First Holiday in the Woods Is a Time to Rejoice – Naturally

By BILL BONVIE | Dec 20, 2017

Every so often – although oddly, never in December – I have a dream that it’s a day or two before Christmas and I suddenly realize I’ve done nothing to get ready for the holiday. So I start madly scrambling to find and mail cards, buy last-minute gifts and see if there are any Christmas trees left that I can set up and decorate in record time.

Maybe that recurring dream is part of the reason I usually start making preparations for the celebration weeks in advance. This year is no exception.

If anything, the holidays seem to have arrived a bit earlier than usual for us this year  – and not just on account of the three snowfalls we’ve had so far this season. It’s also because having “upsized” some months ago from the confines of a somewhat cramped condominium to a much roomier house in a heavily wooded “hood,” we now find ourselves in an environment that seems especially suited to the occasion. Here we regularly see a family of deer, as well as all manner of birds and other critters, including mice.

Now I know that while deer, particularly in snowy settings, are a favorite Christmas card theme, in reality many semi-rural dwellers, such as we’ve now become, consider them a bit of a nuisance. And it’s true that if you’re going to have any type of garden, you need to take special protecting measures against their tendency to nibble on whatever greenery might be available.

But despite such inconvenience, we’ve rather come to enjoy their sudden appearances outside our windows, and have even gotten into the habit of putting out food for them, as well as an occasional salt lick. In fact, I would even go so far as to say we now think of the acre-plus of woods that came with this property as a sort of “sanctuary” for them – a kind of mini deer park, if you will.

The mice, it’s true, can be a bit more of a problem, especially when you have a cat such as Carlos, who we never realized prior to moving here has a natural talent for stalking them (although one did manage to survive a brief journey into his jowls after we managed to intervene in a timely fashion). So we now take no chances and, whenever we notice him staring too intently at some particular spot, move to take immediate remedial measures.

Just recently, for example, when his attention was riveted on the woodpile in an alcove next to the fireplace, my sister fetched one of the humane traps she usually sets for them out in the garage, baited it with cheese and put it out. It wasn’t two minutes before we heard the trap spring shut, and I was given the job of delivering the captive to the still snowy woods out back and releasing him. I’ve done this with others of his kind that we’ve been able to apprehend in the garage, although a plastic bucket smeared with peanut butter has often proven to be a more effective and secure detention facility than those traps.

Friends have warned us that mice freed in this manner have a tendency to find their way “back home.” But we would no more think of exterminating them – whether via poison or any other means – than we would any of the squirrels, chipmunks, voles and other species that resided in the neighborhood long before we or anyone else arrived.

But the thing that most makes this such a holiday-friendly setting is having an actual stone fireplace and chimney from which we can hang our stockings with care – right below the menorah situated on the hearth.

That might strike some visitors as an odd coupling, along with the decorated Frazier fir on the opposite side of the living room. Some of our fellow Jews regard such behavior as a form of treason to tribal traditions, as I was reminded 10 years ago when I wrote a light-hearted commentary about a “Jewish Christmas” on the op-ed page of The Philadelphia Inquirer. That column drew more condemnatory letters than the paper had room for, such as the ones that accused me of “borrowing another’s holiday without regard for its religious significance” and of delivering “an insult to Christians everywhere and a slap in the face to American Jews who struggle every day with their identities.”

To folks who still harbor such beliefs, however, I can only say that in my less-than-orthodox opinion, the business of “borrowing another’s holiday” is just the sort of thing we need to be doing more. (In fact, many of the holiday’s most beloved ballads, including those all-time favorites “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” have actually been “borrowed” from Jewish composers and lyricists.)

While I think it’s fine to retain and even be proud of one’s ethnic or religious roots, that shouldn’t be so all consuming as to cause people to “struggle” with their “identities.” First and foremost, we ought to be identifying ourselves as members of the human race. And what we should really be struggling to do is keep the Earth habitable for all of its inhabitants.

In many respects, unfortunately, that’s an objective we seem to have overlooked this year, just like I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten to get ready for Christmas in the dream I referred to at the beginning of this little essay. But here’s the way that odd dream always resolves itself: I get an opportunity for a “redo” of the holiday when I realize it’s coming around again in another month.

And that’s what we could really use as a society right now: a second chance to address those things we should be focusing on but which we seem to have somehow neglected in our current obsessing over transient and often Scroogelike goals. We should pursue a renewed determination, as Jesus (whose symbolic birthday Christmas is supposed to mark) is said to have put it, to “set the world right; do what’s best – as above, so below.”

And, as elusive and unrealistic as it might currently appear, let’s bring about actual “peace on earth” based on genuine good will to our fellow men and women of all tribes and creeds – starting, perhaps, by resolving to be nice to mice.

Bill Bonvie of Little Egg Harbor Township is a co-author of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them and author of the essay collection Repeat Offenders.






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