A metaphor for Christmas and Bethlehem:

Five trumpeter swans!

A sight to behold at this time,

 They have multiplied —

Congregating to leave,

To start the long journey south.

Metaphors must go unexplained. However sometimes you feel them in the deep woods as now, when all of nature stands unadorned, without tinsel and silver bells, and these metaphors pull you out of the frantic civilized world into the uncivilized wilderness, pulling you with a message or a lesson.

I inveigh against these abstractions and would prefer to let nature just speak to me in its own language. So I hope you will forgive me this excursus into another language and receive my wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season for you.

Meanwhile, 28 wild turkeys appear some distance to my left as I sit here near the banks of the Red River. They have been the lone visitors to greet me so far this morning. A single white-tailed deer appears in the distance but quickly disappears. He must have business elsewhere.

Two American crows sail down onto a small open patch of grass in the midst of the snow, finding something interesting but moving respectfully aside when big brother turkey ambles in and claims the space.

Now two chickadees flit in, amazingly unintimidated by the turkeys. However “flit” in and out is about all they do, so they aren’t much of a challenge to others.

This early morning today is almost like it is still night. We are, of course, in the shortest days of the year. A heavy overcast helps complete the feeling of it being almost night.

The season, however, is always a hopeful one for me. It means that every day is getting longer and we are advancing toward the long, long days of midsummer. In the Yukon, where I lived at one time, we could actually experience the midnight sun during summer solstice.

The wild turkeys, I see, are the first ones up and about at break of day, although the whitetailed deer is not far behind. Their clock apparently is set by the light and not by the time, so their sleep rhythm is constantly changing.

That constant sleep change would seem like a strange experience for humans who, with electric lights, are able to adjust the light to fit the clock. Yet it gives me pause to wonder if that is good for us.

Half a million years ago we went to sleep with the birds and awoke with the birds. Hmmm. Somehow we adjusted to longer sleep in the winter. Is our body less adjusted to habit than it is to light?

Gray squirrel appears now. He doesn’t let anything disturb his sleep and arises whenever he darned well pleases. He would argue, forget all this nonsense about light. It is the stomach that governs our behavior. So there you have it. Ah, the wisdom of the squirrel!

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.

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