May the morning of December 22 find thee well, Ulster County. For us, the temperature is 24°.
Here in the Rondout where the CSX train engine calls out alone, the sun has not yet risen.
The longest night of the year is taking its time. The sun will rise at 7:22 a.m. From 8:30 until long after the sun sets, the temperature will rise and rise and rise.
By 3 p .m. the temperature will be 44°. By 8:30 tomorrow the temperature will have peaked at 54° before plummeting headlong back down into a snow event. Why is this? Reach out to Bob Berman, he who directs two observatories and can explain these things. The moon will rise soon at just one percent of its former glory. Just a wisp of a moonthat will go through the motions and set at 3:33 p.m., when it will be time to make a wish.
High tide will also do its best at 12:02 a.m., but the riverbanks are expected to hold firm regardless and no farms are forecast to be flooded. According to the stalwart fur trapper Dionizas who lives on Mount Tremper, there remain 78 days of winter temperatures ahead.
But a pair of shorts and nothing else are suggested 24 hours from now.
Now for the snow forecast we go out to Bjorn Jorgensen on Belleayre Mountain. Bjorn, what say you?
Bjorn: The climb was still dark here, Johannes. And the stars have largely been obscured. Nevertheless, I persisted. I bring you news of the mountaintop!
Johannes: Someone’s been up all night.
Bjorn: Not I! Well, I dreamed a bit. Drowsed in front of the fire. Fire is everything, Johannes.
We take it for granted. The arrogant scientist who slept with his friend’s wives was right!
Johannes: Richard Feynman?
Bjorn: That’s the one. He said that the trees had soaked up the sunlight, and when we burned wood it was the same sunlight we were releasing back! He was right! I’ve been basking in the sunlight the long night through.
Johannes: And drinking.
Bjorn: Well, of course. We should be plaster saints?
Johannes: I’ve always liked that comparison. But the suspense is killing me…
Bjorn: Oh, yes. You want to know the temperature. -3° Celsius. Nothing to write the home country about.
Johannes: That’s not the suspense which is killing me.
Bjorn: It did not snow. The summit is rife with wind, however, ten to 15 knots an hour. Beats a butterfly’s breath.
Johannes: Very good, Bjorn. But perhaps you can say whether she came to your fire?
Bjorn: Who? Oh, she with the red hair. She who hunts. She did not.
Johannes: Oh, I’m sorry to bring it up, then.
Bjorn: No. I have not taken it personally. There’s still eleven nights of Yule to go …. The solstice is the reason for the season, of course, but it’s just the spark that starts the whole thing off …. You know, I thought I saw her out of the range of the firelight, though …. Well, there were a pair of eyes reflecting the firelight, it could have been a wolf, when I was speaking with Minerva.
Bjorn: You remember, I saw an old woman making her way to the summit of the mountain a week ago or so? Using ski poles to make the climb? I see her pass by quite often. She’s very active. Quite the character. She stopped by the fire. And had a strange beverage she shared and a very curious way with words.
Johannes: What was her name?
Bjorn: A wooden sign falls from the treetops and jerks at the end of its chains. The sign hangs swinging. “Minerva, who knows all too well,” reads the sign. On a wooden knotted and grained background, the words in weathered and chipped white paint glows in the orange and red firelight.
This is the night, says I, when cats call out and the dogs wake startled and angry. And the moon has eaten itself to nothing. When the breeze has died and the snow may fall and the stars have promised something. When the darkness goes on and on, and how an honest man may wish the sun would never rise again. Well knows the dishonest man that’ll never happen!
Revel far into the night, fall under the spell of a beverage hot and steaming, fall under the spell of a solicitous stranger. Hah, yes, I.
Fall into love, fall into decadence, fall into disrepute, all is sanctioned from above. Fall into resolution, after resolution, fall into each of the cardinal directions. Fall into regret, fall into winsome revelation, fall any way which one pleases as long as one falls. To the pleasure of falling, raises a toast I. I’ll give the push.
I’ve passed him on my way up the hill, for this is no mountain. Yes, the children here call it by that name, but children are in need of extravagant decoration. Like the medals on the chest of a general. Ha, ha. That’s precious. Decorate the murderers with something other than blood and guilt. Neither here nor there. It’s the same everywhere. Someone’s got to do the killing. As long as the blood is spilt. It’s us or them. So it’s a snowy hill.
Did they require adze and piton and shoe spike to make the peak? No. Can they breathe air on the summit? Yes. Is there any fear of death should the weather catch them clouds and ice and frost unawares? Please. Let sleeping children lie. So let’s call it a mountain. As long as the blood is spilt.
Yes, many a morning I’ve passed him, on my way to the summit near the spring. Cold water pure and clean in the veins of this, yes, mountain, ha ha. Well have I watched him on the way to the well. How well I’ve planned to ensnare him, with the most simple of spells. Well.
Now is the time. Planning is hell. Warm and flushed with goodwill for mankind. He, not I.
Addled in the firelight, his axe he’s set aside. I’ve spied his Norse chorus. Those men of conviction and snow. Unwise, he is, to have built them up. Give them an inch and they’ll set fire to a mile. The one in the middle, I recognize. Not his first time on the hill, this spirit of discontent with the ice cubes for eyes. Shaped like diamonds. Not his first bolero. With the bowler hat and the meerschaum pipe. Bartholomew. Bartoleo. Brandywine disguised. He and I. We’ve met before, he with the diamonds for the eyes. He reincarnates with the snow. Unwise to have built him up. Three times unwise.
There’s nothing for it, I’ve gathered the herbs and spices. The thistles of a Hawthorne. Liver problems, kidney stones, attacks of gout and ulcers.. All in a jar, the sap of a deathscap, of a foolscap, of a loverscap, the feathers of three crows. The bones of a newt. The tears of a orange salamander. The spikes of a rose.
Mushrooms and moss and a handful of cloves. Many a morning I’ve passed him, but now is the time. The night is long, his heart is full of anticipation, I’ll catch him unawares. I’ll tangle him in my snares.
His dreams are innocent, his will is good, I’ll lead him up the stairs. Why not?, say I. Why not? Bleed like a stuck pig, pickle in the brine. Retch and cough, list and struggle, now is the right time. Before the sunlight shines. On the longest of nights, now is the time.
Thus spake Minerva.
Bjorn: And you said she shared with you a strange beverage, Bjorn?
Bjorn: Yes, Johannes. It tasted like a bright memory of happiness with just a hint of remorse. She said she’ll bring me more.
The dawn is upon us, red and sullen and the sky is blanketed in clouds. Low tide is at 7:05 p.m., down by half an inch.