Washington column for Dec. 22

Our own naturalist president

Gail Swift, the new president of the Old Rag Master Naturalists, usually can be seen walking her dogs around town every day. By Steve Wedlock

Town resident Gail Swift is the newest president of the Old Rag Master Naturalists, and recently also was certified through Culpeper Soil Water Conservation District in stream monitoring. At least quarterly, Gail and her fellow “wet ones” (as the new group of certified monitors have named themselves) test the quality of streams in our watershed on a regular basis.. She currently oversees the north and south forks of the Thornton River.

Master Naturalists are dedicated to outreach, education and citizen science projects to help conserve and manage natural resources and public land. Training is available through the chapter; the next class will start in March 2017. And yes, there are still a few spots available. This is a major commitment of time both for training (sessions are every Friday morning for 14 weeks, plus several Saturday field trips) and once “graduated,” a minimum of 40 volunteer hours per year and eight continuing education hours are expected. If you are interested in the training, give Gail a call at 540-675-1003 or email her at gailswift@gmail.com.

Congratulations, Gail!

Heart of Christmas

As 2016 comes to an end and we start looking back on another successful year in Rappahannock County, the nights are drawing in, there a chill in the air, and Santa Claus is preparing for his delivery season — like many of you!

Christmas is a celebration marking the birth of Jesus Christ, who was born more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus of Nazareth was born to the Virgin Mary, according to the Christian churches that based their teachings on his teachings.

For some, Christmas is a time of celebrating and taking a break from the daily grind of life, before stepping up again in the new year.

Christmas is celebrated in many different ways, the celebrations varied by cultural practices, financial capacity and social and political factors. For some, it is a season for giving to the less fortunate ones and caring for them. One can dedicate all the efforts to help someone in need — a neighbor or a friend who is in need of help or care.

Christmas can be celebrated as a period of forgiving family or friends who have wronged us and asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged. We can celebrate this time by building new, stronger relationships with our families and friends.

For the religious, Christmas can be celebrated as a time for intense prayers for strengthening. It can also be celebrated by giving gifts, however big or small, to those you care about, making them feel special and loved. Most of all the celebration of Jesus Christ birthday.

It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace on earth.

Wherever we are, near or far, let’s remember to stop for a moment this holiday season to cherish the ones we love, and let’s make sure they know it.

I hope this year has been a fruitful one for you and your family, and that this season of joy brings you many blessings, good food and lots of time to spend with family and friends. Christmas is more than just giving and receiving gifts. Keep in mind that that the greatest gift you can ever own is not found in the stores or under your Christmas tree. It is found in the hearts of your loving family and your true friends.

May each of us, in our own way, seek to increase outreach to others, peace and love in the light of the new year. Merry Christmas and best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and blessed New Year from that little hollow of mine.


Hanukkah, a holiday known as the Festival of Lights, begins at sunset on Saturday, Dec. 24 and ends on Sunday, Jan. 1.

The ancient holiday celebrates the victory of Israelites over the Syrian Greek army. The miracle of Hanukkah is that one vial of oil, meant for one day, lasted for eight full days. Families celebrate Hanukkah at home by lighting the menorah (a sacred candelabrum with seven branches used in the Temple in Jerusalem), playing special games and eating symbolic foods. There are also songs and gift exchanges. Some of the symbolic foods eaten are deep fried which symbolizes the oil used to light the Menorah in the Temple.

Birthday wishes

Birthday wishes go out to my dad, Pastor John Burke. He will celebrate his special day on Saturday (Dec. 24). Happy birthday, dad! Also wishes go out to Mary Ann Kuhn, Dr. John McCue, Dennis Fairbrother and Hunt Harris. They all celebrate their day on Monday (Dec. 26). Wishes go out to a dear wonderful sister-in-law of mine, Mae Racer, who will be celebrating her special day on Saturday, Dec. 31. I hope that Santa will leave them an extra gift for their birthday.

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good year!