Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in a dark world. Her name was Flora, and in Flora’s world it was always dark, and in that dark world she sat with her mother, her grandmothers, all her aunts, and all her cousins. Candles lit their cave and cast strange shadows upon the walls, and by that meager, dancing light they spun wool into yarn and wove cloth on great looms. They wove such lovely cloth, but the colors were always the same, for there were only two kinds of wool: white wool and black wool. Every morning a new basket of wool fleece appeared just inside their door. The cloth they wove from the white wool went back in the basket where the fleece came from, and the black wool they wove into cloth for themselves.
It is hard to imagine living always in darkness, with no sunshine warming your skin, but Flora had lived that way her entire life and so it seemed almost normal to her. Almost normal. For as she grew older her body became restless, and her mind burned with questions. “Where does the wool come from?” she would ask, but the grandmothers would always hush her, then set her to carding the wool, her least favorite task. Or she would ask, “What does my name mean?” and they would answer, “It is just a word, like yarn or wool.” “What is beyond the door?” and the grandmothers would say, “That is where the wool-gatherers are, and they bring us the wool, and you must never go beyond it.”
Of course this non-answer to her righteous question only made her more restless. “Why?” she insisted. “Why can’t I go beyond the door?” And the grandmothers would give elusive answers. “Because then the candles will not light,” or, “The wool will not spin into yarn.”
This did not sit right with Flora. She began to stay awake at night, to watch the door, so that she might see what lay beyond it. But night after night, sleep overcame her. Once she startled awake, only to see the door just closing. This drove her into a fury! She woke with her lips pressed together. No more questions, no more sleeping, she told herself. Tonight I will find out what is on the other side of that door.
All that day she watched the door through the sides of her eyes, willing it to be hers. There were no knobs or handles on the door, so she could not just dash out. She had to wait until the door was open if she wanted to get through and find out what was on the other side.
And wait she did. Her fury transformed her into a wakeful creature. And as the grandmothers crawled into their beds, one by one, and the candles flickered out, Flora crept through the dark and waited by the door. She knew she would have to be quiet, and invisible, and so she wrapped herself tightly in her black cloak, and waited, and waited…until the door began to open, so slowly, and Flora held her breath, and squinted her eyes, and watched as a person unlike any she had seen before took from the threshold the basket of white cloth and exchanged it with a basket of white fleece. This person did not see her, for she waited until the very last minute and then, like the tiniest of mice, she slipped through the crack in the door into the world beyond.
In the dim light she could just see the figure walking away and so she tiptoed after him, up a steep slope. In the distance was a light one thousand times brighter than any candle. Slowly and carefully she made her way to the light, following the figure that was silhouetted against it, until suddenly he was gone! He simply disappeared. Flora ran up the slope, fear and eagerness gripping her equally, and then she stumbled into the bright light of day and was completely overcome.
It hurt terribly, the light did, so terribly, but she did not cry out. She only shut her eyes and fell to her knees. The figure walked on and away, unaware that behind him was a young woman immobilized by the light that her eyes had never seen.
For a long time she could not see. She only sat upon her knees, while her hands covered her eyes as they throbbed and burned. But slowly the light grew dimmer, and in the half-light she began to see. What she saw amazed her. She was surrounded by creatures she had never seen before. They stood on their hooves and looked thoughtfully at her.
“Where am I?” she asked the creatures.
“You are in the a-bo-o-o-o-ove wo-o-o-orld,” the creatures said, and their voices sounded like laughter. “Yo-o-o-ou a-a-a-a-a-are no-o-o-o-o-ot supo-o-o-osed to be-e-e-e-e-e he-e-e-e-ere. We-e-e-e-e must ta-a-a-a-a-ake you to the People.”
And they began to push her with their noses, shuffling along beside her. She got to her feet and began to walk with them, thoroughly confused. The path was rocky and she stumbled, and reached for the back of the animal to steady herself. Wool! She recognized it immediately. “You make the wool! You are the wool-makers!” she cried with delight. She felt an immediate kinship with them.
But they rejected her. “Na-a-a-a-a-a-ah,” they said, “we a-a-a-are the gra-a-a-a-ass eaters. We will ta-a-a-a-ke you to the wo-o-o-o-ol-ma-a-a-a-akers.”
Flora became afraid. Something did not seem right, but the animals kept pushing her along, without giving her a chance to think. She began to look around, and see, for the first time, the world into which she had stumbled. It was entirely grander than she had ever imagined. She could see the green of the fields! Green! Imagine never having seen green before! And there was the golden-green of oaks in the forest that lay beyond the sheep’s fields, a forest that swept off into the horizon, and the gentle light of the late afternoon sun, the long shadows of the trees. She felt she must get her bearings, and quick.
“Wait, wait, my friends!” she cried to the sheep (for that is what they were), “I must clean myself before I meet the wool-makers! Where is the water?”
And the sheep thought about the water and it made them thirsty, and so they took her down to the creek that tumbled through the fields.
Flora marveled at the light playing upon the surface of the water as she took off her black cloak and dress and began to bathe. In her delight she knew she could not go back to her dark world. There was too much beauty here! And because she did not know what might happen when she met the wool-makers, she said to the sheep, “My dress is old and ragged, I must make myself a new dress before I meet the wool-makers.”
And the sheep nodded, “Ye-e-e-e-es, ye-e-e-e-es.” (They hadn’t wanted to say anything but really her dress was so shabby.) “You can weave a new dress from the forest pla-a-a-a-ants,” they told her, “but we cannot take you there because it is not our domain. The deer knows where all the pla-a-a-ants are, ye-e-e-e-es, but they will eat them before you can gather them! Ye-e-e-e-e-es! Deer are totally untrustworthy and their legs are entirely too lo-o-o-ong! You must ask for the bear, but you must be careful, for the bear is hungry , especially this time of year, and you are no doubt very ta-a-a-asty!” And all the sheep agreed and they stared at her and licked their lips. Then they forgot all about her and began to eat the grass, and would not answer any more of her questions.
Flora considered her position. She decided she could not put on her old dress, for it seemed so terribly shabby and dirty, and she might need something to offer the bear. So she fashioned her black dress into the shape of a small child, and she wove bits of grasses and wool in it until it looked like a real baby. She walked to the edge of the forest, laid her cloak upon the grass, and waited for the bear.
Still, she was quite unsure of things. Would the bear help her wave a new dress so that she might meet the wool-makers? Did she even want to meet the wool-makers? Why couldn’t she live here forever, with the sheep and the green grass? She pondered these questions in the soft grass at the edge of the field, clutching her wool-baby, until she fell asleep with the gentle night. When she awoke in the morning there, sitting in front of her, half-bemused and half-irritated, was an enormous black bear.
The bear said, “Give me the baby.”
Flora had forgotten about the baby she had crafted, which she had held tightly to her chest as she slept. She stretched forward, careful not to get too close, and handed it to him.
The bear stuffed the baby into its mouth and swallowed it down. “Hmmmm. Not so good. A little like sheep, but too much fiber, and not enough salt.” And then he hacked up the baby into a vomitous pile in front of her.
Flora’s eyebrows went far up and her face contorted with disgust. And when he told her to put it on, Flora did not understand. She shook her head involuntarily. There was no way she was even touching that.
Then the bear roared. Have you ever heard a bear roar? It is a tremendous and terrible sound. Flora quickly picked up the thing and held it up. It was a dress. A disgusting dress of bear vomit that she was going to have to wear. She snuffled and whined but slipped into the bear vomit dress. “I should have stayed with my grandmothers,” she thought to herself. “Things are getting altogether awful out here.”
Once she was “properly” dressed the bear turned towards the forest. “Follow me,” he growled, and so Flora followed the bear up into the forest. At first she was afraid, and obsessed about her vile clothing, but this gave way to patches of delight, for all along the trail bloomed myriad flowers, trilliums and irises and mayapples, all of which she had never seen before.
Soon she had forgotten entirely that she was wearing a bear vomit dress and began to ask the bear questions. Patiently the bear answered her, telling her not just the name, but the whole story of each flower and plant, and how they might be an ally to her in this new world. And with each story, that flower was woven into her dress, until by the time they reached the top of the forest she was resplendent in a shimmering dress of forest flowers.
At the top of the forest was a great oak, and in the base of the oak there was an opening in the earth. Here the bear stopped and turned to her. “Your name is Flora, he said, and you are the Lady of the Flowers,” his voice rumbled like thunder, deep into her body, and she trembled. “Now you know the stories of the flowers, but your own story is incomplete. Your people have forgotten who they are. There was a time when the wool-gatherers and the weavers were joined together in their work. It is a time that no one remembers. You must bring them together.”
And with that the bear shoved her into the oak tree, and she tumbled down, down, down into the darkness again. When she came finally to a stop she could scarcely see a thing, except that her dress gave off a faint glow. She felt as if the trilliums and irises and mayapples in her dress were cheering her forward, and so she began to walk, deep into the earth. She walked and walked and walked and became certain that she would die, until she remembered her dress, and all the friends that walked with her.
“Oh dear chickweed,” she sighed, “I must eat you now.” And that gave her a little strength to carry on.
“Oh dear violets, I must eat you now.” She went a little further.
“Oh dear redbud, I must eat you now.” And so she kept walking.
Eventually though, the only plants left on her dress were the poisonous ones. She cried pitifully as she dragged her feet through the darkness. In her hands she held the foxglove.
“Beautiful foxglove, I will not eat you, but please help me find my way,” she cried, and then at last she stumbled into the dark world of her people, a weeping mess, reeking of bear vomit, her dress of flowers spent and in tatters. And even as her mother, her grandmothers, her aunts and cousins roused from their slumber and turned to look at her, she saw the door slowly opening, and a hand reaching in to take the basket of white cloth, and with her last bit of strength she leapt across the room and grabbed the basket, so that she too was pulled through the door and out into the world.
The wool-gatherer clutched the basket and ran up the hill! Flora clung desperately to the basket, and all her family followed her, grasping at her feet, until suddenly there stood together the weavers and the wool-gatherers, and the curious sheep, and Flora, devastated with exhaustion, laying on the ground amongst them.
Alas, in her struggle to open the door that stood between the worlds, the foxglove had fallen into her mouth, and in three days she would certainly die.
In a whisper Flora thanked the foxglove for showing her the way, and slowly her eyes closed to the green world she had grown to love so deeply. All the weavers stood around her weeping as Flora lay unconscious upon the dark earth.
The wool-gatherers knew that their world has shifted. Not knowing what else to do, they made lamb stewed with wild onions and parsley for the weavers. They brought their white blankets and wrapped them around the weavers. They sat with the weavers and learned their songs of healing, which the weavers sang over Flora. By the third day, the weavers and the wool-gatherers ate their meals together, and sang together, their voices united in harmonies. And they sang to the pale and sleeping Flora as she lay on a pile of perfectly woven cloth, the oak trees bending over her.
On the third night the moon was dark. The people sang together in a quiet voice. It was a song they had never sang before. It came to them through the forest, a song of such power and grace that each person drew together in one vibration of love. That was the song they sang. They sang love. And in that space of beautiful darkness came the great Bear, as quiet as the Moon, and the people did not stop, the song of love flowed through them, and the Bear stood over Flora, and the people and the forest were music, and the Bear was music, and the people and the forest and the bear breathed into Flora all the love and all the music, and Flora opened her eyes, and smiled.
And so it was that on the morning of the fourth day, dear Flora, the Lady of the Flowers, was sitting up against soft pillows, and the sheep were nibbling at her ears, and her laughter rang through the forest. She would return to health, it seemed certain, but she had lost the use of her legs. Still, there was so much beauty! Everywhere there were flowers and the bees hummed in the air and the sun shown upon her skin. And at noon, as she sat with a bowl of lamb stew in her lap, with all the people—weavers and wool-gatherers alike—seated around her with their own bowls of lamb stew (the sheep are very generous) she remembered all the things that the Bear had taught her.
“Oh, oh oh!” she gasped. Everyone turned to her in fright, but she laughed and said, “We must gather the bloodroot and dye the white wool!” At first the people did not understand, but they carried her into the forest and she told them how to dig the roots, and soon they were weaving brilliant vermillion cloth on their looms, and gathering the bounty of the forest and dying the wool into a rainbow of blue and yellow and green, from which they wove the most intricate designs. And the cloth that they wove was the flowers of the forest, and the generosity of the sheep, and the wisdom of the Bear; and the people saw their beauty was woven from the world, and they never stopped singing.
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