Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bringing Home the Tree

This is a story that I wrote three years ago. I do hope you enjoy it.

Christmas has always been a source of delight to me. When I was a child, Mom and Grandma began to prepare for the Christmas holidays as early as September.

Our house stood on a lot of land of my Grandfather’s farm in southern Ontario. Much of the Christmas baking was a shared activity. Mom would wake us kids early in the morning and we’d walk across the field to Grandma’s. There we’d spend the day making white and dark fruitcake and Christmas pudding… but that is another story. The activity that I loved most didn’t occur until the middle of December – bringing home the tree.

Early on a Saturday morning, my married aunts and uncles would arrive at Grandma’s. Mom would bundle my brother, sister and I into our winter garb and we would walk to Grandma’s with Dad. This was the only Saturday of the year that Dad didn’t work and we kids were always delighted that he could be home for the special event.

When everyone had arrived, Grandpa would hook the team, Punch and Maude, to the sleigh. He and Dad would climb up on the seat while the rest of us scrambled onto the sleigh. When we were all safely seated, Grandpa would click his tongue, flick the reins, give a soft, “Ha,” and we would be off down the lane, over the frozen creek, up the hill and across the field to the back forty.

This was a wondrous place for a wee girl. A spring bubbled out of the hillside, even in winter. Gigantic pine trees grew upon the hill on the other side of a small, ice-covered brook. The sight of the pines, towering high, their boughs dressed in lacey, white gowns of snow, always left me in awe, especially if there was a deer or two standing beneath them.

When we went down the hill, Grandpa would pull the reins and the team would veer to the right. Here, an evergreen forest grew. There were trees of every size imaginable.

At the edge of the wood, Grandpa would pull back on the reins, call, “Whoa,” and the team would come to a stop. He would tie the reins around the sleigh’s brake and we would all jump down into the soft snow. From here, each family tramped through the drifts in different directions in search of the “perfect tree.”

Grandma and Mom both loved spruce trees. Dad and I liked pine. Though Grandpa always cut a spruce, our family alternated. No matter which year it was, we always loved searching for the tree that would stand in the place of honor in front of our living room window.

Once we had found the “perfect tree,” Dad would crawl underneath its’ branches and saw through the trunk. As the tree fell, we children would dance with delight in anticipation. Then, Dad would hook his gloved hand through the uppermost branches and drag the tree back to the sleigh. Once everyone had their tree, the men would load them; we’d scramble back into the sleigh and head home.

When we arrived, Dad would trim the branches and insert the tree into an old galvanized bucket filled with sand that Mom had covered with green or gold foil. Then Dad would weave strings of lights over and between the branches and leave the rest of the decorating to Mom and us kids. By the time the tree was “dressed” the room was filled with a lovely evergreen fragrance. There were bubble lights and ornaments of every description. When the decorating was finished, Dad would lift one of us up to place the angel on the very top. She watched over our Christmas festivities every year. Mom still has many of those ornaments and that very same angel still looks down from the top of the tree each year.

After I was grown and moved away, the trend of the day was artificial trees. I missed the tradition of cutting and bringing home the tree as well as the lovely fragrance. When my oldest grandson was born, I vowed when he was old enough, I would renew the tradition of “bringing home the tree.”

I now have two grandsons, Brandon and Jordan. Last year, we took the boys and went into the country to buy a tree. We found a beautiful spruce, which is Brandon’s favorite. It was a pre-cut tree but a beauty.

This year, the Christmas tree farm that we usually go to was closed, so we continued down the road to see if we could find another tree farm. Before long, we saw a sign and turned into the long, snowy lane. Two elderly gentlemen were about to unload pre-cut trees from a truck. They suggested we walk through the woods to see if we could find a tree that we liked.

Though we spent about forty minutes tramping through the snow between the trees, we didn’t find “the” tree. So, we headed back to the car feeling a bit disappointed. Then Brandon, who was bound and bent we had to take a tree home “today,” spotted a green spruce. The trunk was straight, the branches full, but it had two tops. We marked the tree and went back to ask one of the men to cut it for us.

When we got back to the sales area, we spotted two “perfect trees.” I asked the boys if we should buy one of these but they shook their heads and protested vehemently. They wanted to cut the tree we had marked.

I looked at my husband and told Brandon to ask the man to cut the tree. While he went about his task, Jordan laid on the ground making snow angels. Brandon watched intently, his eyes sparkling.

When we went to put the tree in the trunk of the car, it wouldn’t fit. My heart sank. How would we get it home?

The elderly gentleman suggested we tie it to the roof. Though I doubted the wisdom of this, I agreed. If the tree fell off, neither my husband nor I would be able to get it back on. But, when the tree was in place, we set off. The tree was so big that the branches partially blocked the back and passenger windows. I prayed the tree would remain secure on the ten-mile trip home.
We arrived home about a half-hour later without incident. The boys danced with excitement as we took the tree off the roof of the car. Though it wasn’t exactly the tree I would have liked, it would have to do. I could cut the second top out of it, place the bare spot next to the wall and …

As I watched the boy’s eyes sparkle, I suddenly realized that the “perfect tree” doesn’t mean a straight trunk, full branches and a single top. The “perfect tree” is the tree that touches your heart and especially the heart of children.

I hope that when the boys are grown, they will remember the tradition of “bringing home the tree,” and share it with their children and grandchildren. It is one of the most treasured moments of Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all my friends in blogland. This year many people have touched my heart. I appreciate your friendship and cherish each of you in a very special way. My wish is that the Light of Christmas will shine brightly in your hearts and home this Christmas season. May God bless you abundantly. ~Blessings, Mary~

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands

On a tiny island south of Alaska’s panhandle and ninety miles off the shore of British Columbia, a battery of weathered and decaying totem poles stare out to sea. These poles once declared the status of the powerful Haida Nation. Grizzly bears, eagles and killer whales, once magnificent specimens of the Haida’s talents are rotting and falling. It seems they are disintegrating back into the earth to join the people who carved them in such vivid detail.

An abandoned, windswept village in one of Canada’s newest national parks is even more special. Ninstints, as the long deserted village is called, has the most totem poles on the Pacific coast that still stand on their original site. It has been declared a World Heritage Site. It is an important legacy to the history and culture of not only Canada, but mankind as well.

Here, the decaying totem poles of the Haida people regain their dignity. These totems are not props or souvenirs that are peddled to tourists. They are a tangible link to the past – a time when there were no borders or boundaries, except those between the different tribes of Native people.

Other Indian ruins can be found in Gwaii Haanas, another park. Translated, Gwaii Haanas means “Island of Wonders” and the totems are indeed a wonder – magnificent specimens of bygone days.

The government of Canada is seeking to preserve these islands. The area is abundant with sea, animal and plant life. The area, recently declared a national park consists of 363,000 acres. The Canadian Government plans to extend protection to the waters surrounding the area, making it the largest contiguous marine conservation area in the world. The government is also regulating the number of visitors to the park. Only 175 people are allowed to enter daily. Approximately 3,500 visit every year.

The park is made up of 138 islands. Boaters and Kayakers flock to its crystal clear waters. Since there are no roads, people that don’t come by sea must come by air. Hundreds of visitors come to the islands drawn by the totems. Others come, seeking a wilderness experience.

The Queen Charlotte Islands are beautiful specimens of nature, but at times gale force winds sweep across them without warning. Mist and fog often settle over the islands like a soft veil, giving them a forbidden, mystical appearance. Then, the rains come, lifting the veil of fog so the sunlight can fall over the thick, lush rain forest. Evergreen trees within this Pacific rain forest stretch into the sky. Some are as tall as 150 feet. The moss that covers their gnarled roots is so thick that when you walk upon it, it’s like walking on lush, green carpet.

Wildlife abounds in the air, on the ground and in the sea. Bald eagles, puffins and peregrine falcons inhabit the air. Deer, introduced to the islands by man are plentiful, as they have no natural enemies.
A unique breed of black bear inhabits the island. It is one of several biological oddities that have contributed to the islands being called the Canadian Galapagos. This bear is larger than bears that inhabit the mainland and has stronger jaws that enable it to crack and eat various specimens of shellfish.

Researchers have found thirty-nine species of plant and animal life that are unique to the Queen Charlotte Islands. This area did not feel the full impact of the last ice age and these unique species evolved when the islands remained isolated from the mainland.

The Haida’s main staple was Halibut, an ugly fish with an off center face. Roasted over an open fire, it is mouth watering good. The Haida prized the fish and often carved it on their totem poles.

Kayaking is popular and as you venture out on an expedition, it isn’t unusual to see a seal surface to check out the most recent visitor. Bald eagles soar overhead as you skim over the water. Below is a virtual aquarium of sea creatures. Purple starfish sparkle against the green seaweed. Anemones and sea cucumbers cling to the rocks near shore while jellyfish glide through the crystal waters.

A snow-white raven nests near the village of Port Clements. It has been the center of much discussion. The Haida see the albino bird as a sign – an omen. They feel it may be the Raven of mystic legend, returning to play tricks on the humans who live on the island.

The Haida are extremely protective of the Queen Charlotte Islands. It took many years of anti-logging protests to convince the government to declare it a national park. In order to visit the Haida historical sites, you must either hire a licensed guide or attend a mandatory orientation session, which covers Haida history, safety precautions and camping techniques. The inconvenience is well worth the experience. What you will find is a wilderness area with no development or facilities and the lonely twenty-three totem poles that remain at Ninstints.

The world has progressed as these totems stand, like sentinels, over the village that was wiped out in 1863 by an epidemic. Their creators have almost vanished. The Haida culture has almost been destroyed.

In 1969, a totem pole was raised in the village of Massett. Since then, other Haida traditions have been revived. It seems that both the Haida and the totems have been revived. It seems that both the Haida and the totems have risen again.

Upon departing, if you look closely at the totems, it seems that smiles creep across their weather-scarred cedar faces. Once again, they will stand in silence. Sentinels of a bygone era.

This article was first published at in 2004

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nature and Christmas

I love nature, as you can tell if you've visited here before. Animals and birds bring a lot of joy into my life - both domesticated and wild animals. I put out a bird feeder or two every year in order to help all species of birds make it through the winter. Chickadees, bluejays and cardinals visit my bird feeders along with a variety of other bird species.

On our property we have raccoons and squirrels and, in the spring and fall, the less welcomed skunks. I'm not very interested in skunks because they get into garbage and Meeko, my Alaskan malamute thinks they are animals he should play with - NOT!

Please keep the love of the animals and birds in mind this year and help them winter safely. Animals and birds need food, shelter and water in order to survive the harsh climates of North America. Please do your part and provide a safe place in your yard for them to spend the winter.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Glimpse of Canada

From the rocky bluffs of Newfoundland to the vast Douglas fir forests and rocky shores of Vancouver Island, Canada is truly a country of picturesque beauty. Every province from the Maritimes in the east, to the rugged shores of British Columbia in the west, has its own natural beauty.

The Queen Charlotte Islands north of Vancouver Island point, as a bony finger, into the Pacific Ocean. Called Haida Gwii by the Haida Indians, they are often called the Canadian Galapagos. Here, abandoned villages, decaying totem poles and remnants of longhouses pay tribute to Canada’s Native Peoples.

In British Columbia, the paths of Stanley Park wind amidst giant firs and fragrant beds of flowers. Superbly carved totem poles reach into the sky, giving evidence of the talents of the Haida Tribe who once called the shores of the Pacific Ocean home. The little known Mohawk poetess, Pauline Johnson, spent many hours in this beautiful natural sanctuary.

The solitude of the Arctic Highlands have a desolate beauty all their own. The barren landscape, snow swirling in the wind, gives one the feeling of being completely alone in the world. On April 1, 1999, Nunavut became Canada’s newest territory. Here, you can discover the Inuit, the indigenous people who, for countless years, have called Nunavut home. You can see a variety of wildlife as well as the National Park. A great experience for those who love adventure.

In the heart of South Central Alberta lies the Drumheller Valley, often referred to as the Dinosaur Capital of Canada. It is within easy driving distance of Red Deer, Calgary or Banff and will sweep you into a prehistoric world. What is now Drumheller, once lay on the coastal lowlands of a vast inland sea. Lush vegetation was an ideal environment for a great variety of life forms. Dinosaurs roamed the area. Today, Drumheller is one of Alberta’s major tourist attractions.

The Big Valley Jamboree draws thousands of people to Saskatchewan each year. The event was inspired by an American radio show and in 1983, the Bosco Society created Saskatchewan’s first country music jamboree. 4,000 fans attended. The event has grown in popularity ever since. The nearby town of Craven, rightly proclaims itself to be the Country Capital of Canada.

The Interlake area of Manitoba has much to offer. Wildlife is abundant. Cougar, buffalo, coyote, moose, timber wolves and lynx are just a few of the animals that live in this natural wilderness. This area offers a wide variety of activities including boating, swimming, hunting, fishing, festivals, museums and history. There’s virtually something for everyone.

St. Jacob’s is an idyllic village located in Southwestern Ontario. As you stroll down the streets you have a definite feeling of stepping into the past. Though vehicles are allowed, many horse and buggies can be seen traveling on both the main and back roads in the area. The main street is a virtual smorgasbord of unique shops. A Touch Of Scotland sells handcrafted goods made by over a hundred local artisans. Gifts of every description can be purchased in this quaint rural town. Amish families live today much the same as they did a century ago. Telephone, electricity, tractors and indoor plumbing are taboo.

In culture and style, Montreal is Canada’s Paris and prides itself on being the largest French-speaking city outside of Paris. In any season this is a walker’s retreat. Shiny steel and glass towers, Neo Gothic churches and narrow 17th Century houses make this city a pleasure to visit.

Canada has seven covered bridges that have survived progress. All seven are in the Maritimes. I have visited the Wheaton or Tantramar covered bridge, which is located Northwest of Moncton, New Brunswick. A stroll in its cool interior on a hot day gave me the feeling of moving back in time to a completely different era.

The Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick has some of the highest tides in the world. These tides create a magnificent coastline. With every tide, 100 cubic kilometers of water enters or exits the bay. The Bay of Fundy is one of the marine wonders of the world.

The new Confederation Bridge that stretches over the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland to Prince Edward Island makes waiting for the ferry a thing of the past. PEI is famous for its red clay coast, crops of potatoes and the birthplace of Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of Anne Of Green Gables.

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is a magnificent place to visit in the Autumn, when it is alive with the breathtaking color of leaves that the frost has turned multiple shades of reds, yellows, oranges and browns. The Annapolis Valley is covered in a pristine blanket of white in the Spring when the apple blossom’s fragrance fills the entire valley. This area is a must for anyone who enjoys the wonder of nature.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia is one of my favorite places. I have stood on its shores shrouded in mist and watched ten-foot waves pound and polish the granite rock that the coastline consists of. A red and white lighthouse stands on the point, its beacon warning the ships at sea of the danger of the rocks. The legend tells of a woman named Peggy whose husband went to sea and never returned. Until her dying day, no matter what the weather, Peggy walked to the ocean’s edge and stared toward the horizon, waiting for the man she loved to return home. Within a stone’s throw of the lighthouse lies a quiet fishing village that has not changed much over the years. Only the old timers remain. Here and on the shore are fishing boats, nets and lobster traps. One day these too will become a thing of the past.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Canada. It is a country of rugged beauty, friendly people and a place where we live in freedom no matter our race or religion.