And so the time comes when we stumble, glass in hand, Past Janus with his two faces, one looking back and one to the future, as he stoically holds open the door of another new year. He is not alone, far from it, the elemental personifications of winter are hard at work all around us.
The North Wind fills his vast cheeks and blasts icy breath down from his cave upon all who venture abroad. Jack Frost passes by, leaving a trail of sparkling splendour across fields and windows. Frost giants out of Jotunheim stalk the land and Skadi the huntress slides over the snow on her swift skis.
On a snow covered mountain far to the east, poor Marouckla Trudges through the Packed powder. Her step sister and step mother have sent her out to fetch violets, an impossible task at this time of year, yet if she returns without them they will kill her. Up she climbs through the biting air until a fire comes in sight at the very highest peak, set around with a circle of twelve stones on each of which sits a strange man. Three are old with white hair, three in their prime, three strong and vigorous youths and the last three just children. Maroukla politely asks if she can warm herself by the fire. On the highest stone sits January, chief of the brothers of the months, he asks Maroukla what brings her there and is troubled by her reply, then, standing up he hands his wand to the youngest saying “March, you take the high seat”. Young March waves the wand over the fire and as the flames rise so the snow melts away around them, green grass and primroses spring from the earth and violets flower by the side of the wood.
The next day Maroukla is sent to find strawberries and the day after that apples. June and September each take their turn, their time out of time, but September, older and wiser than his brothers, will only allow Maroukla to take two apples. When she returns through the frozen whiteness her step mother and sister demand to know why she did not bring more of the crisp, fresh fruit. Maroukla tells them she would have but some shepherds drove her away. The two wicked creatures set off to sate their greed, determined to let no mere sheep herders deter them.
I barely need to mention that they warm themselves by the Month Brothers fire without asking; that they answer January’s gentle inquiry of “What brings you here?” with a rude rebuff and, as they stomp off to seek the now non existent apples, January waves his wand, the fire burns low, the skies fill with flurries of thick flakes and they meet the fate they had wished on Maroukla.
It is interesting how we, insulated and isolated inside our centrally heated homes, see Winter’s moods as Implacable and unfeeling, whilst our ancestors, who surely knew the season more intimately through their outdoor lives and wooden walls, viewed the elemental powers in a far more human light. The North Wind, Jack Frost and even January himself are just doing their job, taking their turn to help the great wheel go round, just as Jack-In-The-Green is preparing to send his forward scouts, the snowdrop commandoes in their camouflaged white caps, to push through the covering of crystallised water when February takes the high seat.
In the stately dance of the seasons one thing, inevitably, leads to another. On January the first, as the joys of an evening in the company of Bacchus give way to a morning with the gnomes of hangover hammering on the inside of their skull, this will undoubtedly become clear to many people.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.
The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk