Dreams of Flying

Before they even slip into
their golden-yoked shells,
before their bodies even begin
to form bones and beaks and brains,
the spirits of birds dream of flying.
That is why they come here.
They come pushed by dreams
of sky rushing through feathers,
of gliding through air, of darting
among the branches of trees.
They dream of swooping and falling
and climbing again on strong wings,
of racing with clouds and drifting
on breezes. It will take effort,
this dream. But they hold to it
until it turns true and they find
themselves flying.

Chapter 22 – Festival Day

The forest dwellers and their guests woke to the morning song that the Angel of the Dawn brought to Holly and the grass and meadow choirs.  As it came to a close, the golden grasses lifted their voices in a salute that sounded like trumpets blowing.

For a moment, complete silence reigned.  Then, suddenly, a hundred woodpeckers began a lively ratta-tat-tat and the sound of a thousand fairies dancing atop the decorated tree stumps erupted from every direction.

At the campsite, all the guests were on their feet, listening to the sound in astonishment when a ribbon of cardinals began streaming through the pines from the top of the forest’s farthest hill.  The birds in every tree they passed burst into song and it seemed as if their music was flowing down the hills with the cardinals.

Following the cardinals, the grand parade began.  All the animals of the forest were lined up behind the great buck who had served as the guests’ master of ceremonies.  And behind the animals came all the elves.  And as the birds sang and the fairies danced, they wove their way down the hill.

When they reached the campsite they formed a large circle around it, enclosing both the campsite and Grandfather Pine.   Finally, the smallest of the animals arrived, and then the elves came tumbling into the center of circle, leaping and turning somersaults and laughing in joy.  From every direction, the birds came and filled the surrounding trees.  Then all at once, as if in response to some hidden signal, everyone stopped and silence fell.  The great buck strode to the center of the circle and pawed the ground three times with his hoof, and then all together the forest dwellers began a mighty chant: ”Welcome to the Light!  Welcome to the Light!”  The elves motioned to all the guests to join in, and soon the forest thundered with the glad, tumultuous song.

When everyone settled down to enjoy a hot breakfast together, Grandfather Pine spoke, telling the ancient story of the meaning of the Light.  Then the grass choir sang, and one troupe after another of animals danced, and told stories, and put on little plays.  And the gathered dwellers and guests clapped and laughed in delight.

The afternoon was filled with merriment and song.  The elves passed out gifts to all, giving special mementos and bags of food and treats to the guests for their travels home.   Friends old and new laughed together, and danced and hugged, promising to remember each other through all the days to come.

After the day’s great feast, Holly and the choirs began a concert that would last until early evening.  One by one, the guests began to say their farewells and begin their journeys to their homes, the music from the forest following them on their way.

The sun turned golden as it sank beneath the western edge of the forest and Holly began to sing her evening songs.  At the edge of the campsite, Grandfather Pine glowed in the sunset’s light, his heart full of gratitude for the wonder of the Light’s return and with pride in his forest for the beauty of its celebration.

And from his special place in the Home World, Little Pine looked down at the forest and smiled.

Chapter 20 – The Silent Night

Unlike yesterday, today’s breakfast was a lively one.   Over their fresh winterberry muffins and pine nut porridge, the guests were laughing and chattering away with each other.  They had slept well.  They had accepted the invitation of the forest dwellers to make new friendships, and everyone had fallen asleep with hearts full of love.

When their meal was almost done, once again the regal buck stepped onto the stage at the clearing’s end.  “Good morning, dear ones!  I see that each of you is in a splendid mood this morning!  I predict that all of us will have another splendid day today.

“I have a special message for you this morning.  As you know, today the Light will reach the farthest point of his journey to the southern realms.  Tonight is Festival Eve, our longest night of darkness.  Grandfather Pine, the most ancient of all the beings in our forest, has asked that you gather together around him after your evening meal.  He has received word that, instead of a noon-time guest, Little Pine himself will come again to visit us in honor of the occasion.  He expects to arrive just after the stars rise.

“Until then, please enjoy another day of making and deepening friendships.  Wander our forest as you will.  Every inch of it is glad for your visit and welcomes you with delight.”

The day, being the shortest one of the year, flew past.  And as the sun sunk behind the forest’s western edge, the visitors gathered in a circle around the base of Grandfather Pine.  Behind them, the forest dwellers came to take a seat.  Deer came, and foxes, and rabbits.  Squirrels scampered in, and chipmunks, beaver, mice and coyotes quietly filed in and joined the circle.

From across the lake, a delicate song wafted into the camp sung by Holly and the choirs of the butterfly meadow and the golden grasses.  Soon, the sky grew dark and glittering stars began to appear.

One star seemed to glow with a warm pink glow, and it grew brighter and floated down to Grandfather Pine’s top-most bough.  It hovered there for a moment and then descended to a place just above the ground, where it opened to a vision of a tiny, sleeping cherub.

“Hi, Everybody!  It’s me, Little Pine,” a voice said in a soft, merry tone.  “This is my little pal, Angelina Cherub, asleep here in my boughs.  She tried to stay awake, but the excitement was too great, and dreamland called her.  She’s a cherub of innocence and joy and she would want me to tell you how fond she is of each of you and how she delights in your laughter.

“Your joy and laughter are more important than you know.  They’re the sparks of the Light itself, dancing in your heart.  And like Light, they have the power to change your world.  They’re the bright flags of love that can illuminate all darkness.

“When I made my wish to visit this forest once more during Festival season and to bring some of my friends to meet you, little did I imagine what a thrill awaited me!  Your enjoyment has filled me with such light, that I think I must be one of the brightest pines in Home World right now.  And if I had another wish, it would be that each of you takes with you sparkling memories of your days here to share with all your families and friends.  Tell them all that you have seen and heard and learned about the preciousness of beauty, and friendship, of love and fun, and goodness.

“Thank you for making my wish come true in such a spectacular way.  Along with little Angelina here, I wish you a night of sweet dreams and contemplation.  All of us will be with you in spirit tomorrow as you celebrate the Return of the Light.  Happy, happy Festival, my friends.”

Then the vision faded and the moon rose and the stars twinkled in the sky.  The forest dwellers silently returned to their homes, and the guests retired to their beds.  Holly and the choir sang soft lullabies for a while, and then the night was still and filled with wonder.

Chapter 19 – The Dove of Peace

It was a dark morning, with heavy clouds blotting out the light and the guests woke slowly.  But soon the fragrance of maple porridge was filling the air, and they roused themselves and headed to breakfast.  As they ate, they could hear the distant sound of the grass choir singing in the butterfly meadow, and they are in near silence, listening.

When the meal was nearly finished, the great buck who was the master of ceremonies for the visitors took to the stage.  “Good morning, visitors,” he said in his clear, deep voice.  “It’s my pleasure today to invite you to enjoy a day of leisure.  Our great Festival Day, when we celebrate the Return of the Light, is only two days away, and we would like you to feel fully rested when it arrives for there will be much excitement then.  As you have discovered, our forest is a very friendly place, and today we invite you to wander the.

“Our great Festival Day, when we celebrate the Return of the Light, is only two days away, and we would like you to feel fully rested when it arrives, for there will be much excitement then.  As you have discovered, our forest is a very friendly place, and today we invite you to wander at your leisure wherever you will and meet some of our residents.  They are all looking forward to extending their personal welcomes to you.  Take time as well to introduce yourself to fellow guests that you haven’t yet met.  Our wish for you is that you will return to your own regions with new and enduring friendships of your own as part of your treasure of memories from your visit with us.  May your day be filled with joy.”

He stepped from the platform then and a chorus of cheerful birdsong erupted from the trees to set the mood for the day.

Soon the visitors were roving all around the campsite introducing themselves to one another and setting off in pairs and small groups to explore the parts of the forest they hadn’t yet seen.

By now, everyone knew quite well what it meant when the jingling bells sounded at noon.  All throughout the forest, the wandering guests took a seat and waited expectantly to see who would appear today.

The clouds, which had hung above them all day, grew darker, and a great hush fell across the woods.  Then a deep blue globe appeared, and as its center cleared, they saw a shimmering white dove perched atop a pine in a sky full of brilliant stars.

“Greetings, beautiful friends,” it cooed in soft, clear voice.  “It’s my special honor to visit you today.  I am the Dove of Peace, a messenger of the Light.  It is nearly at the end of its journey southward.  In two days, it will have reached its farthest point and begin its return to your section of the Earth world.

“It makes its travels so that every being on Earth world has a time to enjoy the fullness of its radiance.  When it travels southward, your days of darkness increase and you learn what it is to be without the blessing of the Light.  It never leaves you entirely, of course.  But it is important that you have the experience of darkness so that you understand the full beauty and goodness of the Light.  In the darkness, it is easy to become confused and to take mistaken and sometimes painful paths.  When there is light, you see clearly.  The coming and going of the Great Light is to lead you to carry the Light of Love in your hearts so that you may make choices in your lives that are good and beautiful.  And that is what this celebration if all about. It’s the celebration of Light restored, of the renewal of the Light that gives life and love to us all.

“May you celebrate with unlimited joy, my precious friends.  And may the Light be with you, and in you, every day of your Earth world lives.”

Then the dove vanished and the stars that had surrounded it burst into swirling globes of light that lit the day and cleared the clouds away.  And all the forest erupted in cheering.

Chapter 18 – The Spirit of Deliciousness

While the guests ate their yummy breakfast at the campsite, once again they were well-entertained.  This time, a dozen troupes of chipmunks came to tap dance, singing while they danced.  The guests laughed in delight.

It was the last day for tours, games, stories and songs, and everybody quickly lined up behind their chosen guides to enjoy anything they had missed, or to do a favorite thing over again.  By now, all the guests had met each other, and they all chattered merrily as they set off for the day.  Of course everyone was brimming with curiosity, too, wondering what magical visitor would show up today.  That Little Pine sure had a wide assortment of wonderful friends!  Everyone was glad his wish had come true and that he had used it so generously.

Just past noon, after the jingling bells sounded the alerts, the whole forest echoed with laughter as a red and white swirling globe appeared, looking like peppermint candy.  When the mist cleared, the cheeriest gingerbread man you could imagine greeted them with a happy hello.

“Hi, Friends!” he giggled.  “I’m Jerry Gingerman, the Spirit of Deliciousness, and I’m in charge of all the fairies of the worlds’ sugars and spices.  Our specialty is bringing delight to every nose and tongue on your world and here at Home.   Tastes and fragrances are very special parts of life.  Our experiences of them weave through all our memories and make them come alive.

“I have never been to an Earth forest before, and I must say the fragrances here are wonderful!  I got a hint of what pine is like from keeping company with Little Pine, of course.  I thought he was one of the best-smelling friends I’ve ever made.  But coming here, where you pines grow in great groves makes my head spin! In fact, the whole forest is filled with such amazing smells that it makes me want to turn cartwheels in joy!

“And do you know where fragrances come from?  I’ll tell you the secret.  They are a variation of song, and every living being carries its own unique perfume.  The more love in your heart, the sweeter and spicier your fragrances, and no two of them are alike.

“You are the inspiration for all the sugars and spices that we create.  We take little bits of love from each of you and the fairies carry the mixtures to the plants of the worlds.  So the marvelous tastes and smells you experience are really reflections of your own perfumes.  You inspire us, and we send the joy of you back to you in delight.

“Being here with you today, I am quite giddy with joy.  Little Pine told me I was in for a treat, but I never could have imagined how complex and subtle and wondrous standing among you would be.  I thank you with all my heart.  And come spring, I think you will notice special perfumes floating through your air.

“Now, farewell, Friends.  And happy, happy Festival!”   Then the Spirit of Deliciousness faded away leaving the scent of warmed ginger behind.

Chapter 17 – The Visit of the Flower Fairy

“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” one of the visiting foxes said to the old bear who sat next to him at breakfast, “I would never have believed it.”

They were talking, of course, of the special magic that happened every noon here at the Festival Celebration.  “I know what you mean,” the old bear answered.  “I can’t even imagine how they do it.  Just think, no matter where all of us are in the forest, no matter what kind of creature we are, everybody sees the vision as if it was appearing right in front of him.  And each of us hears the voice of the being who appears in our very own language.  The bears back in my own woods won’t believe my tales!”  He laughed a deep bear laugh just imagining their faces.

Then he paused and said, “Oh the other hand, a couple of our bears came to the Festival here two years ago and they saw magic, too.  That’s part of the reason I decided to come here myself.  That, and the fact that they said they had never experienced so much kindness and love and fun in one place.  It seemed too good to be true.  But what if it was?  I had to come and see.”

The old bear and the fox had formed quite a friendship since they met at the campground.  They had joined the same groups, going on the same tour and playing the same games.  They ate every meal together and discovered they held similar opinions on many topics.  Besides, they made each other laugh.  Today they decided they would join the story group and hear what stories these forest dwellers had to tell.  They hoped they would learn more about Little Pine, the beloved little tree whose wish brought all this magic to the Festival this year.

A troop of elves were acting as the story tellers and they promised that they would tell the tale of Little Pine right after lunch.  But for the morning, they wanted to share the legend of Grandfather Pine and tell the visitors how this special forest came to be such a special, much-loved place.

The fox and bear were listening with rapt attention when the ten-minute alert surprised them.  The morning had passed so quickly!  But they were quite willing to let the rest of the story wait until after lunch.  Right now, more magic was about to happen.

And happen it did!  It began with the appearance of a small, golden sphere of mist that seemed to sparkle with tiny lights.  When the globe settled right before them, a tiny, beautiful fairy appeared.

“Hello, my delightful Festival friends!” the fairy sang in a musical voice.  “What a joy it is to visit with you in this way, so that you can see me.  I’m a flower fairy, and the other friends of Little Pine whom you have met, I dart back and forth between the Home World and this one.  Few here are able to see me, and those who do are usually very young.  When they tell others they have seen me, or other fairies of my kind, the others laugh and think they are lost in make-believe.”  She giggled a little as she said this.

“But let me tell you a secret!  You do have to make up your mind to believe in order to see many kinds of things that are outside the range of your Earth-world senses.  ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ many of you Earth-dwellers say.  But the truth is that there are many beautiful things you can see only when you’re willing to believe in them first.  Like me!” she said, spinning around in a graceful little dance on her shimmering wings.

“We flower fairies are the tenders of the wild flowers.  We help them open their petals and sing with them their songs of joy.  Their job and ours is to add to the delight of this world.  We are singers of the Song of the Yes, filling your fields with love for you.  Every time you see one of us, remember that we are singing for you, out of joy, in celebration.”

Then the fairy fluttered her tender wings and disappeared as quickly as she had come.

Chapter 16 – The Mighty, Magnificent Moose

The next morning, the guests at the campsite awoke to the sound of beautiful music.  Almost every winter bird in the forest had gathered in the trees surrounding the camp to serenade the visitors.  At first, only the sparrows sang, a soft and gentle melody intended to let the guests wake slowly.  But then, as the song reached its chorus, more birds joined in.  And before long, the whole camp was alive with soaring melodies.

The guests, of course, were thrilled.  Every day at this Festival was more wondrous than the one before.  They never knew what to expect.

Breakfast was a delicious heap of winterberry muffins and pine nut pancakes with plenty of maple syrup and honey.  And the birds continued to sing until all the guests had eaten their fill and had lined up behind their guides to enjoy the day’s adventures.

As noon grew near, ripples of excitement ran throughout the forest.  Who would appear today?

The guests didn’t have long to wait.  The ten-minute alert sounded, and by the time everyone was settled, the five-minute alert came.  Then, an enormous column of green mist appeared before them, the green taking on the shape of snow-sprinkled pine boughs.

No sooner were the pine boughs in focus than a gigantic, smiling moose stepped from between them, booming “Happy Festival, Friends!  I’m Marcus, guardian and guide of all moose on your Earth World and here at Home World as well.

“As you may know, we moose are creatures of great strength, known for our ability to endure hardships and survive in difficult times.  But what is little known is the source of our legendary strength.  I shared our secret with Little Pine one day when we were chatting, and he asked me to share it with you so that you would understand the importance of your delightful celebration.

“And here it is:  We draw our strength from our joy and wonder over simply being alive.  Do you ever stop to think what a gift life is?  Do you ever wonder how it is that you came to be?  It’s such a mystery and miracle.

“Whether you’re a tiny ant or a great big lumbering creature like us moose, you ARE.  You begin as a spark of the Yes in the Home World, and then—nobody seems to know how—the next thing you know, you have a body and you’re here on Earth World, where you are given the gift of experiences, and every experience you have is wholly unique to you.

“What we moose have discovered over the centuries is that, if you decide to be grateful for your life, whatever it might hold, a song of joy will rise in your heart and you will begin to appreciate even the hard times as a gift.  You will discover that everything you go through, all the pleasures and all the sorrows, the times of comfort and the times of pain, all grow your heart.  Your gratitude for that will turn everything to joy.  And your joy, in turn, will fuel your gratitude.

“Little Pine told me that each of you knows the secret of joy and, especially during Festival season, you revel in it and the songs of your heart touch everyone in your world.  Your joy gives hope and strengthens faith.  When I learned that about you, I decided each of you must be a little brother or sister of the moose.

“In honor of that fact, I’m giving each of you a magic moose call.  Tuck it in your pockets and whenever you need to feel strong or to rediscover your joy, give it a toot and the sound will call the spirit of the moose to fill you.

“Happy Festival, Sweet Creatures!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me get to meet you!”

Then he tossed tiny pebble-like moose calls to everybody, small enough for the smallest pockets, and disappeared into the pine boughs and faded away.

Chapter 15 – A Helper Elf Appears

Yesterday wasn’t long enough for everything the guests wanted to do.  After supper, when they relaxed together in the campground, they told each other what fun they had all day.   When the visiting bears described how they found treats in the hollows of every tree on their tour, the visiting ponies wished that they had chosen to go on the tour, too.  And when the ponies told about the games they had learned to play, the foxes wished that they had played games.

Finally, the great buck who was the leader of the guest activities committee stepped up on the platform at the end of the campground’s clearing.  “Dear Visitors,” he said in his clear, deep voice, “I have an announcement to make.”  All the guests grew quiet and looked in his direction to see what he had to say.  What surprise would be coming next?

“When I was a young buck,” he said, “I was eager to try every adventure life offered.  I felt like I was standing at a big buffet where countless tables held every delicious treat you could imagine, and I wanted to sample everything at once.   Then my great grandfather pulled me aside and said, ‘Son, you can’t do everything first.  But possibilities never stop flowing.  Choose whatever one you will, knowing that more will always await you.’

“That turned out to be very good advice.  Today, each of you made choices.  And from what I have heard you say, they were delightful ones.  Now you are wishing for more.  And more you shall have.  We will continue today’s activities for the next four days, so you may make new choices each morning and then change your choices, if you wish, each afternoon.”

The crowd of guests broke into a cheer, and everyone went to sleep that night thinking about what they most wanted to try tomorrow.

After breakfast the next day, all the guests happily went to the activities they had chosen.

At noon, the sound of jingle bells let them know that yet another one of Little Pine’s pals was about to make a magical visit.  And ten minutes later, a tiny, smiling elf appeared before them, surrounded by a wreath of snowflakes.

“Hi, Festival Friends!  I’m Timmy Elf, one of the Elf King’s helpers.  Little Pine invited me to come and meet all of you, and especially to say hello to the elves who add so much to this forest.  They’re the ones who hung all the decorations and who built the fairy hotel and stowed all the treats in the tree hollows and decorated the drums where the fairies will dance on Festival Day.  Little Pine told me that they work all year to keep the forest a beautiful, happy place.  And they always, he told me, whistle while they work.

“I brought a present for them, which I will leave at their house when I leave.   It’s a special gift to them from the Spirits of Fun.   I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a secret.  Secrets are part of the fun, you know. But you will find out on Festival Day.

“Meanwhile, as you explore these woodlands, if you hear happy whistling, stop and applaud.  Nothing makes an elf happier than knowing someone appreciates his work.

“I wish you a day filled with fun and hearts full of joy.”

And with that, the tiny elf faded away to a round of rousing applause.

Chapter 14 – A Visit from a Prince

After breakfast the next morning, the forest dwellers invited their guests to choose how they would like to spend their day.  They could play games or sing songs.  They could hear stories, tour the forest, or simply mingle with each other making new friends.

Along one side of the encampment, smiling beavers and squirrels, deer, raccoons and foxes stood in a big semi-circle, volunteering as guides.  All of them wore a wreath of leaves around their necks to show whether they were tour guides, game guides, story tellers or leaders of song.  Those with the pine wreaths were the tour guides, for example.  Those decked with golden elm leaves were the leaders of song, and so on.  Soon all the guests had grouped around their chosen guides and set out on the day’s adventures.

Just as lunch time was drawing near, the familiar sound of jingling bells rang through the air, and everyone stopped what they were doing to hear the ten-minute alert that one of Little Pine’s special friends would soon be arriving.  They settled themselves right where they were, whispering to each other, “Who do you think will appear?”

Soon the five-minute alert came, and then, before they knew it, a bright red bubble appeared before their eyes and opened to a vision of a magnificent white deer, prancing through a field of stars.

“Happy Greetings, Friends!” he spoke, in a clear, resonant voice.  “I am the Deer Prince, the one who guards and guides the spirits of the deer in your world.  Your pal Little Pine has become a close friend of mine here in the Home World.  As those of you who knew him are aware, he has a magnificent sense of humor.  It’s one of the reasons all of us are so fond of him.

“He told me that he wanted me to be one of those who visited you because, he said, everyone here was dear.  At first I was confused.  If everyone in his world was a deer, why was he a pine?  When I asked him that, he laughed and laughed and said I would figure it out.  And when I did, I laughed, too.

“Over time, as I got to know him better, he told me story after story about all the forest’s living beings, and I came to know, deep in my heart, why he said each of you was dear.  Little Pine sees the best in everyone.  His heart is full of love and song.  He takes delight in everyone he meets, in every critter and plant, every elf and fairy.  And looking through his eyes at each of you, I can see why you bring him so much joy.  You reflect back to him what he sees in you!  Of course it works that way in all the worlds.  What we see if a mirror of what is in our own hearts.  That’s how we learn what we need to grow and what we need to let go.  It’s a very clever system, don’t you agree?

“What I see in everyone here is a willingness to be joyful, to be friendly, to be kind.  I see that you have the daring to go on adventures and to try new things.  And I see your delightful sense of play.  In fact, after seeing you through Little Pine’s eyes, I understand why he calls all of you dear.  And in honor of his vision, I, as the Home World’s Prince of Deer, do hereby proclaim each of you honorary deer.  From now on, you will share the strength of their hearts, the alertness of their senses, and the sweetness of their dispositions.  And, in truth, you already do.

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, my friends.  I leave you with Little Pine’s greetings and love.”

And with that, the Prince of the Deer pranced away in a sparkle of stars.

Chapter 13 – Holly’s Dream

Snow fell all day, just as the baby penguins had promised.  And all day the forest dwellers and their visitors kept erupting into giggles and laughs.  Holly could hear pockets of their laughter floating up from all over the woodland.  It popped up from the hilltops at the top of the woods, and from down in the valleys by the creek.  It streamed down the deer trails, and leaped from the treetops, and ran in big circles through the pines.

“Everybody is going to sleep very well tonight,” she thought to herself, “after a day of such play!”

After sundown, the snow stopped falling and the deer, who had been leading the visitors in games all day, led them back to camp for a fine evening feast.  As they ate, a flock of chickadees perched in the nearby trees and told the visitors Festival stories.

A beautiful hush began to fall over the woods as the last light of sunset faded away, and Holly was pleased to hear haunting music rise softly over the butterfly meadow as the wildflower choir finished their rehearsal for the day.

Holly waited until the first stars of the evening began to glitter in the sky, and then she sang her lullabies, sending everyone to dreamland on a cloud of gentle song.

Not long after her last note floated through the woodland, Holly, too, fell asleep.  For a while, she dreamed that she was floating through the sky and that the twinkling of the stars was their laughter.  Then, from the depths of space, a soft pink cloud drifted toward her, and when it was near, its center cleared to reveal a beautiful jeweled butterfly.  And she could see that the cloud itself was made of almost invisible butterflies, hundreds of them, swirling around the jeweled one in the cloud’s center.

The butterfly didn’t speak, but it slowly hovered above Holly’s topmost branch and the cloud of butterflies enveloped her, moving in a graceful spiral through all of her branches.  She felt their tenderness and love on her leaves, softer than the morning dew, and she almost felt as if she could fly away with them.

They hovered around her for only a few minutes, just long enough for her to understand their silent songs of Yes.  Then the jeweled butterfly rose into the air with its cloud, and floated off toward the meadow.

And Holly drifted into a deep and peaceful sleep.