Today’s story is one I have told before, in a different setting. See, there’s a reason my camp name is Goose, and it’s only partially because of my love of geese: I get called Mother Goose at camp because at least once a week I get called to a unit to tell a bedtime story. I never tell the same story twice; I make them up as I go. One night in my sixth summer, I told this story, and after the kids had left the circle, one of my coworkers scooted close to me on the bench and buried her face in my shoulder–she’d been silently crying the whole time. “I know how the North Wind felt,” she said in between sobs. “I know what it’s like.”
So did I.
Once upon a time in a city far above the fields of men, where the clouds tumble and tangle, the North Wind was very unhappy indeed. Her sister the South Wind had many friends down on earth, for her long golden hair smelled of the flowers that bloomed in her wake and her easy laugh sounded like the drenching summer rains that fell wherever she went. Her brothers the East Wind and West Wind also had many friends, for they were loud and lively and made up entirely of bright sunny days. But the North Wind was seldom welcome down in the fields of men. Wherever she went, ice followed, delicate frost-lace blooming wherever her feet fell, and where she slept, snow fell in the night, great sparkling white blankets that draped over the land. When she went down to earth, people fled before her, disappearing into their homes and locking the doors against her entreaties, building their fires higher and higher to drown out her pleas from beyond their walls. After a while, the North Wind stopped trying to make friends, and simply wandered from place to place, bringing winter with her.
The North Wind spent all her days alone and unhappy…until the day she discovered the boy.
He lived in the far northern reaches, where the fields gave way to bristling trees that marched like bear-fur along the hills that heaved like sea-swells. He lived alone with his aging grandfather. When her brothers’ and sister’s softer winds blew, they roamed the forest collecting delicate jewel-like mushrooms and green things, carving a living from the land. When her siblings had departed, though, the boy sat by the window, staring out at the gray swirling clouds that draped over the land like a burial shroud, for he had no one to play with, and his grandfather too frail to do aught but warm his fragile bones by the peat-fire. He would remain indoor for weeks on end, venturing out only when there was a hint of sun.
The North Wind was sorry, for the winter was hers by birthright, and though she could not prevent the turn of the world beneath the sun and moon, chasing summer into autumn, winter into spring, she knew what it was to be lonely, what it was to grow so accustomed to being alone that the appearance of a friend was like the startling brightness of the sun on snow after a long stretch of cloudy winter days. So she left her billowing cloud fortress and drifted down to the earth with the first snowflakes of early winter, arriving in the deepest silence of the night by the edge of a pond near the little cabin in the wood. She knelt by the pond, blowing slick ice over its surface from edge to edge. When the sun came up sullen and pale that morning, the pond was as shiny as a mirror, snowflakes drifting across its polished surface.
The boy arrived at the window, prepared for another day of emptiness. The North Wind waved joyfully at him, beckoning him to join her. Though he was startled, the boy came outside warily, cringing as the chilly breeze greeted him. “Come play with me!” the North Wind cried, and the boy stomped through the snow to the pond where she stood. “I don’t know how to play in winter,” he said, his cheeks reddening like holly berries with shame.
“You can slide, like this,” the North Wind said, running across the pond, her wispy wind-feet sliding like water across the ice. The boy jumped onto the ice and slid, laughing like a summer-bird. Together he and the North Wind ran and slid, on their knees, on their bellies, across that snow-slick frozen pond. When they fell in a heap in the middle of the ice, they heard another laugh, one rusty with disuse, like a farm tool, left forgotten in a shed. It was the boy’s grandfather, who had been lured from his fireside chair to watch them.
“Grandfather, Grandfather! Come join us!” The boy called. But the boy’s grandfather shook his head sadly. “I don’t think I’m steady enough, my boy.”
The North Wind thought for a moment. “You just need someone to hold you up!” she declared. “And what are Winds for, but carrying things?”
So the boy’s grandfather came down, slowly and hesitantly, to the North Wind’s frozen playground. The boy held his hand to steady him, and the North Wind blew, gently and slowly, so the old man could slip and slide with his grandson.
When the sky began to turn to night, the boy fashioned a little bed of snow and ice for the North Wind right under the boy’s window, for Winds do not sleep in houses of stone and wood as we do. The grandfather fashioned a little table and chair, so that she might sit and drink tea as they did. The North Wind settled into her little snow bed that night, the stars wheeling overhead, and snuggled into January-deep sleep, as the boy and his grandfather slept with more lightness and joy than they’d ever known, for they had tasted the sweetness of friendship instead of the dullness of unending loneliness. In the coming days of winter they would play and play, no longer alone and drowning in winter.
And they all lived happily ever after.