Lynn Adele Acheson

Snow Child

 

           

There is a place not far from here, where the sky comes down to touch the earth.  Nearby live a man and a woman.  This is how their story begins…

 

            Each winter, the man carved plates and bowls from the trees that grew in the woods near their home.  He had a practical and common-sense approach to life.             

            The woman was gentle, sensitive, and imaginative.  When she wasn’t busy with household chores, she spent her time weaving beautiful woolen cloth.  She often sang as she wove.  The man loved to hear the sound of her voice lilting through the air as he worked.

            Every summer they grew corn and squash and raised sheep and chickens.  Some years there was not enough rain.  Other years there was too much, so their crops were not always good. 

            Each autumn, the man took the corn and squash, the bowls and plates, and the woolen cloth to market to sell.  And they would have been perfectly happy if their life had not lacked one important blessing—a child.

            The woman would sometimes sing a lullaby, as if to the child she longed for.   

 

                        “Baby sails a silver boat,

                        sails it out to sea.

                        Dreaming on a distant shore,

                        home she sails to me.

                        Close those sleepy eyes now,

                        close those sleepy eyes.

                        Smiles and happy times we’ll share

                        when you rise.”

 

            The man felt sad to hear her longing for something he could not give her.  More and more, he withdrew into his work and left the woman to her weaving and songs.  As the years went by, they spoke to each other less and less.

            One autumn, they had an abundant harvest.  “What ever will we do with all of this?” the woman asked, as she stared at the mound of corn and squash in their barn.  “There is much more here than you can sell at the local market.”

            “That it is,” answered the man.  “I was told that in the city, folks will give a better price for what we have to sell.” 

            “But it’s so far away.”  Still, she helped him load the corn, squash, bowls, plates, and woolen cloth on to the wagon.  “When will you return?”

             “I will be back when I have sold all we have here.” He hugged and kissed her.  Then, without looking back, he climbed into the wagon and drove down the road. 

            She felt a chill as she watched him drive away.

 

            Winter was coming.  The solitary days and nights without her husband seemed never ending.

              High in the sky, the billions of droplets of water that made up the clouds were freezing.  These specks of ice grew into snow crystals.  The tiny snow crystals formed snowflakes.  And the snow began to float to earth. 

            The first day of snow was bright and hopeful.  It lay lightly on the ground and made all that was around look fresh and pretty.         

            The woman thought her husband would surely be home soon.  But days passed and still he didn’t return.

            One morning, she woke to find the world blanketed in snow.  Snow stuck to the branches of trees and bushes.  It settled on railings and rooftops.  It outlined shapes in white, making the world look dazzling and unfamiliar.

            All day the woman watched the snow glide on the winter wind.  As the white flakes fell, they brought a hush, a quiet sleep, a silence, upon the world.  She yearned for her husband to be there so she could share the beauty of the snowy day with him.  More than ever, she missed sitting near the fire with him while he carved. 

            That night she looked out the window.  Moonlight reflected on the snow and made the ground luminous, as though it were daylight.  “How nice it would be to have someone to enjoy this with.”  

                                   

            The next morning the woman saw that more snow had fallen during the night.  It had piled up on the road, the fields, the rooftops of barns.  She watched little flurries rise in the wind, twirling and dancing across the land, drifting into white waves against the fences and across the fields.

            She noticed more wood was needed for the fire.  She put on her boots and coat, opened the door, and walked out into the white world. 

            “My, it looks alive.”  The thick layer of fluffy snow muffled sounds, making all the world still and silent.  So silent, she could hear the faint tapping of snowflakes as they fell. 

            As she walked over to the wood her husband had stacked behind the house, the snow squeaked and crunched with each step.  She put some wood on the porch, then trudged across the field that had been planted with corn last summer. 

            Layers of air trapped inside the snowflakes made the snow deep.  Her feet sank far into the frosty white blanket.  Her clothes were soon wet with snow.  She felt cold and so alone in the world.

            She bent and scooped the snow into her mittened hand.  The crystals of the snowflakes sparkled like jewels in the sunlight.  

            The woman began to press the snow into a mound.  As she piled and shaped it, the snow started to take the form of a child.  The woman worked with great care and tenderness, and the snowy form seemed to grow under her hands.

            She took a step back and admired her creation.  How enchanting the little figure

looked--sparkling and white, as though a fairy or an angel had alighted from the sky.

            “Oh, what a lovely child you are,” she said when she was finished.  While she knew it was simply a form made from snow, she still felt a fondness for the little frozen figure.  “What a sweet little girl you would be.”

            The snowy form stared back without a sound.

            If only it were more than just a fanciful idea she thought, as she brushed the snow from her coat.  And she said, “It is too cold for me to stay any longer.  I’ll be back to see you tomorrow.” 

            That night she sat up late by the fire.  She cut a little dress and matching coat from some fine woolen cloth she had woven.  She stitched the garments, and then carefully embroidered them along the cuffs and hem. 

            In the wee hours of the morning, she finished. 

            “There,” she said, when she was done.  She marveled at the little outfit.  “How very pretty she will look in these.”     

 

            The woman trudged through the snow toward the field. Wind made the snow lift up and move about.  Wind had blown the snow into deep drifts.  She climbed steadily over them, wondering if the snow figure would still be there.  Would the wind have blown it away?

            She was overjoyed when she finally reached the solitary shape.  “I’m glad to see you survived the night.”

            The figure seemed to gaze back at her.   

            “See what I have made for you,” she said holding out the garments.  She pulled the beautifully embroidered dress over its head.  Then she buttoned the little coat over the dress. 

            “You look splendid!”

            The figure stood motionless.  Its face showed no expression.

            “Just look at yourself all dressed up for winter!” she said.  Branches swayed and cracked as a blast of wind rattled through the nearby trees. 

            “I so wish my husband and I had a child.”  The woman let out a sigh.  “We’ve dreamed of this for years.”

            She wished, half expected, it to speak.  But there was no reply.  The sound of her own laughter filled the quiet world.  “It’s been nice talking to you, even if you don’t have much to say.”  

            She gave the little figure a hug, stood back and looked into its face.  Both cheeks were shiny and streaked. 

            “Oh, dear, it looks as though you have been crying,” she said.  She felt an unexpected chill. 

            The little figure didn’t move.  After a few moments, the woman turned and walked back to the house.  Perhaps, she thought, the wind had turned the snow on its face to ice.   

  

            The next afternoon, the sky was full of snow.  The woman sat at the window and watched it ride gusts of wind down rooftops, float through the air, and swirl along the ground.  Her heart felt hollow.  It was the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  She had no one to share it with.   Then she remembered of how the little snow figure took some of her lonesome feelings away.

            She bundled herself against the cold, went outdoors, and walked in the direction of the field.  The frigid air hurt to breathe.  The snow’s surface had become smooth, shiny, and hard.  In some places, she could walk on top of it.  Occasionally, her boot broke through the crusty surface and she sank into the snow beneath.  Walking was such a struggle that she almost gave up and went back indoors. 

            Finally she reached the little figure, standing alone in the field.  Her heart warmed as she gazed at the familiar face.  It stood stiffly, buried to its waist in the snow that had fallen.

            “Would you like a little house to live in?” she asked.  She tried to pack the snow together, but it was bitterly cold.  The snow was dry, powdery and would not stick together.  “Oh.  I’m sorry.  It is too cold.  This snow isn’t good for building.”

            The light was withdrawing as the sun moved closer to the horizon.  The sky had a rosy glow.  The woman’s feet were numb with cold.  “I must go now.  Do come in, if you feel lonely.”  She giggled at her own foolishness.  Then she bent and kissed the icy, white cheek. 

            A slight rosy blush seemed to appear on the frozen face.  But when she stood back and looked again, it was gone. 

  

            Late that night the woman was awakened by the cold.  The hearth fire had gone out.  She lay in her bed shivering.  Just before dawn, she got out of bed and re-lit the fire.

            She put on coat and boots and walked across the snowy field in the darkness.  When she reached the place where the little figure stood, the sun was a bright pink sliver on the horizon.  As it rose, she sang the lullaby she had sung so many times to the child she wished for.

                       

                        “Baby sails a silver boat,

                        sails it out to sea.

                        Dreaming on a distant shore,

                        home she sails to me.

                        Close those sleepy eyes now,

                        close those sleepy eyes.

                        Smiles and happy times we’ll share

                        when you rise.”

 

            The frosty figure appeared to shimmer and glow in the emerging morning light.  The woman stopped singing and stood for a moment, taking in the silence and beauty of the world around her.

            To her amazement, the little figure smiled. 

            The woman stared, not quite believing what she saw.  She felt the world spinning around her.  Then she shook herself slightly.   

            “Ah, you’re stuck there in the snow aren’t you?” she asked.

            The child smiled and nodded its head slightly. 

            Slowly, as if entranced, the woman dug away the snow from around the little figure. 

            “There.  Now, you can get out.”

            As the little figure stepped forward, the snow fell away to reveal a beautiful child.  Her skin was pale and white.  Her cheeks and lips were flushed with the pink of the sunrise and her eyes were bright and blue as the newly emerging morning sky. 

            Tears welled up in the woman’s eyes.  Her heart felt as though it would come apart.  All her years of longing for a child—her wish had finally been granted. 

            “Would you like me to give you a name?” she asked.

            The child nodded her head.

            The sky was clear, the world was quiet.  The sun’s rays bounced off the surface of the snow lighting the world in white brilliance.    

            “I will call you Snow Child,” the woman said.

           

            Snow Child and the woman passed the days together.  They played games of checkers and cards.  They sang songs.  The woman spun yarn and taught Snow Child to knit.  They made dolls and dressed them in clothes they knit and stitched.  The rest of the winter slipped pleasantly by.

            Still, the woman missed her husband.  She talked to Snow Child about him and they both looked forward to his arrival.  Yet, the woman was worried.  How would she tell him about Snow Child?  Always more comfortable with the ordinary world, and distrusting of those elements he could not see and touch, she knew her husband would not be pleased if he realized there had been magic involved. 

            Days continued getting warmer.  The woman noticed patches of muddy brown earth peeking through the snow covered land.  The snow that now fell was wet slush that made puddles.  The child’s skin remained pale as snow, but the warmer weather didn’t seem to trouble her.   

            One day the woman heard the “tyeep-tyeep” of a robin just outside the window.  The snow had disappeared.  The muddy patches changed to green, plants began to grow. Wintertime was now a memory, as the earth continued to transform itself.  The world was awakening; sounds, smells, and evidence of life were all around. 

            One warm afternoon, the woman and Snow Child walked down the road to a field where wild strawberries grew.  The air was fresh and warm, filled with the sweet, musky scents of earth and springtime.  Together, they picked a bucket full of strawberries.

            As they walked along the road toward the house, the woman heard a familiar wagon behind them.  She turned and saw her husband coming up the road.  She ran to greet him and was embraced in his warm hug.

            “Who is this?” he asked, when he saw Snow Child.

            The woman told him that the little girl was a foundling, an orphan that she had discovered outdoors in the snow one day. 

            He was overjoyed that they finally had a child to share their life with.  To celebrate the homecoming, the three had cake and berries for supper. 

            When Snow Child was tucked in her bed, the woman told her a story, then sang the lullaby Snow Child loved, as she drifted happily off to sleep.

 

                        “Baby sails a silver boat,

                        sails it out to sea.

                        Dreaming on a distant shore,

                        home she sails to me.

                        Close those sleepy eyes now,

                        close those sleepy eyes.

                        Smiles and happy times we’ll share

                        when you rise.”

           

            As summer neared, the days became hot.  The man worked in the fields, planting corn and squash.  In the evenings he made wooden toys for the child—a wagon for her dolls to ride in and little wooden horses to pull it, tables and chairs for the dolls to sit and have their meals. 

            Snow Child played with these treasures all day long while the woman wove and cooked.  In the afternoon, when the man returned from his work in the fields, Snow Child eagerly danced around and asked questions about what he had done throughout the day.  For a time, the lives of the man, woman, and child were occupied with the wonder of each day.

            The man loved the child no less than the woman.  One day he asked Snow Child, “Would you like to come to the field with me today?”

            Snow Child looked up from her play, and smiled.  She had been quiet and less playful as the weather became hot. 

            “She’ll stay here, inside with me,” the woman said.                         

            A few days later, the man asked again if Snow Child wanted to come with him. 

            “She’s fine.  She doesn’t need to be outdoors in the hot sun,” the woman said.

            “The fresh air and sunshine will be good for her,” he said.

            The woman made no response.

            After a few days, the man asked again if Snow Child would like to come with him.  This time, Snow Child looked up, smiled, and nodded her head.  The woman did not argue.  She trusted her husband with all her heart, yet she could not bring herself to tell him the truth. 

            “It’s best she stay out of the sun,” the woman said. 

            “She’ll be fine,” the man said, as Snow Child eagerly picked up some toys to take along.

            But the woman was left with an uneasy feeling as she stood in the doorway and watched the two take their leave. 

            It was a cool morning, and Snow Child seemed pleased to be asked to come along.  The man talked to her about the planting.  He let her ride the horse out to the field.  And so they passed the morning together.  While he plowed, she played with her dolls and wagon in the shade by the side of the field.

            As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the day became hotter and hotter.  At noon, when the sun was directly overhead, the man stopped for lunch.  He looked for the child, but she was no where to be found.  Thinking she had returned to the house, he went back for his lunch.

            “Where is Snow Child?” asked the woman.

            “Why, I don’t know,” he answered.  “I thought she was here with you.”

            Together they went to look for Snow Child.  Her toys were still beside the field where the man had last seen her playing.  Beside the dolls and wagon, a pool of water reflected the radiant blue sky.

            The woman wept.  When her sobbing quieted, she told the man the true story.  Then he, too, cried.  The wind blew ripples across the pool, but alas, the child was gone. 

            Late that night, they heard the wind blow.  Mingled with the wind was a whisper: “Your love brought me alive.  When the snow returns, watch it sparkle in the sunlight.  Remember me…”

           

~~~~~

 

This story is a retelling of a tale that appears in a mid-eleventh century verse anthology known as the Cambridge Songs.  The tale is known as “Modus Liebinc” or “The Song to the Liebo Tune” (Carmina Cantabrigiensia 14; ATU 1362 “The Snow Child.”)