My poem, Understand, just popped up at Polu Texni.
My poem, Understand, just popped up at Polu Texni.
My last entry on water maidens drew some, how shall I phrase it, hostility, entirely from critics in the New England area who pointed out, with some justice, that they had not seen rain in some time – to the point where they had forgotten what rain looked like, and that people buried in snow do not want to hear about rain, and that they, as a group, are not entirely certain that water, let alone water maidens, still exists beneath the piles of heavy ice and snow.
And one or two asked mournfully why, precisely, their states had been targeted by snow maidens.
To that question, I cannot give a full answer. Snow maidens are even more mysterious, and less known, than water maidens. True, unlike the water maidens, they are regular visitors to fairy courts, providing each court with just the fine, delicate touch of frost every court needs for winter celebrations, and providing fairy dancers with sparkling shoes formed from ice and light. Some have even been known to join in the fairy dances, tossing snowflakes from their hair as they spin, blinding even the fairies with the light that sparkles from their icy hands.
But they do not linger. Even the coldest of the fairy courts (and many are cold, indeed, making even current Boston temperatures seem warm, as difficult as that may be to believe just now) have their warm spots, too hot for snow maidens to tolerate. And fairy courts have other dangers – tempting hot drinks (all fairies agree you have not lived until you’ve tasted hot melted rubies, and thus, press this drink upon all), songs to heat the blood, and passionate affairs able to melt even the snowiest heart. Then, too, unless she is fortunate enough to be bound to a mountain, or a glacier, or a polar region, the life of a snow maiden can be quite, quite short – when she is not bound to spend summer months sleeping in a cloud. And so the snow maidens do no more than touch the courts with ice and frost before retreating to where they feel most safe: snow.
But that does not mean that they do not want to see more of the world. On the contrary: even the most shy, retiring snow maiden gets bored with endless grey and white. And so, each year, the snow maidens march or dance into greener lands, eager for a change – or, for some of them – eager to spin and dance. A few of the braver ones press themselves against windows, eager to see what’s inside. Most, however, prefer to stay outside, swirling.
And sometimes they gather for a furious dance.
Some claim that their fury is born out of resentment regarding the confined nature of their lives. (Tree spirits, it must be noted, do not give this argument much credence, but then again, most tree spirits are asleep when the snow maidens visit – or at least pretend to be asleep.) Some say that it is all merely part of an ongoing war between the snow maidens and the water maidens, a fight so ancient that no one can even say how or where it began. (Water maidens, when asked, look bewildered at the mere thought – and indeed, few water maidens are particularly combative.) A few of the crosser sorts of fairies claim that the snow maidens are merely infuriated by mortals, and don’t care how many fairies get inconvenienced by their dances. (It should be noted that these are generally fairies who have found themselves on the losing side of certain encounters with mortals, and that their accounts of many events have been found to contain certain inaccuracies.)
Others say that it is not a dance of fury at all, but a dance of joy.
And still others that it is only an attempt to stay warm. After all, the snow maidens wear gowns woven of ice.
The snow maidens, when asked, merely smile, and run blue fingers down the lips of the questioner – freezing those lips at their touch.
Which is why, perhaps, it is wiser not to ask, and wiser to instead watch for the snow maidens. From the corners of your eyes, of course: a sudden swirl of snow there, a crackle of ice there, a flash of colors that burns your eyes, a blue hand appearing, just for a moment, in the wind. Wiser, instead, just to watch their dances, knowing that eventually, those dances will end, and that eventually, the snow maidens will withdraw from the lands that are, after all, only temporary dwellings for them, back to the lands they find safer: lands of snow and ice, where they never have to fear the retreat of the cold. After all, those are also the lands of the water maidens, and the snow maidens have the greatest respect for their cousins.
(This post brought to you partly by demand, and partly by the reality that our little section of Florida – Florida – is dropping into freezing temperatures.)
Today I must advise you to pay careful attention to the rain.
You see, barring a few seductions here and there, water maidens tend to live rather solitary lives. Oh, that’s not to say that they don’t find the peace of their ponds and lakes and rivers and springs interrupted by mortals more often than they would like, or find their careful flower arrangements disturbed by children or alligators, or find themselves glumly removing trash from their waters. But none of these activities exactly involves conversation, and even these days, some fortunate water maidens can avoid even all that.
But that doesn’t quite mean that they don’t crave company. Quite the opposite. Or that they don’t wish to dance.
The difficulty, of course, is arranging such matters. Water maidens have never been terribly comfortable with the formality of fairy courts. Or, for that matter, vice versa – many of the noblest of fairy queens have been known to make quite unkind comments regarding the puddles that water maidens often leave in their wake – to say nothing of the occasional unfortunate events with wilting water lilies and seaweeds. So gathering at the fairy courts – although this may be their right and privilege – is rarely the first choice.
Nor are water maidens ever particularly comfortable long away from water, or in water that is not their own. They can stand on land, certainly – they have even carried out the occasional seduction there, from time to time – and have even been known to venture a mile or so away from their water to obtain one of the latest electronic devices, or particularly fine chocolate. Legend even tells of three maidens who never fail to creep to nearby windows to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. (They are reportedly all on Team Dragon, and have threatened violent flooding if the final episode does not contain dragons flying in triumph.) But these are for short periods only – an hour or two, at most – and not quite right for a gathering of water maidens.
And so, when a water maiden craves company, she summons the rain.
You might see it – a touch of mist over a puddle, or a pond; a glimmer of light on a river, or a shimmer against a white cloud. Or you might see it on the edge of the sky – a thin grey line that for a moment, flashes silver and gold.
And then the rain, summoning the water maidens.
Watch carefully, when the rain comes after something like this. Watch very carefully, for that flash of other, for a sudden shimmer, for a touch of cold on your skin.
It might just be a water maiden, inviting you to dance and sing.
Particularly today, which is, by decree fee, the official Water Maidens Day, a day for all water maidens to emerge from the waters.
If only for a moment.
Water Maidens Day is the idea of poet, writer and folklorist Nin Harris. I’m just borrowing it for fun.
(Also, for those of you in the northeast currently buried in snow, the water maidens feel you. They really, really do. But even their magic has limits.)