CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Everyone has special Christmas memories. This is one of mine (first published in 2008).
It was the night before Christmas about 20 years ago. Nora was barely 10 years old, and Emma was still dreaming of kindergarten. We had just gotten home from a Christmas Eve church service.
About two inches of snow had fallen the day before, and it was cold, about 25 degrees, so a white Christmas seemed assured. All that remained was a long winter's nap, but the girls were too excited to sleep.
My wife, Linda, suggested we take a walk in the woods. "That will tire the girls out so maybe we can at least sleep until dawn," she hoped. "Besides, the moon is bright. With the snow on the ground it really does give a 'luster of midday to objects below.'"
The girls thought it was a great idea. "Maybe we'll hear the animals talk," Emma suggested. "Mom says on Christmas Eve animals can talk." Nora smiled a big-sister smile.
So we bundled up and followed our favorite trail. About a half-mile later we came to a huge fallen tree, a favorite rest stop. "Let's just sit for a few minutes," I said.
It was a gorgeous night. Chilly, but not too cold. The air was still, the sky crystal clear. A thousand stars winked and blinked. The moon was so bright it cast shadows from the tall white oak trees that surrounded us.
A pair of great horned owls dueted in the distance, a reminder that the beginning of the nesting season was just a month away.
As we watched and listened, a breeze picked up and blew flakes off the snow-covered branches above. Though the sky remained clear, it seemed to be snowing -- on Christmas Eve.
After about 15 minutes, our feet began to get cold. The thought of hot chocolate and a few cookies was too much to resist. So we got up and headed back to the house. We hadn't taken two steps when we all heard a distinctive, high-pitched sound.
"What was that?" Emma asked.