Xia Mianzun·Winter in White Horse Lake
I am now over forty, but it was not until ten years ago that I got a feel of what winter was really like soon after I had moved my residence to White Horse Lake, a place beyond my home town.
Since then, it has grown into quite a village, but it was an expanse of wilderness at the time when I moved in.
The new buildings of Chun Hui Middle School then stood tall on the other side of the Lake while on this side were several newly-built small one-storey houses tucked away at the foot of a mountain where lived two families separately, the family of mine and that of Liu Xinru.
The neighborhood was totally unpopulated far and wide except for the two households. Having moved from Hangzhou to this desolate countryside late in the month eleven of the lunar year, we felt like getting bogged down in a polar region.
The wind there blew almost every day, bowling like a tiger’s roaring. The new houses were of poor quality, with a biting wind coming in through every chink in the doors and windows. And our efforts to have all the cracks sealed with paper nevertheless failed to stop it from breaking into the house. When it was very windy, all we could do was to shut the front door before dark and go to bed after supper, listening quietly to the whistling of the sharp wind and the surging of the Lake waters.
In the small rear-room close to the mountain, which, least affected by the wind, was my study, I often worked by the light of an oil lamp late into the night, with my woolen cap pulled down, while the pines were singing in the wind, the white moon shining on the window, and hungry rats squeaking and scurrying in the neighborhood of the ceilings. Seized with a poetic mood generated by the scene of bleakness, I would stay up late and sit alone poking the charcoal fire, imaging myself a figure in a traditional Chinese landscape painting and indulging in deep reveries.
White Horse Lake is now rich in vegetation while at that time it was totally treeless. When the sun shone bright on a windless day, it would be nice and warm. The whole family would then sit in the courtyard to bask in the sun, and even have lunch in the open air like we did in summer. Where there was sunshine, there we would move our chairs. When the cold wind came, however, we would scamper indoors like refugees, each carrying a chair or stool and hastily closing the doors behind us. The wind usually began to howl towards evening and last until midnight. In the case of a severe storm, it would rage for two or three days and nights on end. At the height of the bitter cold, the fields would for several days look deathly pale like cement, the mountains would turn dirty purple with cold, and the ripples of the Lake would be of a deep blue.
I had no aversion to snowfall because it was much brightened up my room, so much so that I could almost do without lamplight at night. The distant mountains would remain snow-capped for at least half a month—a scene I could easily enjoy from my window.
However, it was a pity that, living in the south, we could have snowfall only once or twice each winter. White Horse Lake is windy for geographical reasons. The place is surrounded by mountains except in the north where there is a gap as wide as one fourth of a kilometer, like the wide open mouth of a bag, ready to accept the wind. It is the wind that differentiates White Horse Lake from other scenic spots. Anybody who has been to the place can tell how frequent and violent the wind is there. The wind has, since time immemorial, been an important factor in characterizing winter, particularly so in White Horse Lake.
Now it is quite a few days since I and my family moved to Shanghai. Whenever the wind blows in the stillness of the night, we will all mention White Horse Lake, saying, "White Horse Lake must be terribly windy tonight!"