Christmas and The Light of Stars
By: Brad Cole

It was a couple of days before Christmas and my heavily bundled feet were crunching on the dry snow. It was 20 below zero and I was returning to the cabin after checking a blackfish trap that was placed under the thick ice of a bushy pond. Though only 2 PM it was growing dark with a light snowfall that was just enough to cover my footprints. Having hiked the trail numerous times I had no concern for finding my way home. It was an obvious path cutting through the arctic forest just north of Fairbanks and wide enough to have been a dirt road at one time. But now there were only dogsleds, snowmachiners and a few walking wayfarers like myself using it.

I stopped for a moment to glance back at the trail. It was such a beautiful sight of the taiga with house-high trees bundled in the purity of bluish-white sparkling snow. Occasionally, while looking out into the surrounding spruce trees I would see snowy shapes that resembled various animals or perhaps the gentle curve of human heads with blackened eye sockets staring back at me. I imagined their breaths to be as cold as a starry night. Often the snow bundles would be on top of fir trees, some standing solitary as an abstract sculpture, decorated by a variety of beautifully formed clusters of snow. The gentleness of the snow was matched only by the softness of the falling twilight. Like a quiet flock of geese, the trees of the forest all live the same life, I thought, and they wear the thick layer of pristine snow with the dignity of priestly robes, standing silently as ruling sovereigns in a nation upon themselves.

Still standing there on the trail I could see Jupiter rising in the southeast, the king and brightest of the planets. Then a feeling or perhaps a vision descended upon me, one of a creatural darkness tunneling swiftly through the trees, winding along pathways as ancient as the stars. Looking toward the west I could see the December afternoon darkening down to only a slight trace of rusty red remaining on the horizon. The night descends upon the land like a prowling, hunting animal, I thought. Its deep, wild shadows can easily devour what we hold dear. Hopefully, some sensitive spirit will find and awaken in us the vision needed to find our way well through the long nights of winter. Despair, the falling into a lurking emptiness, is the greatest of fears.

The bright star of Jupiter that rises nightly in the southeast is like a guiding spirit, I felt. A beautifully sparkling star that can bring comfort when one is facing such long December nights. My many hikes over the years have been a persistent search for salvation, a soulful hunt for the light of resurrection, for a stronger and more meaningful vision of our life's journey.

The snowy firs stand so silently in the endless night of the arctic, I thought while continuing my crunching walk. They are as rooted to the landscape as the celestially circling stars. Growing tired I thought about going home and falling asleep, dreaming of the pillows of snow covering the trees, speckled stars that float like crowning jewels above the shadowy forest. Once home I will rest and let my life fall prey to the prowling hunger inside a winter's sleep.

Looking at the softly falling snow I reflected that in a couple of nights, while lying alone in bed, I will hear across the frozen land the sound of a church bell for midnight mass echoing the magic of Christmas Eve. I will think of the people who live in the arctic and their prayers for spiritual blessings. The sound of the large iron bell will ring through the tundra like the light of a distant star shining down on those in search of guidance. The gift of redemption can come only to those who have journeyed well through a long dark night, I thought, while still walking home. When the Nativity of Christmas falls under the silent but compassionate gaze of the sovereign stars, the people of the arctic will begin their journey. One that is born-again out of the desolation of darkness and moving toward the loving light of redemption. And it will all happen as simply as snow falling on a long winter night.