Grandfather, are we lost?
Grandfather leaned on his staff. “Of course not!”
The boy remained silent.
“I’ve walked this path a thousand times.”
The boy pointed to where moonlight drifted between black trunks like falling snow. “What’s that?”
Grandfather peered through shifting shadows. “Ah, the Big Stump!” He cleared his throat. “I took you on this scenic route tonight.”
“Don’t mention it. Come along.”
Grandfather patted The Big Stump when they reached it. “Have a seat, boy.”
Moonlight dusted his dark hair with silver as he sat and looked at the stump’s great breadth. “It’s huge!”
“The greatest tree ever to live.”
“Who cut it down?”
“Now, that’s a story.”
The boy looked up expectantly.
“Trees long ago had spirits and the greatest of those spirits walked just as men do.”
The great oak’s spirit was tall as a bear and guarded the forest from greedy woodcutters. One day, a crow whispered news into his ear that took him deep into the mountains. He came to a twisted pine.
The pine’s twisted spirit spoke, “Welcome, Great Oak.”
“You sent for me?”
“There is trouble nearby.”
Pine limped up a steep path on skinny legs. Oak followed. They came to the forest boundary and stopped.
” A dozen yards away an oak seedling drooped near death.
“How did it get there?”
“No knowing,” answered Pine, though he knew very well that Crow had dropped it there. “But you must save it!”
“My powers cease beyond the forest’s boundary.”
“Surely you may go that small distance!”
“I’ll try.” Oak stepped toward the seedling and his knees buckled.
Pine signaled and Crow darted away. “Now I shall rule the forest!” he thought.
Oak went forward on his knees.
Crow swooped down to a group of men carrying axes and saws. When Crow rose, the woodcutters, trooped toward the great oak.
Shining blades bit. Chips and sawdust flew.
Oak cried out, “Steel!”
The great oak shivered beneath cruel blades.
Oak cupped the seedling in his hand, rose, staggered and fell across the boundary. He placed the seedling on rich earth.
The great tree fell and shook all the forest.
“And so the Oak’s spirit disappeared and only the Big Stump remains.”
“What happened to Pine?”
“That’s another story.”
The boy thought for a moment. “Do you think that the Big Stump’s spirit might yet live?
“Some say he was saved by the seedling, but I don’t think so.”
Three fairies, blue and glowing, flitted from beech boughs above and hovered behind grandfather’s head.
“Are there fairies in this forest?”
“Of course not!”
The fairies giggled like tiny bells tinkling.
“Don’t be foolish, boy!”
The fairies drew miniature bows tight and shot silver arrows into Grandfather’s left ear.
“Ouch!” He slapped his ear. “Pesky mosquito!”
A great, green hand swept down from above and gently scooped the fairies into its palm.
The hand disappeared behind black branches.
Robert Walton is a retired teacher and a life-long rock-climber and mountaineer. His writing about climbing has been published in the Sierra Club's "Ascent”. His novel "Dawn Drums” recently won the 2014 Arizona Authors Association prize for best published fiction. He and his wife Phyllis live in King City, California and have done so for forty-two years. See more at his Chaos Gate website.
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