Saturday, January 9, 2010

In which I start a new tradition: sharing stories on Saturdays!

The stories that I posted during the winter holidays were so popular with readers that I've decided to cave in to the peer pressure and provide a new story every week on Saturdays--we'll call it Story Saturdays, and who knows--maybe other blog writers will pick up the idea!

Many cultures have trickster-heros; locally, ours is generally Raven. Bre'r Rabbit is a trickster hero from the American South, although some of those stories can be traced back to the trickster stories of Anansi the Spider in western Africa.

Even if you grew up "story-deprived" in America, you are still probably familiar with a trickster-hero who made the leap from fireside to children's cartoons: Coyote. He hasn't always played around with dynamite and weird gadgets from the Acme Company, but he's always been looking for trouble and he usually finds it.

About today's story

The Mulla Nasruddin is a wise-fool trickster from the Middle East. He is often just as wise as he is foolish, but you never know until you reach the end of the story if it's a wisdom story or a fool story. There's a tradition that the Mulla is buried in a grave surrounded by a tall fence. Yet the tombstone reads "Sometimes you do not need a key to get through gates, but need only walk around to where there is no wall."

The Sack

The Mulla Nasruddin came upon a frowning man walking along the road to town. "What's wrong?" he asked.

The man held up a tattered bag and moaned, "All that I own in this wide world barely fills this miserable, wretched sack."

"Too bad," said the Mulla, and with that, he grabbed the bag from the man's hands and ran away.

Having lost everything, the man burst into tears and, more miserable than before, continued walking.

Meanwhile, the Mulla quickly ran around the bend and placed the man's sack in the middle of the road where he would have to come upon it.

When the man saw his bag sitting in the road before him, he sang with joy, and shouted, "My sack! I thought I'd lost my sack, and now I found it! I have regained everything I own in the world!"

Watching through the bushes, the Mulla laughed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

In which we ride in the rain, and that's all that I did today--honest!

The Rain by William Henry Davies

I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
'Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near.
And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill
Each dark, round drop;
I hope the Sun shines bright;
'Twill be a lovely sight.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In which I share a story-gift: "The Woman Who Needed a Nisse"

When I was assembling a group of stories to give to friends and families this season, I needed one more story and just couldn't find the story I wanted. So finally, I wrote one myself! Usually I re-tell folktales and stories that other people tell me, but original stories are few and far between. I hope that a little nisse (tomten? hob? ) hears this story and decides to come live on Haiku Farm with us.

This is the last of the holiday story gifts --thank you to everyone who read them and shared them with others! By popular demand, I have created "Story Saturdays", and will post a new story here every Saturday. Thanks for reading. --A

The Woman Who Needed a Nisse

There once was a little old woman who lived all alone.

She had no family and no children of her own, only the animals on a little farm given to her by a long-ago uncle.

She had no friends in the village, because she feared that friends would come to visit and she had nothing to share with them—no food to spare, and no good company either.

The little farm had been productive in her uncle’s time, with many cattle, and a flock of hens and a hive of busily-humming bees. But now she had only one cow, and one hen, and a few bees.

Worse than that, the cow had stopped giving milk, the hen threw feathers all around and did not lay eggs, and the bees buzzed angrily at her and stung her if she tried to take some honey.

The old woman was very unhappy, and very lonely too. She didn’t know what to do.

Finally, she asked the neighbor, who had a fine and prosperous farm of her own, how she could improve her fortune.

“You need a nisse,” the neighbor said. “Every good farm has a nisse, a little gnome-person who looks after the animals and tends to the house and the people.

“A nisse will sing to your cow so she gives milk, a nisse will tell stories to your hen so she lays eggs, a nisse will speak poetry to your bees so they make honey."

“But how can I get a nisse?” asked the old woman. “You can’t buy one in the store, you can’t grow one from a seed, you can’t pluck one from a tree.”

“I’ll give you a loaf of bread to get you started,” said the neighbor. “There’s nothing a nisse likes so much as good, soft bread…unless it is a nice bowl of porridge with butter and honey.”

The old woman took the bread and walked slowly towards home. As she walked, she noticed a few little birds hopping along the path beside her, looking at the bread she carried and chirping hopefully.

“Silly birds,” said the woman, “If I give this bread to you, how will I ever get a nisse?”

But the birds chirped so sweetly and hopped along so brightly that she laughed at them, right there in the road.

“Well, all right,” said the woman. “I suppose even a nisse doesn’t need a whole loaf of bread.”

She broke the loaf, and crumbled half of it into her hand.

The little birds perched on her fingers and pecked happily at the crumbs, and for the first time in many weeks, the old woman smiled.

These little birds were so happy with such a little gift.

Just then, out from the hedge beside the road crept a skinny tabby cat, attracted to the chirping and flapping of the little birds. The woman saw him creeping closer, and she scattered the birds before he could catch one.

“Naughty cat,” said the woman. “I can’t let you eat these birds, and you won’t like bread. Let us go home and ask the cow if she will give some milk for you.”

The cat walked along home with the old woman. When they got there, the woman took a piece of the bread to the cow.

“Cow,” she said, “I know you don’t like to give milk for me, but the little cat is hungry. Will you eat a piece of this bread and give some milk for the cat?”

"Well," said the cow, "If the cat will sing a song and I may have a piece of bread, I will give enough milk for the cat and a little left over."

So the cat sang a song to the cow, and soon the he was drinking warm milk from a bowl on the doorstep, and the woman was shaking a jar of the fine rich milk to make a little bit of butter.

Just then, out from under the porch of the house came a skinny dog, attracted to the lapping sound of the cat. The woman saw him sneaking closer and caught him in her arms before he could chase the cat.

“Naughty dog,” said the woman. “I can’t let you chase this cat, and you won’t like milk. Let us ask the hen if she will lay an egg for you.”

The dog and the cat and the woman took a piece of the bread to the hen.

“Hen,” she said, “I know you don’t like to lay eggs for me, but the little dog is hungry. Will you eat a piece of this bread and lay an egg for the dog?”

"Well," said the hen, "If the dog will tell me a story, and I may have a piece of bread, I will lay an egg for the dog, and another egg in the morning."

So the dog told a story to the hen, and soon the he was eating a nice boiled egg from a shiny plate on the doorstep, while the cat washed his tabby paws by the hearth.

Now, there was only a little bit of bread left. Would a nisse come to her house for just a little bit of bread?

The old woman didn’t think so.

She sat on the doorstep with the tabby cat on her lap and the little dog on her feet and she tried to think.

“The only thing that a nisse likes better than bread is a bowl of porridge with butter and honey on it. What if I were to make some porridge?”

The dog and the cat agreed that she should do that very thing, so the woman picked some wildflowers and they all went to visit the bees.

“Bees,” she said, “I know you don’t like to make honey for me, but a nisse would like a little honey on some porridge. If I recite some poetry for you, will you give some honey for the nisse’s porridge?"

"Well," said the bees, "If you will recite poetry, and the dog and cat will recite poetry, and the cow and the hen will recite poetry, we will give some honey for the nisse's porridge."

The cat agreed and the dog agreed.

The cow agreed and the hen agreed.

They all gathered around the bees to recite poetry, and the old woman listened to the animals and remembered the poems she knew as a girl. And she recited poetry too.

The bees listened to the poetry, and soon the woman had a little comb of honey to drip onto the porridge for the nisse.

She went to bed hungry herself that night, but she made up a big bowl of porridge from the very last piece of the bread, and on top of the porridge she put the butter and the honey.

That night, she slept warmer than she ever had before, because the cat slept at her back, and the dog slept at her feet.

Late, late, that night, a nisse was passing by and saw the bowl of porridge.

He saw the cow who had given milk that day for the little cat.

He saw the hen who had laid an egg that day for the little dog.

He saw the bees who had given honey that day for the bowl of porridge.

And he saw the little old woman who had gone to bed hungry that night, but had left a bowl of porridge with butter and honey on it for a nisse who might be stopping by.

The nisse ate all the porridge.

He sang a song to the cow.

He told a story to the hen.

He recited poetry to the bees.

And then, just as dawn was breaking, the nisse made a little bed of hay in the barn, and took himself there to sleep in his new home.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In which I share a story-gift: "The Tomten" a poem for farmers

This sweet little Swedish poem was published in 1881 by Viktor Rydberg. I was happy to find a good translation, and now what I really want is a Tomten for my own little farm!

The Tomten

The midwinter night’s cold is hard,
The stars glisten and gleam.
All are sleeping in the lonely home
Deep in the midnight hour.

The moon wanders in its quiet path,
The snow shines white on fir and spruce,
The snow shines white on the roofs,
Only the Tomten is awake

Stands there so gray by the barn door,
Gray against the white snowdrift,
Looks, as many winters past,
Up at the moon’s face,
Looks at the woods, where fir and spruce

Draw a dark wall around the home,
Ponders over a wondrous riddle,
Though it can’t be answered
Combs his hand through beard and hair,
Shakes his head and hat

“No, this riddle is much too hard,
No, I cannot solve it.”
Shortly casts off, as he usually does
These quizzical thoughts,
Makes himself busy,

Goes to attend to his duties in the barn
Goes to the grain pantry and tool shed,
Checks all the locks –
Cows dream in the moonlight,
Summer dreams in the stalls;
Forgetful from bit and whip and reins
Horse in the stall has also a dream:
The trough he leans over
to be filled with fragrant clover

Goes to the pen for lamb and sheep,
Sees, how they sleep within;
Goes to the chickens, where the rooster stands
Proudly on his highest perch;

Karo is cozy on his doghouse straw
Awakens and gently waves his tail,
Karo knows his Tomte,
They are good friends.

Tomten sneaks in finally to see,
The dear people of the house,
Long and well he has noticed that
They honor his diligence;

Then tiptoes to the nursery
Approaches to see the sweet little ones,
Nobody can deny him that,
his greatest joy.

So he has seen them, father and son,
Already through many generations
Sleep as children; but from where
Have they descended?
Kin soon followed kin,
Blossomed, aged, departed – but where?

The riddle that cannot be solved
Returns to him.

Tomten wanders to the loft of the barn:
Where he has his home and foothold
High in the loft with the scent of hay
Near to the swallow’s nest;

Now certainly empty
But in the spring with leaf and bloom,
She will probably come back
Followed by her sweet spouse.

The mid winter’s cold is hard,
The stars glisten and gleam
All are sleeping in the lonely home
Well into the morning hour

The moon lowers its quiet path,
The snow shines white on fir and spruce,
The snow shines white on the roofs,

Only the Tomten is awake.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In which I share a story-gift: "The Man Who Married a Troll" -- for fun

This is a new story for me, and I really like it. Maybe I just enjoy the image of tossing people over the top of the church? Nahhhh. That can't be right!

The Man Who Married a Troll

A man in Denmark married a troll woman, her arm muscles broader than his head, and too tall to stand up in the house he lived in, so they had to live in a barn until he could build them a new house.

Why did he marry her? Because they loved one another, and felt they were right for one another. And they were right.

But the people of the town wouldn't have anything to do with the troll."One day when it's hungry, it'll eat us up -- starting with him," they said.

And though the troll smiled politely at them, and wished them all a good day, and rushed to help the smaller women carry water or bundles of any kind, they rejected all her advances.

The kids called her bad names, and then ran away.

The women turned their backs on her when she greeted them.

The men stepped back from her as if she was a wild animal, and made the sign against the evil eye.

The husband tried to speak to them - after all, these were his neighbors and cousins – but they only mocked him or cursed him, until at last he swore he'd never speak to them again.

The two continued their lonely life in the barn, while their new house was a-building. The man even stopped going to church.

One fine Sunday, someone knocked at the barn door.

It was the troll's father, come to see how his beloved daughter was getting along with the human husband.

This troll was taller and wider than his daughter, and when he saw tears in his daughter's eyes, he would have torn off the husband’s head, if the daughter had not stopped him at once.

Instead, she had to tell him what was wrong, and when he heard the story he turned to his daughter and asked where all the people were.

"In church," she said, "everyone is there except us."

The father spoke to his daughter in a soft voice which was much more threatening than any shouting could be. "Daughter, will you throw or catch?"

"Oh, no, father, don't, please don't!," she begged.

But he persisted, "Will you throw or catch?"

And she whispered, "I'll catch."

The father started off at once towards the hilltop where the church stood, with his daughter following after him, and her tiny husband scurrying along behind.

They waited outside the doors of the church until the last hymn had been sung, and when the people started coming out, there before them was a troll who made the troll wife look like a child’s doll. The big troll waited until all the folk had come out, including the priest, but would not let them pass him.

Then he told his daughter to go around to the other side of the church, and when she called out to him, "I'm ready," he picked up the nearest villager and tossed him up in the air, and over the top of the church.

Comical as they all looked going up and coming down, no one laughed, for each knew that his turn was coming.

At last the troll father had thrown every person in the village over the top of the church - except the husband, of course.

When they walked around to the other side of the church, the husband and the troll father found all the people seated on the ground, shaking with relief.

For though the troll wife had caught each one as gently as she could, and helped them down, and smoothed their clothing, still it is no joke to be tossed over a church roof by an angry troll.

The troll father stood looking at the silent crowd and said, "If ever I hear that you have made my daughter cry again, we'll play this game again. But next time, my daughter will throw -- and I'LL catch. Do you understand?"

They understood.

And from that time on, they all began to call on the troll wife, to invite her to birthday parties, and to work parties, to teach her how to knit and weave new patterns, to ask her to mind their children when they had to go away -- and she never had anything to cry about again.

Soon they saw what a sweet thing she was, and everyone said, "Didn't I tell you? I always knew she was really an angel!"

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In which I share a story-gift: "Promises" - for dog AND horse lovers!

I started telling this story when my wonderful, fast, strong, gentle, kind old horse Story was still alive. My wonderful (but stinky) old dog Merridog was still alive then, too. They have both crossed the bridge now, but it makes me smile to remember them, and it makes me laugh to tell this story.


There once was a woman who had a wonderful horse.

This horse was fast, she was strong, she was gentle, and she was kind.

This horse could trot a 2-minute mile, she could pull a stump out of the field, she could carry a little child on her back all afternoon, and she could walk across a barnyard full of ducklings without ever endangering any of them.

The woman also had a dog.

This dog was old.

He was so old that his eyes and ears didn't work very well any more. When this dog wagged his tail, he had to start by swinging his shoulders back and forth.

And this dog's breath was so bad that it could stop traffic. Still, he'd always been a good dog, and the woman loved him.

One day, the woman went out to feed the horse, she discovered that the fence had come down in a storm, and the horse had run off into the hills.

For days, the woman searched the hills for her horse but to no avail.

Finally, she raised her eyes to the heavens and said aloud, "if I could just know that my good horse was okay, that she wasn't hungry or injured, if I could just find her safe, I would sell her to the first person who offered me a dollar!"

When she lowered her eyes, she saw movement ahead of her. Sure enough, there was the horse just up the path, safe and sound.

But the woman had made a promise.

So she loaded up the horse in the trailer, and loaded up the dog in the truck, and all three of them drove to the market in town.

When she got there, she stood in the center of the market and announced:
"I will sell this horse to the first person who offers me a dollar!"

Some people offered her a lot more money than a dollar for such a fine horse.

But she raised up her hand, and continued speaking:

"However, the person who buys this horse, must also buy my dog.

The price for the dog is $10,000."

Everyone looked at the dog.

The dog was old.

He was blind, and deaf.

He could barely wag his tail.

And then the dog breathed out....

Nobody wanted to buy that dog for $10,000.

The woman loaded the dog back in the truck, loaded the horse back in the trailer, and together they all drove home.

And as far as I know, they are all living there still.