Walking in the winter woods, hearing silence punctuated by the call of birds and the rustle of leaves, I began composing this image in my head. It is hard to dream when the din of traffic, the rumble of the subway below, and the roar of the planes above cloud your head; dreams need quiet. Dreams need thought and time to push themselves around in your brain.
There is something very beautiful but melancholy about the woods in winter; though the plants go to sleep for the season, other things start to move. Tracks of water moving under the ice look like bugs scurrying to their homes. The vibrant colors of spring, summer, and fall become the muted but a palette of yellows, browns, reds, and grays emerges in gentle, quiet beauty. Hints of green are unexpected and refreshing. The woods are quieter, without the buzz of insects. It is the haven of birds.
This winter I took two trips to the NYC Botanical Gardens and walked as often as I could with my father in the wooded paths of Maryland. It was rejuvenating and wonderful; Dad and I walked in the morning, when winter thistle is backed by sun, and after sunset, when we had to concentrate to find our way. I loved the foggy days the best, when the sky lost its color and the trees faded away, shrouded in gray.
The story of "The Twelve Brothers" ("Die zwölf Brüder") by the Brothers Grimm is one that has been told in various manifestations. It tells of a king and queen who had a dozen boys, but when the queen conceives again, the king decides that if it is a girl the boys will be killed, leaving the princess to inherit the kingdom. The queen sends her sons into the woods to await her sign, but of course, it is a girl she bears. So the boys stay away, living in the woods. One day, the sister learns of her forgotten family and leaves in search of them. She finds them, wins their filial love; but all will not end happily, at least not yet:
"They all rejoiced, falling around her neck and kissing her, and they loved her with all their hearts.
Now she stayed at home with Benjamin and helped him with the work. The eleven went into the woods and captured wild game, deer, birds, and doves, so they would have something to eat. Their sister and Benjamin prepared it all. They gathered wood for cooking, herbs for the stew, and put the pot onto the fire so a meal was always ready when the eleven came home. She also kept the house in order, and made up the beds white and clean. The brothers were always satisfied, and they lived happily with her.
One time the two of them had prepared a good meal at home, and so they sat together and ate and drank and were ever so happy. Now there was a little garden next to the bewitched house, and in it there were twelve lilies, the kind that are called "students." Wanting to bring some pleasure to her brothers, she picked the twelve flowers, intending to give one to each of them when they were eating. But in the same instant that she picked the flowers, the twelve brothers were transformed into twelve ravens, and they flew away above the woods. The house and the garden disappeared as well.
Now the poor girl was alone in the wild woods. Looking around, she saw an old women standing next to her.
The old woman said, "My child, what have you done?" Why did you not leave the twelve white flowers standing? Those were your brothers, and now they have been transformed into ravens forever."
The girl said, crying, "Is there no way to redeem them?"
"No," said the old woman, "There is only one way in the world, and it is so difficult that you will never redeem them. You must remain silent for seven whole years, neither speaking nor laughing. If you speak a single word, even if all but one hour of the seven years has passed, then it will all be for nothing, and your brothers will be killed by that one word."
Then the girl said in her heart, "I know for sure that I will redeem my brothers.""
As for the rest, you'll have to wait, or go read the story yourself.