Nature Tales for Winter Nights -  - E-Book

Nature Tales for Winter Nights E-Book



___ 'From the author of our former Non-Fiction Book of the Month Fifty Words for Snow comes a luminous collection of fascinating seasonal tales that explore everything from Tove Jansson's childhood to polar bird myths.' Waterstones A treasure trove of nature tales from storytellers across the globe, bringing a little magic and wonder to every winter night. As the evenings draw in – a time of reckoning, rest and restoration – immerse yourself in this new seasonal anthology. Nature Tales for Winter Nights puts winter – rural, wild and urban – under the microscope and reveals its wonder. From the late days of autumn, through deepest cold, and towards the bright hope of spring, here is a collection of familiar names and dazzling new discoveries. Join the naturalist Linnæus travelling on horseback in Lapland, witness frost fairs on the Thames and witch-hazel harvesting in Connecticut, experience Alpine adventure, polar bird myths and courtship in the snow in classical Japan and ancient Rome. Observations from Beth Chatto's garden and Tove Jansson's childhood join company with artists' private letters, lines from Anne Frank's diary and fireside stories told by indigenous voices. A hibernation companion, this book will transport you across time and country this winter. ___ Praise for Fifty Words for Snow, a Waterstones Book of the Month: 'Absolutely exquisite. This little book is a work of art.' Horatio Clare, author of The Light in the Dark 'This stunning book made me want to pack all my woolies, candles, ample firewood and enough books for a year – and head to as northerly a location as I could find.' Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Caught by the River 'A delightful compendium' The Herald 'Winter has its own special magic, and this collection from around the world makes you want to pull on your boots and get out there.' Saga

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A sad tale’s best for winter […]

I will tell it softly;

Yond crickets shall not hear it.



Introduction by Nancy Campbell

the wind

Anne Frank

snow mountains everywhere

Sei Shōnagon

cold burns and breaks

Olaus Magnus

a holly among hollies

Daisy Hildyard

a shadow

Charlotte Brontë

a winter day on the sea-beach

Walt Whitman


Joy Harjo

a certain blueness about the lips

Virginia Woolf

the iceberg

Tove Jansson

to be done in the parterre, andflower-garden

John Evelyn

notes on a landscape

Theophilus Kwek

the raven and the goose

when the ravens could speak

the raven who wanted a wife

Inuit folktales

departure of HMS Beagle

Charles Darwin

relic of an expedition

Salomon Andrée

the rainy season

Daniel Defoe


Joseph Roth


Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov

a harsh winter

Mathilte Sørensen

a time to harvest

Damian Le Bas

the golden bough

James Frazer


Marchelle Farrell

latin lockdown


a small bouquet

Beth Chatto

davos in winter

Robert Louis Stevenson

sea storm

Jorsias Ammonsen

the witch-hazel gatherer

Edwin Way Teale

a letter from the Netherlands

Vincent van Gogh

the message

Nancy Campbell

if winter comes can spring be far behind?

Alvin Aubert

into Spain and back again

Dorothy Pilley

books and other rations

Matthew Henson

a mountain ramble

Dorothy Wordsworth

the light

The Quran

a murmuration

Tim Dee

on nests

Susan Fenimore Cooper

encounter on the road of Hercules:Alpes Maritimes

Charlotte Du Cann

shelter in a snow-drift

Ernest Thompson Seton

sheep in winter

John Clare

the frozen river

Henry David Thoreau

a meteorological journal

John Rae

no ordinary snow-storm

Henry David Thoreau

from hedge to hedge

Charles Darwin

on snow-water

Carl Linnæus

a comfortable shelter

William Scoresby, Junior

a riddle

The Exeter Book

the wild wood

Kenneth Grahame

a meteor shower

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Beygja –bend. Djúpt –deeply.Halda –hold.

Sarah Thomas

Author biographies






the witching spells of winter nightswhere are they fled wi their delights1

The old appointment diary was shabby and scratched, its corners bumped in my bag. The entries were marred by hastily scribbled meetings, obscure doodles; several leaves torn out for notes; a ribbon lost, a binding sundered. Delights had been in short supply. It was time for a new book to chart a course through the approaching winter and into the new year. A fresh diary, embossed in silver with a different combination of numerals, promised pages of days – days and days divided by a thin line. A week to view. The layout was regular and reliable, quietly formal; major festivals were noted, and the phases of the moon. I imagined designing a diary in which the lines between the blank days would grow broader and deeper, so that the division of light and dark on the page mirrored the shade of the skies that swung over my caravan in the woods, like the seeping dusk at 4 p.m.

At the winter solstice the clouds were heavy, chalk grey, the air still with snow that never seemed to fall. Without the generous canopy and riotous undergrowth of summer, my tiny home felt exposed. No leaves on the hawthorn hedge to offer protection from the wind, or dispel curious glances; in daylight, all my movements could be seen, and in the darkness any light cast from my van window betrayed my presence in the woods. Constellations turned above the thin roof and the long nights and short days sped past. People spoke of electricity being too expensive. Even candles were a luxury, and exchanged as precious gifts. I could feel a cold spell coming, and I was fearful.

Then came one of those moments of good fortune that offer as much solace to the weary soul as to the empty pocket. Before the freeze set in, an application I’d sent off months before for a research fellowship in a once-ruined now-restored castle was unexpectedly granted. With joyful anticipation I marked the approaching weeks away in the pages of the new diary. The fellowship promised shelter, sustenance and the camaraderie of other writers. A strange group we were, on our arrival in the shadowy seventeenth-century hall, our bright wheeled suitcases looked down on gloomily by the dusty portraits of great writers of the past. Each of us was lost in our own way, like a shipwrecked mariner with an ocean of time that we would need to design a unique vessel to navigate. Each of us determined to put this midwinter gift to good use, and hoping – for what? To finish books we had not found the time to write in our hours outside the castle walls, or to rest and dream new ideas into being. I knew what I wanted: to use this precious time of interiority to look outwards. I wanted to nestle into the words of others. I would read to travel deep into winter without suffering its dearth. I would read to summon the spring. I set no boundaries to my reading, knowing that sometimes the most necessary tales are found where we least expect them. The rambling castle library had never been catalogued, yet its shelves, which reached as high as the snowy pines in the forest beyond, seemed to hold every book I was looking for.

My first selection was a comforting choice. I picked out a book I remembered from childhood, and scurried back to my room with it. (After the confines of the caravan, I confess that I experienced a certain unease in those early days, my body negotiating its way up winding stone stairwells and along drafty corridors.) To re-read is a rediscovery of self as well as story, rather like the return of the seasons when our own lives have changed. My original encounter with The Shepherd’s Calendar, an acute survey of agricultural life, was the paperback, which travelled with us from house to house whenever my parents moved, always, along with kettle and tin-opener, one of the last possessions to go in a box, and soon unpacked again and set on the old wooden chest that temporarily took the place of a table. I loved the wood engravings depicting bare poplar branches and sheep huddled in snowy clumps, which separated the unpunctuated stream of verse into twelve distinct months. The poem was composed two hundred years ago, during the winter of 1823–24, by John Clare, son of a Northamptonshire farm labourer. Clare writes of the power of stories, when ‘Withering and keen the winter comes / while comfort flies to close shut rooms’. The opening lines describe the country people reading: farmers consulting newspapers for the price of grain, or even the more superstitious almanacs:

old moore’s annual prophecysthat many a theme for talk supplyswhose almanacks thumbed pages swarmwi frost and snow and many a stormand wisdom gossipd from the starsof politics and bloody wars

The newspaper reports were still of wars and the cost of food. My colleagues in the castle and I had limited access to the internet, but despite relative isolation from current affairs we were not oblivious to our privilege in being held for a moment, comfortable in our close-shut rooms, safe from the anguish of conflict and disease. We worked in solemn silence during the day, and as dusk fell over the glen and the bright points of the winter circle pricked the north-eastern sky, we met for conversation, one by one quitting our desks and making our way to the drawing room where we could sink into saggy armchairs around the fire. Some missed their families; others relished their solitude after a long lockdown at close quarters with others. Candles were lit in the sconces. In this soft light, kindness and kinship hovered at the corners of the room as we spoke of books we loved in various languages, recommended other writers in and out of translation, read shyly from the first drafts of poems, and somehow, at some point, I stopped seeing time as something urgently demarcated by the lines in my diary, and began to feel the space open up between them.

These long evenings of conversation, free from the thousand distractions of technology, reminded me of a historian whose work I’d encountered in a polar museum. Mâliâraq Vebæk had recorded oral histories in Cape Farewell, Greenland, in the 1960s, where the inhabitants of isolated settlements ‘loved to tell creepy stories in the evenings after dark’. Such traditions are lost with the dark evenings. ‘Encountering old story-tellers and having them recount their experiences is no longer possible,’ Vebæk wrote, ‘because most needs for amusement are covered by television and other modern ways of entertainment.’ Behind those spine-chilling tales lay a valuable historical heritage, since the narratives were also examples of how to respect the vagaries of weather and the environment. In John Clare’s midwinter lines, the teller of tales is embodied in the figure of a woman at the hearth, her everyday surroundings given an enchanted aspect by scattered bones, ‘glittering’ fire-irons and a lucky horseshoe ‘brightend as a spell / witchcrafts evil powers to quell’. Here too, malevolent forces that threaten in the heart of winter are kept at bay by imparting lessons and spinning yarns:

and from her memory oft repeats

witches dread powers and fairey feats

. . .

thus dames the winter night regales

wi wonders never ceasing tales

The listening children ‘tremble while they love to hear / startling while they the tales recall / at their own shadows on the wall’. And it is no wonder they tremble. The turning of the year is the time of Janus, the ancient Roman god of doors, gateways and transitions: a cusp on which past and future balance. In Brittany and Wales, the intercalary days of the year – those left over from reckoning up the solar calendar, spare in every sense – are called the ‘Omen Days’. In this interval divinities are born or conceived in many mythologies (they equate to the Twelve Days of Christmas, for example) and the afterlife beckons to mortal souls. These hours are rich in apparitions and augurs and, according to the Scots Gaelic tradition of the fríth, on each of the twelve days those with second sight should wander outside to observe the signs in nature and use them, like images in the tarot, to divine events of the twelve months of the year to come.

My days in the castle gradually took on a routine. On frosty mornings, I would set out for a brisk walk to dispel the remnants of dreams before settling at my desk. Sometimes I snatched a slice of toast and marmalade on the way out the door, and munched it as I walked along the yew-lined avenue. A robin haunted my steps. It perched sometimes in the low branches of the holly outside the library window, and chittered for crumbs. Once or twice, it was sufficiently brazen to hop inside. I read about other species, which had found more reliable means of surviving winter’s dearth. From Edwin Way Teale’s classic Wandering Through Winter, I discovered that the only bird known to hibernate is the common whippoorwill, the smallest North American nightjar. Among the Hopi tribe, the bird is named hölchko or ‘the sleeping one’. From California to Mexico its distinctive call, a monotonous ‘poor will’ from dusk to dawn, grows silent as it settles into rock hollows and enters a state of torpor. Its heartbeat slows and its body stills until the cold season is past.

Hibernation is a miraculous spell of time akin to the transformations undergone by a shaman, whose spirit travels while their body is in trance. Likewise, hours spent in a library might seem to be a retreat from the world, yet promise encounters with a myriad voices. I was discovering in the words of others something I had almost lost myself: a hope for the coming spring. A temporary state of seclusion is a trope of many tales of regeneration. In Italy, the three coldest days of the year, which fall on the cusp of January and February, are known as i gioni della merla. The merla: a female blackbird, a species that does not migrate and must weather the winter storms. According to legend, the merla once had white feathers. During one particularly bitter winter, the canny merla sought warmth by sheltering in a smoking chimney stack, and emerged from her burning nest after three nights covered with soot particles – like the phoenix, transformed. From that time on, the birds’ feathers grew to be black as a sign of gratitude for their survival, and the bird itself has become a symbol of new life. A proverb from Bologna: ‘When the blackbird sings, winter ends.’

On paper, winter may have an official beginning and end and even a carefully orchestrated middle (the hour changes, calendars turn). Yet the parameters of the period are called into question as the weather we associate with the season becomes ever more capricious, due to the devastating effects of climate change. Solastalgia replaces nostalgia, when the snow scenes depicted on holiday cards are rarely seen in our neighbourhoods. After all, like love and death, the seasons are cultural constructs, experienced differently according to tales the ancestors have given us. Before the coming of Christianity to Iceland in the twelfth century, medieval farmers used the Norse calendar divided into just two seasons, summer and winter. These extremes seemed to be echoed in the situation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe who, after a year marooned near the equator, realises on ‘the unhappy anniversary’ of his landing that the island climate will offer only interludes of drought and of rain. In the polar regions, sea ice dictates the annual cycle: September, for hunters in Nunavut, is Akullirut, or the waiting season. ‘During this time there is snow on the ground and everyone is waiting for sea ice to form,’ the hunter Joelie Sanguya explains.2 In October – Amiraijaut – when the sea ice arrives from the north on ocean currents, the hunters know that ‘freeze-up’ is beginning. This is followed by Tusaqtuut (November) or ‘news time’: while travellers in Europe commonly see ice and snow as barriers to transport, at best a nuisance, something to be salted away, the sea ice allowed Arctic peoples to travel long distances between camps after months of separation and open water, bringing news of friends and family along with them. Despite these icy distinctions, across the waters of Baffin Bay, the West Greenlandic word for ‘winter’ and ‘year’ is the same (ukioq),3 suggesting the mood of the dark nights persists as an undertow through the rest of days.

For the Lakota people, a year ran from first snowfall to first snowfall. At the end of each year, on the snow’s return, elders chose a significant event to represent the whole year – unusual weather, or outbreaks of disease. These pictographic calendars are known as the ‘winter count’. (The term comes from the Lakhótiyapi name waniyetu or ‘winter’ and wowapi, ‘anything that can be counted’.) One person was appointed keeper of the count, and this individual was responsible for the symbols, which served as a mnemonic for oral historians’ more elaborate recall. (The count was traditionally painted on bison hides, although following the near-extinction of the bison in 1800, paper from old ledger books was used.) The winter count of Battiste Good4 denotes, for example, ‘the year the stars fell’ – 1834, when the Leonid meteor shower was notably bright – with a tipi surrounded by many stars.

Clearly, winter is a time for elders to pass on wisdom and instruct future generations in their history. The castle gardener taught me a Scots saying ‘many hawes, many snawes’: an abundance of white hawthorn blossom in the hedgerows indicates there will be severe snowstorms in the coming winter. Her words demonstrate how closely acts of augury are connected to traditional environmental knowledge and scientific understanding. I have always loved browsing works of natural history from the Enlightenment onwards, for insights into the ways humans across time have wondered at – and attempted to classify and describe – the more-than-human. Some of the close observations in these pages anticipate the work of contemporary ecologists. Charles Darwin watches glowworms beneath the Corcovado in Brazil during the winter of 1832, and Carl Linnæus considers the qualities of glacial water on a research trip in Lapland in 1732. These canonical voices may sound almost naive compared with the witty account of a wager on how long a snow mountain might take to melt, written over a millennium ago at the court of the Empress Teishi. Sei Shōnagon’s experience feels contemporary yet offers a stark contrast to the sorrow the same question prompts in the Anthropocene.

One day the tranquillity of the castle on its crag was disturbed by a storm so severe the Met Office had given it a name. As wind wailed down the gable chimney and shook the sash windows, and gusts of sleet prickled on the panes, the company around the hearth appealed for tales of even wilder weather, so that I found myself regaling the winter night in my dressing gown, not unlike Clare’s storyteller. It dawned on me that the passages on natural history I had been assembling were a sequence, not for myself alone, but a compendium that might accompany others through similarly long nights. In her novel Emergency, Daisy Hildyard describes how a line of holly trees on the crest of a Yorkshire hill exists to mark a way for walkers when winters were worse than they are now. ‘In those days, for weeks at a time, deep snow hid the paths and hedges so that all directions looked the same. Whoever had planted these trees had situated them with care: as you reached one, the next was in clear view, though the line wasn’t necessarily visible all at once.’ The process of compiling an anthology can feel a little like tracing a course from one evergreen to another. Walt Whitman praises the austere beauty of the Atlantic shoreline; across the ocean, Virginia Woolf presents Orlando in a liminal state as the River Thames freezes, falling in love with a slender androgynous figure: ‘whether boy’s or woman’s, for the loose tunic and trousers of the Russian fashion served to disguise the sex, filled him with the highest curiosity.’ Meanwhile the young Tove Jansson becomes infatuated with an iceberg, just for one night, and Daphnis and Chloe must contemplate a hiatus in their pastoral courtship.

The interminable winters endured by many polar expeditions made their mark in diaries even more elliptical and ragged than my own, including the fragmentary notes of the Swedish aeronaut and polar explorer Salomon Andrée, who died while attempting to reach the Geographic North Pole by hydrogen balloon in 1897. When Andrée’s emaciated body was discovered on White Island, a journal was stored in his breast pocket – the paper a last attempt at insulation. For those explorers fortunate to survive their ordeals, the publication of a diary was a useful source of revenue; personal accounts from the ‘golden age’ of polar exploration were a mainstay of the publishing industry. There is a predictability about these quest narratives, and it is illuminating to find other perspectives, such as Matthew Henson’s observations of the ‘magnificent desolation’ on his groundbreaking mission as the first African American to reach the North Pole. While Henson gives insights into what the crew of the Roosevelt read on winter nights, his own book is now to be found in any self-respecting shipboard library.

Winter is a harsh time of ‘discontent’ when food is scarce and charitable instincts are lacking. I read Joseph Roth’s dispatches from Berlin following the First World War, where desperate citizens lived in penury as hyperinflation affected the German Papiermark, and wild rosehips were an elixir to the city’s starving children. In Kolyma Tales – the manuscripts of which were considered so seditious, they were smuggled out of Russia and first published in English – Varlam Shalamov reveals the fatal consequences of foraging to supplement a poor diet in the Gulag. Even in happier times, endurance and skill are key to survival: the struggle to collect a cache of seal-meat, in a story remembered by Mathilte Sørensen from Greenland, or the west country Romany women interviewed by Damian Le Bas, who sell mistletoe ‘in wishbone-shaped lovers’ sprigs’ and weave fresh holly wreaths. The evergreen wreath is a magnificent symbol for the seasonal cycle. The loss of the old year – unlike real loss, which can seem so cruelly irreversible, so unjust – is a lesson in enduring through precarious times, and practising tenacity. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: ‘If time is a line, as Western thinking presumes, we might think this is a unique moment for which we have to devise a solution that enables that line to continue. If time is a circle, as the indigenous worldview presumes, the knowledge we need is already within the circle. We just have to remember it, to find it again and let it teach us. That’s where the storytellers come in.’5

The heartbeat slows, the chimney smokes, the stars fall. The enchanted month in the castle came to a close, and I tidied my desk and climbed the library ladder to return books to their places on the shelves. As I gathered up my sheaf of papers, I looked forward to returning home. The remaining nights of winter might be dark and cold and damp, but now I was listening for the call of the blackbird. I awaited the first snowdrops, with hope.

the wind

24 December 1943

Whenever someone comes in from outside, with the wind in their clothes and the cold on their cheeks, I feel like burying my head under the blanket to keep from thinking, ‘When will we be allowed to breathe fresh air again?’

Anne Frank

snow mountains everywhere

In winter the early mornings. It is beautiful indeed when snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season’s mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes […]

The Snow Mountain

From the tenth day of the Twelfth Month it snowed very heavily. I and the other ladies-in-waiting gathered large quantities of snow and heaped it in lids; then we decided to build a real snow mountain in the garden. Having summoned the servants, we told them it was on Her Majesty’s orders, and so they all got to work. Men from the Office of Grounds, who had come to do some sweeping, also joined in, and soon the mountain was rising high above the ground. Next came some officials from the Office of the Empress’s Household, who made suggestions and helped build an especially beautiful mountain. There were also a few Assistant Officials from the Emperor’s Private Office and some more men from the Office of Grounds, so that soon we had about twenty people working away. In addition messages were sent to the servants off duty, saying that a special stipend would be given to anyone who helped on that day, but that those who did not appear for work could expect nothing. This brought the men rushing out, except for those who lived far away and could not be informed.

When the mountain was finished, officials from the Office of the Empress’s Household were summoned and given rolls of silk tied up in sets of two. They threw the rolls on to the veranda, and each of the workmen came and took a set. Having bowed low, they thrust the silk into their robes before withdrawing. Some of the Court gentlemen changed from their formal over-robes into hunting costume and remained in attendance at the Empress’s Office.

‘Well,’ said Her Majesty, ‘how long is that mountain likely to last?’

Everyone guessed that it would be ten days or a little more.

‘And what do you think?’ the Empress asked me.

‘It will last till the fifteenth of the First Month,’ I declared.

Even Her Majesty found this hard to believe, and the other women insisted that it would melt before the end of the year. I realized I had chosen too distant a date; the mountain would last until the first of the year at the outside, which was the latest day I should have given. Yet there was no taking back what I had said: though I knew the mountain was unlikely to survive till the fifteenth, I stuck to my original prediction.

Towards the twentieth it began raining. There was no sign that the snow was about to melt, but the mountain did shrink a little. ‘Oh, Goddess of Mercy of Shirayama,’ I prayed frenziedly, ‘do not let our mountain melt away!’

On the day we built the mountain Tadataka, the Secretary in the Ministry of Ceremonial, arrived with a message from the Emperor. We gave him a cushion and joined him for a talk. ‘Today they’re making snow mountains everywhere,’ he told us. ‘The Emperor has ordered his men to build one in the garden in front of his Palace, and they’re also building them in the Eastern Palace and in the Koki and Kyogoku Palaces.’ Hearing this, I wrote a poem and asked the woman standing beside me to recite it:

That mountain in our garden.

Which we had thought so rare!

Everywhere its snowy likeness . . .

And we can boast of nothing new.

Tadataka was impressed. ‘I would not want to spoil the brilliant effect of your poem by making a poor reply,’ he said, bowing repeatedly. ‘The next time I find myself outside the blinds of some fashionable Court lady I shall repeat your lines.’ And with that he took his leave.

I had heard that Tadataka was very fond of poetry, and his behaviour surprised me. When I told the Empress about it, she said, ‘He obviously preferred not to reply at all unless he could produce something really good.’

Towards the end of the year the snow mountain seemed to have become smaller, yet it was still very high. About noon one day, when I and some of the other women were sitting out on the veranda, Hitachi no Suke arrived. ‘Why haven’t we seen you for such a long time?’ we asked her. ‘Oh, nothing special,’ she said. ‘It’s just that something rather sad happened to me.’ ‘And what may that be?’ we asked. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I couldn’t help feeling that

Lucky indeed is she.

That nunnish diver of the briny depths.

Who is so laden down with gifts

That she can scarcely drag herself ashore.’

She drawled out her poem, and we all laughed contemptuously. Since no one was paying much attention, she made her way up to the snow mountain and walked round it before leaving. Later we sent Lady Ukon a message about the visit, and she replied, ‘Why didn’t you bring her here? It was really too bad to abandon her like that and make her go all the way to that great mountain of yours by herself.’ This caused us to burst into laughter again.

New Year came without affecting the snow mountain in any way.

On the first day of the year it again started snowing heavily. I was happily thinking how the snow would gather on the mountain when Her Majesty said, ‘This has come at the wrong time. Leave what was there before and brush away all the new snow.’

Very early on the following morning, as I was going from the Palace to my room, I saw a man who looked like a head retainer. He was on his way to the Empress’s Office and was shivering with cold. On the sleeve of his night-watch costume, which was as green as a citron leaf, I noticed a piece of paper, also green, attached to a pine twig.

‘Who sent this?’ I asked him.

‘The High Priestess of Kamo,’ he replied.

Realizing at once that this must be something pleasant, I carried the letter to the Empress’s room. Her Majesty was still in bed, and I did my best to open her lattice-door myself, using for this purpose a go board on which I stood as I tried to push up the heavy grating. The lattice was very heavy, but finally one side opened with a creaking sound that wakened the Empress. ‘Why are you doing that?’ she asked. ‘I have a letter from the High Priestess,’ I replied, ‘which I had to deliver to Your Majesty as quickly as possible.’ ‘Well,’ she said, getting up, ‘it certainly is early for a letter.’

Looking inside, she discovered a pair of hare-sticks, each about five inches long. They had been placed end to end so that they looked like a single hare-wand; some paper had been wrapped round the head of the sticks, which were prettily decorated with sprigs of wild orange, club moss, and mountain sedge. But there seemed to be no written message. ‘Can this really be all?’ said the Empress. Searching more carefully, however, we found the following verse written on a bit of paper wrapped round the end of the stick:

I thought I heard the woodman’s axe

Echoing through the hills.

But, oh, it was a gladder sound –

The cutting of the festive wands.