© 2009 Oona McOuat
“Hear ye, Hear ye. ‘Tis the Eve of All Hallows,” called the Town Crier. “The wheel of the year is about to turn. Everyone to their places!”
As the town crier moved across the village with his call, Spring sat beside the fire, brushing her long golden hair.
“I’m so glad it’s not my turn to be front and center,” she said sleepily. “It’s getting so dark and cold out. I don’t have a thing to wear for this weather! There aren’t even any roses left in the garden to weave into my hair. I’m feeling so tired. I’m still tuckered out from helping the trees bud and the seeds become little green sprouts. I think I’ll just curl up right here on on this couch carved from a fallen log and take a nice, long nap.”
Spring yawned, fluffed up her pillow of dried leaves and fell fast asleep. She was sleeping so soundly she didn’t feel her sister Hope gently shaking her shoulder or hear her asking her to wake up.
Meanwhile, in her cottage down the road Summer was singing a little tune while she packed her bags.
”Para baillar la bamba,
Para baillar la bamba yo necessito,
una poca de…” when there was a knock at her door.
”Come in!” she called, and in rushed Hope with a basket of plant bulbs hanging from the crook of her arm.
“Summer, what are you doing?“ she asked breathlessly, looking at the pile of shorts and sunscreen on the floor.
“I’m packing my bags and heading to Mexico for a very long winter vacation,” Summer answered.
“But Summer – you can’t go. The call has sounded. The wheel of the year is about to turn and Spring is fast asleep. She was sleeping so soundly, I couldn’t wake her up! You must stay. Someone has to be here to help Lady Winter keep the balance.”
“Sorry, can’t help you” said Summer breezily. “Warm sun and balmy seas await me. Got a flight to catch. Snow Goose Express. Non-refundable ticket. You know how that goes… Now, which pair of sandals should I bring – the blue or the pink? Para Baillar la Bomba….”
Hope didn’t know what to do. The wheel was about to turn, the seasons were shifting and someone had to be there to help Lady Winter tell the people that in its turn, winter would pass and the days would grow warm again. Hope ran out Summer’s door down the spiral path to Autumn’s house. But Autumn wasn’t there!
“Of course she’s not home,” thought Hope. ”She is so busy at this time of year. She could be anywhere!”
Hope continued down the spiral path, her basket of plant bulbs swinging on her arm. She soon came to the orchard where, in the distance, she saw the Harvest Elf gathering the last of the pears and apples from the trees. Hope dashed through the yellowing grass towards him.
“Harvest Elf!’ she cried, “Have you seen Autumn?”
“Not in person for a good long while,” he answered. “Not since September 22nd, to be precise. But I see signs of her all around me – the turning of the leaves, the falling nuts and berries, all these bright red apples that I really must continue picking. You see, Autumn’s been keeping me rather busy lately, so if you don’t mind, I’d best get back to work.”
The Harvest Elf picked up his basket and headed deeper into the orchard, taking the path that edged along the Forest.
“Oh dear,” sighed Hope. “What am I to do?”
Just then she smelled the most delicious smell – it was warm and yeasty and she realized she’d been so preoccupied with running here and there she had forgotten to eat lunch! She followed the scent to an old wooden cart being pulled very slowly by one tall, chestnut horse. Now Hope was just learning to read, but on the side of the cart she made out the letters: A—N—C—E—S—T—O-R.
“Maybe there’s a new bakery in the village,” she mused, thinking that the woman in the white kerchief and red apron who was driving the wagon looked a little familiar.
“You must have a heavy load!” called Hope.
“Yes,” answered the woman, as she gently reined her horse to a halt. “This wagon is full of memories and time.”
“Oh, I wish I had more time,” said Hope,” but I really haven’t. You see, the wheel of the year is about to turn and I can sense Autumn, but I can’t quite find her, in person, I mean, and Spring is sleeping and Summer is about to leave on a long winter vacation and…”
“Here, child” said the woman as she reached behind her into a large basket covered with a clean, white cloth, “Have a piece of bread from the Ancestors. When you eat this bread, time stops. Only that which is passed from parent to child, from one generation to the next, remains.”
“Is it made of magic?” asked Hope, as she held the bread to her nose and smelled its fresh goodness.
“It is made of Love,” answered the Ancestor and she urged her horse forward, taking the spiral path towards the Forest.
Hope sat down on a big, smooth stone and bit into her bread. Suddenly all her worries about this and that faded away and she was back at home with her mother and father, sister and brother, sharing food and stories around the dinner table, enveloped in warmth and contentment.
She swallowed her last bite of bread and quickly stood up.
“Now where was I? Oh, right, I was having lunch. I always like to finish off a meal with a big bowl of fresh green salad. I’ll stop at the garden to pick some vegetables.”
“Oh my goodness! What’s happened here?”
Hope arrived at the garden to find only a handful of chewy kale and a mouthful of bitter arugula growing in it. Her favorite things, like the sweet and tender peas and green beans were nothing but brown, withered stalks.
The Garden Helper was digging over by the compost pile.
”Yoo hoo, Garden Helper!” Hope called as she ran towards him. “Something terrible has happened to the garden. I swear, just last week I came and filled my pockets with parsley and lettuce and green onions and now – why there’s nothing left!”
“I know it must be a bit of a shock to you, who loves the green and growing time, to see the garden like this, Hope, but the garden is at rest now,” said the Garden Helper.
“Blub, blub, blub.”
“What was that?” asked Hope.
“Glop gloop. Glippity gloop,” was the reply.
“That’s just Earth and Rot,” answered the Garden Helper. “They are busy decomposing a new song.”
Just then the two most amazing creatures Hope had ever seen came oozing out of the compost pile. They were covered with bits of moss and leaves and sticks. They were slimy and crumbly and smelled like skunk cabbage and unwashed socks. Before she could say a word, they each put one of their hands in hers.
““Don’t be afraid,” said the Garden Helper, “I think they want to help you. Even though they look and smell funny, they’re a part of the cycle of things too.”
With those words, Earth and Rot led Hope along the spiraling garden path right into the Forest.
“Er…hmm,” Hope nervously cleared her throat, “If you please, Cousins,” she said timidly, “If you please, although the Forest is very beautiful at this time of year – full of mushrooms and rosehips and fallen leaves, I really don’t have time right now to go for a hike. You see, I must find Lady Winter and tell her my sister Spring is fast asleep and that Summer is about to go on a long winter vacation and that Autumn, well Autumn is obviously here but I haven’t actually found her. In person, I mean. I must tell Lady Winter that I am afraid she will have to keep the balance between light and dark all by herself.”
Earth and Rot didn’t say a word. They just gurgled and burped and led Hope even deeper into the woods, little bits of them falling to the ground as they walked.
Suddenly, the air grew chilly. They rounded a bend and there, in a frosty grove, was Lady Winter.
“Greetings, Little One,” she said to Hope, the autumn sunlight shimmering in her mane of silver hair. “I have been waiting for you.”
“For me?” Hope asked. “Surely it is Spring or Summer that you need, my Lady. They are much more important than me.”
“No, your sister Spring needs to sleep now and Summer needs the warmth to prosper. It is you, Hope, who carries the promise of the life that will return.”
Hope looked at Lady Winter quizzically and then she remembered the basket of plant bulbs that hung from the crook of her arm.
“You must give your bulbs to the people. As they plant them, they will remember that although I bring death and decay, cold and silence, life still lives in the land.”
Lady Winter reached inside a hollow in the fir tree and pulled out a cloak of owl feathers which she placed over Hope’s rose petal dress.
“May this keep you warm through the frosty nights to come,“ she said, her breath forming clouds in the cooling air. “Quickly now, the seasons are shifting, the harvest is almost complete, the time of rest is near upon us.”
With Earth and Rot her faithful companions, Hope journeyed back along the spiral path, handing her bulbs to all they met, telling them to plant them and believe. As the first snowflakes began to fall, Hope arrived at her doorstep with rosy cheeks and a glowing heart. She bid farewell to Earth and Rot and went and curled up beside her sister Spring to take a long winter’s nap.