The sunrise and sunset was the only timepiece the valley needed. The root cellars were full and the wells ran spring fresh water. The cottage sat at the foot of the glen. The twin trellises at the entrance to the walk were draped with Morning glory like an amethyst necklace. The rails of the porch were entwined with grapevines. The firewood stacked by the west wall was Ash and Walnut.
Angel Field lifted the handle of the skillet plate and tossed in dried root on the embers of the wood stove to stoke the fire to heat the water for the morning herb tea. Her dark hair was pulled back and she was secretly proud of her violet eyes.
Once the water was on for tea she would go. The steps out the back lead to the yard with a garden shed at its border. She walked past the planter boxes with herbs and opened the door to the shed and stepped inside.
The small box she pulled from the bottom shelf in the shed behind the cottage contained small packets. She had made the packets from pages torn from a book. Three packets were torn from each page. Over the printed words on each piece of paper was written in pencil a name of a color. She shuffled through the packets and thought, "I need red, white and blue today."
In the twilight of summer she spent her mornings harvesting the seeds she felt she would need to continue her work in the clearing. The footpath through the pasture that leads to the building with the steeple offered many seed choices. She would kneel in the flax and pull the dried flowers and twist the seed into the page piece, and with a stub of a pencil write "Blue" and then she would carefully fold the piece so the penciled word showed. The same process was used with Dianthus, Firewitch, "Pink", Fire Star, "Red". Mockorange, "White". Forsythia, "Golden Yellow". Each package carefully folded, and then saved in the box to dry. Packet after packet.
At this time of year the path Angel took into the woods was lined with rose petals. She reveled in the coolness the shade of the tall trees provided. Light beams danced and twinkled through the branches. Up ahead was her destination, the clearing with a mild slope rolling down to the stream that feed the wells. Following behind her were two newly adopted kittens that tumbled and pounced their way along the path. This morning in a moment of mischief she had powdered the tip of their tails pink.
The rail fence to the north was braced with a thicket of wild roses. Torn petals from wild roses skipped cartwheel style when caught by a light breeze. This spectacle was a cherished treat. With the help of the woodsmen an archway made from sapling branches offered invitation to the clearing. The legend on the archway read "Angels Field".
She wore a dress and over it a frock with two pockets. Laid in her basket she carried a hand trowel and cultivator. There was also a sandwich wrapped in cloth and a glass for water. In her pockets were the packets. Her habit was to pick up where she left off. A twist of her trowel would break up the dark soil then the seeds spread about and tamped down. At the beginning of the rows flowers bloomed and displayed their colors. A patchwork arch of color was following her down the clearing.
The old woodsman came midday carrying axe and shovel. He ate the sandwich left for him on the stump and walked to the stream, filled the glass and washed it down. When finished he wrapped the glass in the cloth, and put it back in the basket, then filled the basket with root scrapes for kindling and set to walking around the stump. He’d kneel and start scrapping at dirt, pulling it away from stubborn root. Shovel, hack, and scrape, then repeat. The exposed roots looked like limbs disappearing into the ground. He was near a point where he could lead his horse in, hook her up to a singletree horse hitch and bust out the tap root. But not today. He picked up his tools and walked on the stepping stones over the stream, picked a peach from the first tree in the orchard and walked through the shade. The afternoon brought him back to clearing trees to make room for fresh orchards. The steady thump of his axe could be heard in the clearing throughout the afternoon.
Angel’s work slowed in the afternoons. She lay on her back in a small patch of spearmint and looked up into the sky and uncrumpled one of the empty packets.
"Go and fly my gentle beast No heavy wings for you Nest High, were eagles reach No tree top perch will do".
She thought a moment and with a brief smile took the piece of paper and put it on the ground and covered it with dirt. She napped in a haze of mint and the rhythm of the axe.
*** She liked to watch from a small boulder in the center of the stream. She sat with her chin on her knees. As the sun passed the treeline to the west, not quite sunset, in the moments before dusk they arrived. The young girls arrived through the sapling arch marked "Angels Field". The guardians arrived from the woodline to the east. The girls ran to the patch of colors that best caught their eyes. The guardians came to them with inviting arms. The pairs would sit and chat. And while they chatted the girls made their choices. “One braid or pigtails? Or perhaps a laurel crown laced with snapdragons. Or perhaps a bouquet with Sweet peas and sunflowers?”
The guardians sat and combed the girl’s hair. There were many tonight. There were girls whose black hair was skillfully braided with deep red flowers. Amber haired girls were selecting garlands of Goldenrod laced with purple Forget-me-nots. Tiny crowns mingled with Mint leaves and Daffodils were carefully adjusted. A festival of color adorned these girls on their way back to their maker. They ascend through a rainfall of mothers tears which nourish the growing flowers Angel Field stood and took the stepping stones over to the orchard side of the stream. It took a bit longer to get to the cottage, but tonight she did not mind. The sound of her footsteps brought the kittens. She thought, "Tomorrow I’ll need red, gold and purple.
Braids -Chapter Two
The old woodsmen lived by himself in a spot not far away from Angel’s Field. He had picked the spot because of the rock outcropping that created a natural pool by the stream. He had cleared a narrow trail and dragged in the trees he felled. He had started his work south of the stream, the Ponderosa Pine provided the cabin walls. He lined the inside with cedar. He used oak for the smokehouse. His cabin faced south with the west wall stone and hearth. This stone insulation made the cabin cooler in the hot months. The work of building his home was also the work of preparing the first orchard for planting. That was long ago. As important as he felt the work was, as he aged the pace of the work slowed.
He readied a field for planting for his personal garden. To keep out the rabbits and deer he surrounded his garden with stacks of firewood instead of a fence. Fresh wood replaced seasoned wood, as necessary, as he supplied the fuel for all the inhabitants in the area.
For more years than he could remember, the first two days in April an old Cossack that lived to the south brought his goats up and cleared the foliage along the frontage on both sides of the cart trail that past his place. The woodsman then planted potatoes. For two days in the fall the sisters that lived down the lane harvested enough potatoes for themselves, the Cossack, and the woodsman for the winter.
When he returned home that evening he reached the porch and took the peach seed from his pocket and sat it in the bowl of peach seeds on his window ledge to dry. Next to it was a bowl of apple seeds. In a spot that caught the morning sun there were rows of young peach trees and apple trees grown from seed. In time these were to be rotated to new orchards.
The apple press and the stone grinding wheel sat near each other in the yard. Each evening he would return the sharp edge to the axe and take any dings out of the blade of the shovel in preparation for the next days work. The apple press was idle, and would not be used again until all. A root cellar near the outcropping was full of cool apple cider and aging peach brandy.
A stand of hickory provided the wood for apple baskets and hickory shavings provided the fuel for the smoke house. A bed of embers, nestled in a chimney pot, fed with pine cone and tree root provided evening light on the front porch. He quite often sat quietly in a hickory rocker and whittled at a lemon branch, shaping the pot of a tobacco pipe. His theme remained the same over the years, braided hair intertwined with flowers on the face of a young girl with large eyes and high cheek bones. When held, the thumb would grace the cheek and forefinger would sense the coarse hair. He choose elderberry for the stems.
News reached him that a peddler’s wagon had arrived at the hamlet below. He hoped that it was Joseph and that he had brought the saw blades and steel he had asked for last year. He gathered the pipes that were ready and three small cask of peach brandy to take down to the hamlet to trade. He loaded the cask and a few tree stumps on the horse sled, and hitched it to his horse. He took gentle hold of the reigns and they started their walk down below. The stumps would be dropped behind the first house in the hamlet and then he would find the peddler. He needed some sugar, salt, matches and candle wicks. He had heard that some of his pipes had made it as far away as a city.
He located the wagon, but it wasn’t Joseph. The peddler had the matches, sugar and salt but no candle wicks. No saw blades or steel. In this trade he took some empty glass bottles, "to cool apple cider in the cistern" he thought, and a bundle of sewn and bound printed paper glued between tooled leather boards back to his cabin.
He knew that Angel was running low on seed packet material. He also found the paper very useful in getting his evening fire started.
One scrap of paper read:
"Out of range of arrows flight The hunters feast unknown Aloft upon outstretched wings You choose to fly alone"
This night he watched as the corners curled edge black and with a wisp of smoke the yellow-blue flame caught the shavings and the embers began to burn bright to boil his onion and potato soup. He studied the leather boards and thought he could use them to replace the soles of his boots.
It was on one restless evening years ago when walking through the orchards that he had made the discovery. Nearing the southern most point of his orchard he thought that he might have all the orchard that he could take care of by himself. It was at the moment of this thought that he saw just a breath of light at the northern end of the orchard. Then he saw another and another. Without haste, but with an uncommon curiosity, he walked towards the first orchard.
He often thought of that night as he sat on the porch in the glow of the chimney pot. He knew Angel’s work. She spoke of the guardians and watching from a rock in the middle of the stream. He hadn’t known how closely their work was tied. The breath of light that drew him to the north was a guardian’s return, then another and another. What he spotted, those years ago, were guardians returning to his orchards. The guardians were living in his trees.
On the last third of a page on the bound printed pages sitting with the kindling and matches were the words:
"Through thunder storms in black and white Now you’ve reached those sought for heights But brace yourself for savage night and freedoms quiet solo flight"