As Christmas approaches, I’m always aware that holidays bring joy to many, but loneliness to many others. I recall, some years back, returning to work and to the well-meaning question, “How was your Christmas?” and answering, “Great . . . due to lowered expectations.” It was the most honest answer I could give, and I always hoped it would be taken for what it was— not a complaint, but a key to happiness. With the media and stores and Hallmark movies pumping up our hopes, it’s good to remember that few holidays can measure up to the hype.
I am fortunate to regularly get together with friends from college, a thoughtful group of people who met through the U YMCA 50 years ago and still feel connected. One evening our topic of conversation was loneliness. It surprised me that I, the one in the group without a partner or kids, was the one who never minds being alone, even on holidays. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I felt lonely, and wasn’t sure why. Our friend and mentor, Doug Wallace, suggested a reason that seemed to ring true. My connection to nature provides me with friends, even when my human ones are not around.
If you’ve read my blogs or book, you know of some of my extraordinary relationships. Sunny the half-wild mustang, Teddy the yellow lab, the beloved cats whom I’ve rescued who rescue me back, the geese who bring their goslings, and Greenie and Spot, my sunfish friends. Of course, none of these provide the life-long love of the human partner that so many long for during the romance of star-dusted holidays. But they come unexpectedly and without expectations, bringing moments or years of comfort and joy, if only we will open our eyes and hearts to their wonder.
As I write this, I can peek out my kitchen window and see my friend Red. Dressed in the color of Christmas, this cardinal has returned for the second winter to bless me by sleeping in the grapevine under the eaves night after cold night. I used to feel bad when I’d return home in the evening and scare him off. But he seems to know me now, and stays hunkered down, even when I talk to him softly.
Everyone loves cardinals, but could a bat be a friend? Of course. I had one who slept behind the cast iron pan hanging on my house for nine summers. If I was lucky, I’d catch him waking up and stretching before taking off for his evening of mosquito control.
Spring brings nests, and birds large and small. Some are lost to predators—food in the circle of life. Others survive to fill our trees with song. These migrants remind us that friends come and go as they travel their own paths, resting with us on their long flights. Will I ever be able to recognize one bird from another? Perhaps not, but then, I didn’t expect to be able to know Greenie and Spot from the other fish in the lake. Will they survive under the ice and greet me in the spring? I pray so, but only time will tell.
Perhaps having wild friends has taught me to live in the present. To stop and make eye contact with another living being every chance I get. To appreciate every time a creature trusts me. To know that every relationship is temporary, and precious.
And to give every soul a chance to surprise me with its magnificence. When a golden orb weaver began to work her magic above my kitchen sink, I had to watch. She reminded me of my mother, with patience and skill, taking stitch after perfect stitch on one of her beautiful quilts. If my cat Leo or I accidentally destroyed her masterpiece, she’d eat the remains and recycle the silk into another. Soon I realized why she put up with our interference—the compost box provided her with fruit flies—and she kept my kitchen free of them. With trial and error, she learned to reposition her splendid web so that I could move faucet and dishes without disturbing her. Yes, we had a partnership.
It wasn’t long before I started calling her Ruth, as her tenacity and calm, quiet skill reminded me of the Notorious RBG. Yet I once saw her ferocity. A daddy-long-legs walked across her web and tackled her! I gasped as a flurry of 16 legs tumbled together. But in seconds the daddy returned to his corner, leaving me watching, wondering if Ruth was injured. She was still for a long time, but recovered the next day and went back to work. Whew. Who’d a thunk I could care about a spider, but how could I not? She kept me fascinated for a month, while I pondered–did I really want her there all winter? Dare I put her outside now that it was cold? I looked up the life cycle of golden orb weavers and found they died in the fall, after laying a nest of eggs. Hmm. Charlotte’s Web was in a barn, but did I really want Ruth’s children in my kitchen? She made a small sack in a corner, but nothing ever emerged. I watched carefully as Ruth eventually became still, then disappeared. But I’ll never forget the magnificence of her persistence and silken creations. As I watched her making her final web, I couldn’t help but feel something of her magic. She spun her silvery silk, finer than any tinsel and stronger than any steel. The rhythm of her dance was as true as the little drummer boy’s beat. A simple yet profound miracle of creation. Ruth showed me a magic not unlike the magic of Christmas, because she made me feel . . . love.
Then there are the ones I see only briefly, but am lucky enough to capture with my camera, allowing me to share the magic with you. I hope you feel some of the joy I felt when this buck gifted me with this image, and later with the words that seemed to flow from that night and become reality on solstice. Love from the buck and the night sky and my heart to yours, this Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, and always. Holly