"I don't know," Nora answered. "Maybe the animals are starting to talk," she added with a sly grin.
Before I thought better of it, I almost spoiled the moment. "I think we're hearing flying squirrels. They have high-pitched voices," I explained. "I know they live in the woods. Remember, we found a few nests in the chickadee boxes last spring."
In the brightness of the moonshine, I confirmed my suspicions. All around us a half-dozen flying squirrels jumped from tree to tree. As they sailed, the flaps of skin that run from ankle to wrist billowed with air, and the fliers glided skillfully from one tree to the next.
Upon landing, they instantly scurried to the back side of the tree trunk -- just in case a owl was in hot pursuit.
Linda and Nora saw the movement too, but just as I was about to point it out to Emma, she exclaimed, "Those aren't animal sounds, they're elves!" She was still focused on the squeaky noises we had heard moments earlier.
Now I faced a dilemma. Do I grab the teachable moment, or do I go for holiday magic? I opted for magic because I knew we could see flying squirrels another time.
"What are you talking about, Emma?" I asked. "What elves?"
"Santa's elves. I don't know why they're in the woods, but we need to get back home, and I need to get to bed," she explained.
Emma took off up the trail like a fox on the run. It was all we could do to keep up. By the time we got back to the house, we were exhausted.
After a cookie and a quick cup of hot chocolate, Emma put on her nightie and jumped into bed. Her cheeks were still rosy and cold.
Before I even opened our dog-eared copy of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," she was sound asleep. It was a Christmas Eve to remember.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033, or by email at sshala...@aol.com.