Legend of the Trailing Arbutus

May 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Trailing ArbutusTrailing Arbutus Long ago, in the remote interior of a trackless forest lived alone a man of great age. His long hanging hair was as white as the snow that thickly blanketed the ground around him; his face weather beaten and furrowed, a testament to a hard life of constant immersion in the unkind elements. He was clothed in arrays of thick animal furs of the most exquisite quality. His days were spent trudging across the frozen landscape searching for suitable fuel to feed the fire of his modest bark-plated lodge. Everywhere he journeyed bitter winds, deep snows, and frigid temperatures followed. 

One morning as he rose from bed ready to undertake his daily collection of fuel, he noticed his joints were unusually sore. This was cause for concern, for despite having been on this earth more years than a mature oak has leaves, he almost always enjoyed a pain free existence, numbed to a degree as one would be just before experiencing frost bite. Over the coming weeks, the pain became more excruciating until he could hardly move a dozen steps before collapsing in agony. No longer able to gather the necessary allotment of firewood to keep his lodge heated, he feared he would freeze to death. The howling winter winds which ceaselessly tore through the cracks in the rickety structure always ensured a rapid decline of the woodpile he labored so intently to acquire. As his pile dwindled and he threw the last log onto the fire, he uttered a prayer to the Great Spirit that he should not perish from the cold. 

In the evening when all that remained  in the hearth was a smoldering pile of glowing coals, there was a knock at the door followed by the entry of a maiden of incredible beauty. Extending from the top of her head to the bottom of her back were finely braided chestnut-brown tresses, adorned with colorful and exotic arrays of wildflowers. Her smiling face had beaming features as comely and welcoming as the spring sun. Each blushing cheek was burnished with the color of a fiery rose, and her gentle eyes were a delicate, fresh green, of a hue identical to that of newly awakened vernal forests. The material of her clothing consisted of sweet grasses and fragrant ferns. In place of traditional shoes, her feet were swaddled in a type of pouch-like orchid known as the pink lady's slipper. And wrapped around her wrists were bracelets fashioned from the pliable limbs of the fuzzy pussy willow.

After the old man looked over her unusual attire and finding himself curious of her story, invited her to join him by what remained of the fire. Introducing himself, he declared: "I am Manitou. When I shake my hair snow falls across the landscape; wherever I walk the harsh winds follow close behind, sending the animals scurrying into their holes; and when I blow my breath at rivers and lakes they become hard and stand still."

The young maiden responded, "When I breathe, warm air pours from my mouth—streams gleefully awaken, and frogs begin carousing. As I speak the birds utter their lively songs and fill the silent woods with joy. When I braid my hair the rains come and turn the lands a verdant green. And wherever I saunter across the hills, grasses and wildflowers jut from beneath the thawed earth. I, too, am Manitou."

As the two further discoursed the lodge gradually increased in temperature until their was no need for a flame, the result of the warmth issuing from the maiden's heated lungs. The old man, meanwhile, grew more relaxed as they continued to speak. By the time the lodge took on a spring-like atmosphere he had drifted into a deep and unshakable sleep.

The maiden then placed a hand over the old man's face. As she did this small streams of water began to flow from his mouth and he began to shrink in size until he gradually disappeared altogether. When all that remained was his robe of fine furs, she placed her hand over it, transforming this relic of winter into a heap of leathery, green leaves. Taking from her braided hair the most precious white flowers she possessed, she hid them among the leaf pile. Softly breathing into the new creation, she whispered, "I give you all my virtues and purity. Whoever shall wish to admire your beauty, inhale your scent, or pluck you from the earth, will do so on bended knee." From here she exited the lodge and proceeded to head north, the leaves opening on her approach, the birds singing her praises as she passed by. Everywhere she stopped, and nowhere else, the trailing arbutus grows.


 


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