Category Archives: Storytelling

Toucan (Two Can!)

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Tocan (Two Can!)

Toucan (Two Can!)

I’ve decided to call this piece “Yes Two Can.” She is looking over “… the cowboy, the main Leo the Lion in her life. The black and white cat is also fondly admiring what she sees. The ballerina leaps through the air while the Motorman stares. He has his arms out directing traffic. The spa like pool in the background has a door and wall that separates the scene from the outside world. On the right side of my main figure (me) I have a frog diving down after a fish and a frog sitting on a rock looking back into the past. A white horse is galloping into the future. There are two fabulous blue and yellow Macaws chatting and looking at the garden woman holding two tiny birds. The trees surround her and the snake is moving forward. Don’t ya just love the garden Woman? I find the figure lovely. On the upper left side is the bather who is toweling off as she also looks at the scene below.

As I put together the collage I thought about the differences between the woman and the cowboy. Her with the emerald and diamond earrings and him with leather work gloves and chaps. Her in the spa, him out doors. Behind him is a black and gray floor. The bright yellow daisy is at the center of the collage. The flower is fully open its petals flung back its center open to the sun.

When I found the image of the Toucan I had to get him in the collage somewhere. He is sitting on the lion’s neck. The yellow petals around him. I heard myself say … Yes! Two can.” As I look around the collage piece I see several two’s … two cats, two Macaws, two frogs, two men, even two thistles. Life is better with two.  I enjoyed creating this collage. It was fun, joyful and informative. I’d be interested in feedback especially if there is anything that jumps out that I missed.

I plan to approach the collage work spontaneously, without a preconceived idea. Once the piece is finished I’d like to ask “What has this collage got to tell me that I don’t already know?” If I asked the question “Can two different personalities be happy together … The collage is saying Yes they can, as shown in the combination of the Toucan and Lion.

Out of the 8 images Chris sent me I used 5 and sent back three. 1 image I cut up and used only parts.  I enlarged a few images and shrink some of the others. My first “Oh  yes image was the yellow daisy. I also loved the frogs and the snake. In the Chinese zodiac I was born in the year of the snake. I also loved the thistle on the boarder of the card which I included. I like the idea of being spontaneous and intuitive. Spontaneity is a perfect word to work with in this new challenge.

For those folks that are interested in making their own Art Journal … There is a You Tube video created by Teesha Moore. It is a wonderful video because Teesha makes it look simple. Her instructions are clear and easy to follow .I like that she also shows you how she used her own art Journals. Go to Youtube and type in …Teesha Moore’s Amazing 16 page Journal part 1 of 2.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1z6qmXGRrsE

“Driving into the Moon”

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Driving Into the Moon

Driving Into the Moon

 

The Night Owl and Driving into the Moon

I am a card-carrying member of the Night Owl Club… I have been my whole life. Even as a child, I was never one to fall asleep easily or get up early. Getting to school on time was always a challenge. Recently a friend of mine said, “I’m a heavy sleeper and it’s impossible for me to wake up and jump to it.” I don’t know if I’m a heavy sleeper but I know I do not wake up and jump to it.

My collage, The Night Owl, shows the big-eyed owl in flight. The moon, the trees and the night sky with thousands and thousands of stars are the owl’s domain. The Owl has binocular vision and can easily estimate the depth of field. His ears are not symmetrical. One ear is lower than the other. This makes it possible for the owl to locate its prey. Their night vision is excellent. Their wings have feathers on the edge that make it very difficult for their prey to hear them coming.

My second collage,” Driving into the Moon”, is about an experience I had a few years back. I was driving across a bridge at night heading east towards the hills. The lights on the bridge were yellow/orange. There were very few cars. The moon was huge. It was huge and orange and it sat at the end of the roadway. As I traveled along, rather alone, encased in an orange cocoon of light, the blackness of the bay and of the darkness of the night carried me into another world. I was driving into the moon. It was the strangest feeling, otherworldly, very cosmic. I kept looking down at my hands on the steering wheel reminding myself that I wasn’t dreaming. My senses told me it wouldn’t be long before I would be off the bridge and I wondered if the Moon would move and let me pass.

I haven’t forgotten those moments of confusion. That enormous orange moon, the night sky, the stars and the sounds in the darkness are both magical and scary. It is a time when the imagination can paint all kinds of pictures in our head. It was the fodder of science fiction stories.

Ancient peoples around the world had many different stories about the moon. Babylonians gave the Moon precedence over the Sun. Oriental nations in general worshipped the Moon before the Sun. In central Asia, it was said the moon is the Goddess’s Mirror reflecting everything in the world. The Sioux Indians called the Moon
“The old woman who never dies.” The Iroquois people called her “The Eternal One.”
The Moon is the “Moon Goddess “who created time, with all its cycles of growth, decline and destruction, which is why ancient calendars were based on phases of the moon…

The Vedas say all souls return to the moon after death, to be devoured by the maternal spirits. Pythagorean sects viewed the Moon as the home of the dead, a gate (yoni) through which souls passed on the way to the paradise-fields of the stars. Greeks often located the Elysian Fields, home of the blessed dead in the moon. In advanced cultures the themes of the moon as the land of the dead or the regenerating receptacle of souls … between reincarnations, it sheltered both the dead and the unborn, which were one and the same. The symbol of the moon is the Crescent shape. The ancient Gaul and the modern day French make moon-cakes … a crescent shaped pastry they call, Croissants. The crescent moon worn by Diana is said to be the ark or vessel of fertility or the container of the Germ of Life. As the Moon governs the sea’s tides so she is supposed to govern the tides of life and death.

The Mermaid’s Tail

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The Mermaid's Tail

There was once a mermaid named Verdi, who longed to fly. When waves roiled and bubbled on the surface and the depths turned murky and opaque she longed for sun. On clear days the limpid emerald and turquoise seas drove her mad with their banality. She longed to swoop through a gamut of blues whose cerulean hues held no hint of green. Whenever she could, she rose to the surface and sent her woes spiraling heavenward in a high-pitched aria of sadness and despair.

Sometimes, when huge weather systems marched across the endless expanse of ocean, strong winds preceded them, heralding change with a phalanx of whirlwinds each bearing an armful of spoils torn from fertile lands beyond the horizon. Occasionally, their booty came as petals stripped from the flower pots and gardens of fisher women. Verdi gathered them carefully, transfixed by the faint hint of fragrance still clinging to each scrap of shimmering color.

In the short time before they turned to slime, she laid the petals out on the back of a large sea turtle, summoned from the depths to act as her table.  Arranging and rearranging them, Verdi tried her best to imagine their original configuration. But, she never could and then the sad, heart-breaking song would rise from the sea again, distressing every living thing above and below the surface.

One day an owl happened to be passing while Verdi was mixing and matching the flower petals. As he slowed his flight to see what she was up to, the tip of his wing crossed her peripheral vision. Without knowing what he was, before her head had swung around to follow his flight, she ensnared him in a web of golden trills. The beautiful notes, tough as spider silk bound his wings together and he tumbled out of the air. SPLAT!  Down, down down he fell, onto the turtle’s back.

The owl shook himself and stood up. His huge yellow eyes raked the mermaid’s sullen face and weedy locks.

“Caught me fair and square,” he muttered. “Well! You may have the requisite three wishes. They come with the standard warning and no guarantees. Be careful what you wish for.”

“I want to fly.”

“Easy enough; hop on. I’ll take you for a spin myself.”

“No! I want to do it myself.”

‘You haven’t any wings,” observed the owl craftily.

“Well then I wish for wings!”

“You wish for wings and the ability to use them in flight. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s two,” screeched the owl, but the mermaid did not care.”

Her wings stuck out on either side of her body, just below her arms. She gave them a lazy flap and felt the air beneath her catch and take hold lifting and carrying as if she were a piece of thistledown. The view was all she hoped it would be. There on the very tip of the horizon she caught the glint of a palm leave rustling in the breeze. The owl flew alongside her. Normally he wouldn’t bother with a wisher, except for the actual granting, but something about Verdi made him curious to see what would happen next.

Land was all she had hoped for – the sights, the sounds, the smells and textures. How different everything looked when it was dry! Not quite as rich and shiny as when wet, but the variety more than made up for it. She flew and flew, soaring, diving, gliding and indulging in acrobatics until suddenly, far from the sea, hunger pangs sent tremors through her new wings and she realized how tired she was.

“How do I land?” she demanded.

“Is it your wish to land?” asked the owl casually?

Ye … er no, not just yet. Uh, how do you land?”

“On my feet,” smirked the owl.

The mermaid flapped her tail. They were flying over a thick patch of forest.

“What if I asked for legs? But then what would would I  eat? How long  till I learn to walk?”

Her stomach rumbled, interrupting the string of increasingly panic-stricken thoughts.

“I wish I had…” She clamped her teeth down hard on the tip of her little green tongue and winced.

Your wish is my command,” he murmured sweetly.

Her purple eyes stare fiercely into his yellow ones.  They refused to blink

“Take me home,” she ordered wearily.

In the blink of an eye, she was floating, once again, beside the patient sea turtle. The owl had disappeared, but the wings still hung by her sides so water-logged she was never again able to launch up into the sky, no matter how she practiced.  Nevertheless, Verdi loved her wings; liked the distinction they bestowed.  To her delight she discovered they worked well underwater, propelling her forward more swiftly than she’d ever swum.  She soon became a hunter and explorer of renown, traveling all the seven seas and finding wonders in their depths to equal anything on land.  Occasionally, she thought of the owl and sent a song winging his way.  But nothing ever came of it because, from that day forth, he steered clear of ladies with tails.

 Christine Irving, March 2014

And NOW for something different!

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And NOW for something different!

The two of us are pleased that we’ve stuck with our blog for a year but we are also very excited about starting this next year with a fresh new focus. We decided to continue with Myths, folktales, stories, poems and tall-tails but to broaden our approach. Instead of picking the tale/story first we are going to take an element, category or aspect of story and approach the creative work in an open-ended way. It is my hope this will expand the imagery to include some surprises and to connect to myths, stories and folk tales in a new way.

February is going to be about BIRDS. We are going to work with the idea of birds. Birds, all types of birds: sea birds, raptors, ducks, forest birds, open field birds, night birds, water fowl, big birds, tiny birds, birds as spirit, their feathers, beaks, feet, eggs, and nests, birds as totems, bird wings, bird flight, soaring, gliding, and flightless birds, diving birds, bird plumage, song birds, bird symbols, and their predators. We will be considering all of it.

Another change is that we are going to take turns posting. Each week one of us will be responsible for the blog post and art piece, (a mixed-media and/or collage) plus an essay, poem or story. Of course, we can always post more often but for sure every other week. We plan to give this format a 3 month trial and then decide to continue with it or make more adjustments.

The idea of this blog is to continue our collaboration, which we both love, to create an art piece on a regular basis, and to focus on the study and application of symbols, story, story telling and creative writing. We welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you’d like to play along with us let us know.

“What’s His Name?”

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Scan_Pic0016Rumplestiltskin (revised)

“What’s His Name?”

Once upon a time there was an attractive young woman who was an excellent spinner. She worked very hard at spinning and her yarns were known across the kingdom. A Goblin had noticed her and imagined that one day he would have her first born child as his very own. (This is the way goblins think.) The idea that he would father a child with the beautiful girl was highly unlikely since the imp was quite ugly, and the young woman would never agree to such a thing. He was going to have to rely on trickery. He spent most of the next 3 afternoons considering ways he could make his day-dream come true. He loved the idea of having a child.  Someone he could teach all his acquired skills plus the ways of magic. He became obsessed with the idea.

Finally, he could stand it no longer, he had a plan and he set about manifesting what he wanted. First he made an appointment to see the King. The King found the Goblin so repulsive he made the imp stand facing the wall so that he did not have to look into his bitty eyes, nor consider his bulbous nose. The Goblin went on and on about this young woman who could spin yarn. He told the King that she could spin straw into gold. “Besides that,” the goblin said, excitedly, “she is quite beautiful.” The King was thankful for the information; he did not want to anger the Goblin so he gave him a spot of tea, a pot pie and a coin of silver and sent him on his way.

Next the goblin went to the Miller, the young maiden’s father and whispered in his ear. “Miller, How would you like to be appointed the “King’s Miller”! The Miller’s eyes brightened. “I know a way that you can impress the King and get the appointment to Master Miller. Would you like me to tell you how? “

The Miller invited the Goblin into his office and offered him refreshment. “Yes,” said the Miller. “Tell me what I’d need to do.”

The Goblin began. “Dress your daughter in her finest. Take her and her spinning wheel along with several bags of straw to the castle and get an audience with the King. Tell the King that your daughter has come to show him how she spins straw into gold.”

The Miller could hardly believe his ears. “What is that you say?” The Goblin repeated himself, speaking slowly and clearly. “But, Sir,” the Miller said. “My daughter is a wonderful spinner, but she can not spin straw into GOLD.”

“The King doesn’t know that,” the Goblin said, smiling. “It is my plan to trick the King. I plan to come along, disguised of course. I’m going to use my magic to create the illusion that she is actually spinning straw into gold. The King will be so impressed he will ask your daughter to marry him. She will become the Queen.”

“I don’t understand,” said the Miller. “Why are you doing this magic?”
“I want your daughter’s first born child.”
“Heavens NO! That’s a terrible idea,” said the Miller.
“Wait hear me out,” said the imp. “Once your daughter becomes Queen, she can demand the King make you his Royal Miller and require all the farmers in the kingdom to have their grain milled here at your place. Don’t you see, you will become rich.  Your daughter will become Queen, she will have lots more children. She will hardly miss the first born. If you will help me, I shall do all the rest. What say you about this idea.”

After much thought the Miller agreed. So he went to the King and bragged that his daughter could spin straw into gold. “Well” said the King. “Bring her here. I  want to see this phenomenon.”

The next day the Miller dragged his daughter into the Kings chambers set her on her stool and put her spinning wheel in front of her. The Miller’s helper, who was the goblin in disguise,  brought in several bags of straw and set them next to the bewildered daughter.
“Now,” said the Miller, “My daughter will spin this straw into GOLD.”

“What are you talking about,” said the daughter. “Straw into Gold? Are you crazy? Straw can not be spun into gold.”

The Miller lend over and whispered to his daughter. “Try it out! This spinning wheel has been turned into magic. I bought it special for you. Take a handful of straw and start spinning. Do it, you will see.” The daughter did as her father asked. She grabbed a handful of straw and twisted it around the spindle, whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold. The King sent for more straw. All through the day and night, handful after handful of straw was turned into gold. The King was astonished. The daughter was amazed. Even the Miller was delighted. The Goblin, in his helper’s cloak, began to hum softly. The King called for his men. When they arrived he had the Miller, the Daughter, and the Miller’s helper locked up in another room.

“Bring me the Royal Spinner,” the king yelled. When the old woman arrived she looked at the spinning wheel and then at the King. “You called,” she asked.

“See that, that spinning wheel,” he said. “It spins straw into gold.” The old woman looked at the King as if he was crazy. “Impossible,” she said.
“Here is a bag of straw. I want you to spin it into gold.” The Old woman sat down at the wheel and tried to spin the straw. No matter how hard she tried she could not spin straw, let alone spin it into gold. The king called for another woman and ordered her to spin the straw into gold. She too failed. Then he called another woman, and then another. When the last of the women gave it a try and failed he sent for the Miller’s daughter. He ordered her to spin straw into gold. “Whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold.”
As the King watched the Miller’s daughter spinning he saw that she was in fact quite beautiful. He loved all the gold she was spinning and he realized he loved her too. So he got down on one knee and asked the Miller’s daughter to marry him and she agreed. She had always wanted to be a Queen. Plus, the King wasn’t all that bad to look at.  It wasn’t long after the marriage that the King made the Miller the official Royal Miller and all the farmers had him grind their grain.  Everyone was very happy. Especially the Goblin. His idea was working.  About 10 months later the new Queen gave birth to a darling little Prince.

The Prince was a healthy, happy baby and one day when the Prince was exactly 3 months old, the Goblin appeared before the Miller. “Well now Miller,” said the imp. “I have come for your daughter’s baby.” The Miller had forgotten about the agreement. “How in the world am I going to get my daughter and the King to give you their little Prince?”

“You will think of some way. Besides I kept my part of the bargain. Now it is time for you to keep your part,“ said the Goblin. “I shall return in 3 days to collect MY little Prince. And I warn you, he had better be here waiting.“ The Miller got tears in his eyes. I can’t do it. That dear little prince belongs with his mother. Taking him away would break my daughter’s heart Take pity please.” He fell down on his knees and begged the goblin to reconsider.  He offered to give the Goblin all of the money and treasures he had received since becoming the Royal Miller. “No” said the imp. “A deal is a deal!”

The Miller was depressed. He didn’t know what to do.  That evening he went to the King and Queen. He told them about the terrible agreement he had made with the Goblin and how the Goblin had played a trick on all of them by using magic to spin straw into gold. The King was outraged. He wanted to cut off the Miller’s head but the Queen  took pity on her father. And after a sleepless night, the three of them came up with a trick of their own. Well, they didn’t exactly come up with the idea by themselves; it was the Royal Sorcerer, Merlin who gave them the answer. Merlin said, “If you can figure out the Goblin’s true name he will have to leave the kingdom because when  his real name is spoken out loud he will lose all his power.  Basically we will neutralize him. The trick will be to figure out his true name. The King beseeched his people to help him find out the True Name of the Goblin.

On the third day at noon the Goblin was due to come and collect the little Prince. At quarter of 12 the Queen was crying for they had not figured out the Goblin’s true name. Into the King’s chambers ran the official Games Keeper “Your Royal Highness,” he said trying to catch his breath. “I think I know the Goblin’s true name. “
“Out with it. Tell us the name.” said the Queen. “Hurry! Please!”
“I was out in the woods this morning and I heard the squirrels barking. I heard the birds, especially the blue jays squawking, and I heard the Foxes crying.  What was all the ruckus about, I wondered. I crept through the bushes and saw an ugly little man, the goblin I think, dancing around a fire.  He was singing and clapping his hands. I continued to hide and I listened to him and what he was saying… “Today I bake, tomorrow I brew, next day, it’s the young child that’s mine just the same as Rumplestiltskin is my name. “

As the Royal clock struck noon, the large chamber door swung open and in strolled the manikin. “So,” where is he”, the Goblin shouted, looking around the room. “Where is MY little Prince” The King, and the Miller stood with their arms folded over their chest. A few feet behind them the Queen was sitting and holding a bundle of blankets. The little Prince was staring at the ugly goblin.

“Not so fast,” said the King.
“Listen here,” said the Goblin. “I don’t want any trouble.” he smiled, his sharp green teeth showing. “If you don’t cooperate I will be forced to use my magic to take the Child in the most unpleasant way.”

“We don’t think so. Your power is no good around here, Rumplestiltskin,” they shouted. Then everyone in the room yelled over and over again. ‘RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN!”
The goblin got so angry he whirled around, whirl, whirl, whirl, stomped his right foot so hard that it sank into the earth. Then he pulled at his left leg with both arms and split himself in two. That was it. He was never seen again and never again was straw spin into gold.

The King, the Queen, the Miller and the little Prince lived happily ever after. The end.

How Twitch This Tale?

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Rumplestiltskin2

Earlier I mentioned that I thought poor Rumpelstiltskin got a raw deal, but of course there are other ways to look at the story.  Change perspective and the rather dim-witted, gullible and mendacious maiden becomes a clever and enterprising young woman who must use subterfuge and beguilement to protect herself from the machinations of greedy and lascivious men.

What was the Miller’s motive in making such an extravagant claim in the King’s hearing?  In the pre-industrial age millers were incredibly important entrepreneurs.  Grain was of no use to anyone until it had been ground into flour.  Local agricultural communities depended on their mills to provide the means to sell a cash crop.  The millers not only ground the grain they helped the farmers sell it.  They were canny sophisticated men, well versed in local politics and unlikely to blab recklessly in the presence of their betters.  So why did the Miller make this boast.  Did he want to get rid of his daughter?  If so why?  Was she already pregnant?  Could the baby have been his?

On the other hand, maybe his daughter was already pregnant with Rumplestiltskin’s child.  The story says nothing of his age or looks, just that he was short.  Perhaps the maiden devised this plan to buy time, find a husband and get rid of a fascinating but creepy suitor.

The story seems to hinge on the value of the newborn child.  Maybe it’s a story about how crazy the longing for a child can make a person and what lengths someone will go to in order to fulfill that longing.

The more I studied this story, the sadder everyone seemed.  The king and the maiden in my collage are both unhappy looking.  Rumple is merely manic.  The message this story carries may be simply what it seems – riches cannot buy happiness.

I gave this story a green background because the forest plays such a large part – at least in my imagination.  The woods are Rumplestiltskin’s stomping grounds.  His magic seems to derive from his relationship to the woodlands.  It is the one place he feels safe enough to utter his true name.

Names are very important in magic.  They hold a person’s personal power.  If the true name of an enemy can be discovered, then he can be forced to do your bidding.  If the true name of a plant or mineral is known than you can use and manipulate it for your own ends. Remember, in the Genesis creation story Adam was granted the right to name each animal and thus define it.  In other words, he was given dominion over the animals.

The sunlit grain fields, the clearing in which the mill stands and the walled extravagance of the castle all speak of land that has been tamed.  The forest is a wild place and maybe Rumpelstiltskin wants only to protect the legacy of wildness for his child, or by extension, all children.  The story may well be a protest against the groundswell of technology presaged by the invention of watermill and spinning wheel.

Different meaning, different issues, different interpretations make these tales timeless.  We see once again that the personal is political and vice-versa.   Every time we revisit the tales, the wheel spins again and straw is spun into gold.

 

Rumpelstiltskin

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This is actually a collage I made years ago. It was the last of a series of fairy tale collages I created last century.  I was never very happy with it.  I think because this piece is a rather traditional overview of the tale and I’ve always felt that in this story, justice wasn’t really served.  It seemed to me Rumpelstiltskin had been cheated.  As I recently discovered, I’m not the only one who felt this way.  Sara Maitland in her beautiful book From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Fairy Tales rewrites Rumple’s story in a much more sympathetic vein.

As you might have guessed, the strange little woodland creature was my favorite character.  I loved the combination of grotesquerie and wisdom, foolishness and wicked pragmatism; besides, like me, Rumple had a very strong innate sense of Justice.  Like me he was an inveterate outsider.

I liked that he lived in the woods and danced wildly around the fire at night.  Because of the time and places I grew up in, I didn’t do any moonlight prancing until my early forties.  it turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated.  I despised the greedy king and father. The maiden seemed rather dim at best, not to mention untrustworthy.  Of course, at the time I hadn’t any children of my own and had not an inkling of the lengths a mother would go to keep her child.  Still, in spite of my intervening years and experience I still prefer Rumpelstiltskin and my inner child would have much preferred to grow up in the forest.

One day, while puzzling about what it might mean to spin straw into gold, I suddenly realized that straw could stand for all the mistakes and unpleasantness in my past, while the gold stood for all the meaning, insight and teaching, which had grown out of those events.  With this same end in mind, we have unraveled fairy tales over the past twelve months, harvesting innumerable golden threads that connect our personal lives to the greater history and heritage of humankind.  Thus, Rumpelstiltskin seems a fitting conclusion to our year of twitching our tales and spinning the resultant fallout into gold.

“Why three seasons? What happened to fall?”

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Hekate

In very early times, around the Mediterranean where Western cultures first flourished, humankind thought that their food sources depended solely on the Earth and people divided the year into two seasons only – spring and autumn, the flowering and the fruit.  Later on, when the phases of the Moon became a way of measuring the seasons and determining times to plant, another season, winter, was added.  Since my story was set in ancient days – “once upon a time, long ago and far away” – I chose to have three seasons and three sisters who echo the ancient triple goddesses like Brigit and Hecate.

I suppose I should have called them Spring, Fall and Winter, but fairy tales come from an oral tradition.  Part of the art of telling those stories is to change the language and emphasis to fit the times and audiences. Summer contrasts more with spring and winter in our culture, than does autumn, which seems a more ambiguous and elusive season. So I chose summer, winter and spring as my seasons and my sisters.

That’s the One!

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That's the One!

“THAT’S THE ONE!”

This is the story of the Little Prince’s first Christmas Tree.

Once upon a time, when the Young Prince was a tiny wee child his mother and father, Prince John and Princess Margaret, decided that they would go out and select his very first Christmas tree. Usually the trees that were cut and brought into the castle for the Winter Celebrations were selected by the King and Queen’s gamekeeper, but this year, this special year, the Prince and Princess decided to do the selecting themselves. They arranged for the red sleigh and a pair of dabble grey horses, Molly and Pie, readied.

The gamekeeper and the groom cleaned and polished the sleigh and groomed the horses. The Prince and Princess and the little Prince were dressed in their warmest winter clothes. They hurried out to the stable and climbed into the sleigh. The gamekeeper placed a huge white bear skin over their laps. “You have a fine clear winter day to go Christmas Tree cutting,” the gamekeeper said. “The best of luck to you. “ He gave Molly a slap on the rump. Prince John snapped the reins and Molly and Pie stepped forward. Soon the sleigh was moving smoothly over the snow, the bells on the horses jingled as they rode along. The sun was bright and the forest was near. Across the meadow, the royal family rode leaving behind a sleigh trail. The Prince knew just were he needed to go. He had talked to the gamekeeper early that morning. It was cold and crisp and everything was blanketed with snow from the snowfall of the night before. The forest trees had snow patches on their limbs. The little Prince was sound to sleep in his mother’s arms.

The Prince and the Princess commented on the beauty all around them. It wasn’t long after they had moved beyond the castle gates that they came to a huge Black Oak. “Grandfather Oak has lost all his leaves,” the Princess said. “He looks so different.” The large tree was the site of many a summer picnic. Next, they could see the small like. It was frozen over. Soon they would be entering the Pine Grove. The Prince knew the grove and he thought it a fine place to find the perfect Children’s Winter Tree.

The Princess had asked her maids to bring down the decorations from the storage room. “Put the one marked Children’s Tree in the Nursery. “ It contained all the special ornaments for the Little 1’s first tree. She had talked with the Cook earlier and knew that the kitchen staff was busy making cookies and dainties for the tree. She was thinking about the special decorations that were saved from her special first Winter’s tree. They were in the trunk with the Prince’s special trinkets from his first winter celebration. She remembered that on her first tree there was a jeweled star that her mother always placed on the very top. There were also shiny red balls that sparkled in the fire light. She was hoping that they could find a pine tree that was similar to the one she had as a child. She could picture the tree in her mind’s eye.

A woodsman’s axe was on the floor of the sleigh along with rope to tie the tree down. When they came to the grove of pines Prince John slowed the horses down. “Keep a look out for the tree you want,” he said. “Over there,” she said. The sleigh moved over near where she had pointed. The Prince got out, took the axe from the sleigh and headed to the small tree. “Stop,” said the Princess, “Now that I can see it up close, I think it is too small. “ The Prince got back into the sleigh and Molly and Pie walked on. The Princess turned her head this way and that. She considered all the trees she could see. “Let’s go over there,” she said, pointing down hill… The Prince turned the sleigh and headed the horses in that direction.  “What about that tree,” the Prince said. “I like that one,” he started to get out of the sleigh. “No, that won’t do,” the Princess replied. “It’s lopsided.” The Prince pointed at another tree. The Princess shook her head no. The Prince moved the sleigh again to a new location in the grove. “Do you see anything promising over here, my darling?” The Princess looked around. She frowned and shook her head no. The Prince snapped the reins and Molly and Pie pulled the sled farther and farther into the forest.  “Which one of these beauties shall we pick?” the Prince asked, stopping before a cluster of trees. The Princess handed the Little Prince to her husband and got out of the sleigh. She carefully inspected several trees. Came back to the sleigh and stated none of them would do. The Prince looked down at the little Prince and said, “My goodness, your mother is after an extraordinary tree.  It will have to be quite special,” the Prince said, handing the bundled child back to the Princess… Again, Prince John moved the sleigh. “There! Over there!” said the Princess. “That’s the One! That’s the perfect tree.”
The Prince got out of the sleigh, got the rope and axe and headed towards the tree. “Which one is it now?” The Princess was so excited she carefully laid the Little Prince down on the Bear Skin, making sure he was well covered and got out of the sleigh. “This one,” she said, pointing at the mid-size Pine Tree…

The Prince chopped down the tree and the two of them dragged it back towards the sleigh. The first snowflake softly landed on the Princess’s nose. “Oh, no,” she said. “We’d better hurry. It’s starting to snow.”  The two of them had been so interested in finding the Little Prince’s tree that they fail to notice that the sky had darkened and the weather had completely changed. The snowflakes fluttered down… Soon the snow fell like rain and they could hardly see the horses or the sleigh. The Prince and the Princess ran dragging the tree behind them. “The Little Prince,” Princess Margaret yelled, letting go of the tree and running for the sleigh. The horses were uneasy. Molly and Pie were straining at their harness and the red sleigh was being jerked this way and that.

The Wee little Prince with his soft rabbit skin cap was snuggled in his blankets. The Princess scooped him up and climbed back into the sleigh covering them with the bearskin. “Hurry,” she said, as the Prince tied the tree to the rails. The Prince called out to the horses, snapping the reins, “Take us home, Molly. You know the way Pie.” The horses pulled and nothing happened. The Prince stood up and worked the reins again. “Let’s go,” he called… Finally, the sleigh jerked forward. The snow was really coming down. “It’s a good thing we aren’t too far from the Castle,” said the Prince… The Princess and the Prince could hardly see the horse’s rumps the snow was coming down so hard. “I can’t tell which way to go, “the Prince said. “I’m hoping Molly and Pie know the way home. “The Princess held the baby close. “How is the Little Prince doing?” asked the Prince. “He seems fine,” said the Princess. She could see her breath as she spoke. Her lips were so cold it was hard to form her words. “I’m amazed that he is still asleep.  Look at his pink cheeks.” The Prince looked over and he could see the Little Prince’s rosy nose…
Snowflakes coated the Prince’s hat and beard. “Can you make the horses go any faster,” she asked. The Prince shouted, “Come on Molly, Come on Pie. Step it up.” The horses got into a rhythm just short of running and the sleigh sailed along. The Prince yelled, “We just passed the Old Grandfather Oak.” The Princess nodded her head.  We are almost home, she thought. “It’s a good thing the horses know the way because I can’t see very far. “. The ride was jerky and the sleigh bumped along but they were making good progress. The Prince knew that they needed to slow it down a bit or the sleigh could over turn. He talked sweetly to the horses reassuring them that they were doing a fine job. The red sleigh glided over the fields and through the Castle gate, across the meadow and into the courtyard. The gamekeeper was there waiting for them. “Hurry,” he said. “Get inside. I will take care of the horses, sleigh and the tree.” The Prince helped the Princess out of the sleigh. She had wrapped the little Prince inside her coat. They entered the castle and moved quickly to the fire burning in the huge fireplace.

“That was a close call,” the Princess said. “I’m so relieved to be inside were it is safe and warm.”
“How is the Little Prince?” Prince John said.
The Princess opened her coat, and then unwrapped the babe. His eyes opened, his little face puckered up and he let out a cry. “Look! We’ve disturbed him.“ The Prince and Princess looked at each other and laughed. “Now you cry, little one. You missed all the excitement,” the Prince said. “He is hungry,” the Princess said, leaving for the nursery with one of the Maids.

That evening the gamekeeper brought the Christmas tree up stairs. It was ready to be decorated. The trunk had been bought from the storeroom and sat open. Everything was made ready. The Princess came into the nursery and spoke to the gamekeeper. The Maids set to decorating the tree.  The tree was lovely. The cook brought up all the cookies and the dainties and they were tied on the tree.

The next morning the Prince, the Princess and the Little Prince came into the Nursery. The Little Prince sat up and clapped his hands. His eyes twinkled. The Princess got tears in her eyes. “It is perfect. This tree looks just like my tree when I had my first winter celebration. Later in the afternoon all the children around the castle would come to the nursery and sing songs. Then they would raid the tree and eat all the wonderful things that the cook and her staff had prepared.

The Prince smiled and handed the Princess a gift all wrapped in silk cloth with a wonderful green ribbon tied into a bow. “This is for you, my darling,” he said. The Princess opened the gift. It was a carved wooden red sleigh with two dappled gray horses that look a lot like Molly and Pie. The Princess kissed the Prince and put the carving near the top of the tree just under the sparkling jeweled star. “This is wonderful,” she said, giving the little Prince a kiss on his cheek. “When he gets older I will tell him the story of Molly and Pie and how they saved us and the perfect Christmas Tree.” The Prince put his arms around his little family and remember the day before when all depended on his dappled gray horses. He was grateful to Molly and Pie. Their Christmas Tree cutting could have come out so differently. “I told the gamekeeper to give the horses some extra oats,” the Prince said. “Yes,” said the Princess. “They deserve it.” The two loving parents looked at their son and at the Children’s Christmas Tree. The room was all decked out in evergreens.. The fire in the fireplace made the room warm and when they looked out the window they could see that the snow was still falling.

Kwan Yin and the Fox

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Kwan Yin and the Fox

One foggy night, long long ago, Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, was passing through the narrow streets of a small rural town on the banks of the river Mu. Smoke from cooking fires combined with the damp cold air to produce fevers and loud hacking coughs that shook the thin paper walls of the houses and caused the entire population to toss and turn in fretful sleep.  Kwan Yin moved tirelessly from house to house laying cool fingers on hot foreheads, dripping her sweet balm onto the parched lips of sick children.  With so much human misery voicing discomfort and fear it was astonishing that her ears picked up the faint whine of a distressed animal.

It was coming from beneath an old overturned rowboat on the banks of the river.  A bent oarlock kept one side barely raised above the mud, while the other lay half-buried in muck.  Bending down to peer beneath the boat, Kwan Yin spied two emerald green eyes glowering from a far corner.  The smell of blood and urine and the sharp musk of fox told her all she needed to know.  The animal had become trapped, who knows how many days ago; faced with starvation, unable to extricate itself, it had begun to gnaw at its own paw in a last desperate attempt at freedom.

“Hush,” she hummed. “Hush, now.  Lie very still.”

Grasping the edge of the splintering wooden boat, the goddess heaved with all her strength, but he boat refused to budge.  Dropping to her knees, she dug a small hole in the dirt.  Placing her lips close to the ground she called softly, “Izanami, Sister Earth, can you hear me?”

The ground trembled beneath her knees.

“Please, dear sister. Grant your unworthy little sister this one small favor.  You hold a rowboat, old and crumbling, painted blue, half-buried beside the River Mu.  It holds one of your living creatures captive.  I beg you to release the fox into my care.”

The sound of tumbling rocks grinding against each other rose out of the hole.  Kwan Yin listened patiently to the familiar grumble.  She knew the lecture by heart – “Stop interfering, taking every disaster to heart, attempting to change the natural course of things …”Finally, the lengthy tirade ground to a stop.  The hole snapped shut as the river bank gave a convulsive twitch and flipped the row boat up in the air.  It landed with a splash, half in and half out of the water, drenching Kwan Yin’s white kimono.

She shook out her wet robes and tore a strip off the bottom of her underskirt.  The fox bared its teeth as her hand approached the mangled paw, but the fight went out of him at her touch.  His heavy sigh, sounded like a sob, like giving up, and for a moment she thought him expired.  Then his pink tongue, rough as a cat’s, licked feebly, twice across her fingers.

At that moment lights appeared at the end of the cobbled lane.  Gongs sounded, men shouted, and cymbals clanged.  A shaman’s voice rose above the crowd, exhorting the angry mob to search out the fox spirit who had brought sickness to their village.  Scooping the fox up in her arms, Kwan Yin stepped quickly into the rowboat.  The sudden redistribution of weight dislodged the boat from its loose mooring.  A moment later a strong current seized them in its grip and bore them away.

Muffled in darkness with nothing to see or do, the unlikely companions soon fell fast asleep.  They awoke in the midst of a snow-covered forest.  The boat drifted along more slowly now, closer to the banks.  Once or twice, Kwan Yin managed to snatch a branch of frozen berries from an overhanging bush.  She fed them one by one to the fox along with mouthfuls of snow, melted in her cupped palms.

The fog had dissipated and though the days remained overcast, at night the skies cleared to reveal a strange star burning large, low and bright on the western horizon.  The beautiful compelling light seemed to be guiding them. The two companions took to sleeping during the day and sitting awake at night to sing and yelp at the beautiful sight.

As the fox recovered, his red fur began to shine and his nose gleamed shiny and black. The green eyes sparkled with mischief and his scraggly tail fluffed out into a glorious bush.  One day he spoke.  “Tonight is the longest night,” he said conversationally,

Kwan Yin glanced at him, “You needed have bothered pretending not to talk.  I can read minds and I speak the tongue of every sentient creature.”

The fox looked crestfallen for a second.  “I knew there was something funny about you – you never eat or drink.”

“What do you mean – the longest night?”

“You mean you don’t know everything?”

She shook her head.

“It means the year is changing.  Winter is coming, but at the same time the light returns, the days get longer.  Tonight is a magical time of transition. Anything could happen.  Perhaps, our journey will finally come to an end”

No sooner where the words out of the fox’s mouth when the boat bumped into the bank and stuck fast in a tangle of roots.

“It’s almost midnight, “whispered the fox.

“Somewhere, a baby’s being born, a radiant child, a special child.  I can sense the mother’s labor pains and feel her joy,” replied Kwan Yin.

Above them the star flared.  It shone on the snow shrouded trees where one bare branch burst into flower.

“Time to go,” said the fox.  He jumped into Kwan Yin’s arms, licked her face and jumped.  The snow flew up in flurries, sparkling in the moonlight.  She blinked and he was gone.