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Local author leads Advent in the woods

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At the event, hosted by Calvin’s ecosystem preserve, Boss read from her “All Creation Waits.” Photo by Chloe Selles.

At the event, hosted by Calvin’s ecosystem preserve, Boss read from her “All Creation Waits.” Photo by Chloe Selles.

At the event, hosted by Calvin’s ecosystem preserve, Boss read from her “All Creation Waits.” Photo by Chloe Selles.

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Just as the light began to fade on November 14, a group of local community members, students and alumni gathered in the Ecosystem Preserve to mark the approach of Advent and the change of the seasons.

Reading aloud from her book, “All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings,” Gayle Boss led the hour-long walk at dusk along with Jeanette Henderson, Program Manager at the Preserve. Stopping at five different areas around the preserve, Boss read aloud excerpts revealing how five different animals (the wood frog, little brown bat, raccoon, wild turkey and painted turtle) survive this dark time.

Before the walk began, Boss explained her creative inspiration for “All Creation Waits.” After searching for Advent calendars for her eldest son, Boss realized that all Advent calendars in stores are actually Christmas calendars. Rather than commemorating the long, dark days of waiting before Christ’s birth, they simply mark down the days before Christmas with pictures of candy canes and presents, cheapening this deeply spiritual time. Frustrated, she decided to write a book that would deal with the darkness that leads into the Christmas season, and which would recognize the ancient Christian attentiveness to and practice of learning from our brothers and sisters, the animals. This season is especially hard for animals, and yet they adapt to the harsh conditions in incredible ways. From their practices, Boss said, we can learn that we have “what we need to survive the darkest time of the year and the darkest times of our lives,” and that in this darkness there is “a door to a new beginning.”

“Her book came out last year,” said Hailey Jansson, an alumna from the class of 2017, “and during the last advent season I read it to myself whenever I had a moment to spare in the day. During this walk, it was a totally different experience. Gayle, knowing her work so well, could make the words sing.”

At the trail overlooking Prince Pond, Boss began the walk by reading about the wood frog, vividly describing how each frog’s body partially freezes over winter. At South Pond by the Bunker Interpretive Center, walkers listened as she told the story of winter from the little brown bats’ perspective.

In the woods, Boss stopped at the foot of a tree with a heart-shaped hollow high above known for nesting raccoons and owls. Here she read about the feeding habits of a family of raccoons as they eat to fatten themselves up so that their thick tails can keep them warm.

The group was also allowed to access the Sanctuary section of the Preserve, an area usually reserved for research. Here Boss described the winter habits of wild turkeys, and Henderson pointed out the presence of a kettle swamp downhill from the walkers where wild turkeys in the Preserve often gathered. This kettle swamp, Henderson said, feeds into Whiskey Creek and drains under the Beltline, eventually feeding into the Seminary Pond.

“I was part of a coat-clad audience with mitten-clad claps, huddling together in the chilly nature preserve just like the animals in the chapters she read,” Jansson said, describing the experience. “I think what struck me is that we’re not all that different from the raccoon mother or the little brown bats during this cold, dark season.”

Jenna Van Donselaar, a senior Biology and Religion double major at Calvin, agreed:

“Overall, I thought it was a refreshing break in the day. Joining members of the community (not just students) on a walk in the preserve was a nice experience. Meditating on nature and community was a helpful thing to do as the season of Advent is also the season of exams. Learning how animals get through dark seasons, often in community, is encouraging as we enter a dark season ourselves.”

For the final reading Boss led the group to the deck overlooking South Pond under gray, darkening skies. Here she read the first reflection in the book on the painted turtle. In spite of the cold, the warmly bundled group listened intently as she recounted the winter ritual for the painted turtle as she swims to the bottom of the pond, buries herself, and waits for spring to come. This is more than simple ‘waiting,’ as Boss tenderly describes the toll this waiting in the cold takes on the body of the Turtle – to the point of its dissolving. Boss left her audience with hope, however, reading:

“So, though she is dissolving, every stressed particle of her stays focused on the silver bead of utter quietude. It’s this radical simplicity that will save her, and deep within it at the heart of her stillness, something she has no need to name, but something that we might call trust. That one day the world will warm again, yes, and with it her life.”

Through the end of this week, Henderson said, copies of Gayle Boss’s book, “All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings,” will be 20% off at the Calvin Bookstore.

Boss also announced the tentative release of her audiobook at the end of November saying that it will be available on Audible.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and that further information could be found on her Facebook or website at gayleboss.com.

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