I used to hide in a copse of willows just up the hill and watch. Their wings glittered as they caught the late afternoon sun. They’d swoop and dance just above the water near the bend in the creek.
I used to pretend, you know, as the warm August sun caressed their faces, that I was with them; singing and flying and laughing as they chased dragonflies above the sparkling water.
That was nearly 70 years ago. I hardly recognize the creek today. My willows are gone. It’s a bare spot now, though covered with the crisp yellow-brown leaves of October.
The water is barely a trickle. Waning daylight barely touches it.
Oh, wait. There. Out of the corner of my eye near the bank I see one, no two, more now. They are here. Oh, if I could just …what did you say? I’m sorry. My old ears. I can hardly hear you.
My eyes are heavy and I’m so tired, but I want to keep watching. And now I’m so light. So airy. And what’s that rushing sound?
I’m swooping and swirling and diving above the water at the bend. I’m smiling and I’m so happy. . . so happy.
They’re here, all around me, and they’re smiling too and they’re asking me something.
Why, yes. Yes. Thank you. I will dance with you today.
The Claustrophobic Wolf
It was once that three young bachelor wolves shared a house on a hill near a thick old forest.
The wolves preferred the edge of the forest rather than the deep woods of their brethren. They liked the open space and the feeling of expansiveness it gave them and they liked the view from the hill, but mostly it was because the oldest of the bachelor wolves was claustrophobic.
During the pack meetings under the moon he always stood on the outside edges. When the leader asked him to come closer so he wouldn't have to yip so loudly, Gordon, the oldest of the young bachelor wolves, told him, "Someone must stand guard for us. I volunteer."
And the wolf leader would nod his head and pad back to his place on top of the flat rock to call the meeting to order.
Gordon kept his ears on the meeting and his eyes on surrounding bush, and he knew exactly where the quickest path to home could be found.
His housemates, Rald and Hubert, spent many a lazy hour sleeping in the sun or hunting for food, but Gordon liked to tend to the house and do the cooking.
One day his mother came by for a visit and asked him why he didn't go hunting with his friends.
"Someone has to stand guard for the house, mother. I volunteer."
"I don't see you get much of a problem with visitors. There's not much for cover for anyone to sneak up. Your house will be safe for a few hours. Rald or Hubert can look after it just as well, too, if it must be."
Gordon gave his mother a cup of huckleberry tea and a skewer of flying squirrel to snack on as they visited.
"I will say it is a fine view, son. You can keep an eye on the comings and goings of the villagers at the bottom of the hill, and see how the farmers tend their fields. When the geese fly south they'll stop in those harvested fields, I'm sure."
She licked her lips at the thought of fresh, fat goose.
"We don't get many coming around. The path to the forest is set far enough away. None has yet to snoop in the windows that we've seen, and there aren't any tracks."
No sooner had he said the words when a great grunting and snuffling assaulted their ears.
They loped to the nearest window and found a huge boar with curving tusks rooting about in the garden.
"Not my turnips," cried Gordon, racing out to chase the intruder away.
The boar pulled his snout out of the dirt and met the wolf's gaze without flinching.
"Get out," Gordon growled. He curled his lips and bared his fangs and put on his most menacing face.
Instead of fleeing with his curly tail between his legs the pig dug in his trotters and grunted.
"Those turnips are sweet, wolf. They'll make a fine meal."
"Not on my watch, pig." He nipped at the boar's face and side.
"That's a fine looking house you've got, friend wolf. Why don't you invite me in?"
"I've got company" said the wolf. "And your face is dirty."
"If I clean up, will you let me in?"
Gordon had been raised well and he knew his manners. Providing hospitality was the right thing to do even to a hog who was stealing vegetables.
"There's a stream by the wood. Go stick you nose in it and come back."
The boar trotted off to the stream while Gordon went back to the house.
"I see he's left. Did you scare him or reason with him?"
"Neither. He asked for hospitality. I've invited him in after he's washed."
His mother put a paw to her brow and shook her head. "Son...he's food. Are you planning to have him for dinner?"
"Only as a guest, mother."
"You are much too kind, son. Perhaps that's why you don't care to live with the pack."
"You know I don't like closed spaces, mother. The forest is not for me."
She got up and opened the door and nuzzled her son good-bye. As she did, the boar, all freshly washed with drops of water shining on his bristles in the afternoon sun, was at the door about to knock.
"Will you let me in now, wolf?"
The boar came in and made himself comfortable on the couch.
"What a fine house you have. It's seems bigger inside than out, and you've got a grand view of the farms and the village." And the pig smiled to himself because he'd overheard the wolf remind his mother he was claustrophobic.
"Would you like some tea? And how about a nice squirrel kabob?"
"Have you got any oats?" asked the hog. "I'm not much of a meat eater though I do thank you for the offer."
The wolf opened the pantry where the grains were stored. Once his back was turned the boar lowered his head and butted the wolf into the cupboard. He closed the door and threw his body against it, snorting with laughter.
It was dark in the pantry and awfully crowded. The wolf scrunched his body against the wall. He turned his head this way and that until he could see the little crack of light coming through the door.
His eyes grew wide and he started panting. His tail was mashed against his body and a back paw was jammed under a heavy sack of grain.
Small snuffling noises came from the other side of the door. Occasionally he heard a choked grunt. The hog was trying to control his laughter, but not doing a very good job of it.
Gordon twisted his body and threw it at the door. It budged a little, but the boar shifted and closed it again.
The movement closed the door completely. The crack of light was gone. Gordon closed his eyes and pretended he was outside. The trick worked in the past when he felt closed in, but not this time. The chortling pig on the other side of the door was too disturbing.
His stomach got tighter and tighter and he was running out of breath.
"I think this house should be mine," said the boar. "I'll put a half-wall between the kitchen and living room first, and then I'll change the windows. I like lattice windows. I suppose they all open? I'd change that, too. It's much safer if only one or two do, for escape in case of fire. But you've got so many in this house. I'd like it a bit more private."
He sank to the floor to rest a bit and think.
Gordon threw himself at the door a few more times, but there was no room to get a good run at it so the door hardly moved.
He moved his snout to the door jamb to get some air. As he moved the sack of grain moved and his paw was free. He flexed it a bit to get rid of the numbness and as he did he had an idea.
There was just enough room between the shelf and the grain sack for him to stand.
It was tight, but he held his breath and sucked in his stomach and made himself fit.
He coiled his body ready to spring, and he waited. The sun was shining full on the floor in front of the cupboard door. The boar was right in the middle of the sunspot, and he was probably getting sleepy.
The snuffling and chortling on the other side of the door grew fainter and fainter. Soon they were replaced by regular breathing and the occasional soft grunt.
He must be asleep, thought the wolf. It's time to strike.
He closed his eyes to calm himself, took as deep a breath as he could under the circumstances, and hurled his body against the door.
The boar had shifted a bit in his sleep and was no longer hard against the door. There was just enough slack for the wolf to break out.
The boar squealed in surprise when the wolf flew out of the pantry at him.
Gordon sank his fangs in the hog's back hamquarter and dragged him to the door.
He pushed the door open with one paw and tossed the hog out on to the ground.
The boar scrambled to his trotters and squealed all the way into the forest.
Gordon stood at his door catching his breath and watching the hog rush away, and then went to the kitchen to clean up the mess.
That night at the pack meeting he went to a spot away from the crowd. He checked around as usual, but didn't bother looking for the nearest path home. Instead he padded over to the front row and sat back on his haunches.
He was right in front of the pack leader. The leader noticed.
"You're not guarding tonight, Gordon?"
"I'm done with standing on the edges, Leader. Let someone else volunteer tonight."
It was once in a faraway land of kingdoms and great forests and pools of fresh water and rushing streams and craggy mountains there lived a prince who didn't feel very princely.
He was a happy enough prince, so it seemed, though all who met him remarked afterward he carried a sadness with him.
"It is a most distressing dampness of manner," some would say after leaving court.
Others shook their heads in sadness. Often the prince, believing himself alone, let his eyes grow large and would utter several low, abrupt groans in a row.
The truth was he was a very sad prince. He moped around the castle deliberately shuffling his feet to prevent himself from leaping like he wanted.
"Son, you're prince. Act like it. Stop hunching over like Old Hulda and pick up your feet when you walk."
The prince did not dare to tell his father of his desire to jump about the castle. Jumping and leaping were for young boys, especially the common people. It was not for a prince.
"The Princess of the next kingdom will make a fine wife. King Larken and his daughter will be here tomorrow. There shall be a feast."
The King fixed his gaze on his only son. In a low tone that would brook no argument he said, "If you are smart, my son, a wedding will follow shortly."
The prince only nodded and asked to be dismissed from his father's presence. He went to his rooms in the far end of the castle and threw open the shutters. He stuck his head out as far as he could until he saw the great royal pond.
Black–beaked white swans glided over the water. A hart startled by a noise, looked up from the pond toward the prince.
"Oh, to be there instead of here," lamented the prince. "What do I want with a wife?"
And he absent mindedly flicked out his long, thin tongue at fly buzzing near him.
The day was bright and warm. The prince decided rather than look at the royal pond he would swim in it instead.
The swans glided by him and dipped their beaks in his direction as if to greet him. He threw himself down on the cool grass at the water's edge and stared into the water at his reflection.
"Arrbat," he moaned.
"Yes?" came an answer from just in front of him.
"Frog, you're talking. Since when does a frog speak to a prince?"
"I might ask you the same," ribbitted the frog in return.
"How is it I understand you?"
"You're speaking frog. It follows logically that if you speak a language, then you understand it. Am I right?"
"I don't know what you mean," said the prince.
"Then you're a fool," said the amphibian and he disappeared beneath the ripples.
"What an odd, ill-mannered fellow," said the prince as he took off his cloak and boots and prepared to leap into the water.
"Ho there, young one."
An old hunched woman stepped out from behind a clump of alder near the prince.
"What do you want, Old Hulda?"
"To tell you something before your wedding tomorrow."
"I'm not marrying tomorrow. I am only meeting the princess."
The old woman threw back her head laughing until tears streamed down her face and coughs wracked her body.
"Boy prince, tomorrow is your 21st birthday. If you marry before midnight you will stay a prince. But if you get through the day there's a chance you will return to your true nature."
"What true nature? I am a prince. My father is King Reld and someday I will be Dorold, King of all my father's lands and properties."
"Do you wish to marry this princess?"
"I will know that once I meet her. Now leave me, hag. I've only let you speak to me because you are old and I have to respect you. Get away."
"What do you remember of your princelinghood? What did you do as a child?"
It was true he did not remember much of being a boy. His mother and father told he had been very sick as a child. Fevers ravaged his body for many months. They stole his health and his memory.
"It's why they say there's a dampness about you, my son." said his mother, the Queen. "The medicine the doctor gave you to rid your body of the illness left it."
The prince confided in his mother once that he wanted nothing more than to leap about the castle instead of walking.
"Dorold, that's because you were so sick and could hardly move. Now that you're well you've got so much energy to use you can hardly contain it."
She reached over and kissed his round cheek, and brushed the thin blond hair off his strong forehead. "That's all."
"I was ill. I only remember the last few years," the prince told the old woman.
"What else do you remember, prince?"
He thought about her question at great length. Since he'd healed he'd been having strange dreams. In them he was surrounded by water. He swam and jumped and covered himself in mud. Sometimes he was so filled with joy to be in the water he would sing to the stars all night. When he did all his friends and family sang, too, and the night was filled with their deep choruses.
"Nothing, he said, and jumped into the pool.
He swam and swam and dived to the bottom of the pool. There he pushed away the small rocks and wished he could lay himself down in the mud.
The next day the royals from the nearby kingdom came for the feast. His father and the visiting king held a private meeting leaving the princess alone with the prince.
"Would you like to see some of the grounds?" The prince was at a loss as to how to amuse the princess, but he thought a walk was a reasonable idea. He would have rather spent his birthday by the royal pond, or any pond to be completely truthful, but he had a guest and it was his duty to keep her entertained.
They walked through the gardens and past the outer hedges and soon found themselves at the pond.
A low groan escaped the prince without his even realizing it.
"What an odd noise to make," remarked the princess. You sound just like a spring peeper."
"It is but a moan and it is for no reason," said the prince. He searched for something else to say but all he could think of was, "Today is my 21st birthday. I suppose we are to marry, if that's all right with you."
"Not in the least," said the princess. "Not only have we just met, I have plans for my life. There's a world to see and much to learn and, I already love someone else. I'm only here because my father bids it. I'm no more happy about it than you seem to be."
"There's a feast tonight. I believe we're to marry after it. Perhaps we can bargain for some time. We'll tell our fathers we'd like to know one another better so could we wait until mid-summer to be wed?"
"I'd rather tell them we won't marry at all," said the princess. She picked up a small rock from the water's edge and tossed it in the pond.
A large frog broke through the surface croaking and splashing.
"I wonder what that's about?" said the princess.
"He's upset. He's thinks you threw the rock at him."
"You speak frog, my prince?"
"No," he said, shocked by the question. "I don't know why I said that. I suppose I assumed it."
They made their way back to the castle. Before the feast they spoke to the kings about waiting. Both kings were upset at putting the marriage on hold, but relented.
"As long as you swear to go through with it," they both said, "Our kingdoms have a great deal riding on this arrangement."
"Come, let's go to the feast," said the prince, feeling the need to avoid agreeing to anything.
After a few days the visitors left and he once again found himself at the royal pond.
The swans glided serenely along the calm surface. The sun shone on the water at just the right angle for the prince to see right to the bottom and to gaze at his reflection. Soon he was lost in his thoughts.
"Well done, prince," came a cackling voice behind him. "You've survived past your 21st birthday unwed. Do you wish to know who you are?"
"I know who I am, Old Hulda. Go back to your forest and leave me to my thoughts."
And she laughed a bit more and then cleared her throat.
"I've taken a liking to you, prince. "I've always been fond of the creatures of the wood and water and air. Tell me, would you like to be free of your obligations to the king?"
The prince thought for a moment. He had no desire to marry anyone. The princess was a fine woman, smart and beautiful. The agreements their marriage would finalize would benefit both the kingdoms. He'd marry someday, it was expected of him. It may as well be her.
But something nagged him. His dreams had gotten stronger. He'd awakened that very morning feeling an unusual dryness. His body felt soft to him. He'd had to stretch out his fingers and toes to make sure they still were separate.
He'd caught himself flicking his tongue at a passing insect before he was fully awake.
"I think I'll swim on it," he told her and jumped into the water fully clothed.
"That ought to do it," said the old woman as she turned and walked toward the forest.
The moment he hit the water the prince felt odd. His body seemed different, lighter, better.
His limbs changed in front of him. His head grew larger, his eyes got bigger. He felt more alive and at home in the water than he'd ever felt in the castle.
He dived to the bottom and crouched down in the mud.
He was the happiest he'd ever remembered being.
He swam to the surface and jumped out of the water.
Everything was bigger. He turned around to the pond and saw his reflection. Instead of a human prince he saw a large green bullfrog.
Someone hopped beside him.
It was another frog and she was smiling. "It's over. It's over. The enchantment's over. Oh, you've come back to me."
Everything came clear to him then. His memories, his life, it all flooded into his mind.
He was not a prince at all, at least not a human one.
He was a frog of the royal line and would be king of this pond one day.
The frog at his side was his own betrothed. When the full realization hit him he let loose a joyful ribbiting that echoed through all the kingdom, frog and human alike.
The two dived down into the water and were as happily from then on as any two frogs could be.
A Littlest Bunny Adventure
It had finally stopped snowing. His father was out scraping away the snow from the door and his mother was busily knitting some new ear protectors for her children when the Littlest Bunny woke from his afternoon nap.
He had a nap every afternoon because he was a young bunny and was always up early in the morning. Most of the time it was the Littlest Bunny who woke everyone else in the household when he sang his morning song to the sun:
Good Morning Mr. Bright and Cheery
I am happy you are hereYou make it light and warm and bright
And tickle me, tickle me, on my ears!
He sang this song early every morning as the sun came up because he was a very happy bunny.
He had been up early today, too, even though the sun got up later in the wintertime and the Littlest Bunny sometimes had to wait a very long time to sing his song.
So he had his nap and was ready to go out and play in the new snow when he woke up.
It was crisp and cold out under the mid-afternoon sky. The last few snow clouds were scurrying away to their next appointment as the Littlest Bunny stood outside on the freshly cleared path.
His father had swept away the snow all the way up to main pathway through Carrotvale and the Littlest Bunny decide he would go for a hop through the Village to see what was a happening.
Many of the residents were busy outside clearing away snow and several young rabbits were running and jumping into the big, fluffy piles of snow that were being made as the paths were swept.
“Wheeee.” He could hear them laugh and shout as they as they ran and he heard “Ooooomph!” as they landed in the snow.
He kept going, sniffing the fresh, cool air and looking around.
It had been snowing for several days and most everyone in Carrotvale had stayed inside.
As he turned a corner he saw an interesting sight head of him. This was new. He’d never seen this path before and it seemed to go to the top of a hill. Maybe he could see all of Carrotvale from the top, he thought, so he decided to climb to the top of the hill to see what he could see.
What he saw surprised him. The Littlest Bunny had only ever been to Carrotvale and Farmer Spudbutter’s garden. This was new and very exciting. From the top of the hill he could see even more hills and they seemed to go on and on and stretch to the end of the world where they met the sky.
He forgot all about Carrotvale. These hills and trees were much more exciting for the Littlest Bunny so he plunked down in the soft, cold snow and watched them.
Soon he began to wonder if there were any more bunnies out on any of the other hills looking at him.
“Wouldn’t it be fun,” he said to himself, “to meet another bunny from somewhere else.”
“Helloooooo,” he shouted with all his might toward the hills.
“Hellllllooooooo” he heard back after hardly more than a second.
It sounded just like another young bunny!
“Where are you?” he shouted. And the answer he got was the same as his question.
“I am over here,” he said.
“I am over here,” came the reply, which the young rabbit didn’t find all that helpful. But it didn’t matter. He had found someone new to talk to.
The sun was sinking very low behind the hills and the Littlest Bunny knew he’d better start for home
“Good-bye,” he shouted and “Good-bye” came back to him, but a bit fainter than before and the Littlest Bunny decided his new friend must have already started for home.
* * *
Every nice winter day the Littlest Bunny came back to the hilltop hoping to talk to his new friend. Every day his new friend was already waiting for him.
He had a good and faithful friend. He hadn’t told anyone about him yet, because for now he wanted his new friend all to himself.
His brothers and sisters wanted to know where the Littlest Bunny went every afternoon. One day his brother, the oldest in the family and in his third season of bunny lessons, followed him.
The Littlest Bunny went to the hill and started talking to his faraway friend. Soon he heard a noise behind him and turned around find his big brother two tree-lengths down the path. His ears pulled down over his face. He trying not to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” he asked just a little annoyed that his brother was there.
“You,” said the older rabbit. “You are talking to yourself.”
“No I am not! I am talking to my new friend over there.” And he stretched out a little paw and pointed to a tree-covered hill in the distance.
“That is your echo,” said his big brother. “We learned about them in bunny lessons. Sometime objects like hills and bare trees will bounce your voice back to you when the air is just right.”
But the Littlest Bunny didn’t believe him. “He’s my friend, not my echo.”
“Okay,” laughed his brother, “you can have him all to yourself. But it is nearly time for supper so you’d better come home with me.”
So the Littlest Bunny shouted “Good-bye” to the hills and so did his big brother and they got two “Good-byes” back as they made their way home for supper.
* * *
The cold returned and more snow came down. The path to the top of the hill was not cleared again that winter so the Littlest Bunny did not get a chance to go out and talk to his friend any more.
Finally one warm spring day the Littlest Bunny could see the path was open again. He went to the top of the hill and looked all around him.
It looked so different. The bare trees of winter were now covered with their new green suits, a small stream was flowing through the bottom of the valley between the hills. and some of the south-facing hills were smiling with red and yellow flowers.
It was a beautiful day in spring and the Littlest Bunny wondered if his winter friend was out enjoying the day, too.
“Hellooo,” he shouted, “how are you?”
He waited a moment or two, listening intently. He heard the chirrups and caws of some birds and a gentle breeze stirred through the new grass, but that was all.
He tried again, “Helllllloooo!”
Only the breeze and birds answered him.
“Oh,” he thought, “he must be busy playing. I’ll try again in the winter.”
And as he made his way down the hill he thought, “Maybe it was just my echo.”
But maybe it wasn’t.