Wing-Feather Fable: Frontiers

Turner proclaimed the end of the frontier in 1893, but the creatures had long ago recognized its vanishing. The pattern was familiar.

Most were originally from the Old Country, from the Alps and river bends, from deep and silent forests or barren, rocky steppes. They were manitores and goblins, imps and lamia, unicorns and dragons. Once the Old Country grew too populous, they migrated to the New, took residence with vast, wild herds of buffalo and ancient sequoia trees.

Now that, too, was over. The sphinx suggested moving south. The yeti voted north. The creatures split, moving to the farthest poles, to homes encased in ice. Mermaids took to frozen underwater caves, far above leviathans and hydra. Centaurs left hoofprints in the snow. Gnomes and satyrs fought quiet wars for tundra. Gorgons fed their snaky hair the eggs of puffins, terns and snowy owls. Griffins took the skies. Sirens taught their songs to whales.

This too did not last long. The phoenix came to warn them. There were expeditions, Shackleton to the south, Peary in the north, both determined, well-equipped.

“They’ll never come this far,” the witches said. “Such cold is only tolerable with magic.” The genies gave up swirly nods while the pixies chittered.

“I say we fight,” said the leader of the Golem-Troll Alliance. The ogres and the giants grumbled their assent.

Loch Ness rose up along the shelf of ice. “Too late,” she said. “They have something that we cannot battle.” Most creatures answered with defiant shouts. But in the skies, Valkyries caught the burning tears of angels.

“What is it?” asked the basilisk. “What could humans bring to wipe us out?”

In the end, the creatures listened to the phoenix. She had died and been reborn so often that no one had more wisdom within the hollow space of grief. She negotiated for them, absorbed the shock and outrage from both sides.

WILD buildings went up in every major city, in London and Berlin, New York, Beijing and San Francisco. They bore the mark “1909,” the year the poles were conquered, the last unclaimed space staked with flags. Mostly, no one notices the buildings. They remain untouched by war or reformation. They stand, sometimes, beside gleaming shopping malls or amid the curves of superhighways.

Once in a great while, a small child might lay her hand upon the bricks and find them warm and furred like pelts. Between the ornate ironwork and window black, she might catch a glimmer or a spark. A young boy might crane his neck to a WILD building for an hour or two, and wonder. At those times, the creatures hold their breath and watch, afraid, again, to hope.

The child always wanders off, forgetting. Loch Ness sighs inside her subterranean pool of shadows. “Disbelief,” she whispers. “We are no match for that.” At the farthest poles, the polar bears and penguins, the narwhals and the ermine are the only living things to mourn the absence of the angels.

~ Photo by Brenda Gottsabend; Story by Lisa Ahn

Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here

10 thoughts on “Wing-Feather Fable: Frontiers

  1. I love the re-reading of each tale, here now in its published form. Always transported via your imagination to another world, where belief in the unbelievable matters.

  2. I love this piece. The magic and the suspension of disbelief that is the hallmark of childhood is sacred to me. Kids grow up too fast now and it’s in part because we don’t cultivate the mystery and magic in the world. Instead of telling them about the magical thinking in cultures that created these monsters and angels and talking to them about how to craft stories and legends out of what they can’t yet understand, we simply tell them these things don’t exist. I clung to these ideas longer than most. I didn’t REALLY stop believing in Santa until I was about twelve. Scratch that….I might not yet be 100% committed to the idea that he is a construct at age 38. So, I lie to my little one about who buys the presents, etc., because the world is a less colorful place without allowing our collective imagination to fill in the gaps of our understanding with something supremely beautiful or wicked. Spin on, you spinners of tales!

    • Hi Chelle,
      Ah, you know I have an ambivalent relationship with the big man in red. We decided to play it with our kids as story, for a host of complicated reasons, mostly founded in my anxiety and my total inability to tell anything I remotely think of as a “lie.” Which makes no sense, given that I constantly tell my kids stories about fairies, magic, and witches. Ah well. They’re resourceful. The youngest decided to believe in Santa anyway and the oldest believes in the dog version, Santa Paws. We’re flexible (and crazy) here in our suspension of disbelief. It’s never boring. (And I love what you write here: “the world is a less colorful place without allowing our collective imagination to fill in the gaps of our understanding with something supremely beautiful or wicked.” Yes!)

  3. I love Nessie’s last line. These fables are always so hauntingly beautiful, such a lovely tinge of sorrow. The arctic exploration reminds me of a historic sign and gravestone in a really cool, old hillside cemetery in my hometown. I was intrigued by it since childhood. It marked the grave of Edward Israel, who died in the first US sponsored exploration of the arctic (1883). There’s a picture of the actual sign here: http://www.kpl.gov/local-history/biographies/edward-israel.aspx

    Do you ever take your kids to cemeteries, Lisa, or were my parents just really weird? I still love them (although, oddly, I hardly ever visit my own ancestors’ – hmmm). They do fire the imagination, in a morbid sort of way. 😉

    • What a great sign, with its story of the expedition and its disasters. Thanks for including the link.

      We actually live right next to a very old cemetary and the kids and I walk the dog there all the time. It’s beautiful, with huge, old trees and amazing gravestones. There’s enough light so that it never feels creepy. Or maybe it’s just so familiar. And I did get a story out of there once too, though it has yet to find a home.

      Always glad to see you here!

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