Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Outdoor Christmas Greetings

During this season it is exciting to go to the mail box every day to see who sent Christmas cards.  Since I was a little girl, I have loved the annual greetings sent by friends and loved ones.  The clever or sentimental sayings are nice, but the best part after the letter is the picture on the front of the card.  
 Peaceful outdoor scenes top everything as far as I am concerned.  Every year I try to find a card with a picture that expresses how I feel about the out-of-doors, but very rarely do I succeed.  In fact, I am often left sending the clever or sentimental verse simply because I cannot find the card with exactly the right picture.  Of course, it would help if the picture could be 3-D and have a sound chip.  If it did, I know exactly how it would look and sound.

Last year’s deer hunt led me into a Christmas card setting.  One afternoon we were hunting in hills overlooking the Saline River.  The previous night windless snow had fallen for hours on end.  As a result, the hills were blanketed in pristine white.  Besides deer, coyotes, and rabbits, nothing else had walked the hills before us, so we were the first to disrupt the beauty, and as long as I didn’t look behind me, everything before me was unspoiled.

Just enough snow frosted the cedars dotting the hillsides to weigh down the branches .  Whenever small birds would light and then fly away, the movement would create a mini-blizzard such as one might see in one of those tiny snow globes.  Many of the little birds had discovered warm hiding places under the trees where noisy gatherings took place.

It was hard walking over the hills to the stand where we would watch for deer, but it seemed enchanted that day.  Ordinary, prickly yucca were disguised as amazing snow sculptures.  Because the snow had drifted so gently, it formed outlandish shapes as it landed on the spiny leaves and center spikes of this normal desert plant. No horticulturist working for Disneyland could have done a better job creating fantasy creatures.

Once we reached our destination, my feet ached from the cold, and I am certain icecicles clung to the edges of my hunter orange face mask.  (Speaking of strange creatures, I am sure my husband and I would have scared the most hardened monster movie fan.)  Disregarding the tingles of cold creeping into my toes, nose, and fingers, I sat where I had clear view of the river valley below.  

The grey winter sky silhouetted the limbs of old cottonwoods and hackberry trees. In front of the trees hugging the river bank, a cut milo field stretched, rust and burnished yellow, acre after acre. A few deer grazed unconcernedly at its end.  If I had been seriously after game, I would have been agitated the deer were so far out of range.  Instead, I enjoyed watching them browse the stubble rows. 

We were sitting midway down the hill next to large cedar.  To some degree, it sheltered us from the slight breeze that made the few falling snowflakes dance lackadaisically about our heads.  The low hanging clouds and the deep blanket of snow, which numbed my behind, also muffled everything around us.  It truly was like being in another world.  I could forget everything needing to be done at home and exist only in this enchanted Christmas card world.  

Despite the muffled sounds, I soon heard something coming from the north.  My husband, not wanting to signal our whereabouts or to break the spell of the moment, pointed in the direction from which the strange squawks and calls came.  As I focused, I realized it was an army of turkeys marching single file to feed in the milo field.  I tried counting them, but it was impossible to keep track of the descending horde.  Shivering despite Gore Tex and multiple layers of long underwear and socks, I was caught in a spell.  I barely realized how cold it was.

After watching the turkeys feed for some time, we saw them resume position in their single file line and march toward their roost, counting cadence all the way.  By this time, another sound edged into my awareness.  This one came from somewhere over my shoulder.  My husband noticed me looking over my shoulder toward the soft whistling, and he whispered in a frosty vapor that it was the “come here” call of the bobwhite quail.  I had heard the bobwhite call many times, but this was the first time I noticed this call. 

The call signaled whatever quail were in the neighborhood that dusk was falling and it was time to gather.  I couldn’t agree more.  It was time to head back to the truck and finally home to  family and toasty kitchen.

 For a brief time, I spent an enchanted afternoon in my own Christmas card.  That memory will warm me for many years to come.  

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