Greg's current column for The Shelburne County Coast Guard:
Winter is here and life on McNutt’s Island secures shelter for itself.
A walk into the woods reveals places where the dry brown ferns have been tamped down to form nests. I am not sure whether it is the sheep or deer who do this. Whoever it is, they are careful to choose locations surrounded by fallen spruce or clumps of bayberry against the cold and wind. I have taken a moment to sit in the middle of these. They are comfortable and well insulated.
The squirrels are settling down for the winter inside our apple trees. Recently as I was cutting up a pile of fallen apple branches, I heard echoes of sharp retort reverberating from within one of the orchard trees. I located the sound coming from a large limb. As I stood below it looking up with curiosity, a squirrel popped her head out of a hole in the limb, looking sternly down upon me, indignant to my eavesdropping. “Go away!” her stare told me. I went back to my pile of branches.
The grey, lichen-covered stone walls surrounding our property seem at first glance alone and abandoned, but upon closer inspection, are a bustle of activity. Moles and deer mice dart to and from them. Squirrels race along their pinnacles like cars teetering on a superhighway. Birds nestle in their nooks and crannies. One can only imagine what goes on deep inside.
Beyond the walls, the mink search out caverns beneath large spruce or within dense shrub. Once, when I let grow a pile of branches in my efforts to clear away overgrown spruce, a mink family took full advantage of my neglect and moved in.
Our house is equally attractive. It is the only dwelling on the island that is occupied year-round. It invites in all manner of living things as winter draws near. The area snakes have availed themselves of its dirt-floored crawl space, already slumbering peacefully until next spring. Knowing this, the mice and shrews tip-toe lightly around them, also happy to be warm and snug for the winter, even as they dare not venture upstairs where traps await.
There is no telling the diversity of critters that live beneath our floor boards, and I am happy not to pry.
The pursuit of shelter, it would seem, drives all living things. It is the thrust of our very own Christmas story, in which a young and very pregnant couple seeks shelter, having to settle for less desirable accommodations among the animals on the edge of town. We remember them as we place manger scenes on our front lawns and in our town squares. More than that, we remember the God who guided them, along with shepherds and kings, through that eventful night. Little did they know what that night would set into motion – a child born, a world of power turned on its head where the lowly are lifted up and the mighty brought low, God- with-us offering shelter against all odds.
Our scurrying and slithering friends on McNutt’s also belong to this story, as do all of us. They are trying to survive the impending winter days here. They accommodate each other in the task. True to the promise, God grants them shelter, a place in the order of things. And I live in their midst, humbled and inspired by their effort, grateful for this world in which, thanks be to God, all have a place to call home.