This poem came out of the June 19, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles, e_scapism101, wyld_dandelyon, and meeksp. It has been sponsored by wyld_dandelyon. This poem belongs to the series Hart's Farm.
Auduna woke one morning to discover
that a blanket of white covered the ground
and that Hart's Farm always celebrated the First Snow.
The adults made a toast with blackberry brandy
in tiny goblets that hardly held a mouthful.
The children ran shrieking through the rooms
demanding to be let out to play.
After a hasty breakfast, Rowen and Dýrfinna
captured the children and began dressing them warmly.
Auduna waddled over to help, wondering how
she could squeeze her pregnant body into a coat.
Dýrfinna's daughter Drífa was just learning to walk,
now wrapped in so many layers that she could barely move.
Bjarni held onto his baby sister with one hand
and his friend Astrid with the other. The children
were so close, they might as well have all been siblings.
Finally Auduna got the last pair of mittens on
and Rowen tied the last hat strings.
They herded the children outside into the yard
where Vendel had shoveled a narrow path
between the knee-deep drifts.
Inge -- perhaps inevitably --
dashed past them quite naked and
flopped down on the ground to make a snow angel.
Then she whooped and ran back inside
to warm herself by the hearth.
Auduna began showing the younger children
how to make snowballs.
Vendel discussed building a fort
with two of the teenaged boys;
Thorsten and Sindri listened raptly.
Dýrfinna set Drífa down on the path.
Bjarni and Engelbert dashed into the snow.
One of Birgitta's boots was coming off;
Auduna crouched down to refasten it,
her coat popping open as she did so.
Dýrfinna gave a startled scream.
Auduna lumbered to her feet, expecting disaster.
There was no sign of Drífa,
her clothes lay scattered across the ground,
and a white reindeer calf leaped after Bjarni.
"What's wrong?" Auduna demanded. "Where's Drífa?"
"That is Drífa!" said Dýrfinna, pointing at the reindeer.
"Help me catch her." But the calf did not want to be caught.
While Drífa could barely toddle on two legs,
on four she ran all around the confused adults.
"Don't chase her," Vendel advised. "You'll scare her."
Drífa caught the end of Bjarni's scarf in her mouth,
tugging her brother off-balance into a snowdrift.
Astrid darted forward and just managed to touch Drífa's hip.
The reindeer calf bounded away.
Soon a rowdy game of tag was in full cry.
Dýrfinna stood there, looking dazed,
until the children finally wore themselves out.
The reindeer calf wandered over,
fell asleep on Drífa's discarded clothes,
and turned back into a naked little girl
with white-blond hair and dark liquid eyes.
Dýrfinna picked up her daughter and went inside,
leaving Auduna and Rowen to gather the other children.
"What just happened?" Dýrfinna said faintly,
looking at Auduna. "Things like that don't happen."
"I don't know. I didn't see all of it," Auduna said.
"I put my daughter down and she turned into a reindeer
and ran off. Then she came back when she got tired.
It doesn't make any sense," Dýrfinna said.
"She wouldn't be the first shapeshifter in the family,"
Ola said quietly. Her brother Leif threw up his hands.
"Oh, don't bring that up again!" he said.
"Nobody really believes that old story."
"Grandmother always swore it was true," Ola said.
"Story! Story!" chorused the children.
Ketiley brought out hot apple cider from the kitchen
and filled everyone's mugs.
More people crowded into the room,
and piled around Ola, eager to listen.
"When our grandmother Gylfa was a young woman,
she left Hart's Farm in search of Cavan Hart's ancestral homeland
in the Irish county of Meath," Ola began.
"She became a fierce warrior and won many battles."
"Oooh," said the young boys.
"She fell in love with a handsome man
who had dark brown hair and eyes," said Ola.
"They got married, and soon Gylfa became pregnant."
"Oooh," said the young girls.
"Then Gylfa's husband was murdered," Ola continued.
"Heartbroken, Gylfa returned home with their baby.
She never left the farm again."
"That's quite a story," Dýrfinna said,
"but what does it have to do with Drífa?"
"Grandmother always said that her husband was a selkie,"
Ola said. "She claimed that they met when her ship sank,
that he pulled her from the water so he could woo her.
He changed from a seal to a man there on the beach
and stole her heart away. She named their son Ronan,
which means 'little seal' in Irish."
"Even if that were true -- which is nonsense! --
that's still a seal and not a reindeer," Leif argued.
Ola sipped from her mug of cider.
"That's still shapeshifting," she said.
"Drífa is farmborn. Stranger tales have been told."
"Probably farmborn," Dýrfinna muttered.
Ola gave her a sharp look. "Yes, dear?"
"Well, you know ... it was Höstdagjämningen,"
Dýrfinna said. "Some of us went up in the barn loft
to watch the sun set for autumn equinox.
We celebrated the harvest with a keg of mead,
Finlo and I, a couple of other women,
I think some fellow from the village was visiting,
oh and Kelsig had just come home from his fishing trip ..."
"I remember that night," said Finlo, "mostly."
Svanhilda leaned against him and added,
"I seem to recall a tall blond man,
but I never did catch his name."
"It's still likely that one of the farmborn men
fathered Drífa, which makes her farmborn too," said Ola.
"Perhaps the shapeshifting comes from that.
Then again -- what about your family, Dýrfinna?
Did your parents tell any stories that might give us a hint?"
Dýrfinna shook her head. "I never knew my father,"
she said, "and mother didn't like to tell stories."
"Maybe your name is the story," Solvig said quietly.
"What, 'beloved Finn' ... I suppose it could mean
that my father came from Finland," Dýrfinna.
"That's one meaning," Solvig said,
"although Finnish is a mistranslation.
It should say Saami there, the reindeer herders."
"There's another meaning?" Dýrfinna said.
"Yes, 'magic deer'," said Solvig.
Dýrfinna's mouth fell open.
"You see the implications," Solvig said.
"Solvig, you're a scholar," said Leif.
"Surely you can't seriously mean that
Dýrfinna's father was an enchanted reindeer."
Solvig shrugged. "Dýrfinna's daughter is," she said.
"Perhaps the name is merely coincidence, or perhaps
it is a hint that Dýrfinna's mother once celebrated harvest
with a handsome stranger of uncommon origin."
The object of the discussion lay sound asleep
in her mother's lap, wrapped in a red wool blanket.
Drífa sucked on her fist as she slept.
Auduna listened with half an ear
as the argument wandered onward,
largely going nowhere because no one really knew
exactly what had happened or why,
other than Drífa's startling transformation.
Auduna cradled the swell of her own belly
and mused about what name might fit her baby.
* * *
First Snow is not an official holiday, but something that many families or communities celebrate on a smaller scale. Some folks I knew back in college used to observe it with a toast of blackberry brandy.
Dýrfinna is an Old Icelandic name meaning "beloved Finn" or "magic deer."
Drífa is an Old Icelandic name meaning "driven snow."
Reindeer live in arctic and subarctic areas, where they are herded by various tribal peoples. In mythology, reindeer sometimes have magical powers such as flying or shapeshifting.
A selkie is a shapeshifting seal from Celtic folklore.
Ronan is an Irish name meaning "little seal."
Höstdagjämningen is the autumn equinox.