The story was called 'Annika and the Bears.' The beginning of the story is really the end, and Annika is staring wide-eyed into new velvet-black darkness. The eyes she stares with were brown once, sparkling and the exact color of root beer, but are now an empty ice-blue, almost white. Annika is waiting for her body to grow warm so that she can fall asleep and, as she waits, she remembers life outside this darkness, remembers the world she loved and how it changed. Once, her home was called the Land of Spring and Fall because that's what it was, a place in which the seasons didn't turn in a circle, but moved like a seesaw, Fall becoming Spring becoming Fall becoming Spring. And there had been a moment every year when the seesaw hit a perfect balance. This was Annika's favorite time because blossoms burst from branches alongside red and gold leaves, crocuses opened between rows of corn, and baby animals were born under autumn skies. In the Land of Spring and Fall, it was never too cold or too hot to play outside; brooks never froze or dried up; leaves never fell from the trees; and people and animals never grew old or died. But when a witch appeared in the land, a witch who was furiously angry, but for no reason anyone could understand, and the witch cast a spell that plunged the land into a never-ending winter. In Winterland, terrible things began to happen. People and animals got sick, with wrenching coughs and burning fevers. Desperate for warmth, the people began to kill their friends the animals in order to wrap themselves in fur coats. Food became scarce, and everyone began to fight over what little there was. And strangest of all, one by one, every living, breathing creature in the land began to turn as white as chalk, as colorless as snow with no sun shining on it. One day, Annika sat at her window, looking sadly at the blank world, when she saw, trudging across the snow, her beloved friend John the bear and his family of bears. Some of the bears were white, some were a dull gray, but only John was still a rich chestnut brown. The bears walked with their immense heads hanging down and some of them cried, dropping tears onto the snow. Before they hit the ground, the tears turned to ice. Annika ran outside, calling John's name. He stopped and looked at her with his kind eyes and told her that they were going away, to a cave deep inside one of the high hills that surrounded Winterland. 'To sleep,' he said. 'To wait.' Annika threw her arms around John, buried her face in his beautiful fur, and then stood and watched as the procession of bears patiently resumed their long journey.That night, Annika woke up with a start. She sat up in bed and saw that the hair falling over her shoulders was as white as milk, and she ran to the mirror. As she stared at her reflection, the pink began draining from her cheeks. 'Oh no,' she whispered. 'It's happening. I'm turning into someone else. A winter girl.' In a flash, she had on her shoes and her thickest wool coat and was out the door. The trail of crystal tears the bears had left gleamed in what little moonlight could force its way through the clouds and, slogging through snow, cold eating into her bones, Annika followed the trail. When she got to the cave and moved away the rock that blocked the entrance, all the bears were asleep, except John. He rested his paw on the patch of soft dirt next to him. 'For you, dear heart,' he said sleepily. Then he moved the rock into place and lay back down. Annika curled up between John and another bear, listening to their slow breathing, readying herself for sleep. The bears' bodies warmed her own from the outside in. The last thing to get warm was her heart, and then Annika fell asleep.The story ends this way: 'Imagine the deepest sleep you've ever slept. Multiply its deepness by the number of stars in the sky and the number of fish in the sea. Then you will know the sleep of Annika and the bears.
And, I think, this greening does thaw at the edges, at least, of my own cold season. Joy sneaks in: listening to music, riding my bicycle, I catch myself feeling, in a way that’s as old as I am but suddenly seems unfamiliar, light. I have felt so heavy for so long. At first I felt odd- as if I shouldn’t be feeling this lightness, that familiar little catch of pleasure in the heart which is inexplicable, though a lovely passage of notes or the splendidly turned petal of a tulip has triggered it. It’s my buoyancy, part of what keeps me alive: happy, suddenly with the concomitant experience of a sonata and the motion of the shadows of leaves. I have the desire to be filled with sunlight, to soak my skin in as much of it as I can drink up, after the long interior darkness of this past season, the indoor vigil, in this harshest and darkest of winters, outside and in.
Gripped with bitter cold, ice-locked, Petersburg burned in delirium. One knew: out there, invisible behind the curtain of fog, the red and yellow columns, spires, and hoary gates and fences crept on tiptoe, creaking and shuffling. A fevered, impossible, icy sun hung in the fog - to the left, to the right, above, below - a dove over a house on fire. From the delirium-born, misty world, dragon men dived up into the earthly world, belched fog - heard in the misty world as words, but here becoming nothing - round white puffs of smoke. The dragon men dived up and disappeared again into the fog. And trolleys rushed screeching out of the earthly world into the unknown. ("The Dragon")
The elk that you glimpse in the summer, those at the forest edge, are survivors of winter, only the strongest. You see one just before dusk that summer, standing at the perimeter of the meadow so it can step back to the forest and vanish. You can't help imagining the still, frozen nights behind it, so cold that the slightest motion is monumental. I have found their bodies, half drifted over in snow, no sign of animal attack or injury. Just toppled over one night with ice working into their lungs. You wouldn't want to stand outside for more than a few minutes in that kind of weather. If you lived through only one of those winters the way this elk has, you would write books about it. You would become a shaman. You would be forever changed. That elk from the winter stands there on the summer evening, watching from beside the forest. It keeps its story to itself.
In January in Northern Russia, everything vanishes beneath a deep blanket of whiteness. Rivers, fields, trees, roads, and houses disappear, and the landscape becomes a white sea of mounds and hollows. On days when the sky is gray, it is hard to see where earth merges with air. On brilliant days when the sky is a rich blue, the sunlight is blinding, as if millions of diamonds were scattered on the snow, refracting light. In Catherine's time, the log roads of summer were covered with a smooth coating of snow and ice that enabled the sledges to glide smoothly at startling speeds; on some days, her procession covered a hundred miles.
Perhpas if I call out to Rat he might hear," said the Mole to himself, but without much hope.Rat! Ratty! O Rat, please hear me!" he called out as loudly as he could, holding up his lantern as he did so, waving it about/ But the wind rushed and roared around him even more, and snatched his weak words away the moment they were they were uttered, and scattered them wildly and uselessly as if they were flakes of snow,Even worse, the light of the lantern began to gutter, and then, quiet suddenly, an extra strong gust of wind blew it out.Well then," said the daunted but resolute Mole, putting the spent lantern on the ground, "there's nothing else for it! Frozen rivers are dangerous thinngs, no doubt, but I must try to cross, despite the dangers."--The Willows in the Winter
Outside the window, there slides past that unimaginable and deserted vastness where night is coming on, the sun declining in ghastly blood-streaked splendour like a public execution across, it would seem, half a continent, where live only bears and shooting stars and the wolves who lap congealing ice from water that holds within it the entire sky. All white with snow as if under dustsheets, as if laid away eternally as soon as brought back from the shop, never to be used or touched. Horrors! And, as on a cyclorama, this unnatural spectacle rolls past at twenty-odd miles an hour in a tidy frame of lace curtains only a little the worse for soot and drapes of a heavy velvet of dark, dusty blue.
The snow filled the air with a soft grey-blue mist, softening the wind and gunfire, bringing the earth and sky together into one swaying blur.The snow fell on Bach's shoulders; it was as though flakes of silence were falling on the still Volga, on the dead city, on the skeletons of horses. It was snowing everywhere, on earth and on the stars; the whole universe was full of snow. Everything was disappearing beneath it: guns, the bodies of the dead, filthy dressings, rubble, scraps of twisted iron.This soft, white snow settling over the carnage of the city was time itself; the present was turning into the past, and there was no future.