As the refreshing Spring winds arrived with all their late March gusto, the winter snows were receding back to the mountain peaks. Temperance showed the verdancy for which it was famous in the region.
One of the traditions of this mountain hamlet in late April was the shearing of Cornelius Daniels’ sheep. The winter harshness had produced a heavy coat of wool for the Icelandic sheep herd, and the heavy coat was not needed in the Spring and Summer seasons.
Cornelius’ sheep herd numbered over two thousand head. His goat herd was only several hundred, but unlike the sheep, the goats were wanderers, especially along the train tracks.
Part of the tradition of sheep shearing was that both the older boys and girls would assist in the shearing. Miss Imogen Phillips and the other teachers at the Ballard School ended class on Wednesday at noon.
On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the school children would be transported to Cornelius Farm by mule drawn wagons to begin the shearing. For Bobby Owenby this would be his first experience in shearing sheep.
Both Tommy Thompson and Jamie Piper had told him it was a great deal of “fun”. However, knowing his two best friends very well by this time, Bobby knew their definition of “fun” was a bit skewed from the actual reality.
Going to the library in late March, he wanted to know if Miss Welthy Wettherly, the hamlet’s Librarian, had any books on the subject. Miss Wettherly was referred to by the other children as Miss WW which was a slight irritation to her, but Bobby always called her Miss Wettherly and his insatiable curiosity had endeared the youngster to her heart.
“This will be your first time, Bobby, with the sheep,” she smiled.
“Yes, Miss Wettherly. I hope you have something for me to study on the matter.”
She grinned, “Yes, I do. I will be right back.” She turned and went into her office. In several moments she emerged and handed him a book.
“It’s The Flock by Mary Austin published in 1906, Bobby. A very excellent book on the subject of sheep history in the golden state of California.”
Opening the book, he saw a handwritten note addressed to Miss Wettherly:
To My Precious Welthy,
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I would appreciate your thoughts when time permits.
“You know the author, Miss Wettherly?”
“We went to Blackburn College together a long time ago,” she said with a smile.
“I will take great care of this book since it is your personal copy.”
“I know you will, Bobby. I can trust you. When you finish reading it, you and I will have a conversation about it before you begin your shearing adventure.”
“I just hope it will not be a misadventure,” he stated seriously.
Miss Wettherly chuckled. Bobby always made her laugh when he came by the library, but she replied, “Perhaps, it will be the Iliad of Adventure for you.”
“Miss Wettherly, I like that idea.”
“Have you ever been to Cornelius Daniels’ Farm, Bobby?”
“On Saturday morning visit the waterfall. You may be surprised to hear the waters laughing.”
“As the water rush over the rocks and the fallen pines, it sounds like laughter, that is, to many people who take the time to listen carefully.”
“Interesting,” Bobby replied with his curious grin.
The eventful late April Thursday arrived with anticipation for the older children as several mule-drawn wagons pulled into town. Cornelius and his farm hands looked forward to having the children for three days.
Now, Cornelius and his wife Clara Grace had some fun activities planned for the children besides shearing sheep for three days. Some of the ladies of the town would be helping Clara Grace with the cooking and activities for the children.
One of the main events of the late afternoon on Friday would be the horseshoe contest. Usually, the young ladies outdid the young men, to their chagrin.
Thursday morning had the children help Wallace, Selkirk, MacAlpin, and Calgacus, the border collies, separate the lambs from the ewes, which was no easy task. The nursing ewes and their lambs were put in a separate pen.
The rams were sheared by the experienced farm hands on Thursday since they would be a bit troublesome for the children to manage. Once the rams were sheared and taken to pasture, the ewes would be more docile to shear.
The children’s turn at shearing would be on Friday with the ewes. On Thursday Cornelius watched the children with the ewes and lambs to see which ones would do what tasks on Friday.
During the day he and Bobby had several conversations. Cornelius found Bobby to be a pure delight as did Clara Grace.
Bobby reminded them of their son Robert who was killed in the Great War during the Meuse River-Argonne Forest Engagement. After the War Robert was going to college, but like so many young men, Robert never got the chance to live life—war is the Sammael, the Great Destroyer of dreams and hopes, especially of the young.
They sorely missed him. Their daughters Abigail, Naomi, and Bethany were married and lived in different states.
On Saturday morning Bobby, Tommy, Jamie, and Boxcar hiked up to the waterfall about 45 minutes from the farm. They promised Clara Grace to be back in time for lunch and an afternoon of games.
The falls were turgid from the fresh melt of the winter snows. There was a giant oak by the base of the falls under which Bobby sat down.
Suddenly Boxcar spotted a rabbit and went chasing it up the path to the top of the falls. Tommy and Jamie ran after him.
Yelling for Bobby to join them, he shook his head. He felt extremely tired and just wanted to rest and listen.
As he closed his eyes and listened, he could hear the laughter of the water. It sounded almost human.
Opening his eyes, he glanced up at the larkspur sky. Several hawks were darting about in the cloudless expanse.
Looking up at the falls, he could see his friends. They resembled shadowy figurines against the tall pines.
Suddenly, Bobby realized that he was not alone. Someone or something had moved behind the tree.
Standing, he circled the tree and saw no one. Sitting back down, he closed his eyes and listened to the water, but then he felt two wet fingers touch his face.
Opening his eyes, he was confronted with a young girl with emerald eyes and sable hair dressed in a niveous flowing gown resembling gossamer. From her fingers dripped argenteous droplets—this is what he felt on his face.
“Who are you?” Bobby asked.
The young girl just smiled and went to the bank edge and ran her fingers through the water. Bobby asked again.
With the most melodious voice that he had ever heard, she replied, “You are resting under my tree, Bobby. Search your memory.”
“Oak tree. You are a tree nymph. I thought nymphs were only mythological.”
“By now, you should know, Bobby, mythological things are real to those who can see the metaphysical in the natural world. It is clouded to the myriad.”
“What’s your name?” He inquired for the third time.
“Fagaceae,” she responded with a smile.
There was something about that name that struck a chord, one of those mystic chords of memory, but he could not remember. She walked back toward him and sat down next to him.
“You must come to visit me again, Bobby.”
Before he could utter a sound, she placed her left hand on his face and those droplets from her fingers ran down to his shirt collar. He closed his eyes.
Opening his eyes, Boxcar was licking his face as Tommy and Jamie stood by laughing. Looking around, Bobby said to himself it must have been a dream.
As the boys headed back toward the farm, Boxcar raced ahead with Tommy and Jamie trudging behind. Bobby paused and looked back at the oak tree and the falls.
“I wonder,” he said to himself. “Just wonder.”
At home that evening as Bobby was in his room reading about nymphs, his mother Carolyn came into the room holding his shirt. Looking up, he said, “Yes, Mother.”
“Did you come in contact with any paint on the farm?”
“I noticed these silver blotches on your collar. Just wonder where they came from.”
Bobby smiled and replied, “I took a nap under the old oak tree by the falls, and Boxcar woke me up licking my face.”
“Boxcar must have eaten something that caused the stains. Dogs are always eating things.” She turned and walked downstairs.
But Bobby knew that it was not Boxcar, but an oak nymph named Fagaceae who had touched him with her slender fingers dripping with silver droplets like moonbeams. He was most fortunate to have seen and conversed with this shy creature of the forest.
Many may doubt that Bobby’s experience was nothing more than a dream on the last Saturday morning of April after working hard on Thursday and Friday on the farm. As any botanist can tell you, the name Fagaceae is the family name for trees and shrubs to which oak trees belong.
Dogs do eat all kinds of strange things which could have left silver-like blotches on Bobby’s shirt after Boxcar licked his face, which might have been a few times. Powdery mildew on plants may have been what Boxcar ate which reacted with his salvia.
However, just in case: may you be fortunate to see the unseen realities which inhabit this planet traversing the cosmos. For the astral veil of separation between worlds is a very attenuated veil, but to lift it requires a soft touch of imagination and a smidgen of faith.
Hamlet to Horatio:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5
G. D. Williams © 2020
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