A late spring storm blew through in the middle of the night leaving the morning wet and foggy. Droplets of rain could be heard across the forest as they fell from high branches. There was a chill to the air and was darker outside than should be for the time. This told me that the sun would not shine this day for the clouds and fog were too thick.
Sipping my morning, coffee, I smiled to myself. I had made the most wonderful sweet carrot creamer. With a sigh, I peered out my kitchen window pondering what I might do on such a day. Just then, a figure emerged in the fog coming from down by the creek. They were headed straight for my garden! In the fog, I feared the mysterious visitor would not see and trample it. And why were they not using the path? Scuttling out of my burrow that was beneath a great oak, I hurried out to the garden.
“Hold! Hold a moment! Dear friend, careful for my garden!” Trying to give warning without seeming unfriendly, I raised my soft voice as much as I could muster. The figure stopped suddenly and just in the nick of time for he almost stepped right into the cabbages!
“Oh pardon, Miss Tittles. I could not see.” He spoke very quickly and in a startled tone. I recognized Wilber, the Beaver’s voice, right away. This explained why the visitor came from the creek. Wilber always came to visit from this direction as his Den was upstream a few miles.
“Quite alright, just come around there. I have fresh, hot coffee if you care to join me. What are you doing about so early?” I ushered him around and we made our way inside before he answered. He began to explain that the storm had raised the water levels beyond the norm and he had been up most of the night securing his dam. This was a good thing for me and anyone else living along the creek downstream from him. His dam was also his den and he chose this location precisely to aid his fellow forest dwellers from flooding. Subsequently, this created what is known as “Wilber’s Pond.” If his dam were to break, not only would he have to rebuild his home but my garden would be under water right now. Silently, I listened and gave thanks for his skill and diligence.
Still speaking in a rushed voice as was his way, “…and so this terrible headache just won’t seem to pass. I came to see if you might have something. Oh and this coffee is quite wonderful. Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome.” I smiled wide as he was very pleased with how my sweet carrot creamer had come out. “I do apologize, though. The whole Robins family was visiting yesterday with the same complaint. I brewed my last bit of peppermint and lavender tea and they drank every last drop. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I do hope it helped.”
“Oh bother… well, I have to get back. Water levels may still rise from the springs upstream. I must monitor carefully, ya’ know. Busy, busy, busy!” We said our farewells and I walked Wilber down to the creek and fetched some fresh water while I was at it. I admired how quickly he moved upstream and even picking up debris along the way. He disappeared into the fog and I began to make my way back up to her home. I was sad that I was unable to help Wilber and hoped he would feel better soon.
As I came up the bank again, I saw a mysterious figure in the fog and once again they were almost upon my garden! Speaking as loudly as my voice would allow, “Be careful, mind you!” Whoever this was must have heard me for they stopped and stood silent and still. I moved as quickly towards the figure as I could. After all, I was hauling a bucket of water. As I approached the figure, it grew larger and larger. My steps began to slow and trepidation began to build. Then I heard a familiar groan. Sighing, as I seemed to be doing a lot this morning, I moved around the garden and could now see Grizzle, the clumsy ‘ol bear. There was apology in his eyes and he took a large step backwards away from the garden.
“Seems it is a busy morning and many are out and about despite the dreariness. How are you today Grizzle?” Now, he was a silent creature. No one had ever heard him speak and most believed that he could not. Not that he was spoken ill of, only brief moments of concern. Mostly when he met someone new. Everyone liked Grizzle. He was very kind and gentle albeit a little lumbering. He answered me in his customary fashion with grunts and groans and then he lay down covering his head with his paws. Puzzled, I began to try and decipher his meaning. With a few more moans and a bit more grumbling, I finally asked.
“Do you have a headache?” With a grunt of confirmation, he leaped up to all fours and stared at me pleadingly.
I explained very apologetically that the whole Robins family had come visiting the day before and had drunken the last of my peppermint and lavender tea. I also told the tale of Wilber’s visit and how I was also unable to aid him. I apologized many times and he nodded in thanks and slowly wondered back into the forest. As I watched him go. it occurred to me that many of my friends were in need. I also found it curious that headaches seem to be in abundance. Well that solves it. I now knew what I must do this day.
It was time to visit The Crow of Crescent Hill.
Actually the trip would take two days. I will need to travel all the way to the lake and then around it to reach Crescent Hill. It was not an ideal day to travel but he would have the answers. I hurried inside and grabbed my travel pack. As I often made ventures into the woods, it was mostly already packed. Grabbing a few snacks and my hood, I was quickly on my way. I had not gotten far, only a half mile or so, when I heard scurrying from the path behind me. Turning, I saw two small figures approaching and quickly! I jumped to the side of the path nearly being run into. The Whisker brothers, I thought to myself and frowned. They skidded to a halt and both began chattering at once. Now I was starting to get a headache. With patience, I calmed them down and asked the little mice boys to please speak one at a time.
“Well…” They both started and I put my hands to my hips giving them an exasperated expression. The older boy nudged the other in annoyance and continued. “It’s our mama. She has a terrible headache that started two days ago. And now this morning, all of our brothers and sisters have one too!”
“ALL…. of them?” I asked skeptically. Mrs. Whiskers did after all have many children.
“Yes, we swear!” They answered in unison with their eyes wide and filled with innocence. This was a practiced response from the brothers as they were often questioned on their activities and tales. But none-the-less, I believed them. This couldn’t be coincidence. Something was definitely amiss. Briefly I explained that I was on my way to the Crow of Crescent Hill for the very same reason and that they should rush home and tell their mother that aid was on the way. With mischievousness in their eyes, they looked to one another and quickly thanked me and then ran off. I doubted they would go straight home.
Again, I was on my way. After several hours, the fog lifted considerably and the day brightened only ever so slightly as the clouds were still heavy. I worried that it may rain again and quickened my step. As I journeyed, I wondered on the state of my garden after such a heavy rain. In an attempt not to worry, I put such thoughts from my mind and tried to keep to the task at hand, which of course brought worry. Why were there so many cases of bad headaches and how? It reminded me of the time, several years back, when children were sent to the task of foraging in the forest. Somehow, some not so good mushrooms got mixed into the food stores. That was an interesting few days, I laughed to myself.
A rustle in the branches above brought me out of my pondering. Looking up, I spotted someone fluttering from branch to branch in an awkward manner. Watching for a moment, I determined that whoever it was must be injured. I also determined that they must not have seen me so I called out yet again. “Hello there. Are you alright?” My voice broke the still silence in a manner that even startled myself. I have been doing a lot of hollering this day, I thought to myself. Something I do not wish to be getting better at. The rustling from above had stopped and I looked up again to see Mrs. Robin circling quickly down to land beside me. When she landed, she stumbled to the side and nearly fell. I rushed to help her balance.
“Thank you so much, my dear.” Mrs. Robin said as she shook her head trying to ward off dizziness.
“What is the matter? Are you hurt?” I was very worried for my dear friend. My already growing concern for the others was turning into desperation. Mrs. Robin told me that after the Robin family had returned home yesterday, the headaches began to return. Then I recounted the tale of the day’s events from Wilber to Grizzle and then my encounter with the Whisker brothers along the road. As it happens, Mrs. Robin had also concluded that something was amiss after speaking to Jay, the Bluebird, who also had a bad headache. She was also attempting to reach the Crow of Crescent Hill but it was obvious that she was in no shape for such a trip.
“You have traveled bravely and far my dear friend,” I spoke softly and reassuringly, “but you must go back. My home is closer. You are welcome to stay there until I return.” With minimal resistance, Mrs. Robin reluctantly started back. I was now very worried and knew I must hurry. Chiding myself on the daydreams, I did not allow myself to become distracted again. I traveled the rest of the day and even a few hours after dark.
I was beginning to grow very weary and was looking about for a safe place to rest for the night when a dim blinking light appeared ahead on the path. Slowly, I moved towards it and when I moved around the next bend, my eyes widened. Sitting there upon a large exposed root of an old Elm was a fairy! I had seen fairies before as they were quite common in the forest but always briefly and at a distance. Fairies were magical and reclusive beings that only appeared in times of joy and celebration. And to those of good heart, they sometimes would come in times of need. This fairy, however, seemed to be the one in need. She did not notice me and sat there with her head cradled in her arms and knees. She appeared to be weeping!
Slowly, I approached and spoke very softly trying not to startle the Fairy. She only raised her head slowly as a sparkling tear streamed down her cheek. The fairy rose to her feet and then fluttered off directly over me. The last thing I saw was the sparkle of that tear as it landed upon my brow before falling fast asleep.
When I awoke tiny rays of light were beginning to peak through the forest canopy. It was very early yet and I sat up feeling very rested. I looked about and noticed I was nestled against the old elm right in the crook of the exposed root and someone had placed a large Mayflower leaf over me as a blanket. I had a strong sense of positive wellbeing and determination filled me. In moments, I was on my way with a silent thanks to the fairy. Without her, I knew that my night would have been restless and this day long and tiresome.
Snacking as I quickly trekked, it was only a few hours before the land around me began to change. Rocky outcrops began to pop up and the land began to slope ever so gently downward. The path wound to and fro, long ago worn to avoid treacherous footing. Through the trees, I saw sparkles. The land evened out and the forest ended in a line of oaks, walnuts and sycamores that surrounded the lake. The sparkles were that of the sun reflecting off the lakes still surface. Beyond the lake was the Crescent Hill and its perfect reflection in the still waters. “Almost there,” I thought to myself. Just a few more hours and I would have answers.
Quickening my step, I started around the lakes edge. Because of the rains, the lake level had risen and the shore was small and in some places, the water came all the way to the trees. This slowed my travel as there was no path. Usually, the shore was passable and quite a pleasant walk. But now, I avoided mud pits and had to deal with thick underbrush. There were briers in my fur and dress. I snagged on a honey locust branch that I did not notice and my skirt was torn. I looked up and down the lakes shore and realized I had not traveled very far at all. Frustration began sneaking in and I thought there must be a better way! Suddenly there were bubbles on the lakes surface. One , two then three and they were moving closer. I tried to scurry backwards and tripped right into a large mud puddle. Many bubbles were now coming to the surface of the water very near to the lakes edge! The mud was thick and she couldn’t get unstuck fast enough. Something very large began to surface.
“Can… I… help… you?” A deep but kind and very slow ladies voice issued out from the cavernous opening in a huge shell. A very large head then abruptly began to emerge from opening. She was bright green with yellow strips and I thought her quite beautiful. Still startled, she forgot to answer. “Are… you… alright?”
“Um… oh, yes thank you. I am having a bit of trouble as you can see and, um, oh my…” I took careful observation and laughed to myself overcome with a predicament. The lady turtle reached a large paddle foot over to me just then, aiding me to my feet then lifting me over, directing me to climb upon her shell. From there, I was able to wash myself up and clean off my dress and gear. Meanwhile, we both introduced one another and I explained the urgency of my journey. I learned that the lady turtles name was Tabitha and that the lake was her home. Tabitha offered to give me a ride across the lake and off we went. As we crossed, and quite quickly to my surprise, I told Tabitha that I had been to the lake several times and asked why I had never seen her? Tabitha replied slowly and with wise words. “It is a very large lake.”
“Yes of course.” I replied sheepishly.
Once we reached the other side, the lakes shore was much more pleasant. It was a grassy bank at the foot of Crescent Hill with scattered Oaks and no underbrush. I thanked her profusely and to my surprise, Tabitha said she would stay close to aid on the return trip. We parted ways with a great sense of respect and both happy for a new friendship.
Now, I had a renewed sense of determination and I started my march up the grassy slope. Only a few moments later, I passed between two ancient oaks and beyond them was a grassy flat. In the center of that flat was a long dead tree. It was very tall and its old leafless branches were high and wide. At its lowest and largest branch, I saw a door carved into the trunk. I walked about the tree and found that there was no way up. I was unsure of what to do. I had met the wise Crow of Crescent Hill several times but had never been to his home. Was this even it? I decided to call out. “Dear sir are you at home?” There was no reply so I called out again. Many times did I call out as I examined the tree further. My calls came unanswered so I began looking about the grassy flat and even up to the hills rocky peak protruding skyward another one hundred feet or so.
“I would not go up there if I were you.” A crackling voice broke the silence greatly frightening me.
I spun about and on a branch, perched very close to me was The Crow of Crescent Hill. He had a long scarf draped about his shoulders and a wide brimmed, crooked pointy hat upon his head. But what I noticed most was the staff that he leaned upon. It was a long wooden shaft polished and adorned with colored thread from which many types of herbs hung. At its top a crescent moon also of wood was mounted. On it knot work design was carved as well as runes that I did not understand.
“Well it certainly does not look very inviting.” And neither was my tone for I was not very happy with the wise old crow for sneaking up on me. And must he appear so menacing? “Now, I have come in search of you. There is a problem in the forest and we need your help.” I paused expecting an immediate response but one was not forthcoming. I grew quite angry as he certainly was not picking up on the urgency. “Good sir,” I began again and much more harshly than I intended. “Did you not hear that there is trouble and your aid is greatly needed?”
“Wha… What?” The crow started as if being shaken awake. “My mind often travels far and wide!” He declared in grandiose manner.
“You fell asleep didn’t you?” I responded dryly.
“Of course not,” Came the gruff response. “Now did you say something about trouble?”
Finally getting to the point I recounted my tale stopping several times to make sure he was listening. He was indeed attentive and very much concerned. The crow asked questions like, ‘how long has this been happening?’ and ‘were there any other symptoms?’ The wide spread ailment seemed to concern him the most. He in return explained that sicknesses often affected individuals differently based on weight and age. This was all very fascinating as I loved to learn new things and was always picking up new hobbies to master. He continued on to say that with the afflicted ranging from small, the Whisker family and to large like old Grizzle. Also from young to old, that it could only mean one thing. He paused reflecting in thought before going on and I was hopping with anticipation and finally he said. “Poison”!
How could this be, I thought, who would do such a thing and how? Now even more concerned than before I wondered what to do next.
“Now I bet your wondering who would do such a thing, and the why and the how of it”. He spoke very seriously to me. “Do not fret over it for that is not your task. Yours is to return to the sick with an antidote.”
“That is all good and well but if we do not find the source will we not continue to see the sickness?” I asked very proud of my line of logic.
“Indeed. Such matters could be dangerous as I suspect foul play. For this I will seek Aveline.” His proclamation gave me a sense of awe for he was speaking of the Mother of the Woodlands. This also told me that he was taking this matter very seriously. However this was not making me feel safe. Questions were racing through my mind that I knew only time would answer.
I straightened myself and adjusted my skirts. Determination set in and resolutely I asked, “What must I do?”
“You will need bark from the White Willow. I have a little here which you and I will now use as a precaution. But for the others you will need to gather a large quantity. This will not be easy for the Willow only gives what is needed. You will have to convince him.” More emotions flooded me. Fear at the need to take precautions. Wonder and at the mention of both Aveline and the White Willow, the latter of which I had never even heard of and it was a ‘him’?
Motioning for me to follow I now saw a ladder leading up to the large low hanging branch where the door was carved into the trunk. Where did that come from I wondered. Climbing it he opened the door for me and we entered. I immediately stopped in amazement for the room was much larger than the tree was wide. How could that be I thought as I gazed around. There was a nest on the right that looked quite cozy. To the left a table with all manner of potions and salves, and on the far side was kitchen area. Hanging from the ceiling and walls were hundreds of herbs. Leaf and root, twig and thistle, most of which were things I had never seen. The Crow of Crescent Hill closed the door and moved over to the kitchen area where water was already set. He reached up and pulled down a jar from the mantle. From it he pulled forth a thin curled piece of bark that was grey on one side and white on the other. It was very smooth and appeared brittle as he crumpled it into the hot water. Stirring for a few moments he then added something else and a very pleasant aroma filled the home. A few more minutes later he poured the contents into some tea cups and he served one to me. We sat sipping the hot tea for some time in silence giving me time to reflect on the events of the past few days.
The Crow of Crescent Hill broke the silence, “You will need to travel to the far east side of the lake to the falls where the river begins. That is where the White Willow rests. He can be stubborn and does not give his bark so easily but I am sure once you explain the situation he will be more than helpful.” Giving me a knowing glance he continued. “You should stay here for the night for even with Tabitha’s assistance you will not make it across the lake before nightfall and waking the White Willow will not make him inclined to be friendly.”
I understood and agreed and we spent the evening in conversation. Seeing as nothing could be done right this moment I let myself drift into curiosities and asked many questions about herbs and there properties. He was reluctant at first especially when I pointed out a long hanging stem with bright green leaves and beautiful purple flowers.
“This looks magical.” I said with a youthful exuberance, “what is this one?”
“A weed.” He replied dryly. “It smells good.”
“Oh…” I said sheepishly. Not letting that deter me, I kept on and he eventually loosened up and started going into great detail. I was amazed how much there was to know and what we discussed that evening was only a fraction of what was in the home. I learned that some plants and trees that were of the same family may have completely different uses and that many different parts of the same plant could also have different uses. I also learned that preparation was very important. For example some things must be ingested while others work best when prepared as a salve. Some things were medicinal while others were cosmetic like the lavender perfume Professor McCrumb had given me at last Winter’s Feast. There was just so much I could not possibly remember it all.
It was getting late and the Crow of Crescent Hill could see that I was serious in my thirst for knowledge. He went over to a shelf next to his nest and pulled down a small book then handed it to me. Curiously I flipped open the first few pages and with excitement quickly scanned many more. The book was filled with illustrations of plants and trees each with a list of uses, directions for preparation and some even with cautions. I was speechless and looked to him with great thanks reflected in my expression. He only smiled and directed me to a cot where I could sleep for the evening. He then nestled himself into his nest and was quickly breathing heavily in slumber.
The light from the fireplace had gone dim and the hour was late. Thoughts and emotions were racing through my mind and I wondered how could I possibly sleep. Fluffing the pillow I laid down and covered myself. I was asleep in moments with thoughts turning to dreams of the forest and learning what part all living things play.
I awoke feeling very rested once again. I had cradled the book in my arms all night and leaped from bed excitedly. Looking about I could see that the fire had been stoked and a pleasant smelling broth was cooking. The table was set with bread and cheese and a single bowl had been placed. The Crow of Crescent Hill was nowhere to be seen. I sat giving thanks then ate while pondering what must next be done.
After breakfast I went out and climbed down the ladder which abruptly disappeared once I reached the bottom. Smiling, I rubbed my hand across the now smooth trunk of the tree. Heading down the grassy slope back to the lake I did not hurry. Despite the danger I had a sense of peace and well-being with a knowing that things would be alright. Armed now with knowledge I also knew I would be better prepared for anything that may occur in the future.
Approaching the lake I saw Tabitha waiting and waved excitedly. Tabitha lifted a webbed foot and waved in return, slowly. “Good morning!” I exclaimed happy to see my new friend. “You are a woman of your word and now I must ask another favor of you. We must travel to see The White Willow.” Tabitha gladly accepted the task and already knew exactly where to go. The lake was her home after all.
I climbed aboard and we set out to the West watching the sun climb on the horizon. Many hours passed and I recounted the evening’s events. Many times Tabitha slowed inadvertently as she was so intent on the tale. It wasn’t until I realized we were sinking, and panicked, that Tabitha quickly continued. Finally just passed midday we saw the rocky west shore ahead and soon after the roar of the falls could be heard. The lake narrowed considerably at this point with jutting rock to either side. A current picked up as the water moved towards this narrow spot and went over the edge. This made me slightly nervous but Tabitha’s powerful strokes easily carried them to the shore. Ahead a small path disappeared into a not very inviting narrow ravine.
I climbed down onto the rocky flat and we embraced warmly. Tabitha explained that she couldn’t sit in the current here and wait but would return early in the morning should she be needed again. I admitted that I did not know what was to come and thanked her profusely for all she had done. With that we bid one another farewell and Tabitha turned, diving into the depths of the lake. I turned to face the unknown and took a deep breath of resolution then into the ravine I marched.
The ravine was indeed narrow and wound this way and that, so one could not possibly see what was very far ahead at any given time. Sounds however seem to easily reverberate off the stone walls as each scrape of my foot and every tiny fallen stone echoed loudly to my ears. There also was a strong breeze that blew through the ravine that brought a strange scent. Soon I began to hear a faint clicking or tapping. The smell grew stronger but not unpleasant and the sound grew louder but still gentle. I then turned the last bend and a small valley opened up before me. A tiny creek emerged from the rocks on the left and wound its way across the valley to disappear back into the rocks to the right. Along the creek patches of a hardy grass grew and simple single blossom flowers grew with them. At the small valleys center the creek ran directly at the foot of a large willow tree. The fragrance was that of the tree and the gentle clacking was that of its long narrow leaves tapping against one another in the wind. The willows branches stretched wide and draped heavily all about it so that I could not see the trees trunk. I approached the tree and parted its branches like a curtain and walked beneath.
Beneath the tree it was an open space and the suns light passed through the branches with an illuminating glow. The trickle of the small creek was soothing and there was a soft patch of grass along it. I could have sworn I saw little specks of light dart around the tree as if hiding. I believed them to be fairies. Ever elusive beings, I wondered what they may be doing here? A lone butterfly fluttered by with its wings being blue on top and yellow on bottom so it appeared to change color as it flew by. It landed not far away where it stayed examining a flower quite intently. I moved forward onto the grassy patch and examined the tree closely. The Crow of Crescent Hill had called it a ‘he’.
“Good sir. I beg your pardon but might I have a word?” I spoke very softly for I did not want the abrupt sound of my voice to startle him. I waited a few moments yet there was no reply so I paced back and forth along the grassy patch and examined the tree. Its surface was pale white and was completely smooth. Well, I thought to myself, there is no bark at all! My gaze followed the branches out and where the smooth, white ended were the long draping reeds that were all about. They were green with the narrow leaves densely growing upon them, shuddering and gently taping in the breeze. Fresh spring growth I surmised. I also came to the conclusion that this place was indeed magical and the tree was quite marvelous but I feared it was the wrong tree. So I decided to look about the small valley.
I turned to walk out from beneath the tree when I felt a gentle pull on my shoulder. Turning I saw one of the long draping branches tenderly grasping me and urging me back. Fascinated I turned back towards the tree and the branch let go. Then another one swept across the grassy patch and bits of shinny dust fell along its path. I thought a brief moment and smiled. The tree couldn’t talk, I determined, just like Grizzle. I was sure it was inviting me back and perhaps to have a seat on the welcoming grassy patch.
“How very polite,” I said aloud then moved over and sat upon the grass. I adjusted my skirts and made myself comfortable as I thought about what to say next. I decided that politeness was best returned with politeness.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Miss Tittles.”
“I am Mr. White Willow.” I responded for him in a deeper tone and a bob of my head. Seeing no response I continued in the deeper tone. “Allow me to get you some tea. I have…”
Interrupting me, there was a small root from the tree extended into the stream and it started splashing the water lightly. I pondered the meaning for a moment, “Oh yes of course”.
I started again trying to sound gruff, “Allow me to fetch you some water.” The tree suddenly shook and sparkling specks drifted down all about. Briefly I was puzzled. Did the White Willow just laugh? I was sure I was on the right track and feeling proud of myself I kept on in the deeper tone. “I am afraid I have no fresh bread that we might share but the soil is quite rich if you care to join me?”
The tree shook again, this time for a few seconds and more sparkles fell from the branches. Smiling I kept going, “Oh and do mind the rocks they are a bit lumpy and if you don’t care for worms you can just pick those out.” And the tree shook heavily then for several moments and I could not contain my laughter. This only seemed to spur the White Willow on as it only shook harder. Laughing together for a moment we finally calmed and I did indeed take a sip from the stream.
Still with a delighted tone I spoke in my normal voice, “It truly is an honor to meet you sir. We do how ever have some business to attend. There seems to be an ailment and I have come in search of your aid?” I then recounted the entire tale beginning with the arrival of the Robins family at my front door and ending with this very moment expressing her delight at meeting his acquaintance. The White Willow stood still the entire time and I could only guess that he was doing what trees do best; being patient and listening intently of course.
“As you can see, or hear rather, the matter is dire. If you could spare enough for the good folk of the forest I am sure it will not be long before the source of the matter is dealt with. And I do regret not knowing just how much enough may be.” I was silent then, having said all there was to say I sat upon the grassy patch waiting for a response. It was some time later, half an hour perhaps, when I was beginning to think the White Willow would not, or could not, help. I rose to my feet and then a single sparkling speck fell just in front of me. The area around me seemed to get brighter and I looked up to see thousands of specks drifting ever so slowly down. He heaved slowly then as if taking in a large breath of air and his smooth surface began to crack and peel. Then he made a motion of exhaling and all the cracks and peels curled, and as high as I could reach there was bark to be picked. Shocked I just stood for a moment considering what had just happened. I was sure that the White Willow was not only helping but giving all that he had to give.
Tears welled up at his generosity and I stepped across the creek to start picking. Slowly I started putting bits of bark in my bag. I was speechless at his graciousness and went about my task gently. With each piece I examined the trunk to make sure I had not pulled to hard or caused any other sort of damage. It was always important to me, to only take what one needed from the forest. Never take too much and always leave some for others.
The task was tedious but I remained humble until its completion. When finished I thanked the White Willow and hugged him tightly. I was now very hungry and noticed it was getting dark. In silence I sat upon the grassy patch and ate a piece of carrot cake that I had brought. As the sun went down the white willow kept a soft glow. The ambiance was beautiful and it reminded me of sitting in my chair at home in the evenings with a reading candle lit and a good book in my hands. A tale of my youth then flittered through my thoughts and I broke the silence telling the story in great detail to the White Willow. He never responded but I knew he was listening.
Once again on this journey I knew I had made a dear friend. I finished my story and the White Willow seemed to visibly relax. The glow dimmed even further and draping branches moved in close. The air around me seemed to become warmer and was very comfortable. I felt safe here so I curled up upon the grassy patch and closed my eyes to get some sleep.
Morning seemed to come fast and I was eager to get home and serve my friends some Willow Bark Tea. The urgency was returning as I thought about them dealing with the dreadful headaches for all these days I had been away. I desperately hoped it was not getting worse. Gathering my things I spoke to the White Willow briefly of my worries then I bid him farewell. As I parted the long, draping branches many of them wrapped themselves about my arms and waist. It was a tight squeeze but very brief and then he released me.
“Goodbye my friend.” I said again as I gently ran my fingers across his branches.
Resolutely I put one foot in front of the other and headed towards the lake. Moving along the ravine the pleasant aromas of the small valley followed me and I walked with a chipper step. Twisting through the few last curves a foul smell chased away the pleasantness and I slowed cautiously. I went around the last corner on to the rocky flat and Tabitha waited. Tabitha had crawled out of the lake and was sitting on the rocks watching up the shore to the north and west. She was so much larger out of water than I had expected and it startled me.
Tabitha turned her head to acknowledge that she knew I was there but said nothing. Feeling the need to whisper I asked, “What is it dear friend?”
“Swamp Dwellers,” Tabitha replied simply and in her slow manner. “We must go.”
And with that I was aboard promptly. Setting off Tabitha headed straight out to the depths of the lake. Movement off to the west, near the shore caught my eye. I could have sworn there were multiple sets of large bulbous eyes that suddenly dropped beneath the surface of the water. Admittedly I was scared but Tabitha was strong and fast in the water. After a moment had passed I asked. “What are Swamp Dwellers?”
“Servants of the Swamp Queen and they are up to no good I assure you.” Tabitha’s tone was very stern and she continually kept an eye to the western bank.
“Are we in danger?” I didn’t want to ask this question for fear of the answer but I needed to know.
“No. There is someone living in the depths of this lake much larger than I and much more fierce. They do not dare travel out here in the deeper waters.” Tabitha replied coldly. I suspected that there was a story to be told but I did not ask. My friend would share her thoughts with me when the time was right. Besides I had other thoughts running through my mind at that moment. Were those things the reason for our current troubles? And I was dreadfully concerned about my friends as it had been many days.
Soon we far out in the center of the lake and the western shore disappeared behind us. The rank smell had gone away and I could feel Tabitha relax beneath me. Still we traveled on, each to our own thoughts. A shadow crossed our path and I looked up to see someone flying high above heading north. I could not tell who it was as they were much too high and they traveled quickly out of sight. It wasn’t long and we were pulling up to a muddy shore. The old worn path that wound up the hill and to home was before us. We kept our goodbye brief as both the urgency for the task at hand tugged at us both and also, looking into one another’s eyes I could tell that her thoughts reflected my own. We were dear friends now and we did not want to part ways. I promised I would visit as soon as I could and with that she smiled back at me and dove into the depths.
With the final stretch home at hand and my pack full of the White Willows bark I did not dwell on missing her. Marching along the path as fast as I could I was determined to make some ground before nightfall. Also I didn’t want to be anywhere near the lake when I stopped to rest for fear of those things! Traveling a few hours brought me well into the forest and nearing more familiar ground. It would be dark soon so I started looking for a good place to rest. Still with trepidation hounding me I thought it prudent to take cover. There was an old oak that had long ago been struck by lightning and its center was hollow at the base. After making sure it was not already someone else’s place to rest I nestled in for the night. It was hard to fall asleep and I am unsure how much time had passed before I did. The night was dark and quiet. I heard no sound from those who traveled in the night. No breeze was forth coming to sway the branches and rattle the leaves. The moon was new so its protective radiance was absent.
Morning came and the silence persisted. It was warm though, inviting me to travel without delay. The day remained a silent one as I approached home. I had expected to start seeing my neighbors out and about by noon but I saw no one. I had even passed a few homes and stopped to tell them that I had some medicine. Yet no one was there. Where was everyone? I decided to take a short cut and went through Jay’s Cedar Grove. Just passed the grove was a ridge that followed the creek. I followed that until the land flattened out and then I knew I was almost home. Just a few minutes later I saw the great bows of my oak and a great feeling of relief overcame me. But still, where was everyone?
As I approached my home I immediately noticed the small fence that was now built around my garden. Suspiciously I creeped slowly forward up the hill. I saw my friends moving about all over my home! A series of hurried chirps came from above. I looked up to see many of my flying friends dashing to and fro and my tree looked nicely pruned!
“What is going on here?” I said loudly. Many of my friends, both above and below, turned and yelled.
I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Mrs. Robin came forward and took my arm and began to show me about. My tree had been well taken care of, a task that was long overdue I might add. My garden was in excellent shape and the ground for late spring planting already tilled. And now there was a protective fence around it. And it didn’t stop there. My gardening shed had been repaired and given a new roof. My house was clean and the extra shelves I’ve needed, were installed.
“But how can this be?” I stammered. While being shown about everyone was smiling and happy, pointing out tasks that were done and praising which ever individual had performed that work. It was all very humbling and yet something amiss. “What about your headaches?”
Everyone hushed then and Mrs. Robin said, “It was all Professor McCrumbs doing.”
The Professor stepped forward holding a small box and there was a faint humming emanating from it. “This is a neuro disrupter,” he explained. “I discovered quite by accident that the frequency this is making disrupted whatever is causing the headaches.”
“That’s not all he did.” Mrs. Robin said giving me a knowing look and a sly smile.
“Indeed,” Wilber stepped forward then. “All this was his idea so you didn’t have to worry when you returned.”
I looked to the Professor and he had backed away shyly and was looking at his feet. “So the headaches are gone?” I asked quizzically?
“Not exactly,” the Professor perked up once more, “You see it only works precisely in a one hundred and fifty two foot radius. So those I could find and were willing to help have been staying here, errrm… We do hope you approve?” He finished looking to his feet once more.
“Do I approve?” Speaking a little louder than intended and still quite shocked I looked about to all my friends and to the few to large to enter that were huddled at the door and windows. I do not think my home had ever been so full. Tears welled up in my eyes and Mrs. Robin hugged me close. I blubbered a bit and continued. “You are all so dear to me. Thank You.”
With thanks and your welcomes, handshakes, nods of approval and other well done’s and well do’s, we all spent a little longer visiting. Then it was down to business. We couldn’t all have Professor McCrumb’s invention; we needed to take the cure. Everyone settled in as comfortably as possible in my little burrow and I told the tale of my adventure as Mrs. Robin and Mrs. Whiskers started making White Willow Bark Tea!