“White Easter” is not an expression you hear often, but we had one this year and the papers were full of it. Snow during Christmas is magical, but by Easter, at the end of March, you’d rather see stalks of freesias or lilacs and hear skylarks and robins. We were at a holiday cottage near the Austrian border, not far from Salzburg, with two other families, and the weather had kept us mostly indoors. On Easter Sunday my wife snapped a picture from the bedroom window, a frame with cottages and cars and pylons and pine-forested slopes all hooded by snow, and posted it on Facebook with the caption “Merry Christmas!” Later that morning, after the terrace and the garden thawed out, the kids set out on the traditional Easter egg hunt. Despite all the snow our Easter Hare had been generous, and soon bawling children turned into smiling ones, each one clutching his or her basket brimming with colourful eggs and shiny chocolates. By afternoon they had exhausted all options of playing with their new collections, and the adults were under pressure again to supply new forms of entertainment. N, who had turned six the previous month, wished to go on a walk in the woods. His father was feeling unwell, I was looking forward to a hike, so N and I decided to go together.
When we left, N’s mother photographed us standing in the driveway, covered head to toe in winter wear. N stood smiling beneath his red woolen cap, blue hooded ski-jacket, black snow pants, and Jack Wolfskin boots. I stood beside him in a black woolen coat, blue jeans, a grey cap and a striped scarf. Light snow was falling, and in my left hand was an umbrella, blue and white and unopened.
The cottage stood at the foot of a mountain, and not far from it was a path that led into the wooded slope. The path seemed accessible from the garden, so we agreed to take this shortcut. But we slipped on our first attempt: the slope from the garden to this path was covered with fresh snow.
“Shortcuts don’t always work,” I said, trying to squeeze a moral out of the false start. “Let’s take the normal way up.”
“Okay,” said N.
Soon we were trudging along a narrow slushy path that cut through the incline. Above and below us were trees, bare beeches and the occasional pine or spruce. Patches of fresh snow clung to the slopes.
“Will we see animals in the woods?” N asked.
“Not sure. If we go deep inside, we may. But this path seems to be going only along the edge of the mountain.”
“Deep inside – is that where the hunters go?”