Not so long ago there was a beautiful forest full of animals. Owls and other birds ruled over the treetops, squirrels hopped around on the branches, wild cats, foxes, rabbits and mice lived in the shade of the trees. On the ground which was covered in leaves there crawled all kinds of insects, roamed all sorts of snakes and busy hedgehogs bustled around. And even underground where the roots of the trees built a structure so intricate like the branches high above there lived rabbits in comfortable burrows and moles in tunnels. It was a wild forest with simple rules of hunters and prey living by the four seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn and winter, so certain like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.
Some of the animals were friends with each other, others were mortal enemies. Two very good friends were Sarah the Squirrel and Mona the Mouse.
“ I wonder when the first leaves will fall this year. “ Sarah the Squirrel asked her friend the Mouse while she was picking up a nut and examined it, wondering if it was good enough to be eaten and not wormy.
Mona the Mouse looked up into the sky, the trunk of the tree rising up like a giant column and far above, the branches stretched out where one of her worst enemies lived: The Owls. Up there, life was dangerous for a mouse. Mona raised her head a little bit further and sniffed the air with her most excellent nose.
“ I can’t tell, I am sorry. The seasons have become a little bit unpredictable lately. “
And what Mona said was true. Winter had arrived very late last year and there was hardly any snow. Spring had been unusually hot and summer had been quite cool. It felt as if autumn was just around the corner but somehow it wasn’t. The weather acted strange.
“ I hope the Winter Lady comes this year. “ Sarah said concerned, took a bite of the nut, nodded to herself, as the nut was a tasteful one.
“ I do hope so. The fact that she didn’t come last winter and couldn’t bless the forest for a fruitful spring and summer to come makes me wonder… “
“ What does it make you wonder? “
“ Well, this year hasn’t been particularly good for the animals of the forest. There was a very dry season, a fire and the food was rare. Life has become harder. The Winter Lady’s blessing is important for us and for the forest. “
“ It is indeed. “ Sarah agreed. “ And it’s not only about the blessing but also about that one day when all the animals of the forest are at peace with one another. “
“ Agreed. “ Mona said. “ I always like talking to the owls on that day. Although, we are enemies for the rest of the year it is interesting to listen to them as they have such a different perspective on things. “
Sarah nodded and looked up. “ Oh! Look! “
She pointed at a single yellow leaf of an acorn tree. Slowly, it glided down towards the ground and landed right in front of Mona who was just about the same size as the leaf. Mona inspected the leaf closely, breathed in the air and nodded. “ Autumn is finally coming. “
A couple of weeks passed and the forest had turned from a deep green into all the warm shades of autumn. Yellow and golden leaves covered the thickness of the forest. Brown and wine red leaves glided in the wind who became colder and colder every day. The coloured leaves started to fall down, one by one, to be eaten by the worms and other animals, to turn to fertile soil on the ground so the green woods would turn green again in spring. On a tree trunk looking up into the branches that carried hardly any leaves anymore sat a grey black wild cat with amber eyes. She purred as she saw someone flying down from a tree. A barn owl landed right next to the wild cat.
“ Good afternoon Walpurgia. “ The barn owl said.
The wild cat bowed her head and responded “ Good afternoon Bacchus. How is life in the sky? “
“ It is getting emptier as usual at this time of the year. “
“ Are most of the birds flying South again? “
“ Yes, they are. “
“ Do they have similar news like last year? “
“ I am afraid they do. “
“ What do they report from their travels? “
Bacchus the Barn Owl sighed and started talking: “ All the birds passing through from the North here going South told me the same things. Forests, more than ever before, are being destroyed by the silver monsters who breath black smoke. And in the South the weather is just as crazy as it is here. There are fires spreading, in some other places it rains more than it used to, causing floods and displacing all kinds of animals. It looks bad for us whether you go North, East, South or West. A sparrow friend of mine who had travelled far west last year has a seagull friend who told him about how hard it is nowadays to find enough fish in the sea to raise their hatchlings. “
“ And you still believe that this is all the silver monsters‘ doings and the strange animals walking only on their hint legs- what do you call them again? “
“ Strange Walkers. “
“ Yes, the Strange Walkers. You think it is their doing? They cause the fires, flood the lands, cut down our trees and eat the fish? “
“ No one else could wield such terrible power. “ Bacchus said sadly.
Walpurgia the Wild Cat looked at Bacchus seriously. “ And did the birds say anything about the Winter Lady? Have they seen her? “
Bacchus looked through the trees as if he hoped he could see the Winter Lady but there was no one there. Just leaves falling down and trees glittering golden in the slowly setting autumn sun.
“ There is one raven who claims to have seen her walking very far in the North. But I do not trust ravens. “
“ I see. “ Walpurgia purred and wondered. She did know that the ravens and the barn owls disliked each other very much. Some feud that dated its origin back to over a thousand years. Now no one remembered why they actually started disliking and sometimes even fighting each other. But it was the same with the wild cats and the martens. Whenever they would meet, they would fight. Except of course on the day the Winter Lady would come to the forest. Then all animals would come together in peace and receive the Winter Lady’s blessing. It was a sacred day. It was different with the owls and wild cats though. They were always at peace. As predators they were equally strong and smart, they saw many things the same way. They were like minded. And as animals of the under wood and the high tree tops they often profited from some of their differences. Their alliance had been as long lasting as generations of wild cats and owls could remember the Winter Lady’s visits to the forest.
“ So when we cannot believe what the raven is saying… What shall we do? “ Walpurgia asked. “ If she does not come this year the forest will suffer again. We are all so vulnerable without her blessing. Her nature magic revives the forest every winter. Without her, life will become too difficult eventually. “
“ Are you afraid the forest might die in the coming years? “ Bacchus asked concerned.
“ Well, it is your reports I am thinking about. The Strange Walkers will not stop destroying our world and without the Winter Lady we are on our own. “
Bacchus nodded and spread his wings. “ I am afraid we can do nothing else but wait and see if she comes this year. And if not, maybe we should start looking for her. Maybe the Strange Walkers have even imprisoned her. “
And with these dark words Bacchus took off and flew away disappearing within the tree tops.
Walpurgia sat a little while longer on the tree trunk and when it was almost dark she jumped off and disappeared in the shadows of the trees, her amber eyes glowing in the night.
In the following weeks the leaves kept on falling until all the trees stood bare and cold in the forest ready to fall asleep after a blanket of cool snow would cover them. But snow did not fall. Rain kept pouring down, soaking the forest in more water than was good for it. Grey and brown were the days of winter. Winds, water and storms kept crushing down on the forest, grey clouds covered the sky, the animals were all hiding.
Walpurgia the Wild Cat lived in a hollow tree which was now all soaked. She wished for the colder temperatures and drier weather that usually accompanied the Lady of Winter when she came South. And then the forest would turn into a quiet place once again and not be a wet storm land. Then, when all animals feared that winter would not come but storms would rule until spring the rain stopped and a cool wind came down from the North. And as the sun was rising, it disappeared behind clouds of the purest of white and thick snow flakes began to fall. A cover of snow and frost settled on the bare dark branches, on the moss covered stones, on the brown ground of the forest and on the fields beyond. Finally, all animals breathed in the cold Northern air and came out of their hiding places, knowing that the first day of a white winter had arrived.
Then when a thick layer of glittering snow covered the entire forest she came. Her eyes were of an icy blue, her hair as dark as the tree trunks and her skin light green like young moss on a stone. She wore a beautiful pale blue dress it flowed down on her body like a rivulet and glittered in the cool winter sun. The animals around her could sense her nurturing presence. She was the protector of the seasons. The one that kept the wheel on turning. All the inhabitants of the forest spread the word that she had arrived. She was heading for the clearing in the centre of the forest where she would meet all the animals. The owls and other birds arrived first, waiting for everyone on the branches. Then the stags arrived, followed by the beavers, the badgers, the foxes and hares. Walpurgia was leading the wild cats to the clearing and they sat down under the branches where the owls were sitting above them. Last but not least came the mice, squirrels, hedgehogs and martens, among them Mona and Sarah who waited front in line eager to see the Winter Lady again. And many other animals came to the clearing happy that another season had come to pass and that at least this year the cycle of nature was complete.
The animals, at peace because it was the day of the Winter Lady, whispered to each other, eager to exchange news and gossip. The owls were talking to the mice, the squirrels to the wild cats, the wild cats to the martens, the beavers to the foxes, the hares to the lynx, the stags to the hedgehogs, all of them talking, exchanging stories with animals that would normally not meet up. Suddenly, they all stopped, knowing that the Winter Lady had come. Light grey clouds covered the sky and thick snowflakes came gliding down gently. She passed underneath the branches where the owls were sitting, the wild cats made room for her to pass through and then she sat down in the middle of the clearing, her green hands touching the snow, her pale blue dress became one with her surroundings.
“ It is so good to see you all again. “ She said with a voice as clear as fresh snow falling from the sky. “ I missed you. “
Walpurgia looked up to Bacchus who nodded and asked: “ We wondered where you have been. We were afraid that you might not come. We were thinking about leaving the forest and start looking for you. “
The Winter Lady smiled and said “ Last year I was unable to come because snow did not fall, the cycle was broken and the cool Northern winds could not carry me from the far North to the South. “
“ Is it really the Strange Walkers who make our lives so difficult lately? “ Walpurgia asked.
“ Yes, it is them, I am afraid. They do not appreciate the seasons and the wheel of nature. Most of them at least. They have turned away from the forest and nature a long time ago. They now live in their own forests of steel and stone and have forgotten all about me and you. “
“ And is it them changing the weather and the seasons? How can they be so powerful? “ Sarah the Squirrel asked.
“ They wield forces that are not like nature, seasonal and elemental but destructive and unnatural. But don’t despair. Some of the Strange Walkers still remember us. And we are going to talk to them. My sisters and me and my cousins in the ocean and rivers know that there is still time left. It is not too late. But I am afraid I will be unable to come back every winter now to renew the seasons. The weather will change even more, it will be more dangerous but as long as you stand together the forest will live on. “
“ Do you want us to extend our peace time? “ Mona the Mouse wondered.
“ I cannot ask you to change your natural way of life. That would be no good. But from now onwards it is necessary that you listen to each other more often. You can help each other to adapt to change. “
The animals looked around. Doubt and hope was in their faces. Wild cats and martens looked at each other. Owls and ravens looked at each other. Hunter and prey looked at each other like mice and martens, lynx and hares, wild cats and birds. Maybe they could help each other somehow, although in nature they were enemies. But now their enemy was the weather and changing times. They had to try.
“ What will you and your sisters do? How many Winter Ladies are there? “ Walpurgia asked curiously who had never really thought about the fact that other forests were visited by other Winter Ladies.
She smiled at the wild cat and they looked at each other, ice blue and amber.
“ My sisters from the North and my water cousins in the ocean and the rivers will try to reason with the Strange Walkers. We fear that most of them will not believe us but we have to try. It is our duty to our Queen Mother Nature. “
The wild cat nodded in agreement and spoke for all animals of the forest: “ We stand with you Lady of Winter and our Queen Mother Nature. If you need our help call for us and we will answer. “
The Lady of Winter bowed her head and thanked them: “ Maybe if the time comes, I will take you up on that offer. Until then, I shall give you a great gift of nature. It is my blessing but my blessing a thousand fold stronger. So that the cycle of the seasons will renew for years to come on its own even when no winter comes and storms rule, the forest will not be harmed too badly. Life will have a chance. I promise you that with my blessing. “
The Lady of Winter took a little bit of snow and put it into her right palm of her hand. Then she took some earth from the ground and mixed it with the snow in her right hand. She looked at all the animals, their faces filled with hope and a tear appeared in her blue eyes and rolled down her moss green cheek. She picked up the hot tear with her fingertip and put it on her palm with the snow and earth. Then she folded her hands together pressing earth, snow and tear drop into one. She breathed in and blew warm air gently onto her hands. Quickly she unfolded her hands again and a single green blue flame danced in her hands, transforming the clearing into a magical place of blue and green. The shadows of the animals were dancing in the colours of nature. For a moment nothing moved but shadows and light. Then the Winter Lady raised her arms and the fire erupted into a thousand sparks and disappeared in the darkening sky. The sun was setting and the Winter Lady’s visit was nearly over.
“ The blessing was successful. I must go now. Some of my sisters are waiting for me further South. But the forest is blessed and will be safe for some time now. The next summer will be a fruitful one, I promise. “
The Winter Lady bowed and so did all the animals of the forest. They watched her walk away, her pale blue dress gliding over the white ground, slowly becoming one with the snow and then she was gone. The animals bowed to one another, knowing that tonight they would be at peace and for the rest of winter they would try to put down their differences and prejudices. The owls bowed to the ravens and both took off into the night sky, flew for some time together until they parted. The wild cats and martens walked side by side through the darkening forest then they bowed to each other one more time and went to their individual shelters.
Sarah the Squirrel and Mona the Mouse accompanied each other home. They said good night to each other and Mona went into her burrow between the roots of a grand oak tree and Sarah went up the trunk of the tree into a little hollow that was her home. Both friends dreamed of a green spring tonight.