She runs between these trees, somewhere just out of my sight. This is her home: these cliffs, they are hers, and so are the yellow-brown hills and the jagged shards of ice piled up on the shores of the lake. I stand within the realm of Artemis, Lady of the Forest, Companion to the Chamois and the Ibex, and all that I see belongs to her. Even I.
At first she is unseen, untouchable, a divine mist slipping through my fingers. I know she is there, but wherever I turn, she vanishes, and only her voice lingers in the creaking of the ice as she calls her nymphs. They steal their way to her through the blackness of the frozen lake under my feet, gliding through the waters. Once, my mind’s eye catches a glimpse of her as she gazes down at me, perched on the edge of a cliff, upright and unshakeable as stone, her golden bow and arrows in her hands – but she is gone before I can see her face. You don’t win what is given to you, she seems to say. Are you looking for me? Then catch me.
So I straighten my back and give chase, because that is what she has always taught me, to tuck in my begging hands and pursue my goals myself. Rocks tumble down to the water ahead of me, and the waterfalls are white and still. The sun slips an arm through the clouds. Alone on the ice, my skates scratching winding lanes into the landscape, I show her what person she has made me. I stand surrounded by mountains, Gods in their own right, and yet I stand. No hands reached out to catch me as I slipped forward, no mouth brushed against my ear and whispered which cracks to step over and which pools to avoid, and yet I am here. I stand.
That is when she appears to me first, her arrowtips glistening in the growing sunlight. She is tall, taller than the mountains, and she smiles at me like a mother at her child taking its first steps – but there is something terrible in that smile too, in that curving of the lips, that baring of the teeth, which reminds me of a lynx. You think you have conquered me? Look up. An avalanche rumbles far away. Suddenly, fear pulls at my knees.
I feel like a young girl, offering snail shells and twigs I picked off the side of the road to my mother, asking if she likes them, if she finds them pretty, pulling at her sleeve and begging her to give me treats in exchange, tracing her footsteps as she walks away, insisting that I’m an adult because my toddler’s feet stand where she did. I’m mimicking her, as if I were not mortal – a baby in her eyes – and she a Goddess greater and more complex than I could ever know. Do I ever try her patience? Does she love me regardless?
I understand, now, why the people of these mountains used to look up to them like Gods and fear the spirits that roamed them. Our modern cities may have forgotten, but those that walk on the summit of the world have power – more power than all of our nations together could bear.
She faces me without a word, white teeth reflecting light in a smile like death. Her arrows stand steady in her quiver. But the bowstring stays undrawn. You will not catch me, her hard eyes declare, not this time. But you tried, and for that I am proud. For that I made you mine.
When I skid back to the chalet, icy awe and warm pride slush together inside me. This beautiful, austere landscape that surrounds me is hers, and so am I. I am only a stone somewhere on the slopes of her mountain, but though she could strike me to the ground at any time, I am here. I am part of the whole that makes up this world.
And with each step that she pushes me forward, together, we reach toward the sky.
Happy New Year, and may whichever God to whom you belong keep you safe and contented, return to you tenfold all the kindness you share with others, push you forward in all your endeavours and lead you to the place in the cosmos where you most feel at home.