For those of you who don’t know the hymn “In the bleak mid-winter”, it’s worth researching. It’s a haunting, lovely Christmas carol, vying for my favorate rating with “And every stone shall cry”.
I’ve morphed into something of a Scrooge over the past fifteen years or so when it comes to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Here in the convent our traditional practices ran along the lines of let’s-see-how-much-we-can-possibly-cram-into-two-days. I think we’re now easing up on that, but the hectic preparations, the long hours and scant rest of Christmas have taken their toll. I’ve developed a Grinchy heart.
It doesn’t help much that the daylight hours have shrunk to about nine. Brewster is as close to the Arctic Circle as I can bear. Our lovely December snow has been rained down into a few dirty patches of ice. Everything is either gray or brown. There’s mud everywhere. Waking the ducks up in the morning now takes nearly forty-five minutes. Drag the hoses from the pantry to the back porch. Fill the pools. Remove yesterday’s duck leavings from the porch. Uncover the hay and schlepp it around to all three duck-house areas to provide a safer, cleaner roost for the coming night. Feed them. Crawl into the Triplets’ house to reconnect the light they managed to pull down again. Empty the outside hose and drag the inside one back to the pantry. I usually love this work, but in these darkened days it is naked drudgery.
The only fun part is looking for an egg or two. Another duck is laying, probably Petra, and searching the tell-tale “nesting holes” in the hay brings back a touch of my childhood Christmas wonder. Will there be a surprise this morning?
I know this is the heart of the Christmas story — finding a gift in the hay of the animal house. And against all reason and hope, there it is. A tiny spark of life. A promise. A possibility.
I have to remind myself several times a day that winter is not only the season of my discontent, it is also the Earth’s time for transformation, when everything appears to be hopeless but big changes are afoot. Those precious few reminders are all we get to keep us plodding along through the mud. That and a huge amount of trust in the wisdom of the Universe.
Here’s to gifts and trust and surviving the bleak mid-winter.