Mike RobinsonIt’s the week before Christmas and all through the forest it’s cold, wet and dark at 5 a.m. when I awaken.

We’re going to bed at 9 p.m. in this part of the world because the sun sets at 4:30 p.m. and it’s pitch dark at 5:30.

The leaves have definitively fallen from all of the western maples, alders and wild cherries. The sea ducks offshore have bunched up in flocks and moved on. So have the Canada geese. So have the humpback whales.

Those who remain are our constant companions – the seven Steller’s jays, the resident raven clan and the bald eagle families from our two nesting groups. Both enormous nests have moms and dads, and both have two immature offspring, who are characteristically bigger than their eagle folks.

We’re now well into planning for imminent arrivals: our son and daughter, my sister, niece and nephew, and my Mom, who at 95 is the reigning Robinson matriarch on the West Coast. They’re all scheduled to appear on Friday. Most are driving up-coast; Mom has elected to fly up via Pacific Coastal, a 30-minute trip instead of five hours and two ferries. She’ll arrive full of stories about special treatment and nonagenarian adventure. The rest will arrive full of BC Ferries chilli and coffee, with the occasional side of fries. They will also swear to book reservations at Horseshoe Bay next year, as they do every year.

The arrival festivities first include room assignments for pets and people. Mom will effectively evict us from the master bedroom, matriarchically moving us to a double air mattress in the painting studio/den/spare bedroom. Our daughter will return to her old loft room, somewhat more confining than her current apartment in Notting Hill. Our son will return to his filial suite in Toad Hall, the guest cottage up the road and in the trees. My sister will occupy the rest of Toad Hall with her son and daughter. Their 12-year-old rabbit Bonanza will relocate in his cage to the garage, and Poppy the puppy will snooze at night in their car. During the day, she’ll have full range of the Skelhp lowlands, along with the cougar, the black-tail doe and her triplet fawns, and the mostly hibernating black bear.

Once settled in, it will be time for a Saturday Christmas tree hike. That means heading into the forest with a Swede saw and a small axe. Last year’s adventure involved dropping our son off up the highway to source and cut the tree himself. When my nephew and I returned in the pickup an hour later, in pitch dark, he was nowhere to be seen!

Ye gods – all kinds of bad thoughts swirled through my brain until my nephew pointed out that we were a kilometre short of our dropoff point. I swung us back out onto the highway and sure enough, we found the tree cutter with a great bushy fir, exactly where we dropped him off. I made a mental note: “Pay attention next year.”

The boys will then yard the tree into the house and bolt on the tree stand. The waiting women will take control of decoration. Total control. After a few hours, the lights will be artfully strung, the family heirloom decorations will be carefully hung, and the boys will murmur appropriate and truthful praise.

Now it will be time for drinks, which have been carefully planned and sourced so everyone gets exactly what they want.

The next task of the day involves everyone bringing their wrapped Christmas gifts for placement under the tree. In short order, a mound of thoughtful purchases arises around the fir’s trunk, even extending out onto the floor beyond the overhanging branches.

Everyone is now free to read, chat, play Christmas music or just sit quietly at fireside and watch the festivities. It’s the night before the night before Christmas.

This year there has been much pre-visit discussion by the millennial delegation about taking control of some of the Christmas meal preparation. This has been done in the spirit of watchful mindfulness, and with the acknowledgement that the succeeding generations have developed new culinary abilities, tastes and desires for the Christmas feasts.

It’s good to see the evolution of our country Christmas – en famille.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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