WHEN A DEAR FRIEND DIES — for Alan

Christmas Fog Brig Tasha Alan 2015

Alan MacIlroy and Tasha O’Neill birding foggy Brigantine on Christmas 2015

The news we always knew, but never believed, slashes out of morning, startling and impossible as thunder snow.

Although creativity is the heart of the matter in the home Alan MacIlroy has left for our true home, — neither words nor images come to my summons, as mourning descends upon me.

My dearest Tasha is widowed anew.  Alan’s ruddy car sits in their driveway with its subtle license reminding us of his priority:  TH JRNY.   Now he has embarked on the universal journey.

Over more years than I can tally, Tasha and Alan and I have shared priceless rituals, from fireside lobster in Maine to Christmas picnics at Brigantine Wildlife Refuge.

The day of our foggy Christmas feast, a peregrine falcon had stationed itself upon a speed limit sign — “15 mph” — just beyond the Brig’s northeast corner turn.  My camera does not do justice to this monarch holding court for a rosary of reverent automobiles immobilized upon the dike road.  Alan, Tasha and I quietly slid out of his Christmasy car to stand in silence, worshiping.

After a significant interval, Alan announced, “Let’s not go over to Scott’s Landing for our Christmas dinner.  How could we leave the peregrine?”

Only as I type this, do I realize, the word peregrine means wanderer.

Alan is the consummate mentor.  “Mr. Fix-It.”  Every problem solved, especially in advance, especially for his cherished Kingston church, and local businessmen and women.  Each wooded trail at their Maine home maintained.  Every lobster boat observed upon stormy or tranquil bay.  Each wood fire, kindled on a cooling summer’s night.  His dazzling, impeccable TR 4, shining on the driveway, ready for a jaunt.  He is each woodworking project magnificently accomplished, including caning two chairs for me, burnishing the Provencal olive wood cutting board that had dimmed since I lived there.  Grace, gentleness, generosity.   Smiles and that quiet voice we will no longer hear.  Alan was the essence of tranquility.  Alan is love.

His quietly merry  spirit will be with us on every future excursion. Yet the glow of that luminous man has become memory.

Mary Elizabeth’s crystalline phrases echo as I find myself bereft of words.  May her inspiration be with NJWILDBEAUTY readers  — in this dire era, –in which too many days begin with yet another cancer call:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.

 

I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;

 

I am not there. I did not die.

***

 

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha Prepares our 2015 Christmas Feast

***

“How can we leave the peregrine?”     Now, our wanderer has left us…

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

PINELANDS ~ PIPELAND: Road to Ruin – Poems of This Imperiled Region

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Pump House, Clouds and Lilies in Waters of Haines Cranberry Bogs, Chatsworth

A trio of poems, arrow’s in this activist’s quiver:

Probably all NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that, last Friday, the Pinelands Commission DARED approve the first pipeline in New Jersey’s Crown Jewel: The Pine Barrens.  This one is “The South Jersey Gas Pipeline Project.”  A pipeline by any name would smell as foul.  The Pinelands Commission was founded to preserve, protect, even enhance this 1.1 million-acre wooded region, sited atop the legendary 17-trillion-gallion Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer of highest quality water.

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Traditional Cranberry Harvest Tool

 

Former NJ Governors Brendan Byrne, Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman joined forces to file a Friend of Court Brief to overturn approval of the Pipeline.  But the forces of greed have won anew, and New Jersey will never be the same.  Our beautiful state is being turned into a Sacrifice Zone, and who is to arrest this destruction?

 

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Essence of the Bogs, Chatsworth

 

Once, I lamented to a caller, “I’m a poet.  What am I doing at the barricades?”  The activist on the other end of the line retorted, “Carolyn, that’s where poets belong.”

I’m not good with barricades.  Although I support and thrill to effective protest marches, they are beyond my physical/spiritual/mental/emotional strength.

 

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Pinelands’ Pristine Tannic Waters, Batsto

The only arrows in my quiver are Pinelands poems.  Here are a few, to remind NJWILDBEAUTY readers of what we are about to forfeit:

This was one of the original “Hot Poems by Cool Women”, a favorite of what we came to see as our poetic groupies, as our various new volumes reached the public through readings:

 

IT ALL STARTED

 

when we came upon

carpets of stars

cranberries in flower

trembling white below

the ice blue sky

 

along the hard-packed dikes

slumbrous bees

formed golden pyramids

on gleaming amber boxes

 

dawn’s pollinators

here to burst all bonds

course among broad acres

of waving stamens

 

at day’s end we stood on tiptoe

plucking first blued berries

from among the mauve and pink

at the tips of overarching bushes

 

tucked among hollies and sheep laurel

through thickets and tunnels

we made our way to the sea

mouths awash in warm berries

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Cool Women, Volume I

 

RESURGENT

 

I long to slip into
peat water

watch my long legs turn
orange, then burnt sienna
bathed in tannins of old leaves
and newly desiccated needles
having steeped over the centuries
between primordial banks

I belong to the Pines and its peat
whether striding or swimming
requiring levels and mystery
–silent liquidities
–eloquent duskiness
even on bright days

over there, on a low branch
a slim snake twines
somnolent and sure

overhead, in the pine tops
winds echo ocean
near yet far

time keeps these waters warm
enough to welcome legs
too long denied the Pinelands

see how my limbs flicker and flash
–burnished in peatwater
–flames in the depths

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
US 1 Fiction Issue,

D&R Greenway Poets of Preservation

Written in Princeton Hospital
Immediately post-op  – 11 11 11

CRANAPPLE PIE

 

I’ve gathered apples of our Barrens

to blend with bright cranberries

sparked with honey of dawn’s bees

we two once awakened

on Chatsworth’s sandy dikes

 

I craft a random European tart

— ragged edges, coverless

in honor of your world that I so crave

in memory of ragged days, uncovered nights

 

the luminous glaze

oddly recollects

your ignited gaze

thrown back at me

in this new solitude

 

every inch of rooms you cherished

becomes apple-fragrant

our joyous kitchen above all

 

my fruits become a brigand’s cache

–rubies tossed with fine abandon

as I once flung caution to wild winds

when you stretched out fine hands

luring me, pirate-like, to irresistible back bays

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

                                                Cool Women, Volume Two

 

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Jersey’s Jewels, Sugar Sand, Chatsworth

 

Once, I carried books of others’ poems into hearings at Prallsville Mills, in my futile, idealistic attempt to convince decision-makers not to allow “The Villas of Tuscany”, –currently “Barclay Square” –, towering condos.  to profane our cherished, historic D&R Canal and Towpath.

I read words of Paul Muldoon and Gerry Stern and friends who later became the Cool Women, insisting that art is born in New Jersey beauty.  Trampling her open spaces, defiling sightlines of the canal — for these travesties are visible even deep down upon her waters in a kayak — destroys not only habitat for essential wild creatures.  It also spells the end of inspiration, the cessation of art catalyzed in these storied reaches.

Pipelines are nonessential, destructive, temporary in terms of jobs provided, and threaten ignition of the Pines and fouling of the pristine waters of the Pine Barrens.

Don’t let this happen.  Use whatever arrows are in your quiver to preserve, protect, and even enhance our entire state!

 

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Cranberries on the Vine, Chatsworth

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Pine Barrens Just-Picked Dry-harvested Cranberries as Sauce Extraordinaire, Back Home

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Cranberry Dry Harvest, Early November, 2015

This rich harvest tour took place through Pinelands Adventures: http://www.pinelandsadventures.org;

Which organization has come into being under the auspices of ever-militant, thoroughly vigilant Pinelands Preservation Alliance:  JOIN THEM — they turn around damage to the Pines, week after week after week:  http://www.pinelandsalliance.org

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Batsto Barn – Pine Barrens’ Mercantile History, Legendary Iron Forge Village

Without  “The Iron in the Pines”, from forges such as Batsto and Allaire and Martha’s Furnace, and beyond, George Washington would not have had cannon balls nor wagon wheels for Revolutionary Battles.  Pinelands shipbuilders and ship’s captains effectively fought the British and the Hessians, boldly advertising auctions of stores of captured ships in Philadelphia papers.  Mullica Rivermen rowed with muffled oars to change the course of history.  It is said, we would not have a country without the Mullica, without the Pine Barrens!

 

“THE GIRL WITH THE CHARTREUSE ANKLE” ~ Island Beach New Year’s Day

Winter Still-Life, Island Beach, New Year’s Day

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New Year’s Morning Wrack Line, Island Beach

 

So it’s come to this:  In order to walk Island Beach and Sandy Hook, –especially twice in one winter week, as currently planned –, I turn to my splendid chiropractor, — Brandon Osborne, D.C., of Hopewell, New Jersey.  On the heels of that nearly significant recent birthday, new ministrations are suddenly required to sustain my sometimes rebellious body.

 

peroneus

Peroneus Longus – who can bark, “Don’t Mess With Me!”

 

The peroneus longus, –which one possesses, whether one wants one or not–, on the outside of each leg, leads down to the ankle bone.  My left Peroneus, (rhymes with Polonius), gravely dislikes soft sand, — especially dune trails leading up and down in order to get to the sea.

 

After P’s last rebellion, Brandon insisted, laughing, “The best medicine for Peroneus is more soft sand.”  Multi-faceted workouts engendered thereby actually stress Peroneus, rendering him stronger each time.  Brandon has me weave new leg-buttressing routines, among my yoga postures.  And he’s come up with a fine plan — move my appointments to the nights before beach-days, and he will protect my recalcitrant foot(e).  He will tape the offending tendon.

 

Behind me, Brandon asked what color I prefer, –of a pretty short list.  I blithely answer “green”.  (never far from work at D&R Greenway; never far from being a very “green” person.                  I expected the color of winter pine trees.          Wrong:

 

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Yoga-Ready, New Year’s Morning, 2017

 

This development had me literally laughing out loud, since my motto for this significant year, is “OUTRAGEOUS!”   (Exclamation point included.)    I do yoga for an hour to an hour and a half each day, holidays included But there’s a little more to it than soft sweet grace:

 

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Final Yoga Moments, New Year’s Day, 2017

 

I tend to do whatever Brandon suggests-to-insists so I can be outdoors as much as possible. New upright exercises involve standing high on toes for longish periods, legs together, then legs farther apart.  In the beginning, doing 30 of each seemed impossible.  Now it’s only the last six or so that weary me/us (Peroneus and me).  But they do not hurt.

 

Seeing that wild ankle decor Thursday, I marveled, “But, I feel like an athlete, taped for the fray.”  Brandon abruptly asserted, “You ARE an athlete!”  This is the person who had been felled by rheumatic fever at seven.  From then on, tennis, biking around the block, all jumproping – [and I had been the star], and roller skating were forbidden for life.  After which swimming to the end of the dock at camp became impossible.  (Until my 2011 hip replacement p.t., I had not set foot(e) in a gym, and was absolutely terrified to begin.)  Well, better late than never.

Brandon’s other prescription involves that very soft sand.  The picture below proves this morning’s obedience to his mandate:   You are coming with us along Reed’s Road to Barnegat Bay — first stop on my every I.B. pilgrimage.

 

Realize that this is the original sugar sand for which New Jersey’s Pine Barrens are famous.  Be very aware that this delicate, even exquisite pale grey substance is light years beyond the dingy practically ochre grunge dredged up and brought in (especially in Sandy-battered Mantoloking) by the infamous, Nature-negating Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Island Beach sand feels like superfine sugar.  Its chinchilla hue plays off the tawnyness of beach grass, to say nothing of cinnamon-stick brown jettisoned bayberry leaves.  Walking winter sand trails, it is as though Cezanne himself had been orchestrating the palette of each trail.

 

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Soft Sand, As Prescribed, Bayside, Island Beach

 

Island Beach is a ten-mile stretch of pristine beauty, about which you’ve read and read in these electronic pages.  The landscape/dunescape could be Wellfleet and Truto leading into wildest stretches of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.

 

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Spring-Green Dune Trail, Island Beach Ocean Side, by Angela Previte

 

Why it’s worthwhile for me to do whatever Brandon Osborne, D.C., directs —  long-tailed rarities of the winter sea:

 

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Long-tailed duck, Female, December Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

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Long-tailed Drake, Winter Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

 

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Rare Snow Buntings of Late December, by Angela Previte

 

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Snowy Owl 2016 by Angela Previte

 

Rarities arrive, of course, at Island Beach, because it has been preserved.  Support your local, state and national land trusts, so that wild nature can thrive in our time.

 

Island Beach’s ten miles were to have been developed, as you’ve learned from me before.  The Great Depression put a stop to almost all building.  Magnificence remains at every turn.

 

Mostly (until recent brutal trail maintenance on Reed’s and other roads and trails  — this will be a blog unto itself later), the State Park’s trees, shrubs and grasses have not been pruned, –save by wind, sand and storm.

 

Rare birds coast overhead; court and build nests; dive through waves of ocean and bay; madly fish — especially Northern gannets, who create geysers as they plunge.  Most amazingly, merlins and swallows play exuberantly during Nor’easters — going as northeast as they can into the very teeth of the gale.

Wind has other effects.  See its creative partnership with remarkable compass grass:

 

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Compass Grass Does its Thing in Strong Northwest Wind

Even the weeds turn into artists in the hands of the wind:

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“Artist-in-Residence” – Compass Grass on the Oceanside, Island Beach, New Year’s Morning

The sea itself has been busy sculpting — all we need is a sphinx:

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Sea As Sculptor, New Year’s Eve Morning, Island Beach

 

This day I shared this beach with dear friends, Angela and Bob Previte.  You know her fine art, stunning portraits of New Jersey’s winged miracles, from her own blog, “Simple Life at the Shore.”  (Which see!  Which FOLLOW!)  Delightful hours have been spent with her, with them, in recent months, in the park that serves their back yard.

 

We hiked merrily for hours, though they were concerned about Peroneus.  Angela had witnessed its giving out after a particular steep trek in summertime, [see green dunescape above.]  Even so, at Trail 7A, we skimmed along the boardwalk; trudged dutifully through the softest sand, –arriving in a particular ecstasy upon firmness created by winter’s high tide .

 

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First Day of the New Year in Stunning, Impeccable New Jersey

 

We were not the only ones on the sands, this day.  Everyone we meet was simply blissed out by the perfection that we shared. We’d congratulate one another on knowing what to do with a New Year’s Day.

EXCEPTION!

All except the woman  walking boldly and illegally atop a dune.  This person asserted to Angela that she was not doing exactly what she was even then doing.  I’ve experienced many forms of denial in my life, but this was egregious.  We tried to beckon the transgressor away from making those deeply destructive footprints, to no avail.

 

I’m in don’t-mess-with-me mode, in my OUTRAGEOUS! year.  So I called over to her — “You are breaking the fine roots essential to the grasses that hold these dunes in place!”  She moved defiantly onward…

 

But, everyone else, I would describe as almost reverent this day.

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Fellowship and Solitude, Walking South along Island Beach Sands

Our own fellowship today was profound.  It will be repeated, –“take often as needed.”  Maybe I should thank Peroneus for Brandon’s prescription…

 

In the Year 2000, a great love was granted me along these unspoilt sands.  The picture below seems to represent the mighty ocean in whisper mode, hinting of secrets…

 

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Atlantic Whispers, Island Beach, January 1, 2017

SOLSTICE RITUALS: Poem in “Cool Women,” Volume II

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Alert Fox, by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

SOLSTICE RITUALS

 

the fox began it

that long-legged adolescent

who appeared to my song

in the time of beach plums

and first frosts

 

but now it is snowing

and the ruddy one

curves – half cat, half pup –

about my calves to tug me

to the cave

 

its floor’s fur-lined

warmth like flames

reflecting on his pelt,

those snappy eyes,

the glistening nose

 

his long lush tail

curls across my eyes

as I recline

to puzzle at the rustle

of arrival

 

I kneel, then sit back on my heels

to face you as the gods

have always planned

the fox twines ’round your hips

stares with sweet command

into my startled gaze

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

January 2000

Cool Women, Volume II

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Fox Gaze by Brenda Jones, Fine Art Photographer

MISSING FRANCE: Rain Ride, May Poem

Many times, a poem will start itself at the most inconvenient time, in the most inconvenient place.  Such as this one, in a fizzly downpour, between Pennington and Hopewell.  No way to pull over and capture it, and no pen and paper anyway.  And not until I returned home and began to type did I have any idea where this poem was going.  To France, no less:

Images from the Internet will give you a sense of what was happening to me, on my country ride.  Trying to get over a country is like trying to get over a love — it crops up when and where you least expect it.  And there’s no escaping the breath-stopping power of memory.

lavender fields forever France from Internet jpg

Lavender Fields Forever, France, from Internet

RAIN RIDE, MAY

 

new white blossoms

against the old red barn

 

lilacs turning

before my very eyes

from smoked purple

to lavender itself

 

distant headlights

above the drenched macadam

become lighthouses

crowning any one of Brittany’s

rock-hewn coasts

 

flowers of claret

outline the newest barn

–white, imposing as Mt. Blanc

 

I see I have become

depaysee encore

–uncountried yet again

 

driving thin wet roads

of old New Jersey

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

May 2016

Breton Light at Night From Internet

Light of a Breton Light, France, from Internet

lighthouse Breton Coast, France from Internetl

Guarding the Rockbound Breton Coast, from Internet

Abbey in lavender fields South of France from Internet

Abbey, Senanque?, in Lavender Bounty, South of France, from Internet

 

Mont Blanc Image from Internet

Mount Blanc from the Plane, from Internet

I suppose, if you really want to get over a country, as [when you really want to get over a love], it’s best not to spend every sit-down meal at home surrounded by books such as La Cuisine Provencale par Gui Gedda; Bonnard et Le Cannet (the next hill over from ‘mine’ in Cannes’, by Bonnard’s nephew, Midhel Terrase; Provence the Beautiful Cookbook and Taste of France by Robert Freson.

Face it, Caroline (my French name, sung out by the merry mailman of Cannes), you are hopeless!

 

Christmas Fable: Star-Guided

When I lived in New Hope, for some reason, my Muse insisted that we write fables.  Here is one of the earliest, which has to do with the Christmas Season.  May it bring delight and blessings:

STAR-GUIDED

We are striding Bethlehem’s dark streets with curious urgency. We know where we are headed, although none has been to Bethlehem-of-Judea before this electric night. All is eerily still, the entire town asleep save for our small band of travelers.   The streets here are like mazes.   They are rough underfoot.

I walk gingerly, afraid of turning an ankle in our haste. My tall daughter, Catherine, strides beside me. Each of us is impeded by a long light traveling dress and thicker cloak, which stir up street dust as we go. Upon our feet are leathern slippers too fragile for such journeying. Her companion, the knight, Galen, is safe enough, encased as he is in bright armor. Merlin shuffles, as always. His robes, as are his habit, are askew. His hair is all-a-tumble. Every so often, his starred cap tumbles off, and he scurries back through the dark dust to retrieve it. Merlin, mercifully, carries a pole with a swinging lantern. Its fat yellowed candle casts pools of honeyed light before our feet. When he is not chasing his hat, the Merlin cheerfully leads our procession.

The dwellings, what I can see of them, seem sculpted of clay. They have a pink-grey cast by lamplight. The moon this night is somehow obscured. There are a few stars, which deepen our shadows, purple against the sand-hued roads.

We are responding to an unfamiliar star. Either because it is lower or simply brighter than the rest, it seems to be playing a game with us. If we start to take a turn that is not right, that star flutters and dims.   When we turn in the correct direction, the star grows steadier, more intense.

In this way, we find ourselves at a nondescript hostelry. Jarring sounds of revelry spill into its courtyard, startling after all the silence of the town. Out in back, where Merlin leads us almost stealthily, quiet reigns. In this dusky quarter, I am increasingly grateful for his lantern.

The Wizard lifts his light on high, revealing a small outbuilding. In its dim interior, I can just make out the form of a very young woman, seated next to a low wooden container lined with straw. From the center of that straw emanates a mysterious glow, soft as candlelight but much steadier.

I realize Whom and what we have been seeking. My knees are trembling. All of my being is drawn to that hushed glow.

I am startled by the young Mother’s youth. She is not much in years beyond my tall teen-aged Catherine. Petite, slender, the woman of Judea looks too frail and much too inexperienced to be anyone’s mother. Let alone…!

Behind her, nearly hidden in shadow, is the man who must be her husband. He looks more like a kindly uncle. “Joseph,” I think, “seems a bit confused. More like Merlin’s usual mode. Merlin, on the contrary, tonight is clear as bells.”

Joseph seems a good deal older than Mary. It may be just the differences, — in background, in training. He is fulfilling his role as guardian. Yet he is not of her milieu. Most of what has been happening to him in recent months must have been baffling. Nonetheless, as we all must do, the man trusts and serves. I feel deep empathy for all that lies before him.

And I am awash in compassion for Mary. Perhaps because of Merlin’s presence, I can read this girl’s emotions. I never before suspected her profound loneliness.   Her cross is not only that she has born this wondrous Child only to lose Him. Her cross is that she must carry out all to which she has agreed, isolated from all who understand. All those who had taught, those who could reassure, are far, far from this stableyard.

Although the Flight unto Egypt has always before seemed a terrible ordeal for parents and child, I now see it as blessing. Once there, she will discover for a few years, those who know the full story of this rare family and its many destinations. Yet on this night, and throughout so many of her recent years, with the exception of one small mentor in the Temple, Mary has been in exile.

The Child lies sleeping on golden hay, meant to nourish creatures of the Inn’s farmyard. The very grasses emit rays.

We are all drawn to our knees, as much by Mary’s courage and serene obedience, as by the Presence of the Babe. The gleam of Merlin’s lantern flitters across the Baby’s eyes, waking Him. He blinks and an almost-smile plays across the Infant features, as light rays play like rainbows across the tiny face. He waves tiny hands as though to catch the Wizard’s glimmers.

Joseph rouses himself, suddenly aware that they have visitors. Drowsily he waves a greeting, then retires to the darkest corner of the stable. It is as though, with us among them, that tired traveler can rest. He has endured so much, without understanding, without complaint.   Joseph’s role is merely to love and to protect. It is enough. The man’s legs now, literally, give out beneath him. He settles onto straw bales for his sleep.

My eyes, accustomed now to gloom, become aware of cattle. Nestled behind a barrier of wood, their breath steams in the night air.   These cows have huge bittersweet eyes, that seem to widen as the Baby moves His tiny hands. Their skin is the hue of milk chocolate. There are smaller creatures here with us – sheep, and delicate, silky goats. I don’t remember goats at that Stable, but here they are – dainty, with long hair and perky faces, hooves like the dancing princesses, like the ones who prance through meadows above Zermatt. The goat’s eyes are cinder-bright. Their cloaks gleam in the lanternlight and Infant-glow. I feel warmed by the gaze, the breath, the presence of the barnyard creatures. About our feet are hens, too, scratching at straws, searching diligently as close as they can be to the Child.

Outside, somehow, the skies grow brighter. It becomes increasingly easy to see.

Merlin rises and approaches the child/woman who guards the rough manger. He fumbles in that voluminous wiry beard. “I know it was here when I came!,” he growls, in his absent way. “Sorry, Madame, it won’t be but a moment.” Then the old man pulls out one of the tiniest living creatures I have ever seen.   A miniscule saw-whet owl, it is not so big as one of Mary’s hands, folded in her slender lap. The tall Wizard bends, cupping the owl in both gnarled palms. The creature snuggles daintily onto Mary’s right shoulder, nuzzling into her corn-silk hair. Mary looks obviously enchanted with Merlin’s gift.   As she claps her hands with delight, we are all aware of her own nearness to childhood.

Galen next moves. In his silvery armor, helmet in the crook of his left arm, the boy kneels, formal as he would have been in the Initiation ceremonies. The plume of his hat dances, catching the Baby’s dark eyes. It is then that light from Merlin’s lantern falls upon the gilt cross on Galen’s silvery breast. The Babe is riveted to that image, reaching out, then still. All time stops.

Galen breaks the spell with his mellifluous voice: “Crystals I bring,” says the lad. He lays bright offerings into Mary’s slender hands with a caressing gesture. I am reminded of a game we played as boys and girls – “Button-Button.” Then, prayer-shaped hands cradled a button secretly into someone’s matching hands.   Everyone then was to guess whose hands held the gift.

“These crystals are for you, Maria,” Galen explains, slipping into her Latin name, as though from long familiarity. “Hold them,” he instructs. “Bring the Light with them, to warm, to comfort, the Babe, yourself. You will be needing them upon your journey. For the duration of your time in this place, lay them in His cradle as He lies.”

Mary lifts up first one angled crystal, then another, turning them this way and that, in starlight, in lamplight. She runs attuned fingers over every facet, studies all the power dancing in their depths.   Mary reaches out her right hand, — crystals and all –, touching Galen, light as a kiss, on each cheek.

It is my daughter’s turn.   In her soft dress and flowing cloak, my daughter has a new queenliness I had not before acknowledged. She towers over the young Mother. Catherine’s towhead tresses seem to glow, against the darker gold of Mary’s hair. As Catherine leans over the Baby, taking one of His tiny hands into her own, her long hair brushes His little face. Something like a smile flitters over Him, as though it tickled, and there is a sound, very like new laughter.

Suddenly, in the icy stillness of that Bethlehem night, Catherine lifts her voice in song. We are startled, all of us, by the pure notes in the clear cold air. The songs sound ancient – Medieval, I would guess, or Welsh. Starlight skitters among us, and I think of music of the spheres.   I realize, my daughter is singing the first Christmas Carols.

The Infant turns, then, from Catherine to the rest of us. His eyes are not only dark, but also golden. The only name for that color is “toffee”, for that includes their uncanny softness. I watch the Child watch us. He knows who we are. He has expected us. Through His awareness, I realize that we fill the role of cosmic “Magi”, Merlin above all, first visitors to honor this rare King, until the other Kings arrive.   They will be accompanied by very earthy camels, guided by their own heavenly voices and specialized stars.

Through those gilded eyes, I see the Baby’s emotions, as I could his Mother’s. There is something familiar yet unknown in those bronze depths.   The only name I can give for this is shock. So must we all have looked, first opening to Earth Plane, realizing our choices, recognizing companions…

Peace floods the stable.   We bask in unconditional love.   Then the Child, once again, sights the cross on Galen’s armor. The newborn hands open. Where light rays had poured, when he’d reached up to play with Catherine’s bright hair, now there are shadows. I recognize those shadows – somewhere between bruise and blood.   Stigmata. I turn at once toward Mary. Her sweet eyes are riveted upon those hands.

I have not given a gift.   My own hands have been seriously emptied by life, by the times. I rise, then, move instinctively to Mary. I embrace her girlish shoulders, as I would any new mother. “How wonderful you are!,” I murmur. “How brave! Such a beautiful Son!” All the phrases women have said to each other at such moments from the dawn of language, we exchange. At the end, I add, “I wish you joy.”

She looks up with a plea I fully hear.

“You are weary, Mary.   It is time for your rest. You cannot keep vigil all night, every night, alone. He is safe here, safe with us. Go. Go over to your Joseph.   Sleep. We will watch the night with your precious Boy.”

She looks hesitantly from one of us to the other, as if to gain permission. All of us are nodding in permission, the stately Merlin above all.   He retrieves Strigi, the little saw-whet owl, and actually shoos Mary over toward the corner. She looks back at her Little One, still not sure. He stirs, restlessly.

I reach down, lift up the Child, cradling him easily upon one hip. It all comes back. The awkwardness I knew with my own firstborn, this surety now. How grateful I had been , in those long-ago days, for practiced arms, arms that were sure and even relaxed around my daughters. The Baby senses my ease, curling naturally against my side. Mary looks relieved and moves, indeed, toward Joseph. My second-born rises and removes her periwinkle-blue cloak.

“Mary,” Catherine urges, “here. Please cover yourself with this.   And sleep. Deeply and well. Dream of all the joys you will have, He and you together.” Mary smiles up at my daughter, accepting the soft warmth.   She lifts her right hand in a good-night gesture, revealing the sparks of Galen’s crystals.

I settle the Infant lightly into the crook of my left arm. He curls a tiny hand naturally, instinctively, around my forefinger. He is rest itself. A soft light radiates from the small body, merging with the light of Merlin’s lantern and the spill of stars. In hushed tones, Catherine and Galen begin to sing lullabyes.

Dawn light comes all too soon. Outside, in rustling trees that sound like palms, birds I do not know begin to call to one another. In the inn courtyard, there is the jangle and clatter of first departing travelers. We overhear inquiring voices, simple country accents. These will be the shepherds, asking as they have been led to ask.

Skies overhead fill with angels, glorias. Our vigil is rapidly ending.

Catherine and Galen move swiftly, tenderly to the sleeping Family. They urge the young parents to rise, help them smooth and brush their clothing. Merlin provides water in a generous metal dipper. Mary gracefully removes my daughter’s travel cloak, clasping it about Catherine’s lofty neck. “Thank you,” Mary whispers.   “I shall never forget your songs, your cloak. There will come a time when you may require the same of me. Call upon me. Remember…”

I settle the Babe into His Mother’s eager arms. Her look of joy wars with full realization, of all that has been foretold. Mary presses her cheek against my own, nodding in silent gratitude. She resumes her post. Joseph stands sturdily behind her, one hand on the staff which helped to bring them to this haven. The Baby nuzzles, urgently, begins to nurse.

There is the rustle of straw as shepherds kneel.

With Merlin in the lead, we all fade into, then out of the stable shadows. I give the silken goats a lingering caress as we depart.