A long time ago, well before any of us were born, there was a land far, far away. On this land, in thickened woods so deep that no one ever thought to venture in, stood a one-room cottage made of stucco and pine. In the cottage lived a very old man. His hair fell like silver strands of silk to his shoulders and his beard, soft and flowing, was so long that it reached the very top of his belt buckle. His hands were knobby and he was slightly hunched over. In the middle of the room, he sat on a three-legged stool at a large, rectangular table made of pine and hand-hewn wooden nails. He crafted the stool and table with his own hands maybe a hundred years ago … or even more. But if anyone ever did see him, which no one had for many years, they would be drawn to his emerald green eyes that had a beguiling sparkle even as an old man.
In addition to the pine table, a small oak bed with a cover created out of cloth scraps, leather, and fur was housed in one corner. A stone fireplace consumed one wall and in it hung a cauldron for cooking whatever he could grow for food. The floor was made of rough, wide-planked timber. In front of the fireplace, precisely laid, was a rug of colorful rags woven together over the years as he gathered pieces here and there. The room, his world, was neat, spare, and simple. He made candles for light since in the old man’s time and place, there was no electricity, not even kerosene for lamps. Yet, he made huge openings for what we call windows and doors so that daylight and sunsets would beam through to his world-within-a-world. These openings had no glass. Instead he used leather and wood to cover them and shelter himself from the elements. The old man was never lonely though for he had one companion: a large white wolf. She sat by his side and was as ancient as he. Her name was Gaia.
The work the old man did at his table was mysterious. There were bottles of potions, crystals and rocks of all sorts as well as herbs fresh and dried hanging from old beams. On this particular day, he sat at his table eating a vegetable stew using his wooden bowl and spoon when for the first time in more than a hundred years he heard something outside his door. This was not an animal scratching or a chipmunk scurrying nor the red squirrels running about gathering their staples for the onset of winter. The sound he and Gaia heard was a series of knocks. One! Two!! Three!!! Because autumn had fully arrived with cold nights and frosty mornings, his door and windows were covered with leather curtains so he saw no one approaching and no one could see him.
Gaia rose slowly and walked with stealth to the door and waited. She always guarded the old man and though her instincts told her not to be concerned, she nevertheless preceded him to the door. The old man reached for a most unusual walking stick. It was carved from ironwood in the pattern of a diamondback snake. When he reached the door with Gaia at his right side he flung it open and bellowed with the roar of the ocean, “Who is it that comes to this cottage?”
What he saw before him was a curious site. There were two small children, a boy and girl about seven or eight years of age, with bright red hair, lots of freckles and round, blue eyes like the deep waters that surrounded the woods in which the old man lived. Next to them was a snowshoe hare, quite an ancient soul himself, well beyond the age of what any snowshoe hare had a right to be. Gaia’s eyes, the color of copper (for her eyes always changed to reflect the color she looked upon), were steadfast on the girl, boy, and hare. When the children heard the old man’s booming voice and saw the white wolf, the little girl stood a bit straighter hoping to hide her uneasiness and answered, “Sir, it is I and my brother with our snowshoe hare, Parsley, who have come to see you.” Well, following these spoken words, it took only a split of a second for everything to change in all of their worlds. You see, they were ….