I would like a rest for Christmas this year! That is never going to happen, obviously, so instead I am happy to settle for a change from routine. Tricky for Joe of course with his autism, but he has done Christmas a number of times now so we have a Christmas routine and if we don’t do anything too ‘off the wall’, he has become much better at dealing with the general craziness. I do put off Christmas in our house as long as possible to prevent Christmas burn out, but having dropped Amos and Melody at school in their Christmas party clothes, dashed to Peta’s carol concert (missed Melody’s ukulele concert as I was double booked), dashed back to dish out the party food to very excited primary school children, finally returned home to deal with the aftermath of Joe’s day (he ran out of the school twice prompting frustrating phone calls and crushing conversations), I have to hold up my hands and accept the Christmas season is here – the good and the not so good. But despite many reservations and caveats, I love Christmas. If I can screw up my nerve and write this week off as a hurricane of Christmas parties, lunches, concerts, carol singing, frayed tempers, angry outbursts and excited shrieking, I can look forward to a time of relative peace; I await with anticipation the few days when we can close our door to schools and work, stuff the diary down the back of the settee and spend time with each other without the pressures of the rest of the year. And a big part of that for us now is spending time in the wood.
It’s looking pretty wet and bare up there at the moment, but compared to the wood of three years ago, it’s beginning to change. Where we have put in clearings, the light coming through to the floor is altering the way things are growing, altering the type of things that are growing. Fencing is going up around the wood to stop the cows repeatedly knocking down the walls, although admittedly it won’t help us with the sheep we periodically end up shooing out of the wood (a bunch of the local farmer’s sheep turned up unexpectedly at his farm the other day having got into our wood, wandered through and out of the next door wood, crossed the road and sauntered up to the farmhouse – the farmer was perplexed until we worked out what had happened (we have since replaced some sheep fencing)). And throughout the wood you don’t have far to walk before seeing one of the little homes we have put up to welcome birds or dormice or bats. Each little box represents so much. Together we built the boxes – Peta and I measured the wood and cut it, Melody and Mark drilled entrance and hanging holes, Joe nailed the boxes together and told everyone what they should be doing with limited affect, and Amos picked up all the spare bits of wood and built things with them! We numbered each box in red paint and the children put catches on the roofs to keep out marauding squirrels. Eventually the regiments of boxes were ready to move up to the wood… Cue the trolley.
For a long time Joe had been pestering us to buy a garden trolley. When he was younger we used to visit some friends who had rebuilt a farmhouse on their own, and they had a trolley. Joe enjoyed many happy hours transporting random things round the garden – I should have realised what a trolley in the wood would mean to Joe. From the moment we manhandled it into the nearby field he took ownership with unabashed delight. The smile on his face, the sheer pleasure beaming out gave me so much to treasure away for the harder times. I wish I’d done it for him before. But perhaps it wouldn’t have been the right time. I love to watch as he locks his trolley to a tree with a motorbike lock, and covers it in a picnic table cover before we leave the wood. I know, if he had his way, we’d have a funicular railway between the trees, but he is wonderfully content with his trolley. I might surprise him with some tinsel on his trolley over Christmas, but then again, perhaps not. Surprises that would make the other children smile just upset Joe.
The trolley, pulled by Joe, has been invaluable in moving the small animal boxes around. We have all taken turns to attach boxes to trees, take before and after photos needed for the grant which has bought the materials, and record on the clipboard the position of each box in the wood. It is Peta’s job to keep the bird/mammal box spreadsheet on the computer up to date. Those boxes have been a real family project, and a huge family achievement. Seeing them up in the wood fills me with a real feeling of warmth.
And that’s what I am hoping for this Christmas I suppose – a feeling of warmth and peace and family. It is missing for so many people, so wherever and whenever I find it, I try to store it up inside, remember it’s a privilege. This Christmas I hope that aside from the usual Christmas festivities, we’ll spend time in the wood, spend time together in a calm place that we have all invested in and be able to recharge for the year ahead.