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If you spend time with a tree, it will share its story, says Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist professor at SUNY and author of Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), her way of introducing her students to their classroom forest. And it’s precisely story that tweaks imaginations and sparks fire; without it, we languish.

From my study window, I glimpse my neighbor’s golden raintree thriving by his driveway, its growth since last year, considerable. I used to walk by it in all seasons: summer’s clusters of small yellow flowers mantling the ground beneath with the appearance of wetness—thus its name; autumn’s bronzing its fruit into what looks like three-pointed Chinese pagodas, only slowly dropping them; and winter’s sloughing off gray leaves and black pods to inquisitive gray squirrels.

So, what does this golden raintree say to me? Have I picked up its story? We both have been around for some years and I’ve been gifted with this new day to appreciate summer’s pristine splendor: the primary greens, still glossy, and the secondary yellows, still sun-catching—they play off each other and invite us to do the same.

Although change can be hairy at times, still it happens. The golden raintree is the same tree, but different and more herself. Yes, she’s feminine and lends herself to storytelling.

Look for her along city streets, backyards, and be delighted.

Nothing like a folk tale to engage imaginations and enlarge the world around us—Such is the Brothers Grimm’s Town Musicians of Bremen (1819), still enjoyed by young hearts, six years old or ninety.

The story begins with an aging donkey, decrying his master’s displeasure over his slowness in pulling the cart to market. Rather than face probable death, the donkey flees to Bremen where he will become a musician.

On the road he meets a weary dog, fire thinning his bones. No longer able to hunt, he fears being put down by his master. But the donkey’s invitation to make music sparks his interest and he climbs onto his back.

Next they meet a cat with a face “like three rainy days.” She fears her mistress’s 

drowning, because blunted teeth prevent her from catching mice in their cottage. She, too, joins them.

Then a rooster crowing with all its might causes them to pause along the road. They learn that cook will cut off his head and prepare him for tomorrow’s dinner. He, too, welcomes the invitation and they continue on toward Bremen.

Although the story contains other adventures, I want to focus upon the four friends, so human in their fears of aging and the specter of death. Happily, the donkey sees beyond his fate and chooses an alternative: making music for others. So inspired he is that others choose similarly and climb onto his back and head for Bremen where everyone loves music.

It’s about discovering and developing meaning in life that keeps us fresh—even living with a terminal illness. I have found it so.

Still more winter ahead forecasts Punxsutawney Phil as our country observes this quirky holiday, each February 2nd.

Yet, it’s not as quirky as you might think, rooted as it was in the Roman feast of Lupercalia, celebrated in early February; then, a rural people, they sought their god’s protection from wolves ravishing their herds. Purification of their farms and lands also abounded. From these humble beginnings emerged a priesthood and sanctuary on Palatine Hill, its ritual practices enlivening participants for centuries. Without them, Emperors feared for Rome’s safety.

The Celts also revered this February festival that marked the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

And with the spread of Christianity in the late fourth century CE came its replacement on February 2nd : the feast of Light or Candlemas celebrating the presentation of Jesus, bearer of Light, at the Jerusalem Temple and the ritual purification of Mary, forty days after the solemnity of Christmas. Worshipers brought candles from their homes to have them blessed. 

Further tweaking of Candlemas occurred among emigrants from German-speaking countries, settling in America in the 1700s. Its morphing into the realm of superstition is curious: first, the badger; then, the fox; then, the wolf—all sought the light in February’s dark; then came the groundhog.

Its earliest mention is found in the diary entry of James L. Morris on February 2, 1840. And in 1887, a Punxsutawney newspaper first printed the observance of the holiday, Groundhog Day, at Gobbler’s Knob—And Punxsutawney Phil still gets our nod every February 2nd.

An overview of these centuries of mid-winter celebrations speaks of our dependence upon light and new beginnings and hope, in whatever story form.

Available on Amazon

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