Notes from Three of Earth Farm: Snowberry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve in this strangest of years. It’s still dark out the window from where I sit in the glow only of my computer screen and the Christmas tree. The planets aligned earlier in the week, recreating the Star of Bethlehem, some say. Though unseen here on a cloudy night after a stormy day, perhaps the shepherds are on their way to show us the path out of this dark year.

I dragged myself out of the house and into the woods yesterday between the stöllen and the gluten-free cranberry bread as the sun finally burned through the fog just in time to begin setting. I measured out the dry ingredients for the last baking project—my first-ever try at anything gluten free, which grandson Elliot should be experimentally sticking to—so it would be easier to return to, and shoved my feet into my boots before I could talk myself out of it.

I’ve been voluntarily housebound for weeks. No adventures. It’s been raining. I’ve been schooling with the grandboys on the weekdays and holed up with writing projects on the precious weekends. And Christmas prep. And just generally liking to be indoors this time of year. I won’t say lazy, because I have not been that, just inert.

The woods were beautiful. Of course they are, whether or not I’m there to see it. And the trail not so muddy as I’d been telling myself it would be. I sat on the bench at the Point, looking over the city, talking to my parents. And crying as I often do. I miss them. Being immersed in their story of young love through letters does that to me. I have a deep yearning to have known them then, and I kind of feel like I did. Do. I’m a time traveler.

There will be no surprise white Christmas here this year, but snowberry patches are doing a stand-up stand-in job. I love these little balls of winter cheer on bare stalks. They remind me that we can always find our way to doing things a different way, and maybe someday even, if we come with open minds and hearts, we will come to love the alternatives.

The Seattle family returns today, theoretically in time to make candy cane cookies. It’s a traditional cookie of my mother’s sister that I picked up many years ago. They came in the mail every year, and I loved them. My North Carolina daughter-in-law sent a photo of my son and oldest grandsons making them and I tell you it really warmed my heart that they are holding onto something from Nicholas’s childhood. And that my daughter is too. (I got to do it with the Littles last year as well.)

Some traditions for most of us across the globe can’t happen this year; anything that involves gathering: church, family, dinner with friends. We’ll adjust and we’ll do it again. But this year, maybe we’ll make new traditions to add to the old. And maybe drop some forever that are begging to be let go.

My sister and brother-in-law aren’t coming from Virginia; their children aren’t coming down from Seattle; there’s no Boxing Day party. My pod family is coming; and my local sister and like-a-sister friend, who are pod together but not really with me, are coming tomorrow. But we aren’t doing a big dinner, and why didn’t we abandon that long ago? I think everyone was relieved when I suggested finger food, in part to prevent too many people being in the small kitchen, and from close eating around the table. But also because who wants to spend Christmas in the kitchen?

And, for the third Christmas, my mother isn’t here. That still seems strange to me. Where did she go? Why isn’t my father here? Why is it not my sisters and I waiting impatiently for Daddy to drive down the hill to town to pick up my grandmother so we could FINALLY go to the stockings hung by the chimney with care and the tree and see what Santa brought? Why am I not watching the delight of my own little children?

Where has the friggin’ time gone? And dammit, now I’m crying again.

As I sat at Staebler Point yesterday talking to my parents, I acknowledged their four Christmases apart, he in New York City for army training, then England, France, and Germany. She in Tennessee (who now can comprehend how impossible it was to travel between NYC and Knoxville in 1942? and well, I guess we kind of can this year) Washington State, the Michigan family farm, and Florida.

Yes, there was a war on then, and now. Everyone pulled together and fought it on all fronts. They sacrificed. They didn’t make all the traditional goodies, because sugar was rationed. Loved ones were far away and in harm’s way. I’m sure there was dissension, this is America and it’s what we do; but there was direction and reassurance from leadership—a weekly fireside chat from the White House, how cozy is that?—and they got through it.

Whether or not you believe in astrology, it is fascinating to note that Jupiter, the planet associated with luck and abundance, and Saturn, the planet of authority and hierarchy, met in the night sky this week in a cosmic event known as the Great Conjunction, their closest convergence in nearly 800 years. There’s lots of stuff about it on the internet. Jake Register, who studies astrology, writes that this conjunction can be a harbinger of political and social change. These two planets are meeting in an “air sign,” Aquarius, for the first time in 200 years. Air signs are all about the realm of the mind and connecting with others; teamwork and society; and moving away from materialism.

“During this pandemic people have been living in their own little worlds, and I feel like those walls are going to be coming down soon and people are going to realize that if we want change to happen we can’t go at it alone.” 

Jake Register, “What the Great Conjunction 2020 Really Means”

I’ve never been a subscriber of astrology, but it does interest me. And this bit of hopefulness after a really terrible four years, and this year in particular, seems worth grasping. What am I going to let go of in the new year and what changes can start happening that will carry me perhaps through the rest of my life?

The coming change isn’t just for today, or for the next year. I feel a different future. Yes it will be hard, but we will get through it and be better for it. Do you feel it?

Venus is twinkling over the mountain in the dawning sky. It’s Christmas Eve and change is in the air. In a few minutes my coffee mug will be empty and the light will come and I will need to get up and start the day. Soon there will be noise and chaos and family, and all will be well.

Whatever is dear to you this season, may you find fullness and hope; and at least some measure of joy.

3 thoughts on “Notes from Three of Earth Farm: Snowberry Christmas

    1. This is a profoundly beautiful piece, Gretchen, in how it captures a slice of American life and lets me into your dream/stream of thought and memory and also awakens my own. I am up early working on chapters and sitting with only the lights of the screen and the tree, and whatever light invisible emanates from my heart–now increased by your writing. thank you! Love and stillness in the dark, moon tangled in hemlock tips, one owl, beloved still abed.

      Liked by 1 person

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