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Snowy Owls on Christmas Morning

Snowy Owls on Christmas Morning

We spent Christmas Eve in town with my mom in her independent living facility. We had dinner in the common dining room, chatting with her neighbors, and then returned to her apartment to read A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas.

This morning, across the snow-covered parking lot, the tall blue spruce still glows with blue and white lights. Not even the resident Canadian Geese are stirring. Soon, we’ll bundle into the car to visit our daughter’s home and the merry rauckous will begin.

For those of you who are celebrating Christmas, I wish you a day filled with joy, both in the moments of stillness and in those of communion. I’m sharing, below, the short nonfiction piece I wrote for our Winter Solstice Reading last week. The story is a reflection about a moment of quiet communion I experienced when I was a child in Alaska. I hope it will bless your day as it did mine.



Snow Owls

It was late afternoon, sky black and glittering, in the deep Alaskan winter. I walked the trail between my friend Jane’s house and mine, leaving behind the old homestead with its metal half-round dwelling, golden light etching distorted square panes across the untouched snow.

The stars grew brighter as the air cleared of chimney smoke, and I cut through a hushed forest of hoar-frosted birch and stunted mountain hemlocks, snow-laden and slumping heavily against each other. Branches thick with white crystals and mounds of snow, brilliant white, reflected starlight. I walked with mittened hands pushed deep into the pockets of my down parka, the only sound the rhythmic crunch of mukluks on encrusted snow.

Until the reverberation of icy air carved open by wings – and two great white snowy owls alighted in the frozen birch beside me. White, on white, on white, and four bright gold eyes blinking. I could have reached out and touched their feathered bodies. I stood breathing in the sparkling silence, blinking back, my toes and fingers and cheeks growing numb.

If there is a center of our lived experience, something beyond the birth of our children, the death of a loved one, something beyond the major milestones in life – graduations, marriages, retirements – this moment of sacred silence was mine. When the world spins in chaos, my memory of two snowy owls in a hoar-frosted birch tree is the eye of the hurricane. A single moment in my childhood on the longest night of the year. Winter Solstice.    


Copyright © 2022 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.

A Christmas Goodbye

A Christmas Goodbye

Decking the halls of our Panhandle Creek cabin.

After our separate Thanksgivings, our family hopes to be together for a string of December holiday celebrations. Mom will help us finish decorating the tree this weekend and we’ll celebrate our small cabin Christmas on the 18th with four generations. On Winter Solstice, we’re having a special reading at Mom’s Independent Living Facility, with readings by members of our writing group, other residents, and two special guest readers, Vicki Lindner and Sandra McGarry. Christmas Eve we’ll enjoy a quiet celebration in town with Mom, then the next morning we’ll see what Santa brought the grandkids. All of this depends, of course, on continued health. With the bugs circulating through schools and the community-at-large, we’ll take precautions where reasonable and hope for the best.

This Christmas will be bittersweet. If all goes according to plan, it will be the last year we enjoy Craig’s stonework. When we moved here five years ago, the previous owners had placed an old woodstove on tiles nearly in the middle of the floor. One of our first improvements was to purchase a stove that could be placed closer to the wall. Craig researched the codes and built the beautiful stone hearth and surround, and the pine mantle above it. I love those rocks, and I hope we can keep at least some of them, but next year the stove will move to new living quarters over the garage.

In the spring, we hope to break ground on our bed and breakfast. A longtime dream, the addition will dramatically change the configuration of our livingroom, while adding two gorgeous guest spaces with views of the creek and the valley. In this room, we’ll add a new stone fireplace, along with room for my piano.

In our family, we have always appreciated the extra goodness that comes with building, or baking, or creating with our own hands. When the grandkids ask for my carrot cake for their birthdays, or Craig’s homemade bread for sandwiches, it’s because these things taste a little better when they’re made with love. We’re excited about the changes, and look forward to being able to share our mountain B&B with friends and family. Like everything we apply ourselves to, these changes will be made with love. But now, working at the table while snow falls on the forest around us, I am looking through the white lights of our tree to the woodstove on Craig’s beautiful hearth. I’m grateful for him and the many ways he shows his love.


Copyright © 2022 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.