|Winter Goddess of the North |
and no longer among us they roam.
~ Damh the Bard, “On Midwinter’s Day”
As I walk between the buildings, the snow packed hard from the daily press of thousands of boots, I am struck by the stillness. Winter used to always strike me like that: silent and still, a memorial to sleep. I had almost forgotten the affect this season can have on me, likely because I haven’t seen snow in almost two years, and I had stopped loving Winter and its gods of death long before that. Perhaps it was digging my car out of two feet of ice every weekend while I lived in New York that made me grow so bitter towards the season, or perhaps it was trudging to class through frozen puddles while I studied in Russia, or perhaps it was simply that I had forgotten that just as I need my nightly rest, the land needs its yearly sleep. Regardless of the reasons, I had grown to dread the period following Samhaine despite the joy with which I always approach that particular holiday.
And yet, now, surrounded by the stillness of cold, far from anywhere I’ve ever called home, I find myself reconnected to the Earth in a way I have not been since I last walked the forests of Virginia. I certainly never felt this connected in Texas, and most definitely not while deployed in the Middle East. Here in Germany I am in a nearly constant state of awareness, of connection, of prayer. The gods of winter are thriving; they sent their messengers forth to peck the ground for frozen morsels, cawing at the curiosities they find buried beneath the white. Every time I pass such a scene, I smile to myself and nod in appreciation to my black-winged brothers. The crows are out in full force now. I often wonder if they are as amused by humanity as I am by them.
I had been dreading coming here. I had convinced myself that this temporary duty would consist of nothing but work, work, work and DFAC food (never a relishing thought). No one else from my unit was going, and I was the lowest ranking officer on the invite list. I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which this detail could possibly have been worthwhile, and I was so worried about what would happen to my Platoon with neither myself nor a Platoon Sergeant to look after them and shield them from higher HQ for three whole weeks (he’s on leave en route to a new post, and I am, as I have mentioned, out of the country serving a larger mission). However, despite the frantic emails I receive once a day from my Commander or the XO, things seem to be at least—if not running smoothly—continuing to run. The realm I left behind is not, in fact, imploding; nor am I quite so alone here as I anticipated. One other officer I knew who used to be in my unit is also here, and I have since developed a few good friends among the younger Captains. They all still outrank me, but since my little gold bar turned black, no one seems to care whether you have one black bar or two. I still salute them when we are all in uniform, much to their chagrin.
Thus, as reluctant as I am to admit that I was wrong, I have to say it: I’m glad I came to Germany. I may even go so far as to admit that I am glad I came to this particular, forgotten spot of the former Soviet-controlled Eastern half. The woods here are dark and full of history; and, blood-stained as much of that history is, it still adds a richness to the fabric or the land. Perhaps that history is what the crows are searching through the snow for, or perhaps it’s just my imagination getting the better of me again, but the gods of winter have rekindled a flame I thought lost. I am now looking forward to Yule, to reuniting with my family and my forest, or at least the few trees that remain of those I grew up among. The rights to their wood has long been sold to loggers, builders, and other contractors, as if the forest itself were something a man can own.
The puddles here are glass, solid and still. The ripples froze in place, creating a mottled and unique texture on each one. Part of me is glad that they are frozen in their judgment, unable to reflect the faces that pass them by. Sometimes as I walk by them I am struck, not by the stillness, but by a still thought: the gods of winter are quite alive, and we are the ones who sleep eternal with dreams of a world we control.