The January thaw, that’s what the old ones called it. Winter lets go for a span of days and rain comes, melting much of the snow away.
The forest opens up a bit. I walk through the trees, the ground is crushed down from where the snow was. There is almost no colour. Darkness lingers in branches and the forest is quiet.
I see two young deer standing stalk still, they are exactly the colour of the land.
Deeper into the woods I go, far past my normal haunts. In the distance I hear the crackling of a fire. Cautiously I walk forward. There, deep in the dark winter wood where no house should be, is a house. Trim stone, glass windowed, curtains drawn.
I smell wood smoke. Around the corner, there is an old woman. She has a long stick and she is boiling something in a cauldron, stabbing at the fire cinders with her stick. A red hood covers her face. She doesn’t look up but I can see the tip of her nose.
I feel like the deer I saw, frozen in place between fright and flight. The woman never looks up, never moves from her place. Old mother winter stirs her fire, and I know that when she’s done boiling her cauldron the snows will come back, bowing the trees down, sifting through branches.
As I walk back I feel the bite of snow in the air, tiny constructions of frost drift down between trees, ice runes, writing winter across the sky.