by Elizabeth Honan Amber
Once upon a time there was a little girl with green hair. Not the green of dye, but more like ferns: long and lustrous, proud and strong.
One day, she came across a wooded spot that had not been there the day before. The woods had a tendency to move, like doors and houses. This wood, like so many others, boasted of tall trees and branches all stretching to hold each other. The birds were calling their noon time prayers, the Check In, to make sure the stars were still on track.
This was the girl’s favorite song. Even though she never went to into the trees, she always stopped to pray and listen to the songs of the birds. They made her think of the future and of dreams rolling in like thunder to quake and wake parts of life caught in slumber and forgetting. She had a habit of crossing her legs and pretending to curtsy to the stars, especially to the one that always came and hung over her house. The girl believed that the stars carried dreams with them, and that if you had faith, that a dream would eventually find its way to you. She felt if she acknowledged with a curtsy, showing humble honor, to this star that came to shine above her home, it would continue to be her beacon; and that the dream it carried would make its way to where she was to light up her future.
She feared that without this hope her life would only be full of moving woods, doors that never led to the same place, and all sorts of other ill-conceived and vexing changes. She didn’t want to be forever worrying about what would happen next. To her, the star was the only thing in her life that didn’t move, and she took comfort in that.
As she was walking along the edge of this newly arrived forest, she spotted an owl looking intently at her from a low perch. She was awestruck by this rare sighting of a creature from the mysterious woods. They didn’t usually venture so close to the edges.
She decided to move closer, and then offered up a shy hello. The owl nodded in return. The girl wasn’t used to silence being part of a conversation, so she moved to fill the empty space:
“Isn’t it a lovely day?” she asked. “I love it when the trees appear and I can come to hear the songs.” Hoping to impress this stranger, she added, “I always stop and pray with the birds.”
The owl blinked, and she took that as a good sign. So, she went on, enjoying having someone to talk to. “I’m hoping that a dream is on its way to me from my favorite star. You can’t see it right now, but it always shines right over there at exactly the same time every night.” She pointed to the sky above her little house.
The owl looked up but she went on before he could say anything, “I find stars so comforting — the way they always show up and never die. I love that. I want to be like a star when I grow up, always shining, and never changing or disappearing.
She suddenly grew self-conscious and decided to ask, “Do you have a favorite star?”
The owl, stared back, eyes wide, as if in deep surprise. Then he said in a clear low voice, “That is a very popular star. I believe she belongs to the Andromeda family.”
The girl blushed but before she could respond, the owl fluttered a bit and kept talking, “Stars die too, I’m afraid. They don’t live forever; you just can’t see them disappear.”
The girl went pale at this. Her hair even seemed to slump. What could the owl mean? Was he just being cruel?
The feathered creature went on, not noticing, “Most of us can’t see that far away, so it’s natural to think they never change or disappear. But they do. Just like everything else.”
She was stunned and her body went cold at these words. “What about my dreams though?” the girl cried out, “The star is supposed to send them! What if it dies before it reaches me?”
Sinking into the grass under her feet, her imagination felt on fire. All the things she had thought were sure, fixed, unchanging, were no different than anything else, uncertain, fragile and vulnerable. Her life had been filled with dread at these changes, and her prayers had been about finding a way to make everything stay where it was, as it was.
She waited for the tears and grief she was sure were about to overwhelm her.
But as she sat there none came.
Rather than feeling depressed she realized she felt calm, even curious. She was also strangely relieved.
Her mind began to feel like a puzzle that had finally found a missing piece; if stars die too, then that meant that even she would one day change and then disappear.
She wondered if, rather than praying for life to be different, to be saved from changing, she should have been praying for the courage to not fear these uncertainties. Perhaps instead of wishing that doors didn’t move, she could just see what was behind them and follow wherever they led?
She looked up at the owl who continued to sit on the branch gazing back at her. She wanted to ask all sorts of questions, but at the same time felt she didn’t know the right ones.
The first question that tumbled out, however, was, “What do I do now?”
Rather than answering in words, the owl blinked back, as if to say, “I’ll show you,” and then expanded his wings and slowly pumped the air underneath and flew off.
The girl watched the owl fly up and over the trees and then disappear. She was quiet for a long while and then began to feel a gentle sensation moving through her veins, bringing energy and a new kind of curiosity that held courage within. The woods seemed to call to her and she decided, for the first time ever, to go.
She took a deep breath and then stepped across the threshold into the trees. She looked about her, taking in the shaded and lush growth all around. There was so much to see! She walked a little further in, but she didn’t want to get too far from the place she had entered.
She stopped after a few feet, unsure what to focus on. Then she looked up and just stared, open mouthed at the view. The tops of the trees were so tall, and they seemed to be reaching for the sun, waving back and forth. It almost made her dizzy with the wonder of it. Then her hand, as if of its own accord, reached to touch the texture of the bark and moss growing in patches along the trunk.
Finally she took her eyes away from the tree she had been examining as something yellow, a short distance away, caught her eye. She could faintly see what looked to be tiny flowers waving to her. She hesitated about going farther into the forest, but, she reasoned, a couple more steps away from the clearing would be fine.
As she moved closer, she realized they were buttercups! The little girl never imagined finding something so familiar to her here. They stretched to meet her as if to say “hello and welcome!” Again, her hands instinctively reached out and her fingers gently slid along the silky petals.
Even though these flowers were common and simple, usually found among the weeds and dandelions, something about them had always made her smile and feel at home. She started to get excited and to wonder what else might she know here.
She started to take small steps away from the buttercups looking intently at each new leaf and flower she saw, finding many that were familiar to her. Soon she was saying hello to all the plants and fully engrossed in their conversations. She watched the birds flitting about and listened to their Call and Response songs. She was overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.
Whatever she had expected the woods to be, this peace that she was experiencing was not what she thought it would feel like. There was rest here, and joy. And she was happy; so happy in fact, that she wanted to stay, forever.
But after a while, a nagging sense of time welled up from her stomach. How long had she been out here? What time was it? Suddenly she felt unsure of herself. She tugged at her hands, uncertain what she was supposed to do next. Should she go home? But how would she even find her way back? Had the woods moved again while she was in here?
At the same time, she didn’t want the day to end. But the worry began to cling to her like sticky seeds hitching a ride. Why this anxiety of loss, of ending, of having to be done with a day? What did the worry mean? Was she wrong to have come here?
She went over to a tree that looked comforting and nestled herself in the groove of the roots and began to cry softly. She wanted the owl to come back and tell her what to do. She needed someone to help her. She looked up, hoping her wise feathered friend would appear on the branch of the neighboring tree. But instead of the owl, there was a little brown bird.
It was so small and it didn’t look wise like the owl had, but she was desperate to ask someone, anyone.
“Little Bird,” she said, “if I leave to go home, will I be able to find this place again?”
The bird, who was a mother and knew about babies being afraid, looked down without expression; there was no pity, hostility or impatience; just acknowledgement.
The mother bird replied, “Why do you want to find your back here?”
“Because I’m so happy. I don’t want to leave but I have to go home.” The girl was trying to keep her voice calm, but the tears were taking over.
The bird paused before answering, letting the little girl find her breath again. “My dear, this is simply a place you get to be. You will be lots of places. The question of finding your way back won’t help you to find your way forward.”
She went on, “Being here, or somewhere else, is not the point. Life is about collection and letting go; holding onto yourself, but also letting yourself move. That’s the way it is.”
The girl was quiet, overwhelmed by all the thoughts shifting and changing once again in her mind.
She finally asked in a desperate voice, “But if that’s the way it is, why am I so afraid?”
The mother flapped her wings and jumped a little on the branch, like she did when she was calming her chicks. “That doesn’t have to mean anything, fear always comes before flying.”<p class="has-text-align-center" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">**