It is the opening day of December and it feels like I’ve stepped into a distilled version of the world. Nothing is left of the trees in the pasture but their bare bones. The light melts away at the end of the day, closing me in tighter and tighter. The slanting sunlight runs up the bark of the walnut tree in long stripes just before leaving for good.
The distilled bony forest is the best for exploring. Hidden treasures appear, mostly in the form of lichens, peculiarly twisted limbs, earthbound leaves that look like wood carvings of themselves. Just before January breaks them down to dust, I gather them up and bring them in to lay on the branches of the Christmas tree.
I’ve brought in the fragrant greens, lit the many lights, brought out the several small blankets— one for each of the places I roost. Last night as I walked around snapping on the lamps I saw the cerulean day sky hiding behind the darkening evening clouds as if to say I’m not ready to go yet. I’m still catching the sun. And as the evening progressed, the nearly full moon moved from one side of the house, until, in the early morning hours, it appeared on the other.
This season sharpens the memory. So many snapshots cluster around this time of year— snapshots especially of my father, whom I only had for 23 of my Decembers before he departed the earth for some other place. He left a letter in his safe that said to tell his best friend Tommy he’d meet him at the Great White Oak Tree. So now, as in those 23 years, I expect he is walking over some leafy path on his way to this tree, where someday I hope he will also meet me.
In those 23 years he would take us to the woods before Christmas to look for the perfect mature, lacy cedar tree. Driving home we would pass the town water tower, with its big blue illuminated star on top. Some town officials had erected it, and couldn’t figure out how to extinguish it. So year round our little town was marked by a star that guided us home.
I read somewhere that children remember best the lessons they are taught by their fathers. I know it is the truth for me. My mother was with me for sixty years and her lessons could fill a library. My father’s instructions were few, but are carved into my bones. Fifty years after he reluctantly taught me to drive, when I run off the road I hear him clear as day telling me to stay off the road and plan my reentry instead of panicking and jerking the car back into its lane. His lessons are his barrel-chested, grumpy, powerful protections following me everywhere I go.
Mama taught us Beauty in a thousand ways. Daddy taught us Nature. They both taught us Reverence. In December we feast in the short dark days on Beauty, Nature and Reverence and I think my parents both come in close and all the Decembers become one December.