Reindeer in woods

A Christmas Visitor to Four Oaks

by Barbara Leary

Once in a while, to entertain friends,

I spin up a story to see where it ends.

While I might mess with facts, I can say with conviction

That sometimes the truth is much stranger than fiction.

Of last night, for instance, I give this depiction:

Some nights before Christmas, while home at Four Oaks,

The wind is a-howling, the fire pit smokes.

The Baileys is waiting for coffee to brew.

In a Dutch oven bubbles a savory stew.

I’m humming and poking at embers and ash,

When from deep in the forest I hear a great crash!

Into the darkness I peer warily.

Into the shadows that stretch scarily.

I wish for bright light but the fire burns low.

I stray timidly from its comforting glow.

I zip up my coat; I flip up my hood.

I must fetch a few logs from the edge of the wood.

It’s 20 long paces to get to the stacks.

I take a deep breath. I take up the axe.

If something is out there to give me a fright,

It will see what I’m made of! I’ll put up a fight!

Into the shadows I step quietly,

With my axe at my side, and what do I see?

But a monstrous Thing half obscured by a tree!

With one eye that glows red and looks straight at me!

What should I do? Should I strike? Should I run?

Should I offer it stew? Would it eat a bun?

As I ponder these questions imagine my shock

When the Thing heaves a sigh and commences to talk.

In a whisper it says, “You’re too tall for an elf.”

It takes me a bit to recover myself.

For it’s plain to see as the strange Thing draws near:

It’s no monster at all! It’s Rudolph the Reindeer!

I notice he’s staring rather intently

At the axe in my hand, so I set it down gently.

As a smile spreads over his sweet furry face,

I ask, “How in the world did you come to this place?”

He says, “I was out flying and chasing my nose,

“When sleep overtook me and caused me to doze.

“I awoke to discover I’d lost altitude!

“I’m sorry to startle, didn’t mean to intrude.

“If you’ll just point me North, I’ll be on my way,

“And the children will have presents come Christmas Day.”

“I know where to direct you,” I say. “See that star?

“Follow it North. It will take you far.

“But before we bid each other adieu,

“Tell me—are you hungry? Would you like some warm stew?”

His nose flames bright red; his agitation grows great

At the sight of the boiling pot on the grate.

And I realize then that the Thing I’d held grim

Had been more scared of me than I’d been of him.

I laugh loud as Santa: “Ho ho! Ho ho ho!

“I see there is something that you need to know.

“You’ve clearly mistaken me for a barbarian.

“That’s not venison stew. I’m a vegetarian.”

Copyright 2013 Barbara Leary

Walking with Virginia

Four-year-old Virginia and I set out on a fine fall day to walk the half-mile to pick up her older sister from school. I thought we’d take the short way there and the long way home. But time and distance are meaningless when I’m walking with Virginia, especially when there are leaves of many different colors on the ground, and pinecones, and stone retaining walls in front-yard gardens to practice walking heel to toe.

Nothing in nature escapes Virginia’s notice. She is especially fond of flowers and bright green leaves. Examining a neighbor’s garden, she found a paddle-shaped leaf as big as her hand and held it up to me. “Smell it!” she demanded. “Doesn’t it smell beautiful?” It did smell beautiful. It made me wish I knew the name of that tree. It made me curious about the way the world looks to Virginia: not just how it looks from her height, but the way it looks through big brown eyes managed by the unique operating system that is Virginia’s lively brain.

As we made our way to Eleanor’s school, I had to stop myself from hurrying Virginia along. Instead, I took her outstretched hand to steady her as she navigated another stone wall, and let her set the pace.

Virginia moves at the speed of flowers. It turned out to be exactly the right speed to get us where we needed to go.

Attention Young Writers

You know who you are. You’re the kids with characters in your heads, inventing predicaments, imagining scenes. Maybe you think of yourself as a writer. Maybe you’re not that bold–yet.

Here’s an idea. Trying thinking of yourself as a storyteller. That’s what I do, and it relieves some of the pressure. I find if I focus more on telling a story and less on the writing-it-down part, the words come easier. I still write my stories on paper. I just write them the way I imagine telling my granddaughters, or a non-judgmental friend.

When I spoke to the seventh graders at Brambleton Middle School recently, I was asked a few times for my best writing advice. It’s this: just write. Tell your stories. Get them on paper without judging them. You can go back and edit and smooth over the grammar and the spelling. Try not to edit as you go–just go, GO, while the story tells itself to you.

That’s the whole idea behind National Novel Writing Month. Why not check out the Young Writers Program? It’s free and offers writing challenges year-round, but November is the month writers of all ages are encouraged to crank out a novel in 30 days.

Tempting, isn’t it?

Teachers: Check out the resources available to help you encourage the storytellers among you. Yours is a sacred calling!