’Twas the Night Before Christmas, 2020 version
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
All the people were scrolling with keyboard or mouse.
The COVID pandemic had stifled the land;
No orchestras playing, no theater, no band.
The streets were devoid of the holiday throngs;
No voices were blending in holiday songs.
Our stockings were strewn on the floor without care;
No joyfulness sparkled the stultified air.
The children were glued to grey, blue, and red phones,
Zoned out in their virtual worlds of headphones.
My dear and I slumped, neither singing nor dancing
Just watching TV, eating chips, and sweatpantsing.
When out in the street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my Mac to see what was the matter.
I Googled until my wrist tendons were sore,
Then realized that someone was outside my door.
I peeked through the curtain, flicked on the floodlight,
to counter the cold, empty darkness of night.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
but a great dog and human, their gender unclear.
Though buried and bundled, all coat-hat-and-scarfed,
their eyes twinkled gaily, the dog wagged and “arfed!”
Behind dog and human, a bright painted sled,
bedecked with green sprouts tucked in tiny earth beds.
My bundled up friend looked so kind and delighted,
I threw on my mask, swung the door and invited
the two to come in, though our house was a sty.
They gave a small bow and a wink of their eye.
In their glasses I saw my own glad face reflected –
Such warmth! ’Twas so long since I’d felt so connected.
I wanted to hug this dear, kind-hearted guest,
to clasp their gloved hands, offer shelter and rest.
“You’re kind,” said my friend, but we have miles to go.
“We have all these trees left to give and to grow.
“But please, if you will, give a home to this seedling.
Its future could be lush with leafing and needling,
“replenishing soil, giving habitat cover
to creatures that wriggle or fly, walk or hover.
“The folks are forgetting the rest of Earth’s life;
we’re dooming ourselves to both boredom and strife.
“So please, take a tree, see the warmth it can bring
to brighten your winter, then plant it, come spring.
“There’s no better way to spread holiday cheer
than to bring life inside AND go outside, all year.
“You’re part of this planet, so love all its members,
through summer’s great flourish and dormant Decembers.
“These gifts will remind you of breath, sun, and air.
Give care to them; they can allay your despair.”
The dog sat in snow with its tail all a-fling;
It swept a wide arc like a great angel-wing.
I swear that it understood all that we said
with hopeful brown eyes and a slightly cocked head.
“Of course I will take some,” I staunchly replied.
My friend’s eyes recrinkled, the dog’s tail arc wide.
They placed a small boxed tree in each of my hands
then bent to the dog, where they whispered commands.
The dog stood and shook, and it gave me a wink,
then it turned the tree sled with a squeak and a clink.
My friend’s mufflered face gave me one more bright glance,
then they bounced to the dog in a gay little dance.
They reached in their layers of pockets and pleats
Then rubbed the dog’s ears and presented two treats.
Without a word more the two went on their way,
the human, the dog, and their tree-laden sleigh.
They disappeared quickly into the night’s shade.
The warmth that encompassed me started to fade.
I looked down and saw neither footprint nor track,
just a blank, snow-white field, like a broken-screened Mac.
They’d left not a mark in the new-fallen snow
but the dog’s angel wing that produced a faint glow.
My body was chilling, I should close the door,
but I needed to listen a few moments more.
Then I heard, and the voice seemed to come from great height,
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
Robin Clifford Wood (with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
One of the great things to come from the time of COVID is my writer’s group, which was born mid-pandemic and includes fellow Stonecoast MFA alums. We committed to a slate of meetings to get us through the end of 2020, but I’m hoping some version of it will carry forward.
I love having friends who share the self-flagellation, self-doubt, and dismay over our confounding powers of writing-avoidance. We are so not alone. Yesterday I found Betty Smith’s quotation, pictured above, in Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 100th anniversary issue. I loved her take –finding time is impossible; you just have to make the time. *sigh* Will keep trying.
This particular WD magazine is a superbly fun, meticulously crafted, and engaging issue, by the way. Check it out. I’m probably biased and reading it cover to cover for the first time because it has my name in a giant list of contest winners on page 64! After some rejections over the last week or two, I’m happy for every little boost.
I am on the brink of a workload surge, so it was all the sweeter to leave my computer behind for thirty-six hours and escape to Grandma world. While Mom and Dad were at work (or sleeping after the night shift), Fiona and I had a long walk, a raucous round of swinging at the playground, copious laughter (the sillier, the funnier – Fiona’s adults spend lots of time on the floor, under furniture, or upside-down making incomprehensible noises), a sublime naptime fall-asleep on Gramma’s lap, bathtime, dancetime, mealtimes, and a reasonable complement of cranky time.
(Bonus activities: daughter-time and son-in-law time. A close runner-up: Stocking up at Trader Joe’s. When will they build a Bangor store?)
A flock of turkeys has been congregating at the edge of the forest at the back of our fields. Clara and I have surprised them a couple of times, maybe seven or eight of them. They have an uncanny talent for disappearing into the trees instantly, though they don’t appear to be overly hurried.
Here’s a picture of their tracks, which are criss-crossing all over the back corner of our property. I should have included my hand for perspective, because they are BIG. They also, I noticed, look distinctly like pointing arrows. PROCEED THIS WAY. Funny thing is, the arrows point away from the turkey’s forward direction. Aha! A clever ruse? Turkeys are full of tricks.
Do you suppose unwary predators come upon them and say, hmm, which way did they go – oh! this way… Or maybe the tangled labyrinth of tracks they leave behind is meant to completely confuse the tracker.
Either way, well played.
Clara turned 13 last week, still pretty spry for an 82-year-old equivalent (according to pets.webmd.com). Even on cold days she follows her nose avidly around the snowy field, sniffing vole trails, or trotting, ears and hackles on high, in pursuit of the neighborhood coyote who’s been hunting our muskrats.
Clara paces herself. I think that’s the secret to her longevity. She get too worked up over the coyote, even when she sees him; she just lifts her nose higher and adds a bit more spring into that silky, sashaying gait of hers. I don’t think she wants to actually catch anything. The UPS man may get a bark or two, no more. She’s never been one to leap up for a wild good morning, or a welcome back from the store, which can be a bit disappointing after years of Kate, the wildly intense sheprador. But she does roll her eyes lovingly up to you when you walk in the room, tail a-thump. And she curls up at our feet when we’re watching TV or eating dinner. As I pass through a room where she lies, she gazes up at me, gauging the potential for a belly rub. If our eyes meet, she rolls invitingly onto her back, awaiting my attentions.
Some day we’ll get another dog. In the meantime, we are enjoying the gentle, peaceful presence of this dear, easy companion. I was thinking someone less than 80 pounds might be nice. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like wrapping my arms around the full barrel of her chest, or lying down with my head on her furred neck, paw draped over mine.
The stress of isolation isn’t so bad, in the company of such a quiet soul.
A group of writer friends and I started a weekly half-hour Zoom meeting about a month and a half ago. Our intent was to nudge each other to write, an ironically elusive pursuit for writers, even when we’re isolated or quarantined. We’re committed to the end of 2020, a little boost to lift us to the end of a ragged year.
A number of excellent and unexpected benefits resulted:
Muskrat-watching has become a favorite household activity at the Wood family pond, for both dog and humans. 13-year-old Clara poses no risk to these quizzical, hard-working, highly appealing critters, so she joins our observations. There are at least six muskrats of varying sizes out there, with residences excavated into the pond bank or constructed from a bed of reeds. They’ve been highly active lately, clearing the ground of dropped apples, feasting on cattail fronds, busily crossing and re-crossing the pond to and from their work. It’s pandemic-era entertainment.
You’re Invited! Muskrat-watching and bocce ball by the pond, with a campfire.
This morning was our first ice-over. Hard not to worry about the bristly gang out there, but apparently they can be underwater for 12-17 minutes, and with vertically flattened tails that are half the length of their body, they are speedy swimmers. They are well-adapted to the ice and cold. Their biggest threat is the eagles, foxes, and one lone coyote that I’ve spotted twice in the last month. Well, everyone has to eat.
And so do we! Here on the eve of Thanksgiving, I wish for all of you, like our animal neighbors, plenty to feast upon, a warm place to sleep, and good company, even if your togetherness must be adapted to audio or video technology.
**photography credit - thanks to Lisa Wahlstrom!!
I am stumbling along through this brand new world of pre-selling promotions. I remember feeling confused about a friend's upcoming book last year. When it was finally published, I thought, wait, wasn't it out months ago? I felt I'd been inundated with her book's news. Now I am doing the same thing. My friends will surely have book fatigue before the book is even released.
Slowly, "the way things work" is unfolding - how to talk to bookstores and libraries, how distribution will work, which tasks are mine versus my publisher versus my publicist. My communications have resulted in a mix of "oops" and "awesome." Happily, the state of Maine is filled with friendly, forgiving folks, and I have some enthusiastic booksellers in my court now!
Three books about book promotion are on their way to my local library through interlibrary loan. I am a book business freshman.
Here's another lovely blurb! This one's from a writer/biographer/historian who became a friend and mentor during my Rachel Field research years. Thank you, Benson!
"This wonderful book--based on meticulously thorough, devoted research--is a lovingly tender, wise, and judicious account of Rachel Field and her world. Its unusual blend of memoir and biography helps to illuminate the life, even as a poignant dialogue between the author and her subject unfolds. Truly, a tour-de-force!"
--Benson Bobrick, award-winning author of Angel in the Whirlwind and Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired.
Alex Trebek died yesterday at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. For over 30 years he hosted Jeopardy, entertaining my parents, me, my children, three generations of fans. I will miss him!
What was it that made him so appealing? He was genuine, kind, cheerful, interested in people, a bit nerdy in an endearing way. He never sought the limelight; he tried to highlight the game’s contestants, not himself. Though he expressed a “tsk tsk” kind of disappointment when contestants missed the easy ones, his disapproval was gentle, far outshone by his enthusiasm over their success. He loved his job but never took himself too seriously. He always showed up looking his best, putting his best face forward, even in pain and discomfort (sometimes severe) during his cancer treatments. Publicly, he addressed his disease, likely to lead to his death, with steady calm, honesty, and hopefulness, as though his goal was to make us all feel better. He kept on living in full to the last.
Who would imagine that a quiz show host could rise to the status of role-model? Alex Trebek made me feel like the world was not just okay, but actually pretty cool. He was an icon of goodness, unbiased congeniality, quiet leadership. Steady as she goes. Thank you, Mr. Trebek.
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her grown children and their multi-species families.