This is the time of year I always start worrying about the animals. It’s utterly foolish, I know, but when the cold winds start to overtake the land, I start wishing that the deer could have carport shelters from the ice rains. That the squirrels will have a warm nest. That the birds’ feet won’t freeze on ice-shrouded branches, nor the bees die of hunger.
The creatures have been getting along without me for some years now—millions, actually—but my heart frets for them come winter. And so in winter especially, I give gifts for the creatures in my city yard. Birds here have so much forage in the warm months they rarely bother with my feeders, but come winter, they all return: the pine siskins, juncos, towhees, and wrens, along with the ever-present chickadees and nuthatches…
I load the feeders with sunflower seeds and put handfuls of peanuts out for the squirrels. And I don’t forget the precious gift of ice-free water. When the first freezing nights come, I plug in my electric pond warmers. The ducks also get a heated wading pool for the winter—their own private hot tub. On the coldest of days, I find them splashing away as steam coils up from the wading pool. Duck bliss!
Our garden shed and outdoor screen room are both rickety and full of holes, and I intentionally don’t patch them so that if any needy critter comes along, she can get out of the weather for the night. I set out handfuls of dog food, too, for the coons and possums and (probably) the stray cats.
I’ve made a gift of my raggedy garden beds to all the insects who need winter homes. I purposefully don’t do fall garden cleanup because many, many creatures make nests in hollow reeds, twigs, and fallen leaf piles. I don’t know how pleased the neighbors may be with this messy arrangement, but I freshen up everything come spring, and so far, I haven’t been reported to the city.
These are all such small things I do. Nothing fancy at all. This Thanksgiving season, I am pondering the wise advice to “do small things with great love.” I am queen of the small in my life. It is holy business to me, the small things. I may not be changing the plight of birds on Earth with my efforts, but I’m making the world a bit sweeter for the nuthatch at my feeder, and for Chipper, the squirrel, who knows to scratch at my bedroom windows when the peanut larder is bare.
I have been especially conscious about giving this year. I love to give. It feels great. I’m not much of a giver of money, as I don’t have much to spare, but I give my time, I give my ear (I’m a good listener), I give my concern and my help where they are needed.
And—and this is a big “and”—I am making a serious effort to gift myself the things I need to keep healthy and peaceful, so that I have more of myself to give. I give myself time, and lots of it, for reflecting and refueling. I give myself good sleep. I give myself the pride of a lovely, smooth-running household. I give myself a good book now and then. I give myself the permission to say “no.”And I give myself permission more and more these days to be my whole self; not the polished and heavily edited version of myself, but my whole warty, imperfect self.
Sometimes, I fall off my high horse and get momentarily mean-spirited about giving. I think all of us do. Mostly this happens when I’m tired, or trying to do too much. Crankiness is actually a good indicator to me that I’m needing something I’m not getting, and I set about righting the situation quickly. I don’t like the feeling of being a grouch.
In some ways, I find it easier to be on the giving end of things. Receiving can make me feel awkward sometimes, or near- comatose with humbleness. But this past week, the universe decided to make me the birthday girl months in advance of that date. Unexpected goodies and luxuries simply rained down upon me, and instead of being squashed by awkwardness, I just felt bathed in grace and delight. I’ve posted pictures of these little things—and not so little things—that came my way with great love.
The photos are of tangible gifts, all of them unexpected and cherished. What I also have experienced in these past few weeks is a potently visceral awareness of how stunningly abundant my life is. In light of the terrible refugee situation in the world, I am aware as never before of the near queen-like circumstances of my life. Of most of our lives. I live in a beautiful, safe, small town. I have a secure, cozy home with hot running water and indoor plumbing. My larder is so full I could not eat it all in a month. I snuggle between flannel sheets at night, and have the luxury of planning small trips and outings to beautiful places. I am loved, and I love.
These things I have by grace. I certainly have done nothing to deserve such riches. It will not be by grace, but by human hand and human heart that these things could—and ought to—be made available to all beings: the simple grace of safety, of food, of shelter, of love, and clean water in a raven-head cup. Well, maybe not the raven-head cup.
Let our Thanksgiving prayers become our New Year’s resolutions to make a good and kind world in the year ahead. And let’s do it by undertaking many, many small things with great love.