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The Night Tree Tradition

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A favorite children’s book I loved when my kids were young was The Night Tree by Eve Bunting. First published in 1991, the now 20-year-old story relates how a young family drove to a forest on a cold December night to decorate a living Christmas tree with edible ornaments for wildlife. The story and luminous illustrations capture the spirit of holiday giving and a special ritual in a cherished place.

At home, we adopted the custom of decorating a balsam growing in our backyard with natural ornaments. We strung popcorn and cranberries into garland. We spread pinecones with peanut butter and rolled them in millet seed. We festooned our little “Night Tree” and later returned to study tracks of wildlife visitors in the snow.

We watched juncos, chickadees and tufted titmice. We found tracks of deer, squirrels and mice accepting the caloric windfall from our holiday kitchen. The “Night Tree” also attracted predators: fox, ermine and owls hunting mice.

To this day, if you ask my 20-something kids to show you their Night Tree, they’d guide you unerringly to a particular tall balsam. The place hasn’t changed much in two decades since we first “storied” their childhood landscape with memories.

Never hesitate to create fond outdoor memories for kids. During the holidays, share a nature walk, go star-gazing or ice skating – or decorate a “Night Tree” and look for tracks in the snow. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate - just add marshmallows and laughter. Making memories outdoors is good exercise and a great antidote to the busy indoor holiday scene. Stories which begin “remember the time…” often last longer than gift purchases.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.

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