WINTER SOLSTICE

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It was the deepest point of winter: the longest night and the shortest day. Sarah knew that today was a pivot, and that everything should change little by little. It was the hinge of the year. It didn’t feel like that though. The quickenings and flickers of light would never come, perhaps. And the customary symbols did not seem to do their job. That robin, now. He hopped from one branch to another, fixing her with his beady eye, probably hoping for a tasty worm. Folklore had it that when a robin was nearby, it was a sure sign that a deceased person was looking at you. Sarah rather hoped not.

Nonetheless she followed the robin down the forest path. He perched on a large fallen tree trunk and sang loudly: a chirrup, a tweet, a repeated series of notes. He pecked at the bark of the tree. Was he looking for grubs? It rather looked as though he was trying to draw blood.

Sarah looked more closely at the fallen tree. It was massive, and the roots were exposed: the bole and the bare branches too. She was forcibly reminded of other large trees she had known: the Boabab, in The Little Prince: the Major Oak in the Sherwood Forest of her childhood: the walnut tree in her grandmother’s garden. They had seemed to be sentient creatures: as this one was once, perhaps. Poor dead thing.

Hang on a moment. She could have sworn that the tree was breathing. A slight creaking and a huff and a puff. It stirred a little. All of a sudden Sarah saw something bright. It was an eye. It opened slowly, blinked and looked round. What she had thought was bark was skin: rough, dry, elephantine. A massive head reared up from the ground. She saw two eyes and two mighty tusks. It was a woolly mammoth. She turned and walked away, whistling, trying to appear nonchalant.

In the gloaming, at the very dead point of the year, the wood was coming alive. Creatures that had been dead for millions of years were lurching into consciousness once more. Sarah was no paleontologist, not she: but she knew that there were once creatures called Mastodon, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Now, they would roam the earth again: they had slouched to this wood to be born.

Sarah had thought that the winter solstice would usher in a spring that was moist and fecund. She had thought that the days would lengthen. But this would never be, not any more. Rising from their extinction, and brought into life by the forces of darkness, hunger and power, the massive beasts made the ground tremble. They began to roar and to salivate. For the softer creatures, it was now best to run. Run and hide.

© Photo by Anne Paton-Cragg