In the country, where the snow melted after the winter thaw, new streams flooded already boggy ground and marshes came to life. Freshness abound, all was alive then with a thirsty lust for life and survival and the celebration of golden times to come.
In darkness through the cold, stark, frozen weeks of winter, two newborn cubs had snuggled into their parent’s breast and warm flanks, hungry and yearning for the taste of spring. Small and blind they clung to all they knew, the rigid teat and bristling swell of the mother who lay still all the weeks long, in slow slumber, serving only to incubate her young.
When first the light of springtime broke into their cavern home, the cub’s eyes had come to life and a new excitement gripped them. Their contented hearts leapt with happiness and the freedom of an open world beckoned them to venture to the cave mouth, blinking and mewing constantly lest they lose each other as they crept towards a new realm of understanding.
The mother woke. She knew the world and knew the dangers yet she allowed her cubs to scent and venture, only so far though before she called to them in her whiny way to stop them where they were at the mouth of her cave home. They did as they were bid, an unknown instinct held them at the sound of her voice. They stopped and looked no further, returning instead to her warmth and loving company.
For a whole day and night she gradually came to from her long winter sleep. All that time she fussed over the cubs, licking them clean too often, nuzzling them with her snout, testing their weight and balance to judge if they were indeed ready for life outside the cave. By morning next she judged them fit to travel with her out of the cave and into their whole new world of trees, rivers, rocks and green plains that lay waiting for them all. With some coaxing now she urged them on towards the cave mouth where yesterday they had seemed so brave, now, as the reality of their departure dawned, the cubs were a little more coy with their approach, letting their mother lead the way lest danger should befall them.
The winds had not been kind this winter, they had blown in from far towards the upper regions of the territory and caused much destruction. In the woods many trees had fallen and been uprooted. Finding shelter had not been easy for some. Hiding among the scrub in prepared hideaway dens, a family of white tailed deer had not settled, they moved from place to place in an effort to stay out of harm’s reach as the woods were wrecked by the cruel snow-storms that blew and blew for days on end. Often after grazing the adults would return to their den to find their two beloved fawns laying out in the white, blanketed ground, unprotected, their den yet again smashed by a fallen oak. After a while they simply roamed, keeping the fawns with them, ever alert for danger, ever watching for those predators who hunted them, the bear, the wolf and eagle. This was not a time for fawns to be so exposed and the parents did all they could to offer shelter from the cold yet even then, one morning as the pair rose with the dawning sun, one of their little babies lay still, dead, frozen in the night.
No tears fell from them, they were survivors. They felt the loss and wondered and the power of the anxiety that ran through their blood yet as the sun climbed higher in the sky and shadows fell upon them from the filtered canopy above, they moved on again to graze and survive another day in this wilderness they called home.
Sparrow watched everything from high up, safely tucked away from life on the ground. She flitted from tree to tree and kept a watchful eye on her charges, she made sure to note every detail of all their activities, their experiences and any events that affected their way of life in the forest. She worried over her charges, them that lived in the forest with her, she took her instinctive responsibilities seriously and sang out her daily reports to every other ear so they would know all the ups and downs of forest life.
The day the young fawn died was a tragedy she sang about for a long time after. She mixed this news with more news of fallen trees and her forecasts of more snow and winds from the upper regions which would hit them all again within a day of her spotting them. She had warned Fox of the impending danger one day of a nearby tree which looked as though it was about to crush Fox’s den, yet Fox did not listen, like the rest of them, they did not take Sparrow seriously, and lo, within the day the den was crushed under the very same tree with the loss of three of Fox’s litter.
As the weeks of winter came to an end, Sparrow changed the tone of her song from a mournful lament to a celebratory rejoice for the new season to come. She flitted around with renewed joy and gusto for soon the snow would melt away, the blossoms would bring their glorious scents to her world, colour would return to the stark white land and she, as with so many others, would again find a mate and raise another clutch of young, to feed and sing to and teach her ways. She looked forward to seeing her charges strengthen with good feeding and those who had survived once again enjoy their relaxed forest living. She was excited at watching the progress of the new babies and having so much good news to report through the longs months ahead.
High above them all soared the oldest bird in the territory, Blackcrow. His huge black wings caught the upward heat from the ground and lifted him upwards towards his master, the sky. Solitude was a comfortable place for Blackcrow and though many of the other beasts looked on him with awe, they respected his individuality and gave him freedom to roam without their interference. Even Sparrow fell silent when Blackcrow was about in her neighbourhood, his silent grace was such that his aura crept into the atmosphere and even she would not dare disturb it. When he perched on a branch somewhere nearby, she would sit still and wait for him to leave before going on about her business.
Blackcrow was the master of all he surveyed, not a bird in the sky nor any beast of the ground would aggress him, not simply through fear of his prowess but because all knew he was the master, sent to watch over them. He was their protector, guardian, watcher and guide. So long as Blackcrow roamed the territory, they knew they were safe and connected to the mother who made all things, even Creation herself whom all beasts knew in their hearts. They felt the presence of the mother Creation from the time they were born until the fateful end of their days and they knew that Blackcrow was her black Angel sent to watch them on her behalf.
He nested high in the cliffs to the North and followed the winds as they blew or tracked the heat of the sun when she shone, so hot, so bright, bringing with her the love of Creation to bless them and using Blackcrow as her mighty messenger to tell them all was right in life for them.
Blackcrow flew out from his nest in the northern cliffs, he flew towards the forested lands of the south where instinct told him he must go. He followed a familiar trail, recognising each stream bed as he passed over it, spotting every tree and noting which may have died or fallen or developed throughout the months since he had last travelled this route. As he followed the line of the hills he swept in close to cliff face to speed his flight. He rounded a hillside and came across mother brown bear who had woken from her winter slumber. She was not alone as she had been that Autumn before her long winter sleep, now she had charge of two fresh lives, her cubs, two small bundles of fur who bounced and tumbled along beside her as she tried to guide them safely on with their journey down the hill to the river below to fish and drink and bathe.
Blackcrow dipped his flight down to pay his respects to the mother bear and she stood to allow him to brush his beautiful wing against her, such a touch of love between them, those old souls of this land.
Despite the ills of the world; the horrible reality of unpaid bills; the never ending work on the old house; the cheap, rusty car and the stress of trying to balance it all while moving through a constant transformation in character as he, himself matured, the father, Michael, found peace in holding onto his traditions and seeing his son, Jack, learning those traditions that had been passed to Michael from his father.
Traditionally Michael was a solitary figure, he enjoyed his own company and as he felt very in tune with the natural world where he lived, he never felt alone. He mixed with other folks ok and was quite social when he had to be but on the whole, Michael Wallace preferred to live life on his own. He had met Jack’s mother, Lorraine, a few years back; met her at his friend John’s wedding. They were both single then and both attending on their own. Michael had made the first move and asked Lorraine up to dance and though Michael had two left feet when it came to dancing, they had both found this funny and enjoyed their evening despite his dancing handicap.
For the first three years they shared a deep love with each other. They lived in Michael’s cottage, Lorraine had moved up from the city, given up her career as a sales executive and “gone wild” to live with Michael. She found a job serving at the local store that was three miles away and she enjoyed cycling there, breathing the fresh country air deeply into her lungs and counting her blessings every day.
Because these three years had gone so well with the pair of them they took the decision to marry and in the spring of 1982, in the fourth year of their relationship, they became husband and wife. Soon after Lorraine fell pregnant with their first child; neither one had ever contemplated having children before. Though they had both found love and long term partners previously, the desire to have children with them was never there. Needless to say, those relationships had not stood the test of time and had fallen by the wayside so both were grateful not to have children involved with those break-ups. Now however, they knew with confidence that their marriage was the real deal, they were simply meant to be with one another, kindred spirits as it were and without knowing why, they both felt quite overcome with the desire to have a family.
Nine months further on Lorraine produced their son, Jack. Jack was a stunningly beautiful boy who, over the next four years grew into a perfect little angel. Yes, they were both biased when it came to the way they regarded him but the truth was he was a credit to them both. Their parenting was unified and loving. They spent time with him teaching him to play and speak and they read stories to him every night before bed. Michael had a particular magic with Jack. When he held him it was with gentleness, he would take him for walks into the woods near where they lived to be among the trees and the local wildlife. Michael would tell Jack to “Watch out for the fairies now.” and would bring the boy’s world alive with mystery and wonder. Lorraine too was a beautiful mother. She was a soft place to fall when Jack needed comfort, she was warm and kind and encouraged him at all times telling him how wonderful he was and how proud mummy and daddy were of him.
Jack continued to develop in this positive way even after the October of 1988 when his mother, died. He was now six years old, his mother had been “gone” for the past year and his father had continued to bring him up on his own. His father always talked about Jack’s mummy, “Oh Jack your mummy would have loved to have seen you climb that tree.” he would say. Almost everyday Jack and his daddy spent some time telling each other what they thought mummy would have loved to have seen them do. Daddy did all the cooking now too and while Jack went to school daddy worked “Every hour God sends” to keep them both going. Jack missed his mummy in his heart but daddy helped him stay happy.
Michael was not sure whether his decision to stay in the country where he worked as a forester, had been the right decision to make after Lorraine’s death. He had family nearer to Denver who would be more than happy to take him and Jack in and set Michael up with a job. Then there was Lorraine’s family too in Boulder who were constantly offering to buy him an apartment in the city and Lorraine’s father, who ran his own engineering firm could provide Michael with a good management position. But Michael was just too much of a solitary man to feel comfortable committing to any of these offers. He did worry that Jack needed more family round him and it would be nice, if he was honest, which he almost always was, to be able to take more time for himself by having people near who could take Jack off his hands for a day or two at a time.
It had been just over a year since Lorraine had died. Hit by a drunk driver, early one morning as she cycled to work, she had died instantly after striking her head against a tree at the side of the road. Because of his responsibilities Michael had never really taken the time he needed to properly mourn her passing. Always in the back of his mind were thoughts of how much he missed her and everyday when preparing to go to bed, he felt the pangs of heartbreak deep inside him. But he shook these feelings off, as he had to and the following day, got up, gave Jack his breakfast, packed him off to school and went to work again.