A Tale of Three Christmas Trees


This year our family was scattered for the holidays, so my son, Chip, and I planned to share a non-traditional meal on Christmas afternoon: I’d make creamed turkey with veggies, he’d make crepes, and we’d have cranberry sauce on the side. A few days before Christmas, he called to ask if I’d like to split the three large stacks of wood on my property on Christmas afternoon. A friend had loaned us his wood-splitter.

“That’s great. Yes,” I replied, smiling with anticipation.

Aesthetically, I love to look at woodpiles, especially when they are neatly cut chunks tidily stacked. A year ago, we had made three stacks in the yard: one by the stream (a fallen tree), one by the woods I call The Glen, and a third (diseased by years of poison ivy rope strangulation), in a grassy space near the road. Whenever I went outside, my eyes fastened on the beauty of the wood walls, and I felt much pleasure in the beautiful symmetry of the stacked circles. Now, after months of providing serene splendor in the yard, it was time for their next life season: providing heat.

The day was surprisingly warm and sunny, about 60 degrees. Chip arrived, checked the splitter’s gas tank, and found it empty. He knew I always have an extra gas can handy, but today it was empty. Nearby gas stations were closed. Fortunately our next idea proved fruitful: we found some gas (maybe a gallon) in the riding mower, siphoned it out, filled the splitter, and got to work. Chip loaded the chunks on the platform (the hard work) and I ran the hydraulic wedge back and forth (the easy work.) Soon, we got into an easy rhythm and I was running the wedge back and forth non-stop. But moments of unease nagged at me as I wondered if we had enough gas. We hoped to split all the wood today; the splitter needed to be returned that night.

As we completed the oak tree in The Glen and moved to the cherry tree near the road, I again worried about the gas.

“Hey, we’ll split until we run out and finish another day, if we have to,” Chip said. We resumed our work. Time pleasantly passed as we worked through the oak wood wall, when a sudden small knowing inside me silently slipped out and spread through my body. Deeply spiritual but not connected with formal religion, I had just remembered the story of Jesus feeding a multitude with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Suddenly I knew we would have enough gas to complete our task.

The release of that deep knowing instantly transformed our moments into a sacrosanct place. I noticed more closely Chip’s woodsman garb and slid back in time to when we lived on our Catskill Mountain farm. I saw our much younger selves engaged in this same activity. I recalled Christmases on the farm. I remembered a gift from my ARC co-workers when I resigned to move to Virginia: Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. I thought of the unending generosity of that giving tree. Standing amidst pieces of split wood under clear sky and sweet winter sunshine, working with my wonderful son, I awoke fully to the day’s incredible abundance: majestic trees surrounding us, breezes whispering by us, mother earth beneath us, blue sky over us, the stream’s gentle trickle near us….

When we split the last chunk, Chip unscrewed the splitter’s gas cap. “We’ve got gas left over,” he reported, hazel eyes twinkling. “Merry Christmas, Mom.”

I hugged Chip tightly, as the full impact of both his and the day’s sacred gifts embraced me.




About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in Change, Family, Friendship, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Tale of Three Christmas Trees

  1. Jinni Turkelson says:

    Wonderful story, Mary Jo. A Merry Christmas indeed!


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