When I found out there was a week dedicated to storytelling, I got a bit excited. I would write a legend about the Forest Service. It would be fun. So I sat down to THINK about writing a story. Hmmmm what would I write about? First I should probably pay bills, make something to eat, ohhh does the bathroom need to be cleaned?
I am fortunate enough to know someone who does write stories. I have been graced with one written just for me and it is one of the best gifts I have ever been given. I called her up and babbled some excited nonsense about her writing a story for about a Forest Service legend and she was very calm and intrigued but not what I would call "over the moon" about the idea. At least I didn't think she was... I was wrong. I told her I needed it in March. It was January. I had it the next day.
So here, is a gift to all of you who love and use public lands. A fable, a folktale, a story about the Forest Service written by a person who has been part of the Forest Service for 17 years and knows its joys and foibles. She retires at the end of this month and I like to think of this story as part of the legacy she leaves with all of us who remain. Thank you Teresa.
A Forest Fairy Tale
by Teresa Haugh
In the deepest part of the forest, a wood nymph stepped out onto a rock in the middle of a creek, scarcely noticing the bite of icy water on her feet. She leaped over to a clump of spongy moss and shook the snowflakes off her hair.
“Shhh,” she said, patting the small furry creature that waited for her on the other side.
She paused to listen to the wind whispering through the thick canopy of Sitka spruce and mountain hemlock, aware that many sets of eyes were following her. The others were hiding in the recesses of the forest, covered by fallen logs, concealed in an eagle’s aerie, or squeezed between hibernating bear cubs, sharing the warmth of the den. It wouldn’t be long, now.
The nymph, called Alseide, an ancient name for “grove dweller,” looked down to see a grey mouse with quick feet running in circles around her. She bent down and scooped it up in both her hands, and raised it to eye level. She spoke softly, and her breath soothed its nervous twitch. “Run, now. It’s time to hide.”
She sat it down. Mousey scurried to the underbrush and buried itself under a thick pile of leaves. Alseide nodded her approval. She signaled the Great Horned Owls, who had sentry duty. They would stay on guard until that which was to come, was over. Their presence gave her comfort.
The earth’s floor shook, and the others moaned from their hiding places.
“Ah!” she cried. Alseide didn’t dare show fear, but she couldn’t help herself. She stepped into a tree and let her essence meld into the strong trunk. It was the superpower of all wood nymphs. She was one with the tree. But why did she still feel the danger? The very roots of the giant conifer were undulating as if they were floating on the ocean and not buried beneath the rich dark loam of the forest floor.
“Stop it!” Alseide cried. Tears from her face ran with the tree sap. The small furry creature that had waited for her was squealing in terror. Her hand reached out like a branch and thrust it to safety behind her. She drew her arm back.
A far distant rumbling started. Alseide felt only grief. The boom-booms could only be the sound of her fierce enemy. The one she had fought before. The one who had taken the others and swallowed their young and choked off the life-giving waters of the creek. The one who had buried her and left her for dead. The one…Avalanche.
She heard the rocks sliding… slowly, patiently, then building momentum. Stone upon stone, grinding down to the valley floor. To her forest. She bowed in sorrow, unwilling to watch the demise of the others. She waited, but nothing happened.
She raised her head to the Great Horneds. “Go!”
Swiftly, the beating of their wings lifted them above the canopy and they disappeared.
Avalanche is torturing me, she thought. Why is he biding his time? Please, just let it be over.
Before she could form another thought, the tree with which she had become one registered a prick of pain. The owl had sunk his claws deep into an upper branch.
“Great Horned, how goes it with our foe, Avalanche? Second in wickedness only to his cousin Fire?”
The owl squawked. “Alseide, we are saved.”
Alseide shook her head. How could it be?
“You have an advocate,” Great Horned informed her. “One who is strong and powerful.”
“Stronger than Avalanche?” Alseide had never heard of such.
“Your advocate came with a powerful cannon. Two booms! More than Avalanche could handle. All the rocks and ice and snow that your enemy threw down were diverted to the other side of the mountain. Have no fear.”
Alseide bowed her head in thanks. After a moment she said, “Please Owl, tell me his name. I must know who it is that saved us.”
“His name is strange, milady. He is called ‘Ranger.’”
(illustrations by Charles Lindemuth)