Friday, December 25, 2009

The Gift

Christmas Morning
December 25, 2009

Five AM and 19 degrees here on the mountain. A light wind moves back and forth from nothingness to 3 mph as morning begins to waken ever so slowly. The house is quiet. I flipped on the outside lights to look for sleigh runner tracks and footprints but save for a lone coyote track under the bird feeder, the snow was untouched. Just the same there are presents under the tree and the day will begin when sheets and blankets are tossed aside for coffee and breakfast and holiday greetings.

Gifts at Christmas take all sizes and shapes. As I age along, a warm hug, a handshake, an "I missed you" seem to be worth a bunch more than something material. Gifts of all types are always fun but more often I like to be able to share with Gail and Alex and Karl at the end of the day something like "Wasn't this a great day?"

This year I received a gift from Alex that came in August, not today. It was not boxed or bagged or wrapped in flashy paper or tied with curled ribbons or adorned with ornaments or even a personalized note or tag. It had nothing to do with gardening which I am supposed to be talking about here but it was a gift that warms me every time I think of it and was a gift that I will remember on my last Christmas Day.

Alex is a special person, but all kids are or should be. He is 17 now, and as many of you know he knows autism better than we wish. He is home educated here with us and he has a daily routine that works for him and us. What he did one day this summer was never a gift to anyone in his mind but to me it was very special.

One day Gail and I were working at the nursery and Alex stayed home by himself. His responsibility includes walking Karl the Wonder Dog and this is no chore for him as the two are best buddies. The walk varies from time to time as Karl's nose leads in different directions and as long as weather and time permit, the path out and back to the house varies each trip. On this summer day, they headed down the road, past neighbor Lively's lower road and down towards Salamander Brook.

Alex does not have distance vision and although he could wear his glasses, they are usually more burden to him than not. On this particular day Karl stopped to sniff and Alex looked into the woods and at a distance he spotted what he thought was a large moose. Moose are not uncommon here on the mountain and like Santa they often come and go without being seen but they do leave some notice of their travel. As the "moose" got closer, Alex noticed that it was not a moose but a riderless horse, complete with saddle and reigns but it was truly riderless.

Our neighbors keep a horse that belongs to Alexandria, a young girl Alex's age. She was born a couple months after Alex was and at the time we did not know the family or know that as neighbors we would share an Alex and an Alexandria just a couple hundred yards apart. When Alex spotted the horse, one would think he'd have identified it as Alexandria's horse, an animal he had seen every day for years. But autism is an interesting thing and items out of context often appear new and different and to Alex this riderless horse appeared different and unfamiliar. True to autism, as Alex processed what he saw, he began to shout out in uncommon question, "Anyone lose a horse?" "Anyone lose a horse?"

At first there was no reply as the horse wandered down the roadside eating grass and moving in a different direction than it's nearby pasture and stable. But then in the far distance Alex heard a cry for help. It was a weak cry and he didn't know at first where it was coming from but between Karl's nose and Alex's direction they traveled across the hill pasture and down over the side to a ravine where they found Alexandria laying in agony. The horse had been startled by an animal and she had been thrown off. When she came to, a severely broken ankle and wrist left her unable to move.

We have no idea what brief conversation Alex had but he and Karl ran all the way to Alexandria's home, yelling for help the last part of the way. Since the horse never came home the parents knew nothing of the problem which Alex identified as he and the parents ran back the quarter mile to provide assistance. The long and the short of it is that four months later the final operation has freed the injuries of the pins that helped them mend, and Alexandria is finally off her crutches, and just in time for holidays she is getting back to herself. Everyone is grateful for Alex's action and I am especially proud to know that he responded so well in a situation that was very difficult for him to process. This will remain a gift to me forever, a memory of something without a package or a ribbon or a card but a memory of caring. Without his presence and his action, there's no telling how long Alexandria would have waited for help.

"Anyone lose a horse?"
"Anyone seen Santa?"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond, telling my Christmas story, and sharing warm thoughts of friendship to gardeners and their friends everywhere!

Merry Christmas!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm


lynn'sgarden said...

This Alex story made me teary-eyed...thank you for sharing it. I know you, my friend, are enjoying a very white Christmas. May a weekend of plain ol' relaxing finds you enjoying a hot toddy by the fire and making special memories with your wonderful family.

Teza said...

Christmas just isn't Christmas without a few tears.... what a beautiful memory to keep close!

James Golden said...

Thanks, George. You brought Christmas to a day that seemed to lack that quality until I read this.

Jean said...

That's a beautiful story - and perfect that you tell it on Christmas, George. Thank you for that gift.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. Stay Warm.

Flowers of Russia said...

Hi and thanks for this brilliant story.It really brought tears to my eyes.For more on Russian Flowers, log on to

~ ANNE said...

George I am so glad I get your blog on my email! This was a real gift and is ready to be tweeted far! What a story. Thanks for sharing, ~ ANNE
PS Can I use it on my radio show sometime? I love it.

Mary said...

Your language is special, as are you and your son.
Thank you for your Christmas gift.