Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Archive Of Invisible Ink: From The Crawl Space

I spent much of my early life hunting for fables, and can remember the days when the woods would be full of them in the spring. If you climbed back up into the bluffs behind my little cabin above Canoe Brook and nosed around under the rocks and in the shady areas beneath the big maples, you'd find fables growing wild and burrowed in the roots of the oldest trees.

Some afternoons, just as the sun was settling beyond the rolling hills to the west, I'd hike back home with a burlap bag full of fables. My boots would be caked with mud, my back would be aching, and I'd be exhausted from all the sun and fresh air, but I still couldn't wait to empty that bag on my kitchen floor so I could look over my recent acquisitions.

I once lugged home a bag full of squirming trolls. On other occasions I pulled from my sack a turtle with wings like those of a dragonfly, a collection of breathing mushrooms with dark and inquisitive eyes, and a tiny pirate chest full of mice the color of poppies. Once upon a time I found a stooped and tiny man with flowing white hair and a long beard. Fairies were nesting in his beard. This old man was both the remnant of some fable and an immense repository of fables. He sat on the edge of my kitchen table and told me the story of a giant who once roamed the local woods with the moon in a pack on his back. On windy days the giant would run through a meadow full of wild flowers, flying the tethered moon like a kite.

One day at sunset, the old man related to me in a voice so squeaky and small that I had to kneel to make out his words, a hawk was perched in a tree at the edge of the meadow, admiring the spectacle of the giant's luminous kite sailing into the gloaming. The kite, the hawk thought, would make a lovely addition to the night sky.

And as it sat there admiring this quiet spectacle, the hawk saw an arrow suddenly strike the giant squarely in the chest. The giant toppled backwards, the little man told me, and his feet rose momentarily like a seesaw before disappearing again into the tall grass and flowers. As the giant fell, he lost his grip on his kite's tether and the moon drifted slowly skyward, growing ever smaller as it rose and assumed its now familiar place in the heavens.

The hawk, with its keen and beady eyes, then saw a cat --wearing a red felt cap and in possession of a bow and a quiver of arrows-- make a dash for the dark woods at the edge of the meadow. In the blink of an eye, the little man said, the hawk swooped down from its place in the tree, snatched the cat in its talons, and carried it away to its nest, where the giant-slayer and liberator of the moon was promptly eviscerated.

I always interrogated the fables I brought home with me from the woods, and I also unfailingly released them again before retiring for the evening. Some of the fables I found in those days would leave me dazzled and mulling for many days. They changed me, and changed the way I look at the world and my place in it. They made me want to live to a ripe old age.

As I grew older, though, it became harder and harder for me to get back to my old fable hunting grounds. My life was crowded with work and other responsibilities and obligations. When I did manage to sneak away I found that the fables were increasingly difficult to find, and again and again I returned home empty-handed and disappointed.

I have since read that fables have become almost entirely extinct in America, or have been reduced to little more than grim little lessons and morals without the magic. It is my understanding, however, that patches of fables may still be found in parts of Latin and South America, in obscure corners of Eastern Europe, and in small pockets of Africa and the Middle East.

It is my hope that in the time still left to me I will one day venture to some of these places in search of the lost magic that was the stuff of so much happiness and so many old and wonderful dreams.

11 comments:

  1. A delight. Thank you.

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  2. It's true that fables still live here in South America. If i can get a visa, i'll bring one back for you.

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  3. Fables are rumored to still exist in and around Indian Pass. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that this sea kayaking craze in Croatia is related as well.

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  4. There's some truth in that business about Indian Pass, but I think what you'll mainly find down there in the Panhandle are hundreds of mangled mythological yarns and lost books from the Bible.

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  5. Mark Garry said...

    Beautiful and brillient.

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  6. So brilliant I had to change the spelling.

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  7. What beautifully written imagination. Thank you.

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  8. Thanks everybody. And hello and love to you, Gaby.

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  9. This made me happy

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  10. Oh, those mushrooms, oh, those mice.

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