Mixtape: The Queen Of Winter

Feb 1, 2019

Why does winter happen?

We tend to talk about winter only on its first day-the shortest day of the year. But months later, especially in places like Wyoming, the world is still brown, still white, still frozen. It's hard to remember pliant green things, leaves. Remember navigating thick willow near a river? Remember slapping an insect off your arm? Remember the way your muscles melt when you lie in the sun? I can't remember those things in midwinter. That place no longer exists.

Why does winter happen? I'm not asking a scientific question, I understand the earth's axis is tilted. I'm asking for a story-something that helps me understand why the wind froths everything white and my house shakes, why the slush nearly melts only to freeze into deadly ice, why, when it gets deeply cold, the snow starts growing new crystals up from the ground. I'm asking for a myth.

Luckily for me, winter has been cold for as long as people have told stories. This time, on Mixtape, a myth of winter.

Scotland was created by a woman.

Her name is Beira.

Beira is a giant old woman-an enormous hag. She's ugly-her skin is blue, her teeth rusty. She has one eye. She walks with a basket on her back full of rocks. She uses the rocks and a huge hammer to build mountains so her giant sons can have houses to live in, and so that she has stepping stones to walk across the world.

Imagine how strong she must be.

I don't know who the father of her children is, or when she gave birth. Only that she walks, with her basket, building mountains. Where she has built carefully, the mountains are even and tall. Where she has accidentally spilled her rocks, a wash of boulders jut from the plains. Perhaps Beira stumbled at Vedauwoo.

She wears a shawl, and every autumn, she washes it in the ocean. Afterward she lays it out to dry on the mountains, and you can see her laundry soap bubbles-the tops of the mountains turn white.

No one knows when Beira was born. She doesn't know. But her story starts in the autumn, when the leaves flare bright gold and fall. The trees retreat energy deep into themselves. Small animals dig subterranean nests. A shawl of snow appears on the mountaintops. That's how you know the land now is Beira's-the summer gods have relinquished to the winter queen.

Beira walks, with a magic staff. Where she bangs the staff on the ground, the ground freezes.

The seasons are not a democracy. She's queen. What else is there to do but follow her.

As winter goes on, as the queen of winter gets older, she gets ill-tempered. Subjects start to rebel: the first crocuses poke up. Beira squelches this insubordination with unexpected wet storms, feet of snow that crackle over roads and stick to skis.

But finally, the subjects win. And finally, Beira accepts the end of her power.

Nobody agrees on what happens to Beira in the summer. She might turn to stone. Or to a young woman again, only to grow old in the fall.

I don't know why she's angry at the end of winter, if this youth was her next step. Perhaps because although as a young woman you can run and do backbends and be desired, being an elderly blue one-eyed hag with bad teeth means real power, wielded well. It means you get to make a whole world out of the rocks you carry on your back.

Beira's time is winter.

Song List:

  • What Are We Waiting For – The Mike + Ruthy Band
  • Winterlong – Neil Young
  • Settin’ By the Fire – Jay Ungar & Molly Mason
  • Cold Nights of Winter/Trettondagsmarschen – Jay Ungar & Molly Mason
  • IJskoud – Nielson
  • Light On – Maggie Rogers
  • Lonely Man of Winter – Sufjan Stevens
  • Woes – Tom Rosenthal
  • Winter – Julie Lee
  • Holocene – Bon Iver
  • Orange Sky – Alexis Murdoch
  • Winter Song – Ingrid Michaelson & Sara Bareilles
  • When the Summer Ends – Savoir Adore
  • Northern Lights – Death Cab for Cutie
  • Something American – Jade Bird
  • White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
  • Ambre – Nils Frahm