Adam Dewfeather and his son, Pennywhistle, hitched a wagon to the back of each of their bicycles and clicked their helmets into place. Adam’s helmet was a muted blue to match his bicycle and Pennywhistle’s was the same bright yellow as his own bright bike. Adam had made the wagon’s himself, using wood cut and dried from the woodland near the Dewfeather’s lavender hooded cottage in the clearing.
Penny loved rolling fields, not woodlands; sometimes he wished his father would cut down all of the trees at once and open the cottage up to sunlight from his window all the way to the horizon.
“All set?” Adam asked and Penny nodded. They climbed onto their bicycles and were away, down the cobbled path and into the woods.
It was a long way to The Hollow Log; Adam and Pennywhistle cycled most of the morning. Penny urged his father to go faster, eager was he to leave the shade of the trees and to be in the sun once more. Penny did not like the darkness – and whatever the darkness might conceal.
They stopped for morning tea between the roots of an ancient oak, filling acorn caps with rainwater and eating nettle pie.
Pennywhistle had never before travelled so far into the woods. Most of the light seemed to be all caught up by the muddle of leaves overhead before it had a chance to reach them so far down below. The fallen leaves lay deep and pungent either side of the path, sucking any remaining light deep into their darkest places. Penny suddenly felt so small – smaller than small – and a little afraid.
Finally, brushing aside some overhanging ferns, they uncovered a sign with the words,
The Hollow Log
burned blackly into the wood. Strange orange mushrooms were growing from the base of the signpost, almost as tall as Adam and glowing softly. More mushrooms led a path to a great tree stump, all roots and ragged bark and a blue front door.
“Is this it?” asked Pennywhistle, peering into the dimness behind the glowing fungi.
“Sure is”, Adam replied and leaned his bicycle against a crystal boulder,
“Can’t build a rockery without rocks”.
The blue door opened and out stepped a tall elf wearing a moss-green cloak and a pointed green hat.His head turned straight towards the traveller’s and a small smile brightened his eyes.
“Adam Dewfeather”, the tall elf murmured, moving closer and reaching out a hand in greeting,
“Merry Met, Old Friend”.
“Merry Met, Soren Lichenwell, and greetings to your family”, Adam replied, rushing forward to shake the proffered hand.
“Your order is all ready”, Soren said as the blue door opened a second time and Soren’s sister, Annalisa Lichenwell, came through, juggling a tray of currant buns and a pot of hollyhock tea.
“Ah, Merry Met, Adam Dewfeather”, she said, turning her eyes to Penny,
“And you must be Pennywhistle, all grown up; but my, you have your mother’s eyes”.
As Penny opened his mouth to say hello, a great gust of wind swooped through the near darkness. Leaves crackled and tumbled, branches groaned, bird’s shrieked. The glowing mushrooms swayed softly, setting the shadows to dancing. Penny looked around with wild eyes, ready to run.
“No bother, young Dewfeather, t’was only the wind”, Soren reassured him and Penny blushed.
“Let’s have some lunch and then we can get your order fixed”, said Annalisa, placing the tray and the teapot on a flat piece of quartz and pouring four cups of tea.
Penny held the cup between his hands and let the warm steam wet his face. His eyes darted back and forth at every rustle in the leaves, every drip of water, every breath –
“What is that?” Penny whispered, listening carefully.
“What’s what?” asked Adam, looking around.
“It sounds like breathing”.
Penny stood and turned in a circle, looking up at the canopy high above them.
“Ah, that’s just the woods”, Soren answered, and Annalisa smiled.
“Breathing?” Penny lowered himself back to the ground.
“Aye, breathing”, Soren said,
“The trees are part of the Great Connection”.
Penny looked towards his father and Adam nodded, sipping his tea.
Soren continued, “as we breathe out, the trees breathe in; as they breathe out, we breathe in. Over and over. Because we’re connected”.
“Connected”, repeated Penny, looking upwards again now with wonder.
“Aye, connected. Whole. The trees, the moss, the fungi, the elves; even the animals and birds and people. We are the Great Connection”.
Soren fell silent and Annalisa leaned closer to Pennywhistle.
“It is a marvellous thing, to be connected”, she said quietly,
“Like one giant family. We protect and are protected, we feed and are fed. We take care of each other because if one part of us gets hurt, we all hurt, but when we love, we all are loved”.
Penny sat back and looked around him once more, seeing the orange-lit woods in a new way, with a dawning understanding. He was quiet while Annalisa cleared away the teapot and the tray and while they all four filled the wagon’s with stone.
The journey back to Lavender Cottage took longer than the journey to The Hollow Log because the wagon’s were laden with heavy stone, but Pennywhistle didn’t rush on ahead as he had before. Instead, he rode slowly, listening to the trees breathing and breathing too, feeling suddenly safe in the darkness, safe knowing that he was a small part of the Great Connection.