Winter is upon us. The first of December dawned sunny with a hard frost. We can see the sun on the peaks nearly two hours before it reaches the village. No salt or gravel is spread on the village streets and it was slippery going to the dairy to buy cream and cheese. The puddles had a thick layer of ice. Some weeks earlier we had all been excited by waking to find the village covered in a light snow covering. The eastern chain of mountains formed a gleaming backdrop to the village. The sheep, still out of doors in pastures amid the houses, grazed unconcerned. Now all the animals are inside for the winter. When the temperature is below freezing the warmth of the cows within makes the byre roof steam in the sunshine. The cows walk through the yard between byre and milking shed where they wait, lowing, their breath condensing.

November was the month of preparation. All fences were removed, the wire and the stakes. Tall stakes with orange tops were placed along the roads to guide snow clearing. Against the houses, sheltered by the eaves, the wood is neatly piled. What cannot go there is built into shapes like haystacks and covered with corrugated iron. Now the sap is no longer rising, timber is being cut and brought through the village on huge lorries. The sawmill is working flat out. In the afternoon the old people play cards.
St. Nicholas came on the 6th December. Musicians accompany him. He rides a donkey and brings toys for the good children. He has two men with birches to whip the naughty ones. The village had been decorated for his arrival. Children made little effigies of him from ends of wood; a fir tree has been cut in the forest and brought to the front of the church by tractor. It was raised with much discussion and crawling under the lower branches to fix the base and simply decorated with lights including a big star on the top. Other villages in the valley have all the gables of the buildings outlined in lights. In the town there is a Christmas market. The stalls are log cabins and hot wine is on sale. It is the time of Christmas concerts. The local choirs dressed in costume, sing a capella in the churches traditional melodies, or more ambitious programmes. Afterwards hot wine or spiced tea is served in the church porch.
For ten days the cold weather persisted. Some days we had frost and sunshine, some days we were below the fog producing stratus, at other times right in it. Snow is very local, falling in one valley and not in the next. The freezing level may be at 900 metres here and further down the valley at 600 metres. Every frost encrusted leaf and twig gleams, in the fog, or, should the fog lift, sparkles in the sunlight before the ice melts. The solitary oaks, graceful lines of birches are magnificent. Flocks of small birds are busy among the trees on the river banks. The sun may only disperse the fog in late afternoon. Low veils of mist persist through which the sun diffuses and the valley is tinged with soft light. Sky and the snowy mountain tops are pink at sunset. At night the moon reigns over a starry sky.


17th December 2002