Home > Uncategorized > Remember that time I lived in the woods all summer?

Remember that time I lived in the woods all summer?

Karin Noël Strom Dickinson

June 3, 2008

English 690

The Tale of the Valley and the Willow Man

 

And she drew unto herself Warriors of Earth who would protect her from the world of men. And these Warriors would serve her and love her as she loved them. And though the world around her changed and became dangerous, she trusted that her Warriors would see to her safety.

~

Jeffery Franklin had grown up on a small farm. His front yard was a cherry orchard, his side yard a stable of horses, chickens and Bethany the milk cow, and his backyard the lush, green and watery Yosemite Valley.

As a small boy, Jeffery, who didn’t have many friends, often explored the Valley alone. Yosemite became his closest companion over the years of his youth. During his fourteenth summer, while hiking alone, Jeffery was bitten by a rattlesnake. He treated the wound as best he could by himself, made a fire, and stayed the night in the woods, praying to the spirit of the Valley for protection. The next morning, he limped home. By that afternoon, he was already making plans for his next excursion. Nothing could keep him from his sweet Yosemite.

Somewhere along the way, Jeffery’s parents realized he was a bright boy, and they decided to send him to college, where he studied archaeology and forestry. Upon graduation, his only wish was to become a ranger in Yosemite Valley. An ambitious young man, he accomplished this shortly thereafter.

Forty-seven years later, Jeffery sat at his desk eating lunch. The radio beside him buzzed to life. “Hey, Jeff. Some scientists are here for testing. Do you wanna come on down?”

He set his fork upon his plate, picked up the radio, and replied, “What are they testing, Harry?”

“The water.”

Jeffery sighed. He’d been dreading this day. Many of the news reports he’d been reading months before about water contamination had left him with a gut-wrenching feeling. It was only a matter of time before Yosemite succumbed.

“I’ve protected you all my life, but I couldn’t stop this. I just couldn’t. But maybe you’re okay. No. You have to be okay. You’ll be fine,” he said to the dirt floor of the lean-to he sat in. Then, to the radio, “Yeah, I’d like to be there. Where you at?”

“Bridal Veil Falls, Jeff.”

“Alright, I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. I want to finish my lunch first,” he said and clicked off the radio.

He looked at the food upon his plate then out the window where his gaze rested on Half Dome for several minutes. Jeffery sighed again and pushed his half-eaten lunch to the other side of the table.

“You’ll be okay,” he whispered. “You’ll be fine, my love.”

He slowly rose to his feet, taking care not to make too much noise as he did so. Lady Nature liked her quiet, and that was something he respected.

His knees creaked as he walked to where his hat rested across the room. After placing it on his head and picking up his walking stick, he took a moment to gather his courage. He had to admit to himself that he was afraid of the scientists he was about to meet. With one word, they could convince him his whole life had been a failure.

The truck bumped and rumbled down the dirt back road to the falls. A USGS van was parked by the steam at the base of the waterfall, and several men were stooped by the bank gathering samples. Harry stood near their van, looking apprehensive.

As he pulled up, Jeffery noticed there were several more men gathering samples across the road from a lagoon. He got out of the vehicle and slowly made his way up the steep trail to where Harry stood. Jeffery leaned heavily on his staff, and, for the first time in many years, he began to feel his age.

“How long until we know, Harry?” Jeffery asked so quietly he was almost drowned out by the rushing of the waterfall.

“Shouldn’t be too long before the preliminary tests are done. They said they’d have to take all samples to their labs for further analysis, though.”

“Alright.”

“Are you okay, there, Jeff?”

“Yeah, Harry, I’m okay,” Jeffery said, attempting a smile. It came out as a pained grimace.

Harry nodded to Jeffery and sat down on a log, leaving the senior of the two standing by the stream bed. Jeffery gazed up at the waterfall, and his thoughts began to wander back to his youth. As a boy, he had firmly believed there was magic in the Valley. From the day he found the first set of cliff paintings to the day he’d been bitten by the snake and beyond, he knew in his heart of hearts the Valley was a sacred place.

He wondered how it could have come to this, then. Jeffery knew the Valley needed protecting, and he was her greatest knight. But if she was so sacred, so full of power, surely she could protect herself from the contaminants of the world.

He began to walk toward the nearest worker and painfully stooped by the man.

“How’s she looking?” He asked.

The young man glanced at Jeffery then back at his test strip. “Not too good,” he said.

Jeffery felt a knot form in his throat. He swallowed hard and whispered, “How bad?”

“Well, I don’t know how much you know about the water systems of North America, but, in a nutshell, a lot of the junk that’s in the rest of the water has made its way here.”

“No,” Jeffery mouthed.

“Pardon?”

“No,” he said firmly and rose to his full height. “Test the water again.”

“Sir, I’m sorry. There will be more testing done in the laboratory, of course, but the preliminary tests clearly show what we feared. Yosemite’s waters are no longer pure.”

“No!” Jeffery shouted. He turned on his heel and stormed down the trail, waving Harry off when he tried to approach him.

“Jeff! Where are you going?” Harry called.

“Elsewhere,” Jeffery muttered to himself.

He crossed the road and half walked, half slid down the bank to the lagoon’s edge. Jeffery fell to his knees and wept into the water, lamenting, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t save you. And I knew about the water for a long time, and I tried to come up with a way to protect you, but I just couldn’t. I’m not your knight, your protector, your savior. I’ve failed you, Valley of my heart, only woman I ever loved.”

The trees surrounding Jeffery seemed to shudder in response, and he sobbed even harder.

“I love you. Tell me how to save you. Oh, I’m only one man, but tell me how, and I’ll do it. Let me save you. When that snake bit me, I prayed to you to keep me safe, and you did. Now tell me how to save you, my love. I’m so sorry I let you become soiled. But I’ll clean you. Just tell me how. Please, my love, please. Tell me. Just tell me.”

A cool breeze stirred the water, and birds chirped from the bushes. A lizard darted from under a rock to catch an insect and a crow cawed from overhead. Harry came stumbling down the embankment and crouched beside Jeffery.

“Jeff, let’s go. It’s not your fault, old friend.”

Jeffery slowly faced Harry, turning his companion’s words over in his mind. Finally, he said, “Of course it’s my fault. I failed her, Harry.” He wiped a tear with the back of his hand, smearing dust on his face.

“Let’s go, Jeff,” Harry repeated.

“No. I want to stay here awhile.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

Jeffery frowned and chewed his lower lip. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll be back at the station shortly. I just want to sit awhile, that’s all.”

“Alright. I’m not sure if I believe you, but I’ll leave you alone for now. But if you’re not back by five, I’m going to send a search team out for you.”

“Okay. I won’t be long. I’ll probably be back by dinner time.”

“See you later, then.”

“Yeah, later.” Jeffery almost smiled as he said the words. He watched Harry get into his truck and drive off. The USGS workers had since left with their samples, and he was once again alone.

“My love, help me help you. I know you know what to do. You, my enchantress, must help me to heal yourself,” he prayed.

An odd tingling sensation began to creep through his body. “You saved me once. Now help me to save you, my love.”

Jeffery stood and extended his arms out to his sides, feeling the breeze caress him like the gentle hand of a woman. The tingling, he began to realize, had originated at his feet. As it slowly moved up his legs and to the rest of his being, he sighed, “Whatever you need, my love, I will give.”

He soon found he could no longer move his feet, that his arms were stuck in place. He closed his eyes, feeling the magic of the Valley work its way through him.

“I am yours, my love. Do with me as you will.”

He gasped as a voice whispered into his ear, “You have protected me. You have wept for me. You have loved me. And you can help me once more. Come, Jeffery, and we shall be as one.” And then he knew no more of humanity or fear or pollution. All he knew was the Valley, and the knowledge that she loved him as he loved her.

Later that evening, when Jeffery didn’t show up, Harry sent a team of rangers out to look for him. When they came upon the bank of the lagoon, Jeffery was nowhere to be found. All that remained of him was his walking stick, left upon the ground at the base of a weeping willow.

~

And when the Warriors of Earth grew old and could no longer stand strong  for her, she drew them unto her soft bosom and accepted them home once more—ever embracing them, ever loving them. And she would gently whisper lullabies into their ears, singing, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

 

 

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 22, 2013 at 4:31 am

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