On the twenty-first day of December

Dawn broke clear and cold upon the solstice, much as it had for the past three weeks. But the temperature rose, and thick, dark clouds amassed; by mid-morning, a gloominess pervaded. There was no wind, and the forest was disarmingly still. The murkiness was such that the little bearded fellow, nipping outside to fetch an armful of firewood from his open-fronted wooden shed — the logs logic-defyingly and convention-disregardingly arranged, several layers high, in zig-zags in it, like concatenated W letters — lit his lantern and took it with him.

Out of nowhere, the wind began to bluster. Wedging itself thickly between the sea's surface and the heavens, a colossal grey cloud advanced like the drawing of a curtain; swept up onto land, and higher up to the forest. Here the procession reached its end; the wind died down, and it began to snow!

The individual snowflakes, as if in suspension, descended so nonchalantly that it seemed they could not be of much consequence. But they filled the air, and in truth fell heavily. To begin with there lay only a thin coating of snow upon the forest floor, that one would not swap shoes for boots for; but for hour upon hour, the layer became thicker and thicker. At last the snow clouds gave way to an ice-cold night, and a firmament decked with stars.

Snow was now wrapped around the branches of the forest's deciduous trees as if they had been dipped into it; and had collected upon the pine trees like flung-up-there white rugs. The night was moonlit, and the glistening of the trees and the undergrowth, like myriad tiny torches being lit, was a light as magical as that trapped under the ice, in the set-apart pine and its cousins, and in the puffballs.

Though night had set in, it was not yet late. Dragging a sledge up a hill, the little girl now leapt onto it and pushed off... with the thrill of cold air rushing into her face, in a swish of displaced snow, she and the sledge hurtled down. The more often she did so, the more compact the snow became; the faster the sledge went; and the more exhilarating it was!

At the cottage of the young couple, the husband shuffled a path through the weighty snow from the porch and out; if his wife should go into labour tonight, they would not now flounder in it to send word. It was heavy work, but to concentrate his mind and body upon it on such a beautiful evening was disburdening.

Amongst the trees, the elder trudged slowly through the deep snow towards the home of the little bearded fellow. The latter was brushing the snow off the track of his train-clock, having painstakingly cleared it from the train itself, and having minutely applied a few drops of lubricant to the train's axles and joints with the help of a little cloth rag; by the time the elder arrived, it was running as exuberantly as ever.

The snow had covered the lake's ice and the puffball rings that had been prepared yesterday, as well as, to a degree, the raw wood which the roe deer fawns had uncovered on the set-apart pine and its cousins. "Tomorrow," said the elder to the little bearded fellow, "we must bring the rings to the surface." He asked the little bearded fellow if he and the treecreeper could meet him at the lake at nine o' clock in the morning; the little bearded fellow replied that he would, and that he would at once walk to the nest of the treecreeper to give word.

Parting from the little bearded fellow, the elder walked steadily off into the night; he planned too to visit the little girl and her mother, but this could wait until tomorrow — a fresh snowfall comes around only every so often, and the joy of making the most of it, as he knew they would, was sacred.

This is the twenty-first part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 01:47 (GMT+1), 23rd December 2022