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Rowan

Follow the sun across the sky, and in the evening you will be led into the West. Led into a Land of Fire, led into a land of profound restful beauty, a land of crimson and purple, a land of yellow and orange, a land of brilliant red. This is a land of long shadows and kaleidoscope skies.

A group of trees, on the edge of a forest, gazed at this miracle every night, and wondered about the multi-coloured realm. The rowans were particularly fascinated. Everything where they lived remained green; indeed all their relations were green, until the evening. Then for the shortest of time, bathed in the reflected light of the setting sun, they acquired reddish, yellowish, violet shades. A fleeting moment of warmth, light and of perceptible mystery passed over them. Together, as they watched the sun journey to below the horizon, the rowans would dusk-dream. What an adventure it would be to follow the sun into the Land of Fire.

They were discussing this one night when a wren hopped onto the top stones of a nearby wall. It listened to their flights of fancy.  And as it heard their imaginings of the Land of Fire it fashioned a plan. Maybe someone could journey into the Land of Fire and return to tell of their exploration. Who?

The following morning, as the sun rose in the east and the earth awoke, the wren sat close to the remnants of a night-time fire. Left burning by the wood's people, it’s embers cooled quickly. Soon from the cold hearth, a nose appeared, then a claw pushed up through the ash and slowly a salamander pulled itself out of the earth and onto the ground. It's purpose today was, as every day, to resume it's sleep on a flat rock on a nearby mound. Here it would be warm as the stone heated in the sun’s glow. The wren, agitated, darted around as the leisurely salamander settled into a day of sun bathing. It was just about to close its eyes, when the wren flew onto the stone next to it. The wren is a straight talking bird and after a polite greeting, without any further chitchat, asked the salamander if it had ever travelled to the Land of Fire. The salamander, whose heavy lids were half closed as it sank into a doze, opened its eyes abruptly and looked at the little bird. ‘No’, it replied, and appeared to drop back into its nap. From a dreamy world of half sleep, though, the salamander muttered, ‘My Grandmother went once’. This information excited the wren. Perhaps the Grandmother had told stories of the Land of Fire in the west, perhaps when the salamander was younger she had sat with him on her knee and described her adventure in the west. ‘No’, muttered the salamander to the wren’s persistent questions. ‘No, I know nothing. She told me nothing and I am not interested. Go away and leave me to sleep’.

With this the salamander firmly closed both eyes and pretended to snore. The wren felt defeated, its plan lost. The great visit was not to be. It hopped off the rock and started searching along the grassy edges of the stones for breakfast. Once the salamander was certain the bird had gone, it opened its eyes and looked out onto the green world surrounding it. Grandmother had indeed related no stories of the western land, but the look in her wise eyes had told him much. Perhaps the bird was right, perhaps it was time for him to make the journey.  Perhaps it was now that he should go the Land of Fire and regain the wisdom of his ancestors.

What happened that day, the splendid day the salamander travelled to meet his ancestors is another story for telling another time. Suffice it to say that, in the evening, as the sun disappeared over the western border the rowans, as always, watched. And as they watched they noticed something strange and rare. Out of the west a blue light with yellow fringes was moving. A ray of light spreading a beam across the land. Closer the light came, brighter it grew, as the dark night filled the air. The nearer it approached the redder it became. In wonder the trees stared, then a slow dread came over them. They realised the light was heading directly towards them. They shook a little, as if a breeze trembled their branches, for they realised that fire was coming out of the west. And fire destroys trees; indeed it can destroy whole forests. The danger of the moment was very real. It had been fine to admire the Land of Fire from a distance but now it seemed to be coming to them. This was not good. The rowans grew more concerned as the light came closer and shone redder.

The flame continued to move relentlessly in their direction. But as it did so, it seemed to lessen a little, the shine not quite so intense, the great beam of light shrinking smaller and smaller. It disappeared behind a nearby hillock to reappear seconds later as a discernible body, glowing red, with a head, four legs, claws and a tail.

Relieved that the threat of death by fire had receded, the rowans gazed in amazement at the creature before them. They were even more taken aback when the being opened its mouth and muttered, in a bad tempered voice, 'What are you looking at?'

The youngest rowan was the first to speak, admiring the creature's wonderful colour and expressing how much he wished he could be that colour. In fact the young sapling became a little overexcited, a little too overwhelming in his praise of the creature’s beauty. The other trees tried to warn it, shaking their leaves and muttering through the air to it to be quiet. The being sighed, looked to the sky as if tired and put off any further exchanges by rather rudely pushing its way between the trees, brushing against their branches and heading off into the forest. The rowans tingled and quivered as the being walked by, feeling the heat of the red glow still emitting from the creature’s body. The passing light touched many of their shivering branches.

The following morning the wren came again to feed on the wall by the rowans. As it flitted it nearly fell in surprise. What had happened in the night? The rowans were covered in spots, in bright red spots. The wren, being a straight-talking bird, hastily asked the rowans if they were ill. They smiled inwardly and reassured the wren, no, they were not ill. A wonderful thing had occurred. A light from the west had blessed them, and their ripe berries had turned red where the light had touched. The wren shook its head in disbelief. These silly rowans have such strange imaginations it thought, and decided to go and watch the salamander emerge from the cooling embers of the night time fire.

Page last updated: 13th Jan 2011