It was early morning on Boxing Day – December 26.
The temperature was very near zero, Fahrenheit. The sun was bright, but there was a hint of mist that was freezing into crystals on the trees. My daughter, Rebekah, was inside, putting on her boots. I was strolling down to the front to pick up the newspapers.
Then a Chickadee sang near the bird feeders. That was what sparked a kind of ecstatic conversation with first my mother and then my father. They have been dead to this world for 13 and 21 years now, but I believe alive forever to God’s Greater World. And they made the world come alive for me by sharing.
My mother shared her love for life by chattering back at the Chickadees and Cardinals. She sang her cheerful good mornings and only got cross with me when I woke too early some mornings and spoiled her lovely little time of greeting the birds and the rising sun with a quiet newspaper read, a cup of coffee and a cigarette.
My father shared his love not with song, but with teasing sarcasm. With a wink of his eye and a burley grip to his hand, he built bird houses and swings and wondrous vacations out into the wilds of the great North Woods– laughing at us whenever we complained or got anything like soft. He and mother thought it best that we get close to it all, get lost now and then, and become prepared to launch out into life on our own.
The song of the Chickadees and the splendors of the crystalline day unfolding around me propelled me into a thankful and misty-eyed conversation with my parents who made everything live more by their sharing. “Mom, Dad, you would love this moment—these songs and dogs and sheep and landscapes—just as much as I do, wouldn’t you?
And all of this scene was all the more alive because I was doing the same as my folks with my Rebekah and her brother, Jeremiah. They had shared Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Connie and me—and what a sharing it was. It snowed all day Christmas Eve. The drifts were up to three feet deep along the tree line on our north boundary, and it forced us to enjoy things all the more because we had to get out on cross-county skis to exercise the dogs.
And this was perhaps the very first time our children (Jeremiah is now 35 and Rebekah 30) really came alive to Heatherhope Farm. They tied an inner-tube-like snow thing with handles on it to the back of our ATV and took bone-chilling and bone-shaking rides across the fields. They went skiing themselves. Rebekah, fresh from sharing birding outings with her boyfriend, Mike, thrilled at the abundance of birds at our feeders.
Of course, visits to the feeders from Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Bluejays, Juncos and Chicadees, not to mention the hoards of House Finches, Purple Finches and Starlings, have their own innate worth and wonder. But how much more they come alive when shared! It stirs the soul. It causes us to remember parents and friends who stood with us. It causes us to stand outside ourselves and be more than we can be alone. And we discover we are branches and something else is the Vine. And everything is more alive—including ourselves.