Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Day / Beltane

Several years ago I wrote a story for my friend and colleague, Milbre Burch, and her husband, Berkely Hudson, on the occasion of the birth of their daughter, Katie Blake. I recently adapted the story for our May Day festival at The Odyssey school here in Asheville where my step-daughter, Kaiya, is in 3rd grade.  We gathered in the green wood making fairy houses, playing games, dancing the maypole and eating strawberries and cream.  Here is my story:

White coral bells upon a slender stalk
Lily--of-the-valley on my garden walk
O how I wish that you could hear them ring
That will only happen when the fairies sing

There was once a Keen-eyed Woman and the Kind-hearted Man, who lived in a rich green valley below a snow-topped mountain. They had a fine garden full of vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and flowers. They were especially fond of the May Lilies they planted along all the garden pathways.

The valley was so green because of a winding silver river that ran through it, fed by many mountain streams that sprang from the deep heart of the mountain. Often the Keen-eyed Woman and the Kind-hearted Man would go down to the river bank to dip their baskets brimful in the cool waters. Then they would meet the many other folk that also lived in the valley, exchanging news and greetings.

One day, as the people knelt by the water, a rumbling boom was heard in the skies above and the earth was felt to tremble. As they looked up, they saw great flashes of fire and clouds of smoke rising from the mountain peak. They watched the fire and smoke long into the twilight and then retired to an uneasy sleep.

The next morning a dense fog sat upon the valley, obscuring the mountain and muffling all sound. As they stepped tentatively out, a painful moaning broke the morning quiet. An old woman approached through the fog. She was wrapped in a green shawl and had white hair falling upon her shoulders like snow on the mountain. As she drew nearer, they could see that she was badly burned in face and hands and that her shawl was singed and steaming. She stumbled to the river bank and fell upon the water, soothing her burns and drinking deep. As she knelt there, the river shrank to a thin silver thread. Many fled from her sight, most turned away. But the Keen-eyed Woman and the Kind-hearted Man saw her distress and came to her aide.

They helped her into their home and nursed her with soothing balm from their garden herbs. As she huddled there, she muttered one trembling word, "Dragon!" And they understood. A dragon had come to the mountaintop and was busy now making its nest.

There are many kinds of dragon, but this one was clearly a fire dragon. It sought a high place of stone to nest upon. It would scratch and crumble the living stone to make a rocky eerie, and it would dry up any water there.

The strange old woman regained her strength under the good care of the kind couple. One night she stepped to the door and proclaimed, "A blessing on you for your caring hands and your generous garden. May you always have plenty to serve you in need. May your garden bring hope back to a desolate land." With those words, she vanished into the dark.

Soon the mountain's heart was sealed and the mountain springs ceased to flow. The land began to die as the earth cracked and the air filled with smoke. And the hearts of the people parched as well. Yet the parched earth did not reach the garden of the Kind-hearted Man and the Keen-eyed Woman.

One morning, as she was working among the May Lilies, the Keen-eyed Woman heard a gentle lullaby and a tiny ringing as of little bells. There, nestled in a lily blossom, she saw a tiny baby girl. The child opened its eyes and smiled at her, then rolled out of the flower and onto her hand.

The kind couple tenderly cared for the fairy child. She grew swift and bright and happy, and they called her Little Lily Girl.

Their home was blessed all the while Little Lily Girl was with them. The garden was always moist and green, the butter came quickly in the churn, and the milk never soured. Yet all around, the valley was drying up. Though the dragon was seldom seen, its presence was felt everywhere. The sky was always dim and the air was ever smokey. The land and the hearts of the people were parched. Each kept to each.

When Little Lily Girl was old enough, she asked her kind parents "Why is the land parched, the sky filled with smoke, and the mountaintop burning?"

They told her "A terrible fire dragon has come to nest on the mountaintop. It choked the springs of the mountain, dried the river, and burned the land. It broods ever above us and is drying even the hearts of the people."

Hearing this, Little Lily Girl said "I know now what I must do and why I have come to this place."

She gathered seeds from the garden into the folds of her apron and then stepped to the dry edge of the riverbed. Lifting a delicate dandelion tuft, and said, "Dandelion, you can fly. You have the power to lift me high."

With that the wind lifted the Little Lily Girl as she held fast to the dandelion tuft. Up high along the mountain slopes she flew until she hovered over the great dragon's nest. Below, she could see a black scaly body coiled round upon itself, steaming, smoking, and flaring its fire.

Little Lily Girl reached into her apron and withdrew a honeysuckle seed, saying "Honeysuckle, with your vine, you have the power to entwine." She dropped the seed into the center of the dragon's coil. Instantly the seed shot vines out in every direction, making a green net about the great worm. The dragon struggled and roared and became more and more entangled in the living net.

As the beast raged and rolled, Little Lily Girl dropped down to the edge of its stony nest. She withdrew a sesame seed and said, "Open sesame, with your root in rock, you have the power to unlock." She dropped the sesame among the rocks. Immediately the seed put down roots, cracking through the rocks and stones and reaching deep into the closed heart of the mountain. When the roots tapped through to the deep spring, its water came shooting upwards.

A fierce geyser of ice water burst beneath the struggling dragon, carrying the creature over the mountain ridge and down through the valley. All the while the beast raged and steamed within its net. The water bore the dragon far off in its fury. The people saw a massive black cloud, flashing and thundering, rise up in the distance as strong winds blew it out of sight.

Soon after, the river ran free again, the valley grew green again and the people came together again. They gathered seeds from the garden of the Keen-eyed Woman and the Kind-hearted Man. With these, they replanted the valley and regained their community.

Ever after that, they would sometimes here a distant roaring thunder and look up to see a black cloud flashing in the sky. Yet soon after, the waters would fall to quench the dragon's fire.

The Little Lily Girl was never seen again in that valley. Yet a short time after the next new moon, the belly of the keen-eyed woman began to grow wide and round. And when it was full and silver like the moon, she bore for them a child. A keen-eyed, kind-hearted daughter.

Tellin' About Jack

Saturday, I was honored to join Ted and Rosa Hicks along with Connie Regan-Blake, Gwenda LedBetter, Joseph Sobol, and Vixi Jill Glen, to raise support for the family in memory of Ray Hicks, the great mountain Jack Tale Teller. We had a great day tellin' about Jack!
Read all about it here.

And enjoy the stories: