It is early afternoon and Emily and Haley are sitting on the couch in their home, talking together as the time approaches when Emily will have to leave for her job at the saloon. Both are watching the ocean outside their front window, and listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves.
Em: "Look at that thin line of two blues where the ocean meets the sky. I'd love to capture those colors in a dress that I'm making."
Ha: "It is beautiful. Can I model your dress?" (Hands Emily her phone). "Look at this movie I took of sandpipers running in and out of the surf."
Em: "So cute! Even the baby ones are pretty good at not getting their fee wet."
Ha: "Hey Emmy, what do you think of the new farmer guy, Lee?"
Em: "Lee? He seems nice. Other than Hi and Goodbye, I've never ever spoken to him since he moved into the valley. You and I both have seen him at the community events. Why do you ask?"
Ha: "Just curious. When I first met him, he was all dirty and smelly and totally unattractive. But when he found grandmother's bracelet at the beach, he was better dressed, and something changed."
Em: "Watch out Haley. You might find yourself on a farm someday!"
Ha: "Me? Ha Ha! Not a chance." Anyway, now I have two of the bracelets, as I found a matching one in the attic."
Em: "Sometimes he does nice things for others at the saloon, but most of the time he keeps to himself. Still, he's not so bad looking. He has big brown eyes and a nice tan."
Ha: "I once saw Maru give him a long look."
Em: "That means nothing. Maru would show goo-goo eyes at a male mechanical robot."
Ha (laughing): "That's so true."
Em (holding up her arms and spinning her hands): Using my crystal sense, I feel that Lee has a bright green aura."
Ha: "Uh . . . What? A green aura?"
Em: "Yes. It can mean that he is someone who is a good listener, one who could help you heal from hurts. He also would be attracted to green things, like forests, and plants."
Ha: "Green eggs and ham?"
Em: "No silly goose! But without knowing why, his attention would be drawn to a green dress, green ribbons and bows, green gemstones in a ring or pendant. You know, Haley, I love it when we talk together like this. You're may favorite sister."
Ha: "I'm your only sister."
Em: "You and I, we're here to support one another."
Ha: "I've always felt so squeezed in by this tiny village, and I'd wear my pretty dresses, curl my hair, and put on my makeup, almost as a way of rebelling and showing how out of place I felt."
Em: "You don't seem that way right now."
Ha (laughing): "I don't know. Strange, it's like the lighting outside became so much better. I enjoy going out with my camera more. I'm making more 8 x 10's. The summer heat doesn't seem to bother me as much. It's so many things.
Em: "Maybe you're running a temperature. When's your next checkup with Doctor Harvey?"
Ha: "Not for a while yet. No, No. I'm fine. Here, feel my forehead. See. Nothing. I just feel a bit more energized. Question. Would you mind terribly if I asked Robin to come by and help me add a small darkroom on to my bedroom?"
Em: "Not at all. I'm happy when you are happy." (Emily breaks into a song). "You are my sister, my only sister. You make me happy when skies are grey." (Emily, laughing), "I love you favorite sister."
Ha (also laughing): "Stop! Now you're the silly one."
Em (laughing): I love your, favorite sister."
Ha: "I love you too. Now get out of here and go to work."
Having mastered the fur wars, Hoppy was not too pleased when the human built a coop close to his pond. Soon it was populated with a chicken and a bunny. Of the two, Hoppy genuinely liked the friendly bunny. It was soft grey in color, and the human called her "Carrots". Hoppy talked to Carrots through a gap in the fence, and found out that Carrots was not fond of purple veggies, but really liked wild grass. "That's fine." Hoppy tactfully added that he didn't like purple veggies either. It was a different story with "Mrs. Cluck". The opening round of the feather wars saw Mrs. Cluck escape through a broken fence post, and catch Hoppy unawares (Hoppy's eyes were on Weasel the cat, sunning himself by the broken-down greenhouse). Hoppy had to make a circular route to the pond, chased the whole time by a pecking, oversized and feathered, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Finally, he was able to collapse safely on lily pad, so exhausted that all he could manage was to stick out his tongue at the angry bird. Round two, came a few days later. Again the chicken got loose, but this time Hoppy managed to quietly sneak up behind Mrs. Cluck, who was standing on the ledge of the pond, peering down in search of the frog. As he closed in, he found himself next to two giant yellow pillars of legs, holding up a canopy of feathers. Hoppy suddenly gave his best shove, and the chicken toppled into the pond. Mrs. Cluck was no duck. But between squawking, and flapping, she floated enough to make it back to the shore. Once out of the water, she gave the laughing frog a death glare that promised to remember this moment forever. Another negative of the nearby coop was that whenever it rained hard, a stream of chicken manure runoff made its way into Hoppy's pond. Disgusting stuff, it fostered the growth of algae. Once, Hoppy accidentally tried to surface in the middle of a blob of the weed and ended up with his nose and eyes covered with green icky goo. Okay. One vote yes for the rabbit. Two votes no for the chicken.
The sun has set on a rainy day. Hoppy looks up and can no longer see the clouds that moments before were scudding by. The rain has also let up, and now falls as a filmy curtain, gently bringing on the night. It is time for singing, and as Hoppy climbs to the high side of his pond, he gives out in his best baritone, "Some enchanted evening . . . You will see a stranger." "Will see a stranger." What was that? An echo? Hoppy loved echo effects. The return notes even had a pleasantly higher pitch than his voice. Even louder he bellowed out, "You will see a stranger . . . " "See a stranger." "Across a crowded room.""Crowded room." This is so much fun. Why haven't I heard this before? Maybe it has something to do with the rain. "And suddenly you'll know . . ." "You'll know.""You'll know even then . . ." "Then.""That somehow you'll see her again and again." "You'll see him again and again." Wait a minute, did my ears deceive me? "Hello echo." "Hello!" And out of the gloom hopped another frog. Panting a bit from the exertion, she said, "That was a long trip. I followed your voice in the night like a lighthouse lighting up the way. You're a great singer. Look, I have goosebumps the size of warts. Oh Hi! I'm Rana." Hoppy didn't know whether he was more astonished, delighted, or simply stunned. He kind of fumbled out with a, "Hi, I'm Hoppy." Rana, looking about, "What a cute little pond!" Time screeched to a halt for Hoppy, as he stared at a pair of rain sparkled eyes, slim hips, long green legs. He managed to wake himself in time to croak, "Where did you come from?" She replied, "Do you mind if I check out the water?" Without waiting for an answer, Rana dove in, making hardly a splash. Hoppy could only sit and wait, as the rain made little circles in the water. Finally, after what seemed forever, she surfaced on the opposite side. "Algae? Algae! You have algae. This is so wonderful. Tadpoles love this stuff, you know." It was somewhere about this precise moment that Hoppy knew his quiet life was about to change. Previous to this moment, Hoppy had never quite figured out why South American frogs did not fall off the bottom side of the earth and drift off into space. In a flash of insight, he now understood in so many ways what it felt like to have one's world turned upside down. Yes, indeed, his life was about to change alright. In the back of his mind, he could hear that song again, "Once you have found her never let her go. Never . . . let . . . her . . . go!"
Woke up to the blare of the TV with a country voice reminding me that the berries are ripe on those bushes, "So git out there and start pickin!" Berry picking is one of my favorite times. As I hustle to get those morning farm chores out of the way, my mind is on berries, for morning cereal, for jam, pies, gifts, and gold. Outside, in the bright sun and blue sky, I open a chest that is overflowing with sunflower seeds, grab some and scatter them for the birds. Yesterday's fresh rain has left a green sheen over the farm, overlaid with a fresh earthy smell. I look around for a gift for the wizard. It is always smart when you have a wizard for a neighbor to stay on his good side. With a hop to my step, I cruise past the watering pond, where I hear the familiar plop of a frog hitting the water. Wait. Was that one plop or two? I head South, for Cindersap forest. Everywhere I look, there are partially hidden bushes full of berries. It is very much like being on an Easter egg hunt, without the Abigale. Seeing the way open to the hidden forest, I decide to search there as well. Often, when I'm out to harvest hardwood, there are pesky slimes to contend with. My rule is to mostly dodge them, and not bother them if they don't bother me. Today, they seem strangely occupied. Perhaps it is mating season. I've near given up on the stone statue, having tried strawberry jam, flower honey, you name it, all for no response. The pond, in contrast, seems more inviting. Even though I'm pressed for time, here in a magical place, it is impossible to resist testing the waters. I cast out a line, and quickly get a bite . . . maybe it is something unusual . . . maybe it's a . . . bleah, carp. Time to move on for a quick visit to the wizard's tower. I give him one of my top-quality strawberries, and I think that maybe he mumbled thank you. More likely, it is just his way of hinting that I should be grateful to have escaped intact without being turned into a toad or worse. Now it is on to more shake and collect. Still picking, I end up approaching the mouse house. My initial plan was to pass by unobserved, but there are several full bushes close by.
Do you sometimes see someone who you simply dread to meet (for whatever reason), or the door you do not want to open, the place you do not want to go? Me, I'm terrible when it comes to looking directly into the face of poverty. Driving to Joja every day, as one got closer to the office, my heart bled to see the street lined with round little tents, and the hopeless sleeping on piles of rags. I hated the stop lights, with toothless men holding out hand scrawled signs. These and other memories I superimposed over this poor mouse in his run-down shack. Someone could say, "But Lee, it is just a cute little mouse selling hats. Look with your eyes, not with your mind." But I still saw the ghosts. And now, here was that hat mouse, smiling and waving, beckoning to me to come on over and bring my coins. Grrrr. I do not even like wearing hats. The mouse seems overwhelmingly glad to see me, and politely I take my time to look over all the hats. Given the number of holes in the roof, it's amazing that the merchandise was not soaked by last night's rain. My eye catches one hat in particular. It is a Santa hat. I happen to be a Christmas fanatic. And here in a jingly little shop, with a merry little mouse, a new ghost appears. This one reminds me that my past no longer exists. I'm the only person in the whole world carrying those memories. More importantly, that what we see in others is much like looking at a mirror reflecting how we see ourselves on the inside. Those images of the street were memories of my past, when I was just as impoverished on the inside equal to what I was seeing on the outside. It's my own stinky attitude that feeds my fears. The realization that I'm an idiot, lifts my spirits. I purchase the Santa hat, and make a mental note that come Christmas, I will pack a dozen of my best cheeses, as a gift for this mouse. Cheeses for the meeses, like the Grinch, I hope that my heart too, can grow three sizes larger.
Back to picking and shaking. I cross over the bridge, island, bridge combination to the Southern edge of Cindersap forest and run into a bear asking for a carp. This must be my be kind to animals day. Luckily, I just happen to have one. I hand it over, and now, unluckily, he wants a pizza. "Sorry Mr. Bear, not today." Crossing the bridge to the Northeastern edge of the forest, I see Haley taking pictures. I give her a wide berth to stay out of her frames, having learned the hard way not to bug her when she's taking pictures. Out of the corner of my eye, I see two bushes hidden behind Leah's house, and grab those berries. Now in the far distance, I can see Haley wave, but it is too late. The night is calling, and I've got to get home.
Thanks for all the likes, Nohardant. Just about the time I think that I am the only person reading this story, along comes someone like you to remind me to maybe add another chapter. FYI in the next chapter, I will include some very old Italian themes just for you.
It is Spirit's Eve, and Linus and the Wizard are sitting together on the embankment overlooking the maze and central square. As the clock strikes ten, Linus turns to the wizard, "How do you always do it, Wiz, getting us such high-priced balcony seats to overlook the amphitheater." "Yes." replies the wizard, "From here you can see and hear everything, and the show is about to start. This year I fetched a couple of skeletons from the desert mines. Let's see if a villager sticks his hand in the pen. They still can chomp if you get too close," he continued. "Let me activate them before anyone sees them." The wizard begins to chant, "Snout of fly, mosquito bill, with kin of all conditions. Frog in leaves and crickets shrill. These are the skeletons."
The first villagers entering the scene are Jas and Vincent, whining and griping about not being able to enter the maze. Each are appropriately shushed, and now they mope about bitterly disappointed. More villagers appear. The bold and the brave look towards the maze expectantly, the less bold and less brave look towards the picnic tables topped off with fortifying wine, and plenty of other goodies. Pierre works at setting up his stand near the maze entrance (his not so obvious way of avoiding going into said maze). The doctor makes a great show of being the first to enter, a show that was all pretense, as he goes no further than hiding in the brush. The wizard dryly comments, "He behaves like a decent Pantalone." Next up was Maru, who sincerely tried to make progress, but simply kept getting turned around and more and more confused. Linus began to laugh, "Stupenda e la commedia! Put a stopwatch on her to see how long she's lost." Others entered the maze, only to get stuck along the way, but the wizard's eyes were on Alex and Haley as they approached the entrance. "Here arrives our Columbina," observed the wizard. Alex did his best to persuade Haley to enter, but she was having no part of it, and eventually he left her and went on in alone. Using his height, Alex was able to go rather deep into the brush, and even to see the finish, but still more greenery blocked his progress. Haley stood by the entrance, darting glances at the open portal, then quickly looking away as fright overcame her wish to check and see if Alex was okay. Linus pointed towards Shane, who seemingly was torn between the dish of lobster bisque placed on Emily and Leah's table, and the moving skeletons. As he walked over and put his hands on the fence, one of the skeletons turned in his direction and muttered in a low whispery, raspy voice, "You. You resting on my fence. You want a break? You want a break?? I'll give you a break. Which bone?" Lightening quick, Shane pulls his hands back off the fence. Lobster bisque one, skeletons zero.
Linus points out that the farmer, Lee, is walking to join the event. The wizard replies, "Ah, yes. Our Silvio enters from stage left. Let's listen in." Lee walks out into the center of the square, taking in all the sights, the background chatter of many voices, the rattle of skeleton bones, and the looming maze entrance as the object of attraction. He then glances at Pierre's wares, before drifting over to where Haley is still pacing. "Hi Haley. You look really worried." Haley replies, "I am. Alex has been in the maze for over ten minutes." "How many villagers have gone in? "Oh, at least eight or ten," she answers. "How many have come out?" "None, so far." Lee continues to pump questions at Haley. "This is my first Spirit's Eve. What is so important about the maze?" "There is a golden pumpkin prize to the one who finds it." "Does anyone ever get hurt?" "Alex says that there are things that can grab you, that its dark, and the bushes have sharp thorns." "What about you, have you ever tried going in?" "Me? No never. it is way too scary." Lee's eyes drift towards the green ribbons in Haley's hair. The contrast of the ribbons dancing amongst the golden curls in the flickering torchlight was mesmerizing. And for once, Alex is not present. "You know, Haley, that this is my first time to explore the maze. Perhaps we could go in together." "No! No!! No!!!" Haley looks genuinely horrified at the suggestion. Lee was hoping to suggest that they could hold hands so that neither of them could get separated from the other, but now rejected the idea. What takes more courage, entering the maze or striking out with a pretty girl? "Haley, it doesn't do you any good to pace here and be upset. Why not join your sister at the tables. I'm going to go in, and if I run into Alex, I will tell him how worried you are." "Okay. Just don't take as long as Alex." The wizard and Linus watch as Lee starts out in the maze. After two turns, Lee pauses at the television. The wizard tells Linus, "One of my better ideas. It's just random noise on the screen, but the human brain loves to form images even where none exist. Those that see images are convinced that what they are seeing is real." Lee pulls himself away from the television and eventually catches up to Alex. After relaying Haley's message, he plunges deeper into the zigzagging paths, and runs into Sam, who is perplexed that the maze seems to stop. When he accidentally decides to take a different route to return, Lee discovers the secret continuation of the maze, and finds the golden pumpkin. The wizard and Linus look at each other. "Bravo, we have a winner." says Linus. After exiting the maze, Lee heads for the table with Emily and Haley, Shane and Leah. "I saw Alex, and told him that you were worried. He's fine, but still wants to find that pumpkin. Speaking of pumpkins, Emily, you have really outdone yourself carving all these faces." Emily beams at the compliment, and points to a half-eaten blackberry pie. "Help yourself," she suggests. There really wasn't any place to sit down, so after chopping and plating out a slice, Lee looked to the other tables. But before leaving, he let Emily peek into his backpack, where the golden pumpkin lay gleaming in the night. The wizard tells Linus, "Emily will tell her sister what she saw later." Linus replies, "La commedia e finite."
The sound of hammering echoed off the bus, as Woody pecked at a tree. When the human farmer appeared, walking along the nearby path, Woody disappeared in a flash of cardinal crest and white feathers. As guardian of the forest, Woody carefully sampled the health of each and every tree. That last tree was a maple, and Woody had tasted plenty of sap to tide the tree over during the long leafless winter. Woody had felt so helpless when he found both an oak and a maple with parasitic-like tappers in them, slowly milking the life out of the luckless trees. When it came to brains, Woody would put male humans on the dumbness scale and give them a six, slightly more dumber than average. Some days, the human farmer just made Woody feel like a clam sitting in chowder. Still, most of what Woody called the Northern forest had remained intact after the human had moved in. There was even a row of new fruit trees growing along the ridge. Although not really a fruit eater, Woody had picked a cherry for Wilma on her birthday. Woody's new favorite region was a patch of mahogany trees planted by the human last spring. Now they stood tall and melted in with the rest of the forest. Thinking back, Woody could remember when they were only sprout-lings, competing with wild grasses for access to sunlight.
One bitterly cold afternoon, Woody and Wilma flew together to the Southern facing cliffs to catch a few rays of the faded sun. As they headed home, they started to hear the first inklings of what was rapidly becoming a chirping uproar by most of the birds in Cindersap forest, talking about something happening in the Northern forest. After depositing Wilma, Woody flew rapidly on to investigate. There, where once stood a magnificent stand of trees, all were gone. It was hard to imagine that all were gone, and Woody stared heartbroken at the ecological disaster. Yesterday's snow was torn to shreds, but no stumps, no branches, not even seeds, remained. Only a human could have done this. With a selection process that was as remarkable as it was cruel, the human had ravished only the hardwood mahogany trees. Woody briefly felt a twinge of guilt, as his own nesting tree (farther to the South) had survived.
Wasting no time, Woody surveyed the damage to the wildlife. The squirrels had escaped by leaping from branch to branch, but of course their home was lost. Woody told them of an old evergreen with sufficient scrap material for a new nest. Although the rabbit's home was underground, they were all badly shaken when each tall tree fell and crashed to the ground, sounding like an earthquake. Now Mrs. Rabbit and the bunnies were out, wandering about in the broken snow looking stunned and lost. The teenage owls were freezing in the snow. They could only fly a short distance, so Woody quickly offered them temporary shelter in his nest, while their parents searched for new accommodations. Later in the evening, while Wilma babysat the owls, Woody dipped into his seed supply and flew out a supper for the squirrels. As he raced through the night air, it began to snow again. Like straightening out the covers on a well-made bed, the gently falling snow filled in the brown patches and smoothed over the gashes in the ground until nothing remained but the ghosts of trees and memories.