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Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:00 Jennifer Devore
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For those whom recall my original Grand Canyon challenge to Sugar Belle, as well as my brief follow-up post, please enjoy the following, full-length narrative, on the one-year recollection of a most wonderful trek to the depths of the Canyon (and a surprising, Jennifer Aniston sighting) and, naturally, back to the Rim where a much needed, heartily-earned, hour-long, lemongrass shower and subsequent martini awaited.

 

 

The dining hall is virtually empty, with the exception of our small crew and Jude, a kind, slightly bohemian fellow working the Phantom Ranch Canteen. On this ghostly quiet, February afternoon, the Ranch is appropriately named. As there are no other guests to tend, Jude chats with us and asks our story; we return the curiosity, and wonder about his story, working at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon. He brings us some of the best beer any of us will ever imbibe, given its Tao-like actualization, and tells us.

"Working below the Rim is like nothing else, anywhere," Jude claims with a smile that upholds the claim. Even though he hikes in and out on his own time, and his own dime, it's a nature-gig, similar to being a lifeguard or snowboard instructor, well worth the physical effort and light pay. For the mellow dude from Phoenix, just getting to be in the Canyon is enough. It may seem simple, working in a restaurant at a national park, but it's not simple by a long shot. In fact, it's phenomenal when one realizes that, of all the humans of the planet, only a small, anthropologically-insignificant handful has actually sipped where we did that day.

Eight-hundred years after Havasupai tribes slept in pit houses at the Canyon's lowest point, and well over one-hundred years before Jude regaled us with tales and ales, John Wesley Powell, a grandfather of 19thCentury American West conservation, camped along the waters of what is today Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. In 1913 Teddy Roosevelt made his way to this same spot via mule and slept in the same camp where the Havasupai, J.W. Powell and our little group all slept. Today, it is difficult to imagine there hasn't always been this oasis of running water, summertime ranger talks, pampered mules and all the seven-dollar postcards, vegetarian chili and four-dollar cans of beer your heart desires.

Near the turn of the 20thCentury, in a time noted by Lesley Poling-Kempes in her book The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened The West, there were "no ladies west of Dodge City and no women west of Albuquerque". Architect and noted interior designer Mary E.J. Colter was the exception to this sentiment.

Colter worked under the umbrella of hospitality-pioneer Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway, designing a multitude of hotels, train stations and tourist destinations running alongside the railway's Midwest and Southwest routes. The Grand Canyon was socially and financially vital for both the hotelier from London and the Santa Fe Railway. Scores of the prettily-starched, well-mannered, butler-schooled Harvey Girls would make the Canyon their home for months at a time, bringing not only a touch of glamour and finesse to the rugged West, but tourism dollars and word-of-mouth still seen today.

The queen of the Harvey Girls was Colter herself and, in addition to the El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest and the Indian Watchtower, she was commissioned to create cozy lodging on the ancient Canyon floor. Her task was to "fashion a place of food, lodging and comfort against an austere backdrop". Incorporating local materials, the most logical choice, and influenced by local Native American motifs, her signature, architectural style would come to be known as National Park Rustic: a phrasing that immediately evokes Old West comfort and natural relaxation.

Nearly a century later, I sit in one of Colter's many commissions: the Phantom Ranch Canteen. Had we booked earlier, we might have enjoyed one of her small yet comfy cabins. No worries, though. The Canteen is all the indoors we desire this trip. Camping under the stars, on the Canyon floor is an experience not to be underestimated. Who knew there could be so many stars?

To attain this reward, the stars and bar at the bottom of the Canyon, is no simple journey. A 7.3-mile hike of 5,000 vertical feet is physically, psychologically and spiritually demanding. Of course, as with any journey, it all begins with the first step; and that first step better be in good shoes. Under the care of my Ralph Lauren hiking shoes, my feet emerged pretty happy from the Canyon after a total of six days and nearly eighteen miles over rocky, muddy, snowy, steep terrain.

Once the soles are well-protected, one must prepare the soul, best as one can. This is where a naturally cheerful spirit comes in handy. If you're inclined to grouse about the little things in life, the task of hiking the canyon might not fit your temperament. Then again, you might need the Canyon more than most.

Words like magnificent, breathtaking, awesome, surreal and inspiring are bandied about ad nauseam in description of the Grand Canyon, and with good reason. Be warned, even the mightiest of men are brought to a quiver when sitting atop Ooh Ahh Point and peering to the depths below, or viewing the Colorado River for the first time from a switchback on the Kaibab Trail. Being February, the trail transitions without warning, from crunchy snow to gooey mud to dusty clay and back again. If your toes, thighs and lower back can handle a full day of forward pitch and decline, you will be rewarded by nightfall.

Along the way, the legendary Grand Canyon mules are a very special reward. You will bump into the dark-eyed darlings on occasion, maybe even literally if you're laughing with your pal and not paying attention and don’t hear the lead wrangler call out, Mules. Mules. Mules! As chill as Woody Harrelson sitting on a beach in Cabo and sipping a Dos Equis, these grade-A mules do not spook easily. If you're an animal lover, be prepared to squeal each time you see one and earn yourself an eye-roll or two from a wrangler, but not a startle or a peep from the mules. They react to seemingly nothing, move at their own pace and at their own, oft stubborn will. There's plenty of room to hug a cliff as they pass, but keep in mind and watch your behind, the mules only travel one way: up the South Kaibab, down the Bright Angel. Don't get caught getting goosed by a mule.

If you're lucky, as the mules pass, one might pause and nudge you with his muzzle. You'll freeze, afraid of what to do and certain you'll be the cause of the Canyon's next environmental tragedy. Fret not. The wrangler will simply, curtly instruct, "Pet him. He wants a pet." Do so and he'll be on his way. If you're extra lucky, one of those wranglers will be a dead ringer for Jennifer Aniston and you'll do a double-take, wondering, "So this what she does between gigs?" Sadly, by the time you think all this, she's already around a switchback and you can't tell for sure. You'll never be sure and think what a great rumor to start, about her being a mule wrangler at the Grand Canyon.

As the day wanes and the mules and Jennifer Aniston have long passed you by, it becomes necessary to start the mind games and get yourself to your campground. You still have a few miles to go, dark is setting in, the trail is thin of fellow travelers and you're beginning to wonder what it would be like if you had not checked out of the Bright Angel Lodge this morning. You'd still have that great Rim view, but you'd be eating spinach enchiladas and sipping green tea at the restaurant right now, and looking forward to sleeping in your little cabin, in the bed. Like the mules, however, you must trudge forth. As one in our group said, "I'm just walking on the ground. That's what I'm doing today, walking." So we are.

Focus. One foot in front of the other. Focus. Correct walking stick placement, forming a three-point stance on the ground at all times. Think of Gen. George Washington and French Commander Rochambeau. They marched their troops from New York to Virginia 1781. White Plains to Yorktown in shoes of the wrong size, shoes of no size or maybe even no shoes at all, just pieces of leather and cotton tied loosely with rope to the bottom of bare feet. If they could do that, I can do this. Think about the Havasupai walking this trail in bare feet altogether, in the height of summer no less and without any REI water packs. Think of the Trader Joe's Block Red Shiraz at the bottom of your backpack: a box of wine equal to four bottles! (Ah, yes, that's stirring something!) Think of the Starbucks Via packets in your backpack, which will bring your everyday cup of morning brew new meaning when sipping it alongside Bright Angel Creek at sunrise. (Yes, yes! It's working!)

Toward the end of the South Kaibab Trail, just when we were feeling pretty chipper and excited about campground wine and the resting of the bones, the last two miles set in and did their best to break our spirits. This was no longer a walking path; this was a jumping path. Do not let the last two miles win.

Do not think of your knees or your bruised toenails as each jolting, nine-inch step down the final mile, wood-railed steps dug into the trail for the mules, makes you want to toss every piece of hardware you're carrying directly over the next ledge. Do not think about the mountain goat eyeballing you. Do not think about the mountain goat now trotting down the slope directly toward you. Do not think. Run! Do not turn your back on him. Step away from the ledge. Brace yourself! Phew, he turned. He just wanted a different view. So do I. Think about the wine, the coffee, Washington, the Havasupai, the mules and what Jennifer Aniston's next gig might be and eventually, you shall arrive. You have to. There is nowhere else to go.

Think about the silence, the river, the ravens, the deer, the glorious lack of electronic media and the fact that you are one of a mere handful of bipeds fortunate enough to ever experience the pit of the Grand Canyon, a hole on the Earth, half the age of the Earth itself. Think on that, not the screaming pain in the balls of your feet. Also, if you're afraid of heights, do not think about the Kaibab Suspension Bridge coming up, swaying some 65 feet above the Colorado River, depending on the river's changing level. You have to cross the river somehow; this is the only way tonight.

Finally stumbling in on nothing but thankfulness to be alive, we reached Bright Angel Campground well after dark. The downside to arriving at a campground at night is this; it is dark. One cannot see anything, least of all the best site to choose. We blindly fumbled down the campground path until we found an open spot and threw down our packs like they had fleas. Despite trail promises, we were too tired to savor our wine. Granted, it was a wonderful treat, but merely a tasty sleep elixir. By morning though, the sunrise cup of Starbucks Via Italian Roast kept its trail promise to be simply astounding.

After coffee however, we saw the crucial error of our late-night ways. We chose a campsite decidedly not on the creek. Powered by Starbucks and moving like the law was coming for us, we hauled our tents and gear to an open site directly on Bright Angel Creek. It might not seem much difference, those few yards, but it is indeed a world of difference. It is like living at the beach, just across the road from the sand; it's Heavenly, but there's still a row of houses across that road, directly on the sand. That's where you really want to be, but who can afford the taxes?

Once the camp was reestablished, it was time: Phantom Ranch Canteen-time. The canteen is a short walk through the ranch, including a stop on a small bridge to check for fish in the creek and another stop to read a National Register of Historic Places plaque: Trans-Canyon Telephone Line Built in 1935. If anyone deserved a cold can of beer, it was those early Mountain Bell workers. Of course, since they weren't there, we were the next most-deserving.

Grand Canyon Brewery White Water Wheat was the brew of the day. True, my inclination tends toward Guinness and, as a rule, do not generally drink anything from can. Had I known it was an option, I would have preferred the Brewery's Starry Night Stout. Still, at this moment, the light wheat ale is pure perfection. Elsewhere in the canteen sit shelves of board games, Dominoes and cards, waiting patiently for the analog gamer; shelves of books, for purchasing or borrowing, also lie in wait. Even a surprisingly well-stocked sewing kit, in an old, Danish cookie tin, rests dusty and unused on a lower shelf. This proved helpful after purchasing a Phantom Ranch patch, available only at the Canteen. That night, by headlamp-light in my tent, I sewed it onto my ritual, camping, Boy Scouts shirt.

Even better entertainment than an old chess board is the complete lack of entertainment. There are no televisions in the Canteen. There is no electronic gaming. There are no smartphones, laptops or tablets below the Rim; at least there's no use for them. Signals are few to none and batteries die instantly, as if there's a ghost nearby feeding on your power supply. Sure, you could try to check the weather on your device, but it won't change your plans. You could try to check the news, but you don't care. You could try to check your email, but why did you come here in the first place?

I made the grave mistake of bringing a Kindle, thinking I would read loads of Mark Twain. Nope. By the time I plopped onto my sleeping bag at night, I had just enough energy to flip through my analog, Simpsons comic books. Thank goodness for pack-out mule service available at the Canteen. My pink Kindle and twenty-eight more pounds of poorly-planned, unnecessary gear gathered from amongst our crew made its way back up the canyon walls, via mule, and waited for us topside across from Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon National Park Mule Barn.

Looming over our ground-floor serenity, is the niggling realization that we still have to get out of here somehow. Because it's nearly ten miles and 4,500ft up and out, egress is best broken into two days, with an overnight at Indian Gardens. Thinking the first day would be the easier of the two proved wrong. Though it was just under five miles, it was primarily steep, punishing switchbacks. Moreover, on this rare February day, it was bright, sunny and hot. The overnight respite at Indian Gardens proffered little help. Cold and uncomfortable, it was nothing like Bright Angel: no trickling creek, no deer sipping in the streams, no ravens conversing in the trees and certainly no canteen. Indian Gardens is just a place to hang your pack, some hard dirt to sleep upon and fresh water to get you going in the morning. Worse yet, the Rim overhangs your campsite and mocks your every nighttime movement and effort to sleep, reminding you of what awaits you tomorrow.

Happily, the second day out was almost as exhilarating as the day at the Canteen. Marked by two rest houses (1.5-mile and 3-mile), the last leg is nicely split up into psychologically manageable treks. To boot, because it is a common day hike from the South Rim there are far more hikers on the road, offering safety-in-numbers peace-of-mind. Further, knowing we would not only survive, but that hot showers with lemongrass body wash awaited us at the Kachina Lodge and martinis at the El Tovar, we kicked up our paces like a herd of horses headed back to the stables. It is also the day Jennifer Aniston smiled at me, atop her clippy-cloppy mule along the trail, which is apparently what she does in between gigs.

Eventually, we made that final mile, which is steep, brutal and exhausting. Shuffling past friendly Austrian and Japanese tourists at the trailhead, we crossed under the final arch at the South Rim and reached Kolb Studio: former home, studio and business of adventure-photography pioneers and brothers, Emery and Ellsworth. It's a Grand Canyon fixture since 1904 and today serves as a gallery and bookstore. It also serves as a world-famous, scenic lookout, perched precariously on the Rim and with a mind-blowing backdrop. Needless to say, the path at this point is clustered with cameras.

We politely squeezed past large groups of large tourists getting their pictures taken and, once past them, crossed into The Village: a shopping and dining compound encompassed by the park hotels and bordered by the Rim itself. In an instant, we are surrounded by more humans than we have seen in a week. Our noodle-legged shuffles morph into strong struts. There are not suitable words to describe the pride of accomplishment, walking through The Village at that moment amidst the day-trippers, shoppers and shutterbugs. With the satisfied look of the overconfident, unwashed, underfed and freshly-spewed from the mouth of the Earth, we march toward our rooms, showers and, eventually, El Tovar martinis.

Before heading into the lodge, we stand at the Rim for one last look, that day anyway. Walking sticks in hand, 35lb-packs now seemingly weightless, we silently take it all in together. Being part-human, a few stinging tears tried to breach. Being in public, I fought them down successfully. In the truest sense of the word, it is stunning. If I just did that, if I just went down there and clawed my way back up, I can do anything. Really.

At the turn of the 20thC., the Harvey Girls were already legends in their own time. Floating effortlessly and elegantly through the Grand Canyon hotels and restaurants, their stark-white aprons, headbands and bows starched to perfection, the Harvey Girls greeted and cared for guests, top to bottom. That included the bottom of the Canyon. With their fresh smiles, brightly rested eyes and manicured nails, even Phantom Ranch was a respite of rustic luxury amidst the harsh elements. Today, sadly, the Harvey Girls are no more and travel reviews will offer the spectrum of great-to-rude Xanterra service experiences. For our part, Jude was our Harvey Girl of the Phantom Ranch Canteen.

Jude the kindly bohemian lacked only the starched apron. His manner was professional yet affable, like Mark Twain filling in for a friend working Morton's Steakhouse. He could sense when we wanted a ripping good yarn and when we wished to be left to ourselves. The fare was first-rate, with prices to match and beer was cold, which is just what one wants, even in February. Overall, the experience was exactly what one wants on the way to Middle Earth.

In 1903, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt stood at the Rim and grandly stated the following:

I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel, or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

There are a number of buildings now, a lot of summer cottages, a few hotels and more. To boot, I am pretty certain, Jennifer Aniston is an off-season mule wrangler. I wonder what T.R. might think? In the end, I wish I could sum up my winter expedition better than Lawrence Kasdan in his 1991 film Grand Canyon. I cannot. So, I charge Simon (Danny Glover) to do it for me:

When you sit on the edge of that thing, you realize what a joke we people really are, what big heads we have thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much, thinking that our time here means didly to those rocks. Just a split second we have been here, the whole lot of us. That's a piece of time so small to even get a name. Those rocks are laughing at me right now, me and my worries. Yeah, it's real humorous, that Grand Canyon. It's laughing at me right now.

 

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014 11:29 Jennifer Devore
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Hazel, Gladys, Dessie, Melvin, Ira and Edgar: all names most notably evoking an elderly relative, correct? What about Madison, Britney, Ashley, Declan, Wyatt and Cody? Too hip, too 2010s zeitgeist? Okay, then how about Nancy, Michele, Shannon, Gregory, Mark and Michael? Like it or not, the hipper your name, the surer its generational adhesion and popular decline; as you age, so will your chic and contempo cognomen. Did Mom & Dad name you in a trend? Enter your name into BabyNameWizard.com's Voyager to check; if you see a Matterhorn-spike, you're a trend, or at least were.

Apropos to Moi, a Jennifer, a recent article on Huffington Post highlights the Matterhorn-spike that was my name. It's my website, my name, so I get to write about me. Hello, Narcissus.

  • Between 1965 and 1985, everyone named their daughter Jennifer, and now, no one does. So Jennifer was officially a Name Fad. What this means for all the Jennifers of the world is that while they've enjoyed spending most of their life so far with a cute, hip, young girl name, they are on their way to having a Your Mom's Friend's Name. A few decades after that, Jennifer can look forward to having an Old Lady Name, which happens when a name belongs to lots of old ladies, but no one under 75.

For you, gentle reader, the name Jennifer evokes whom? Aniston, Lawrence, Hudson, Garner, Saunders, Tilly, Grey, Jason Leigh, Devore? In fact, one of the very first, famous Jennifers was Queen Guinevere, the beauteous yet cuckolding wife of King Arthur. Legendary meanings of the pre-Jennifer sobriquets float from "white fairy" to "fair beauty" and "white ghost" (my fave). Today's more popular "Jennifer", a Franco-Norman derivation, finds its classic origins in the Celtic-Cornish language with "Gwenhwyfar"; this eventually morphed into Guinevere. Already considered old-fashioned and Mumsy by the dawn of the 20thC., the name Guinevere itself was dethroned and gave way in popularity to Jennifer, in the 1930s, and remained one of the top girl's names for the lion's share of the past century. Since then, we fair Gwennys have been riding high and happy the wave of Jennidom ... until now.

Fads ebb and flow, but your name is always yours. The test of how much you love your name, like your wedding ring? Do you still love it? Indeed, do you love it more so, as time goes by? Would you change it? Are you embarrassed by its passing fancy? Or, do you flaunt it proudly, happy to share it with the world, regardless of how thoroughly modern or ghetto-fabulous others' may be?

Yours Truly was almost Amy Clementine, Clemmy for short, Mom tells me. I also recall being pea-green with envy, at the age of five, of a school chum named Chandelier. Happily, like my curls,  I have grown into my name and would not change any of it for the world.

We Jennifers, according to HuffPo, are Your Mom's Friend. To boot, as everybody's Mom, Mother Nature, dictates, we will also be Old Ladies one day. Speaking pour Moi, I am my name and whether I am 8, 22, 37 or beyond, life is Camelot, minus the cuckolding, of course; and as the eternal white ghost, I plan to flit through my days, now and into infinitum with a Jennifer name plate on my Sadie Schwinn and Happy Birthday, Jennifer! painted on my cake with pink icing and pink roses.

Take note, Aubrey, Lindsay, Chelsea and Brooklynn with two Ns; be your name, embrace it and love it, no matter what they say when you hit 80. Not only will you be a Your Mom's Friend one day, you will also be an Old Lady. You, too, Ryder, Ryker, Kyler and Axel. Dig it and don't let the kids laugh at you when you're a professor emeritus at UC Santa Barbara or the oldest bartender in Dublin. See you one day in The Summerland, kittens!

 

Are you a #Jennifer? Share via @JennyPopNet

 

 
Monday, 16 December 2013 09:48 Jennifer Devore
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They Mostly Come at Night. Mostly.

by Jennifer Susannah Devore

 

Holiday elves and gnomes, turning Christmas Eve so ghostly

Scampering hither and thither, skittering creepily through the house

They mostly come at night, mostly

 

Crafting chaos, making mischief so grossly

Frightened back to their beds, all the family pets: the cats, the pup and even the mouse

Holiday elves and gnomes, turning Christmas Eve so ghostly

 

 

Read more...
 
Monday, 02 December 2013 08:26 Jennifer Devore
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"What are the realities that our eyes give back to us? And how are these realities filtered through lenses?"

Prada S. p. A., the Italian, luxury-fashion atelier founded in 1913 by Mario Prada, posed this surreal query in the spring of 2013. Launching a line of prescription glasses, Prada's head designer, Miuccia Prada sponsored a fantastic, Wonderlandesque short-story contest to coincide with the new line of eyewear. Miuccia, a Ph.D. in PoliSci and proponent of the Arts and the written word, she believes "optical eyewear becomes an opportunity and a tool to investigate diverse, creative worlds: a preferred channel and a window on our world, and -why not- on new potential worlds."

Please, enjoy my submission. (Remember, it was intended to help promote the Prada brand: hence the heavy dash of product insertion!) Though not selected, I had a wonderful time writing it (as you know I love writing in, around and about fashion ... "The Greater Gatsby", par example) and proudly it stands amongst Prada's Salon des Refusés. Grazie!

 

Bigfoot Enchanted

-a short-story by Jennifer Susannah Devore, all rights reserved

It was summertime along the shores of the cool, Pacific waters of Northern California. The woods hugging the sea were active in the August heat. Around here, sunset came late this time of year. California's summer days trailed as long as Rapunzel’s braid. Yet now, nighttime fast approached. The shadows on the sand were all but gone; the sky turned an inky-pink, the colour of salmon swimming in the nearby forest creeks.

It was so late that it had been a very long time since Chiara and Lukas left Bear Hug Cottage early that morning. They played all day on the beach building sandcastles, splashing in the surf and napping in the warm, caressing sun. What a glorious time they had; but as they played, they slowly meandered farther from Bear Hug Cottage. The vast expanse of the sea and sand can be deceiving, especially on a hot summer's day.

Lukas paid no mind, though. Chiara stuck close to him all day, but could ne'er entreat him to stay put, running and running like a tiny, tow-headed, suntanned wild man all day. What he really wanted to do was cross the great creek that ran alongside the beach; across that creek lurked the Deep Woods. Farther down the beach, the creek, and the Woods' edge, would eventually feed into the Pacific; but where that naturally occurred, there were jagged cliffs and ferocious tides. Lukas wanted to explore the Deep Woods, but Chiara forbade it, knowing the Deep Woods were dangerous. Every child knew that. Lukas did not care. Wild things happened, and lived, in the Deep Woods. Luckily for Chiara, the creek was far too wide to wade.

Just up the sand however, as the sun grew dimmer, Chiara watched Lukas come to a sudden halt. He saw exactly what he needed. There, right in front of him was a giant, felled tree. A dead log, washed ashore by a recent storm, lay perfectly across the creek, providing a narrow bridge right into the Deep Woods.

“No, Lukas!” Chiara cried, knowing what was to come. "You must not cross the creek!"

Lukas looked back at her and laughed, jumping up onto the log and doing a little jig, just to taunt her and the forces that be.

“Stop, Lukas!” Chiara cried louder.

That was all the encouragement he needed. Off he ran! The log was sturdy and Lukas felt no fear as he ran across it. Below him, the fresh water rushed and splashed at the log, coaxing him to slip and fall. Barefoot, as one is at the beach, Lukas scuttled sure as a salamander nearly all the way across. He stopped just before the Woods' edge and looked back at Chiara, smiling a wild, mischievous grin.

"Come back, Lukas! We have to stay out of the Deep Woods! Cose male! Bad things, Lukas!

Alle gå, Chiara! Let's go!” he called back to her.

Chiara stood with her hands on her hips and knew he wasn’t coming back to her.

Even the animals knew this was big trouble! Birds tweeted, frogs croaked and crickets chirruped in a futile effort to warn Lukas. Dolphins flipped just off the coast and a ribbon of pelicans floated by, forming a silent warning. It was no use. Lukas didn’t speak Woodland. Free of care and excited about what lay on the other side, he heard nothing but the symphony of Triton's Sylvania.

Chiara understood clearly. As evening neared and the pink sky morphed into pewter, the winds commenced to blow briskly. As a full moon began to appear, sprinkling the sea with the faerie dust of nightfall, she capitulated and nervously followed Lukas across the log to care for her brother.

“Lukas! Do not touch that ground until I get there and we are holding hands!” she said firmly.

He waited impatiently, but wait he did. When she made it to the end he grabbed her hand and jumped off the log, pulling them both officially into the Deep Woods. His smile was as bright as the growing moon. Clutching Chiara’s hand tightly, they dashed into the dark when, without warning … Whoosh! Quick as a lightning bolt and like a flash of sunburst, a flurry of pumpkin-sized fireballs attacked Chiara and Lukas!

From every treetop, out of every dark shadows they flew! Fireballs the size of Jack-o’-Lanterns catapulted at Chiara and Lukas over and over! From the left, from the right, from up above and somehow up from the Earth! Fireballs at jet speeds toward them like a sudden, summer thunderstorm made of fire spears. Were it not for their youthful and fast instincts, they might have been hit. They darted this way and that, hiding first under one branch, then under another.

Zigging and zagging across the forest floor kept them safe, for the moment. They needed shelter and fast; it felt like they’d been running for hours. Dodging certain, fiery demise was exhausting and when they spied a cave they dived right in, not worried at all about what might be inside. They were simply relieved to find respite from the terrifying firestorm outside.

Once inside the cave, the silence was eerie. Outside the cave door, they watched the firestorm in relative safety. It looked like Hallowe’en décor gone mad: thousands of orange and red faerie lights dancing across the sky. The fireballs congressed near the cave door, never trying to enter the cave. They simply dissipated when they hit the ground. Lukas no longer wished to play and he no longer grinned mischievously.

“Oh, Chiara! What will we do?” Lukas looked up to his big sister.

Tutto bene. It's okay, Lukas!” Chiara said with faux cheer, pretending too hard not to be scared.

Together they sat, hand-in-hand, watching the firestorm. The cave was cool and comfortable. It was surprisingly clean for a cave in the woods and smelled like lavender and oranges. Chiara suggested they explore the back of the cave; maybe there was another way out of here.

When they happened upon the cave, they’d been running fast and far without direction. They could be anywhere in the forest now. Were they even anywhere near the beach? Where was the creek with the log? Where had they originally crossed over? The creek, that log and the beach could be anywhere.

As Chiara pondered a plan, she heard a heavy, hairy sound: like a German Shepard relaxing after a good run. Someone, something was breathing very hard behind them. Sitting in the dark, it had been watching them since they entered. Lukas heard it, too, and leaped up in the air like a scared cricket. Peering into the darkness, they saw nothing except eyes: big, bright, emerald flecks in the darkness.

Crack! Thwack! Whatever it was stood up straight, stepping on a bit of old firewood in the process. The green eyes lifted high as the owner rose. Whatever, whoever it was, stood very, very tall. The green-eyed creature shuffled toward them. The orange and lavender fragrance Chiara smelled earlier grew stronger as the creature approached them. Looking back at the cave door, she saw the fire still rained down. Clearly, there was no escaping that way. They took their chances with whatever this might be and braced themselves for whatever might happen next.

“Who goes there?!” Lukas took charge, striking a fierce karate stance, his knees a little shaky, but ready to protect his sister.

Si! Who goes there?!” Chiara echoed Lukas, feeling stronger because of his fearlessness.

Lukas stood frozen in his karate pose and Chiara set her hands on her hips. She squinted her eyes, stretched her neck to see a little better, sniffed some more! There it was! There he was! She and Lukas looked up and up until their necks ached. They rubbed their eyes to be sure of what they were seeing. It was the biggest, tallest, broadest, hairiest beast they’d ever seen! Funny enough, he was wearing a very posh scarf and a pair of very smart, very chic, tortoiseshell glasses with green lenses!

“Hi-ya!” Lukas executed a perfect roundhouse kick, hitting the beast’s kneecap, then fell flat on the ground.

“Good kick. Bigfoot like karate,” the beast pronounced it ka-rah-tay and gently helped Lukas off the ground.

“Bigfoot?!” Chiara cried out. “You’re Bigfoot? No way! You're just a myth! Bigfoot doesn't wear a scarf and glasses! Plus, you smell too good.”

Bigfoot had certainly been called a myth before and people who did encounter him were forever surprised by his pleasant odour. How had this rumour begun about a bad smell? It always hurt his feelings just a little. To convince Chiara he was indeed Bigfoot, he showed her one of his very large feet by holding it up with a gargantuan, hairy hand. The foot was as big as Lukas was tall.

“Those are really big feet!” said Lukas, not afraid at all.

Chiara was a little more cautious, “You’re really Bigfoot? Why are you wearing glasses?”

“Bigfoot wear glasses because Bigfoot near-sighted. Like glasses, though. Fancy. Prada," he lifted them proudly. "Tortoiseshell nice touch. Natural, like woodland home."

"Why are you wearing a scarf?" Chiara asked suspiciously.

"Pretty. Silk. Match fur well," he answered succinctly; it was true, the scarf was a very complementary green and red pattern.

“Will you excuse us a moment, Bigfoot?” Chiara still eyed him suspiciously and pulled Lukas to the side.

With a lot of exaggerated hand gestures, Chiara and Lukas discussed what to do. They looked to the cave door, out of which there was evidently no escape. Then, they both looked to Bigfoot, whom waved shyly and fidgeted with his scarf and glasses nervously. They agreed their best chance for survival was to stay with Bigfoot. He seemed nice, smelled good and maybe he knew about the fireballs.

Chiara said bluntly, “Per favore, can you help us? We weren't supposed to leave the beach," she shot a look at Lukas, whom was already a little excited about this new development, "and now we can’t get back home to Bear Hug Cottage because of the fireballs,” she thumbed toward the door.

Bigfoot squatted down, flipped his scarf and said, “Bigfoot help. Make fireballs stop.”

“Really?! You can stop them? You know about the fireballs? Why is it raining fire?” Lukas asked, jumping up on Bigfoot’s knee.

“Fireballs keep humans out of Deep Woods,” he explained.

“Why can’t humans come here? We're here,” Chiara asked.

"You special," Bigfoot patted his other knee for Chiara to sit upon and she hopped up cautiously.

"This is lovely," Chiara admitted, feeling the fine silk of his scarf. "Is it Prada, too, like your glasses? It kind of matches."

""Yes," Bigfoot was pleased this little girl liked his style. “Now, many years ago Native Americans only people here. Hupa Indians” he started a tale.

Chiara, distracted, sniffed Bigfoot and said, "You smell really nice. How do you smell so nice? I always heard Bigfoot smells bad."

Bigfoot sighed. "Why people think this? People not know. Make assumptions about Bigfoot, make Bigfoot sad. Bigfoot very particular, very clean. Bigfoot wear Prada cologne, too. Luna Rossa," he said proudly. "Smell like sage and spearmint."

"And oranges and lavender," Chiara added. She then wriggled her sunburned nose and asked, "Wait a minute. How does Bigfoot get Prada out here?""

"San Francisco Prada store not too far. Bigfoot have friends on outside. Meet Bigfoot at Willow Creek train station once a month," he explained; Chiara nodded, happy with the explanation.

"So," Bigfoot continued his story, "gold miners and tree loggers eventually come, drive out animals. Take animal homes, make animals sad. Animals make Deep Woods magic place. Only special people see real Deep Woods. Fireballs natural protection for Deep Woods. That all. Okay, Bigfoot help you."

Bigfoot stood up and accidentally dumped Chiara and Lukas off his knees. He helped them back up and said, “We find Bear Hug Cottage. Sound like nice place. You change first. Fireballs stop.”

“We can’t change. These are our bathing suits and all our other clothes are back at the cottage,” Lukas said.

“No change clothes. You change you,” Bigfoot explained.

“Me change me?” Chiara laughed.

Kneeling back down, and inadvertently spooking a family of beetles walking across the cave floor, Bigfoot first apologized to the chorus of tiny insect complaints, "Sorry," then explained to Chiara, "You change you. Animals help you home. You change. Become animal. Shapeshift for journey.”

“Shapeshift? What the heck is that?!” Chiara crossed her arms.

“Native American magic give animal totem. Turn you into animal most like you. Only then, forest animals help you find home.”

Chiara agreed shapeshifting was their best option and Lukas said it sounded like the most exciting thing ever! Bigfoot smiled a toothy smile, tightened his scarf, settled his glasses snuggly on his fuzzy face and said, “Good.”

“Is it big enough in here to do this?” Chiara wondered. “Will it hurt?” she added with new worry.

“Big cave. Big enough. Not hurt. Tickle little,” he answered.

“I want to be a lion!” said Lukas and closed his eyes and fists tight, waiting.

“I want to be a puppy dog!” Chiara said, closing her eyes and fists tightly just like Lukas.

“Not choose,” said Bigfoot.

“What? Why?” they both opened their eyes and fists.

“Spirits choose for you. Animal totems reflect personality. You wait,” he explained. He then turned, walked to a polished, antique, leather trunk and opened it with a delightful, old creak. He selected two small items, closed the trunk and returned. "First, you wear these."

Bigfoot handed each child a very special case. Fluttering around the cases were two tiny faeries. With a bright flash of glitter and sparkle, the faeries flickered their wings and snapped their wee wands, magically opening the cases. As the cases opened, bevvies of faeries emerged from each case. The dazzling glimmer was almost too much to bear! Chiara and Lukas squinted as they tried to comprehend the glitzy magic whirling all around them.

Each case was lined with the most lustrous of silks and their names were embroidered in the finest of Italian threads. The first letter of each name was flourished and illustrated, like the first letter of a medieval manuscript: Chiara and Lukas were never written more enchantingly. Even more magical, inside of each case lay a very special pair of glasses.

Chiara's case was lined in pink. Cradled therein was the most bewitching pair of pink-and-white, beachgirl, Prada glasses she ever beheld. They were the colour of cotton candy and snow and at each temple the name Prada rested in gold, surrounded by a flutter of silver stars.

Lukas' case was lined in aqua. Cradled therein was the grandest pair of silver, steampunk, Prada glasses he ever beheld. They were made of thin, sterling lines with round lenses of seafoam green. The name Prada was ghosted onto the temples and over each ear was a handsome strip of tortoiseshell.

Gingerly, the faeries lifted the glasses from the cases and placed them ever so carefully onto their little faces. As they gently set the pink glasses upon Chiara's freckled nose, a blonde lock caught under one of the arms. A very small, pink faerie, small even for a faerie, worked diligently to move the curl from under the arm. In an instant, Chiara felt like an enchanted princess in a fantasy novel. Chiara was ready for tea party adventures, magical creatures and looking glass misadventures.

As Lukas' glasses were settled upon his suntanned nose, he instantly felt like a Victorian explorer on the Grand Tour, ready for mysterious excursions through the Greek Isles and archaeological explorations along Egypt's Nile River.

Whilst Chiara and Lukas each experienced different feelings as their eyes adjusted to their new glasses, one thing was universal: the explosion of brightness, beauty and clarity! Chiara saw a tiny family of beetles in the corner of the cave, sitting down to dinner at a lovely, old, Thomasville dining room table. Lukas spied a spider web in another corner and saw it was no mere silk embroidery, but a stunning weaving, similar to the Bayeux Tapestry. The world was newly amazing!

The faeries delicately closed the cases and carried them to Bigfoot, whom carefully placed them back in the trunk: his favourite, antique, Prada trunk, naturally.

Then, they shapeshifted. It wasn’t difficult at all, in fact. It turns out they did need a lot of room and it did tickle, just a little. The spirits knew exactly which animal totems best captured their character traits. With a faint rainbow and a lot of giggling, a wisp of wind and smoke blasted through the cave like an invisible steam engine. It was done. Chiara and Lukas looked at each other through their new Prada glasses and laughed so hard they fell over.

Lukas shapeshifted into Moose: tall, headstrong, steadfast and wise. King of the woods, he was noble and powerful. His antlers were large and luxurious, his shoulders almost as broad as Bigfoot’s and his head was soft, smooth and full of wisdom.

Chiara shapeshifted into Unicorn: gentle, pure and innocent. A wide-eyed dreamer, her snow-white coat and golden horn shone with personal power and the strength of truth.

Even though Moose and Unicorn were not native to Northern California, these were the animals the spirits chose for them. The forest became a new world and they were instantly fluent in the language of Woodland. Now, they practiced using their new hooves and awkwardly followed Bigfoot out of the cave to begin their wondrous journey.

“Animals help you find home,” said Bigfoot as they started their walk through the forest. “Listen carefully. Pay attention. Watch surroundings. Do not take off glasses. Prada help you see truth, see animals, see reality of Deep Woods.”

They walked quietly for about an hour, Moose and Unicorn following behind Bigfoot. They listened and watched everything very carefully, just as Bigfoot had told them. Their ears perked to every sound. Their eyes darted to every movement in the forest. Even their new tails twitched to every sensation. The glasses seemed to guide them, silently and magically advising them where to look, what to believe. The outside world was Heavenly; their new glasses a most beauteous gift. Then, it happened!

They heard a splash! in a nearby pond. Hearing a friendly voice amidst the splashing, they looked in the water and there they saw their first helper. The first animal they came upon was Trout. Trout swam right up to the river’s edge, wagged his tail and smiled, the way fish do.

Tag!” he said. “I am Golo Trout!”

Ciao, Golo Trout!” Chiara Unicorn greeted him eagerly. “Can you help us get home?”

Ja, I sure can,” he swirled around and splashed his tail.

Being the animal of good luck, happiness and knowledge, Golo Trout was the perfect one to guide their first steps. Trout wiggled his head back and forth in the shallow water and said, “Continue along this path until you see a great rock. When you spy it, look carefully through your new glasses. The rock will be marked with Native American pictographs, symbols scratched into the granite. The symbols will tell you what you need to know.”

“Oh, thank you, Trout! Thank you!” and they turned with Bigfoot, heading into the forest and toward the selected path, headed toward the cluster of trees and happy to have met a new friend, but excited to be on their way home.

“Thank you, Trout,” said Bigfoot.

Bitte! Alles gut!” Trout swam in three circles and laughed heartily as he splished and splashed, dipping back into the river and looking for some yummy grubs to eat.

The forest path was wide and smooth. The trees lining it were lush and not at all spooky at night. Of course, Lukas and Chiara were now Moose and Unicorn. They were very large animals and spoke Woodland. As fear is oft borne out of the unknown, the nighttime forest was no longer frightening to them. They listened to the sounds of the forest as they walked. They never knew it before, but even the trees and the water could talk. Moose and Unicorn tried to learn the lessons they told. The trees also smelled like Christmas, their favorite time of year!

As they kept an eye out in the darkness for this interesting rock, they heard a sound. It was a speedy whoosh! For a brief instant they feared the fireballs had returned. It was not a fireball, though. There in front of them, sitting atop the very rock they sought, sat a giant bird. Were Bigfoot not with them and were they not Moose and Unicorn on this night, they might have been very afraid of such a large and imposing creature.

“Good evening,” the majestic bird said. “I am Dante Eagle. I have come to help guide you home.”

Ciao, Dante Eagle!” said Unicorn as she bowed her horn gracefully, her sparkling pink glasses remaining snuggly on the bridge of her snow-white nose.

Hallo! You’re going to help us find home? From up there?” Moose wondered, tilting his head upward and looking under his silver, steampunk glasses at Eagle.

“Yes. I have excellent vision and can see miles farther than any other creature. I shall fly above you and keep a sharp eye for danger, no matter from which direction it comes.”

"We have excellent vision, too! Faeries bestowed these beautiful glasses upon us!" Moose shared excitedly. "They're Prada! Det er fantastisk!"

"Fantastic, indeed," Eagle said stoically. "Were I not naturally so keen of sight, Prada clearly would be my first choice for eyewear."

Being the animal of courage, intelligence, divine spirit and sacrifice, Eagle was the perfect guide, even without Pradas.

“Let us read the rock,” he gestured to the pictographs carved into the rock where he sat. “What do you see?"

Moose and Unicorn moved closer to the rock, as did Bigfoot, standing slightly behind them. Bigfoot clasped his hands behind his back and stretched his neck to see between their shoulders, lifting his head slightly as he peered from under his green lenses. The symbols were worn, but still clear enough to decipher.

"I see a horse and an arrow," Moose answered first.

"I see two birds," added Unicorn.

"Bigfoot see two arrows, crossed," he said, his head tilted, hoping he was correct.

"What do they represent?" Unicorn queried.

"You tell me," Eagle said sagely.

Moose leaned in closer and scrutinized the carvings through his glasses, lifting them on occasion to see if that made a difference. The glasses made a huge difference.

"I've got it!" Moose cried out. "Okay, the horse signifies a journey. We are on a journey." Eagle nodded quietly; Moose continued. "The single arrow is a weapon, protection for our journey. The crossed arrows mean double-protection, in the form of friendship. We have many new friends, right?" he looked to Eagle and Bigfoot.

Bigfoot shrugged, thinking it sounded good; Eagle crossed his massive wings behind his back and nodded, indicating he was pleased.

"There are two birds," Moose continued. "One is an eagle, like you," he gestured to Eagle, "and the other is a thunderbird. The eagle means freedom, the thunderbird means," he lifted his glasses again, then replaced them, making sure he got this one correct, as it was a difficult one to translate, "it means, unlimited happiness. Yes! Always happy! That's us!"

"I think we need another bird," Unicorn thought aloud.

"Perhaps we will meet another bird," Eagle speculated. "For now, we shall walk this path toward a great meadow. Watch the open spaces. We are fortunate in our protection, but be mindful of what is around you,” he wisely advised.

“Thank you, Eagle,” said Bigfoot, a little in awe of Eagle’s powerful presence, which was weird for him; Bigfoot was not easily awed.

“I am happy to help. It is what I do. I watch from above and help those below,” he nodded sagely.

Eagle then lifted off the rock as silently as he arrived and floated high above the trees. He screeched a loud, long directive for them to commence walking. As they walked, he kept his sharp, bright eagle-eyes on them, as well as everything around them, for miles and miles around.

Before they reached the great meadow, they saw a grand waterfall. It spoke loudly and strongly, telling Moose, Unicorn and Bigfoot secrets no human would ever know. As they stopped to listen to these secrets, they met the tiniest, prettiest creature yet. She was headed back into the trees, after a long and anxious journey across the vast meadow. It was very late for her to be out and she hurried to the safety of her home, but she was very kind and stopped to help. She hovered above Unicorn and settled on the tip of her golden horn which glistened with moonlight.

Namaste, Unicorn and Moose. I am Sharvani Butterfly,” she alighted from Unicorn’s horn to flutter around their heads, then landed softly on Moose’s antlers.

Hallo," Moose greeted her. "Are you one of the animals to help us find home?” he asked shyly, disarmed by her mesmerizing, royal blue wings.

“Yes, I know this forest very well,” she fluttered again.

She fluttered some more and settled this time on Bigfoot’s shoulder, which made him very nervous. She was so tiny and delicate he was afraid to move, fearing he might accidentally hurt her.

“Cross the great meadow. You will reach the Deepest Woods, but do not be afraid. You have wonderful protection,” she winked up at Bigfoot, who shuffled a foot shyly as he nodded. “You will come upon a giant Sequoia," Butterfly continued, "an impressive redwood tree. Wait there, at the base of that tree,” she lifted off Bigfoot’s shoulder and came back to Unicorn’s horn. “There, you will meet your next friend.”

Takk, Butterfly! Will you fly with us, across the clearing? Eagle is coming with us. You could fly together,” Moose said eagerly, thinking she might be their second bird, of sorts.

“Oh, no, my dears,” Butterfly shivered a little. “It is far too dark for me to be out anymore and open spaces are not safe for me in the best of times. I must go back to my home, where I will be safe until morning. ”

“Travel safely, little ones,” Butterfly fluttered delicately from Unicorn’s horn up into the safety of the tree canopy, waving her wings goodbye as she left.

“Thank you, Butterfly,” Bigfoot said in a near-whisper, also disarmed by her lovely colours and lithe delicacy.

“Goodbye, lovely friends!” Butterfly trilled as she sought her safe place to sleep.

Eagle watched diligently as the three crossed the meadow. Unicorn’s horn dimmed its golden glow, so as not to bring unwanted attention to the group. The tall grasses whispered their own secrets in the evening wind. No birds sang this late at night and all the smaller animals were safely tucked in bed. As they made their way, the waterfall Butterfly spoke of came into sight. It was as majestic as they imagined. Once they’d bridged the meadow safely, Eagle dropped his altitude and flew lower to the ground, circling where they stood, peering into the very dark, very Deepest Woods. Eagle kept eye from within the tree canopy and with Bigfoot right behind them, Moose and Unicorn felt untouchable. Unicorn’s horn glowed once again, serving as a guiding torch. Soon enough though, there came a whoosh! and a crash! that made even Bigfoot flinch.

Crack! went the treetops! Snap! went a dozen small branches! Out of nowhere came a small, flaming ball. It was a fireball! They were back! There was another one! They landed in the trees, but fizzled out quickly, just like before.

“Oh, Bigfoot! The fireballs are back! What about our magic glasses? I thought they kept us safe?” Unicorn shook and huddled Moose close to her.

Everyone stopped in their tracks and looked up into the moonlight streaking through the canopy. Above them, towered the giant Sequoia that Butterfly described. 400 feet tall and twenty feet in diameter, it reached with such effort for the moon, even Eagle succumbed to fly below its uppermost branches. He came to rest on a low branch as thick as an oak’s trunk near the trio of friends on the ground.

“Oh, Bigfoot! Oh, Eagle! How can they be back?” Unicorn trembled and her golden horn instinctually dimmed once again, as it had when they crossed the meadow.

“I’m not afraid!” Moose said and moved away from Unicorn, clip-clopping tentatively toward the tree’s monstrous trunk and peering up into its branches.

“Not fireballs,” was all Bigfoot said as he watched the frilly treetops flutter in the midnight chill.

“Well, of course they’re fireballs!” Moose said. “See? Fireball!” Another one shot down the tree trunk.

“Bigfoot speaks the truth,” said Eagle. “They are not fireballs. It is very big though and makes this fire. It is bigger than all of us put together. Yet, be not afraid for I know this creature well. He is as gentle as he is imposing.”

As Moose looked closer, up through an opening in the trees, there came a great wind down the trunk, as fast as a freight train and as hot as a coal furnace. He backed up quickly and just missed being hit by a small bit of flame. He stood with Bigfoot and Unicorn and waited anxiously.

The size of a mountain cabin and as green as the pines that dotted the Deep Woods, the newest member of their party landed noisily, but with the near-grace of Butterfly and the cheerful eagerness of Trout.

Hej! I’m Anders Dragon!” his giant wings settled by his side, inadvertently knocking over a nest belonging to a family of squirrels.

Luckily, the nest just toppled over on the branch, not perilously off the tree altogether. Dragon worked instantly to help set it upright, but the squirrels motioned for him to stay put; they would fix it themselves.

Hallo, Anders Dragon! Wow! You sure scared everybody else for a minute. They thought you were the returning fireballs,” Moose gestured to the group with his antlers. “I was never scared. I am Moose. Nice to meet you, Dragon!”

“Sorry about the fire. I have allergies. They’re really bad in the summertime,” Dragon explained, sniffling. “My fire-sneezes always extinguish themselves right away. They’re made of magic fire, so no one can get burned. Still, it does scare most of the animals.”

Dragon tried to help the squirrels again; but they all raised their paws, begging him kindly to stay still. So, he sat very, very still and tried hard not to sneeze as he spoke. Bigfoot watched and nodded sympathetically. Apparently, he and Dragon had some of the same issues. Love and care didn’t always come in small packages.

Molto bello glasses, Dragon. Are they Prada?" Unicorn asked, straining her neck to see.

"Why yes, they are! My eyesight is not so fine; these help me not only see all across the forest, but also help me see detail. This way, I don't ignite my friends," he said cheerfully.

They were very handsome indeed: thin, orange-and-silver frames with rainbow-mirrored lenses. Depending on which way one looked at Dragon, his lenses appeared pink, orange, green, blue or purple. They looked a little like hippie glasses. Best of all, his side of the lenses was rose. Dragon truly saw the world through rose-coloured glasses.

"Dragon, per favore, can you help us? Are we close to home?” Unicorn asked, growing a little concerned about how long they had been away from home.

“Why, yes! I can help you and you are close to home!”

Being the animal of power, longevity and richness, Dragon would prove a great help along the way. He was their second bird, their thunderbird. He bent his head down, low and close to the ground, all the while careful of the squirrels’ nest, which was frantically being refurbished. He took a very keen look directly in the faces of all three friends, one after the other, looking under, over and directly through his hippie, rainbow spectacles. Eye contact was very important to Dragon and as he rarely was able to get close to folks, this moment meant a great deal to him. He looked into their eyes and saw they were all good souls. He then glanced up at Eagle and smiled eagerly.

“That looks like a very nice place to sit, friend. I shall join you,” Dragon proclaimed loudly and levitated with the ease of a feather to Eagle’s branch.

He perched precariously on the branch, giving the giant Sequoia a slight list and Eagle the need to readjust. Eagle smiled back at him, happy to have company up so high. It was a rarity and he welcomed it.

“Now,” Dragon said helpfully, “if you continue this path,” he gestured with his long snout, where his glasses precariously perched, "you will soon see a tall pine tree, like a Christmas tree. Ooh, I love Christmas!” he drifted off for a moment in thought. When he snapped to, he finished, “You will find help there.”

“Oh, Dragon! You’ll be flying along with us, like Eagle?” Unicorn asked hopefully.

Dragon looked at Eagle, whom nodded knowingly and patted Dragon’s scaly back with one of his feathery wings.

Absolut!” Dragon cheered, fire-sneezing lightly and sending a small flame toward the ground. “Sorry about that!”

“Huzzah!” Unicorn and Moose cheered back as they dodged the flame and veered right of the Sequoia, back on the path home.

“Thank you, Dragon,” said Bigfoot, bowing slightly, uncharacteristically unnerved by Dragon’s size. “It good to have more friends.”

Alla är bra, Bigfoot! It's all good! New friends good! I shall fly with Eagle to help make sure you are protected,” he assured.

“Thank you, by the way, Dragon. I do get a bit lonely flying by myself,” admitted Eagle.

“Then a team we shall be!” Dragon declared.

He and Eagle lifted themselves high above the redwoods, Eagle under Dragon’s wing and Dragon being very careful of the newly settled, squirrels’ nest. He also held in a fire-sneeze until they cleared the tree. The wee squirrel family held their breath until Dragon was gone, then waved a timid but friendly goodbye to him and plopped down, exhausted, into their nest furniture.

By the light of the now-full moon, the pine tree announced itself with effusing scents of Christmas and yuletide. Everyone stopped to smell the joyful notes. Eagle and Dragon hovered above the tree and landed lightly amidst the top branches. Chiara and Lukas peered all around through their glasses, waiting for their next friends, but no one came forth. In the distance, Bigfoot heard an owl. For now, everybody waited. All of a sudden, something hit Bigfoot in the ear.

“Who throw at Bigfoot?” he rubbed his ear and wrinkled his brow.

“She did it!”

“No, she did it!”

Above their heads sat two large, blue-black birds within the pine. Running through their tree were vines and on those vines grew very large, wild grapes perfect for throwing. Another grape bounced off Unicorn’s horn and another one landed squarely in Moose’s antlers, rolling back and forth until it settled. Moose flicked it out and waited with a loud snort for the birds to introduce themselves.

“I’m Mitzi Raven!”

“I’m Fritzi Raven!”

“She threw the grape!” they said in unison, Mitzi pointing a wing at Fritzi and she pointing right back at Mitzi.

Wir sind Schwesters Raven!” they said eerily together, then switched places on the branch.

“Greetings, Sisters Raven! Can you help us find home?” Moose and Unicorn pleaded, growing weary of the journey, even if it was a great adventure.

“Why wouldn’t we?” they replied, again as one voice and switching places once again.

As Raven was the animal of courage and magic, Sisters Raven was a savvy team to help them find home. Mitzi and Fritzi regarded Dragon and Eagle suspiciously. As Moose and Unicorn waited, Sisters Raven plucked a few more grapes off the vines with their shiny, black beaks and finished their midnight snack before helping.

“Now,” Mitzi cleaned her beak by wiping it on the branch and finished chewing a grape, “if you walk behind our pine,” she paused for effect, and Moose and Unicorn stretched their necks to see in the distance, “you shall see more pines!” Fritzi laughed and laughed, rolling backwards onto her tail feathers.

Bigfoot shot a look which said he was not amused. Fritzi quickly added some more helpful information.

“What Mitzi means to say is, walk past all those trees and look for the very last tree you’ll see, just before another meadow. At the roots of that tree, you shall see a moss-covered opening to a well-hidden den. Wait there.”

Grazie, Sisters Raven!” Unicorn said, anxious to leave the creepy feelings that lingered around that tree.

“Thank you, Sisters Raven,” said Bigfoot.

Thank you, Sisters Raven,” Mitzi and Fritzi mimicked and laughed. "Servus! They finally said.

Bigfoot waved goodbye and as he shuffled behind Moose and Unicorn, Sisters Raven threw a last grape at him and rolled over on their branch, giggling with glee. They then saw Dragon and Eagle eyeing them with hard stares. They turned up their beaks haughtily and quietly went to their nests and curled up to go to sleep.

After a rather long walk, everyone came to the edge of another meadow. There, at the base of the last tree, just as Sisters Raven said, there sat a small doorway in the roots. It was framed by plush moss and littered with old grape vines, squished blackberries and broken pinecones, all freed of their tasty pine nuts.

Moose, Unicorn and Bigfoot waited, whilst Eagle and Dragon enjoyed the opportunity to swoop and play over the meadow. Every once in a while, a flash of fire shot over the meadow and turned a spot of grass, momentarily, glowing orange. Meadow grass was exceptionally bad for allergies. Within a moment, out of the wee doorway came a sharp, black nose attached to a bright, red snout dusted with long, active whiskers that twitched and were stained with blackberry juice.

Konbanwa! I am Yoshi Fox!” an affable fellow with a huge grin and a broad walk waddled out of his den and sat on his hindquarters, looking up at the trio. “No way! Supa kawai'i!” he stared at Unicorn. “You are super cute! We don’t get many unicorns around here! Sweet!” Then he noticed his old pal and asked, “What’s up, Bigfoot? I dig your scarf! Prada?”

“Yes, Prada. Hello, Fox,” Bigfoot said, lifting a hand in a quick wave. “Bigfoot good. Make new friends,” he thumbed toward Moose and Unicorn, then Dragon and Eagle over the meadow.

“Oh, Fox! Can you please, please, please help us get home?” Moose pleaded.

“I can totally do that!” Fox said and stood up on his hind legs, crossed his paws behind his back and walked thoughtfully to the forest’s edge.

As the animal of cleverness, stealth and discretion, he was the perfect one to help them across the vast field.

“You’re very close actually,” he looked back over his shoulder at the group with a grin. “If you just run across this field, you shall come to a creek … ,” he paused as he looked up and noticed Dragon and Eagle. Quickly he walked back from the edge and stood right next to Bigfoot.

Fox continued, “So, along that creek runs a string of berry vines,” his eyes drifted and he licked his lips, thinking about the yummy blackberries and raspberries growing so abundantly in his own backyard, “you’ll find help there. Wait at the vine. Have a raspberry while you wait. They’re delicious!”

“A creek?!” Unicorn cried. “Is it our creek? Is there a log there? Is it the one that leads back to our beach?”

“I don’t know exactly,” Fox said. “All I know is to go to the berry vines and wait.”

Takk, Fox! Thank you!” said Moose and off they galloped across one more meadow on the long journey home.

This time, Unicorn’s golden horn did not dim. She was so excited it glowed even more brilliantly under the full moon’s gleam.

“Thank you, Fox,” said Bigfoot as he slowly followed.

“It’s all good, Bigfoot! Come back and hang out when you’re back in the area. Oyasumi!” he wished all a good night.

Fox wagged his thick, bushy tail as he watched Bigfoot go, then grabbed a few berries off the ground and an old pinecone and headed back into his warm den to go to bed.

Once across the meadow, they heard the creek trickle and gurgle before they saw it. Could this be the creek they’d sought all night? If it was the right creek, would their log still be there? Moose and Unicorn were skeptical. Frankly, they didn’t remember crossing any large meadows, let alone many, when they fled the fireballs. They’d also been walking a very long time now. They couldn’t have possibly run that far from the beach, could they have? Then again, anything could have happened during the terror of the firestorm. The Deep Woods were a magical place, after all. Dare they hope? Were the sea and Bear Hug Cottage close?

As everyone eagerly approached the creek, they saw a friendly face waiting alongside the creek and a small paw waving at them. Yellow eyes, a cherubic black-and-white face and bright, glistening, sharp teeth greeted them at the creek’s edge.

“Dobryj vyechyer! I’m Svetlana Raccoon!”

She dipped her paws at the creek's edge water and washed her hands and face thoroughly. She’d been eating messy berries and wanted to be clean to greet her guests. She scuttled over to shake everyone’s hands, or hooves. Bigfoot leaned down to gently shake her paw with one of his very large fingers and Moose and Unicorn each lifted a hoof to shake. Dragon and Eagle flapped their wings from above the trees; Dragon snorted back a small fire-sneeze, but a little flame escaped and startled Raccoon.

“Sorry!” Dragon said.

“It’s okay!” she called up cheerfully. “I get allergies, too, in the autumn.”

Ciao, Raccoon!” said Unicorn. “Per favore, tell us, are you the last one? The one who will finally lead us home?”

“Absolutely, my pals! You are very nearly there!” Raccoon danced back and forth excitedly on her hind legs and clapped her paws.

As Raccoon was the animal of leadership and empowerment, she was wonderful for the final stretch.

Dancing on her hind legs, she proclaimed excitedly, “This is your creek! Walk along here until you see a large cluster of edelweiss and there you’ll see the very log you seek! Cross the creek and you’ll see the sea!" she laughed at the homonym. "See the sea! Ha!" she smiled broadly, showing lots of sharp teeth and clapped again.

Moose and Unicorn realized that they could smell the sea! That briny, salty air they so loved wafted all around them. They were indeed near home!

“Oh, my goodness gracious!” Unicorn looked all around, viewing her domain with her new glasses; it was even more beautiful than she recalled. "Did we really run that fast and that far from the fireballs? Is this really where we first crossed over? How did we get so far, Bigfoot?”

“Deep Woods misleading, Deeper Woods super tricky,” was all he said.

Takk, Raccoon," Moose thanked her, suddenly a little sad the adventure was about to end.

Ne za chto,” Raccoon replied. “You're welcome! Know what?" she had an idea and held up a claw. "I’ll come with you, the rest of the way. Just to make sure you find the log!”

“Huzzah!” Moose and Unicorn cheered.

Everyone walked at a fast clip along the creek. Dragon and Eagle soared high above the creek, but continued to keep a sharp eye below. They alone could see the ocean from this point. It was cobalt blue this time of morning and very calm, except for the cliffs and the volatile high tide. Eagle spied right where the stream flowed into the sea and it was a rough ride to be sure. Chiara and Lukas could never have crossed over that way. They weren’t home, yet; but they were very close. Dragon could see a small plume of smoke drifting up toward the sky. It was Bear Hug Cottage, he was sure, and someone had a fire going, awaiting the children's return.

Everyone searched for the edelweiss as they walked. As morning neared, the darkness was lifting, but it was still difficult to see well. It seemed like forever, but eventually, there they grew. A wild carpet of crystals and diamonds: thousands of alpine-white edelweiss flowers. Sunrise was on the way and the earliest of the pre-dawn light cast sparkles across the velvet groundcover. Then, they saw it: their log!

It was just as they left it: narrow, sturdy and ready to take them back to the beach! In the happy silence, Moose and Unicorn listened to the crash of the waves and the roar of the morning surf. Unicorn was so excited she galloped right up to the log and was going to jump on when Moose suddenly shouted at her.

“Chiara! Don’t move!” he cried out, causing everyone to freeze where they stood.

There, right under the log, resting next to Unicorn’s front hoof was a snake: a poisonous cottonmouth. This was very bad, indeed. This could be far worse than the fireballs. Unicorn froze, afraid to speak. Even Bigfoot was defenseless against such a killer. Dragon or Eagle saw it from above and, in a normal situation, could easily snatch and carry it away. Yet, with Unicorn right there, even they would never be fast enough to swoop down in time. Any sudden movement and it would certainly strike her fetlock.

“Should I stomp it?” she whispered to Bigfoot, careful not to move as she spoke.

“No. Snake strike before you even raise hoof. Stay still,” he advised in a low, gravely whisper.

“I can take it, Bigfoot. I know I can,” said Moose.

“No big movements. It weird though. It just staring at us. It not look mean,” Bigfoot’s eyes shifted around to everyone in the group.

“Hey! What do you want?” Moose suddenly blurted out; everyone sucked air in through their teeth, squinted their eyes shut and waited for the worst.

Guten tag, allesss,” the snake said in a slippery tone.

Everyone opened their eyes, but stayed still and breathless, waiting for what might happen next.

Unicorn spoke first and tried to break the tension, “My name is Chiara and I am a unicorn. That’s my brother Lukas and he is a moose. That’s Bigfoot, Raccoon, Dragon and Eagle,” she carefully tipped her horn, so as not to scare the snake, first toward Bigfoot and Raccoon, then skyward to introduce their flying friends. “What is your name? Are you called Snake?”

Nein, nein. How silly. My name is Jürgen. I am visiting from Die Schwarzwald, the Black Forest, on a special mission. Thank you for not killing me," he lifted his head, then bowed gracefully toward Moose and Unicorn. "I am not a cottonmouth, in fact. I am a kingsnake. Not poisonous at all. I get this mistake all the time,” he lamented.

Unicorn and Moose both leaned down and looked very hard through their glasses. Yes, as they looked they could see he was indeed not the poisonous creature they thought. What they saw was a serious, intelligent being with a sharp wit and very shiny scales. They realized they must look closely at all situations; every situation has many facets. Stomping on Jürgen would be an irreversible, horrid mistake. Bigfoot reaffixed his scarf, looping it and drawing the ends through for a fresh look. Morning was coming and he felt a little frumpy from the night's adventure.

“Bigfoot understand. People see Bigfoot as mean. Bigfoot not mean. Bigfoot love all,” and he gave a peace sign to first Jürgen, then everybody else. Raccoon was the only one whom could return the gesture properly.

“Appearances can be deceiving, yessss?” Jürgen uncoiled himself and said, “Now, I have been sent here by the animal spirits. I cannot allow you two,” he shot his tongue out at Moose and Unicorn, “to cross this creek until you answer three very important questionssss.”

A bit odd, but it seemed harmless enough. After everything they had seen tonight, why not answer a few serpentine queries. Jürgen slithered away from the log, around Unicorn’s hooves, between Bigfoot’s feet and up onto a rock, still warm from yesterday’s heat. He rested too close to Raccoon for her comfort, so she backed away slowly and stood behind Bigfoot. She wasn't wearing Prada's magic glasses, so she couldn't see the strict, yet pure goodness in Jürgen's soul.

“Now, the questions I have will number three!” Jürgen started dramatically. “Answer them correctly and across the creek you shall be!” he rhymed proudly.

“Question the first!” Jürgen yelled, lifting his head off the rock.

“Why are you yelling?” Raccoon interrupted.

Entschuldigung! Will you please let me do my job?” he rolled his eyes at Raccoon; she did the same back at him. “Question the first!” he yelled again, then lowered his voice, "What did you see today?”

Moose and Unicorn looked at each other and then at their odd group. Unicorn shook her mane and dipped her horn a few times as she thought very hard; Moose leaned toward a tree and scraped his huge antlers against it, helping him think hard, too. After a moment of shaking, dipping and scraping they conferred in whispers. Unicorn spoke for them.

Unicorn stepped forward, as though to an invisible microphone to spell out a word at a national spelling bee, and replied simply, "Everything."

Jürgen stuck out his tongue twice and said, "Everything is an objective term, although I suppose I cannot argue with that. Well done. You have answered correctly."

Everyone cheered, then looked back to Jürgen and waited.

“Question the second!” he yelled, looking directly at Raccoon whom shrugged. “What did the magical glasses show you?”

Again, the shaking, dipping and scraping commenced. This one did not take as long to answer.

Unicorn stepped up majestically again and replied, "Everything is beautiful." She backed away from the invisible microphone, confident in her response.

"You are very smart animals. Well done. You have answered correctly."

Now the cheers were quieter; it was time to go home, if they answered this final question well.

“Question the third!” Jürgen yelled one last time, breaking the nervous quietude. “This is the last question. Answer it correctly and you may cross the creek.”

“Go on, then, Jürgen,” urged Raccoon. “I’m tired.”

Jürgen narrowed his eyes at Raccoon and turned back to Unicorn and Moose for the final question.

“How do you feel?”

There was no hemming and hawing over this answer; they both answered right away and in unison.

"Happy!"

"You may cross," Jürgen said simply.

The whole gang cheered and danced around. Jürgen's job was done here and he had to agree with Raccoon; he was tired. After all, he had been waiting there since yesterday for these two. The night had been so eventful that nobody even realized sunrise was coming. To the east, the sky began to turn a lovely grayish-white, the colour of grainy crystal.

Achtung!” Jürgen thought of one more thing and the dancing and cheering stopped immediately. “You will shapeshift back into your human forms as you cross back to the beach. Watch your hooves on the log. Your balance might be wonky during the change. Okay then,” he said with a yawn. “Bis spater, alligator. I am off to take a nap.”

As mysteriously as he appeared, Jürgen slithered away, slipping into the creek like an untended spoon sliding into a large bowl of broth.

Moose and Unicorn looked around at this odd group. The old aphorism, “Birds of a feather flock together”, was not always so true. This was a very strange grouping, to be sure. They had been so set on getting home, it never occurred to them that would have to say Goodbye to Bigfoot, that they might never see him or Dragon or Eagle ever again. A small tear began to trickle under Bigfoot’s sporty glasses.

“Hey! Bigfoot!" Moose suddenly thought. "You come with us across the creek to Bear Hug Cottage!”

Si, si! What a marvelous idea!” Unicorn cried. “Tutti, andiamo! Everyone can cross with us! Then we never have to say Goodbye!”

She and Moose danced an awkward, hoofy dance of happiness there by the edge of the creek, kicking and bucking and skipping for joy. Bigfoot, Raccoon, Dragon and Eagle all exchanged glances.

“You cross first. Log not strong enough for everyone,” Bigfoot said somberly.

Si, si, of course!” Unicorn agreed happily. “Andiamo, Lukas!”

“Yes, little ones,” Eagle said from his lofty tree branch. “Cross safely and we will all be with you.”

“Huzzah!” Moose and Unicorn cheered, not sensing Eagle’s more holistic message.

Carefully, Unicorn stepped onto the log, her hooves proving a little difficult at first. After she was a few steps ahead, Moose followed, his hooves larger and thus more difficult to maneuver. As they crossed and hit the halfway mark they started to feel different. They felt a funny tickle; they were in the midst of the shapeshift once again. They giggled as they crossed and Chiara laughed even harder when she felt her head, realizing she still had her horn. Lukas felt his head and found he still had his antlers and laughed as he almost toppled over, due to their now unbalanced weight. It was great fun and so silly looking! Before they hopped off the other end of the log, Unicorn stopped, suddenly worried, and turned back toward Bigfoot.

"Wait! What about our glasses? We forgot to give them back to the faeries!" she cried.

"Glasses belong to you. Always for you. You see everything, happy and beautiful always," Bigfoot said soundly.

Unicorn nodded and blew him a kiss, just as her horn disappeared. By the time they made it all the way across, the horn and antlers were gone, but their glasses remained: as clear and luminescent as the moment the faeries granted them with not a scratch, scuff or smudge on them.

Chiara and Lukas said nothing for a few moments. They were home. Standing on their beach, they could see the chimney smoke coming from their little cottage down the sand. Breakfast would be awaiting them. They stood in quiet, happy reflection, smelling their salt air and listening to the crash of their waves. Chiara turned toward the Deep Woods, ready to wave everyone across the log, when she saw Bigfoot tighten his scarf and bend down.

He flipped his scarf around the back of his neck, took a deep breath and with great strength he lifted the end of log high up in the air and pushed it over, so it landed straight in the creek and flowed with the current. Chiara and Lukas watched in disbelief as the log floated away, easily and quickly in the rushing waters. In a moment, it was gone from sight and eventually followed the creek all the way to the sea and vanished forever.

“Bigfoot not cross. We not cross. Too dangerous for us. Not all humans wear magic glasses. Maybe we meet again someday,” he said quietly, then adjusted his glasses, flipped his scarf back around, fluffed it so it looked nice and disappeared into the Deep Woods. In an instant everyone was gone.

Chiara felt her eyes begin to well, when she saw something flutter on the sand. It was a feather: a large, eagle feather. She picked it up and looked to the sky. There, far above the trees flew Dante Eagle and Anders Dragon. He sang her one final, high-pitched screech. She and Lukas understood; after all, they were now fluent in Woodland.

“Be not afraid when you have friends. Fret not when family is near. We will all always be with you,” Eagle sang as he and Dragon flew to the heavens.

Grazie, Eagle,” Chiara whispered and held the feather tight in her hand.

She took Lukas' hand in the other and they looked toward the Woods to watch the sun begin to rise. They lifted their glasses, looked at the world around them and returned them back to their proper positions on their wee noses. Everything was beautiful and they were very happy indeed. Hand in hand, they walked down their beach, squishing sand between their toes and breathing in the thick and briny, early morning, magical ocean mist as they headed home, to Bear Hug Cottage, family and a very warm, very yummy breakfast.


"Bigfoot Enchanted" (title and text) is property of Jennifer Susannah Devore and KIMedia, LLC. Excerpt may be shared digitally for entertainment,  non-commercial purposes only and may not be reprinted in analog format or sold in any format, digital, analog or otherwise.

 

 
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