“STAR-GUIDED” – a Christmas Fable

Long ago, when I lived in New Hope, this story came to me as a dream.  I typed it (no computers yet), hoping someday to publish it, among a series of Transition Tales.  Life overtook me in one way and another, so that dream has not (yet) been realized.  On this Solstice Night, the night of the return of the light, the beginning of the season of miracles, I give you my “Star-Guided”, wrapped in starlight and stardust.  (In those days, my splendid Himalayan cat was “Stardance.”) May this story make your hearts dance.

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.

n 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…!

hind 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.

h 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.

 

Advertisements

Christmas Arrives in Unexpected Settings

 Waterville Valley Vistas

When one has a difficult mother,  it can become essential to distance one’s self and  family, particularly at the time of significant holidays.  If one has a courageous husband, he may announce, as the parental car pulled out of our Princeton driveway after a particularly grueling visit, “That’s it.  We are not letting her ruin another Christmas.  We are going skiing at Waterville.”

My husband, Werner Oscar Joseph Edelmann (for full effect say with German accent) was 100% Swiss.  Although he had not grown up skiing, we took it up as a family, the year we moved to Princeton – 1968.  Shore friends, sitting on their dune-cushioned deck, insisted that our families learn together.  It was August and steamy.  Winter?  WHAT Winter.  We said yes.

I secretly hoped some disaster, like a broken leg, or death, would intervene before that crucial February challenge.  None did.  So we all began to learn to ski.  The girls were in kindergarten and first grade.  At Killington, they looked like bunnies in their fuzzy snowsuits and fat mittens, among a gaggle of other little beginners, huddled at the base of ‘the bunny slope.’

They, being half Swiss, did not remain beginners very long.  In the year of our deliverance from my mother, they were teens who preferred ‘bombing the black lines’   – the expert slopes.  Especially “Oblivion” in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.  The White Mountains were Werner’s choice for our runaway Christmas, because their ski school and an authentic Swiss lodge were run by Paul Pfosi.  All Paul’s instructors were Swiss.  Extremely demanding.  “Ski marks on the inside of your ski boots” to prove you had your legs close enough together.  Off-slope, they all delighted to converse in their native (unwritten) language with this tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed very determined American skier.  Stein Eriksen in those years was our hero, our model.

stein_eriksen

No one would mistake us for Stein, but his example formed Pfosi’s Instructor Corps.

Anita Kathriner and Raphael Wyss make Alpkase, Mutschli and butter by hand in the traditional manner in a giant copper kettle over a wood burning fire at their cheese-making hut above Wengen, Switzerland

Swiss Copper Cheese Kettle in situ

Pfosi’s Lodge held the huge copper kettles we’d first seen in Emmenthaler, in which magnificent Swiss cheeses were precisely concocted.  Only Pfosi’s kettles overflowed with silky evergreen boughs from nearby endless forests.  Swiss Christmas music, such as relatives had carefully sent to Diane and Catherine over the years, pealed from hidden speakers.  Conditions were ideal on the slopes, and for any number of days we almost forgot it was Christmas.  But not quite.

Our family, over the years, had no experience of that Holiday beyond our own formal tree and hand-made-ornament tree, one by the living room fireplace, one by the family room’s slate hearth.  Heaven to us was a fire in each room, the three of us in long plaid skirts and white lace blouses, playing our guitars and caroling for Werner in the family room.  There’d always been the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and caroling in the neighborhood near Princeton’s Snowden Lane.  Could Christmas find us in New Hampshire?

There was a tiny church in the village below the lodge.  It felt very odd to go to church in ski clothes and apres-ski boots.  Instead of a jungle of poinsettias in the Princeton church, but two tiny ones ‘decked’ this austere altar.  Instead of instruments sustaining voices back home, a motley choir with cracking voices sang in a small wooden balcony high overhead.  But it was Midnight Mass, and it did hold all the magic we needed.  And the quivering voices underscored a somehow more memaningful reality.

We drove back up the mountain, past the restaurant where we’d had Christmas Eve Supper.  We’d sat next to a live birch tree, somehow able to live and thrive indoors, reaching for the midnight sky.  Between dinner and church, we’d been astounded by stars beyond counting, which seemed nearly blinding.  But between church and the lodge, no stars.  Instead, white swirls, glistening to be sure, of new snowflakes — no more welcome blessing in ski country at Christmas.

Swiss Santa in Boat

Back in our rooms — it must have been near 2 a.m. by now — we found dark Swiss chocolates wrapped in bright gold foil upon our pillows,.  Pfosi’s had signed lacy old-fashioned Christmas cards with gilt arabesques, such as those which arrived every year from Tante Li, Onkel Joni, Cousin Vera and the rest of the family in and near St. Gallen.  I cannot spell their Christmas message, but we all knew how to say it in Swiss — it sounded like FRO-LIKKA-VIE-NOCKTEN.  One said this with certain notes in our voices which the girls had heard since babyhood..

Frohlichi Wiehnacht Swiss Christmas Card

Diane’s and Catherine’s room was right across the narrow hall from ours.  They burst in, laughing all over.  “Come Quick!  Come Quick!  Carolers!”

We “thrust open the windows, threw up the sash” onto a scene I will never forget.  Snow circled, enfolding us as though we had been transported into the Milky Way. itself, Horses snorted and their visible breath mingled with the flakes.  Yes, sleigh bells jingled.  Tucked into hay in an old fashioned sleigh were male and female carolers, dressed as we had been for Mass, in ski parkas and ski mitts and knit hats.  These voices sounded like tiny silver chimes, like bells, rising into the heavens in celebration.

And we’d thought Christmas was only in our family room…

It wasn’t every Christmas morning that opened on a trail named “Oblivion”!

The Mountain, Waterville Valley

May each of you find your special holiday exactly as you need it this year — and may its real message of Peace on Earth, Good Will, suffuse our entire planet.

Here is an ad from the 1970’s, when we were there:

ski watervi w va NEW HAMPSHIRE PFOSI S LODGE Willkommen! Paul Pfosi, Director of the Waterville Valley Ski School, invites you to enjoy the Swiss-American hospitality of Pfosi’s Lodge. Alodge unique in every way combining old world charm with the most modern American accommodations and conveniences; …

The future would bring Christmas in other realms:

Aspen skiing scene,jpg

In Aspen, we could ski through forests.

In Zermatt, the Materhorn always tantalized:

Zermatt Materhorn from Internet

 

But the slopes held the magic:

 

Swiss skier from Internet

BUT NOTHING EVER TOPPED CAROLERS IN THE HORSE-DRAWN SLEIGH OUTSIDE THE OPEN WINDOWS OF PFOSI’S LODGE OF WATERVILLE.

BORDENTOWN CHRISTMAS: Gifts Beyond Measure!

I am lucky to have friends who are willing to go on quests with me.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that most of our pilgrimages have to do with nature in general and birds in particular.  Others require history.  Many involve food.  This is a jaunt with superb poet Betty Lies, friend-of-long-standing and co-founder of Princeton’s Cool Women Poets.  We needed Christmas one year, and Bordentown unexpectedly provided it, ‘in spades’   Saunter with us…  through this town of great significance, always too little appreciated in our time!

Little Engine That Could Bordentown 09

The Caboose was always my favorite part of real trains.  There was frequently a trainman in that car who waved to me, as though he’d been waiting all day for that very moment…

Trains had a great deal to do with childhood Christmas in Michigan.  One year, Santa brought me an intricate Lionel train set, even though there were only daughters in our family.  Each year after that, it circled and tooted merrily under the tree.  I had forgotten that…  regret that we did not weave that in as I raised my own daughters.

All Aboard Bordentown 09

ALL ABOARD!

Joys of Bordentown 09

In Bordentown, it’s as though the village itself is wrapped for the Holiday.

Bon Appetit Farnsworth House Bordentown

Our Favorite Place to Eat — Old-World and Leisurely

 

Bordentown Facade 09

In Bordentown, Always Look Up — The Past is Waiting

 

Beauty of Emptiness Tree Shadows Bordentown 09

Beauty of Emptiness, Bordentown Streetcorner

 

Jester's Cafe Bordentown 09

Jester’s — Home of the Hearty Welcome

Bordentown Mural wide viewHistoric Mural of Strategic Bordentown – site of lost Revolutionary Battle, Thomas Paine’s only bought property, superbly venerable Quaker Meeting House, home of America’s first sculptress, Clara Barton’s schoolhouse, and both Joseph and Charles Lucien Bonaparte – sent to Point Breeze for its magnificent ‘aspect’ over the Delaware, by Napoleon himself.

 

Borden's Towne

PILLAGED AND BURNED BY THE BRITISH IN 1778

 

Bordentown Historical SocietyLIVING HISTORY

 

Baubles of YesteryearBAUBLES OF YESTERYEAR

 

Clara Barton's first schoolCLARA BARTON’S FIRST SCHOOL

 

Frances and Joseph Hopkinson HouseFRANCIS AND JOSEPH HOPKINSON HOUSE:

“Revolutionary Patriot, Signer, Member of Congress, Scientist, Artist, Scholar, Statesman, ‘Hail Columbia’,” etc.: LIVING HISTORY

IMG_1273SITE OF THE RIVER LINE TRAIN – FREE BEAUTIFUL RIVERSIDE PARKING FOR ALL-DAY JAUNTS – through Marsh to Trenton or down to Roebling, Burlington, Riverton, Riverside, Camden and even Walt Whitman House and Aquarium…

Bordentown Peach Mousse IrisAnd, Most Ethereal of All Bordentown’s Gifts: Mother’s Day Festival of the Most Exquisite Iris Ever Anywhere!

Lumberville (PA) General Store — Unique, Even Outstanding Foods and Welcome

http://thelumbervillegeneralstore.com/ [sign up for notices of SPECIAL events…]

 

Feast by the Fire Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017

One of Winter’s Welcoming Fireplaces, Lumberville General Store, PA

How can one be homesick for a place that is not home?  Or actively miss a place, when one is there every few weeks?  This has been my fate since I ‘met’ the renovated Lumberville General Store, on ‘The River Road’ above New Hope.  This emporium of excellence has been eincarnated by brilliant Laura Thompson, aesthetic genius behind the Black Bass Inn across the road.

***

Black Bass Inn Lumberville PA Jan. 2017

Bass Inn, Venerable ‘Parent’ Establishment Across Route 32

***

A Florida friend and I had set out for Bucks County with Christmas presents for one another in hand,  planning for breakfast at a traditional Lamberville morning restaurant.  Now that she lives in the South, time together needs to be timeless and quiet.  Our destination, that morning, turned out to be rambunctious and raucous, with a line out the door into December’s gelid air.  “We’re not doing this,” I announced.  “I’ve read about new chefs at the Lumberville General Store.  Let’s give it a try.”

Ice Floes on River Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017

Ice Floes Race Down the Delaware River, Out Lumberville General Store Windows

***

Lantern Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017

Welcoming Lantern on the Mantel

***

Pheasant Feather Array Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017Window Decor, Lumberville General Store Haven

***

 

Fireplace Tile Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017

Fireplace Tile, Lumberville General Store

***

 

Fireplace Gloves ready for Christmas Lumberville General Store Jan. 2017

Even the Fire-Tending Gloves are Decorative!

***

 

Scotch Woodcock, Sage and Ginger Sausage, Hash Browns Lumberville General Store

Scotch Woodcock (home-smoked salmon), gossamer eggs, cloud-like roll, home-fashioned-and-smoked sausage with ginger and sage — and the most ethereal (so-called) hash-browned potatoes of our lives — [Chef Anton’s secret being pre-preparation inspired by The French Laundry] — an hour and a  half  sous-vide… and, o, yes, “We finish them in butter.  Everything’s better in butter.”

***

One chooses a room, a table, a fireplace.  One picks up a handy compact clipboarded menu in the main room of the General Store.  One agonizes between their own bacon, quiche with crust that levitates, scrambled eggs in the form of the omelets of France, triple-berry or cheese scones, hearty breakfast biscuit, and the like.  I cannot count the number of friends I have taken there or met there.  All are astounded — even at lunch.  This attention to detail, to sources (“We’re between Manhattan and Philly — purveyors are glad to serve us.”) I seem to remember Anton’s delight in the storied Viking fisheries of LBI for salmon and other fish; and local eggs whose provenance resembles that of works of art.  Their legendary soups are also available frozen to take home, as are those remarkable quiches.  Tall sturdy glass bottles with metal and porcelain stoppers hold (free) refrigerated water for your table, by whatever fireside, or outside, setting you may choose.

While Amy and Charlie and Anton banter with you behind the counter, you can create mixed coffee concoctions to meet your morning needs.  Everyone’s pride in his and her work is palpable.  Their delight in one’s presence is as though you’re guests and they’re cherished hosts in the warmest of homes.

We’ve done any number of Christmas and birthday rituals, wrapped in timelessness that is not the norm in this dire century.  There have been celebration of having recovered visits and even sympathy returns.  Hale or not, merry or sad, by the fire, or with backyard breezes wafting in as guests feast at the sturdy outdoor tables — in this historic setting, one feels blessed.  As well as gastronomically enchanted.

Black Bass Inn Plaques Lumberville PA Jan. 2017

***

And afterwards, in most weather (once, even in black ice — a short jaunt), one can walk the foot(e)bridge across my beloved Delaware and its Pennsylvania canal, to Bull’s Island in New Jersey.  There’s even a successful eagle nest visible when trees are less leafed out, one mile below the New Jersey entry to Bull’s Island.  This hefty structure crowns a massive sycamore, almost on the river.  And another eagle nest may be found on the power tower near the Lambertville toll bridge — whose three young fledged on the Fourth of July weekend!  For a long time, the Homestead Farm Market on the Lambertville hill had its scope trained on the nest where these hefty young were “branching” — testing their wings.

***

Canal Towpath Delaware River Jan. 2017

Canal and Towpath, Pennsylvania Side

***

January Delaware and Canal from Footbridge 2017

Canal and River Alongside/Below Black Bass Inn

***

 

Pennsylvania Canal Towpath and Delaware River

Winter Canal, “Down By the Riverside…”

NJWILDBEAUTY readers well recognize that this haven, which extends far beyond a mere restaurant, constellates most of my passions:   beauty, history, authenticity, gastronomy, and Nature herself — especially my cherished Delaware River.

Places such as Riverton and Burlington NJ, and Perkasie and Sellersville, PA, remind us, along with Lumberville:  Without preservation, we would have little or none of the experiences and photographs on this ‘page.’

This canal was connected to our D&R Canal by an aqueduct at nearby Raven Rock.  Much of New Jersey was settled, in the canal era, beside canal towns.  Before that, the Delaware was the main artery.  Lumberville was named for the trees harvested there and floated down the river to build Pennsylvania and New Jersey in those centuries.  It is a miracle that not only beauty, but even artifacts of those time, let alone buildings, remain.

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I celebrate living in the Delaware Valley, because it is so easy to get to beauty and wildness, and HISTORY, within an hour’s drive or less!  It wasn’t like this in Michigan, which became a state in 1837…  Open your eyes and your tastebuds newly to our surroundings.  Give yourselves these memorable gifts.

***

From their web-site — you see, yet another passion, art in general and Delaware Valley Impressionism in particular…

HISTORY

As you can see from the original date stone on the front of the store, our beautiful building has stood on River Road since 1770. Over the years – with ownership passing from local family to local family – the General Store has always honored the same fundamental tradition: providing a place for the community to congregate. While our visitors may not be relying on us for their weekly groceries these days, we’re proud to still maintain the cozy, communal feel that has defined our store’s history.

PAST

This once-sleepy area alongside the Delaware River steadily developed over the course of the late eighteenth century, and with it, the General Store. In 1775, Revolutionary War hero Colonel George Wall, Jr. acquired the land and began personally overseeing the store. He also (modestly) renamed the area “Walls Landing” and created two lumber mills, a grist mill, and a surveying school. By 1825, the store started to serve a dual purpose as the post office of the newly renamed “Lumberville” – a moniker chosen by Jonathan Heed and Samuel Hartley in response to the successful saw mill operations. As the eighteenth century turned into the nineteenth, the General Store exchanged hands between the Livezey family and the Heed family.

Over time, Lumberville became a bucolic haven for artists, such as Martin Johnson Heade, who was originally a “Heed” before leaving for Europe to study painting. His romantic landscapes experienced a resurgence in popularity the 1940s, with pieces selling for up to $1,000,000. When the daughter of his nephew, Elsie Housely, became the owner of the General Store in 1939, she ensured Heade’s continued recognition after disassembling his sketchbook and selling the pages to eager dealers and collectors. The store remained in her capable hands until 1973, when the ownership changed again.

 

LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE – “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

Provence used to be Italian.  Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s.  One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.

I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes.  I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere.    I went strolling all along La Croisette. 

 

aerial-view-boulevard-croisette-cannes-french-riviera

Aerial View, La Croisette Boulevard, Cannes, Provence, France

 

If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night.   And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there .  I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera,  — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.

 

paul-newman-joanne-woodward-image

Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Image from Internet

 

That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound.  I stopped and looked around.  The sound stopped.  I set out again.  So did the sound.  It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.

Nobody else walks fast.  They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”.  It means “to stroll.”    We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan.  But that’s another story.

 

not-strolling-image

Not Strolling, but a good American clip — and definitely not on La Croisette

 

Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing.  None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket.  And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.

 

french-marketplace

French Marketplace Scene — See, Even Here, They Emphasize Sitting, Relaxing, Doing NOTHING!

 

I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’  stirring Traitor to His Class.  Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin.  This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it.  Sheer luxury.

 

traitor-to-his-class-fdr-book-cover-image

Traitor to His Class, H. W. Brands

 

In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now.  In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.”  Imagine..  But that’s another story.

 

capra-d-day-image-june-6-1944-normandy

Frank Capra’s Iconic D-Day Image – June 6, 1944, Normandy, France — A Day That Will Life in … HONOR

 

On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls.  I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible.  I certainly am not going near Facebook.

I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.

At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet.  I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun.  I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.

 

23-juniper-upstairs-realities-june-2105-007

Ice Cream Chair, Tiny Patio, in another season                                                                       Cups in Plants Courtesy of Sociopathic Upstairs Neighbors…  But that’s another story…

The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.

There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.

A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed.  Not even they are murmuring.  But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish.  If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.

68027fa34f46da1edad6a11bbbcdc846

Goldfinches on Thistle Sock (Breeding Plumage)

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not Easter.

It’s Christmas Day.

for-unto-us-a-son-is-given

For Unto Us A Son Is Given

Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.

polar-ice-caps-melt

MELTING – 21st Century Reality

I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet.  Not today.

burning-planet

21st-Century Reality – Does No One Care but Bill McKibben?

 

Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.

 

boulevard-de-la-croisette-sign

Along the Boulevard

 

Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude.  Worth knowing…  One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.

 

la-croisette-old-fashioned-picture

Flaneurs Along La Croisette in Earlier Times

 

Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.

DELAWARE RIVERKEEPER: “Environmental Protection is Not a Partisan Issue”

 

 

Delaware, the River, and the Official Riverkeeper — Tale of Christmas and Courage

washington-crossing-delaware-image-from-internet-2cuff0553b

Washington Crossing the Delaware to Trenton, from Internet, by Leutze

Christmas is a time for every citizen in our country and everywhere, to remember:

without the Delaware River, there wouldn’t BE an America. 

This post celebrates a mightily courageous woman — Maya von Rossum — the official Delaware Riverkeeper.  She’s articulate, accurate, and brilliant.  Following her blog, or attending to local news media night after night, readers marvel at Maya’s steady focus on the many perils of our boundary water, and what must be done to reverse them.  Some situations are obvious and seemingly internal: like pollution, stormwater run-off, animal wastes and fertilizer poisoning by nearby farms.  One, which I fought to prevent, is artificially emptying her to cool a nuclear power plant.  Other dangers are less visible, certainly far more difficult to describe — matters political.  Listen with me to our spokeswoman, what she has to say about our river, our country, our freedom in these times.  AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING OUT. 

Thomas Paine exemplified the utmost daring and determination in his diatribes, polemics, books and pamphlets in the time of the American Revolution.  It is the essence of the country our Founding Fathers dared all to create, that vox populi  — the Citizen’s Voice — is to be encouraged and heeded so that liberty may truly exist. 

Thomas Jefferson felt the war could never have been won without Paine’s words.  It is no accident that his most famous book is Common Sense.

NJWILDBEAUTY long-time readers, –especially those who came aboard when this was a Packet Publications Blog, NJWILD –, know that I’ve been fighting for the well-being of our magnificent Delaware River since I moved to New Hope from Princeton in March of 1981.   I used postcards of the painting above to announce my change of address.

baldpate-mountain-view-brenda-jones

Delaware River From Baldpate Mountain by Brenda Jones

That essential move across the river plunged me right into her perils.  Forces of greed, (though we did not bandy about that phrase in those days), a.k.a. PECO (Pennsylvania’s PSEG) and chemical firms, lawyers and judges, far-seeing realtors wanted to insert a pump into the Delaware.  To remove unconscionable amounts from this already too-thin river, and pump them to the Susquehanna River, where Del’s water would be used to cool a nuclear power plant.  A fierce protest group, Del-AWARE formed.  A newspaper was generated.  The printed word, the spoken word, and especially the televised word brought us national coverage in our battle for the river.

Our strategy meetings were held at a rather disreputable tavern, [Applejack’s – is it still there?] –appropriately upriver, on the river, above New Hope.  Remember that taverns were the meeting sites in the 1770s, where our seemingly impossible American Revolution unfolded.  I always picture early patriots, including Tom and John and George and Ben at Philadelphia’s City Tavern, banging pewter tankards on rough wooden tables, asserting “Give me LIBERTY or give me DEATH!”

In the 1980’s, near Lumberville, PA, just north of New Hope, my own friends, — women, including nursing mothers and venerable grandmothers–, lay down in front of the bulldozers set loose to ruin the river environmentlay down to save the river, and were jailed at what is now the Michener Museum.  For some reason, no one at that Bucks County penal institution seemed to have heard of the writ of habeas corpus, so those women were jailed for the entire weekend!  Patriots, indeed!  I think of this every time I view Delaware River Impressionists honored on the Michener’s former prison walls.

flood-waters-brenda-jones

Delaware in Flood, by Brenda Jones

I love our river even more than I cherish our state.  But I couldn’t lie down in front of bulldozers.  However, I could write.  I penned poems such as “I am The River Speaking” and “To Val (Sigstedt) and the Valorous” to be published in the DEL-AWARE newspaper.  One, written when the forces of greed blasted the river during the shad run, [and Nature generated a powerful mud-slide right across from the site of the proposed PUMP], ends, “Blast ME?  I’ll show YOU power!”

[To read the poems, here’s an earlier post with both in it:https://njwildbeauty.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/dump-the-pump-fighting-for-the-delaware-river-with-poems/comment-page-1/%5D

One feels so hopeless in the force of these impassive official corporate forces.  But I could also write prose, –especially letters to editors of Bucks County and Philadelphia Newspapers.  And, each week, in Doylestown, as a volunteer, I  penned position papers, releases and speeches for Congressional candidate, Peter Kostmayer.  Peter ultimately would see to it that our Del was named Wild and Scenic, for as much of her imperiled length as could possibly qualify.  He also played a major role in stopping the Tocks Island Dam Project. I’d write truths about the essentiality of saving our river one day, and see them on Page One of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as headlines, the next day.

THEN, as NOW, WORDS MATTERED – but they must be conveyed to the broadest possible public.

We succeeded in returning Peter to office, despite mockery, fury, insults, dirty tricks – like wording the Dump the Pump referendum backwards, so we had to vote YES to mean NO PUMP.  We won the May referendum to prevent the building of the PUMP. 

After which, I moved to France.  Upon my return, the PUMP was in place.  It had been a non-binding referendum.  Let the protestors beware…  However, our battle kept the greedy group from fulfilling their original plan to remove 200 million gallons a day from the River of the Revolution!

It’s almost Christmas, 1916.  Grave changes are afoot in our country, which could result in negative changes far more perilous and long-lasting than the Delaware’s unwelcome PUMP.

It’s also almost the anniversary of George’s famous Crossing, to win the two battles of Trenton and the one battle of Princeton.  Never forget that the third of our first victories took place in Princeton, near the Clarke House, near the Institute for Advanced Study [who have finally bowed to protests and will not be developing acres of that sacred battlefield.]

Soon we can attend the annual re-enactment at Washington’s Crossing on the Delaware below New Hope.  There might be enough water in our river, after all, despite this serious drought year.  People who live near major rivers know truths despite increasing insistence that global warming is a myth.  For awhile, it looked as though this year’s Re-enactors would have to walk across.

Without the Delaware River, and her bounty of shad, according to Founding Fish author John McPhee, which fed our meagerly-clad-and-nourished officers in winter quarters, WE WOULD NOT HAVE A NATION.

Because of the Delaware River, we are the only state with three coastlines — the Shore, The River, and the Delaware Bay.  Vital Philadelphia and our own Capitol would not exist without the Delaware,  Yet, she is never safe.

coursing-waters-brenda-jones

Coursing Waters, High Water, Delaware River by Brenda Jones

LISTEN TO THE DELAWARE RIVERKEEPER, HERE, AND ACT ACCORDINGLY.  Her level of commitment, devotion, and willing to sacrifice and risk, is Revolutionary.  Let Maya be our model, every one of us!

LISTEN TO MAYA.  FOLLOW HER BLOG.  IT’S TIME THAT EACH OF US BECOMES A Delaware Riverkeeper, a keeper of all rivers, of all natural beauty and the creatures — including humans — who require safe habitat in order to thrive.   cfe
1
  • Follow
    Go to the profile of Maya van Rossum

    Maya van Rossum

    Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper & leader for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Learn more www.delawareriverkeeper.org

  •  

     

     

     

    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.