Twice, in early December, when glowering clouds veiled the skies so thickly that nothing was visible, I heard their song. I know I did.
The first time was in a gray afternoon and those trembling notes sifted through the gloom and set my nape tingling. I could not see the singers. My eyes could not part the mist. But they were there, on high.
The second time, just a week ago, was in the morning. Again, nothing was visible but there was no mistake. Like liquid silver, the notes drifted down until they faded away. Silence.
Christmas angels? Not really, but there were snow white wings and snow white feathers as the wild swans (“whistling swans is a much prettier name than “tundra swans” as they are now officially called) flew southward, their inner compasses sending them ahead of coming heavy weather.
No, I haven’t been in the eggnog. And I’m not being sacrilegious. It’s just that I can’t help but fancy the magnificent birds have a special significance this time of year (“seven swans aswimming … “) and that their melodious song represents a gentle benediction to autumn.
I listen for it every fall and when I hear it I know that winter – and Christmas – is just around the corner, if it hasn’t already skidded in.
I treasure a photograph taken this time of year many years ago showing perhaps at least 100 swans resting on nearby Lake Evans.
A gentle murmuring rose above them. Some preened, some slept, and I watched in silence and in awe.
I doubt there will ever again be that many swans at that lake or nearby Pine Lake, both of which are now ringed with condominiums. (I read recently in a prestigious environmental magazine that condominiums “are a kind of human hive, and the people occupying them are social animals, as are ants, meercats and naked mole rats.”)
And here, when the forever-old little Christmas barn yard with house and stable and farm animals and “pond” – a small mirror ringed with silver tinsel – is displayed, all kinds of ducks swim with several little celluloid swans that somehow managed to survive not only children, but many mischievous puppies over the years.
Not long ago, I was in the basement for something and noticed a small item barely visible under the edge of the freezer.
I couldn’t believe my eyes: It was a celluloid swan that at some time, some puppy must have stolen, dropped down the cellar stairs and had not the courage to go after it.
* * *
When the first measurable snow fell here, I was gratified at the variety of animal tracks leading into and out of the jungles on both sides of the driveway. I really needed an interpreter for some! But strangely absent were rabbit tracks, and I believe Reynard, whom I have not seen for some time, is having a fine winter so far.
There were deer tracks aplenty, and already the ivy growing up one of the maple trees is looking sparse from the ground up to “deer height.”
* * *
In one of the ubiquitous catalogs that flood my mail this time of year, I found the perfect gift for someone who always wanted a horse but didn’t want to be bothered with caring for a real live one.
“The mechanical core muscle trainer is the low-impact mechanical exerciser” that imitates the gaits of a moving horse. And for only $1,499.95. No hay or oats or pitchfork needed …
* * *
My mother was meticulous about keeping records, and I have a notebook in which she wrote – in pencil – her menus for special occasions, plus the shopping list, plus the table decor and plus the date and reason for the festivity.
Here is her record for Christmas dinner 1936: “Red and white fringed doilies; white bowl of red apples; four silver holly candlesticks with white candles; red, white and silver candy bouquets in red cellophane and white paper lace frills.”
“Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, cranberry jelly molds, green beans, curled celery, macaroon pudding, coffee.”
I am certain her family did not at the time appreciate the effort to which she went to create not only a wonderful moment then, but a wonderful memory forever. I very much appreciate that effort now!
(Incidentally, my misbehaving heart is being disciplined with pills. I have never before had to take pills and I resent each one!)
* * *
I and my four-footed family wish for you the most blessed Christmas ever and I hope you, too, will hear the Christmas angels “singing sweetly o’er the plains … ” as they wing their way to Bethlehem where Christmas began.
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