The end of winter is a festival of light. The sun reaches into the depths of the woods. The trunks cast blunt shadows; the stream sparkles; the blue of the sky appears violent in the forks of the trees. Solid masses in the distance are lost in a golden mist. The sun burns. The breeze bites. A power without gentleness is felt. It’s not yet spring.
We were sitting in a hollow; but we had to move; the cold wind flowed like water down the slopes. Then someone said: “The winter sun is a liar; the more it shines, the more we feel the cold. In winter I love the half-light, and the low clouds, which are like overcoats on the earth. Then we curl up; we become dormice. But this lying sun draws us out of the house. I hate light without heat.”
“The sun,” said the sage, “is no liar. It warms as it can. But the causes are linked. I’ve often noticed, in the middle of winter, that the coldest moment of the day is around midday. This is natural. The sun warms the earth; the earth warms the air; the warm air rises, and cold air takes its place; so the first effect of the sun is to throw a coat of freezing air over our shoulders; and this becomes noticeable towards the middle of the day. What is true for the day is true for the year. As the sun rises over the horizon, so the winds arrive from the pole; hence these waves of cold that follow a fine spring. You see that the sun can do nothing about this; it warms us honestly; it’s a just and reasonable god.”
“Just and reasonable”, said another man, “like the cog wheels in my watch; each one performing its function impassively; which is why my watch is a good watch.”
“But”, said the first speaker, “if a grain of dust gets into the cogs and stops everything, that grain of dust is also just and reasonable; as this cold breeze is just and reasonable, for the function of cold air is to flow towards the warmest parts of the earth. And, » he added as he sneezed, « this head cold is also just and reasonable. All these forces are blind brutes, this is all one can say about them”.
“I don’t know”, said the old man. “If my prayers could make things happen, I’d be afraid of my prayers. If I did observe some whim of the gods, how would I live after that? What reassures me is this perfect fit, this interlocking of all things, these interlinked chains of goods and evils.
‘Just and perfect is the wheel, swerving not a hair…’ says the old lama in Kipling. The more I come to understand this, the less I feel lost in this universe; and I recognise his true human form, much more than if I saw some satyr drunk with the sun emerge from behind a tree and leap through this clearing.”
English translation copyright © Michel Petheram