Friday, December 25, 2015


Once upon a time, high on a golden hill, lived the smallest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the littlest fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the littlest fir tree was lonelier than ever.

One Spring day, a wren chose to nest in the smallest fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the firs.

"There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and healthy and green.”

He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

"So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

"Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”

That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. Afterwards, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the littlest fir tree and told stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One morning, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said.

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

The leaves of the forest Maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The man came to the orchard, but always alone; the littlest fir tree missed the boy’s visits. On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard, still alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and soon, the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk autumnal air. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.

The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the small fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.

Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his brothers and sisters, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

"This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the axe’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

"And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

"Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.


I originally wrote this story three years ago but wanted to share it again. I think often of the lonely tree, and the lonely children in the world. May your winter nights be full of talk, of laughter, warmth and love. May you never be lonely.

Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Where I've Been...

Amidst the zany-ness of the holidays and the busy-ness of semester's end, I get glimmerings of what the next year might bring. Small flashes--I think of them as portents--come to me in my night and day dreams, and likely reflect my hopes and desires. Of course, these glimmerings come from where I've traveled this past year. So to make sense of my future I need to take stock of its foundation.

Physically, I've traveled many places this past year. In visiting my son, I've gotten to know Utah more than I'd ever thought possible, and come to appreciate her grand mountains and gentle people and mercurial weather. With my graduate students, I attended a conference outside of Los Angeles, and we've walked Venice Beach, dipped our toes in the warm Pacific. I've visited family in Massachusetts and North Carolina, always a blessing. I traveled briefly to New Orleans and marveled at that City's resilience and grace and eccentricity. I spent a week in Taos, a magical place, with a gracious and strong writer friend who I consider a soul mate. I could spend every night watching the skies in New Mexico shift under God's paintbrush.

Literally, I've struggled, for the first time, with my writing. My novels overwhelm me; just as I think they're finished, something surprises me--an omission, a plot hole, a character flaw--and I fix these, and revise again. And again. And again. I ache to write new words, fiction and non-fiction ideas that wake me up at night. And I will, once I have wrangled these other two beasts to the ground and sent them out to others. I have begun that quixotic search for agents and received personal rejections already. Which feels good because it means I'm almost hitting the sweet spot, and I am letting these stories go.

Physically, I have pushed envelopes. I zip-lined down a mountain in Park City, surfed on synthetic waves, climbed a rock face. Big deals for someone afraid of heights. I'm learning karate with my daughter, which also pushes me.
Spiritually and emotionally, I've moved from a reactive place to a proactive one. I am learning to let go of the emotions surrounding expectations and outcomes. As a Type-A, this is difficult for me. But as I relinquish control to outcomes--mine and others'--I find myself feeling lighter, freer somehow. Also, I realize that there is very little 'real' control; rather, it's my perception of control that has paralyzed me in the past. I've also come to value relationship above all else--spending time in the creek with my daughter, climbing rock faces with my son, coffee and yoga with friends, Saturday nights with my husband. People ground me.

In a nutshell, this is where I've been this past year. What about you? Where have you traveled, physically or literally? Peace...


Monday, December 14, 2015

'tis the season?

This time of year gets nutsy. My friends in academe understand the rush to the end of the semester. These friends, and most everyone else, also understand the psychological pressure to wrap up all those unfinished projects and lose ends before 2015 shudders to a halt.

And then there's the holidays.

I'm feeling a tad grinchy this year. Not ungenerous so much as irritable. Or maybe it's the bah-humbugs that bubble around my heart. It seems the end of the year came at a rush, and all of a sudden it's time to bake and shop and write cards. And thinking (and kind of doing) it all simply exhausts.

I did manage to drape lights on the Nandina bush outside my front door, and get my wreath, decorate it, and hang it up. THAT felt good, felt Christmasy. While the mood lasted I tied our stockings on the stairs railing.

My family is in 'eh' mode too this year. Probably because the last year's been tough, and it seems whenever we kind of breathe slow and dare to relax, BOHICA* happens.

I realized late last night that I was working too hard to get myself and everyone else in that holiday spirit. So I think I'm going to lean back, take each day on my terms. Hanging the wreath, lighting the bush reminded me why I appreciate this nexus of the year. So for the next week I will try to remember to bring the outside into my home, bring the light into the dark, then settle in for the rest of the winter.