Dobrej den, Ulster County.
It’s currently 16° Fahrenheit in the early morning of December 13. Caught between the mouth of Leo and the claws of Cancer, the gibbous moon hovers high in the sky like a cold and lonely noontime sun.
The temperature today will climb just a few degrees above freezing. Scarves and gloves will become significant later in the movie.
The wind has been fixed out of the north for days. It keeps a steady three knots. Between it and the cold radiating from the snow on the ground, winter has begun in earnest. More snow behind the wind isn’t expected to arrive until Thursday night, with forecasts of a possible four to eight inches.
Far off, the slightest liminal glow haunts the lowest edge of the black sky, The daily glory of the sunrise will arrive at 7:16 a.m. Nine hours and ten minutes is all the time one has to get things done in the sunlight. The longest night of the year creeps ever closer, now just a week away.
The reading of the barometer shows 1026 millibars. Landlocked here in the Hudson Valley, the instrument can seem about as useful as an unearthed but still dirt-crusted relic. But when the needle drops, watch out.
For the snow forecast now we go out to Bjorn Jorgensen, who awaits us out at Belleayre Mountain. How fare thee, Bjorn?
Bjorn: Good morning , Johannes. From here on the mountain looking east. the rise of the sun throws off the color of a crushed tamarind glow like a rind of a melon around the world.
Johannes: Well, well, all business today.
Bjorn: Yes, and the weather at the summit is currently minus eight degrees [Celsius].
Johannes: And is that it then, Bjorn?
Bjorn: To be honest, there is in my mood the touch of melancholy today.
Johannes: Lucky for us we’re not on a television morning show, Bjorn. Did you not sleep well?
Bjorn: I slept fine. I remember it was my own wedding party, and I was pursued by wolves through a dark forest. We had left the party after the drinking and dancing of the celebration, in sloppy good humor. My wife was very tipsy and couldn’t stop laughing. Her cheeks were very flushed in the moonlight.
A number of our friends and relatives left as well to come back with us. You see, we all lived in a village on the other side of the forest. We made quite a ruckus leaving, all shouts, and jingling bells and confusion.
About halfway through the woods, we heard the howls and we could see the beasts running alongside us, keeping pace at some distance. I think that the winter had not treated them kindly, that they were wild with hunger. And then we were in the darkest part of the woods, where the trees and bushes press close on either side of the trail. There the wolves closed in and behind us you could hear the frightened yells of the men and the shrieking of the women — a heavy sound, like one of the sleighs had gone over on its side in the snow just behind us, dragging the sleigh bells, and then the collision of each sleigh behind as it crashed into the one before, the confusion of wolves and horses and men all struggling for supremacy.
They were all trapped back there, and the snarling and growls of the wolves fighting over the wedding guests rose behind us out of the darkness. My wife and I were all that remained on the back of a horse-drawn sled, and I held the reins in my hands whipping and snapping them to urge the horses on faster. The breath of the horses made clouds in the air, where the moonlight cut through the trees. Their flanks were sweating, and one black horse in particular was foaming at the mouth from the exertion.
I couldn’t see the wolves, and they weren’t howling any longer. But I knew they were there behind us just the same, intent on the chase. Growls and snarls in the darkness. The sounds of a pack running through the snow.
They were gaining on us, Johannes. We were not light enough. I did not want to die, Johannes. There was no other option.
Johannes: I can see where this is going.
Bjorn: I turned back and embraced my wife, stroked her blonde tresses. My wife was very beautiful in the white dress which wasn’t so large and exaggerated as they are made today. There is lace on the arms and tight at the neck, yes. I embraced her, and as I did so I pried her hand off the sleigh railing. And then I pushed her.
Johannes: And here’s Bjorn with the mountain snow forecast. Thank you. Good night.
Bjorn: It doesn’t mean anything, Johannes. I had read a story once about a wedding party chased through the woods by wolves
Johannes: When I asked you if you slept well, you said you slept fine.
Bjorn: Well, it’s just a dream, Johannes. You can’t let that make your mood.
Hold on. Yes, that’s right.
Karl says that’s an old story, retold in capitalist countries to discredit the humanity of the Russians. It’s the same as in every war, where they tell us the enemy has bombed the maternity ward at a local hospital. Sometimes they have.
Johannes: That may be so, Bjorn, but it’s best to be skeptical when it’s your own government telling what it wants you to hear. I don’t mean to lecture. In any case, that’s just Karl’s very binary slant. I find it more likely that the wedding party story actually did happen some time long ago buried in the collective unconscious of the Eastern European experience. And that the husband really did push his wife off the sled to save his own skin.
Bjorn: The forest can be very dark, Johannes, and not everyone can be so brave.
Johannes: That doesn’t make you melancholy?
Bjorn: I suppose it would if I thought about it, but I was just a dream husband and that was just my dream wife. Perhaps we would have been happy. Who knows?
It’s the snow that’s making me melancholy, Johannes. It’s not so nearly substantial as it looks. You reach down for a handful and it’s all air …. The heat yesterday took a lot of the water out. And what’s left is like pop rocks melting in your hands.
Johannes: And what does Karl think?
Bjorn: He says snowmen don’t dream, they only struggle.
The moon will rise at 9:27 p.m. to light the leafless woods below as best it can. But fallen pine needles may very well dampen the sound of pursuit.