My baby Ravenna is here! It was a long gestation - it started over 2 years ago when I read the story of Sir Gawain and Ragnell in Everyday Blessings. I loved the story of freedom and friendship, but I was a little dismayed that it seemed to hang so much on physical beauty and romantic love. I thought, I want to do better than that. I shared my dream with dh and df, Daniel Nevins - who is also my favorite artist - and they helped me nurture it. We will continue to tinker with the story and, of course, I want Daniel to illustrate it. I intend to see it through to its publication in book form. Here it is for you now.
The image at the bottom of the post is Perspective, a painting Daniel completed for his 2004 show at Blue Spiral. I have been inspired by so many of Daniel's paintings, and this one, especially, whispered in my ear as I wrote the story.
*Note: Below is a rewrite from 3/4/07.*
There once was a boy named Galen. He lived on a farm in the mountains and spent his days exploring the surrounding forests, streams, and pastures. He would climb trees to find nests, run through the fields with his horses, and wade in the streams to collect smooth stones and crayfish.
Then one day Galen heard his parents talking about their new neighbor and learned that the man lived with a bear. Galen knew bears lived on the mountain, but he had never seen one, nor heard of anyone living with one. Wild scenes flashed through his head of what that must be like. Leaving his parents in the kitchen, he started the mile-long walk to the man’s new farm.
When he got there the man was building a chicken coop. Galen helped him, and told him about the coop he and his father had built the year before. Soon they had finished, and the man thanked him for his help.
And then Galen remembered why he had come. "Do you really have a bear?" The man laughed. "You must mean Ravenna." "Your bear's name is Ravenna?" The man laughed again, "You want to meet her?" "Your bear is a girl?"
At that moment, from around the side of the barn, came the most amazing thing Galen had ever seen. It was a bear about the size of a man. She was beautiful—so black that her fur glowed with a bluish sheen. And she was dancing.
Galen found he couldn’t speak. Ravenna approached him and in a kind voice asked, "Who are you?" Now Galen felt completely at ease, but he still couldn’t talk. Ravenna seemed to read his thoughts and said, "Do you want me to come live with you?" Finding his voice, Galen said, "Yes, very much."
Ravenna then said, "I will go with you if you can answer one question: what does every creature want?" Galen had no idea and was sad. But Ravenna smiled, placed a paw on his shoulder, and said, "You know the answer, but you need a little time to discover it. Go to the forest, go to the stream, go to the countryside you love, and you will find the answer." Galen was filled with hope and ran home.
First he went in to the forest and climbed into his favorite tree, a towering hemlock. He reached the top and the branches swayed in a gentle breeze. "What do you want?" Galen asked the tree. He sat for a long time before the tree told him, "I want to spread my roots wide and create fresh air to breathe." Galen thanked the tree for the answer, but knew it could not be what all creatures want, since they did not all have roots, nor could they all create air to breathe.
He went to his favorite stream and lay on his stomach, and put his hand in the soft current. "What do you want?" he asked the water. He lay for a long time and then heard the answer, "I want to flow strong and clear all the way to the ocean." Galen thanked the stream, but felt no closer to the answer to Ravenna's question.
He went in to the fields near his home and came upon his favorite horse. "What do you want?" he asked. She nuzzled his cheek and answered, "To run and graze in wide, green pastures." Galen thanked the horse, but as he turned away he was afraid. Everyone had a different answer, and he had lost his chance to have Ravenna for his own.
That night he dreamed of Ravenna. She held and rocked him in her arms and he felt loved and safe. The next morning he awoke and knew the answer.
He raced to the man's house and found Ravenna alone, dancing her beautiful dance. He was out of breath, but managed to say, "I know the answer!" She smiled at him and waited. He grinned, and said, "All creatures want to be free!" Ravenna scooped the boy up in her arms and held him like in his dream. "That's right," she said. "All creatures want the freedom to live their own lives."
Then the man came out of his home to say goodbye. Ravenna hugged him and then took Galen’s hand. They walked back to the boy’s house. And as they walked, Ravenna began telling Galen the first of thousands of stories of her travels in the wide world.
For many months Galen and Ravenna were very happy together. They had many wonderful adventures. Galen would climb onto Ravenna’s back, and they would travel for miles into the forest. Ravenna shared everything she knew with Galen – which mushrooms you could eat, where to find sourwood honey, the names of lizards, and – the best thing of all – how to understand the language of all animals.
One afternoon Ravenna had a long conversation with a flock of goldfinch. Galen couldn’t understand everything they said, only that they were talking about their travels to far and distant lands. They talked until it was nearly sunset, and Galen reminded Ravenna it was time to go home. On the ride back, Ravenna was quiet and Galen was lulled to sleep in the warm folds of her coat.
It was later that night when Galen woke from a dream and knew he had something to tell Ravenna. He found her curled beneath a tree, and when he sat beside her she raised her head. Galen said, "Ravenna, I love you very much, and I want you to be free, too." Ravenna smiled at the little boy and said, "So you really do understand." And Galen said yes. The last thing Galen remembered that night was being rocked in Ravenna's arms. When he woke the next morning he was back in his bed, but Ravenna was gone.
He left his home and went to see the man. He asked if Ravenna was back with him. The man said, "No, and like you, I learned that Ravenna belongs only to herself and should go where she pleases." Tears welled in Galen’s eyes, "But will we ever see her again?" The man smiled, "Yes, of course. I see her all the time in my dreams. And I know if I really need her, she will be back again. But now she needs to be somewhere else."
Galen understood this was true. He was glad that Ravenna was where she wanted to be. He was happy. He knew he was where he wanted to be, too.