By A. P. Runke
The wicker chair creaked as I leant back straightening my legs out onto the house’s big wrap around porch. My left hand automatically goes to the collar of my shirt and pulls out my old leather necklace, attached to it is a small cork bottle with some sand and a small leaf inside. As my hands feel its familiar smooth surface I tune into my surroundings. My wife is humming in the kitchen and I can hear her merry tune through the screen door.
Running around playing fetch with old Rufus, my dear bloodhound, are my two grandsons, Robbie and Clay. Robbie is seven and Clay is five still toddling behind his older, faster brother, and my mangy old hound dog.
As the sun starts to set, Rufus comes and lies panting at my feet. The two boys come and sit, their brunette locks bouncing like mine used to at their age. I pull Clay up onto my lap and he plays with my old leather trinket.
“Grandpa,” says Robbie siting patiently by Rufus, “tell us the story of how you got your necklace.” I smile. I’ve told this story since their mother was in diapers. She too was enamored by the tale and the leaf that never withered I kept around my neck.
“Alright. When I was a young man, before I’d met your Grammy I got a job clearing a new hiking trail just up the canyon from Sedona. The trail would wind through the woods, and criss cross Oak Creek. The goal was to bring in more adventurous tourists into our town. Now do you boys know how to make a hiking trail?” Both boys shook their heads no.
“Well, first you’ve got to map out exactly where you want the trail to go. Then you bushwhack your way through leaving markers behind for lumberjacks to follow and clear away trees. Two other fellas and I were paid to mark out the trail ahead of the construction workers and lumberjacks. We were handed maps, a compass, and told to mark trees and other brush to be moved out. We each were assigned a section of forest along the creek and went off.
“It was early April and still cool outside, I wore a flannel shirt rolled to my elbows and work gloves, along with my work pants and hiking boots. On my back I carried orange chalk to mark up any tree to be removed. My bit of forest was way back in the canyon, the very end of the trail. I marched on a head of the two other young men’s sections and started to mark trees where the map said for me to begin.”
“And then you met the nymph!” cried Clay. I smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair.
“Not just yet, I didn’t notice the forest nymphs until a few weeks later.”
“How did you see them?”
“I was very nearly done marking trees and large rocks near the end of the trail. I took a break to eat the lunch I had packed myself. The spot I picked was quiet, beautiful. A small pond with lilies and the brightest green algae floated at the top. It was there I dropped a corner of my sandwich into the pond. I watched the bread bob in the water, creating a small clear hole in the algae. All of a sudden I saw what I could have sworn was a small hand, the same bright green as the algae, with webbing between the three fingers snatch the bit of bread. I blinked in amazement. My mother used to talk of seeing garden nymphs among the hyacinths in our back garden. For a moment I wondered if I had seen a forest nymph. Just as I was about to shake the notion form my mind, the biggest lily pad on the pond jumped up, and just beneath it I could make out milky frog-like eyes. The piece of bread then suddenly, all soggy and waterlogged, that piece of bread smacked me right between the eyes. With an exclamation of surprise I wiped it off. When I looked back at the pond, all was still. I couldn’t dismiss what I saw however, for I did still have the soggy crumbs of proof slipping down my nose.
“The day after that was my day off, the forest would be quiet and isolated. I packed a lunch again and made my way past the apple trees just starting to bloom and an abandoned old house still standing at the beginning of the trail. I passed the half-built bridge going to the few planks set over the creek that the workers had been using to cross. The beginning of the trail was starting to come together, a path being worn by men’s boots, and a few felled trees on either side.
“Just as the trail started to become bushwhacking area a pebble pegged me on the back of my head. I turned but didn’t see anything. The leaves on the trees rustled, it gave me no pause until, as sweat dripped down my neck, I realized there hadn’t been a breeze. I stood looking into the speckled canopy hands on my hips, a grin on my face. Reminded of my earlier encounter I decided to call out.
‘You can come out!’ I called, ‘I won’t hurt you!’ The leaves rustled but the nymphs didn’t show themselves. I furrowed my brows in concentration before getting an idea. Peering down at the ground I picked up a small round rock and tested the weight in my hand before winding back and tossing it into the trees.
‘Catch!’ I yelled.
“With the sound of that of a huge gust of wind through the trees small lithe bodies with skin the color of tree bark, dreads of leaves as hair, black bird eyes, and clawed hands and feet scurried past me, deeper into the canyon. These nymphs at full height came to my waist, but they ran by jumping from trunk to trunk, branch to branch and disappeared up the hillside into fuller foliage.”
“You did it Grandpa! You scared them!” exclaimed Robbie, but I shook my head.
“No, as it turned out, it wasn’t me the nymphs of the trees were running from, well I wasn’t mostly why they ran. Tiptoeing along the new trail came another kind of nymph. Her skin reflected the color of the canyon walls, her hair was fern leaves, her eyes the hazel of a deep swimming hole and they watched me and I couldn’t help but think, they judged my soul. On her left ring finger sat a Daddy Long Legs Spider. She only came up to my knee. As she neared the entire forest drew quiet as if holding its breath and I knew she wasn’t at all like the nymphs in the trees or the nymph at the lily pond on my stretch of trail.
‘Hello.’ I offered, my voice very soft. She tilted her head.
‘Acknowledgement of your presence vocally noted.’ She replied.
“My eyes must have widened, I saw her face copy my expression.
‘You can speak?”
‘I have knowledge of the sounds made by your kind used to communicate.’
‘So yes?’ Her face scrunched in thought.
‘Yes.’ I sit smack in the middle of the trail.
‘My name is John.’
‘What is a name? Why do your ki…people use them.’
‘Names are how we label ourselves for identification.’
‘Then what is my name?’
‘Well you’re a nymph.’ I shrugged.
‘Yes, and your are a human, but your name is John.’ I scratched my head she seemed fascinated.
‘Hmm, well my people have named this area and land including the human town nearby as Sedona…’
‘Sedona! My name is Sedona.’ She declares, a proud look on her face. I smirked, and sat on my haunches to be more on her height level.
‘Is it now, why did you choose that?’ I couldn’t help thinking she would’ve made a very nice Wilma.
‘Well because you said the name of where we are, right here is Sedona,’ at my blank look she continues, albeit a bit incredulously, ‘and I am here.’
‘Yes you are, so am I, but my name is still John.’ I replied. She blinks tilting her head.
‘You are at this place yes, but John I am this place.’ And just like that I understood, the nymphs weren’t mystical inhabitants of the forests or the garden of my childhood, there were actually it, mystical beings with their lives intensely intertwined with the life of the world they live in.
‘Then I suppose it is only natural that your name be Sedona, either that or Oak Creek.’
‘I do not follow? Is Oak Creek the name of the river?’ I nod.
‘But I am not solely the river. I am the canyon walls, the tall hills, the plant life, all of it.’ I was astonished but once I thought on it I realized she could only be correct. Each of the other nymphs reflected parts of this land, the water, or the trees while Sedona was the entire canyon forest and river included. Suddenly Sedona’s head turned her focus further on the trail, she smiled a small smile, slightly creepy because of the absence of lips.
‘A tree nymph will be born today.’ She announces and her voice reverberated throughout the canyon, in answer a tree nymph popped down from an older, taller tree. We watched as the nymph climbed over to a small oak, only about as thick as my palm and as tall as my shoulder. Carefully the other nymph climbs the trunk and fiddles with something in the small canopy. She then climbs down, carrying what I assumed to be a baby tree nymph close to her torso. The tree nymph walked to Sedona, giving me as wide of a birth as she could and sending me warning glances with each step. I stay still and quiet, content to merely watch. The tree nymph hands Sedona the little nymph, curled into a ball, eyes closed. Sedona lifts the child looking into its small face, green as that of a new sprout. If this was the size of a baby oak tree nymph I could only wonder at the baby nymphs my mother must of encountered in her garden each year. I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of a low hum. I looked around for the source before I realized it was Sedona. Her song continued, coming from somewhere old and deep, and very much alive. When her song ended the young nymph stretch out it’s limbs and yawned, it’s eyes blinking open. Sedona looked into its eyes, it blinked before batting at her fern leaf hair. Sedona then returned the babe to the tree nymph who like a gorilla propped the young one on its’ back before disappearing up a tree not too far from the Baby nymph’s own birth tree.
‘Each nymph is a gift to my land. Though we lose more than we gain since your kind has come.’ I felt my ears turn red as I blushed with embarrassment.
‘I am sorry.’ She waves her three-fingered hand.
‘Such is the way of the world; new stronger animals come through surviving off our lives. It has happened before. Just don’t forget who it is that gives your kind life John.’ And boys I never have.” My grandsons nod.
“Did you ever see Sedona again Grandpa?” Robbie asks quietly having picked up on the solemnity of Sedona’s words to me. I nod.
“As work continued on the trail I continued to see the nymphs and speak with Sedona. I would watch her run down the side of the canyon, looking as if she were wind diving into the river. One day after the trail had opened to the public she gave me a leaf from her hair. I then went home and made this necklace.” I run my thumb over the small cork as I remember.
“It was soon after that, that I met your Grammy. I stopped going to the trail. It was only after we had married, and although we didn’t know it yet but your mother was in the womb that I returned to Sedona. But I never found her again. I guess a nymph as old as she is, and as powerful, literally the mother of that canyon had better things to do than sit around and wait for a young human named John.” My boys frowned.
“Ah cheer up you two! It isn’t all that bad.” They smile weakly at me, but just half an hour later they are running around the backyard laughing pretending to be tree nymphs.
It didn’t take long for me after that evening to get a call from my daughter telling me that my grandsons desperately wanted to go to Oak Creek to search for Sedona. The family was to go up that weekend and she wanted to know if I wanted to come along. I agreed. And that Saturday afternoon I found myself leaning heavily on my cane as I walked to the Forest Ranger’s mini trail stand to pay for parking while my daughter and son-in-law round up the boys.
The young lady working the stand was tall, with prominent freckles, and brunette hair pulled back into a low ponytail that peaked from under her uniform hat. I pulled out my wallet, worn and old like I am and pulled out the bills needed for a day pass to park at the trailhead. It was only when I handed her the money that I noticed. Tied on a leather string around the young girl’s neck was a small bottle, with a bit of a fern leaf inside. I smiled pulling out my own pendant. When the girl turned to me with my change she gasped, her eyes zeroing in on my matching trinket, her fingers rising to caress her own. I smile easily leaning against the wooden structure in which she works.
“Tell me, how is Sedona?” and with my boys yelling as they raced down the trail for Sedona to come out come out wherever she is, the brunette gave me a warm smile.