He called a council and invited all of his people to attend. As they came through the chokecherry bushes toward the council oak he recognized many of his old friends: stalwart badger and somber raccoon, wise hare and brash squirrel, shy porcupine and inquisitive shrew. Stubborn magpie and giddy jackdaw from Black Grove arrived late in the afternoon. A whole host of field mice along with gentle deer and noble moose traveled from the eastern fields. Many others came also.
When they were gathered together under the council oak, grey goose found a spot atop a large twisted root and called out to them: “Friends!” he cried, “we have all long known that this day would arrive. The seasons are changing and it is time that I left you to yourselves. I will be returning to my home in the south and to my family.”
This the forest folk bemoaned. For grey goose had been a true leader: honest and right. “Where will we find someone to replace him?” They asked among themselves. Some said that they should choose one from their own ranks to lead them, while others argued that they should find some other leader from far away to come and care for them as grey goose first had. Others could not accept grey goose’s decision and determined to convince him to stay in the forest or they too would leave with him. It wasn’t long before all the creatures were in discord.
“Sire,” whispered hawk, goose’s closest companion. “It is time we left. You have taught these folk well and they can see to themselves. Besides, the Great Light will ever guide them. Come, let us be off.” Goose agreed. And thus he and hawk and badger and a few others crept away from the scene and were soon away heading south, following the last hints of warm weather.
○ ○ ○
Winter came to the forest. The air turned damp and chill and the creatures forgot their anger with one another. They forgot too, their grief over the passing of grey goose and golden hawk. At length they came together under the council oak and said to one another: “Come, let us rise up for us a new leader. One of our own. One who has lived in these woods long and understands our ways.”
“Yes!” shouted others, “Who among us has this calling?” And after some quick talk it was decided that young fox was a suitable candidate. He was quick and strong and much-loved by all. He eagerly agreed to their kingmaking. Then there was much rejoicing in the forest again. And all hailed young fox and they crowned him king under the council oak and before the Great Light.
Young fox did not doddle. And he soon arranged as his first decree to take a circuit through the forest with his advisors to see first-hand the forest which had been given him and of which grey goose had been so fond of studying and exploring. The plans were fulfilled with much joy and a large company of advisors and a great deal of other folk began their tour of the forest kingdom with young fox at their head.
They travelled deep into the heart of the forest. Travelling the old paths and hedge ways of yesteryear. “Very good!” thought some of the elder creatures, “it is has been far too long since we explored the handiwork of our forefathers. For this is the land of old grey goose, this is.” But even as they spoke these words they examined the company and realized that there were few who remained who remembered grey goose and golden hawk and their deeds.
Presently they came to a yawning cave carved into a steep cliff side overlooking a valley of aspen. Sitting at the entrance of the cave sat a large grey stone which had been positioned upright like a single tooth in the cave’s earthy maw.
“What is this cave and the meaning of this stone?” asked fox.
“My lord,” replied his people. “This was once a home for many young creatures travelling along the forest highway. And the stone was its emblem and a symbol for the travelers to recall their time of rest in the cave. It has become tradition among the forest folk, sire.”
But fox was not impressed, “I know not of this tradition. And my people do not sleep in caves and revere stones.” He said. “Therefore I decree that a gate be built across this cave so that none may enter it. Also, take up this stone and cast it into the ravine.”
“You are our good king, lord.” Replied the people. They lifted the stone and heaved it into the chasm. It spun in the air for a moment before careening into the rocky base below. It hit the bottom with a terrible crack: the great stone had burst asunder and its shards lay strewn about the cavern. Then a gate of strong timber was built across the cave so that none may find shelter there.
They left that place. And presently they came upon a swift flowing river. Beeches and cottonwoods crowned the beautiful nape. Their path brought them to the water’s edge, but one could see that it continued on further up the riverbank.
“What is the meaning of this path and this river?” demanded fox.
“My lord,” replied his people. “This was once a place of fording for all of our young. When of age, the elders would send their heirs across the raging water to yonder shore. Then they would be recognized for their great value and welcomed into the forest family anew. It has become tradition among the forest folk, sire.”
But fox was disgusted and said so, “I know not of this tradition. Are not our children already a part of our family? What need have they of this testing? Surely we could spare such senseless hassle. From henceforth all children should be brought before me for blessing and I will tell them how to live. Therefore I decree that such water fording is childishness. Come, there is plenty of land on this side of the river to still explore.”
“You are our good king.” Replied the people. And many of those folk shunned the river and set in their hearts to remain upon this side evermore, and to send their children to the instruction of fox.
They left that place. And presently they came upon a strange sight. In the midst of an open meadow stood a gently sloping mound. Coming to it they discovered rich green grass all in beautiful long strands and beside it, a spring of pure bubbling water trickling down into the meadow.
“What is the meaning of this grass and spring?” yelled an angry fox.
“My lord,” replied his people. “This is a most sacred meeting place. For here we sup on the blesséd grass and drink from the blesséd stream. Here we are revived in soul and spirit. It has become tradition among all peoples, sire.”
But fox only cackled and spat at the mound. “I am beginning to hate these ‘traditions’,” he said flatly. “For how is this grass, still so plain and ordinary, and this water, bland and every day, any different from the thatches and brooks of our own lands? Of what good is such ceremony? Eating is for fools. If I could avoid it altogether, I would! From this moment forward I put a ban on such wasteful living. There will be no more feasting while I rule you.”
“You are king.” Replied the people.
When the company arrived home again, fox called the forest folk together. He stood upon the gnarled root under the council oak and this is what he said:
“My people! I have seen the Great Light, and I believe I have been given a vision for the future of our forest. I am your king, and you must obey me. Now have been about this land and observed your customs. Let me tell you: you say you have many traditions, but you forget that there were other traditions before even these. The current traditions are childish, pagan and removed from our true calling. Thus, we will return to the teachings of our youth: when we were but young chick, fawn, kit or cub. And no longer do we go to the deep forest. We must stay here, talking only to one another about what we already know. Why learn? Why search after such vanities when the Great Light has already given us all we need to live. Indeed, such frivolous thoughts and practices displease him! If you disobey me in this, you disobey the Light itself. For I know his mind clearly.”
And the forest people cheered, “Yes! We will forsake the deep woods forever!”
To one another they said, “See great fox: so wise and cunning. See how he loves his people so tenderly and listens with such care and concern. See how his coat gleams with the bright sunlight. Surely he is a messenger sent by the Great Light himself. We will return, fox! Show us how!”
And so they did; returning to the ways of the previous generations. Killing the memory of grey goose in their hearts.
Fox continues his reign.
The great mother weeps.
And summer never came again.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
The Scarlet Monk