand, for a cup of coffee and a ride though the grounds.

The scenery was beautiful; the white, glistening snow, the powdery limbs of deciduous trees and the laden branches of pine and fir. A woodpecker tatted in amongst a band of Juncos and I sighted a hawk soaring close through the trees, searching for a meal.

A different perspective than the one we awoke to.

A change in plans.

A detour along life’s way.


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Christmas bells


Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



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Away in a manger

No crib for a bed

The stars in the sky looked down where he laySleep in heavenly peace this  night.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

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A Christmas Stag?

It is quiet now, here on the cutoff. It is just past midnight, a cold night. The snow is blue grey under the spell of the cloud cover, yet, the shadows still move with the ease of forest creatures and the calendar has just turned to Christmas Eve. The magical moments begin.

This past fall, Tom made piles of leaves for compost in the back, hauled tarp loads to the curb for the city to mulch, and laid an enormous pile for the deer off to the side of our property. We noticed them eating there last winter, rummaging through the leaves like a dog searching for a bone. We didn’t mind, it was only leaves, and thought to put another pile there again this year. We hoped they would eat from the decomposing natural matter and leave the garden alone.

I noticed him about 3:30. I was getting ready to roll out the dough for molasses cookies and caught something through the dining room window out of the corner of my eye. I looked out and he looked back at me.

There he was, king of the forest, a comfortable ease in the leaves, a bed of comfort for a buck on such a cold day.  His rack was impressive. He  rose, and ate from the plate below his feet. Another buck, younger, princely, with a smaller rack, wandered over and I watched to see what would happen. The king just reclined and let the prince eat. Three doe rummaged nearby. A peaceable kingdom, the bucks, the doe, and me, baking away, readying for the holiday at hand.

This was all happening right outside the window as I baked.

Roll, cut, pan, oven, check deer, roll, cut, pan, oven, check deer.

Tthe king of the forest was suddenly alone. Thinking the prince had wandered off, I went to turn on the living room tree, which is when I saw


Flour flying from my hands, my hair, and my apron, shoes quickly donned, door flying opening . . .

. . . I stood on the front porch, a crazed Christmas elf, seeing my hydrangeas being munched and crunched to the ground, screeching “get off my plants!”.

He looked at me as if to say “what’s your problem, lady?”. I stomped my foot in righteous indignation and off he strolled, a princely attitude, not a care in the world, with the king of the forest, the Christmas stag, watching from his throne of leaves.

He was still there at 9:30 when Tom returned home.

He is still there now, at half past midnight, resting and comfortable, the Cutoff his kingdom.

Or, maybe he’s just waiting . . .


Illustration by Tasha Tudor

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