Ellie pricked her ears as the embers rose from the heap of ashes that had been the Valborg or Walpurgis fire. On this sunny May morning, we’d passed the last of the iron nights and could fly with wings open into summer. The fire seemed to have cleared away the old season of cold browns and grays, and opened up for the olive green of the early summer. The water ran from the King’s fountains to meet the thirst of this sunny, warm morning when the chill winds had been stilled and the bumble bees had started to fly in the berry bushes. Fire had met water and everything was in balance. This very old tradition of Valborg or Walpurgis night was to me all about that: old and new, fire and water, the chill and the sun. It was a truly northern European habit and something we’d been doing in these parts long before men had started to construct the idea of a god that was over nature.
I scanned the olive green hill. Families had poured down over it on the night before to see out the winter. The sound of the local choir, which everyone said sung flat, blended with the honking of the geese, which seemed to be the only ones truly listening. I listened. Strangely, a human choir that sings flat blends perfectly with honking geese. These sounds had been beautiful to listen to without really seeing where they were coming from. As we approached the fire, Ellie stood still. In the three and a half months of her short life, she’d never seen anything so mighty. The arms of the giant fire groped for the sky, like winter longing for a way out. Families and friends watched and greeted one another, the Red Cross shook the coins in the collection cans, and children chased one another, daring the fire. A new member of the community gave a speech: something obscure about spring and history that few listened to but that lent the confidence of tradition to the night. As the fireworks went off, Ellie and I hid under a wagon. One forgets that fireworks must seem like Armageddon to a dog.
Now on this peaceful and blissfully quiet morning, the pansies had been laid out in a sea of color in the very same wagon to be purchased by park visitors. The colors were mesmerizing and one wished to play in them forever. Today we’d purchase some pansies: orange, white, purple, yellow, and more color. I wondered whether Ellie could see these colors the way that I could. If not, I was sure she could smell them.
We headed for the fountains. It was the last treat of this morning after Walpurgis before heading home. I scooped up the water from the fountains so that Ellie could lap it up out of my palm. She liked this and wiped her raspy tongue across my cheek in thanks. Tourists climbed off the steamboat from Stockholm, cameras preceeding them. Would they notice it was the morning after Walpurgis, the night when winter had gone to embers and the spring had risen, young and vibrant?
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