Jack and Sandy went out looking for a Christmas tree again this year. Each year, they were the ones chosen for this task. Jack was always the one who planned ahead, the one who scouted out the best looking Christmas trees all year, and also the one who put small orange tags on the trees so that he could find them once winter arrived. Sandy’s sense of direction made her an excellent choice to bring on any kind of an outdoor excursion; out of all the LeBlanc children, she could always find her way, even in the worst whiteouts and winter blizzards.
The family anxiously awaited the return of their two oldest children, who had gone in search of this year’s Christmas tree. With two gone from the house, it gave Cindy, the mother of ten children plenty of time to prepare the traditional Newfoundland Christmas Eve dinner. The head of the family, Charlie LeBlanc, had been out all day trapping rabbits and other small game, managing to gather enough food for this year’s meal; and with all those mouths to feed, Charlie had his work cut out for him.
The day had been an unpredictable one, with tiny gusts of wind stirring up the dusty snow that had fallen throughout the night. At first, it was doubtful if the weather would clear so that a Christmas tree could be found, but given that it was just one day before Christmas, risks had to be taken.
The smaller children played noisily, and mom had to calm them several times; her mind was somewhere else, perhaps on her two eldest, or on all the work she had yet to do in order to prepare tonight’s feast. The little cabin was extra hot this evening, as father had stuffed the little wood stove with freshly cut birch and a few spruce logs. The faint smell of the wood oils mixed with the scent of fresh cinnamon buns mom had in the oven made the home both fragrant and festive.
As Sandy and Jack trudged through the banks of freshly packed snow, the two noticed many trees, none of which bore the marks that Jack left the last time he walked through the forest. “It’s off here, to the right” Jack said, as they moved through the thick pine and fir trees that covered the landscape. “You know how badly you are with directions”, commented Sandy, as she suspected that they had drifted far off the beaten path.
The entire forest now looked different. The winds had become much stronger, and visibility was now close to nil. The two vowed to stay together, despite Jack’s attempts to split up and seek different paths. “Staying together is our only chance out here tonight” said Sandy, as the evening sun quickly disappeared into the dark cover of the cold December night. In Newfoundland, winter days are short and night approaches quickly.
The two were lucky tonight, as the sky quickly cleared and revealed heavenly stars and a full moon that lit up the forest like a giant candle. The air became difficult to breathe as the temperature dropped. It was one of those evenings where you could see your breath in the air, and your nostrils stuck together from the coldness around you.
“I see a tree!” exclaimed Jack, but Sandy was doubtful, given the current visibility. Jack hauled Sandy by the hand, as he swung the axe over his shoulder. “Over here, the perfect tree”. The two headed towards the towering spruce, and were surprised when Sandy lost her footing and fell down a steep hill.
Landing hard on the bottom, Sandy was lucky not to have any limbs broken, but in the fall, her leg felt twisted. She had difficulty standing on her foot. Jack felt badly about causing his sister to fall , but she reassured him that it was nothing. She was always the brave one. Lucky the snow was not hard packed, the soft snow drift acted as a barrier between Sandy and the frozen ground beneath her. Jack carefully climbed down the hill to join his sister. Tired and worried, the two settled on a white spruce that stood just a few feet before them.
Jack attacked the tree with a vengeance as he swung the razor sharp axe into the base of the tree. In just a few swings, the tree fell, snow flying everywhere as the limbs smashed to the ground. Sandy pointed out that they only needed a few feet of the tree, and Jack obliged by cutting an eight foot length from the top to the middle of the tree. He then marked the remainder of the tree with an orange ribbon he carried in his pocket, with plans on returning later in the week to salvage the remainder of the tree for firewood.
The two shared the work of carrying the tree home, wherever home was. The night sky this time of year can be quite amazing, and the two were rewarded for their hard work with a light show from the heavens. In late December and early January, the Northern Lights often adorned the night skies, and luckily for these two, this was a night when the angels had painted the sky with colors of red, blue and white.
Off in the distance, the northern lights shone on the hard crusted snow, illuminating small indentations. The two noticed that these markings resembled footprints. “We are completely lost, not a road in sight, no markings in the trees, and the new snow filled up the footprints we made on the way in, and somehow it looks like someone was here earlier today” said Jack. Sandy agreed that the markings looked a lot like footprints, and given the fact that neither of them knew exactly where they were, following the footprints was their only hope of finding their way out and back to the little cabin where their family lived.
As the two approached the markings in the snow, there was no doubt that they were indeed footprints. The tracks, made by someone with huge snowshoes became more evident now, and they were easy to follow.
Back at the cabin, Charlie and his family grew impatient. Looking out the ice coated window, the snow was blowing a gale. Charlie sat in his chair by the stove, cussing about his bad leg. He had broken his leg when a log he had been cutting rolled back on him, crushing the entire left side of his body. Being a great provider, he managed to hunt and trap small game to feed the family despite the pain. He had been out all day hunting, and the pain in his leg was unbearable by evening. “If I hadn’t broken my leg back in February of ‘59, it would be me out in this storm, and not our two kids”, but Cindy reassured him that everything would be alright. She was always so optimistic, and this was a good time for her positivity. “If they aren’t back in an hour, Charlie Jr. and I will go and look for them”, she said. Charlie wondered how she could remain calm while the kids were out in a snow storm.
Choosing to live so far back in the country was a decision that Charlie LeBlanc had often regretted, but he figured that since many generations of the LeBlanc family, right on back to his aboriginal forefathers lived in the same area, what right did he have to break tradition? Sure, it was hard for the kids, but life here on the island in the 1960’s wasn’t much better anywhere else, and at least the kids were safe here. Plus this is the only life that he knew. His father and his grandfather were both trappers, and they made good money doing so.
As the two teens followed the mysterious tracks in the snow, they grew very hungry. Sandy noticed what appeared to be a large picnic basket under a fir tree. Covered with a festive blanket, probably made by local Indians, was a basket filled with home baked goodies of every variety. “It’s getting late, and we have to be home soon, Mom and Dad will worry” Sandy said, “And we really don’t know who put this food out here, or if it is even safe to eat” but Jack was so hungry; he would trade a bit of worry for something to eat. “Load up your pockets, we can return tomorrow and refill the basket with some of mom’s preservatives” Jack said. Soon the two were on their way, heading for the mountain that stood just behind the cabin trail.
“Is your leg okay?” Jack asked his sister. “You won’t believe it, but I think it is better!” answered Sandy. They both wondered how such a terrible fall didn’t result in a much worst injury, but they passed it off as luck as they continued on their way. As they walked along the footprints left by the stranger, they wondered about the person who must have traveled right past their home earlier today. “I know I didn’t see anyone passing the house” Jack said, “and even if someone did, why weren’t his tracks covered with snow like ours were?” Sandy wondered.
Despite their questions, they continued along the well beaten snowshoe path, right on back to the road that led directly to the log cabin that their grandfather built while he was still a young man, and where the two teens had lived every day of their lives. The tracks continued on the snow covered road, and the two LeBlanc teens followed.
Charlie, who had dressed his leg well enough to travel, had just decided to go against the wishes of his wife, and look for the kids. Just as Charlie was about to open the door, a weak thumping was heard outside. Charlie opened the door and his two tired children fell helplessly through the opening, out of the frigid cold and into the warmth of the little cabin. A burst of ice cold air entered the cabin as Charlie quickly closed the door behind his two frozen children.
The two were so tired that upon entering the cabin, they fell to the floor. Mom ran to their rescue, and in no time, she had the two chilly kids sitting next to the stove, covered with the warmest quilts. Dad had gone outside to bring in the tree, and the younger kids gathered the decorations, anxious to finally trim the Christmas tree that they had waited all for all evening.
Charlie was amazed by the tree his kids had cut. Standing just over eight feet tall, the limbs were perfect; it was like a tree you would see on a postcard. Once the tree was stood in the living room, far enough away from the stove to prevent the needles from drying out, the family members worked to decorate the fine Christmas tree that the two heroic teens had brought home. Sandy and Jack watched, while they sipped on hot chocolate with real cinnamon sticks that their mom fixed for them.
Dad asked the two how they found their way home on such a blustery night. Jack and Sandy looked at each other, confused because the night they experienced was clear and bright. “The sky lit up with lights of every color” Jack reassured his dad. “And those footprints, they are the reason why we are here right now” Sandy added.
We sure didn’t see any northern lights from here”, Dad said, and he added “Footprints?”It was so stormy last night, you would be lucky to see a hand before your face at any given time, that’s why we were so worried”
“They were there, let me show you” Jack said, as he took his curious and doubtful dad by the hand to show him the finely beaten path the two had followed to safety just a little while ago.
“Wha…?” Jack said. “There are only two sets of tracks, mine, and drag marks that Sandy made, but she walked just fine, never dragged her feet once, and there were big snowshoe tracks that we followed.” Jack said, confused. “They were there when we got to the cabin, that’s how we got home!” “Where are they now?” Jack questioned.
Charlie LeBlanc had been outside all day, and if a stranger had passed, he would have been the first to know about it, but someone had to make those tracks. “Everyone knows that footprints don’t magically appear out of thin air, but then again, this is Christmas, so who knows” Charlie concluded.
“What did you guys eat?” their Dad asked. “You two were gone for hours, how did you have enough strength to walk all the way home?”
“We found a picnic basket the Indian family down the road must have left for another day” Jack said.
“A picnic basket? An Indian family?” “Jack, are you feeling alright?” Charlie asked. “The Indian family that lived down the road have been gone for years, before either of you were born” Charlie added. Jack looked his dad and said “I stuffed some of the food here in my pocket, look!” When Jack reached into his pocket; all he found were a few pine cones and a handful of needles from a fir tree.
Tired from the day’s events, and confused by their dad’s questions, the two weren’t long before they were fast asleep in their beds in the attic above the living room area. The rest of the family slept as well, and the next morning, the entire family was up early to admire the fantastic day that was rewarded to them.
Not only did the family have the most beautiful tree, fresh rabbit pie, home baked cookies, and many wonderful gifts that their father carved for them, but they also had an amazing story of their own Christmas miracle, a miracle that fed and looked after the two teens, and that brought them home safely through one of the worst winter storms of the entire 1960’s.
I wrote this winter tale last Christmas, but since I only finished it after Christmas, I chose to wait until this year to publish it on the blog. I sincerely hope that everyone enjoys this little Christmas story