So, then. We made plans in the year of our Lord 2007 to board the last "snow train" to Leavenworth, the Bavarian village nestled in the Pacific Northwest mountains. We'd been to Leavenworth a number of times, but in summer, always in summer, and I knew - I just KNEW - that in winter the place would be a picture post card and I desperately wanted to see it.
We'd made plans to do this before. Obviously, we didn't go at that time. Let me get back to this, afterwards.
We were to board the Leavenworth Snow Train in Everett on Saturday, December 22 - at 9:25, which meant that it neatly overlapped (in the wrong direction) the train that got us to Everett from Bellingham. So we got an evening train to Everett the night before, told a somewhat surly Everett cabbie that we needed a hotel for the night whereupon he told us off for not having reservations on what was essentially the Christmas weekend - but no problems were encountered in the finding of accommodation, we bedded down at a Best Western about 5 minutes away from the railway station, and on Saturday morning we presented ourselves with what seemed a VERY large number of other people at the station to board out Leavenworth Special.
We were presented with a continental breakfast as we left Everett - a ham-and-cheese croissant, cold, but good, and a fresh-fruit cup, and coffee or cocoa which could be had on demand while the train was en route. While we rolled across the sodden fields of the coastal lowlands and the foothills of the Cascades, various entertainers paraded up and down the ten cars that made up this train. We had a trio (a guy who switched between guitar and banjo, a young girl who played the fiddle mid-aisle and sometimes did extraordinary gyrations to allow people to get by her all without missing a beat, and an older woman who played the bodhran - they also sang, once an old Appalachian hymn a capella, and the effect was electrifyingly extraodrinary. These guys were really good); then a wandering accordion player (of course "I don't have a wooden heart" turned up in there almost instantly); a couple of young stage magicians who did tricks with ropes and coins and cards; a carol-singing quartet of women who did beautiful harmonies on anything from the Coventry Carol to Santa Baby; and an honest-to-goodness Oompah band (a woman with another accordion - and she really was something, a guy with a guitar who also sang something about "schmertzen" or "herzen" or some such thing in a classic German beer-garden ditty, and a guy with an honest-to-goodness tuba, which occasioned the Remark of the Trip later on when the guy togged out as Santa tried to get past the oompah people and his attendant photographer muttered something about "Santa and a tuba player in the same aisle!") These all kept us entertained while the train slowly climbed. Hints of things to come arrived first as a patch of snow here and there, then a snow covering on the ground but not on the roads, and then, incredibly, we wound into the woods and the mountain rivers and a winter wonderland. And it was SNOWING. Like, sideways, in a stiff wind. And those trees had had quite a few days like that lately, judging by the amount of the white stuff on the branches. THe firs were weighed down with it, the boughs hanging down at a steep angle; there were other trees nearby, smaller deciduous ones, which looked like the aftermath of an explosion in a cotton wool ball factory - with little white tufts of snow hanging onto the extremities. The outside of the train looked something like this, actually:
The train stopped at a siding in the middle of deep snow, literally in the middle of nowhere, just a snowed-under parking lot with a bunch of school buses waiting to ferry us down into town. Because rdeck descended from the train gingerly, into snow, with his cane and wobbled about a little unsteadily on the uneven and slippery ground, they gathered us up and put us into a special little bus they had parked a little closer than the rest, for the purpose of servicing such mobility-impaired passengers. The nice lady driver set us down right there in the middle of main street, told us she'd swing by the same place to pick us up at 4:15, and left us to it.
We had a couple of Christmas presents to get, so I raced on ahead to get that while rdeck follwed a little more slowly on the shovelled sidewalks under the eaves of light-festooned shops. We gathered up what we needed, and then it began to snow again, in earnest, those big dry fluffy flakes that come down lightly and silently and tremble for a moment on your hand or your hair like snow butterflies before melting away into evanescence. I danced down the street like a five-year-old, catching snowflakes in my hands and on my face; there wasn't much of what I call the White Silence around, not in the middle of the busy main street with hurrying shoppers and kids and dogs and passing cars - but every snowflake carries a memory and a dream of that, the White Silence of Snowfall, when everything is quiet and clean and white and there is nothing in it but you and the soul of snow.
Yes, I cried. Like a baby. I always cry when the snowflakes start falling. The beauty and the quiet peace of it light up a place in my soul.
We danced down the street - well, I danced, rdeck carefully poled his way along - to my favourite Leavenworth restaurant, Cafe Christa, and had Wiener Schnitzel and German red cabbage and Spaetzle and gluhwein and Black Forest Chocolate Cake - while watching through the window as the snow came down, and the carriages pulled by these great heavy shire horses patiently plodded their way through the snowfall.
And then the snow started to stop falling, and there was an eerie kind of light out there as the sun dipped behind mountains from suddenly clear skies, and a wonderful sunset was presented to us.
And then the magic REALLY began.
I'll let a few photographs tell their own story.
By the time we left, in the gathering dark, a group of carollers had gathered up in the Gazebo and had struck up "Ding dong merrily on high".
And the moon rose over a few isolated houses and nn open field.
There is nothing as magic as moonlight on snow. Nothing. It's pure Faery, come to rest lightly in our world, to be smiled at through sudden tears of awe and joy and a feeling of being full of miracles.
And then we got back on the train. And rode back on a night train through the quiet dark snowy woods, and back down into the rainy lowlands, and back into Everett (and picked up the same surly cabbie, would you believe), and another overnight at the hotel in Everett, and we caught the Everett-Bellingham train back home. And here we are. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
Before I leave - a little return to the beginning of this account.
We had planned to go to Leavenworth for a winter weekend, the very first year that we moved to Washington state. We had passed through the place in the heyday of its summer, and I flat fell in love with it, and a winter return was on the cards. Arrangements had been made - a room at a bed and breakfast booked, everything set. And then came June 2003. rdeck spent that summer in the hospital, and the rest of those long years in between slowly recovering from the stroke that had laid him low.
Going back this winter was not just a lovely outing which happened to be, well, perfect - what with the snow falling, and then that gorgeous sunset, and the full moon, and the Wiener Schitzel and gluhwein, and the oompah band on the train. All that was gravy. Going back this winter... was the fulfillment of a promise made four and a half years ago. It was *my* Christmas miracle.
Peace on Earth, goodwill to men - and GOd bless us, every one. Merry Christmas, everybody.
See you on the other side.