And Finally, Thanks To Winter

Winter’s about to strike again and I’m excited. It’s almost March and we’re expecting 11 inches along the Wisconsin-Illinois border. The approach of snow and falling temps focuses the mind like few things can. I’m writing this in stages, while panic-buying groceries, because I can’t predict when I’ll be able to leave the house again. But while trapped, I’ll thread various plotlines – currently in my head — into a coherent narrative for a future novel. Here, art often depends on the whims of nature.

If you’re a creative person who lives above the 40th Parallel, you know January through March is a fertile time. After all, going outside is not only unpleasant, it can be dangerous. Your weather app’s warning to hunker down not only keeps you safe, it discourages visitors from interrupting your process. I must use this opportunity. I vow to disable my internet and silence my phone. I’ve consumed plenty of content created by others in recent weeks. Now it’s time to invent something of my own. Lean in, I tell myself, and don’t stop writing until the last pile of snow finally melts.

Hopefully, if you do the same, you’ll have a solid second draft by the time spring arrives. Well done! Now let it rest. It’s impossible to continue because robins are singing (when did they return?), daffodils are blooming, and trees are greening again. The whole earth is stirring with diversion — look a bunny!

See? Who can create when nature demands so much attention?

You might say we’ll be used to these distractions by summer, but you’d be wrong. Almost overnight, people’s clothes get more revealing. Engines rev and roar, and that sun; it rises early and stays up long after dinner. And when it finally gets low, I defy you not to be mesmerized by the sky turning orange, then tomato, then strawberry shake before fading to coal.

No, summer is for editing, a process that’s more craft than art. It’s about weeding words, mowing sentences, shearing off entire paragraphs. You’ve had three months away from your manuscript, so now you can review it with fresh eyes. With careful pruning, it’ll soon resemble a garden maze where your reader enters here, enjoys a laugh there, stumbles into trouble, then gets in even more trouble before ending at a koi pond where they can sit and ponder their journey.

Satisfied with it? Send it to your publisher.

The crisp air of autumn might tempt you to begin your next work, but I wouldn’t. Not yet. Inspiration awaits in apple orchards and bonfires. As the sun sets earlier each day, people begin sharing family lore, including hauntings, and everything is so compelling you realize you’re listening all the time – which is good. This is when you gather all those chronicles and tall tales, bottle them, and let the fermenting begin.

Before you know it, you’re in that period infused with nostalgia: the holidays. The smell of baked cookies and roasting meat sends me back to my grandma’s kitchen, where I stare at a picture of a Black Forest cake and struggle to decipher the recipe. Or was it flourless chocolate with raspberry? When I ask my cousin, he insists the kitchen belonged to my allergic aunt who used karob instead, which may explain my perusing a real dessert book. Nonetheless, competing memories reveal how stories evolve. Steep in these a while longer. And when the New Year begins, and the noise subsides, you’ll know the time for input is over. Go ahead — open that bottle of distilled experience and pour with abandon. Don’t worry about containing spills; there’ll be plenty of time to clean up later. A new wave of creation is underway up north!

If you live further south, where each day is graced with warmth and sunshine, and creativity transcends seasons, I truly envy you. Still, this supports my theory that geography and climate have a greater hold on the imagination than we realize. Whether your locale lets your taps run freely or only when the time is right, make a point of experiencing both. Consider swapping houses with yours truly. This way, I could – without irony — paint seven self-portraits enjoying ice cream outdoors and caption them Monday through Sunday. I wonder what you’d create in a place that’s pleasant for maybe 14 days every year.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to invade your neighborhood. Northern inhabitants like me appreciate how bad weather nourishes our dark side and, frankly, we don’t like being creative all the time. But if you ever get tired of endless sunshine, and yearn for the rhythm of seasons, come up here after the holidays. Barricade yourself against the snow and wind. And if your time up here proves fruitful, be sure to include winter in your acknowledgements. I would understand how un-ironic that is.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrations Of The Winter Solstice Through Cultures & Time

Myth bares a indelible connection to the changing of the seasons and the modulation of the land they harbing. Hercules contestation with the Hydra (a multi-headed water monster) in ancient Greece bares parallels to the struggles of Greecian water managers and their multi-faceted (ie. multi-headed) irrigation systems. The snake-god Apophis (Apep) who clashed every morning with Ra as he rode his resplendent barque across the sky, was slain at the beginning of the Nile flood season, but was immortal and eternally recurring (just like the interplay between dry and flooding seasons). The indo-European god Indra (Devendra) defeated the water-serpent Vrtra (which draws its roots in the word wrto/eh, meaning, ‘enclosure’) a victory which corresponds to the release of mighty floods; the beginning of monsoon season.

As with the Greeks, Indo-Europeans and Egyptians, so to with our modern holiday celebrations, chief among which is Christmas, which is, of course, connected to the Winter Solstice; the death of winter and the birth of spring; a renewal of life.

Origins of Christmas

Ritualized celebration of the Winter Solstice is an exceedingly ancient practice that can be traced back to the beginning of recorded history. Whilst many popular celebrations of the the solstice survive to this day, such as the Iranian Shab-e Yalda (a celebration of the triumph of Mithra), or the Chinese Dong Zhi (a celebration of the increase in positive energy concurrent with longer days), the Japanese Toji (practice intended to start the new year with good health and luck), or the Hopi rite of Soyal (night long festival of dancing and gift-giving, celebrating the solstice), none are as famous as the western practice of Christmas.

In modernistically recognizable form, Christmas can be traced back to the establishment of December 25th celebration of the Invincible Sun, Dies Natali Invictus (birthday of the unconquered) or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of Sol Invictus), by the roman emperor, Aurelian in the 3rd century. Later, in 273. It was not, as might be thought a solstice celebration, but rather a religious ceremony. The Christian Church selected Aurelian’s date as the official birth of Jesus (which was also the birthday of Mithras) and by 336 the solar celebration was Christianized, with Christ having supplanted The Invincible Sun, as the singular focus of the event. The debt to the ancient cult of the sun has continued ever since. Will Durant, in his The Story of Civilization wrote, “Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient Pagan world.”

The Yule Log

The ancient nords annually burnt a great log in honor of the god, Thor. Upon coming into contact with Christians, the practice was adopted and syncretically incorporated into the broader framework of celebration.

The Tree

The fixture of the ‘Christmas tree’ is part of a broader meta-cultural phenomenon which is often expressed through a ‘tree of life’ or ‘tree of the world’ (such as the Eagle-Serpent Tree described in the Myth of Etana or Yggdrasil which also features serpent-eagle motifs) which acts as a nexus for mythological narrative within which are generally metaphors concerning diametrically opposing qualities (such as snake and eagle, land and sky, good and evil, the seen and the hidden, etc). Trees were central to ancient peoples for their fires, their lodgings and shade after a long days toil; additionally, the greening of trees after the passing of winter signaled a great revitalization, the conquest of life over the frigid reign of death, so it is understandable why trees have always been so central to celebrations and rites related to the Winter Solstice (and it is likely that man-made habitation will take up a similar position in the far off future; for example, it may be the space ship which is venerated by exomoon colonies, as the vessel of life). In The Book of Christmas Folklore, Coffin writes of the history of the practice: “Most people have heard that the Christmas tree originates in the tannenbaum and is some sort of vestige of Teutonic vegetation worship. THIS IS PARTIALLY TRUE. However, the custom of using pine and other evergreens ceremonially was well established at the ROMAN SATURNALIA, even earlier in Egypt” (p. 209).

Santa Claus

One of the most iconic of mythological figures associated with contemporary Christmas celebrations is Santa Claus, a fat, bespectacled jolly man possessed of magical powers who travels the word, sliding down the chimney of innumerable homes to give gifts to the deserving. This belief can be traced back to the norse goddess Hertha, who would appear in one’s fireplace to grant good luck. The practice of leaving gifts underneath the tree are also nordic, as Odin would leave gift beneath evergreens during Yuletide, a tree considered sacred due its association with the deity. Tony van Renterghem in his When Santa Was a Shaman, writes:

“In newly Christianized areas where the pagan Celtic and Germanic cults remained strong, legends of the god Wodan were blended with those of various Christian saints; Saint Nicholas was one of these. There were Christian areas where Saint Nicholas ruled alone; in other locations, he was assisted by the pagan Dark Helper (the slave he had inherited from the pagan god Wodan). In other remote areas…ancient pockets of the Olde Religion controlled traditions. Here the Dark Helper ruled alone, sometimes in a most confusing manner, using the cover name of Saint Nicholas or ‘Klaus,’ without in any way changing his threatening, Herne/Pan, fur-clad appearance. (This was the figure later used by the artist Nast as the model for the early American Santa Claus)” (page 96).

Celebrations of the Future

In my own personal capacity, I should like to see the celebration of the Winter Solstice focused upon a veneration of the ingenious human industry which girds us from the rending chaos of frostbite and frigidity, of all that turns against dissolution and all that revitalizes our commitment to our fellows, in sonorous mirth and joyous creativity, as we contemplate the return of warmth and growth and plan endeavours for the Spring.

This season, if you should find yourself warm and well-stocked, thank the local architects and engineers, the electricians and designers who have, through the powers of their mind, created the magnanimous shell which girds you from near-certain death.


Sources & Resources for Further Reading

  1. David C. Pack. (undated) The True Origin of Christmas. RCG.
  2. HOIM Staff. (undated) The Shocking Pagan Origins of Christmas. Hope of Israel Ministries.
  3. Klaus Antoni & David Weiss. (2013) Sources of Mythology: Ancient & Contemporary Myths (Two-Faced Solstice Symbols & The World Tree). 7th Annual International Conference on Comparative Mythology.
  4. Patti Wigington. (2018) History of Yule. ThoughtCo.
  5. Patti Wigington. (2018) Yule Wassail Recipe & History. ThoughtCo.
  6. Sarah Pruitt. (2016) 8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around The World. History.
  7. Stavanger Writer. (1997) Christmas In Norway. Stavanger-Web.

The Warlord (Part 1)

Everywhere, they called him the Warlord.  In some lands he was Eshlaru in others, Issaraym, in others still, Kirnavir.   No one knew from where he came. He had a visage marred by strange scars, his scalp always shaved bare; for they said his hair would not grow upon the scars.  Some say in a lifetime of fighting under his shadow dragon banner until they turned gray, he’d never aged a day.

Now, even amidst the swirls of falling snow he rides his black horse that haughtily high steps, his barbed blade held straight out in front of him, shield ringed with spikes held at his side as he passes through the ranks of his men all beating their weapons on their shields, howling with bloodlust.  His face could just be seen through the sickle-toothed jaws that formed the mask of his helm. The Coalition of the Ascendant had pursued us even here far into the winter wastes of Itlavalus and after months of patient retreat our general had said the time was finally right. All through the long wait to fight some had lost faith and called our general a coward.  They had all long since left for warmer climes. Those of us who still remained were the best. We were far outnumbered now, but the repressed eagerness for battle was all the greater. When we had been rallied, an intense silence fell over us. Now, we could hear the massed ululating shrieking of the Coalition as they marched upon us. As they came closer we could see that even now, many of them wore little more than rags that were falling apart.  How they managed to survive such privation no one knew for certain. We supposed it was a power which only the High could have bestowed on them. Men and women alike, their faces every hue, hardly distinguishable anymore after all their fleshly bodies had endured, they frantically whipped themselves with lashes, screaming out their devotion against the outlaws of Humanity and their hate of the Hateful.

They were a terrifying force to the uninitiated and before the arrival of the Warlord, Yeleysh Issaraym, they had toppled one rich king after another though they wore rags and swore themselves to lives of humility and victimhood.  No one could seem to make sense of it, but now there was no need to. All that mattered now was to crush the life out of them on this battlefield.
The enemy knew a great fury and fanaticism, but it was the fury of the mob, not that of a man himself, or even of a band of men who knew one other.  Or even of anyone who had the least in common. That is why we had always beaten them before they had driven us into these arctic wastes with their overwhelming numbers.

We were grim and resolute now as they were fanatical and strident.  We wore bulky black armor adorned with spikes, our helmets closed about our faces.  Those who had grown strong in the service of the dark powers had eyes that glowed or were black and empty within their facemasks.  As terrifying as they were even to us, the Warlord’s presence was strongest as he led us on his black stallion. Our great war drums beat, their bass thrum felt down to the pit of the gut.  If we had not been able to feel it, the shrill wailing of the Coalition of the Ascendant might have drowned it out. They rushed at us headlong from over a mile away and somehow, their worn frames had the endurance to sustain the charge.  The mass of them had fanned out into irregular tendrils as if to envelop us, prongs of off-white and flesh tones coursing across great mounds of windswept snow. We had formed into our phalanxes in anticipation of this. Black squares that marched methodically across the white waste bristling on every side with wickedly barbed sarissas, needle-sharp lances, and long pikes.

Soon, we were completely surrounded.  The only way out now was to fight our way out.  We advanced toward their front line which we knew was probably stretched thin after so many had joined in the charge so we thought we might take advantage of their indiscipline.  But first, they were closing in quickly on our flanks and soon behind us as well. For every other opponent they had faced, this had meant total disaster within a crushing vice. The armies of great empires had marched forth only to panic as the Coalition had attacked them from every side and then perished as they discovered that the Righteous accepted no surrender from transgressors.  Once one had ever opposed them, no abasement or apology could ever appease them.

We knew our enemy, though, and kept marching in formation, even as the first tendrils of their host closed in on us.  The keening shriek of Righteous fury reached a peak as they crashed into us. At the beginning of their wave were the strongest and most fanatical, sped on by their superior devotion.  The best of them were the first to die. What made them any different from the rest, doomed them to death. It was no accident, it was what they believed was just. Even so, these ones were still the best.  The spearman next to me was just a little too slow and one of them got through. One slash of its nine-thonged whip cut his spear into multiple pieces and sliced through his armor with ease. My unfortunate brother-in-arms fell backwards spurting blood from multiple arteries, dead before he hit the ground.  I cursed in rage as I felt one of the thongs slice the skin of my forearm. The Ascended fanatic screamed back at me, its pinched face framed by filthy braids of unkempt hair. I brought down my hammer on that contorted visage with its wildly rolling eyes and its rictus of indignant rage and split it into an unrecognizable ruin a few chunks of brain tumbled out of.

Then came the rest of them all at once in a great press.  The odor of their masses, pungent even in the cold. These we held off with our outer ring of spears and began to steadily plow through them.  First the spears pushed them back and we advanced another few steps, those who tried to break through that outer barrier were slaughtered by the rest of us waiting for them just within.  And so it went all day. Like the rhythmic cries of galley oarsmen we bellowed in chorus every time we thrust with the spears, pushed further ahead, and then locked shields again. We advanced at a steady pace no matter how the mob pressed and pounded on us from all sides and all they had to show for it was a trail of corpses clad in bloodied rags trailing nearly a mile behind us, already stiff and well-dusted in snow.

We finally reached the center of the Coalition army and before us was no longer a rabble of fanatics but several orderly cavalry regiments stiffly at attention in resplendent white armor, riding pure white horses.  At their head was a grave figure, wearing an ornate plate of alabaster armor, with his silver scimitar raised in the air, his complexion almost ebony in color, his features narrow and aristocratic, his gaze fixed and intense.  Jazan Gur had led the pursuit for months and now he was there before us, under attack by those he thought were his quarry. The fanatics were still on three sides of us and as the Coalition general lowered his scimitar, the White Knights began to approach at a trot, swiftly gaining a rumbling momentum.  Jazan Gur gave out a harsh cry and the fatiguing fanatics came alive with a new buzz of fervor. They completely surrounded us again and this time they threw themselves screaming onto our bristling hedge of spears, pikes, and lances, faster than we could dislodge them, though we tried as the charging knights bore down on us.  Too late. The White Knights crashed into us with hardly any outer defense to oppose their passage into our ranks. The impact sent men flying everywhere in a great sickening crunch. Their momentum soon began to stall and they fought from horseback their silver sabres flashing back and forth. This strain was too much for the formation to hold and now the fanatics poured in through the gaps on all sides.  All discipline was soon gone, our fates to be decided in a general melee. Our now-useless polearms were dropped to the ground, everyone wielding their swords, axes, maces, hammers, and studded gauntlets at close quarters.

I saw one knight turn away from me as he slashed down with his sabre on his other side.  He started to turn back toward me but my hammer crushed him out of his saddle. With a great overhead swing I shattered his panicking horse’s spine and stepped past its twitching bulk to find its rider still stunned on the ground.  I, in my black armor of spiked, overlapping plate with a great wolf’s head carved in steel on my chest, the mask of my helm wrought with snarling fangs, was the last thing he ever saw.

I see a flicker at the edge of the vision my helm allows me and I swing without thought, honed instinct guiding my instant reaction.  A fanatic with a rusty kris knife upraised to strike flies backwards with caved-in chest and bloody mist spraying in a single burst from its upturned mouth like a profusion of scarlet fungus spores.  It was female, I think.

Then, the Warlord and his entourage of lesser demoniacs enter the fray all at once.  Moving with animal quickness even in heavy armor they dart in and out among the White Knights leaving corpses of man and steed as fast as the eye can follow, their victims often left cut cleanly in two by a single stroke.  The knights soon begin to panic and those not trapped begin to flee. Those left behind are torn down from their saddles and disappear into a dark mass even as they frantically try to slash with their sabres. The demoniac acolytes turn on the fanatics now but the Warlord himself walks in front of the army alone and points with his gauntlet adorned with razor-like projections and attached below his right wrist a crude black blade of what might have been volcanic glass but did not shine.  He bellows out his challenge to the enemy general in his harsh voice.

Jazan Gur solemnly dismounts his steed and approaches the Warlord with his silver scimitar.  The Warlord rushes towards him and soon their weapons meet in a clash that can be heard against the clangor all around.  Jazan Gur moves as swift and sure as a serpent but the hulking Warlord keeps up easily with the blinding speed of his attacks.  While they fight, a hunched over figure approaches them with the simplest of daggers. I rush towards the fray of those far greater than me to prevent this crass interference.  As I face the interloper, I see it is of indeterminate sex, with eyes that flash with feminine fury but with a hairy upper lip, with a matron’s flabby forearms and sagging shapeless breast tissue yet with a barrel chest and narrow hips.  I move to cut down the impudent Hag, or whatever it is, but I am stunned when the point of its rusty dagger stops my hammer as if I had struck a castle wall. As I nearly lose my balance the sneering creature slashes at me and I yell to lower hell as it somehow cuts through my armor and into my thigh.  I tower over my opponent that has just wounded me and yet it continues to attack quite confidently. With a loud ping I find the solid steel handle of my hammer has been severed from its head.  In the next moment I am thrown aside somehow into the snow as if I were but a feather.  I look up from the ground and to my dismay the strange Hag and the general Jazan Gur are attacking the Warlord together.  Now, he is barely able to fend off their combined attacks.

Filled with fury even as the wound in my leg throbs with agony, I take the head of my hammer and with a roar heft it with all my might.  One side of Jazan Gur’s face collapses like a melon as my heavy projectile hits its mark. He falls instantly, just like a common soldier.  The Hag however, fights on, her power inexplicably great. I begin to drag myself toward the fight as best as my furiously burning leg allows.  As I draw near, the Hag turns her head a little to take note of my approach. In that moment, the Warlord runs her through with the infamous blade on his wrist.  She gives out a shrill, grating scream heard across the battlefield as she tries to push herself off of the blade with all her might. To no avail. It sucks her back in no matter the strength of her struggles like a thirsty man tugging at a waterskin.  With each greedy glugging swallow, the contorted, hideous face grows more pale and her struggles more feeble. Finally, the Warlord casts the dessicated corpse sucked dry of life and soul aside. A rising penumbra surrounds him now like a flickering candle flame of negative light that he can barely seem to contain as he strains with his hands balled into fists, his shoulders and chest held back.

He says to me.  “You have proven yourself this day.  Will you make the Pact?”
I prostrate myself and reply, “Yes.  Yes! It is my honor.”

“Good!  It’s the only way you live now.”

He walks up to me and lays his hands on my shoulders.  In that moment, rivers of raw power he drained out of that terrible Hag flood through me.  I can hear her soul screaming with bloody terror and rage as her essence is siphoned away for the sake of empowering everything she ever fought against.  She thrashes and scratches with her whole being, until her being is no more. At first I am terrified but then I am able to let go and let the raging torrent all rush into me at once.  I am changed forever. Nevertheless the pain in my leg grows unbearable now as I come into my bodily senses again. I have had many wounds and I know something is different and terribly wrong this time.  The Warlord himself helps me to my feet and places my arm and my weight on his shoulders.
“Even now, you won’t easily survive that Hag’s venom.  We have to get you back to camp.” As I struggle against oncoming delirium, the battle rages on but the White Knights have fled the battlefield and the fanatics have been weakened by the deaths of their leaders.  The Dark Army is invigorated into a blood rage and as the slaughter intensifies, the milling swarms of white-winged locusts finally break.

As the pursuit begins, the Warlord sets me aside and gives out a harsh scream that echoes across the battlefield.  The nearest drums change beat, then horns blow as the message spreads across the whole army. The Warlord runs in front of his men, waving his sword, bellowing for them to halt.
In less than an hour the entire army is marching back to our camp.
The Warlord again returns to me and again personally comes to my aid, even though he could have anyone else do it. “No sense chasing them now.”  I am in no condition to even speak as I feel agony, bitter cold, and delirium creep through me. The brief winter daylight ends but the snowy clouds clear away, the night is more brilliant with the hard, glinting points of frosted stars and shimmering auroral ribbons rippling across the sky.  I see my fellow warriors as silhouettes against sheets of snow that sparkle like the stars even in the dark. Somehow, my state of physical shock makes the spectacle even more vivid and otherworldly. Perhaps it is also the senses granted to me through my Pact, all the better to perceive the world’s beauty.  The world begins to fragment into fever dreams as I begin to see the travails of war in the shimmering aurora veils, I manage to keep marching through heavy snow until we go over a hill that looks gentle yet concealed all our tents and horses from a distance. The warlord brings me to his own tent in the center of the camp, only bigger than any other tent to allow the officers to confer around the firepit.  He has a simple bedroll on the ground like any other soldier, though I hear he seldom uses it. In a hurry, he and a medic help me remove my armor and begin dressing the vile wound given me by the Hag. All they can do is bandage it and hope my newfound resilience can conquer the poison. Wrapped in furs on the Warlord’s own bedroll, there is nothing more for me to do but rest.

 

The Farm and the Forest (Part V)

~5~

Things Begin to Unravel

In the days following the meeting, an air of hopefulness and possibility pervaded the Farm. All of the animals took to their chores with gusto, even the Farm birds. Harvest was approaching and all of the best crops were ripening. The silo would soon be filled and the reserve stores thereafter. The horses had not been pleased with the outcome, but their loyalty was to the Farm, so they lowered their heads and worked harder than ever to make good on the promise of more rations for all. Everything did seem to be getting better. But the misgivings in the heart of the matronly German Shepherd did not dissipate. She pushed the youngest pups even harder to learn the Rules and maintain constant vigilance in protecting the boundaries and upholding the laws.

So when the elation wore off, the problems that began to crop up centered around the actions of the dogs. The geese were the first to shirk their duties. With the predicted surplus came a general lazy attitude which was exacerbated by the new Forrest geese who were never fond of any kind of work that did not seem to directly benefit themselves, and even that grudgingly. Things were made worse when two of the new Forest geese were mauled by a zealous young pup. They were not a part of the first wave of new members, and were caught breaking into one of the surplus sheds. One died immediately, and the other a day or so later. The geese and chickens raised a clamor, calling for the young pup’s hide, or at least a shredding of his ears so that he would carry with him the rest of his days the punishment of his reckless and bigoted violence. In the end, the pigs could not risk offending the dogs, but the pup was publicly shamed and new restrictions were placed on all of the dogs. The pigs put it to a vote and henceforth all dogs were under strict instructions to capture any offending animals, be they Farm or Forest, with as little violence as possible, under pain of public humiliation and a revocation of status as defenders of the farm.

And this is when the problems began to pile up in earnest. The geese now felt entitled to wander whenever and wherever they wanted. The dogs, afraid of earning the displeasure of the pigs, did little to stop them. This in turn signaled to the other Farm animals that they too could decide their own hours of work and play. As the numbers of animals milling about at all hours increased, so to did the incidences of brave foxes and brazen coyotes snatching away the young and slow of wit. Again, hue and cry was raised against the dogs for falling down in their responsibilities. The Farm animals demanded better strategies for combating these gruesome raids but would not hear of any limitation on their freedoms. The dogs redoubled their efforts, increasing patrols at night which began to take a toll on their stamina and morale.

The next major incident was when a group of geese comprised of both Farm and Forest birds stomped a number of ducklings to death for encroaching on their space. The matronly German Shepherd demanded blood for this crime, but the pigs were afraid of instigating more violence towards the ducks, so the whole thing was covered up with a story about a dreadful mistake and a light remonstration of the ducks for the lackadaisical management of their young. The geese grew ever more rebellious and haughty and demanded a new pen be set up specifically for them as just recompense for their historic suffering. This required a great amount of effort and supplies so the other animals rejected the proposition. Not to be deterred, the geese went on strike, trumpeting about housing injustice day and night. They even went as far as smashing their own eggs in protest. To quell the rebellion, the pigs ordered the pens be built. As they were quite obviously the victims, the geese were excused from the labor and the work fell largely to the ducks and chickens. Neither of these two cohorts were very capable at craftsmanship, so a mishmash of poorly thought out structures blossomed like toadstools in the avian section of the Farm. This was bemoaned by the geese, but they refused to participate in the construction in any meaningful way, and so the new pens were built, though in truth they would be more accurately described as Piles.

Late one day in autumn, a violent thunderstorm blew in and wrecked one of the reserve sheds. The morning after found precious food scattered hither and yon with geese, chickens, sheep, and cows gorging themselves sick until they were run off by the dogs. This of course caused more protests, and what should have been a few days work stretched over weeks with much time and food lost. Skirmishes between the geese and other Farm animals became a regular occurrence. The sheep began to break into sheds for more food. Even with the increased rations, they complained that they were not given enough, at least not as much as the goats and cows were getting, so the pigs decided to bolster the rations for everyone yet again. This did little to tamp down the ever increasing theft of food and the dogs could do little to stop it. It also began to eat into the reserves so laboriously gathered for the coming lifeless cold months.

When the Fall Due was posted, the geese flat out refused to render their portion. Led by the ever increasing numbers of Forest birds, they demanded the right to abstain, saying that it was cruel and unfair to give up a portion of their eggs and old to a Farmer that did nothing for them. Urged on by the whispering of the rats, they began to openly question the existence of a Farmer at all. A rumor propagated that the dogs had made up the legend of the Farmer in a plot to get extra, undeserved vittles. The other animals were of the opinion that if the geese did not have to pay their Due, then why should they? The dogs and horses refused to budge on the matter, and in the end the geese were forced to render, but they did not do so readily. In the night, many eggs were crushed and pails of milk overturned. A few of the older birds even drowned themselves in the Pond rather than wait on the porch for the Farmer to come in the night.

The weather began to turn and the nights grew colder. What should have been a winter of plenty was fast becoming a season of want. Raids on the grain stocks increased as did the skirmishes between the different groups of animals. Night time wandering ceased but only because of the cold and the chances of being dragged off by a predator was higher than even the stolid work horse could remember. The dogs did their best, but there were not enough of them and the new rules hampered their ability to enact common sense safety measures so long taken for granted. When the snow began to fall, it was on a desperate and sullen Farm. Young animals died in their pens and sheds, their carcasses left preserved where they were dragged until starving foxes and coyotes spirited them away under the cover of night. Even on the brightest days of winter, a darkness had settled on the Farm and with it, a deeply seeded foreboding of that which may be yet to come.

It takes no more than a few well pushed pebbles to cause a landslide on any mountain.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and happy Yule tidings!

I’d like to wish all of my readers the very best this season and in the year to come. Thank you, also, for your continued readership. The site is growing much quicker and garnering far more views than I would ever have anticipated. Several new writers will soon be joining the LC line-up, so the year ahead strikes me as most promising.

So have a wonderful holiday season and a very, very happy new year!