Monday, June 26, 2017

After All The Trees Disappeared

                                                  After All the Trees Disappeared
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

     After all the trees disappeared, people painted pictures of what they remembered of trees inside their houses. They painted leaves on walls and circled their wrists with green silk woven into bracelets. They bought candles called “Balsam” and “Apple Blossom” and tried to remember how trees smelled.  At bedtime, parents told stories about great forests and how birds sang from treetops. Children who had never seen a tree found it hard to imagine sunlight filtering though leafy branches.
     An inventor developed Lookatree, an aluminum tree with green metallic leaves. Sunk into concrete holes in parks, they provided some shade, but were dangerous in lightening storms. Another invented Treebrella, an odd fabric creation that opened like an umbrella and was supposed to look like a tree. When people compared it to the photographs of trees in museums, they realized it didn’t resemble a tree at all.
    The earth lacked beauty without trees. No bursts of color in autumn when leaves changed color. No pine branches laden with snow.  People missed the food trees provided even more. No more apples, peaches, oranges, plums, pears. No coffee.
   One day, a group of girl scouts camping near a river went exploring. Digging near a cave, they uncovered a storage jar. They peeked inside, but had no idea what they were seeing. Brown, black and speckled orbs and ovals, some tiny, others the size of a thumb. “Could they be seeds?” one of the girls asked. Rumors persisted that tree seeds were cached before the tree population diminished and finally disappeared, but records were lost and no one had ever found where the seeds were stored. 
The girls carried the storage jar back to the camp.  The troop leader’s eyes widened when she saw what the girls had found. “These look like seeds, all kinds of seeds!”
The University confirmed that the jar contained thousands of seeds and, in greenhouses across the world, the precious seeds were placed in fertile soil. Never had anything been watched with so much tenderness and anxiety as those pots. Video cams aimed at the pots recorded every moment and people watched on the internet, learning that trees did not sprout quickly. When the first shoot of green appeared, newspapers carried celebratory headlines.
One by one, most of the seeds sprouted and grew. Oak, apple, pine and maple.  Peach, ash, birch and locust. Gentle hands nurtured each seedling and when each was big enough, towns vied for the honor of having one. 

Only when the environment was suitable for the tree, was a request granted.

Towns fortunate enough to receive a sapling celebrated with great fanfare. Often, after a tree was planted, towns had a parade. People carefully watched their sapling and monitored its growth. When leaves colored and fell to the ground in the fall, people sold them as wondrous souvenirs, with the money used to care for the tree. Passers-by gently dusted snow off branches in the winter. People came from miles around to admire the tree.

When each tree was mature enough to yield seeds, they were gathered and sent to greenhouses to grow more trees. Everyone understood that it would be hundreds of years before there would be enough trees for people to enjoy a hike in a forest or picnic in a shaded grove, but they planned for the future and planted trees, one at a time.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published June 25, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Naming the Stray

"Mud Flap" when he first arrived!

Naming the Stray
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Timid and scared, the brown and black dog ran through the village, rooting in garbage and drinking water from the canal. People assumed an owner too lazy to take him to a shelter dumped him in the nearby park. He ran too fast and was too wily for anyone to get a good look, but a quick glance showed he was big, about 50 pounds, a shepherd-collie mix. The twisty tail suggested a smidgen of husky or elkhound added in.
            A group of young boys decided to catch him. “Here boy, c’mon.”  Offered food, the dog, shy as a deer, hesitated and decided it was too dangerous. Off he ran. For two weeks, the dog eluded people trying to help him. He grew thinner. He began to limp, most likely from being nicked by a car when he crossed the highway. The boys were persistent. One day, circling him with their bicycles, they managed to capture him. Now what to do?
My son, Leo, was a veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania at the time.  “We’ll give him to Leo,” the boys decided. “He’ll know what to do.” Meanwhile, because of the dog’s large ears, the tips of which flopped down, and the dirt he’d collected in his fur after two weeks of running, the boys named him “Mud Flap.”
 Mud Flap quickly secreted himself behind a wall of boxes in a storage room in our house and came out to eat and drink only when he was alone. Quiet and still, no one would ever think there was a large dog hiding in the room. He liked our other dogs, though, a German Shepherd, named Veronica and a husky, named Keeka. We’d pet Veronica or Keeka and say, “Good girl, what a nice dog!” and slowly, Mud Flap would emerge from his hiding place to be pet, too. Being around the other dogs helped him overcome his shyness.
Despite his large size, we soon learned Mud Flap was still a puppy. His large  half-floppy ears began to stand straight up, like a shepherd’s. He wasn’t yet house-broken. He chewed things. Everything. The handle on the hammer.  One shoe from every pair I owned. The cord off the vacuum— three times. In the day when cell phones were as large as a telephone receiver and had antennas, he fished the phone out of my purse, undid the Velcro tab on the case, extended the antenna with his teeth and chewed it off.

He had a knack for carrying things, which usually coincided with his desire to chew them. Liter of water? No problem, he bit onto the cap, carried it to his bed and gnawed on the bottle, piercing the plastic and spilling the water all over.  He delicately removed a frying pan left in the kitchen sink, lifting it by the handle.  His biggest find was a long steel bar with curved ends and a lock called “The Club," used to prevent auto theft. I’d grown tired of wrangling it onto the steering wheel and stashed it on a lower shelf in the utility room. He spotted it, pulled it out and carried it around, the biggest bone ever.
Though the first thought was to place Mud Flap in a good home, he soon endeared himself to the household.  We decided to rename him and keep him. “Chewy” might have worked, but I hoped he would soon limit his prodigious chewing to bones and nylon dog toys. Dennis? His good-natured mischief reminded me of the cartoon character Dennis the Menace, but somehow, the name didn’t quite fit.  He lacked menace— in his world, there was only curiosity and fun.
One morning, the lanky adolescent dog came bounding through the kitchen, the fabric remains of a recently gutted frog squeaky toy hanging from his mouth. He was moving so fast, he had no traction on the linoleum floor, and for a few brief moments, he galloped, without moving forward. We started to laugh and realized how much we’d laughed since he arrived.  The word ‘snicker’ came to mind and we tried it out. Snicker. The name was just right.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author. 
Published in Journal Tribune Sunday, June 18, 2017.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Gem Thief

   The Gem Thief
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar

A wealthy jeweler, Basil, had a smart daughter, Kyra. The girl loved playing with the gems heaped on her father’s workbench. Basil, ever patient, taught her the names of the stones. As Kyra grew, she began to help her father with the business, waiting on customers and keeping accounts. Basil was proud of her and looked forward to the day when he could add the words, “And Daughter” to the sign that hung above his shop door.
Kyra’s mother died when she was very young and her father had remarried. Though his wife, Ansi, smiled and nodded agreeably when Kyra spoke, she was jealous of the love her husband felt for his daughter. Her heart was dark and unlike her husband, she did not want Kyra to have any part in her father’s business.
One night, while Basil slept, Ansi crept into his workshop. Holding a lantern so she could see, she grabbed a beautiful blue sapphire from the workbench. The stone glittered in the lantern’s light. She slipped into Kyra’s room and hid it in a crack between the floorboards.
“Where is the sapphire I was setting for the Prince?” Basil shouted from his workshop the next morning.
Kyra and Basil looked under the workbench, in every drawer, even in his teacup. Nothing.
Basil didn’t know what to do. The Prince would be furious and Basil could not easily replace the missing stone.
Ansi appeared with a pot of tea. “Husband, why not search the house?” she said sweetly. “Perhaps a mouse carried it off and hid it.”
Basil thought that unlikely, but he was desperate to find the missing gem. The locks on the doors were still in place and no windows were broken, so he did not suspect thieves. Maybe a mouse had carried it off.
They searched under cushions, on top of cabinets, in water jugs. “Oh my,” cried Ansi as she searched Kyra’s room. “Husband, look here!”  Ansi pointed to the space between the floorboards in Kyra’s room.
Basil pulled the sapphire from its hiding place. “What a relief!”
“But husband,” Ansi whispered.  “Why did Kyra take it?” She began to cry loud, false tears. “Maybe she was planning to kill us in our sleep. Perhaps she was going to run away with the grocer’s son. Who knows what she was going to do?”
“I will ask her,” Basil said.
“I did not take the sapphire,” said Kyra. “It must be as Ansi said— we have a mouse.”
Ansi’s eyes narrowed. “But why did the mouse hide it in your room?” she asked. “And why did it steal the Prince’s gem?”
Kyra shrugged. “I do not know how a mouse thinks.”
Basil was steadfast. “I agree it was a mouse. There is no other explanation.”
That night, Ansi slipped into the workshop again and a large star ruby caught her eye. She took the stone and hid it in a drawer in Kyra’s bedroom.
The next day, Basil discovered the star ruby missing. Kyra and Basil searched the workshop without success. Ansi suggested they search the living quarters, and once again, she discovered the gem hidden in Kyra’s room.
“Husband,” she whispered. “Do not say this is the work of a mouse! How does a mouse open a drawer? How does a mouse know to choose the finest gems?”
“Perhaps it is a rat, not a mouse,” said Basil. “Or, a snake. I’ve heard they are very clever and like nice things.”
Once again, he questioned Kyra. “I did not take the ruby,” she said. “Perhaps it was a rat or a snake, as you said, Father.”
Before Kyra left the workshop that evening, she put a large diamond on the workbench. That night, Ansi again

visited the workshop. When she reached for the diamond, her hand brushed the workbench and immediately stuck to it.  “Oh!” she cried and tried to pull her hand away.  Then, her right hand brushed the workbench and stuck. She could not move.

Basil and Kyra found her in the morning. “I thought I heard someone,” she said, and I tried to catch them,” but Basil knew the truth and sent her away forever.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar, may not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published June 11, 2017 Sunday Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Farmer's Dream

                                                     The Farmer’s Dream
                                               By Valerie L. Egar

            A young farmer lived in a cabin at the foot of a mountain with his wife and daughter. His land was rocky and not easily farmed, but he managed to grow enough food to feed his family and their cow. His wife grew vegetables and raised chickens. Their daughter helped by milking the cow and weeding the garden.
            One night as the farmer slept, he dreamt he found emeralds and rubies red as blood deep in the earth on his farm. The gems were beautiful and sparkled in his hands. When he awoke, he told his wife about his dream.  “Perhaps it means the crops will yield well this year and we will have a little extra money,” she said.
            The farmer shook his head. “No. It means there are emeralds and rubies buried somewhere on our farm.” 
            Hi wife thought no more about it until lunchtime when she carried a basket with bread, cheese and cool water to the farmer. Instead of hoeing weeds and watering the barley he’d planted, he was digging a hole in the middle of the field, tossing aside the young plants he’d tended so carefully. A pile of barley plants withered in the hot sun.
            “What are you doing, husband?” she cried.
           “Looking for the gems I saw in my dream.”
            “Couldn’t you wait until after the harvest?”
            “No!” he whispered. “What if thieves discovered them first?”
            Every day, the farmer dug holes in his field, uprooting the wheat and barley he’d planted.
            “Husband,” his wife said, “You’re killing all you planted. We won’t have any food this winter.”
            “You worry too much, “ he replied. “When I find the emeralds and rubies, we’ll be rich and able to buy all the food we want.”
            His wife said nothing, but planted extra turnips and potatoes in her garden to try and make up for the loss of the grain.
            By the middle of summer, holes and piles of dirt covered the fields where barley and wheat once grew. The farmer eyed his wife’s garden. “That’s where the emeralds and rubies must be!” he declared and started to dig, uprooting the vegetables his wife was growing for them to eat.
            “Have faith,” he said to his wife. “I know there are emeralds and rubies somewhere and I am working hard every day to find them.”
The farmer’s wife had never seen her husband work harder, but when she saw all the plants she grew dying in the sun, the only thing she could imagine was a winter with nothing to eat. “I wish you luck, husband,” she said and left to live with her parents, taking their daughter with her.
 The farmer searched for the emeralds and rubies for the rest of the season, without finding them.  He barely made it through the winter, but in the spring, he resumed digging. Instead of calling himself a farmer, he said he was a miner, digging for precious gems. People in the village called him odd and some laughed behind his back. Still, he persisted.
Years passed. He scraped by, year in and year out, growing thin, his hair greying. “In my dream,” he told those who would listen, “I saw emeralds and rubies. I held them in my hands.”
            One evening in June, as the evening light lingered, the farmer dug the deepest hole ever. Something glimmered in the setting sun. It was the size of a hen’s egg and glowed green. He picked it up— an emerald, large and perfect. He dug faster and deeper and soon, he had a bucket of the largest and most beautiful emeralds and rubies ever seen.
            He sold the gems and became very wealthy. Newspapers all over the world reported his extraordinary find. Many people commended him for following his dream, and believing in himself. Others were critical. “He gave up his family, friends, and good health to have what?” they said. People spent hours debating the issue. Everybody had an opinion, but what does that matter? The only thing that’s important is what you think about it.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author. 
Published June 4, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).