Friday, May 29, 2009

The Honest Woodcutter (Part 1 of 2)

Once there was a woodcutter who lived in a tiny cabin that sat on the edge of a quiet forest, just a few strides away from the outskirts of a village nearby. His life was a lonely one and he rarely had anyone to talk to except for his animal friends - at least that is what he likes to think of them. He provided the swift squirrel and the chirpy pair of birds the occasional seeds. For the hoppy rabbit he gave her a small portion of his vegetables.

His friends seemed really grateful for the food - the woodcutter sensed this - and in return, the animal provided him the much needed company. Small animals scattering around the worn wooden cabin floor and birds perching on the window sill while chirping songs he wished he could understand gave him a little bit of chaos in midst of the stagnant stillness of his home cabin. He would talk to the animals about the same little things he did every day and yet his stories never seem to bore the animals. After all, they could not understand him.

Near the modest table where he ate his warm dinner was a somewhat aged axe leaning against the wall adjacent to the cabin door. One could tell the age of the axe based on the sturdy hardwood haft, in which dirt, stain and scratches painted the grip and the belly of the handle. Contrary to the haft, the axe head was cared for very well - the iron head was oiled to retard rusting and the blade had signs of daily sharpening. The owner of this axe must have held it dearly, as if his survival depended on it.

Before going to bed, the woodcutter would stare briefly at his pair of callused hands and then shifted his gaze to the lone axe glimmering faintly in the darkness. He would also think and finally letting a soft sigh escape from his nostrils before he lied and covered himself with a wool blanket that has kept him warm for the past five years. He did this every night.

One fateful morning, he decided to not cut woods. He had cut more than usual for the past two days and figured the profit he earned from selling the woods to a middle-man (who would then sell them at the village market) was enough to allow him time off for today. He decided to have a rest and just wander around in the forest.

He stood on the threshold of his cabin door and breathed in the fresh air of yet another summer morning. He looked down to his trusty axe by the right side of the door and thought. Finally, he decided to leave it behind. He said to it, "You deserve a rest just as I am resting for today."

Perhaps he meant what he said, but perhaps it is also because he wished to have nothing to do his axe or woodcutting, at least for a short while.

So off he went into the forest that he had known very well as much as he was familiar with his own name. He never went too deep; treading the bounds of the forest, akin to running a finger along the edge of a mug.

As fate would have it, he stumbled upon a clearing and in the middle of that clearing is a windmill that unmistakably looked abandoned. The windmill was tall and the sails rotated lazily in the slow air.

"I suppose no matter how well you know something, there will always be a part of it that you don't know about," muttered the woodcutter.

He explored the windmill and discovered a silver axe, among other discarded tools, instruments and basic furnitures. For some unknown reason, he felt compelled to take the silver axe and only the silver axe. He grabbed it by the handle and left the building.

He continued his pointless journey in the forest. Yet another surprise for him, he chanced upon a pond not much larger than twice the size of his cabin. The pond was encircled by five peculiar trees with roots that radiated outwards in all direction, extending somewhere between three and five feet away from the trunks before sinking themselves into the soft earth. The still water of the pond was magically pristine.

The woodcutter approached the water to have a sip after that long walk but tripped over one of the countless roots. The silver axe flew from his grip and into the pond with a silent splash.

He picked himself up and brushed off dirt from his meagre sleeves and pants. He looked up to find a beautiful lady standing in the centre of the pond. In her hand was a golden axe that shone with a brilliance that the woodcutter had never seen before.

"I am a water spirit and I reside in this pond," the lady said in a soft and graceful voice. "An axe has fallen into my pond. Is this your axe, dear sir?"

The woodcutter thought for a while as the spirit waited patiently for his reply. He finally said, "No, lady, that axe is not mine."

"Are you certain? This axe is really beautiful, don't you think? Just look at the gems notched in the cheek of this axe!"

He hesitated but said, "Yes, I am certain. That axe is not mine."

With that, she dived into the pond. Just when the woodcutter thought that she would not resurface, the water spirit appeared magnificently out of the restless rippling water. She was this time holding a different axe - one made in silver.

"Is this your axe?" she asked.


She tilted her head to the side as if asking for confirmation. "Are you sure?"


"Very well," again she sank into the depths.

The spirit re-emerged, holding a worn axe. The woodcutter instantly recognised that axe - how could he not! - as it has been his most valued tool of living. He was very sure he left it by the door. "Is this your axe, dear sir?"

He fought against his own natural instinct to answer immediately. Restraining himself, he thought for a long while in quietude. He thought and thought and thought. Never has he thought so much in his entire life.

His clear voice shattered the tranquil stillness of the woods, "No."

"Are you sure this axe is not yours, young man?"

There was a very brief silence. "Yes, I am sure. It is not mine, my lady."

(credits to publicenergy @ flickr)

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