Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 17
After finding a sweater for Cookie and checking on her food and water, Grandma Wren changed into pants and a flannel shirt and gathered coats for the mountaintop excursion. She found a pair of trousers for Hattie that Hattie’s father, Joe, had left behind on a hunting trip last fall. She brought out a large beaded buckskin bag from the back of the trailer and asked Hattie to put it in the truck.
Ben said, “I don’t believe any of this,” to his mother as they were getting in the truck.
Hattie shrugged, “That’s your right, Ben.”
Ben, the last to get in the truck, slammed the door.
His anger brought sadness to Zera. Her thoughts went from the disturbing — Maybe not only am I crazy, but Hattie and Grandma Wren are too — to a somehow worse thought, He probably doesn’t like me at all, now.
On the silent drive to Ute Springs, Zera retraced the afternoon’s events. Her heart thudded again as she pictured the snakes, their words echoing the warning, We’re in danger. All are in danger. She struggled to understand. She didn’t know what Grandma Wren meant by plants and people no longer knowing who they were. It was too vague. She had tried to ask more questions at the trailer, but Grandma Wren only said, “We will learn more tonight.” .
The truck rumbled down the two-lane highway as trees raced by and a cloud-decorated sky projected colored patterns on the windshield. Zera found herself drifting into a waking dream, an intermingling of two worlds — one real, one fantastical. Other words filled her mind; sweet whispered words she’d heard as she lay half-asleep in her bed, both here and in Piker. Go back to sleep, darling. Welcome back. You’re home now. She had heard them. It wasn’t her imagination. They were real. What was unreal is that she was somehow supposed to help “change things.” I can’t even change things in my own life, so how can I change things for anything else?
Zera, squeezed next to Ben, “accidentally” nudged him and Ben’s eyes met hers, but for only a second, before they both turned back to the landscape. It was clear; he didn’t have anything to say to her. She felt no thrill when he looked at her that time. Grandma Wren, wedged comfortably on her other side, between herself and Hattie, napped while they drove.
Nonny raised herself from a wicker chair on the porch and, cane in hand, limped down the stairs to the driveway, her face set in a scowl.
“Where have you been?” she asked as Ben opened the truck door and Zera climbed out. “Is everything all right?” At the sight of Grandma Wren, the lines on her face deepened. “I don’t mean to overreact, but I’ve been waiting for over two hours. No one seemed to know Hattie’s mobile-v number. I was worried!”
“Everything’s fine, Guinevere,” Hattie said. She walked around the truck and placed a hand on Nonny’s shoulder. “I’m sorry we made you worry. I should have called you. It’s just that something has happened, and we’ve all been kind of . . . distracted.”
Nonny Green’s expression changed from guarded relief to concern again.
“Nothing physical,” said Hattie. “It’s just, well, we’ll explain.”
A half-hour later, sitting on the wicker porch swing, Nonny had heard everything. Zera revealed even more — the times she thought she heard voices that seemed to come from plants, the feeling that someone was watching her outside the chicken coop her first day home, the weird certainty about the ribbon snakes and their Latin name. Hattie added the part about Grandma Wren’s dog. Grandma Wren told Nonny about her visit from the guardian and explained why they must go to Tava.
Throughout the accounts, Nonny listened patiently, her mouth tight and her brow furrowed. When Zera shared her experiences, Nonny’s hands trembled slightly and she absent-mindedly rubbed the leaf-and-symbol-covered bracelet on her left wrist.
Nonny rose from her swing with the help of her turquoise-tipped cane, and stood at the porch railing. Pikes Peak towered before them, its summit visible through a trio of clouds. Just off the porch, the dead roses hung on the trellis among the still-green leaves.
“Zera, there is something I have to tell you.” Nonny propped her cane against the railing. She looked from Zera, who sat on the rug near Ben, to Ben and then to Hattie and Grandma Wren, who sat together in a wicker loveseat.
“When I was a child, my mother and grandmother told me all the fairy stories native to our ancestral homeland in the British Isles. I grew up learning about pixies, elves, goblins, giants, fairies, mermaids, and all the rest. It was almost like a family history, the way they told those stories.” She nodded at Grandma Wren. “Like your people’s stories, Nellie, the stories of the Native Americans, ours had been passed down for generations. Tales of another world that co-existed with ours, and tales of its supernatural inhabitants. Tales that were a source of delight as well as instruction.”
“I loved those stories,” Zera said. “Mom read me fairy stories all the time.”
“You remember some of them,” corrected Nonny. “The ones known in modern culture, but you didn’t hear the others, the ones we’d passed down in our family. There were many more.”
Zera got up to stand next to her grandmother.
“You see,” said Nonny, “by the time I was a young girl growing up, our family had been in America for over a century. Throughout those years our stories had remained alive, in spite of the fact that many in this country thought they were superstitious beliefs, and to keep them alive was foolish, deviant, even. To speak of certain beings as if they actually existed was dangerous. An aunt of mine in the 1930s had rumors spread about her, that she was a witch, for suggesting that magic existed. People in her town sent nasty, anonymous letters, and her home was set on fire one night, although they got it out before it burned down. She had to pack up and leave.”
“I never knew that!” said Zera.
Nonny’s face clouded. “I once told a teacher, when I was in the first grade, that I came from the fairies. She said, ‘That is a lie, young lady,’ and she gave me a sound spanking.”
Hattie stiffened. “Good grief!”
Nonny’s appearance brightened. “I have to admit I’ve always had the quality of being a bit full of myself, even then, so that probably didn’t help in my dealings with authority, but nevertheless.”
“You think you came from fairies?” Zera said, both interest and reluctance in her voice. She glanced over at Ben, whose forehead was wrinkled in disbelief. He was staring off at a few of the chickens scratching for bugs under a purple-leaved plum tree.
Nonny laughed. The tightness in her mouth relaxed and her eyes danced. “Who knows? My mother always told me that we did, that’s where our artistic abilities, our imaginations, and our gifts with plants, came from; that’s how she explained it anyway. Is it imagination, or is it a link into our own world that others aren’t willing, or perhaps able, to see? I look at it as being part of the unknowable, and that gives it even more meaning, and yes, magic, to me.”
Grandma Wren reached over and put a hand on Hattie’s arm. “You know what I believe.”
“Yes, I do,” Hattie replied, patting her grandmother’s hand.
“You see,” Nonny said, “as with Grandma Wren’s culture, celebrating our history took its toll. There were no original fairy stories in America, unless you count the rags-to-riches stories about entrepreneurs, movie stars, athletes. Oh, those were very important. Still are.” Nonny sighed. “Those are the stories that hold the magic here.”
“By the time it was my turn to pass our stories down to Sally and Ted, they no longer seemed important. I wanted to do what would be best for them.” Her expression turned grim. “It was only recently that I began to realize I had perhaps made a terrible mistake.”
Zera’s face was bright with wonder as much as Ben’s, still staring off in the distance, was dark with skepticism. Nonny’s voice lowered. “Some of the stories that were particularly important to our family, Zera, were ones involving someone we called the Green Man.”
Zera’s eyes grew huge. Nonny got her cane and went back to the swing. Zera followed her. “I’ve seen him, Nonny.” Nonny stopped the swing’s rocking with her cane. “You have?”
“She saw him in my garden,” Hattie said. “My ceramic wall art, the face by the water garden.” She paused. “Guinevere, Zera had quite a reaction to it.”
Ben stood up, his face flushed, eyes wild. “This is all too much. Fairies? Mom, really? You expect me just to believe all this?”
“Ben,” said Hattie, “we’re talking about what we’ve experienced. Believe me, we know it’s strange!”
“Strange? That’s an understatement! I can’t listen to this anymore. I’m going home.”
“If that’s what you want.”
Ben took off down the hill and Zera’s heart sank.
Grandma Wren caught Zera’s eye. “He’ll come around.”
“Don’t be so sure of it,” Hattie said. “This is a lot for anyone to handle. Even me, and I’ve always been open to the . . . not-so-easily understood. Ben has a lot of his father’s traits — he’s into the practical, factual.”
“He’s half of you too, Hattie,” said Grandma Wren.
A breeze came up, shaking the leaves on the rose canes. The dead roses made crinkling sounds, like autumn leaves. Whether anyone likes it, something’s going on, Zera thought. A big part of her wanted to believe the snakes were her imagination, but she knew better. She pushed thoughts about Ben out of her mind. “Nonny, tell me about the Green Man.”
Nonny looked at the three females as if she, too, were questioning her sanity, then her blue eyes became darker, serious. “I’ll tell you right now, the Green Man’s spirit is very real. I don’t understand any of this, really, I’m as astonished as everyone else here, but it seems he’s come back to us. When I was a girl you hardly ever heard about him outside of our home, except for the tales of Robin Hood.”
Zera’s forehead crinkled. “What? The Green Man is Robin Hood?”
“Well, yes, and no,” Nonny said. “The Green Man is complex, he represents many things. Primarily he symbolizes the unity of the human and plant worlds.” She laid her hand on her granddaughter’s. “To this day they perform some of the ceremonies in the British Isles. In one of them, a type of May Day celebration, he’s called Jack in the Green. He’s also called the King of May, the Garland, Le Feuillu, or the leaf man, in France, and Blattmaske and Der gruner Mensch in Germany. In ancient Egypt he was Osiris.”
The foreign words tumbled in Zera’s head. Why haven’t I heard of any of this? She stared at her grandmother; she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Nonny’s eyes so clear and bright, her cheeks so flushed. She looked twenty years younger.
“Robin Hood is just one of his personas, a bold green knight that robs from the rich and gives to the poor.” Nonny’s voice rose in excitement, “In that guise he’s not so much a figure of wisdom as he is of heroic justice and daring. There’s never been a legend in American culture that’s similar, except for Paul Bunyan, a giant who chops down stands of forests with his mighty ax and changes the courses of rivers. Rather anti-nature if you think about it. But now we are seeing images of the Green Man again, in garden stores, in poetry, in art. He’s returned. And he’s not just a cartoon on a can of vegetables.”
“I know who you’re talking about!” Zera laughed. “He comes from the Green Man?”
Hattie nodded. “The legend survives, even in the lamest forms.” She looked out towards the direction of the barn. “I bet the snakes’ warning has something to do with global warming.”
“That would make sense,” said Nonny, her expression darkening for a moment. “We have made such a terrible mess of the planet.”
“Tell me more about the Green Man,” said Zera.
“Your mother did not know about this, though she always sensed it. That’s one of the reasons why she kept her maiden name, I’m sure of it. Why she gave you your particular name, and, of course, all of this came out in her art!” Nonny idly rubbed the leaf-and-symbol bracelet on her left wrist. “Our family name comes from our ties to the Green Man. We had always been important participants in the old country ceremonies, since, I’m sure, before recorded history. And our family has always been involved in honoring the connections between man and the green world in some way. I don’t know the details, those have been lost, but the story, that we’re connected to the Green Man . . . my mother told me this when I was about your age.”
“Wait,” Zera said. “The name Green comes from your side of the family? It didn’t come from Grandpa?”
“No, darling, we used my family name, which was fine with your grandfather. I’ll explain it one day, but suffice it to say, he was a man ahead of his times.” Nonny smiled. “Ours is the only name I know of that has been passed down through both the maternal and paternal lines for generations.”
“The Navajo have a maternal lineage tradition,” Hattie said. “Guinevere, I’m stunned. I had no idea. Sally never said a thing!”
Nonny shook her snow-white head. “Sally didn’t know. Over the years I began to fear that our history would die out with me, as I am the last of the Greens of our lineage, the last I know of anyway. All my cousins are gone, Sally’s gone, and Ted, well, Ted has chosen a path that seems to diverge from our values. I thought that this may be the natural order, to let old beliefs die. But as we see, now, that is perhaps not the way it is meant to be.” Nonny’s mouth tightened. “Still, all this scares the life out of me, Zera. Signs? Snakes? Hearing and seeing these things? I don’t feel brave about this at all, not one bit. In my very bones, I tremble.”
They sat silent, mulling it all over.
Grandma Wren stood. Her aged face was twisted with anguish. She addressed Hattie, dark eyes flashing. “You and Zera seem surprised at all of this. Why? Haven’t you felt the truths all along, that there is much more to this world than what you see?”
Hattie and Zera exchanged glances. What do I really feel to be true, now, in my mind and heart? Zera asked herself.
“Nellie,” Nonny said to Grandma Wren, “these two, and Ben, have been raised in a world where any kind of magic comes mostly from TV screens, electrical outlets, and batteries. Give them time.”
“Grandma,” Hattie said, standing up and looking out toward Pikes Peak, “it’s getting late. We should get to Tava.”
“Yes.” Grandma Wren rose from the loveseat.
“I’m going too,” said Nonny.
Hattie and Grandma Wren exchanged glances. “You should stay here. Zera will be fine with us,” said Grandma Wren.
Hattie’s face clouded. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, either. Your leg, Guinevere, and the oxygen up there. We’ll be going to a place where there’s some rugged terrain, once we get to the top of the mountain.”
“I’ll be fine. And I want to be with my granddaughter.”
“The altitude . . . it can put a lot of stress . . .” Hattie began.
Nonny interrupted. “I will go.” She shot them a look that said the issue was settled.
Zera and her grandmother went inside to change into winter clothing as it would be near-freezing at the 14,000 foot summit. Back in the living room, they found Grandma Wren and Hattie had put on sweaters from the truck. Hattie had taken down her ponytail and brushed out her waist-length hair.
I wish Ben were going, but he thinks I’m a nut job. Maybe I am. Maybe we all are.
Nonny approached Grandma Wren. “I don’t think we can drive up there. If I recall, they close the highway at dusk. I was thinking,” she paused, “Cosmic Dan’s the conductor at the Cog Railway this summer. He’d take us up there. And he’d wait for us, I’m sure.”
“I didn’t know he was working there,” said Hattie, suddenly cheerful.
“Yep,” said Nonny. “I told him that it surely was the very last job in this town he hadn’t held.”
A sly smile spread across Hattie’s face. “That man is something else.”
Though the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Depot was only five blocks away, because of their hurry, the grandmothers, and the fact that they’d be returning after dark, they took Ladybug. Hattie and Grandma Wren piled into the cab, but Nonny waited, watching as Zera climbed into the truck’s bed.
“Here, darling,” Nonny said, handing a wool jacket to Zera. “You know I’ve been waiting for your return to take your mother and father’s ashes up to the Peak?”
“Yes, you told me at Christmas. We’re not taking them now, are we?”
“No. I’d planned on the two of us going up there soon, though, that’s how I found out Dan was working there.” She looked worried. “I never imagined any of this.”
Zera nodded. “I know.”
Nonny’s eyes crinkled and Zera saw they were glistening.
Zera’s gut clenched. She knew Nonny was worried, more than she was letting on. She was too.
To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.
Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.