It’s almost Christmas so I’m jotting down a few thoughts about the holidays. Every year I have a theme for this seasonal post. I’ve written about the wonder and happiness that Christmas tree and mantelpiece lights inspire for me, how warm and happy memories of holidays past can lift your spirits, the traditions that mean Christmas for me and others, and the way that seasonal songs stir our hearts and memories.
And in most of the posts I can’t help mentioning lots about lights and tinsel. I just love to watch them sparkle. But this year my thoughts aren’t filled with sparkly things. They are bit more reflective. Yes, I’ve decorated the house to bursting like every other year, and added a couple new decorations even though it’s unlikely that anyone other than my husband and I will be around to see them.
But I’ve been thinking about how the worldwide pandemic is likely to make this a more solitary holiday than other years. Our family has decided not to gather the three families together for our traditional Christmas dinner. We will each spend the day at our own houses with a brief get together (spaced well apart) at one house in the afternoon.
It’s been a rather solitary year overall, hasn’t it? Many places have seen lockdowns and most advise us to keep our distance from others. We see loved ones less often than normal, and those in care homes even less frequently.
And our farm got even quieter this autumn when we sold our oldest cow, Fifi, and her two offspring (a 2 year old bullock and last year’s calf). Fifi was almost nine and we had had her since she was three weeks old. She was an intelligent animal with a mind of her own, and she wasn’t shy to let us know when she wanted something. With the cattle gone, we have no livestock now and the farmyard seems very empty. But I’ve discovered that we aren’t as alone on the farm as we might believe.
Our small farm is at the end of a half mile single track lane. No one passes our front door unless they are coming to see us. We are also rather removed from our neighbours on the lane.
With more than twenty acres of farmland surrounding my house, I have lots of space to roam. We’ve always had a variety of wildlife sharing the land with us, but with fewer human visitors recently, they have become bolder. Among our furry and feathered neighbours, I’ve seen deer, hares, foxes, a badger, mice, a red squirrel, and a pine martin in the fields near the house. And sometimes even closer than the fields. There’s also bats, pheasants and various other birds in the sky above us.
For several weeks this summer, each morning I watched a young hare hop through a gap between buildings from the farmyard to the street behind our house on his mission to find new grass in the next field. As he passed the dining room window, only feet from me on the other side of the glass, he sometimes stopped and nosed around the ground or stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air before he scurried on, completely unaware of me. On another occasion a pine martin was even bolder as he slunk across the pavement and climbed onto the roof of one of the outbuildings behind the house as I watched him through the window. Inquisitive and agile, he explored his surroundings thoroughly before he went on his way.
A small herd of deer often venture into the field in front of our house at dusk. The does quietly drift into the field, grazing in short snatches, often lifting their heads to dart glances around them, on the lookout for danger. As the summer ended, their calves had grown big enough to accompany them out into the open space. These tiny, dark creatures timidly poked around the edges of the field, ready to flee from any noise, waiting for their mothers. Early one morning last summer I watched a doe graze her way across the field in front of our house until she was only a few yards from one of our half-grown calves. The two animals stopped grazing long enough to raise their heads and look at each other, each one considering what risk the other posed, before they continued their breakfast, each unperturbed by the presence of the other.
In the autumn, as I walked up the lane at dusk, shadows flitted over my head and raced up the lane ahead of me. The bats were silent, steady companions on my evening walks.
More recently the pheasants have been roaming along the lane and through the fields. These beautiful birds are graceful and comic at the same time, long, elegant necks and heads stretching toward the sky as they race on stubby legs past our front door. Huddled in bunches, they seem to compete against each other in endless road and cross country races. Maybe I should get them some miniature florescent vests to wear in order to keep them safe.
And always there are brightly coloured robins, flitting from one post to the next, weaving in and out through the holly, rarely still.
Even though I don’t always see my furry and feathered neighbours, it’s good to know they are there. The place isn’t so solitary with them near.
What about where you live? If you are distanced from family and friends this year, what other companions do you have? Your pets, the neighbourhood cats and dogs, the local wildlife? The world is never as empty as we might think it is.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and there’s only a few hours until the festivities begin. Even if you can’t be with those you love, I hope you won’t feel too alone. I’d like to wish you good company, and a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.