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Reflections from the SwampHome Alone for Christmas

Home Alone for Christmas

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Best wishes to all of my readers and your families for Christmas,

I hope to meet more of you next year as we cross paths in Almonte and Corkery. I appreciate your support and comments.

I wrote this story during the first Covid Christmas when toilet paper was scarce, and all of us were discouraged from meeting in family groups, even on Christmas Day. Almost all of us had a much quieter Christmas than usual. The quiet isolation during Covid encouraged writing and reflective thought. Shortly after writing this story, I started writing Reflections from the Swamp for The Millstone.


Home Alone for Christmas

My bride put another stick in the fire outside; those jumbo-sized snowflakes began falling from a windless gray sky. One giant snowflake lands on my sleeve, reminding me that, though we are many, we are all uniquely created. Earlier that Sunday morning, we ventured across the frozen pond on thin ice so clear that you could see weeds rhythmically slow dancing below the glass mirror. This miracle of nature only happens occasionally when the cold comes unaccompanied with snow. A loud crack breaks the silence and reminds us that life is fragile. Life is a thin veneer, a gift precariously situated on the surface of a planet so alone in the universe that no one but the Creator knows we’re here. I follow the star with the magi, seeking incarnations of the sacred. This place surely is one of these miracles and wonders. Our natural world and its inner significance must come together for any oneness. The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of beauty.

The swamp (or the hotdog forest as our children affectionately called it) is a sea of cattails with a river of ice filling Coady Creek’s bed flowing through it. The creek forms a meandering gateway to a distant forest. Is this the river that Joni Mitchell sings about? It is for us.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on.

It was to this forest and its young balsam trees that we were headed to find this year’s Christmas tree. We’re not sure yet which one it will be, but, like some distant relative we are meeting at the airport, we know we will recognize the tree when we see it, or she’ll recognize us. My bride doesn’t want a manicured tree but prefers a natural tree with sparser branches. We have often made this trek with children and dogs bounding along, but this would be the first time we would come home and be the only ones to see the tree all adorned and positioned by the living room window. If a small tree is cut down in a forest, will anyone know it’s gone? We will, and the tree will. We will be home alone at Christmas, as many of you will be. We’ve invited a small spruce to join us, and she’s graciously agreed. She is so beautiful.

In summer, the swamp acts as a no-man’s-land between our place and the woods beyond. We can only get to the forest in winter. As we walked on the ice, I thought of that surreal Christmas story from WW1 in 1915 where soldiers from both sides left the safety of their trenches and ventured into no-man’s- land. Standing up and walking unarmed into the divide was a brave and trusting action in the midst of a raging war. They were all so far away from their loved ones. They all felt alone, cold, and desperate. They sang songs of joy and peace while exchanging gifts of chocolates and cigarettes with their enemy. “Love your enemies.” They were a picture of the incarnation, as beautiful as a babe born in a manger or a starry night.

In their joy, they think they hear a whisper. At first, it is too soft, then only half heard. As they listen and sing, it gathers strength. The word is Peace. It is loud now. Louder than the explosion of bombs.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How lovely are thy branches!

The unique Christmas story line has always been incarnation. Jesus is both human and spiritually one with God.

Incarnation means that the spirit nature of reality, the spiritual, the immaterial, the formless, and the material nature of reality (the physical, that which we can see and touch are one. (Richard Rohr).

 That the Christ child was both physical and spiritual in a unique way is true for all of us.

Those who love and experience nature know that matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew.

We all can see incarnation in the everyday experiences of life. While walking our dog or crossing an icy pond under a starry night, the unity of the physical and the spiritual world blossoms into the incarnation. The struggle of life with its sorrows and joys is universally understood. What is true and felt on a frozen pond becomes universal and valid everywhere.

Christmas can be difficult for those who will spend it alone. For those with wounds in our families, this may be the time to be brave, come out of the trenches, sing, and forgive our enemies. For those of us who know of people who will be alone, this would be the time to reach out as best we can during these troubled times. Christmas always brings out the cracks in our imperfect realities.

There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. (Leonard Cohen)

Hopefully, we will unwrap the true gifts of love, hope, generosity, and patience from under our Tannenbaums.

Richard van Duyvendyk


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