Today I missed the sun for the first time in a while. A greying Vienna was letting me go, nodding me onward as I boarded my train and prepared myself mentally for the journey south and another chunk of time without this place that has captured my heart. The mists were heavy today, though. Palpable. The city seemed to strain under the weight, and even the dancing Viennese were uncharacteristically out of step. Tree branches and distant eaves wept a mixture of condensation and melting snow, roof avalanches bombarded less fortunate pedestrians than myself, and the denser air provided no release for tailpipe smoke and cigarette exhaust. It was not a pretty morning in Vienna.
So when I left I did not look back for long. I found something bright and colourful, a beautiful image to hold on to, and I let that be enough as I shuffled off to find my train. The cold was invasive, the wet air oppressive. Vienna was kicking me out. She needn’t have done. I was on my way just the same. But she was telling me that I had spent enough time there for now, that I should embrace my southbound travels. And so I sat on my train, finally warm, and let myself depart from the grey, wishing for blue skies and a bright, yellow sun. This was not to be, but Vienna had a surprise for me yet.
Safe inside my capsule of glass and steel, Vienna sent me hurtling from the drab and the drear and into a world of fairy tales. No sooner had we left the outskirts of that city fair than we were plunged into a tunnel of falling snow. Engulfed in the white bands that streaked past, I began to perceive the most curious sensation: one of buoyancy, one of lift. With careful hands, the winter winds took us aloft. Chugging wheels, grinding at the air below, found no purchase and quickly contented themselves to enjoy the respite, however brief it might be.
And brief it was, for no more than a quarter hour passed before we touched down again, the wind releasing us after a last embrace, and the lines of snow slowing to hyphens, then to commas, then to periods. The sight before us now was quite different than the tortured city we had left behind. I could find no trace of human civilization among the hills and trees‒no houses dotted the landscape, no roads cut through the forest, no electric poles poked their sharp noses at the sky. All was calm, cast in a silvery hue that lingered impossibly between blue and white, nothing moving but the falling snow. And were it not for those delicate bundles that floated to the ground, I would have thought that all of it‒the frost-gilded trees, the blanketed fields, the bushes laden with sparkling crystals, the frozen waves of the hills, the snow-blurred faces of the mountains beyond‒was an elaborate tapestry stretched out alongside us.
But even as I watched, the beads of white began to slow again until they hung suspended against the rest, a winter portrait holding at perfection, offering us despondent travelers a glimpse at a reality beyond our grasp, a song composed for the eyes and for the soul. We were moving past very quickly, and yet the image was steady and there was nothing to interrupt the stillness of the moment. There was no track below us, there were no wheels toiling, there was no engine blaring and soon there was nothing at all. The tube around me lost its definition, then its shape, then its entire structure, melting into lines that faded into the picture around me where the snow refused its descent.
The cold and the wind stood aside as I angled my body and dove into the trees, careful not to disturb them or topple their weighty crowns. I simply flew. I did not search, I did not long. I had found a place I had not even sought, and the place seemed to know that I would only observe. The deer did not kick up and run, no snow dwarves dove for cover, a spritely hare was content to remain at ease and watch me pass. And I flew on.
I flew until the woods retreated. I flew until I spied a bridge, a lone intruder from a world that I had left behind. But the bridge did not inspire fear. It did not cause me to turn away and wander further. To my surprise it spurred me on, though it grew no closer, and soon the lines formed around me once more, resolving themselves into sturdy planes and surfaces until I was again inside the train, watching the snow streak past like shooting stars. A rumble below told me that we had rejoined our track, though the world outside was yet transformed, encased in silent, lingering white.
The roads have returned and with them the houses and the electric poles. Cellular phone conversations abound, and I clack away on my little machine, but my eyes are drawn outside over and over to witness the visitor that entered our world from that place beyond. Though we may have left it behind, the other realm bestowed a kindness upon us, a gift of white magic to remind us of what we had seen, so that we would know that it was real and never forget. So I smile back toward the north, toward Vienna and her shrouds, and I am thankful for her gift as well. She spirited me away through this winter picture and into another land, if only for a little while.
And for the first time, returning from a distant realm did not hurt so badly. Perhaps it is because this time I understand what I was meant to see. It was the world of a moment, a world frozen in time that waited for me, held itself fast for me, so that I could see it and believe. How fitting, then, that it should be Vienna that guided me there, for she knows that a parting is not forever. She reminds me, in the wise words of Richard Bach, that ‘…a farewell is necessary before you can meet again…’
So it is with this winter world, and so it may be with others. Until I find the key that unlocks those spaces, I will continue to search. Until I can find my way back to the places of my dreams, my soul will always wander. Today, however, I found some peace in saying goodbye that, with luck, will last until my return.