Be It Ever So Jumbled


We are not knocking ourselves out decorating this year–as if we ever have. But this year, we’ve set the bar low– and deserve an award for seasonal lethargy. Yes, we have a tree, but it’s the Charlie Brownest ever. And this mantle “display” is about as fancy as we’re going to get this time around. It’s a low-ebb Christmas, and that’s okay.

This image showed up by surprise just now among my Camera Roll shots on iPhoto. It was taken last week as a test of an iPhone camera app to see how it might work in poorly-light situations–like this one, inside a room at dusk on a rainy afternoon. It was not intended for any other purpose. But I probably will not erase it because it captures the WYSIWYG nature of our unadorned country lifestyle in winter.

The stockings are hung by the chimney but without much care, limp and empty. We go through the motions, even without the hope of small children on December 25. And we’ve stopping knocking ourselves out to collect trinkets from the Dollar Store just to have volume in the toes of our respective his and hers stockings.  I forget which is which.

The foliage on the mantel is fake, sparing us the shedding of spruce needles during the first day after an hour of looking and smelling really, really nice before being baked brittle by the heat of the woodstove. The lights are plug-in pine-cone-y things we’ve had for a decade. And taken with the cheery orange glow of the woodstove, they manage to csat some cheer on the dismals of December.

The Quadrafire, burning 24/7 now for two months, is at home amongst its paraphernalia–the wicker kindling basket, the gold-handled poker that rests on the ash lip, the forty-year-old stove top thermometer It usually reads around 500 degrees this time of year. And there’s the leather wood tote on the hearth whose handle-loop is visible in the last rays from the window where Ann’s dark-triggered battery-powered candle has already told us the light outside is fading fast.

But the days are getting longer!


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, it seems clear that what you are seeing and getting is the season’s message of peace, quiet, wonder and reflection. Well done.

  2. For the first time in 50 years I did not put up a tree this year. I celebrated Hanukkah with my Jewish husband instead. No fuss, just light candles for 8 days. That amount of effort seemed just perfect!