The Old Man
A long time ago, before any of us were born, there was a distant, mysterious land. On this land, in a dense forest that no human could enter for it was not visible to them, stood a one-room cottage made of rough cedar shingles covered with a thatched roof. In this cottage, lived a very Old Man whose thick silver hair fell like shimmering silk waves to his shoulders. His soft flowing beard was so long it reached the very top of his belt buckle. The Old Man’s robust appearance defied his age. He stood straight and tall with broad shoulders, massive hands, and a muscular build. He usually sat on a three-legged stool at a square pinewood table to do the work requiring his most careful attention whenever needed day or night. If anyone had discovered him in his secluded haven, they would be immediately attracted to his deep blue eyes that shone a light and sparkle that most assuredly would see into one’s heart. He moved from the stool to sit in a curly willow rocker to take joy in the descent of soft, feathery snowflakes. He observed their beauty and purity through a large, rectangular opening in the cottage wall. There were several wall openings though no coverings were needed. The seasons changed from summer to fall and winter to spring, yet it was always calm enough, cold enough, and warm enough. The Old Man’s keen hearing listened to each snowflake land in its rightful place. But he also heard something else and waited patiently for a distinguished visitor to call upon him.
The Snowshoe Hare
An elderly Snowshoe Hare named Parsley played in the meadow with his younger friends from late morning to mid-afternoon. The clouds they saw on the horizon earlier finally rolled in carrying weighty snow and ice-cold winds. Parsley’s youthful friends begged him to return with them to their hidden safe harbor in the forest. Parsley indicated that he would follow soon. He felt fully alive and young again, wanting to run and jump just a little longer. Parsley was considered the wisest of his kind for he lived so many more years than his brethren. Throughout his long life, kindness flowed from him as he put others before himself. He saved hundreds of his brothers and sisters from predators and illnesses too, nursing them back to health. So, his playmates departed but were deeply concerned about their cherished friend’s decision. Within a short little while, though, Parsley knew he had not used good judgment.
Harsh, icy blasts of wind blew across the meadowland while trees moaned, cracked, and toppled in the forest. Wind gusts raged and whirled the driving snow into drifts of high peaks and low valleys. Parsley, donned in his winter fur, white as the snow, ran and jumped frantically in never-ending circles seeking a safe place to rest. Knowing it was Christmas Eve, Parsley so wanted to be sheltered and warm with his family and friends. He finally felt his ancient age. A weariness enveloped Parsley, one he had never known. He was indeed alone for the first time in his life.
A pine tree’s branches burdened with snow bent low over a stone wall at the edge of the forest. Parsley headed for the wall, gathering the last of his strength to hop and leap across the meadow grateful for protection at last. Once under the tree’s blanket of branches with the wall providing a barrier against the wind, he burrowed, made runways, and then, with a heavy sigh, stopped to rest. Parsley folded down his long ears realizing he was not only alone but scared on this night of all nights. When almost asleep, Parsley sensed a threat! It was the silver-gray wolf that all small creatures feared, and it was close. The wolf had his scent and Parsley leaped and ran and ran and ran with the wolf not far behind.
Hopping high through deep, heavy snow, he thought, Oh God, Oh God please, oh please, help me! In a fraction of a second, a pathway into the forest appeared between two large, round tree trunks with lights twinkling as they dazzled his eyes. No, no, no, he pleaded, for it disappeared but then appeared again! When it did, he made a final long leap through the portal between the trees onto a path, which was no longer in deep snow or a storm. The snow glistened and was smoothly packed. Parsley looked back but saw no sign of the wolf, so his way was made easy as he noticed some vegetation remained green. Peculiar, he thought, but gladly ate what he could. There were also small, colorful flowers sitting among rocks and around the gnarled roots of tree trunks. Snow and foliage and flowers. Odd yet perfect, Parsley mused to himself and then grew quite still. It became apparent to him that he was in the midst of an exceptional place. A few moments later he was drawn to a warm light beckoning him through the trees. He decided to investigate since he finally felt safe, rested, and at peace.
He found his way to the clearing where a cottage stood. The sweet smell of applewood smoke wafted through the air from a stone chimney, and a glowing light shone from the opening in the wall of the little abode. He scratched at the door rather than leap on to the wall opening for fear of what he might encounter, or startle whoever was inside. And there was someone inside. A man’s resonant, musical voice replied, Is that you, Parsley? Of course, Parsley was his name. But how did this man know? He answered, Yes, Sir, it is I.
An Old Man opened the door, and Parsley gazed up into large blue eyes that sparkled like a crystal lake in the summer sun. The Old Man’s enormous hands whisked him from the floor and set him upon the three-legged stool as Parsley looked around. He saw a pine table, and in one corner a large oak bed. An entire wall made of stone held a fireplace with a cauldron hung for cooking. Parsley froze for a moment as a little shutter came over him. The Old Man’s reassuring hand immediately rested on him, and Parsley knew he was not the dinner! The cottage was neat, spare, and simple. There were handmade candles for light imparting a soothing radiance throughout the room. Parsley looked up at the Old Man and said, Thank you, Sir. Do you have a name? The Old Man smiled as he placed a bowl of crisp greens on the table and Parsley made a small jump onto it and ate heartily. Just call me Papa, Parsley, answered the Old Man. When Parsley was full, he hopped over to Papa sitting in the rocker. Papa, may I sit with you, he asked? Papa chuckled saying, Yes. Rest with me for we are going on a journey in a short while. Parsley watched the fire blaze, listened to the sputtering and crackles of the wood as it burned, and rested in the peacefulness of Papa’s lap.
The Christmas Moon
Parsley’s eyes were heavy with sleep when Papa rose from the rocker and placed Parsley on the floor. He wrapped a hand-woven shawl around himself and opened the door taking a long, crooked staff standing next to it. Come, Parsley. Follow me. Parsley hopped along noticing that Papa was wearing strapped sandals. Thinking this was odd footwear for winter, Parsley suddenly stood perfectly still. He smelled THE threat. The gray wolf was here! Papa stopped too but called out, Sophia! Come. I have Parsley with me. Parsley said, Oh no, Papa! That wolf will eat me. It chased me to your path at the forest’s entrance. Papa replied, No, Parlsey. Sophia belongs to me. She will not harm you and only chased you to be sure you’d find the path, the way to my door. Sophia approached, and Parsley shivered as she came closer to him. He noticed a rare beauty in her emerald green eyes and plush silver-gray fur. She nudged him gently with her black nose and seemed to smile. Papa said, Sophia, Parsley is very tired. I will carry this precious creature the rest of the way.
They walked out of the forest, and Papa held Parsley close wrapped in his white woolen shawl. They finally settled on a flat rock in the center of a meadow. Parsley wondered, Is this my field or am I in another place? The snow continued to fall but there was no wind, and the sky was clear illuminating a full and flawless Christmas Moon in the company of millions, maybe billions, of brilliant stars. Papa, how is this possible? Snow with a clear sky, many stars, and a full moon, Parsley asked?
Silence. Parsley looked up and no longer saw Papa but a young man. His dark hair was tied away from his face emphasizing warm, deep brown eyes and a countenance so beautiful that it beamed love and peace and joy. Parsley believed he must be a holy man yet was confused as to the appearance of this gentle, loving man and the vanishing of the warmhearted, protective Papa. It was a mystery, and Parsley knew it would remain one for the present.
Parsley was exhausted, though, and barely uttered the words, Who are you, Sir? The man said I Am Who I Am. I have many names, but many call me the Good Shepherd. You were lost Parsley and called for My help. You’ve lived longer than any other of your kind for I deemed it so. You put your own life in harm’s way to protect your brethren. Your heart is full of love. I am so fond of you, dear Parsley, and I wanted to bring you home. Parsley responded, Good Shepherd, these were not great achievements. I only did what I believed was right to do. Yes, Parsley, said the Good Shepherd, but so few do for others as I asked them to do. Well done, Parsley, My good and faithful servant. The man’s hands glowed with warmth as Sophia nuzzled and breathed upon Parsley’s ears. Parsley looked up at the Holy One with one large tear rolling down his fur, and asked, Good Shepherd, are you taking me back to my friends? The Good Shepherd replied, No, Parsley. You are coming home with Me. It is your time, and I promised I would never leave you nor forsake you. He gently wiped the teardrop from Parsley’s fur and held it in His palm like a precious jewel. He then produced a small glass bottle dropping Parsley’s tear into the tiny vessel as it now mingled with His own when He once wept. There will be no more tears, Parsley, for I have wiped away the last one, said the Good Shepherd.
Christmas was upon the land. The Christmas Moon was full and bright, and the snow glimmered wherever it lay. Parsley pondered the playful romps and the harrowing events earlier in the day, the Christmas Moon, the Old Man called Papa, Sophia, and now this holy man, a Master, who is the Good Shepherd. As Parsley looked at the moon and stars, he saw a babe born in a manger growing into manhood, the same man holding him now, teaching the world about love and peace and forgiveness. With deep reverence, Parsley slowly lowered his aged eyes that had seen so much for so many years. He then bowed his head onto his giant paws cradled in the hands of the man whom he now knew was Christ Jesus. Parsley could do no more but merely send a silent Hosanna to the Heavens before he closed his eyes forever on this earth while his journey into eternity began.
~ Acknowledgments ~
A snowshoe hare, named Parsley, did exist. After his mother was killed with Parsley’s umbilical cord still intact, he was rescued and bottle-fed with goat’s milk nurturing him to good health. He lived far longer than a snowshoe hare should with my dear friend and artist, Zuzonna Huot. Zuzonna’s lovely illustration shows Parsley shedding his white winter coat in preparation to blend with the landscape of spring and summer. It is her illustration that inspired my story. Thank you, Zu!
My sincere appreciation to John P. Booth, Executive Director of the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art for permission to use the Ned Smith painting, titled “The Snowshoe Hare.” Please contact Mr. John Booth at the Ned Smith Center via the link provided above for the use of the painting, “The Snowshoe Hare,” in print, any other form of media, or purchase of reproductions.
All Rights Reserved. “The Christmas Fable” © 2018.
Thank you, God Bless, and may you live in abundant joy this Christmas and the coming year!