The tale of the first friendship between a human and a forest spirit.
|Inka wandered her forest near the human village. Few of her fellow forest spirits came to this part of the woods. They feared the humans. Inka was fascinated by them. They always seemed so serious and grim. She felt bad for them because she wondered if they were ever happy.
She had tried talking to so many of them, but they did not see her. Nothing she did seemed to matter. She even tried dropping an apple on the head of one man, but he just cussed, looked right past her, and went about his business.
Today, she was watching a group of smaller humans. She had heard others refer to these smaller humans as children. They were wandering through the forest, collecting mushrooms. She had watched them do this several times. She followed one boy who was wandering farther into the forest than most humans did. Inka feared he might hurt one of her friends’ homes.
Inka was watching the boy around the old oak tree that lightning had struck during the last thunderstorm. She was watching him as he picked his way through the underbrush so intently that she hadn’t heard the footsteps behind her. She nearly jumped when she heard the small voice behind her. “Hello there.”
Inka spun around to face a little girl in tattered clothes -- most of the villagers’ clothes seemed to be unraveling -- with brown eyes. Brown curls cascaded around her face. “Um, hello.”
“My name is Frida? Who are you?”
“Inka. You can see me?”
“Yes, You’re very pretty.”
“Thank you.” Inka fidgeted. This human was actually talking to her.
“I think I’ve seen you around before. But never in the village.”
“Oh no. I live here in the forest. We forest spirits never go into the human village.”
“You’re a forest spirit? What’s that?”
“We are born and live in the forest. We care for it. We make the trees and flowers grow.”
“Do you have a house?”
“What’s a house?”
Frida laughed. Inka had never heard a human laugh before. It was musical. “It’s the building where you eat and sleep at night. With your family.”
Inka wrinkled her nose. She still wasn’t sure what a building was. “Well, I sleep in a hole at the base of a yew tree. So i guess you could call that my house.”
“Does anyone else live in the hole with you?”
“Oh no, it’s much too small for that. Plus, we forest spirits like to be alone when we sleep.”
“You don’t get scared?”
“No. I would never be scared in the forest. It’s my home.”
“But what about the dangers?”
“What are dangers?”
“You know. Wild animals. That sort of thing.”
“The animals in the forest are my friends.”
“They don’t attack you?”
“Oh, no. They’d never do that. Do they attack you?”
“They’ve attacked some of my friends and other people in the village. That’s why my parents tell me to stay clear of them.”
“Oh yes, I understand now. My friends are great, but you have to know when to give them their space.”
“I guess I can see that. I like to be alone sometimes too.”
“Would you like to be alone now?”
“Oh no, Inka. I like talking to you.”
“I like talking to you, too Frida.”
For several days, Frida would slip into the forest in the morning. Inka would be waiting for her. The two would spend hours talking to each other. Frida would tell Inka about the ways of the village and Inka would tell Frida about the games the forest spirits played. Inka would also show the girl where all the best mushrooms were in the forest.
Eventually, Frida started bringing other children to meet Inka. They would laugh and play, enjoying the games that Inka taught them about. In time, Inka even convinced other forest spirits to join them. The children delighted in meeting Inka’s friends and hearing their stories. The children started gathering flowers and weaving them into wreaths for the forest spirits, who loved these small gifts.
Inka watched as children, especially her friend Frida, grew bigger and older. Some of them quit coming to see the forest spirits. New children would replace them, each one filled with wonder at the world Inka and her friends introduced them to.
Frida’s visits became less frequent. Eventually, they stopped altogether. Inka missed her friend, but many of the children would tell her stories about Frida. She learned that Frida had become a teacher, gotten married, and given birth to a baby boy. Inka was happy for her friend, but missed her.
The humans started holding a yearly festival in honor of the forest spirits. They would hold a grand celebration at the edge of their village and the children would carry gifts of food, drink, and flowers into the forest. One child told Inka that her old friend, Frida, had worked with the children to organize the first festivals. Inka was glad to know that her first human friend still thought of her and her fellow forest spirits, even if she didn’t come visit.
One day, many years later, Inka heard children coming into the forest. This was common by that point. She and her friends began to move toward the sounds of laughter. Inka paused as she heard an adult voice that sounded oddly familiar. “Slow down, children! You know I’m old and can’t move as fast as you.”
“Sorry, Frida!” one child laughed in response. Inka drew closer, wondering if this voice could really belong to her friend. Eventually, she found an elderly woman leaning on a walking stick, surrounded by laughing children. Inka studied the woman’s face. It was now lined with age, but she knew the smile she saw there. She recognized the curls covering the woman’s head, even though they were mostly gray now. This was indeed her friend.
Eventually, the woman approached a fallen tree and two children helped her take a seat there. “Thank you, dears,” she said. “Now go play. I think I see a couple spirits hovering by that bush over there. Perhaps they have a new game to teach you.”
The children laughed and dashed to the bush. The forest spirits there shrieked in delight and spirits and human children alike quickly disappeared.
Inka waited a few more moments before approaching her friend. Frida smiled at the forest spirit. “I was hoping I would see you today.”
“What happened to you, Frida?”
The woman laughed. “I got old, Inka. That’s what happens to humans, I”m afraid.”
“But you can still see me? Most adults still can’t.”
“I can still see you, friend. And you are still as pretty as the day I met you.
“Oh thank you, Frida. But why can you see me when most adults can’t?”
A thoughtful look came over Frida’s face. After a few moments, she spoke. “Over the years, I have come to think that it’s a sense of wonder that allows humans to see you and your kind, Inka. Sadly most humans lose their sense of wonder as they get older.”
“That sounds dreadful.”
“Oh, it is!” Frida laughed. “But it’s not surprising, either. Human lives tend to be hard. We have to work hard to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, and keep ourselves alive. As we grow older, our responsibilities increase. We have less time to marvel at how wonderful the world is.”
“But you’ve managed to keep your sense of wonder, then?”
“Yes, though I had to fight hard to do so at times. It also helped that my responsibilities allowed me to spend so much time with the children. Encouraging their sense of wonder made it easier to hold on to my own.”
“Is it true that you started the yearly festival?”
“I did! It let me keep you and your friends alive in my heart. And share that with the whole village. Plus it brought some much needed joy to the village. It reminded the other adults to not be so serious all the time.” Frida punctuated this last sentence with a wink.
“I’m glad you came out here today, Frida.”
“Me too, Inka. And I’m glad to see you today. I’ve missed you. I fear I don’t have many days left and I just wanted one more with my friend.”
“I’d like that too.”
“I’m afraid I’m too old to run and play games. Do you have any stories to share?”
Inka laughed. “Of course!”
“Good. me too.”
So the two friends spent the rest of the day laughing at each other’s stories.