Thursday, 22 August 2013
There was a time in our town when because the crops failed, everyone was starving. We called it an age of austerity. Being rich meant nothing because there was no food anywhere to buy. Before very long, someone suggested the river. After all, one might catch fish and therefore we may eat and silence our insistent stomachs.
The old people bowed their heads and one old grandmother struggled to her feet at our council meeting.
"We cannot fish in the river because the Nixies won't allow it," she said.
"The Nixies? What nonsense! Fairytales for children," said councillor Tilbury-Dox.
He was a large man whose flesh hung on him now, but his character was bombastic and of course everyone understood him. Nobody believed in the faeries and very few believed in the Nixies. Still, the old grandmother was not known for foolishness, so Councillor Salix, a tall, gaunt woman stood and asked,
"Why won't the Nixies let us fish?" she asked.
The old grandmother sighed heavily and her friends began to grumble and mutter.
"O hush!" Granny Rowan said standing, "It was a long time ago and it was our foolishness that angered the Nixies."
The old people hushed, but they hung their heads and stared at the floor. Granny Rowan raised her chin and looked around the room with her piercing dark eyes. Everyone watched her in utter silence. We were curious, mostly. Most of us were wondering if we would get a description of a Nixie.
"Many years back, when we too were young we forgot that we were only human. We started to believe that we were in charge of the natural world and worse, that we could do as we liked with it. We started to take over the fields down to the river, which was bad enough. Factories were built and and the fields built over. If that were not enough, we began to use the river as we wished. In all that, we did not ask the faeries if we might use their fields or their river. We thought we could do what we wished because we wanted to.
A little after that, a faerie came to a council meeting and asked if the town should not ask the faeries permission for use of the fields and the river. We arrogantly replied that we did not need their permission and anyway faeries were made up for children's tales. The faerie laughed and told us that we must all of us give something precious of our own - from the heart. That alone would allow us to use the fields and the river. That said, she vanished leaving us afraid and defensive. Yet we did not do as she asked.
First the factories disappeared. Nothing could be rebuilt there and has not been built there since then. The riverboats were sunk overnight and since then we have left the river well alone. If we wish to use the fields and the river we have - all of us, to give up something precious of our own. That alone and nothing else will do."
Having spoken she sat and all of us were silent. We remembered the black waters of the river, dark and threatening. Even the fields seemed somehow threatening, though we had not quite known why. Now it all seemed clear, yet unclear as well, I mean we had always been taught that the faeries were not real.
Everyone went home and thought of what they had that was precious to them. Mothers tried not to think of giving up their children. Fathers tried not to think of their families and more, of their cars. Children tried not to think of their parents leaving them. Everyone was afraid, but at the same time, everyone was starving. Of course, hunger won out.
Councillor Salix sent around a lot of small porcelain bowls to put precious things in. To some of us, those bowls became precious. We gathered together many of our precious things and took them down to the fields and left them. They disappeared overnight and a wide path appeared that led down to the river.
We gathered up our small precious things and took them down to the dark, ink-black waters. One by one we placed the bowls upon the water and let them float free. As we watched the bowls floated downriver and we returned to our homes.
The following morning we went down to the river to see it. Everyone was quiet and hopeful. The water of the river was now bluer and seemed fresher. Little Judy Fisher held her mama's hand and leaned over to look at the river.
"Look mama, that lady in the water's got a fishy tail," she said.
A host of Nixies then swam up to the bank and sang. A song made of sunlight on water, of trickling water against riverbanks and over stones. A powerful, yet delicate song that had something of the essence of the river in it. And, as they sang, many big salmon leapt out of the river onto the bank before us, sacrificing themselves so that we might eat and live. Beside us, the meadows filled with wheat and shed their grain. Trees at the edge of the meadows shed hazelnuts and walnuts. When the Nixies had finished their song, they sank back beneath the waters and as they did so, the wheat stalks also sank beneath the earth into the meadow leaving heaps of grain. Everyone gathered up the fish and gave thanks to the Nixies, the salmon and the meadow for the food. We took it all quickly to the town and cooked the fish with the nuts. Bread was made with the wheat and brought to our town hall so that everyone might be fed.
That is why, every month, we take small porcelain bowls to the river and float them downriver on the clear, blue waters. It is our way of thanking the Nixies for keeping us fed when the nation was starving.