November 01, 2004

Bringing in the New Year

The December air is crisp and a white frost covers the land, the trees, and even our horses’ thick coats. The tree branches are brittle and snap at the slightest touch. Tiny ice crystals cling to blades of grass. The crystals are so delicate and intricate that they mimic the leaves of the plant. The landscape looks heavenly in its whiteness, yet fragile and cold. For a few days, the nearby Nerussa River turns into a giant slurpee – crushed ice floats on the surface until finally brought to a standstill by a deep freeze.

The sun hovers above the horizon for a scant seven hours each day, as the nights grow longer. During the extended evening hours, Igor and I sit by the fire and read or watch whatever is being broadcast on ORT, the one national television station that reaches our lonely expanse of forest. Like the sun, we go to bed early and wake up late, catching up on sleep lost in the brevity of summer’s nights.

With Christmas and New Year’s nearing, I walk to the other end of the village to find out why our postlady or her husband Stepan haven’t brought the mail by for nearly a week. Surely I must have some Christmas cards or packages waiting. I knock on the door in the high fence surrounding their yard. Stepan opens it and invites me into the house. I sit on the broad bench in the hallway. Stepan hands me two scanty issues of the district newspaper, which comes out twice a week, but no letters. I realize my Christmas cards won’t arrive for months. Then he pulls a little tin from his coat pocket and puts a pinch of something in his palm.

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