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Northern Christmas

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be

thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s

wing that falls on the rails.


Henry David Thoreau

Across the northern tier of the continent, in places I've traveled, there are similar features to the terrain.

In Canada, the Arrowhead of Minnesota, in some parts

of Norway, there are collections of reindeer moss,

rock tripe, the same spruce, tamarack, and birch.

There is also one tree I notice in particular this time of year. After the tamarack loses its needles in the swampy lowlands, one tree says better than others "It is Christmas," even in the frosty cold of deep winter.

The Mountain Ash, or Rowan tree, is known for its bright red berries that stand out like torches in a gray-white landscape. They emerge after the warm days of October, and the winds of November have dropped leaves on the ground.

Summer is not a time for the Mountain Ash tree. In forests I have known, they take a backward position to the undergrowth, the alder, and willow congregating in rock-strewn ancient stream beds.

In Bergen, Norway, I have seen these trees clinging to the shore, bracing against the North Sea. Rarely have I seen them in the interior canoe country of northern Saskatchewan or the BWCA of Minnesota.

But now the moon is cold, ice piles up along the shore, birds routinely visit our bird-feeder and rush back to the protective safety of a nearby pine. It is the one-time spirits are lifted by the bright red beads of color nestled into various corners of our woods.

The ancient Druids had the idea that this particular wood was to be used for religious staffs. It was once considered as protection from lightning on land and sea.

In Scotland, people would plant mountain ash by their door to ward off evil magic. Other places it is known by the names witch-wood or (my favorite) "delight-of-the-eye."

May Christmas have this same quality for you. Even in a place where there is little green, perhaps there is some hint of red inviting your eye to look, to study, to appreciate this gift.

Cedar Waxwings take the berries, bearing seeds from this tree, and will later deposit them in various places to distribute this delight-of-the-eye.

This Christmas may you also receive delight in unexpected places, brought to you by unforeseen people and circumstances.

May you glimpse the joy of Christmas even in winter grey.

Northern Christmas is taken from the book Compass Season. Available on Amazon.

"Can be happily read from start to finish. It's also a book that can slide off the couch on a Tuesday morning, and open to an article which magically speaks to the very real drama you find yourself in at that moment." (Foreward)