It's still light out, but the sun is going down, and it won't be back for another twenty hours. Holling at The Brick wants to remind everyone about the complimentary chocolate fountain, courtesy of Maurice and the folks at Strexcorp, and the hats are a-plenty over at Ruth-Anne's store. All in all, the end or beginning to another day. I'm Chris-In–The-Morning, and welcome… to Cicely.
A few morning announcements here—Dr. Fleischman wants to remind everyone that the light visors are to be worn for thirty minute periods. We all remember what happened to Walt last year. It's true the visors are exciting and rejuvenating, especially in these long hours of darkness, but as my Uncle Roy Bower used to say, a whole lot of something fake can't make up for a little something real.
Shelley Vincoeur is still looking for a baby Jesus for the living nativity, so if you have a youngster who might serve, pop in to the Brick and let her know. At this point, she said she's willing to take very well behaved dogs. No saviors of the feline persuasion please.
A bunch of you have been calling the station to ask about the free hats at Ruth-Anne's, and I gotta tell you folks, I was a little surprised myself. Not that Ruth-Anne would give hats away, but that they're so neat.
I'm not usually one for the Judeo-Christian imagery of the nativity, myself, normally. There's something commercialized and whitewashed about the image of a white Jesus chilling in the manger. Now days, scholars will tell you that Jesus was most likely olive skinned, and that Mary and daddy Joe most likely stayed with family in the animal housing section of their house instead of an inn. The three wise men may or may not have been kings and they may or may not have had gifts, who knows.
I dig the redemptive nature of the mythos, you know? The idea that another being has offered up his life to redeem the whole of mankind. We're so in love with the idea that we perpetuate it in modern cultural symbols, like Superman. Though maybe Superman is more like an angel. A big blue and red angel that comes from the heavens.
Which brings me back to Ruth-Anne's hats—these babies are fur-lined oilskin, embossed with a small pair of angel wings on the earflaps. I don't know the reason, and Ruth-Anne won't say, but they are warm, and they are a plenty, so bop on over there and pick one up, free with any five buck purchase. I heard there's a new shipment of Dinty Moore, too.
And while we reflect on that, how about a little Rufus Thomas.
Some traffic updates for you--the caribou herd has finally moved off the log road, so those of you who want to take advantage of the free travel ways this afternoon to get on over to Sleetmute for some holiday shopping should probably drop what you're doing and hop in those trucks.
Maggie O'Connell is staying in town this year instead of heading off to the old homestead, and she's bringing her sleigh-cum-plane down in the airport this afternoon with a full load headed to Ruth-Anne's. If you're expecting a package of goodies, it's probably going to be there.
That's all on the traffic, but we'll keep you updated if anything changes.
As you might know, this time of year is usually when the creative muse grabs me by the collar and gives me a good shaking out, but I have to admit that this time I find myself at a loss. Is it something in the air? Is there something more melancholy than usual? Perhaps it's time to sit back and examine the ol' navel.
Usually something about the aurora lights fills me with a sense of wonder, but this year I look up at them, and they're just…lights. Gasses in the sky affected by magnetization and solar activity. I can't help but wonder if the knowing of a thing makes it less…alluring, somehow. As GK Chesterton said, "Of a mechanical thing we have a full knowledge. Of a living thing we have divine ignorance." Is it better to just raise your arms and trust fall into the field of mystical beauty, or is the knowing of something make it more wondrous? I know it's been weighing heavily on me these days.
Usually by now my half-brother Bernard is up from Portland, but he's off in Senegal, finding his own divine ignorance, and I wish him the best. But I wonder if part of me isn't out of my ol' skin and with him, leaving behind pure mechanical Chris Stevens.
Speaking of the holiday spirit, it's that time of year when the Raven pageant starts casting, and there are quite a few openings to be filled. I have with me in the studio Marilyn Whirlwind, Cicely's cotillion mistress and former Raven Princess herself. Marilyn has moved on these days to stage managing the productions at the Cicely playhouse, and this is her first year directing the Raven pageant. I confess to being a little excited to see her in action.
Marilyn, it says here that you have openings in lighting and drumming.
And the part of the Chieftan's son?
MARILYN: Enlo's sick.
I heard he came down with the chicken pox. That's too bad. How old does this strapping youngster have to be?
Any other spots available for interested parties?
MARILYN: Concession stand.
And Maggie donated the popcorn machine from the theater, I heard.
And hey, I see you have one of Ruth-Anne's hats.
They're pretty swanky, am I right?
MARILYN: They're okay.
Yeah, I guess they're not pretty, but they're kinda endearing, you know?
MARILYN: It was free.
Yes indeed it was. Maybe you can give it to a certain someone this holiday season, right?
No special someone?
MARILYN: It's the Light Spirit.
The hat is?
Wait, you mean, like the spirit of the aurora? In a hat?
MARILYN: I have to go now.
Well—what—I—okay, Marilyn is leaving the studio. I wish her well this holiday season, and all the best with that spirit hat of yours.
Good morning Cicely. It's been a busy twenty-four hours, now that the sun is setting again, and the chocolate is flowing. In fact, the chocolate fountain was so successful that our neighbors at Strexcorp donated another one for the other side of The Brick. We have Shelley here on the phone with a few solstice updates. Hey, Shel!
SHELLEY: Hey Chris!
Congrats on the awesome fountains. That's a really fun way to get your dose of serotonin this darkmas.
SHELLEY: Yeah. We had to set up a second one this morning because people kept dipping their steak and bacon in it. Ugh. I'm all for trying new stuff, Chris, but meat and chocolate is not even a thing. It's not sanitary, at least in a fountain. You know? So we set up a separate one for that kind of stuff.
I heard Hayden had to move the pool table.
SHELLEY: Yeah, but hey, everything still fits in there. And it feels like there's more room. Like the room got bigger because it needed to, you know?
Lots of people have been calling in this morning with things like that. Brandy Triplebear says that her chest freezer broke last night and she put a hundred and seventy-three pounds of ground moose in her son's old college fridge.
SHELLEY: That's awesome.
And Andy at the hardware store said somebody did all his scissor and knife sharpening last night. Speaking of, folks, Andy wants me to pass on his sincere thanks.
SHELLEY: I found a hundred and fifty bucks under the till drawer this morning! How bitchin' is that?
That's pretty cool, Shel.
SHELLEY: I think Ruth-Anne's hats are like, some sort of blessing from the holy mother. Like her Christmas present to us, you know? Wouldn't that be cool?
I heard from 'Nardo Frostpaw over there in Trapper Creek that a bunch of trees went down over there, but the ones that were supposed to hit his garden shed went opposite the wind and fell the other direction. His hat was in the shed, too.
Hey Shel—how's the search for the baby Jesus?
SHELLEY: I think we have it. Carolyn Fenwick's nephew is gonna be here for the holidays, and he's six-months old.
Well, that's great news. I was worried you were going to have to use Walt's taxidermied beaver head.
SHELLEY: Mary Casper has a Pomeranian that uses tranquilizers, too, so if it falls through, we can always dope him up. All we have to do is cover the face a little more.
SHELLEY: Oh shoot I gotta go, Chris—someone's trying to drink from the fountain..
You go get that interloper, Shelley! Make that a lesson in chocolate fountain etiquette—no fingers or faces in the chocolate stream—that just ruins the fun for all of us. Also, I got a message from Strexcorp this morning, that they asked me to read, so here goes:
Welcome to our Northern brethren. Please enjoy of the bounty we have sent. Please enjoy all the bounties of enterprise and hard work. Hard work is fun; Strexcorp.
A little enigmatic, but hey, we all have our little mysteries, don't we?
[Mahalia Jackson—Walk In Jerusalem]
I was looking out at the lights on the way here, and I remembered something that Ed Chigliak told me about the Nunamiut's beliefs about the northern lights. They tell their children that if you go outside without your hat when the aurora is out, it will chop off your head and play with it like a ball.
Which brings me to the other newcomers in our midst—our angelic headgear.
MAURICE: You haven't said a word about the fundraiser, or the chocolate raven Strexcorp donated—
Quite right, quite right.
MAURICE: For god's sake, why do I bother to pay you when all you're gonna do is blather on and on about those damn ugly hats?
I notice you don't have one, Maurice.
MAURICE: Good god, man. This hat was given to me by Lyndon B Johnson after a duck hunting trip in Billings! It was hand stitched by Ladybird herself! I'm not gonna wear one of those brown monstrosities just because you have some damned fool notion that they're magical genie hats!
Hey Maurice, main guy on I Dream of Genie, Major Nelson—he was an astronaut, wasn't he?
MAURICE: …you are not wired right, son. (door slam)
So before I forget—
(door opens) MAURICE: AND tell them about the fundraiser! I have fifty pounds of crab claw marinating. (door closes)
--The Minnifield Corporation is hosting a joint fundraiser at the civic center with our new pals Strexcorp, to ring in the new year and showcase some innovating logging techniques that are supposed to be…you know, innovating or something.
But let's go to the phones. Chris-in-the-Morning, you're on the air at K-bear.
VOICE: Hey, Chris, it's Melvin Talldeer.
MELVIN: I gotta say, what Shelley said about the chocolate fountain? I dunno, I had some last night and something didn't agree with me.
Were you dunking the mooseburger?
MELVIN: Naw, nothing like that. Just some pineapple. It was from a can, so maybe that was it. I'm just saying that folks should be careful what they stick in there.
Thanks, Melvin. Good advice. The fountains are community property after all, and we have to be careful about them.
There's something about the transmutable properties of melted chocolate. It's pretty great when it's solid, but melt that down and slather it on a few pieces of fresh fruit? Do you think our ancestors ever thought there'd be a day when even a small town in the wilderness would be capable of shutting out the dark and sharing a treat from the other side of the word to stave off the cold winter? And isn't that a miracle in and of itself?
Chris-in-the-Morning, you're on the air at K-bear.
VOICE: It's Sherrilyn, Chris. I wanted to let you know that we have a fruitcake waiting for you out in the cold cellar.
Oh hey, Sherrilyn. I'd forgotten about that! Thanks.
SHERRILYN: Oh, and I have to tell you my own hat story.
I'm getting a lot of those today. Hit me.
SHERRILYN: Well, I didn't want to wear it, because it gives you the worst hat head. And it kind of smells funny, you know?
Yeah, it does, kind of like musk.
SHERRILYN: But I had to go out last night and refill the woodbin. So I jammed it on and went out.
It was pretty windy last night.
SHERRILYN: I know! I was almost done and I heard this strange noise out in the back, behind the old outhouse plot. I thought you know, maybe it was the caribou herd, so I went back with the Remington to chase them off. They've been eating all my winter holly.
Man, that sucks.
SHERRILYN: Yeah, so I get back there, and there's nothing. So I thought it must have been the wind, but when I got back to the house all the wood was stacked, and the newel posts had been totally repaired.
SHERRILYN: No kidding. I was gone for like, thirty seconds.
Talk about being touched by an angel.
SHERRILYN: Hey, can you play some old Ray Charles? I'm hanging raven lights at the church, and we're awfully bored.
[Ray Charles—I Got A Woman]
Good morning Cicely, this is Chris-in-the-Morning on K-bear, and it's frosty out, I tell you. I was all set to chip the ice off the windshield this morning, but when I emerged from my trailer, someone had already done it. I took a gander about, but no footprints in the snow. So wherever you are, hat spirits, you have my thanks.
The message machine this morning was filled with a bunch of reports about random good deeds, performed unseen. What do they all have in common? Hats. Either being worn or found abandoned nearby. Candace Buzzy says that someone completed all the alterations in the back of her shop. Donnie Elkhorn wants to thank whoever dug his Sno-Cat out of Frozen Duck Foot Pond. And the folks at the Sweetheart Elk Ranch down Route 3 want everyone to know that the herd ambled in unmolested, and thanks to whomever shooed them back and repaired the downed fences.
I can't help but wonder about that story about the cobbler and the elves: a man in dire need of money but with too little supplies, and the elves that creep out into his workshop at night to give him a hand. They'd been moved by the plight of the cobbler and his wife, or at least that's the story they tell us in nursery school.
Supposedly all fairy tales are morality tales, meant to teach us the right way to act towards each other, towards the world. Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk—they're all things we know by heart, each little tale ending with an example that we can take into the world with us as a beacon of how to Do Things The Right Way.
What does the Cobbler and the Elves teach us? That we should volunteer, give of ourselves without expecting things in return? I suppose so. Are the hats symbols of elves in our presence? Or are the hats just red herrings, side effects and left over hints of the kindhearted people in our own midst? If you are one of these anonymous do-gooders, please call in.
More reports about the chocolate fountain at The Brick—Carey Buckel says she lost her diamond ring and suspects it might be in the bacon fountain, so keep an eye out for that. The fountains are doing dark chocolate today, it seems, though Dave swears that he didn't have any dark syrup. Another miracle of the hats or just a fluke? You be the judge.
Chris-in-the-Morning, and you're on the air at K-bear.
VOICE: Oh my god, you will never believe this, Chris.
MAGGIE: So, I just got back from Anchorage, and the plane is loaded with the mail and all these boxes of…something or other for the Strexcorp plant they're building down in Klamanka?
Yeah, the logging…thing.
MAGGIE: Right, right, so I'm making my approach to the air strip, and suddenly, I hit some sort of pocket, and the whole plane just dipped—
MAGGIE: Yeah, and then just when I get it stabilized, the left engine cuts out, for like no reason—
MAGGIE: I know, and then the right engine cuts out, and I'm pumping the gas valves and everything—so it's like the end, you know? I seriously saw my whole life pass in front of my eyes—
I hear ya.
MAGGIE: There was no way I was going to be able to hard land in the wind, and the drifts were cutting off all the sodium lights. I could hear Clarence on the radio, but then…the whole thing just stopped.
The engines came on?
MAGGIE: No, no, I mean, the plane just froze in the middle of the air. Like someone hit a switch and reality just…paused. And I sat there for at least ten seconds. I thought I had to have died, right? But there was this groaning, and the back hatch doors opened and all the mail and packages just dropped out of the hold—
MAGGIE: And then, then they shut themselves, and time just unfroze. The engines restarted all by themselves, and I was just coasting right down into the landing. And when I opened the hold, all the packages were there, except for all the Strexcorp ones…
MAGGIE: The thing was, I was wearing one of those hats. I don't usually in the plane, because the ear flaps—well, anyway, I just popped it on before I left—
Curiouser and curiouser.
MAGGIE: It's amazing.
Good thing you had the hat then, or it'd be a much bluer Christmas for all of us.
MAGGIE: I'll say. Oh, and for everyone waiting for packages, they're all at Ruth-Anne's.
Thanks, Maggie. That's a whopper of a miracle, I think. Certainly the last few days have seen some strange things—sometimes just a helping hand, and sometimes a lifesaver. Is it all just dumb luck? Magic? Evidence of a higher power, moved by the spirit of the season into action? Divine intervention? Or a spirit animal manifest for the time being?
In light of these questions, we have our very own Doctor Joel Fleischman in the studio with us to talk about what he's found with the hats. So Joel, what's the verdict on the hats—totems or just a normal winter head adornment?
JOEL: Um, (clears throat) I looked at Ruth-Anne's hats, and I can unequivocally say that they're, uh, well they're—
JOEL: They're hats, Chris. Normal, rather ugly hats. They're organic, made of animal skin and fur, with cotton stitching. There's nothing out of the ordinary about them.
But what makes you say that?
JOEL: ... science.
Come on, really? Just science?
JOEL: I-I-I don't know what you want me to say here. They're hats. All this-this rumor and conjecture about mystical properties is totally absurd.
I got a call this morning that one of the hats was sitting on top of a full load of freshly chopped firewood over in Hayden's yard this morning.
No one saw it get there.
JOEL: Look. It's dark twenty-two hours of the day, people. (voice gets louder, closer to microphone) The hats are normal. The hats don't magically chop wood. They don't make people disappear when they put them on. They don't grant the wearer the ability to talk to animals. This is getting way out of hand.
But there are lots of folk stories about magical clothing throughout history—
JOEL: Right, and you know what that is? Fancy. Storytelling. Whimsy. The empirical data shows that there is nothing in the hats that would give them—I can't believe I am saying this—magical powers.
The day after Shelley got one she discovered a hundred and fifty bucks hidden under the till in The Brick.
JOEL: And so what? It's a coincidence. I-I-It could have slipped under there in any number of logical, reasonable ways. Holling could have put it there. A customer could have slipped it in there as a gift.
What about Maggie? You heard her.
JOEL: I can't deny that she had engine trouble. And—and O'Connell is a great pilot, but engines have been known to sputter. It's possible that she had an episode up there…it could have been exhaustion, adrenaline, a-a-a fugue state, any number of completely normal, albeit unusual things.
I dunno, man. Can't we say that it might just be possible? Aren't there more things out there in heaven in earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?
JOEL: (sigh) …
With all the things we've seen through the years, isn't it even a little bit curious that these hats come to us in the middle of the holiday season, in the dead of night, little harbingers of hope and good will.
JOEL: …You know what? Fine. (hand slapping sounds) Fine. You asked me to make a medical and scientific diagnosis, and I did. (voice gets fainter) You take it however you want it. I have patients. (door slams)
So that's the official medical verdict on our little holiday elves.
[Thurl Ravenscroft—You're A Mean One, Mister Grinch]
Chris-in-the-Morning, and you're on the air at K-bear.
VOICE: ... and you were the small squirrelling in the night, the faces of the wind that turn towards the dark void--
I'm sorry, caller, you're not coming in very well, can you move the phone?
VOICE: --we are all one when the hands clasp together to create the wall and build the energy of the workers united a machine--
Let's try that one more time.
VOICE: We have your velvet softness in our eyeteeth and when everything roils then the smoke will pour from the houses of industry--
I'm sorry, man, I think we're gonna have to let you go.
VOICE: CONSUME YOUR SOULS LIKE CHEETOS.
….well, then, in the words of that most famous female detective, jinkies, folks.
Good afternoon and welcome to Cicely's own broadcast, I'm Chris-in-the-Morning, your friendly community radio host coming at you for an afternoon session. I don't usually, as you know, grace the airwaves after the morning rush, but everyone called off after a late night with the fire department. More on that later. Thanks to Ed Chigliak for taking over the a.m. slot with what I am told was a thrilling three hours of show tunes and trivia facts on Fred Astaire and Marlon Brando.
It's been pretty cold the past few days, and with another Chinook coming round the bend, it's going to get a little worse before it gets better. But as the longest night of the year approaches, I find it's not so bad. Once the solstice comes, it's a matter of psychology to talk yourself into thinking the nights are getting shorter. Science tells me that they are, and even if you can't tell at first, there's something comforting in knowing that the axial tilt of the Earth is ever present, slowly turning us all back to the light.
A few updates in the news: The Strexcorp facility out there in Klamanka caught fire last night. I wasn't even aware that there had been anything out there yet, but it seems that our buddies at Strexcorp were busy bees, because the entire site went up like a Roman candle last night. The volunteer fire department, myself included, didn't get the call until the wee hours, but by the time we all got there, the fire was not only out, but cold. Fifteen warehouses burnt to ashes.
What nature giveth, she taketh away, or something like that.
Also, Timmy Rogers, who disappeared after putting on a hat, reappeared at his dinner table last night in the middle of dessert. He doesn't know what happened to him, and Officer Semanski says she doesn't have anything to investigate, really, and Timmy's parents said they don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. Incidentally—or not incidentally, you be the judge—his limp is completely healed.
So, the cobbler and the elves, right?
I did some reading last night, and I'll tell you, sometimes there's nothing better than to curl up in the dark with a warm blanket and scare the pants off yourself with a book. The original brothers Grimm had some terrifying notions about what was a good read.
The cobbler and the elves, also known as "Die Wichtelmänner", was three stories that were compressed into the one we know now. The thing that's striking about all three versions is that in every single one, the elves help the cobbler just because. For no reason. They see the cobbler struggling and they wait 'til he's asleep to help him out, but they don't have any motivation. Maybe they feel bad for him.
In some ways that's more an indictment of imperialist views, that the subservient elves would be moved to help the cobbler because he's a good man. Or have we all just been jaded by our twentieth century lives? Is it too much to expect someone to do something with no intention of being rewarded?
Regardless of why the elves did it, they did make the shoes, saving the cobbler and his wife from being kicked out on their keysters.
There's something that's been bothering me for the last few days. Last night I sat my hat in front of me and stared at it. It's just a hat. My stomach was feeling kind of shaky, which is odd for me, I have to admit. Prison makes you learn to stomach almost everything. Then again, I'd eaten three chocolate covered grilled cheeses from The Brick, so that could have been it, too.
But I kicked back with a neat glass of bourbon and decided to wax loquacious to the thing. Avatars have long been still but sentient, and if that's what these guys are, then it doesn't hurt to take a chance.
In retrospect, I should have waited until this morning, and so I'm going to keep doing it today. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a few questions, right? The worst they can do is sit there. The greatest fool in the Turing test is the giver who expects the machine to behave the same way the tester might.
I don't know, maybe I'm finally losing my marbles. Maybe it's the frustration of not actually creating something this year, you know? Maybe I'm channeling all that je ne c'est quois into this quest for answers. Sometimes you have to pull on your bootstraps and just pretend the bridge is there.
So call in with your hat questions, folks, everything is fair game.
But before we test out these puppies ourselves, let's take a quick peek at the weather.
What would I have asked it? I dunno. I had a few things written down, and your calls were pretty good too, but I guess we'll never get the chance. Maybe that was the answer to everything we could have asked.
Maybe we just got too curious.
And in other news, too—the chocolate fountains are gone. Dave says that he was refilling the bottom of one of them when his hat was yanked off his head by an invisible force and fell into the fountain, and then both of them vanished with a high pitched grinding sound. 'A wailing noise, like an otter in heat,' he said. The other one must have done the same, because now the tables are empty, and the brass signs from Strexcorp are all that's left, all burnt and warped. Strange.
It's okay, though, because this morning he discovered that the walk- in is stacked to the ceiling with French Silk pies. A parting gift of prescience from our kind spirits?
It's interesting that in the third version of the story the cobbler watches them working at night and he and his wife make clothes for the elves so they can be free. Of course they run off. Who doesn't relish the sweet siren of absolute freedom?
What does this all mean? Can we learn from the elves? Can we learn from the cobbler? I guess you could say on one hand that acts of kindness can come back to you in a good way. That's karma, right?
But what about acts of kindness that can't be repaid? Or are done without expectation of repayment? Is that were it all begins? If those elves had made those shoes expecting to be repaid in some way, would it have been the same? Do acts of kindness get their very essence from the wholehearted offering of them? And if someone knows that you have paid it forward, does that make the gift less?
Who's to say, really. Our mysterious hats are gone, and also, I suspect the random gifts we've been getting.
Not too long ago, you might remember, I had a buck in my sights and I let it go. The next day there was a bottle of whiskey on my porch. You know how that led me round the bend, playing Sherlock to find my mysterious benefactor, and it led to me losing Uncle Roy's rifle in the river. If you get too close to a snowflake, you can see its patterns clearly, but your very heat makes it melt away.
Another thought, though—it doesn't take a mysterious animal spirit to fill a woodbin or fix a fence—those are things that neighbors do for each other every day. Last year Brad Brownotter rebuilt the Slavin's tool shed after a bad winter, Maurice gifted a hundred and fifty acres to the Tlinglit Conservation Project and never told a soul. Even yours truly has received some staggering support over the past year, sometimes by random strangers.
Compassion, help, kindness. Not things that we need to save up like emotional curmudgeons, or bears getting ready for that big ol' winter nap.
I'm heading over to the live nativity to get me some of that peace and good will toward men. And maybe after that a nice slice of pie.
So I say to you all from the top of my unadorned head to the bottoms of my boot clad feet—goodnight, Cicely, goodnight.
Northern Exposure was a production of CBS and a bunch of people whose names scroll past at the end of every episode. Welcome to Nightvale is usually writer by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Today's weather was "Oops I Did It Again" by Max Raabe. You can find more of his music on the interwebs.
Today's proverb: "Close the door. Hey, gimme that bag of Oreos, you're not having Oreos for breakfast. No TV right now. Close the door. No, leave the dog alone. Would you please find your shoes? Gimme that bag of Oreos! Find your shoes, you put your shoes on. I don't know where your shoes are, I didn't have your shoes on. Close the door. Put that--no, don't cut the dog's hair right now! Come on... those are his shoes, go tell him you have his shoes and then find your shoes. Close that door. Put the phone down. Who are you calling, you're too young to call anybody. Don't feed Oreos to the dog, gimme that bag of Oreos! No! Close that door! No no no, those ARE your shoes. They have to be! Who are you? I want ID, let me see some ID."