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Monday, December 27, 2010

Letters, Trees and Stories

Going light on gifts this year and even lighter on wrapping, our only tree the one at the bookstore, we did not have a lot of boxing tasks on December 26. One little thing I got inspired to do early in the day (pre-waffles) was to trim the scruffy, stringy wisps of hair on Sarah’s ears that gave her such a pound puppy look, but that didn’t take long. The period after breakfast and through most of the early afternoon, however, found me glued to the dining table for hours, writing letters to faraway friends. There are more letters yet to write, but I feel good about the hefty stack ready to go to the post office.

Bright sunshine lured me out for a dog romp later in the day. Surprise! Despite the sun and lack of wind, it was very cold, as I discovered when I pulled off a glove to activate my camera shutter. Did I say we didn’t have a Christmas tree at home this year? The little pine at the top of this post is right at the southern edge of our property line, a bit far from the house to string with lights (and not visible from the road, anyway), but it’s grown considerably since we first noticed its accidental existence. How big does it look to you? I realize it’s difficult to judge without much context, so I tried to take a picture of myself with the tree, but the cold got in my way. You’ll have to take my word for it that this little tree is almost exactly my height.

It’s a funny thing about trees one hasn’t intentionally planted in the landscape. First the tree is not there or so small you never see it, then one year you begin to take notice of it, and finally it becomes a part of your everyday spiritual map, something you would miss if anything happened to it.

My reading on Christmas Day and Boxing Day was Loreen Niewenhuis’s A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek on the Perimeter of Lake Michigan. Here’s the thing: I love to read books about real-life adventures undertaken by women far gutsier than I will ever be; I love enjoying vicariously, from the comfort of my reading chair, their lives of challenge and risk. What makes Loreen’s story all the more irresistible to me is that it all takes place on the shores of Lake Michigan, my home lake from childhood in Illinois to adulthood in Michigan. Many of the beaches, parks, cities and towns described in this book I have visited over the years myself. But walk the perimeter of Lake Michigan? Mostly alone? I’ll never do it! I’m just glad Loreen did so that I can have the experience secondhand.

There was one part I particularly wanted to read aloud to David, and after hearing the two pages I’d chosen to share with him, he wanted more, and I ended up reading aloud all the way up and through the U.P. segment before he fell asleep. We both enjoy being read to, and falling asleep while being read to is a big part of the comfort, like being a child again, I suppose--though the reader is always testing and trying to keep the listener awake longer, the very opposite of a parent reading a child to sleep!

On Boxing Day morning, over waffles, we exchanged stories of childhood Christmas trees. David told of being given money and sent out alone to get a tree when he was only 11 or 12 years old.

“How did you feel about that?” I asked.

“I felt proud! It was a lot of responsibility for a kid.”

“It didn’t make you feel like an orphan?”

“Not at all. I felt like a householder! And I wouldn’t take just any old tree, either. I was very selective.”

David and his mother would decorate the tree while his father watched from a chair, giving “directorial” advice. This is clearly where David got his notion of decorating-the-tree-as-spectator, rather than participant, sport.

Then it was my turn to tell how the whole family made two different trips for our tree, one in early winter (before there was snow on the ground) to choose and mark our tree, the second a week before Christmas to cut it down, have sandwich supper and piles of cookies with our friends at the tree farm and, finally, as early darkness fell, to see a color slide show of their most recent summer vacation. And in the evening of the next day, when the tree was all set up in our living room, with the cardboard crèche scene set up underneath, my two sisters and I would play “Hide the dove” with the little bird from the crèche. If the hider hadn’t given clues (“Are we warm or cold?” “You’re freezing!”), the seekers would never have found the thumbnail-sized paper bird on the densely decorated tree.

After watching a young Gerard Depardieu in a beautifully filmed version of Rostand’s “Cyrano” (the dialogue following exactly the original play, all in verse), David asked if I wanted to tell him another story, but I insisted that he is the better storyteller. I love his stories of when he was a little boy in Detroit, his marvelous childhood neighborhood full of colorful eccentrics, and over the years I’ve developed a number of sure-fire ways to prime the pump. As with the reading, I find it delicious to fall asleep to someone telling me a story, but it’s also important to struggle to stay awake and with the story as long as possible. “Did you hear the part about--?” David will ask, testing me. “Oh, yes,” I reply and grab at random the last word I remember to prove that I was not asleep! The object for the listener is to keep the voice going as long as possible, the story fading imperceptibly as dreams take over....


Karen Casebeer said...

Hello Pamela...I'm attracted to Loreen's book for the same reasons you have been: vicarious enjoyment of her trek, as well as, a re-visit to familiar places. I don't know if you've read: Deep Water Passage by Ann Linnea. It's about her nearly-solo kayak paddle around Lake Superior and the spiritual growth she has because of it. Thought you might enjoy it. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Karen. Hope you had a good Christmas! I have seen the Linnea book but haven't read it; now you've given me the nudge, I probably will.

Bresides adventure and personal growth, there is a lot of information in Loreen's book, much of it new to me, quite a lot disturbing but all the more important to know for that reason. She doesn't gloss over threats to Lake Michigan, that's for sure.

Gerry said...

I'm glad you had a lovely, peaceful holiday. I like the pine tree. Our big spruce tree planted a couple of volunteers in the flower bed. I nurtured them along for years, until they were probably 20 feet high. They're gone now, except in my memory, where they're evergreen.

P. J. Grath said...

I like the trees in your memory, too, Gerry. Some “landmarks” in my memory are horses that used to be in a particular field 20 years ago. For me they will always be there.

Dawn said...

What a lovely day! This year we put lights on three trees way out at the back of our lot. I've loved looking out the back windows through the darkened yard at them these past couple of weeks. Something about a tree lit up in the dark woods...

Sounds like a great book! I've been so busy with Christmas entertaining I haven't finished the last good book you sent me! So many books. So little time.

I haven't been read to since I was a kid. Though when I was a teenager I used to read to the rest of my siblings. Sounds lovely.

I have some letters to write too, in response to Christmas cards with news that arrived in the past week. I think I will have to wait till New Year's though. Letters deserve some thought and care. Neither of which I have right now, given the job and the aforementioned entertaining...

And I'm sure Sara can hear extra specially good now that her ears are cleaned up....especially if hearing involves getting treats! :)

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Dawn. I enjoyed your lighted trees via your blog and am already looking forward to next Christmas myself, now that I've got the new LED life-time guaranteed, 90%-electricity-saving strings of lights for 2011's tree.

Is your husband a reader? Do you like (some of) the same books? It takes a lot longer to get through a book reading it aloud to each other, but there's something special about the experience.

Is Kate treat-alert? Yes, Sarah IS!!!