Even paths we have walked many times can be made anew. The walk was a familiar one, out from our little yellow house on the edge of a Brandenburg village, following a rutted, sandy trail where the houses meet the fields to the water tower. From there, we would walk the track along the forest, before dropping down the low hills formed out of the last Ice Age through which dry valleys have long been used as transport links between settlements.
It was a walk we’d made many times, but never like this. The snow had come overnight, covering the roofs and the gardens, piling up against lampposts and tree trunks. Our neighbour, making tracks between his woodpiles, told us over the fence about the day he was born. A day a lot like this one, when his mother had been taken to the doctor’s surgery by horse-drawn sleigh. It sounded like a tale from another century, and it was, but still…
We were not the only ones drawn out into the snow. As we walked we saw our neighbours from the other side, out on a walk of their own, hands pushed deep into the pockets of heavy overcoats. Cross-country skiers had pulled their equipment from dusty basement corners or down from the attic and were making tracks across the fields. By the water tower, a family sat on a chair of small sleighs, each tied to the one in front, and all of them being pulled by a horse.
And then on the edge of the forest, a shout and a yell, before two racing sleds came flying by, each pulled by a team of dogs. Where had they all been hiding? How long had they been waiting for this snow to fall?
On this walk we could normally count on one hand the number of people we met as we went. Perhaps two in mushroom foraging season, when we would come across solitary hunters or couples, stubby knives in hand and weather-beaten plastic shopping bags filled with the treasures of the forest. Quite often, we had the fields and the forests all to ourselves.
But on this day it felt as if the whole village was out beyond the houses, to the fields and the paths between the trees, as if the overnight snowfall had triggered something in them, in us all, and pulled us out from the warmth of our houses into what can only be explained in the depths of our memories or our imagination. Of places we’ve been and things we’ve seen. Of words we’ve read.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep…
As we walked, the sun began its descent. The period of brilliant sunshine had been brief, although the sky remained clear, promising a freezing night. For once we did not continue on, into the woods. Perhaps it was because we knew darkness was coming. Perhaps something compelled us to stay on the edge, with the wide views across the fields and back to the village.
And yet, even as we turned for home, there was something tempting about the idea of continuing on. As the skiers, sleigh-riders and strollers returned to their homes, we would be the ones still out there, moving with purpose through the moonlit landscape we would soon have all to ourselves. But keep moving to where? We had nowhere to be. We did not have miles to go before we slept. We just had to retrace our steps, still visible in the snow. And tomorrow, that familiar walk would still be there. Same, same, but once again different.
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton