Editor’s note: Penobscot writer Bundy Boit wrote “Christmas Island” as part of a collection of short stories, titled “Light from Sheep Hill” for family and friends.
By Bundy H. Boit
“There’s a moose in the field,” he called to me from a window. Although the light was fading, through binoculars, I could see the large brown mass, mostly shoulders, its pendulous muzzle browsing through the skeletal branches of poplar. Moments later, across patches of snow, it ambled toward the ponds, then down to the shore and out of sight.
The next day was clear and cold, and I determined to get a closer look at the resident moose. Charging down into the snow-spattered field, I delighted in the crisp sunlight of this Christmas Eve morning. At the edge of the field, where green pine boughs arch over a well-trodden deer path, I found three huge, two-lobed hoofprints in a patch of snow. While estimating their length with my wool-gloved hand, I noted the moose had come down from the mountain and arrived on the field at this very point.
Walking farther, I surveyed the ground and listened for movement. Passing through the hedgerow, where an old fence line had once demarcated the cow pasture, I sidestepped the snowy patches, hoping to find more hoof prints. I moved rapidly down through the blueberry field that borders the water’s edge. The wind off the bay felt cold, and I zippered my down jacket.
With eyes scanning the ground, I was startled by a loud whoosh from an isolated stand of trees. Focusing on the sound’s direction, I saw the moose run out from behind the circular gray-green island of oak and spruce. Simultaneously, a fox trotted out, turned to stare at me, and ran into the deeper woods. The moose and the fox likely had been lying peacefully in the grass between island and forest. The moose paused, calmly observing me. After a good look at its height, I turned and walked with hasty steps back up the field to the hedgerow. My heart beat fiercely, fearing it might try to follow. But, over my shoulder, I saw that the moose remained motionless, and the fox reappeared at the edge of the woods to watch my fading presence.
The sky was bright blue that afternoon and a stubborn northwest wind chilled the air. By now, I wondered if the moose and fox were again behind the island of trees, or had moved down to the marshy shore. Or they could be lying deep in the dark winter woods beside the brackish pond where pink lady slippers appear in May.
That evening, a full white moon slipped onto the horizon. The sky was still clear and the eastern star made a dazzling appearance in the spreading darkness. The light of the moon reached silver across the water for the safety of marsh and rocks. A paler light diffused over the trees, the brown grass, and the patches of snow.
Suddenly, attracted by the light, three deer bolted from the woods with the moose and fox in sight. They immediately stopped, and lay down in the clearing, their ears, sharply alert, pointing toward the light. Their heads turned quickly at the whisper of flapping wings from the highest branch of a pine tree. A large bald eagle, also lured by the light, had flown the short distance across the water to perch silent and proud above the field. Now, the moon’s light spread, flooding all of Christmas Island, and the snow-streaked field.
Dripping with water, two shiny dark river otters moved up onto the field in rhythmic undulations. They slowed abruptly at the sight of the other creatures, and began to slink cautiously toward a snowy knoll, just right for playful slipping and sliding.
All the animals turned their heads at the sight of seven wild turkeys approaching the north side of Christmas Island. The birds quickly ran, spread their powerful wings and were airborne. They roosted in the island’s slender trees, the branches scarcely able to hold their weight. The last, with a damaged wing, slowly moved next to the moose, whose body heat gave warmth and comfort.
In the distance, a chorus of shrill howls broke the tranquility of the night. The moose turned toward the sound, and the deer cocked their ears. The bald eagle swiveled its pure white head, and the otters slid awkwardly off their hill. When the songs ceased, two large gray-brown coyotes broke into the moonlight from the west side of Christmas Island. Their long bushy kite-tails appeared to give them direction as they loped into the lighted scene. Their handsome, slender snouts and keen eyes exuded confidence. After staring at the gathering, they chose a spot, spun gracefully, and lay down on the cold December ground.
The sharp wind continued to whistle through the pines, the tamaracks and the oaks, popples and birches. The fox breathed quietly in and out, tucking its head into the curl of its body for warmth. The moose, with its thick layer of insulation, wished it would snow this night. The deer felt the peace of grazing on the field’s vegetation, knowing they were safe. The moon reflected briefly from the small eyes of the otters, and, very quickly, they were sound asleep. The turkeys, with cocked heads, surveyed the serenity of the scene below, and looked up at their large neighbor sitting still and straight. The coyotes were content as never before.
The silent gathering swaddled in soft moonlight, was calm and peaceful. The moose, fox and deer, the eagle, otters, turkeys, and coyotes, listened across the silence, and each heard the message of the light, “Listen and love, listen and love, listen and love.” repeated over and over. Then, just as quietly as it had come to Christmas Island, the rich glow of the full moon moved to a new place, and then to many more new places. And each place that the moon paused, the message was always the same, “Listen and love, listen and love, listen and love.”
Bundy Boit lives and writes in Penobscot.