There once lived an old man. Gentle by nature, he indeed was very old. A solitary person of no nomenclature. No-one had bothered giving him a name. Including himself. It did not seem important or necessary. Living alone in the woods gave him the shelter and comfort he sought. As a young man, broken hearted, he had fled from others of his kind to seek solace in a place where he could not be reached. The crafts and trades he had learnt before fleeing served him well in his solitude. They kept him sustained. All his simple needs could be met within the forest. He felt no need for human companionship. The location of his abode had been chosen with thought and care to ensure ease of access to food, water, and other basic needs. And so he lived out his life.
Befriended by creatures of the forest, he was content. They did not judge, mock or taunt him. Instead, they sought his company demanding little of him in return. Nor he of them. Theirs was an easy companionship. The creatures came and went of their own accord. Sometimes they would seek him out if hurt. He rendered aid as best he could. If their time had come to transition from this life he sat with them, providing solace and comfort till the passing. And then bury their earthly remains with dignity in the earth from which they came.
His abode was a humble one. It was built of logs he had felled from the forest in which he lived. It kept out the cold in winter with its moss filled crevices. A hearth provided heat in the dead of night and cold days to keep him warm. And a fire for cooking. The furnishings were equally humble. Made by his own hands they were lovingly crafted to suit his needs and shape. Clothes and bedding were made by his hands from materials he sourced within his environment. He was a resourceful and clever creator and self-provider.
You see, he was a hunchback. Born with a crooked back he never learnt to understand why this difference not of his doing turned him into a target of such cruelty. Of his birth parents he had no knowledge. Abandoned, he was raised by those who took pity on him. As a babe he was passed from home to home. Once old enough he was left to his own devices. Those who knew him threw him scraps but none took him in to their own homes. The streets, abandoned buildings, nooks and crannies of the village and surrounds became his places of shelter.
Of friends he had none. He had grown up without them. Friends and friendship simply did not have any meaning in his life. So he did not miss them. It made his exit easy. No friend would miss him. In time some would wonder what had become of him. None could recall when his presence in the village was no more. Strangely, it left a hollow feeling in the hearts of those who knew him best. They hoped he had found a place to live in comfort. His craftsmanship was missed. Too late, they recognised the perfection of his work. And wished they had nurtured and supported him better.
His exit from the village had been carefully planned. Of formal schooling there was none. Life was his school. He hung around the edges of places where he was not rejected. Learnt by observation. Alone in his shelter he would practice and perfect what he had learnt. Sometimes his questions were answered. Sometimes not. Tradesmen with kind hearts would at times toss him the odd broken tool or two. These he lovingly restored and put away safely. Occasionally he would be asked to help with an odd job. That was how he learned all the skills he needed for survival. The women of the village who had nursed him as a babe would sometimes take pity on him and toss him scraps of clothing or other items. All of these he carefully mended, cleaned and stored away for future use. Other items he scavenged. Pickings from the discarded scraps of the village provided him many treasures.
His mind was keen. He learnt quickly and well. Those who knew him best recognised this in him and learnt to accept his presence. And respect his ever increasing skills. He had become a master craftsman of many trades. They would give him work to be completed under cover of darkness. Never was the work acknowledged as his. Payment, if he received any, would come in different ways. He did not mind. The work soothed him and he was always learning something new or finetuning what he already knew. When he did receive payment it was meagre – usually food or clothes. Just occasionally it was money. A precious commodity that he carefully stored till he had enough to purchase all he needed for survival on his own. Away from the pain of people’s reactions to his physical form, of judgement and disgust.
Eventually the day came when he had all he needed. In the intervening years he had found the site where he would live. Painstakingly he had laboured to build his humble cabin. For days at a time he would leave the village to continue this work. No-one noticed the absences for it was his wont to come and go at will. He had no constraints or obligations to fulfil. Freedom was his. His only shackles others’ opinions and fear. All his belongings were eventually stored in his new abode. At last all was in readiness. The time had come to leave behind the fearful stares, pointing fingers, sniggering, whispering and taunting. In the dead of night he left the village. Never to return. The years dimmed the memories of his life in the village till it ceased to be of any import. He did not miss it.
Life in the forest flowed with ease. His routines and work adjusted to the seasons and the cycles of nature. Creatures of the forest were already accustomed to his presence and took him as one of their own. He posed no threat and they soon learnt to seek him out for games and friendship. The sound of his voice joined the others’ of the forest. He had always talked to himself as to another. Solitary conversations without dissent or argument unless ‘twere a difference of opinion he had with himself on how best to complete a task. They were always quickly resolved.
Singing was something he had enjoyed ever since he could remember. Never did his songs sound within the hearing of other humans. No-one had heard how well he sang. Truth be told he had the voice of an angel. Music soothed his soul. In his simplicity he accepted what was his birthright. Inside his head he heard the songs he sang aloud. Pure of tone and perfect in pitch, his audience the forest and its life, his songs echoed in the trees. Birds were drawn by the beauty of the sound and flew down to join him, trilling in harmony. Other creatures too came from near and far, settling in the moss and grass around his cabin to quietly listen. All this he accepted without question. These were his friends. They accepted him just as he was. He happily sang to them as he went about his business. Whistling was a new skill he learnt in the forest and quickly became adept at mimicking the call of forest creatures. In time, they would come to his calling.
So the years passed unnoticed by them all. Life had long settled into an easy groove and flow. Sometimes he would venture further afield. Stay away from home for days or weeks at a time. These were journeys undertaken with care and planning. Usually it was to collect provisions not found in his part of the woods or to explore for the sheer joy of it. Never did he venture near human habitations. Always on return he was joyously greeted by his friends. It was good to be back in the comfort of his own home hearth.
Not once did anyone venture into his domain, so well had he chosen his home. He was glad for he did not miss human company. He had all he needed. Illness, injury and pestilence were unknown to him. Were an outsider to observe his life it would seem that he led a magical existence. Undoubtedly he would readily agree with this.
As is the way with all of Life, time on the earth plane comes to an end. And so it did for the old man. His passing was peaceful surrounded by his forest friends. They mourned his passing in their individual ways. Strangely, against their natural bent, they buried him with dignity and respect as he had done so many times for their kind. Life in the forest returned to its natural flow as it was before the old man had come to live in their midst. The only marker of his presence the cabin he had built.
Not so long after his passing a small group of villagers came upon the cabin. The Circle of Protection was not needed anymore. In their midst was a craftsman who had heard tales of a strange being who had lived in the village many years ago. His skills, it was told, were unlike any seen before or since. He himself had seen some of the work of the old man’s hands . It was breathtakingly beautiful. The craftsman immediately recognised the mark as he gazed at the cabin. Over the years the old man had added many a touch to his original home. Carved of rare forest timbers, the cabin was a work of art. Its walls inside and out were adorned in relief carvings of the old man’s friends. So lifelike you almost expected to see them blink and move. Every item in the cabin had been painstakingly made with equally exquisite craftsmanship.
The cabin became a place of solitude and retreat for the villagers. Great care was taken to ensure The Gift left behind by the old man was treasured. The craftsman became its Keeper. Those who stayed there told tales of hearing hauntingly beautiful music in the still of the night. The voice of an angel, they said. The forest’s songbirds joined in harmony. It’s creatures gathered to listen. It was magical.
© Raili Tanska
Originally posted 10th August 2015
Steps for Peace
It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace — Andre Gide (1869-1951)