Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part V

Kathy hesitated just a minute, staring at the river and the barricade of Hemlock branches.  She wondered what lay beyond the branches and she was a bit sad to leave the river behind. As the sound of Judy’s singing grew dimmer she turned and followed. This newer and narrower trail traversed the flat tops of giant glacial boulders buried beneath the layers of soil and duff that made up the forest floor. “I want to know why the trail is blocked,” Kathy said. “It’s very curious.” 

“There are a lot of curious things on this little adventure,” Judy replied, “Starting with the ladies making tea in the bathroom!” she chuckled.  As Judy began to list the mysterious encounters of the day Kathy stopped walking and pointed in the direction of a small tributary in the distance. “Look,” she said in a hushed tone. The lack of undergrowth on this side of the river allowed them to see for greater distances. “What?” Judy asked quietly. She squinted at the waterway concerned about what she might see.  “There, in the creek,” Kathy replied, “Do you see that tower of rocks?”

Judy finally spotted it; in the middle of the creek, sitting atop a flat boulder, was a towering stack of progressively smaller flat stones, presumably from the creek bed. Much like a small pagan pyramid built by faeries of the forest, it was both mysterious and eerie. The water was running too fast, and too cold, for someone to have built it recently. 

“Someone must have done that this summer, when the creek was dry,” Kathy still spoke in a hushed tone. Something about the quiet solitude and undisturbed nature around them made this little stone structure, a marker of people before them, seem almost sacred. They may as well have stumbled upon a person praying in the middle of the forest; or a tombstone.

The sisters were quiet and reflective as they continued on the trail, each mulling over the mysteries of the day in their own minds. If they had looked behind them, they may have seen a small brown moth land on the tiniest pebble atop the pyramid. A second moth flew above their heads, flitting from cedar to vine maple, as the sisters walked on. “I am hungry,” Judy finally said. “That cookie is not cutting it!”  Just then the trail reached a point where it crossed the tributary on a split log footbridge with rough-hewn log hand railings.

“I’m sure it’s not too much farther,” Kathy encouraged. “I think I remember this little bridge, but it’s hard to be certain.  You know we are doing the trail in reverse.”  Her younger sister stepped gingerly onto the bridge and then paused. “Ooooh….”, Judy breathed more than spoke the sound. It was her turn to point slowly in the direction of a small stone pyramid. This one was not far upstream from the bridg, in the middle of the creek, where the water now flowed cold and deep. The girls stood there for some time mesmerized by the little stone structure, until Judy’s stomach reminded her to keep moving.  Yet she no sooner reached the far side of the little bridge, with Kathy right behind her, when she stopped again.  “Look at this log! Doesn’t it look like a dragon’s head?” she asked her older sister. The far end of the timber handrail appeared to have been the part of the tree where trunk meets roots. The straight log turned into a swirling of gold, weatherworn wood and the fresh red flesh of recently exposed inner bark. Grooves formed a shape like a dragon’s head, with a large lump on the trunk creating the skull. A knot of wood formed an eye and more grooves wound through the wood to create the outline of a dragon’s jaw and snout. The final touch was the flexible root ends poking out of the dragon’s mouth like a burst of flame. “Cool!” Kathy exclaimed, “It totally looks like a dragon.”

“Do you think somebody carved it, or it just looks like that?” Judy asked, and then answered her own question just as quickly, “Nope, not carved. That is awesome and scary!” she said, as she turned back to the trail. She would later regret not taking a picture of the dragon bridge and yet something urged her to continue on at a faster pace. The small brown moth dropped down from the branches overhead and settled into the grooves of the dragon’s lower jaw. 
Banana Slugs eat dragons for breakfast

Back at the resort the youngest Caroline was walking through the parking lot
searching for Kathy’s car.  She was relieved when she spotted a charcoal gray, Toyota 4-Runner. The girls must be on the trails across the street if they didn’t take their car.  But when she spotted a second, and then a third charcoal gray 4-Runner she muttered under her breath. She looked in the windows; the one with a carseat was definitely not her daughter’s. She could not be sure of the others.  She headed back to the cottage to let the girls’ grandmother know what she had found out. “Perhaps they are already back,” she mused to herself as she passed the other guest cottages.
The elder Caroline was standing on the porch as her daughter approached. “Did you find them?” she asked. 

The girls’ mother explained that the valet was searching the woods and she was not sure if their car was in the parking lot or not. “They may have gone somewhere else Mom,” she tried to sound reassuring. Two seals poked their heads out of the water just 50 yards from the cottage as the two women talked. The seals watched curiously as three small moths flitted about the mother and daughter; grandmother and mother. To the seals it looked as though the moths were dancing to the rapid, excited music of the animated conversation. “Let’s go inside Mom,” the younger Caroline said, realizing it was chilly out on the porch. The elder Caroline reluctantly followed her into the cottage. The three moths, as though bored by the women’s departure, flew out across the canal, passed over the seals and continued on toward the forest.The girls’ mother made some cocoa to warm them up.  She showed their grandmother the note with the hospital and sheriff's phone numbers and tried to reassure her that the girls were okay.  “If they aren’t back by dark, then we will call these numbers mom.  I’m sure that they’ll be back any minute. It has not quite been four hours.” 

But the grandmother was not consoled. “Judy is making the stew for dinner.She would have been back by now to start the stew!”  They sat down at the kitchen table with their cocoa and added the phone numbers of Kathy’s adult children to the list of people to call. The younger Caroline told her mother the story of the winter that Lorraine and Judy had gone wandering at Lake Cushman and scared her to death; she had been certain they had been lost in the snow or fallen in the lake. In the end the girls had simply been out having an adventure and lost track of time.

 As the elder Caroline listened to her daughter’s story, across the water the girls were nearing the end of the trail. “I think I see the Ranger Station up ahead,” Kathy declared. Indeed the narrow path had reconnected with the broader original trail, the canopy was thinning and the sisters soon found themselves back at the parking lot. “Well that was the best hike!” Judy said triumphantly. “I feel great! I may be sore tomorrow, but right now I don’t feel a thing….except hunger,” she grinned. They made a quick stop at the bathroom, grabbed some paper towels and tried to get as much mud off the back of their pants and shoes as they could, then hopped in the car and headed out of the park just as three small moths alighted on the entrance sign.

The two sisters were chatty and giddy from their adventure. The sun was shining and they stopped along the road to take some pictures next to Lake Cushman. They had no idea that the Carolines were worried and looking for them. The rain and mist that kept the cottage shrouded in fear had left the forest hours ago; the girls felt happy and alive. “Let’s be sure to stop and pick up some biscuits to go with the stew…I am starving!” Judy said in dramatic fashion.  “I wish I would have remembered the crockpot, then it would be waiting for us when we got there!”  As Kathy steered the SUV carefully back toward the resort the two sisters talked about the forest and the many other hikes and adventures that were waiting. They stopped at the little IGA grocer in Union to get some Pillsbury biscuits, yogurts for the next morning and a little snack from the deli.

The resort parking lot was much more empty when they got there and they realized that all the wedding guests had checked out.
“I bet mom and grandma are getting hungry again,” Judy laughed. “I’ll microwave the potatoes to get things cooking faster! I think they eat dinner earlier than I usually do.”

“Agreed,” Kathy replied as she hopped out of the car and grabbed the bag of groceries. “I hope they had a good nap, it isn’t as sunny here, I wonder if the sun ever came out for them…” she mused as they strolled up to the cottage. As the two sisters came around the corner of the porch they caught sight of the two Carolines sitting in deck chairs and staring out at the water, their grandmother wrapped in a blanket.  Their mother leapt up in surprise and soon everyone was talking at once, their chatter filling up the air on the deck and chasing the chill mist back out across the canal.  

The confusion increased when the cottage cabin phone rang.  Judy was already in the kitchen so she answered, “Hello?” she said tentatively. “This is Elliot at the front desk, ma’am, just calling to say I didn’t find anything. I’m sorry. Have you heard from them?”  Judy’s mind struggled to rapidly fill in the bits she had gathered from the Carolines and make sense of the question on the other end of the phone. “Hello?” the young man said. “Oh, um…well…we are them. I mean I am one of the daughters. Well we are back.” She stammered, knowing it wasn’t making sense. “I am so sorry that you had to go out looking, we just ended up going on a different hike, we weren’t actually across the street,” she said, probably giving the valet more information than he needed. She glanced at the Carolines and whispered into the phone, “I don’t know why they were worried, we said we would be gone awhile, sorry about that!” 

That evening over a dinner of beef stew, biscuits, kale and cookies the sisters told their mother and grandmother all about their adventure. The Carolines scolded them for not writing down where they were going. Kathy scolded her mother for gathering the phone numbers and preparing to sound the alarm. Judy agreed with them all. When dinner was done they put away the fairy puzzle and posed for group pictures. They laughed and giggled as Kathy would set the timer and run back as fast as she could to get in the photograph. Later, by the fire, hot chocolates in hand, they told stories of the past, present and future…until their sleepy eyes and the sounds of night creatures told them it was time for bed. They would need their rest, for surely more adventures waited for them tomorrow. As Judy lay in bed that night she thought again of the mysteries in the forest; she dreamt of dragons sleeping on beds of moss, fairies flying over a sparkling river, and moths…she dreamt that she was chasing a moth down the trail and into a darkening forest. In her dream she was surprised that she did not feel afraid in this dark forest, but she knew somehow that the moth was leading her to a magical place and she must not lose sight of it. When she woke in the morning she could not remember where the moth had taken her.

That is the end of this story. Fact and fiction…as most of our lives are. When we don’t have all the answers or explanations we may fill in the blanks with what makes the most sense to us, but in the end we are only using iMAGInation combined with logiCAL reasoning.  So try filling in the blanks with what seems most MAGICAL. It’s your story after all, your life…wouldn't you rather have a magical life?      

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