"How are you grandma?" the little cortbird asked with worried eyes.
"I'm doing fine, just fine Solina," the grandmother cortbird replied.
Solina shook herself, shuffling her white and dark blue feathers. She still felt shivers from the cold outside, but the warmth from the nest in the oak tree comforted her. "Just rest grandma. We will talk tomorrow," she said.
Soon the grandmother cortbird was asleep wrapped in a blanket made of crumpled leaves.
"I thought you would get home before dark. I was getting worried," Solina's mother said.
"I received your message this morning, but the storm two rivers over slowed me down," Solina said. "How is she?"
Solina's mother looked down, her eyes searching the bottom of the nest. "She doesn't have much time left. That is why I called for you," she replied.
Solina greeted her father and brothers, who had just returned from a short hunt. Everyone was tired and stressed, so they retired for the evening, leaving the forest quiet, except for the occasional howling of the wind.
"Solina, Solina, wake up," the grandmother cortbird whispered, nudging her sleeping granddaughter.
Solina awoke in a daze. For a moment, she thought she was back home, awakened by one of her friends scuttling for a midnight snack. "Solina, wake up," the grandmother cortbird whispered again.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Solina asked.
"I need you to help me go for a fly," the grandmother cortbird replied. "I don't like being couped up in here."
"No! No! You need to be in bed!" Solina said, quickly awakening. Dim light entered the nest, and Solina realized morning was about to arrive.
"SSSSHH...." the grandmother cortbird said. "I haven't lived my whole life stuck in a hole all day and night, and I'm not going to die that way. Now get yourself up."
Solina propped up out of her warm bed, for she knew from her grandmother's tone that there was no use arguing with her. Quietly, they left the nest. A few sparrows sang in the distance, ushering in the new day. "Are you ready?" Solina asked, supporting her grandmother on her left wing. She figured a few minutes in the cold, fresh air would satisfy her.
Her grandmother smiled. They took off, and before long, the grandmother cortbird was flying on her own, closely watched by Solina. They flew through the forest, greeting the cardinals, bluejays, squirrels, deer, and their other friends in the forest, who were happy to see the grandmother cortbird out and about again. Then, as they flew near the top of a birch tree, the grandmother cortbird became weak and faltered down, hitting the branches of the tree. Solina rushed to the aid of her grandmother and helped her regain her balance. They spotted an ice rink at the edge of the forest where a little girl was practicing ice skating, so they flew down and perched on a branch of a maple tree overlooking the rink. "Let me take you home. You look very weak," Solina said.
"No, I want to stay here for a while," her grandmother said.
The two birds perched on the tree, watching the girl skate. The ice rink consisted of a beat up off-white wall that circled the ice, forming an oval prism. The girl was dressed snugly in black flannel pants, a purple winter coat and stocking cap, and white skates. At times she stumbled, while other times she was cautious because the rink contained many bumps and dips in the ice, but most of her moves were fluid, creating lovely images for the birds. "Why doesn't she practice indoors?" Solina asked, watching the girl's breath blow in the air. "It's so cold out."
"Can't you see how much she loves being here by herself," the grandmother cortbird replied.
Solina glanced at her grandmother, who now appeared full of life again. They watched the girl skate until a blue car arrived to pick her up. As the two birds flew back home, Solina tried to assist her grandmother, but the grandmother cortbird was now flying smoothly, as if she was revisiting her youth. "Where were you two?" Solina's mother asked. "We have been worried sick. Everyone is out looking for you."
"Oh Magelion, you will never change," the grandmother cortbird said. Slowly she danced over to her bed and laid down for a rest.
Solina's mother stared at Solina. "She wanted to go out. You know how she is," Solina said.
Later, the grandmother cortbird grew very weak, appearing like she would not live to see another day. When she closed her eyes for the night, the family of cortbirds was huddled around here.
But the next morning she woke up Solina again. "Let's go. Get up," she said.
"No, not today," Solina said. "You should be in bed."
"Don't argue. You will argue me into the grave!" the grandmother cortbird said.
So they left the nest, and Solina assisted her grandmother as they flew back to the ice rink. They perched on the same maple tree and waited until the blue car dropped off the girl, who looked anxious for another hour of skating. As they watched the girl skate, the morning sun took the chill out of the air and everything around them sparkled with life. They delighted in the new energies of the day, and then, after the girl finished practicing, they returned to their nest.
Over the next several days the same thing occured. The grandmother cortbird would weaken during the day, but every morning she would awake and fly with Solina to the ice rink. And every day, despite the cold, the girl was at the rink practicing her skating.
One morning, as the two birds perched on the branch of the maple tree, Solina said, "The girl seems like she belongs here. At first I thought she was out of place near the forest."
"She helps bring everything alive," the grandmother cortbird said. "She reminds me of the Souls of the Moon, as all human children do."
"The story?" Solina asked. "I can barely remember it."
"Oh, you children," the grandmother cortbird said, pausing. "You don't remember what's important. I told you the Souls of the Moon when you were young. I guess I should have repeated it and repeated it."
Solina was silent. "I'm glad I have a chance to tell it to you again," the grandmother cortbird said. "I hope you remember it and start telling it."
"I will," Solina said, gripping the branch.
"Well, a long, long time ago, centuries before I was born," the grandmother cortbird said, "there was a small human village that, for the most part, knew its place in the world. They had their share of conflicts, but they helped each other survive, and they only took what they needed from the land. Life was hard, for the climate was often unforgiving, but the villagers always adjusted enough to have a pleasant life. Now, when the villagers died, their souls wandered across the land and waited for the Spirit of The Milky Way, who came to Earth at the beginning of each new moon. The spirit appeared as a giant who floated through the sky and swallowed the moon. If you looked closely in the clouds, you could see the giant's ribs glowing from the light of the moon. Then the giant floated down to Earth, where it released the moon. The moon opened up, displaying a long corridor that led to a large dome decorated with moon lagoons, moon rocks, and thousands of moon flowers. The souls came and entered the corridor, where they were embraced by their ancestors, for the human spirits coated the moon, causing it to shine brightly. Then the giant would swallow the moon again and return it to its place in the galaxy."
"The moon was blue at that time, wasn't it?" Solina asked. "I do remember that part of the story."
"Yes it was," the grandmother cortbird replied. "The human souls made the moon as blue as the sea."
The girl knelt to retie her skates, and then continued skating. "Now, one year," the grandmother cortbird continued, "the villagers were blessed with wonderful weather, and their bounty was plentiful. The hunters killed the game they needed, and then they kept killing, for the villagers wanted to stock up for harder times. But even after they had plenty in stock, the hunters killed more animals and birds, using the hides for fancy clothes and garments. As the demand for luxury increased, the hunters dug jewels out of the hills in the forest, disrupting the life of thousands of animals, birds, trees, flowers, and insects. Other villagers, including the elders, protested against the killing and the taking of jewels, and the village became divided. The hunters wanted to keep their treasures, so they threatened the other villagers with their weapons and took over control of the village. At times the hunters felt guilty- 'We just want what's best for the future of the village,' they would say. But they continued their ways, destroying the world around them and making the other villagers suffer."
The grandmother cortbird rested for a minute. She watched the girl skate around the rink, which always energized her.
"One day," she continued, "a small village boy who was forced to work all day cleaning the hunters' homes and goods was told to collect some wood from the forest. As he walked through the forest, he saw a batch of gingerberries that he didn't recognize, for they rarely survive long enough to grow to a size where they can be noticed ."
"I saw a batch four years ago," Solina interrupted. "That is the only time I have ever seen them."
"Indeed," the grandmother cortbird said. "Now, the boy knew he was not supposed to eat any strange plant, but he was very hungry, so he tasted a few gingerberries. At that moment he turned into a golden bear. The bear was strong and fast, with hair as golden as the sun. The golden bear felt at home in the forest, but he was not embraced by the other animals, except for the cortbirds, who became his only friends. Day after day the cortbirds traveled through the forest with him, talking with their friend and picking bugs out of his fur, while he provided them with leftover fish to eat. One day, as the golden bear was trying to catch a salmon, he was spotted by two hunters who were tracking a deer. The hunters were excited seeing the golden bear, and they hurried off shots at him, but they missed. The golden bear ran away, and a few cortbirds that heard the shots flew to him, directing their friend to a cave deep in the forest. The hunters followed, but they lost track of the golden bear, so they returned to the village and told everyone what they saw."
"At first the other hunters were skeptical," the grandmother cortbird continued. "But after several hunters retrieved golden hairs from the forest, they believed the story. Then each hunter put jewels in a black kettle, creating a large prize for anyone who killed the golden bear. Day after day the hunters searched the forest, but the golden bear was hiding in the cave where the cortbirds brought him bits of food. But the cortbirds could not provide the golden bear with enough to fill his enormous appetite, and soon he became hungry, too hungry to stay hidden in the cave. So one morning he left the cave in search for food. The cortbirds kept a watchful eye, ready to alert their friend of any danger. The golden bear traveled through the forest, and then, as he was nearing the river, he heard the call of the cortbirds who saw hunters approaching. The golden bear ran as fast as the wind, scattering all the animals of the forest. But he became confused, for the hunters were coming from all directions, and he heard warning calls from all around him. Eventually, the hunters spotted the golden bear and chased him. Their shots echoed through the forest. For a few minutes, the golden bear outran the hunters, but he became weak, and as he climbed over a small hill, he was shot, wounding him badly. The cortbirds flew to his aid, and they led him to the hidden cave, covering up his tracks and blood trail with leaves as they went. The hunters pursued intensely, but they didn't find the cave. The cortbirds tried nursing their wounded friend, but the golden bear became weaker and weaker, until finally, after fighting with his last ounce of strength, he died."
A blue car drove up to the ice rink, and a man climbed out to watch the girl skate. "I recall the claw of the golden bear," Solina said.
"Yes," the grandmother cortbird said. "The cortbirds were upset by the loss of their dear friend, and all the animals of the forest were sorry for not embracing the golden bear as one of their own. It was clear to them that the hunters would not stop. So, during the middle of the night, one of the elder cortbirds took a sharp claw from the golden bear's paw, put it in his beak, and flew to the top of the tallest tree in the forest. Then all the animals gathered together and prayed. Eventually, the North Wind blew into the area, sweeping the cortbird off the tree, up into the sky. As he was carried high above Earth, the elder cortbird tightened his grip on the claw. The North Wind climbed higher and higher until it reached the moon. Then the elder cortbird twisted off the North Wind, and with the sharp claw of the golden bear, he scratched the surface of the moon. One by one the souls of the moon dripped down to Earth. They flooded the land and became embedded with the trees, rivers, lakes, flowers, rocks, and other elements that make up the planet. The cortbird caught the North Wind again, which returned him safely home. Now, the moon lost its shine and couldn't be seen anymore, so the Spirit of The Milky Way returned and flew right into the moon, like an arrow hitting a bulls-eye. The moon now shined with a white glow, and it became the permanent home of the Spirit of the Milky Way, who constantly watched over life on Earth."
"And the villagers became aware of their ancestors' spirits in the land, right?" Solina asked.
"Yes," the grandmother cortbird replied. "The next day and night the hunters and villagers were in awe of the spirits around them, and of the moon, which switched from blue to white. Now they felt their ancestors all over, and they changed their ways and lived in peace."
Solina was so involved in the story that she didn't notice that the girl had left the ice rink. "I'm glad you told me that story, Grandmother," she said. "I will never forget it again. Now I should take you back home. You look tired."
They flew back to the nest, and the grandmother cortbird went to bed. That night a heavy snowstorm blew through the area. Early in the morning, as light penetrated the forest, Solina woke up on her own. She went to her grandmother's bed and discovered what she already knew in her heart, that her grandmother had passed away. Soon the rest of the family awoke, and little weeps were heard coming from the nest. Solina comforted her family for a while, and then flew away. "Solina, where are you going?" her mother shouted.
But Solina didn't look back. She flew through the thick snow that was blown by swirling winds, making the snowflakes crisscross as they fell, until she arrived at the ice rink. The ice rink was empty, for the storm kept the little girl away. Solina perched on the branch of the maple tree, watching the falling snow cover the rink. She felt alone, but she also felt her grandmother's presence all over.