OK, so I didn't send cards - but I did fix a fence

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For the first time in perhaps three decades, I did not get any Christmas cards off this past holiday season, and I still feel as if I've failed an exam or bungled an assignment. My other priorities were worthy enough. If you've ever had a "child" move from home into his or her own digs with only a pickup as transport you know it takes its toll - on more than a physical level.

Besides helping my duly graduated and newly employed 18-year-old establish himself in his one-bedroom kingdom in mid-December, there was a blizzard to cope with, a number of unexpected expenses, and a spate of financially welcome but time-intensive editing work.

All lame excuses, because in past years I've gotten cards and messages out in spite of everything - the demands of a full-time dairy, a younger child's needs, skimpy finances, and December's fickle weather here in south central Indiana (if it isn't a blizzard it might be a flood). This year, I admit, I just didn't feel like it.

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Each card that arrived, some handmade, others with digital pictures and full-blown diaries of the past year, gave my conscience pangs.

All were from people I have had an almost contractual relationship with when it comes to Christmas cards. We always exchange, whether for the past five or 30 years. I won't even mention family - except to say that my brother and sister-in-law might be feeling guilty, too.

The thing is, you notice when regulars don't come through, even (and maybe especially) if you yourself haven't.

I don't think it makes a whit of difference whether you send a simple signed card, a standardized Christmas letter (with or without a personal jotting or two), or do as I have done over the years: Center the December mailing on a picture or collage, with a personal message to each recipient.

But if the spirit doesn't move you, it just won't happen.

So, how to make amends? I've toyed with the idea of a Valentine's mailing, but I may just let this one slip by. That blessed thought came to me as I traipsed the farm today. It was bitterly cold, but a full sun after weeks of rain and snow put a new perspective on things.

Coming down to the ice-crusted stream that feeds Bean Blossom Creek, I saw that the barbed wire dividing our place from the neighboring property at that particular juncture had fallen into a sorry, rusted tangle. Any cow worth her milk could step over the mess and proceed to destinations unknown. This time of year it would never happen because the animals rarely wander far from the barn and its feeding racks. Still, I spent a good half hour in the lovely wooded valley restringing the wire to secure the site.

I may still manage a Valentine's mailing. If not, I am at peace with the notion that if I have faltered with one season's test, I have anticipated another's, including a bovine's springtime passion for breaking boundaries.

I'd like to believe that such lapses and foresights balance out, whatever the season.

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