Tom Kerr writing on self-reliance

In early December, while most of America (maybe even you) was driving around in circles looking for a parking space at the mall, I put on a pair of boots and walked out into the woods.

In one of the deep pockets of my barn jacket were half a dozen shotgun shells…for the trusty double-barrel resting against my shoulder. Pretty soon I spied my prey, on a high branch in an old oak tree. The first shot winged it. Then I unloaded the other barrel and it came crashing down and landed right in front of me…a huge cluster of fresh green mistletoe with the distinctive white berries.

That one tangle of mistletoe yielded up more than a dozen large clumps. I could have sold each little bouquet for a few bucks, and there are folks who harvest mistletoe every year and then sell it to put some extra cash in their pockets.

But I used it…and some evergreen boughs from the woods…to make holiday wreathes for friends. If I wanted to get into the wreath-selling business, I could fetch $50 to $100 or more for each of those. They were handsome, and smelled just like the forest. Maybe I’ll do that next season.

Then on Christmas Eve I baked an apple pie, sweetened with local honey, and hiked with it up the steep dirt road a mile or so to the ridgeline, near my neighbor’s property. While I caught my breath, standing on the edge of a large meadow…I watched a family of eight curious deer peacefully grazing. A pastel sunset painted the sky off in the distance. That was one of those unexpected and sublime moments money can’t buy.

For the rest of the evening I sat around a fireplace with my neighbors and enjoyed a meal prepared from their garden – and the pie I baked.

I shared a story about the fellow I met last Christmas, who told me that there is a huge but very friendly black bear living in the woods behind his property. He said that if a vehicle the bear doesn’t recognize drives toward his home late at night, the bear will lumber into the road and block its path, like a guard dog…until he goes outside and signals to the bear that everything is okay. When the bear hears his own car coming, it knows that familiar sound too…and sometimes trots along behind him before vanishing into the underbrush.

Folks around here…and apparently wild animals too…look out for each other…just to be neighborly.

People help each other with chores, cook for each other, drop cakes off at your doorstep for no special reason, or shovel your walkway before you are even out of bed in the morning. When your kids wander too far from home on their bicycles, a watchful neighbor will keep an eye on them to make sure they’re safe. If your cat or dog goes missing, they’ll call you – or just swing by and drop it off…along with the chainsaw you loaned them.

Those are small gestures…but they are a big part of what is missing in the world today. Unfortunately, this kind of natural, carefree existence is still foreign to most people. I’d hazard a guess that whatever type of stress you feel on a regular basis only increases during the holidays, although that seems at odds with how it ought to be.

Statistics prove it, tragically. More deadly heart attacks occur on Christmas, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day than at any other time during the year.

When I shot down that mistletoe I did the tree a healthy favor, by the way, because mistletoe is a parasitic plant. Once it takes hold of a tree, the tree’s days are numbered. I once had a career and a hectic, angst-fueled lifestyle that felt like that.

After dinner, I walked back home by the moonlight, appreciating how lucky I am to live and work in such a magical place. But it’s not luck that got me here. I took deliberate steps, one after the other.

So what type of parasite is sucking you dry? Maybe it’s time to take a shot at it.

P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in Truth & Plenty. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.

Image: ©iStock.com/Rike_ 

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