The ends of the two scarves wound around my head and neck flapped in the frigid wind. I leaned over to pour sunflower seeds into a bird feeder, thankful for the warmth of Arnie’s old work jacket. Even though it hung off my shoulders, past the tips of my fingers and made my movements clumsy, I could pull my gloved hands and neck deeper into the generous folds of my late husband’s coat like a turtle.
A chick-a-dee openly hopped around on nearby branches in contrast to a shy woodpecker hidden on the far side of the flowering crabapple tree trunk, but giving away his presence by a rhythmic, “thunk-thunk-thunk!”
I announced, “I didn’t forget about you, woodpecker! I’m putting a suet seed cake in the cage.”
Carrying the rest of the seeds and suet to the birdfeeders on the other side of the house, I slowly trudged through the snow, examining animal tracks along the way. Something with skinny limbs had leapt through the deep snow to a tree. Then there were no more tracks. I looked up. The tree branches touched the next tree and the next. That had to have been a squirrel from along the river. Those greedy rodents like to gobble seeds whenever they find a birdfeeder.
Pausing again after refilling the suet and seed reservoirs, I noticed how happy the birds seemed. They twittered, fluttering from one branch to another. I wondered, not for the first time in my life, “How do they survive in this cold weather? It’s two degrees today and they have skinny little bare legs! Even with gloves, my fingers feel frozen and stiff!”
Before turning to go back into my house, I promised the birds, “For Christmas this year, I’ll go to a butcher shop and get you some real suet.”
My whimsical inclination to feed animals special food at Christmas time is not a carryover from my childhood. The memory of when my husband and I had just moved to a farm many years ago made me smile. One day when I came home from town with the children, Arnie was pulling up to the barn with a wagonload of unusually green bales. I pointed them out and exclaimed, “Look, Daddy has a load of holiday hay!”
My eight-year-old asked, “What’s holiday hay?”
I explained, “The alfalfa in those bales dried so quickly, it didn’t lose its green color. Don’t you think those bales would taste better to the cows than the pale-colored ones? We should save them for Christmas Eve as a special treat for the cows!”
Returning my thought to the present, I noticed a nuthatch, hanging upside down on the suet cage near the driveway. It cheerfully chuckled, “Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk”.
Chuckling because it sounded like one of the Three Stooges, I asked, “Are you Larry, Moe, or Curly? If you are thanking me for the food, you’re welcome.”
I’d always told the children that animals have a language of their own. What sounds like “bark, bark” or “meow” to us, might really mean, “I’m glad you’re home!” or “I’m hungry!”
Back inside the house, I sat down at the computer and typed in some search words about animals being able to speak and discovered “A carol of the animals” According to an ancient legend, God was so grateful to the animals in the stable for how they comforted newly-born baby Jesus, that he gave them the power of speech for one hour. This is what an unknown author imagined them saying in the Carol of the Animals:
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown, “I carried His mother uphill and down, I carried His mother to Bethlehem town. I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.
“I,” said the cow, all white and red, “I gave Him my manger for His bed, I gave Him hay to pillow His head. I,” said the cow, all white and red.
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn, “I gave Him wool for His blanket warm, He wore my coat on Christmas morn. I,” said the sheep with curly horn.
“I” said the dove, from the rafters high, “I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry, we cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I. I,” said the dove from the rafters high.
Thus, all the beasts, by some good spell, in the stable dark were glad to tell of the gifts they gave Emmanuel, the gifts they gave Emmanuel.
On January 6th, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Some people call the day ‘Little Christmas’. With the holiday drawing to an end, I wish all my readers to have a happy New Year!