The Willow's Water

Like all good adventures this one starts on a dark and stormy night.
The wind was a wild torrent and the stars were blotted out by the thick brooding clouds. The thunder rolled and the lightning crashed. George was wondering if it was ever going to end. Today was his ninth birthday and he thought that it was rather crummy that his only wish was the one that couldn’t — or wouldn’t - be granted.
He wished that he could run to his mother, bury his face in her lap, and tell her all of his troubles but then he recalled what the doctor had recently said.
“She may not have much longer. It’s probably best if no one disturbs her.” The words resounded coldly through his mind. He heard them over and over again. Finally, he started to cry. His sobs echoed loudly in his head; it almost overpowered the noise of the storm outside.
He sobbed until his eyes were tired and droopy and his stomach and throat ached. Slowly, his tears subsided and he rose from the bed. Quietly, he grabbed his pocket knife from the nightstand next to the bed and put it in his right pocket. He never went anywhere without it. Right before his mother fell sick, she gave him his grandfather’s old pocket knife as an early birthday present. It was his most treasured possession
-as a pocket knife is to most boys of any age.
Using a flashlight to illuminate the way to the bathroom, he stepped out onto the cold, wood floor and tip-toed into the hallway.
As he neared the bathroom door, he had an odd sensation that something was not quite right. Ignoring the feeling, he pushed on. He reached out his hand to turn the doorknob but hesitated, again feeling strange.
“This is silly,” he whispered out loud. “What reason do I have to be afraid of the bathroom!” he thought incredulously. “Seriously, a boy of my advanced years, afraid?!” The very idea was utterly ridiculous.
Bolstered by his own reasoning, he boldly grasped the knob. He instantly felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He felt like he was being pulled somewhere by his belly button. Panicked, he let out a little yelp just before he vanished. Though if truth be told, I don’t think that it helped nor do I think anyone heard it.
He awoke dazed, but otherwise rather well rested, considering the circumstances. He rubbed the sand out of his eyes and scratched his head, confused by what he saw. It appeared as though he had fallen — if fallen is the right word — into a very strange yet beautiful place unlike anything he had ever seen before. The sun was shining very brightly and the air was cool on his skin. He stood and wiggled his bare toes in the cold, dewy grass below his feet. A misty haze swirled playfully over the meadow.
“This is wonderful,” he breathed, mostly to himself really. He did not realize that he was not alone.
“Yes, I quite think so, too,” agreed a little bird perched in a nearby tree “though I do think that it looks best just before dusk.”
Of course you can only imagine how truly shocked George must have been. But now I suppose would be a good time to inform you that he was actually not shocked at all . . . much to his surprise as well. Deep down I think he always knew that animals could talk; somewhere deep in his innermost soul he understood that things are often more than what they seem.
Soon they were joined by other chatty birds and a few squirrels. I could relate their conversation, for it was most entertaining, but I will not for it would take far too long and they mostly conversed about the weather. However, I will say that one little bit of information particularly piqued the interest of our young hero.
“My dear fellow,” said Squirrel, “I am so glad to see you flying so nicely again. Few birds are able to recover from such a terrible accident. Yes a broken wing is quite life-threatening for a bird, especially one of your size. Yes, I do think that the water I told you about worked wonders, if I do say so myself . . . which I do.”
Unaware of the condescending and patronizing air that Squirrel was putting on, Chickadee chirped enthusiastically, “Oh yes, yes! It truly did, it truly did!”
It was at this point that our young hero became interested and rudely interrupted the conversing creatures.
“Water?” George asked. “Water made you better?” Up until then, George had never had a real appreciation for water — very few of us do — in fact he tried to avoid it whenever possible especially when it was administered in loathsome large quantities such as baths. Now, however, he was beginning to see things in a new light. “Surely,” he thought, “this is no ordinary water. I am certain that mother drinks water regularly. Perhaps if I get some for her, she will get well.”
The sunrise was hastening now and the mist started drifting back into the shaded forest. George gasped as he saw what the receding mist revealed. In front of him, beyond the meadow, there was a mountain range so high that he could barely see the snowy tops. And to his left there was a deep, dark forest where the trees swayed without wind. Some even appeared to have old, wrinkly, papery faces.
“Yes,” squeaked the slightly annoyed Squirrel. “My good friend, you really don’t get out much do you?” he speculated. Squirrel seemed to have already formed an opinion on our friend and it didn’t appear to be very favorable. Squirrel thought George was some hideously oversized form of a naked mole rat . . . that was his only explanation for George’s soft, pink, hairless skin.
Ignoring Squirrel’s rudeness he asked hopefully, “this water . . . is it magical? I mean, will it heal anybody?”
“Of course, of course!” chirped Chickadee.
“Where can I find it?” George asked excitedly.
Chickadee cocked his head to the side and looked inquisitively at him with his black, beady eyes. Clearly, he was curious why a giant pink thing that appeared to be in perfect health would need it, but good manners and proper breeding stopped him from prying. He was not one for idle gossip, unlike his good friend, Magpie.
Chickadee continued, “Alright, I can give you part of the directions, I can, I can. But it is up to you to do the rest.” Clearing his little bird like throat he began “First, you must step to the edge of the deep, dark forest. Then, you must take 600 paces straight ahead. It is very important that you walk straight!” he warned. “It is very dangerous in the woods, yes it is, yes it is. When you have gone 600 paces, turn to face Weeping Willow in the shady glade . . . don’t be surprised if she starts to weep when she sees you. As you go past her, be sure to give her a sincere compliment. Then she will give it to you, she will, she will!”
George was, as I am sure you can imagine, fairly overwhelmed by the task at hand. It’s not often that a nine year old has to orienteer his way through a forest full of living trees where other uncommon, or otherwise scary creatures lurk.
He stepped to the edge of the forest and took a deep breath.
“Oh!” chirped Chickadee, “I almost forgot, I almost forgot!” He fluttered over to George carrying a small leather pouch gingerly in his little beak. George swallowed hard and took the little parcel from Chickadee. He felt more uncomfortable than he ever had in his whole life. All growing up he heard stories of cowboys, and pirates, and knights, going fearlessly into some unknown. He had assumed that that’s just how it happened. Unlike all of his favorite heroes, he timidly took his first step into own great adventure, comforted by the presence of his beloved pocket knife.
At first the prickly, uneven ground bothered and stung his poor bare feet, but as time went on he grew so focused on counting that he hardly noticed the little cuts anymore. Except, of course for when he stepped on a particularly sharp pebble, which one is practically expected to do from time to time when one is bare-foot out in the wild. He was glad that he had to focus so hard on counting. It was all that he could do to keep himself from trembling with fear every time a tree moved in his way, or he heard a low growling noise somewhere in the underbrush.
He was so focused on counting, in fact, that he over-counted and would have missed Weeping Willow and her shady glade except for the sobbing sounds that happened to catch his attention.
Timidly, he approached Weeping Willow, scrambling for an appropriate compliment. He had never complimented a tree before, so he wasn’t sure exactly what trees found praiseworthy. Very aware that time was running out, he frantically blurted out the first thing that came into his head.
“M-my,” he stammered, “you look very green and leafy today.”
Apparently, this was not the correct thing to say to a weeping, Weeping Willow, or perhaps it was the way the compliment was delivered that was unacceptable. Either way, Weeping Willow swayed for a moment in shock then continued to sob quietly.
Of course George felt terrible, he did not mean to offend her; very few of us try to offend people with compliments. Out of desperation, he decided it was best to try and rectify the situation by continuing on with the conversation.
“It is a fine morning today . . . is it not?” He was met with more tears. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Um, I hope you have had a good morning,” he began, “You have a lovely glade. . . .” Although he had forgotten what Chickadee had said, he managed to give a sincere compliment anyhow.
Weeping Willow grew silent and once again and swayed in shock. “Why, thank you,” she whispered. She whimpered as if she were about to cry again, but it was not like the other times. This time was more like when the ladies at church are telling a touching story and can’t make it through without getting choked up.
Feeling that he had successfully appeased her injured feelings, he ventured to inquire about the water.
“Ms. Willow,” he asked, “Do you know Mr. Chickadee?”
“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?” she sniffled.
“Oh, well, it’s just that he sent me to you, and as soon as I saw you I could tell that you would know how I could get some water that makes people well again.
She straightened, and seemed to blush — if trees can blush — as she gently shook out her branches, much like a human woman would smooth out her skirts in just such an occasion. She was very gratified to have been recommended by her good friend Chickadee to this stranger. George noticed a little papery smile come to her delicate, smooth trunk.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose that is true,” she swayed. “Alright, I will give it to you.”
George sighed with relief. He thought that it was going to be much more complicated than that to get it, and he was right, as he soon discovered.
“There are two ways to get the water,” she began, “the choice is up to you.”
George nodded for her to continue.
“The first way is to take the water with out permission. And the second way is to give me something precious of yours in exchange.”
George was confused. “Why, may I ask, would someone trade something precious to them with you, if they could just take it?”
Weeping Willow sighed and said, “My young friend, I did not say that there were not consequences to those choices. If you choose the first, the water will not have the same effect. It will merely taste refreshing and quench your thirst for a short while, but it will not sustain you as it will if you deal honestly for it.”
George understood now and was ashamed that he had even thought of taking it without permission. His mother had taught him better than that. Stealing is never right even if you have good intentions.
He thought hard for a minute about what he had with him that he could trade. He searched his pockets and found nothing until he got to his front right pocket where grandpa’s pocket knife is lay folded. He lifted it slowly out of his pocket and stared at it for a long time. He admired its smooth handle and sharp blade. Despite its age, it was a fine knife, one that would make him the envy of any boy. He grimaced slightly as he snapped the blade closed for the last time. He knew what he had to do.
He looked up into Weeping Willow’s gentle face and said, “Alright, I am ready, what do I need to do?”
Weeping Willow gazed kindly into his face for a moment and said, “Do you see my pond, only a stone’s toss away from where you are standing?”
George looked in the direction that her long wispy branches were pointing and saw a quaint shimmering pool nearby. Silently, and solemnly he nodded.
“Go.” she whispered. The way she said it sent chills down his spine.
He tip-toed slowly over to the water’s edge; the closer he got the more it felt as though he was standing on holy ground. Even though he was in the middle of the woods, the earth around the pond was incredibly clean and the water itself almost seemed to glow. The warmth that he felt inside just being near the water brought tears to his eyes.
As he gazed into the shining water he knew with a calm certainty what it was that he had to do. He looked at his pocket knife one last time, trying to memorize every angle. Then he carefully dropped it into the pond and waited for it to hit the sandy bottom, but as he watched it fell further and further down until it disappeared without ever hitting the bottom. He had a feeling that perhaps one day, he would run into it again.
He removed the small leather pouch that Chickadee had given him and dipped it into the pool. When the bag was filled he turned to Weeping Willow.
“Thank you,” he said, “Thank you for everything.” All this time he had not known what to make of Weeping Willow. He could not understand why she would cry so much. Now he realized something: when one is standing in a special place one often feels it in his very soul — a deep, comforting feeling that brings him to tears at times. He was grateful that Weeping Willow would share her living water with him.
He turned from Weeping Willow and started to make his way slowly back to the path. With every step his confidence grew. He was sure now that his mother would live.

The Willow's Water


Joined December 2007

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