Saturday, December 29, 2012

In which there's another little story to make you smile (please share it!)

In my home county, there are feral apple trees everywhere--trees that had been part of somebody's homestead, left behind when the house burnt down or was abandoned.  

Driving down any county road in spring, you can see the blossoms from the back seat window of the car.  Riding a horse along abandoned lanes and logging roads in autumn, you can eat-as-you-go, because there are plenty of apples for riders and steeds.

Where I live now, the apple trees aren't so common, but if you know how to look, you can still find them.  I consider each tree a blessing.

The blessing of the tree (Israel)
There was once a soldier returning home to Beersheba after fighting against the Romans.

He had walked for many miles, and had many more miles to walk. He was tired. He was hungry. He was thirsty. The desert was hot and dry, and yet, far off in the distance, the soldier could see a tree.

Breathless with fatigue, he walked to the tree, thinking all the while that it might be only a mirage. But the tree was not a mirage.

It was a real, living apple tree, and upon the branches were three tiny shriveled apples.

The soldier was too tired to even eat. Instead, he threw himself under the shade of the tree and slept soundly for many hours. Upon awakening, he ate the apples.

"Apple tree, you may not know it, but you have saved my life. What can I do to show my gratitude?"

He has nothing in his pockets, nothing at all.

But then he thought, "Who says I have nothing to give you?" Everyone has something to give, no matter how poor he is. A blessing! A blessing is a gift everyone has to give.

“My blessing is for all trees planted from your seeds to grow up as wonderful and as giving as you.”

And so it was.

Friday, December 28, 2012

In which there is another small seasonal story to celebrate

Jim has learned so much in his first season as a Real Bearded Santa.  It's not enough to dress in red and have a long white beard:  a good Santa Claus needs to know the background of the job, including some of the historical tales.  

Here's  a sweet (but obscure) little story about Saint Nicholas from Ireland.

Three Small Fish (Ireland)

While St. Nicholas was generous to others, he did not lead a grand life himself. He was even once a beggar who traveled all over the country with only the clothes on his back, his staff, and an old wooden pail.

One day, he came to a little town by the sea where almost no one was willing to help him. All day he stood on the street, asking for alms. But by the time evening fell, only three people had taken pity on him: a fisherman, a woman, and a priest. Strangely enough, each of them had given him the same thing—not a coin, but a small fish.

He put all three fish in his pail filled with water and walked on until he came to a house where a very poor widow lived with her children.

"Begging your pardon, madam, but might a person stay here overnight?"

"To be sure," the widow answered wearily, "but we only have water soup and a crust of bread for supper."

"Supper won't be a problem! Look here: I have three fish. You can fry them and we and the children will all eat them together."

The widow looked doubtfully into the beggar's pail. She had no way of knowing the three little fish had been growing in there. By the time she saw them, they had become quite large.

"What a joy," the woman cried. I haven't seen such big fish for a long time, not even at the market!"

One fish, two fish, three fish do I see,
Plenty for my children and enough for me!
Plenty for my children and enough for me!
Enough for the others and plenty for me!

She happily lit a fire and began to cook the fish over the glowing coals.

While she was about her work, the Saint asked, "Do you have a pail?"

"Yes, indeed I do."

"I'll thank you to fill it with water and bring it to me." The woman did as he asked. Soon the fish were ready to eat. And how delicious they were! The widow and her children were so hungry they left nothing but the bones, Nicholas said, "Don't throw those bones away. Give them to me."

The children and their mother looked at one another in surprise. "What is he doing?" they whispered. But they were so grateful for a good meal at last that they didn't question Nicholas.

After they had eaten, the family lay the bones of all three fish on a plate. Nicholas picked up the bones by the tail and threw them into the widow's pail.

Again everyone was surprised. "Why is he doing that?" they wondered.

Then as the widow was about to carry the pail outside to empty it, she noticed three live fish swimming in the water! "What?" she gasped. "How could that be?"

One fish, two fish, three fish do I see...

Who knew where the fish came from but Nicholas, and by that time he was sound asleep.

The next morning, the good Saint said, "Please fix these fish for breakfast."

The woman gladly did so, and once again everyone had enough to eat.

When they were finished, again Nicholas said, "Bring me the pail and give me the bones." Then he threw them into the water and continued, "You must always do this. That way, you will always have fish and you and your children won't be hungry anymore."

Then the Saint swung his wooden pail over the end of his staff, said goodbye, and walked off down the road.

The widow and her children never saw St. Nicholas again, but they lived well for a long time. At last, one day the mother left a single child alone at home while she and the others went to visit relatives. The child at home got hungry, so he tiptoed over to the widow's pail and looked in:

One fish, two fish, three fish do I see...

With that, he scooped out one of the fish and fried it for himself. Afraid that his mother would find out and scold him, he threw the bones away.

When the widow returned, the first thing she did was go to the pail to prepare dinner.

One fish, two fish, thr——

But now there were not three fish swimming in the water—there were only two. And from then on, that had to be enough for all of them!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In which we celebrate holidays with yet another small story

Darkness isn't the only thing difficult about winter in the Swampland.  

Though it doesn't often sn*w (and we curse it when it does), winters here is cold and cold that even the moon gets chilled.  This is a story about that.

A coat for the moon (Poland)

Once upon a time the moon said to the sun," It isn't fair that you get to shine during the day when it's warm, while I have to shine during the night when it's cold, especially in the winter."

The sun saw that the moon was unhappy, and said, "I shall have a coat made to keep you warm, and I will give this coat to you as a gift."

So the sun called together the big tailors of the city, those who were very rich and made clothing for rich people. The sun asked the big tailors to make a coat for the moon, one that would keep her warm even on the coldest nights.

The big tailors sat down together to discuss making the coat, but no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't figure out how to do it. The problem was that the moon was sometimes small and sometimes big. A coat that would fit when the moon was small would be too tight when the moon was big. And a coat that would fit when the moon was big would be too large when the moon was small.

After a while, the big tailors gave up. They didn't know how to make a coat for the moon.

"Let us try!" begged the little tailors, those who were poor, and made clothing for poor people. But when the big tailors heard this, they laughed and said, "If we can't make a coat for the moon, how can you?"

But the little tailors were not about to give up. They had many ideas, but no one could solve the problem of making a coat to fit the changing sizes of the moon.

And so they sat silently for a long time. At last, the smallest, poorest tailor of them all stood up. "What we need is a material that is very light, so that it can stretch. I have been thinking that the clouds in the sky would make a perfect coat for the moon."

Now the little tailors listened carefully, and they agreed that the clouds would be a good material, one that could stretch enough to be a coat for the moon. But there was a problem. "The clouds are high up in the sky. We'll never be able to climb high enough to reach them."

And all the little tailors nodded when they heard this, except that littlest tailor. He stood up and cried: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

He reminded them that sometimes clouds come down to earth. And when they do, they are called fog. The little tailors need only wait until a cloud came down one day, and when it did, they should be ready to cut and sew a coat for the moon. And then when the fog lifted and the cloud rose up, it would surround the moon and keep her warm.

Now all the tailors stood up and clapped their hands. Yes, this smallest of the little tailors had shown them how to make a coat for the moon! And just think of what the big tailors would say when they learned that! So the little tailors rejoiced until one of them, who had a sour face, said, "Yes? And how can something as thin and light as a cloud keep the moon warm?" and when he said this, a hush fell upon the little tailors. The tailor with the sour face was right. The cloud wasn't heavy enough to be a warm coat for the moon.

So again the tailors sat down, their hands on their chins, pondering how to solve the problem. Suddenly the smallest tailor leaped to his feet and cried out: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"We'll sew some stars into the cloud," he explained, "and those stars will keep the moon warm with their wonderful light."

The little tailors began to cheer when they heard these words, for once again, the problem had been solved. All the tailors agreed, except for the one with the sour face. He hushed everyone and said in his sour voice, "Yes? And how are we going to get stars to sew into the cloud?" And when he said this, the smiles of the tailors turned to frowns, for they hadn't considered this problem.

Again there was a long silence. But that littlest tailor was full of ideas that day, and soon he leaped up and cried: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"Stars aren't to be found only in the sky," he told them. "We all know that there are also stars floating in the river. Let us catch those stars and sew them into the fog. We'll all go together on a night when the fog rests near the shore of the river, and from our friends, the blacksmiths, we'll borrow bellows — those big pumps they use to make the fire blow higher. Then we'll blow the fog into the river, where it will pick up the stars on its own. When the fog floats back up into the sky and becomes a cloud again, it will take the stars with it. And that way the moon will have a coat to keep her warm, even on the coldest nights."

The little tailors jumped with joy, and not even the sour-faced tailor had anything to say.

They waited for a night when a big cloud came down to earth as fog, and settled on the shore of the river. Then, all the little tailors came together, carrying the bellows they had borrowed from the blacksmiths. With the bellows they blew and blew until they blew the fog over the river. And when it floated on the water, stars stuck to it on every side.

When the fog finally lifted and became a cloud again, the little tailors saw that it surrounded the moon on every side and that a cluster of stars could be seen surrounding her as well.

It seemed to them that the moon was smiling that night. At last she had a coat that could grow as big and small as she did — one that could keep her warm, even on the coldest nights.

Anyone who looks up into the sky will see it, for the moon wears that special coat to this very day.

The sun was well pleased with the gift, and it paid the little tailors with three sunny days in the middle of winter—days so bright and warm and lovely that all the people of the town still talk about them to this very day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In which we celebrate holidays with another little story

2012 was a lovely year...but it wasn't all sunshine and roses for Haiku Farm. 

Our dearest, hardest loss this year was little Pickle Marie, who lived in our house only 7 brief months, but will live in our hearts forever.  This story is dedicated to her.

A Fairy Dog (Wales)

GOING home from Pentre Voelas Church, the good wife of Hafod y Gareg found a little dog in an exhausted state on the ground. She took it up tenderly and carried it home in her apron.

This she did partly from natural kindliness of heart, and partly from fear, because she remembered what had happened to her cousin of Bryn Heilyn. That cousin had come across a strange little dog and treated it cruelly. The fairies had come to her to give her the reward she deserved. They seized her up high, and enquired whether she would travel above wind, mid wind or below wind.

Now, if she had treated the little dog kindly, it would have told her the right answer: she ought to have selected the middle course, which would have meant a pleasant voyage through the air at a moderate height, equally removed from the clouds and the earth. Above wind is a terrible passage between the worlds, and it was well that she did not choose it.

But of course, a little dog treated badly will give no good advice, and so the cousin made choice of below wind, was almost as bad, because she was snatched through miry bog and swampy lea, through brambles and briars, until all her clothes were torn off her body, and she was brought back to her home scratched and bleeding all over.

The good wife of Hafod y Gareg had no desire for any such excursions, and she made a nice soft bed for the fairy dog in the pantry, and fed it well. The following day a company of fairies came to the farmhouse to make enquiries about it. She told them it was safe and sound, and that they were welcome to take it away.

In gratitude for her good works, they asked her which she would prefer, a clean or a dirty cowyard. The little dog who was treated kindly had told her how to answer: there is no clean cowyard unless there are no cows, and so she should ask to be rewarded with a dirty cowyard.

The fairies gifted the kind woman with two cows for every one she had possessed before, and their milk made the best butter in the whole neighbourhood.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In which we celebrate winter holidays with a bunch of stories

Every year after the world successfully navigates the Winter Solstice, I like to celebrate by posting a series of stories. The stories are usually folktales, occasionally original stories, and almost always re-told enough that their original tellers don't necessarily recognize them.

I've been giving stories as gifts for a lot of years--the original story about how and why my tradition got started is HERE.

Start of the 2009 story series is HERE, beginning with a 2-part story dedicated to all my horse daughters.

2010 stories start HERE, with a story from the Ukraine set on a cold and sn*wy day.

2011 stories began with a Skookum Xmas story, located HERE.

...which brings us to today, and a pretty little story from Bohemia. I hope you enjoy it...and please come visit tomorrow so you can read another new story!


Long ago and far away in the mountain lands, there lived a miner with his wife and many children.

It was midwinter, and Christmas day not far away. The children thought of nothing but the coming of St. Nicholas, who they hoped would not forget them, when every boy and girl expects a visit from the gift bringer. But when they spoke to the miner about it he shook his head and said, "Do not set your hearts upon his coming. Our home is so small that St. Nicholas may not find it."

But the youngest son had a very different idea. He declared that St. Nicholas could find a house in the dark if it were no bigger than an acorn, and went to bed to dream of toys and sweetmeats.

Day after day passed, and nearer came the season. The children talked of him as they sat by the fire at night, as they picked up dead branches in the forest, and as they bedded the goats and shut them in, for mountain folk are a toiling people, and even boys and girls must work.

At last the day before Christmas came, and in the afternoon the youngest son started out with a basket to get some pine cones. He wanted the fire to be brighter and more cheerful than ever that night, and perhaps if he gathered enough of them, he might sell some to the rich people of the town who would pay him with a silver coin. “And if I do that,” he thought, “I shall buy a piece of candy for every one of us in the family.”

Now, in that land, on the summit of a lofty mountain lived a creature named Riibezahlde. He possessed all magic powers, and was so mighty that his sway extended to the very center of the earth. There he had chambers of gold and silver, and diamonds and jewels without number, and often gave of his treasures to those who were good enough to deserve them.

The miner’s family often told tales of Riibezahl, but never had any of them ever seen him.

As the boy came near the fir trees, a tiny white-haired man walked out of the shadow. He had a long white beard and a jolly red face, and looked as if he were the friend of children.
"What are you doing?" he called to him.

"I've come to gather pinecones," he replied; "some for our fire and some to sell, if the people of the town will only buy."

Then he told him of the family, of how eager he was to get some money that he might buy a bit of candy, and of the hope that St. Nicholas would not forget them.

The little old man seemed much interested, and when he finished his story he said, "The best cones are on that tree. If you hope to sell, gather those."

He pointed to a great, dark fir just beyond them, and then went back into the shadows of the forest.

The boy thanked him and ran to the spot. He could see the cones high up on the branches, and just as he came under them there was such a downfall of beautiful brown things it frightened him. But thinking of what he could do with such big pinecones, he went back, filled his basket, and started homeward.

The basket was very heavy, and the farther he went, the heavier it grew.

"I'll have to ask one of my sisters to help me take it down to the town,” he thought. But by the time he reached the house it had become such a load he could not move it, and the miner had to carry it in himself.

"They are lovely big ones and of a beautiful brown color," the boy said as the others crowded around to see.

But when they looked at the basket again, they saw no brown at all. Instead there was a gleam brighter than that of the moonbeams through the fir trees, for a wonderful thing had happened. In the twinkling of an eye every one of those cones had turned into shining silver, which sparkled and glistened so that they dazzled the eyes.

Then the little boy remembered the old man in the forest, and told the miner about him.
He nodded his head in a knowing way and said, “Surely it was Riibezahl, and he has rewarded you for being kind."

When they looked into the basket, they knew it was true. And so knew all the other mountain folk, when the stars of the Holy Night shone out and the children went from door to door distributing silver cones. The miner’s family had so many that they were never poor again, and they shared their wealth with the neighbors as well. They built a fine house with a porch and twenty windows, and were as rich as anyone in Bohemia.

To make things lovelier still, St. Nicholas found the little house in the forest, and left some sweets and toys for the children.

He laughed loud and long when he saw those shining cones, for he had heard all about the magical gifts from Riibezahl himself.

Monday, December 24, 2012

In which we get ready for gift-giving by sharing a small story

Does your family open gifts on Christmas Eve?  On Christmas morning?  After church?  Before breakfast?

Here at the Haiku Farm Blog, I like to celebrate the winter holidays by sharing a bunch of stories with my readers.  This is just the first of many.  Feel free to print, copy, forward, and share.  That's what stories are for.

La Befana (Italy)
Long, long ago, la Befana, who was even then an old woman, lived alone in a lonely place where four wide roads met. 
At the time this story happened, the roads were white with snow, for it was wintertime. In the summer, when the fields were full of flowers and the air full of sunshine and singing birds, la Befana’s home did not seem so very quiet; but in the winter, with only the snow-flakes and the shy snow-birds and the loud wind for company, the little old woman felt very cheerless. But she was a busy old woman, and as it was already twilight, and her home but half swept, she felt in a great hurry to finish her work before bed-time. You must know la Befana was poor and could not afford to do her work by candle-light.

Presently, down the widest and the darkest of the roads, there appeared a long train of people coming. As the procession came nearer, and finally stopped outside the little hut, la Befana was frightened at the splendor. There were Three Kings, with crowns on their heads, riding camels with harnesses of gold, and carrying many treasures.

Befana was frightened, so she hid herself in her hut, and let the servants of the Kings knock a long time at her door before she dared open it and answer their questions as to the road they should take to a far-away town. You know she had never studied a geography lesson in her life. She knew the way across the fields to the nearest village, but she knew nothing else of all the wide world full. The servants scolded, but the Three Kings spoke kindly to her, and asked her to accompany them on their journey that she might show them the way as far as she knew it.

They told her that they had seen a Star in the sky and were following it to a little town where a young Child lay. The snow was in the sky now, and the Star was lost out of sight.

"What Child is this?" asked the old woman.

"He is a King, and we go to worship him," they answered. “Come with us, Befana!"
Shouldn't you have thought the poor little woman would have been glad to leave her desolate home on the plains to accompany these Kings on their journey? But the night was dark and cheerless, and her little home was warm and familiar. She looked up into the sky, and the Star was nowhere to be seen. Besides, she wanted to finish sweeping. 

Perhaps she would be ready to go to-morrow.
The Three Kings could not wait, and when the sun rose again they were far ahead on their journey. It seemed like a dream to la Befana, for even the tracks of the camels' feet were covered by deep snow. Everything was the same as usual; but to make sure that the night's visitors had not been a fancy, she found her old broom hanging on a peg behind the door, where she had put it when the servants knocked.

Now that the sun was shining, and she remembered the glitter of the gold and the smell of the myrrh, she wished she had gone with the travellers.

It is a dreadful feeling to realize that one has lost a chance of happiness. Soon, the thought of the Little Child became her first thought at waking and her last at night. One day she shut the door of her house forever, and set out on a long journey. She had no hope of overtaking the Kings, but she longed to find the Child. 

People told la Befana how the Child was born in a manger and was visited by shepherds and angels and Kings. She did not know where or how to find him, for the Star no longer shone above his birthplace. She had only one thought: she would seek out the little King and take him a gift.

She has forgotten, I am sure, how many long years have gone by.

She looks in vain for the child in the manger, but she has never stopped looking. Even now, when an old grandmother sits nodding by the fire, and the bigger children sleep in their beds, old Befana comes hobbling into the room, and whispers softly, "Is the young Child here?”

She does not want to miss her chance again, and so she leaves a gift for every child.