Monday, August 27, 2018

Pine Tree by The River

                                                       Pine Tree by the River
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Mitch and his grandfather walked a worn path to the river, fishing poles in hand. A tall pine grew at the edge of the riverbank, towering over them, its girth too big to encircle with arms. “It’s so big it would take three people, maybe four to put their arms around it!” Mitch said.
His grandfather nodded. “It was here when I was a boy, with another like it over there.” The old man pointed to a bare spot near the water’s edge.
“What happened?” 
“Nor’easter. Wind uprooted it.”
Sunlight filtered though the tree’s dark green needles, dappling the ground. The boy patted the tree’s bark. “How old is the tree?”
His grandfather considered. “It was big when I was a boy, but I don’t know how old it is. I’m sure there’s a way to figure it out, though. I’ll ask my friend Dan. He’ll know, he’s a forester.”  Grandpa lifted his fishing pole. “Now let’s get down to some fishing!”
Later that week, Grandpa asked Mitch if he wanted to walk to the river. “To fish?”
 Grandpa held tape measure, a small pad and a calculator. “Not today. Let’s figure out how old the tree is.”
When they arrived at the riverbank, Grandpa extended the measuring tape and asked Mitch to walk it around the tree. Mitch marched around the tree and handed his end to Grandpa. Grandpa held the tape chest high— a little bit taller than Mitch— and called out a number. “One hundred twenty-eight inches.”
“Should I write that down?” Mitch asked.
“Good idea.”
They sat on the riverbank and Grandpa took out the calculator. “We’ll never know exactly how old the tree is, but when we’re finished, we’ll have a good estimation of its age, OK?”
Mitch nodded.
“The first thing is to figure out what the diameter of the tree is. Do you know what that is?”
“It’s the measurement across the middle of a circle. If I cut the tree down and measured across the trunk, that would be the diameter. But, we don’t want to cut the tree down.”
 “So, I measured around the tree. We can figure out the diameter from that.” Grandpa handed Mitch the calculator. “The measurement around the tree was—”
Mitch looked at what he’d written, “One hundred twenty-eight.” He slowly tapped “128” into the calculator.
“To find the diameter, divide by 3.14.”
Mitch raised his eyebrows when he saw  40.764331 appear on the screen.  “The tree is only 40? You’re older than that!”
Grandpa laughed. “We aren’t finished yet. Different trees grow at different rates. Some grow fast, some slow. Do you know what kind of tree that is?”
“Yes, white pine. According to Dan, they have a growth rate of five. Multiply the number on your calculator by five. If it were a different kind of tree, we’d use a different number.”
Mitch’s eyes widened. “203.82165?”
“Let’s just say two hundred four, OK? Now subtract two hundred four from 2018 and you have some idea when the tree sprouted.”
Grandpa nodded.
“Just imagine. Your ancestors had just settled in these parts, built the farmhouse, cleared the land. Big trees had been cut and floated down the river, to build ships and houses. This little seedling sprang up, a bristle of dark green at the top.
“Wild game was plentiful. Moose and bear walked by the little tree, maybe even a cougar coming to the river to drink.
“It grew bigger. Our country was young, only thirty-eight years old. There were probably bigger trees around the sapling and many of them were cut for lumber, but the tree was small and near the water. People left it alone.
“Bridges were built across the river, but not here. This tree was left to grow.
“Every single one of your ancestors who lived here passed by the tree, played under it, fished by it. They picked up pinecones for kindling, picnicked by it. If the tree could talk, it could tell you stories about all of them.”

Mitch patted the tree. That was something to think about.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published August 26, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, August 20, 2018

An Amazon Tale

                                            An Amazon Tale
                                              By Valerie L. Egar
Jock, my neighbor, sailed the seas as a merchant marine for thirty years. At first, all I heard were tales of hurricanes, steamy ports near the equator with spiders big as cats, deadly icebergs in the far north. Then he started telling me about river ports he’d seen. He’d delivered bulldozers to Nile ports in Egypt and grain to a port on the Ganges in India, and once, construction supplies to a port far enough up the Amazon River to be surrounded by jungle.
      “We had to navigate the Amazon slowly,” Jock said. “It’s a treacherous river and though the captain had maps of the sand bars, they change with the rains and floods. Imagine: thick jungle on both sides. Wooden canoes paddled beside our ship, keeping a good distance away. Every now and then we’d see a raft moving goods. The first time I saw a truck on a raft, I took a picture. I’d never seen such a thing!”
       Jock fished around in a box and pulled out a photo of a blue pick-up lashed to a wooden raft.
      “What if it fell in the water?”
       Jock shrugged. “Guess they do, sometimes.” He sipped his iced tea. “Then, we saw pink dolphins. They followed the ship, stayed beside it all the way up the river, leading the way.”
He explained that pink dolphins dwell in the Amazon and are rare. “They’re sacred to people who live along the river, who insist the dolphins can turn into humans and back again. I don’t believe it for a minute, except—”
“Except what?”
Jock shook his head.  “I’ve learned there’s reasonable explanation for almost everything and I’m not going to fill your head with nonsense.”
That made me a little mad. I’m old enough to know what nonsense is, and I wanted to hear the story, which is exactly what I told Jock.  It’s not fair to get right up to the good part and then stop.
“All right! The Captain warned us to leave the pink dolphins alone. ‘They’re rare, they’re beautiful, respect them,’ he said. But, there’s always somebody who doesn’t listen. One of my crewmates, Marley, started taking pot shots at them from the deck one afternoon. The captain was furious and stopped him, but not before Marley had hit one. Hard to tell what damage it did, but a pall settled over the whole ship. What he’d done was wrong and we didn’t think that was the end of it.
“Later that day, we pulled into port. Not much of a town, but enough to explore after being on the ship for so many days. There was a festival and in the center square, a band played. People danced. Everyone was friendly and soon, all of us were dancing, laughing and having fun.
“Hours into the festivities, a tall girl appeared, dressed in white. She was unlike anyone I’d ever seen. Mysterious. Long black hair, blue eyes. Unlike the other girls, she was alone. Her parents weren’t with her.  No one knew who she was.
“She was the dolphin turned into a human, wasn’t she?”
“I told you I don’t believe that nonsense.”
“Then who was she?”
“A girl from another village is my guess.”
“What happened?”
         “She walked up to Marley and they started to dance.”
Before I could protest, Jock stopped me. “Marley was a handsome guy.  He stood out. When I left, they were still dancing.
“Early the next morning, the First Mate pounded on my door to wake me. He was organizing a search party for Marley. He’d disappeared.”
“We never found him. But there’s no mystery in that. It was the jungle. Quicksand. Wild animals. Bandits.  Poisonous snakes. Anything could have happened.”
 “But,” Jock added, “I saw the girl once more before I left. She walked through town and I followed her at a distance to see where she went. She took a jungle path
 and came out near the river. The moon was low and I couldn’t see well, but I heard splashing. Did she dive into the water and disappear or climb into a canoe? I can’t honestly say.”
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published August 19, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Old Woman and The Fire

                                       The Old Woman and the Fire
                                            By Valerie L. Egar

A very long time ago, when everyone spoke the same language and the rocks, trees and animals spoke as clearly as any human, an old woman left the place where she’d been born. She’d been widowed for many years and her children were grown and far away. During a war, foreign soldiers ravaged her farm and left no food for her to eat. Her neighbors had their own struggles and could not help.

The woman pulled on her worn boots, cut a walking stick from an alder tree in the front yard, glanced at the house where she had raised her family and began to walk. She was heavy with sorrow, sad to leave her home and worried how she would fend for herself.  Her sorrow and worries weighed upon her like a heavy sack of potatoes.
She soon came to a rushing river. It was clear and sparkled in the morning light. The old woman sat by the river
to rest and had an idea. “River, river, will you take my sorrow and my worries? They are too much for me to carry, but you are strong and flow swiftly. Surely you can take them away.”
“No,” replied the river.  “Do not leave them with me. They are heavy and will sink like a stone and be mine forever. I cannot take them.”
 The woman walked on, observing everything around her. A gentle breeze kissed her face and cooled her. “Wind,” the old woman said.  “You are so kind to refresh me. Will you take my worries?  Blow away my sorrow?  I am old and growing tired of carrying them.”
The wind huffed and huffed. “No, I cannot,” it replied. They are heavy and will not move no matter how hard I blow.”
Once again, the old woman travelled on. She was weary and hungry. Her worries grew as she walked and her back ached under the terrible weight of her sorrow. On a rocky path over a mountain, the woman asked, “Earth beneath my feet, may I give you my worries? May I bury my sorrow in you?”

A deep voice replied. “If you bury them, they will live in me forever. I do not want them. I cannot.”
That night the woman sat alone at the edge of a great forest. She built a small fire, boiled water for tea and roasted a small potato. The fire warmed her and she looked into the flames. “Fire, will you take my worries and my sorrow?”
The flames crackled as the fire answered. “Yes, give them to me and I will change them into something else. I will turn your worries into ash, lighter than feathers and the wind will whisk them away. I will shine light through your tears and make rainbows. I will burn away what has no use and leave pure gold. I will take your burdens and transform them.”
 The woman understood and looked through her small rucksack for things to feed the fire. A small pebble from her village.  Living there was behind her, she had no need for it. A snippet of an old dress she’d worn during many sorrows. Her empty coin purse.  A sad letter from her daughter.  To say thank you, she added a pinch of lavender from the garden she’d left behind. Smoke rose and she danced in it, singing for the first time in many years. 
A much younger woman awakened in the morning, refreshed and bright, excitement for new adventures burning in her heart.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published August 12, 2018, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Paulo and Ishtar

                                            Paulo and Ishtar
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

                        A long time ago, before cell phones and the internet, before automobiles and electric lights, long before sea monsters became extinct and unicorns invisible, a mighty king ruled a prosperous mountain kingdom. Merchants from distant kingdoms travelled in caravans to buy rubies and sapphires mined in the hills and brought with them the finest woven silk, pearls large as birds’ eggs and perfumes distilled from thousands of sweet flowers.
People came from distant villages to trade gems they mined for the wondrous things the merchants offered and the king welcomed the merchants and his subjects to the capital with a ten-day festival. Street vendors sold sweet honey cakes, roasted nuts and barbequed meats. Musicians played music long into the night. Puppet shows and dance performances entertained thousands. The king invited several of the merchants to the castle for dinner and it was there that a young merchant named Paulo met the king’s youngest daughter, Ishtar.
Ishtar was a clever young woman, curious about the world, and she was fascinated by Paulo’s stories. His escapes from fierce river pirates.  Travelling at night through the desert to avoid the heat, stars so close he thought he could reach out and touch them. A tiger trailing their caravan for days, its green eyes glowing in the dark. 
Unlike other women Paulo had met, Ishtar didn’t giggle or ask silly questions. She asked how far they travelled in a day, and how he knew the animal was a tiger and not a lion when it was night and hard to see. She asked how pearls were harvested and if the caravan stopped traveling during the monsoon season. Paulo was fascinated and soon, though many were seated at the banquet table, the world existed only between them.
When the guests left, the king visited Ishtar in her chamber. “Paulo is quite a storyteller, is he not?”
Ishtar glowed. “He told me about the pirates and  how to train a camel! And then—”
The king frowned. “And you are promised in marriage to Prince Raigner.”
Across the city, Paulo’s father was having a similar conversation with Paulo. “Yes, Ishtar is smart ,” he said, “but the king would never consider you suitable. Besides, you are engaged to Lucinda.”
As the festival continued, Paulo and Ishtar continued to enjoy each other’s company. Their fathers dismissed their smiles and glances across the room as passing fancies that would soon be forgotten when the festival was over and the caravan on its way.
 On the last night of the festival, Ishtar crept from her room and into the night. Paulo was waiting. They fled into the mountains, intending to reach the border of
the next kingdom, where they were unknown and could easily marry. They travelled through the night and though Paulo had purchased the fastest horses, the beasts quickly tired in the rocky terrain.
            The young couple briefly sheltered in a cave, sleeping only a few hours and then continued their journey. With the sun’s rise, the king discovered his daughter missing and in anger dispatched his army to retrieve her. “As to Paulo,” he said ominously to the Captain, “ I care not what you do.”
            The army had no trouble following the trail of the young couple. Paulo and Ishtar soon heard the thunder of hooves and the clank of armor and found themselves surrounded. In the dying light of the evening, only Ishtar saw the glint of an arrow aimed at Paulo and she stepped into its path.
            As the arrow touched her chest, a drop of blood appeared and she was transformed into a small finch and flew away.
            Paulo saw what happened and his eyes followed the little bird. “Come back, come back,” he cried. As an arrow pierced him, he grew into a mighty tree  as the soldiers watched. They saw the little bird come back to the tree and knew the tree would hold her close in its branches forever and ever.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published August 5, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).