My Kaer Morhen

Sunday Letter | #355

Black and white, angled toward the sky. Dead, sun-bleached tree reaching out amid the pines.
Yosemite National Park, CA – Kodak Tri-X 400

We’ve been enjoying the Witcher Netflix series over the holidays; I’ve played the video games in the past and am now wading into the books, and while I greatly appreciate the story’s male friendships and dark spins on old fairy tales – and the just-right amount of camp – the one particular I’ve become most enamored with is Kaer Morhen, the dilapidated stronghold where witchers overwinter. “There, we can rest up and heal,” says Geralt in the show. “Replace armor and elixirs. It’s my home.”

Winter is a quiet time in Witcher universe. Snow and ice make travel perilous; monsters go into hibernation, or seek cover to breed. There is less work for the bemagicked freelance monster hunter, so it makes sense to leave. I think of the way big cities like New York empty out, the unpleasantness of navigating streets sullied with dark slush. Here in Detroit, the skies dull from lake-effect clouds, making already-short days feel even shorter. This year, while driving down the California coast in the rain, knowing what I’d be coming home to, I found myself daydreaming about my own personal Kaer Morhen.

We would come from all over – those of who could make it – but only in the winters, when the warmth and company of others is most vital. It wouldn’t have to be a castle. A large, sparsely furnished cabin would do. At its center would be a kitchen, with a clay or brick oven – a hearth – and a large common dining room. We would take turns cooking family dinners, clean simple meals using pantry staples and root cellar stock. We’d live communally, but the grounds would be large enough for solitude. A short walk outside, past the firewood hut and barrel sauna, through a small copse of pine and fir, would take you to one of several artist sheds, each with a desk or drawing table and a comfortable chair. Bookshelf, portable heater, a coat rack, and a pleasant window view.

In the car, Julia and I talked half-seriously about the logistics of this idea. What if in the future we had kids? Wouldn’t it be easier to do this over summer break? Who would be our Vesimir, the witcher elder, who stays in Kaer Morhen and maintains it year-round? How could we convince a group of friends to all commit at the same time? How could we afford it?

For now, at least, I think I quite prefer just the idea of Kaer Morhen. And maybe it best exists in this form – not as a physical place but as a stronghold of the imagination, a wintry Camelot. A holographic place, that you can project anywhere, any winter – this winter – a set of feelings that you can return to again and again.

Of rest and quietude and healing. Of re-arming, re-alchemizing. Of reuniting with friends, and celebrating another year of life.