Friday, December 21, 2012


“The bare branches of the trees cause me 
to think of the straw of the stable…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

There are scant few days left before Christmas, and even fewer before the winter solstice. Time is short for the short days of darkness, and it feels good to anticipate the goodness and light that will arrive with the progress of nature and the promise of the spirit.

My walks in recent days have been littered with “little worries” — items on my “to do” list that are not yet done, for example; or last minute preparations that I have stubbornly refused to let wait until last minute, as though worrying would get them done sooner.

Today there is a fresh, light wind stirring the reedy limbs of some sparse evergreens near the edge of the road. The thin branches wave slightly, as if in greeting, as I walk by.

© Patrick J. Walsh
"...the reedy limbs of some sparse evergreens 
wave slightly, as if in greeting, as I walk by."

In the traditions of my religious faith, this time of year evokes images of a stable, and animals kept for domestic purposes by the keeper of an inn.

Cross-hatched gray across the darkening blue of the sky, the bare branches of the trees that surround the evergreens cause me to think of the straw of the stable, shuffled into rough shapes of nests by the beasts in whatever time they might have had free from their burden.

Not yet touched by the presence of the family that would transform it into a signal site of transformation in the course of human history, the stable was probably typical of the modest accommodation necessary to the upkeep of animals, then and now. And by all accounts of zoology and history, the inhabitants of the stable were likely similar in most details to their modern descendents.

As I walk along the edge of the woodline, I think of the similarities and differences between the animals of the stable and the creatures that inhabit the woods around the park.

They are of course different types of animals; although there are horse paths in the park, the large majority of its inhabitants are common wildlife — squirrels, deer, ducks and geese — that has little in common with any version, ancient or modern, of horse or donkey or oxen.

And yet they are all progeny of the development of nature, and they each play a productive role in the ecology of their time and place.

For those who wish to infer a spirituality in the pattern and direction of their progress, there is a winsome link of familiarity between the meek denizens of the Biblical stable and whatever creatures might be encountered in the modern nexus of metropolis and nature.

Thinking of the straw and the donkey, and the sparse evergreen and the deer, the distance in millennia and the far span of the earth from that time and place to this very spot becomes somehow less distant.

So remote from the straw and the smell and the noise of those long ago animals, yet blessed with the benefits of belief and tradition and history, I move through the park as though on pilgrimage, thinking of the family and the birth and the child that were, at this time so long ago, still on their way toward the stable…

© Patrick J. Walsh


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