The Wind on Christmas Morning
David Templeton offers the story that he tells to his two daughters each year. Happy holidays from the Independent.
By David Templeton
THE NIGHT was cold, so cold that even the wind was shivering. No. That's not quite right. I shouldn't say that the wind was shivering, for it was hardly a wind at all, only a baby, a mere windling, and its feathers were still soft and short. It was its first Christmas Eve, and its first time out with the pack.
None of the other winds had told the windling how cold it would be--with all that snow on the ground and snow in the air and ice gripping everything. The windling was barely able to keep its whistle in its mouth--let alone blow it--without chattering and clattering and making such inappropriate sounds that all the other winds would look back impatiently, whistling at the little one and suggesting that perhaps it ought to go back home.
The pack of winds had come down from the high places, and now--as the hour of midnight came near--they were bound for a small village at the bottom of their mountain. There they would find houses and rooftops and shingles. They would whistle outside windows, stirring the sleeping people inside; they would blow against the walls, dance beneath the eaves, and make their wintry music around and around every house.
Such was the work of the wind on Christmas morning.
The little wind was not interested in such mischief, though it had eagerly begged to be taken along. If it had known how cold it would be, it would gladly have stayed back in the cave. Miserable and sad, it wondered how it could ever grow up to do a wind's work if it had to do so in a world this cold.
As the pack whistled wildly downward--each wind sounding on its own slender instrument, secured around each head with a strong, thin string made of lichen and spider web--they came upon a small farm just outside the village. A faint glow of light shone from within the house. "Too small to bother with," the winds agreed, as they blew by the wooden door with a flurry of noise.
Curious, the little wind paused as it flapped and whistled past the strange building's front window. It saw a flicker inside--the light of a fire in a big brick fireplace, adorned with strange red objects that hung down from the mantel--and pressed its soft face against the pane. The pane was warm, heated ever so slightly by the fire within. There were other odd shapes inside that the windling did not understand: a tree decorated with small flickering dots of light, a pile of boxes beneath the tree, and a lumpy bundle of something in front of the fireplace.
The windling pushed closer. Shivering harder, it glanced back in the direction that the wind pack had flown.
"I can catch up in a moment," it thought to itself, still puffing on its whistle in short, little spurts of wind song. Studying the front of the house, it wondered if there were a way to get even closer to that warm thing inside. A narrow band of light caught its eye, streaming out from a wide crack at the base of the front door. Eagerly, the windling fluttered down to take a closer look.
LIZZY WAS AWAKE. Wrapped in a cocoon of soft blankets, she sat by the fireplace, listening intently to the wind whistling outside the door. She was a connoisseur of winds, this little 7-year-old girl. She'd been listening to them since the day she was born, and knew more about them than any of her many brothers and sisters--each of whom was represented by one of the stockings that dangled from the mantelpiece, all adorned with little bells, one for each Christmas of the child's life.
On Lizzy's stocking--which was worn full of holes, but had never been mended, as the girl liked it the way it was--were seven little bells. The newest one had been sewed on by her mother just the day before.
Lizzy sat in the glow of the fire, one ear pointed at the door. She'd been waiting for the winds to come all night, and only now, as midnight struck and the day became Christmas, had she heard anything. A fast rush of whistling wind that stopped as soon as it started.
"There are three kinds of winds," she recited softly to herself, wrapping up even tighter. "Whispering winds," and here she practiced a powdery "Shhhhhhh," of the kind made by that breed of wind. "Weird winds," and she mouthed a fluttery, ghostlike "Oooooooooh."
But her favorites were the whistling winds, high and sweet and strong and clear. She sighed, and attempted such a sound, but what came out of her mouth was more of a wet hiss then a whistle, for Lizzy, despite hours of practice, had never learned how to whistle.
She heard a sound by the door and turned to look. There was nothing there. She continued her recitations.
"Winds are invisible," she murmured the words she'd been taught by her father, "as long as they are moving. But if a wind is ever still, it can be seen by anyone looking. Their whistles are invisible too, but only when touched by a wind. Their feathers ..."
She stopped. There was that sound again. Staring at the crack near the bottom of the door, she tried to make out what was there.
THEY WERE ALMOST to the village by the time the wind pack noticed that the baby was not among them. At first annoyed, then fearful, they searched all about before deciding to turn around and go back to find it. As they flew across the fields, close to the ground and moving fast, they listened desperately for the sound of its whistle, hoping the little wind had not lost it along the way.
The windling was stuck. Attempting to peek just inside the glowing crack, it had become so wedged in the door that it could move neither forward nor backward. Frantically flailing, it realized it still held the whistle in its mouth. With all its strength the windling blew, with a loud, shrill, spirited blast that it kept up until at last it could blow no more, and collapsed, exhausted, still no more free than ever. Something moved inside the house.
The little wind looked up. A creature--a little girl--was looking right at it. Alarmed, the windling began flailing about again.
"It's all right," whispered the girl. "I'd never hurt a wind." Having heard the sudden sound of the wind's whistle--even more beautiful for being so close--she'd looked hard, only to see a tiny windling trapped in the door. It appeared to her eyes for only a moment, lying spent and tired, then disappeared as soon as it spied her and began to stir once more.
At the sound of the girl's kind voice, the windling became still again. Lizzy dropped to her hands and knees and crawled slowly forward. "Let me help," she said, reaching out to take the little wind, which was stuck just beneath its first sinewy row of wings. The little girl's hands were warm. The windling trustingly remained still and allowed Lizzy to bring it slowly forward.
Suddenly the little wind was jerked backward. The pack, having found it all poked into a doorway, were now trying to pull it back out by its tail.
"Come out," they all whistled. "Come back."
"Come in," Lizzy whispered. "Come teach me to whistle."
Without thinking, the windling wriggled with all its might, instantly vanishing from Lizzy's sight. Then she felt it working its own way loose, and without warning, she fell backward into the room, and was holding the windling--still shivering--in her arms. "You're so cold," she said. "Almost frozen."
THE PACK, astounded to see their little one vanish into the door crack, were immediately outraged. They began throwing themselves against the door, whirling about on the roof, tossing down shingles pots, and whistling frantically down the smoke-filled chimney.
Frightened at what it had done, the windling wriggled up from Lizzy's embrace and bounded into the air. It flew into the Christmas tree, bounced away, up, and against the ceiling just above the fireplace, then straight down and right into Lizzy's stocking.
The windling was stuck again, this time in a strange, fluffy tube that jingled and jangled. On the other hand, the little one was warm for the first time tonight. Wriggling deeper into the stocking, it felt the holes and just managed to push its wings out through them, one hole for each wing and a few holes left over. The windling stuck its head out through the opening, and saw Lizzy laughing delightedly.
"It looks like you're wearing a sweater," Lizzy said. Of all the wonders and treats that had been placed in that stocking over the years, this was the most wonderful gift of all.
OUTSIDE, the pack was growing louder. The windling glanced at the door. It wanted to be back with the other winds, but didn't want to leave this cozy warm place, with the soft jingling stocking and the girl who seemed to understand the little wind.
Lizzy carefully reached up and removed the stocking from the nail that held it up. She sat on the floor, and held the windling in her lap. Whenever the windling moved, the stocking rippled with the music of its bells.
"I've listened to the wind all of my life," Lizzy explained. "I've learned to whisper like the whispering winds, and to wailing like the weird winds, but I've never been able to whistle like you do, and you are my favorite kind of wind."
The windling sat still, listening to the soft sound of the little girl's words.
"I wish I could keep you," Lizzy said. "So that you could show me how to whistle and I could always keep you warm." Lizzy looked toward the window, where the wind pack's tumult had grown wilder. She was afraid that her family would be awakened and, with questions and orders, would spoil her magical moment.
"I'm going to put you back outside now," she said, standing up. "You can keep the stocking. Maybe it will keeps the chill away. Please just promise that you'll come back and make music outside my window again. That will be the best Christmas present ever."
The windling, who'd been listening carefully, slipped from Lizzy's arms, fading, along with the stocking, from sight. Flittering swiftly, the windling found that it could fly as well with the stocking slipped over it as without, and the sound the little wind now made was exciting and strange.
The windling alighted on the mantelpiece, feeling the rising heat of the fire. It looked around the room again and over at the little creature now holding the door open for her escape. The windling was not sure it wanted to go. The wind pack had quieted down, waiting to see what would happen. The little wind could see them hovering anxiously outside, whistling eagerly, "Come out, come out, come out."
Lizzy peered through the door into the dark, cold morning. She could not see the winds, but she could hear them. In that moment, the windling made up its mind. Lizzy heard the sharp jingle as it leaped from the mantle, and felt it brush past her face, as if to kiss her cheek.
And then it was gone. A minute later, the air outside was silent and still. Lizzy closed the door and returned to the fireplace.
She sighed, a sigh as happy as it was sad, and wrapped herself once more in the blankets. Suddenly very sleepy, Lizzy turned away from the fire to go to her bed.
She spun back around. Something caught her eye. Something dangling from the mantle. Something bright and thin and extraordinary.
It was the whistle, hanging by its string of lichen and spider web, swinging from the nail that had once held her stocking. A gift from a grateful friend.
She took it down and slowly brought it to her lips. Lizzy thought it was the best sound she'd ever heard. She blew again and again. She stopped. Faintly, from far away, she could hear the sound of tiny bells. She slipped the whistle around her neck and went to bed, where she fell asleep listening to the warm jingle of the wind.
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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.