Monday, 15 February 2010

730 - Storytelling and the Natural Living Test

The test is here.

As I read it, I sense that the actions it describes pretty much form the backbone of every folktale I've ever heard told. Here, for instance, are the first eight actions (the point of the test being to note the number of occasions in the previous month you've performed them):
  • Rocked a newborn baby to sleep
  • Made up a story and told it to a child
  • Felt the sunrise warm your face
  • Satisfied a genuine hunger by eating ripe fruit
  • Satisfied a genuine thirst by drinking cool water
  • Shown courage in protecting a child from danger
  • Shown leadership and resourcefulness in an emergency
  • Shared a meal with parents, siblings, or other close relatives

And here's a tale:

Jack, Jack, born in a shack, skinny legs and crumpled back - but his mother loves him. She rocks him to sleep with tales of his father, the wild man she met by the hawthorn tree, who soothed her heart and tore it open, one and the same time. And she wakes him in sunlight, takes him down the long path to the river, where the orchards grow, and gorges him on damsons, and apples, and once in a while sloes, that so fur your tongue that it blooms like the bloom on the sloe-skins themselves, everything except the fruit of the hawthorn tree.

After feeding him, she gives him water, cupped from the river by her own hand, and as he grows, and wants more, by a wooden bowl, and bathes him, gently over his face and eyes, his back and skinny, skinny legs.

And though by now she's old, day by day he is young, until at last one day he is old enough to turn to her, and hard like boys can be, he says:

"Mu-um, I'm hungry. It's noon already and you're being so slow. Today I'll go to the river by myself."

His mother is strong, but a piece of her heart is still at that door long after he leaves the shack to go down to the water. And as he goes, he passes under the hawthorn tree, and there is a shaking and a trembling, and high in the twigs and thorns above him, there is the sound of a baby crying.

Well, Jack looks up, sharpish! and sure enough, through the pin-cushion thicket, amidst the berries, under the lunch-bright sky, he can just see the chubby pink heel of a tiny, bawling baby boy.

Jack puts down his sack and his water-bowl, and strips his coat from his back, but, though he tugs and pulls at the branches, and, never mind the scratches, hauls himself into the tree, the chubby heel, and the baby bawl, stay stubbornly out of reach. Jack scrambles back down again, puffed, and he looks up, and looks down, and across his face flickers a frown half thwarted, half already a-scheming. "I know!" he thinks, "If I can't get up, perhaps with fruit and water I can get the baby to come down!"

He leaves his jacket, and down to the river he goes, back scratched, cheeks reddened, with his bowl and his sack, a plan in mind, and a tingle with the blood on his skin.

It takes him the afternoon, for he's not strong, but by evening time he's gathered enough good apples, enough sweet damsons, even a handful of bitter sloes. He's washed them in water from the river. And every so often he's hearing the baby cry. Finally he judges he's ready. He scoops a last bowl of water from the river, and dragging the sack behind him, returns to the hawthorn tree.

So the first thing he sees is that the tree seems bigger, and the heel of the baby a little further away. And the next thing he sees is that his jacket - well, it's kind of grown full of the hawthorn twigs. A couple of thickish branches fill out the sleeves, and handfuls of berries hang from the cuffs. The jacket sways and the twigs inside are scraping the cloth. Jack puts down the water bowl, and out of the sack he rolls all the fruit, heaping it up beneath the child in the tree.

"Come down, little boy!" he calls, "Good fruit, fresh water. I can't climb up to you, so you must climb down to me." He's a bit nervous about his jacket, and the baby cries louder, which makes him feel edgy, and he thinks about going back to the house to fetch his mother, but that doesn't seem right, and the light is falling, and he's exhausted, and eventually, despite his apprehension, he thinks, "Maybe, if I just sit here quietly, the baby won't be so scared, and will come down on its own."

A little sniff. Brief struggle. Bare back on the rough bark of the hawthorn tree. Crying in the distance. Thorn-prick of fear. Memory of soft cradling. Head nodding. Sleep.

And in the night, up gets the jacket, sheath-full of the scrub of hawthorn, scratch-footed, tinder-trunked. It tilts towards Jack; it tilts towards the fruit; it tilts towards the tree. Slowly it reaches up, and it is free, on kindling legs. Now it scoops at a fruit. Then, squirrel thorn, tiny bramble squire, it steps over Jack's own legs, creeps past his back, dry-inches up the tree-trunk, through twigs to the baby. There is a moment. Then it uncurls a cuff, and on a palm of hawthorn berries, outstretched to the young child, it offers a perfect round juicy blush of an apple.

Now the baby has the apple and the tears stop. It is in the arms of the jacket of thorns. Slowly, gently, Jack's jacket climbs down the tree. No scratch on the pink heel, no cry from the child, when it is laid beside Jack, and in the morning he wakes.

I could say Jack is now straight-backed, fine, vigorous and happy, but he's still crumple-backed, and his knees remain knotted. But inside he's fine of figure, as maybe he always was. His mother rocks the child, half her torn heart for Jack, half now for this wee fellow Apple. And it seems that's a kind of duet in her, for the pain, when she wants it, is gone. There's a girl, oldest daughter of the piemaker, with an eye for Jack. And the hawthorn tree waits, with the jacket on the thornbush at its side all but worn to threads.


Dominic said...

Maybe add:

* Spent the day drawing with a group of people you don't know

Dominic ;)

Steve Lancaster said...

Well, hey, you know - I'd really be up for that! Will keep checking the Sketchcrawl forum - do you have a date in mind already?

Dominic said...

its tomorrow (saturday) 10:30 cafe mediterraneo