Snow fell over the dark, night time Alps. The stars, that are always more beautiful the higher you go, were blocked by winter clouds. The man stood guard along the ridges of one mountaintop. It served as an outpost, from where he could see the enemy’s trenches.
The snow had halted the war, or at least the great offensives. Nothing would happen tonight, the man thought, but he could not hope it would remain so for the rest of the war. The dying of men was a discomforting pleasure to some, the man thought. And it seemed they would not give up their bloody addiction any time soon.
As the wind blew up snowy dust, the man closed his eyes almost completely. It was cold, but the soldier was at ease. There was a silence at the outpost, and to a soldier’s ear, silence was the most beautiful noise. No shots that silenced the golden eagle soaring over the mighty snow peaks. No cannons that overwhelmed the crushing thunder of distant avalanches.
After standing in the cold for two hours, his guard duty was over. He returned to his little shelter. To ordinary people, the shelter was just a hole in the ground. But to the soldier’s eyes, it was home, and the trenches that covered the south side of the Alps had become a neighbourhood of fighting men.
When the man crawled into his small home, he lit the gasoline lamp and sat down at the improvised desk. It was time to write to Anna. She lived in the brown gold Tuscan sea of farmland. He had written her countless letters, and when he read her answers, there seemed to be no distance between the cold Alps and the fertile Tuscan soil.
He took his pencil. It was sharpened carefully, and was now a small witness to his words of love. His letters to Anna always started with the same words. “My little olive orchard”. They had met in an orchard with spring blossoms. It was, as he told her numerous times, the symbol of Italy. “I hope you are doing well, and that the war hasn’t touched our small village.” He knew the war wasn’t fought in Tuscany, otherwise he wouldn’t be on top of the Alps. But what do you write in times of war?
“The snow has halted the fighting, but it won’t last. When the winter landscape melts away, the hearts of war loving men grow cold. And we are left with the warm barrels of our rifles, but the icy feeling of killing fellow men.”
“I don’t know when I will see you again. But when I do, our hands will no longer be separated. There will be no sigh of wind between our chests, or floods of dark thoughts between our minds.”
“How I need you Anna. Out here, on these forgotten mountains, it feels like I’m touched by the cold of the moon. I don’t know what people in the backcountry really know about us. It feels like we are in the middle of the ocean, with the coastline far away. Nobody to see, and nobody to help us.”
“How is it Anna, that sometimes a heart can be surrounded by barbed wire? Isn’t it terrible sight to see my body so divided by trenches.? They say it’s our duty. That we fight for a greater cause. But when great men say that the faith of humankind rests upon the barrel of a gun, you know there’s something wrong.”
He sat back for a while. How can a man just sit there and do it all again the next day? He felt like he was touched by the cold of the moon. Standing up, he grabbed a blanket from his bed and hung it over him. The gasoline lamp flickered through the small room. He missed her. He sat back down, and started writing again.
“I don’t know how we are led to sail away on this darkened moonlight. Tell me what it is Anna, that keeps me from you? I can no longer see or hear without you, I need you. Away from these frozen mountains that steel the love of so many doubtful men.”
“Let me be, back in your Tuscan hands. Can’t they see I want the warm soil back under my cold soles? For you I would fly off this mountain…
But forget it Anna. This war has no place for hope. I only know that when I sleep, I feel your touch and smell your hair. And even though it’s not much, it’s a slice of life that feeds my hunger.
I will see you again, either during these lonely nights, or in warm Tuscan days.”
He stopped writing, stood up, and dressed himself up. Then he left his little house, moved up to the outpost and stood on top of the trenches. He only saw the white landscape and Austrian lines. He spread his arms and yelled “if I die, the silent whispering words of love have lost all their power”.