The Animal Tales! • The Fourteenth of Several Fables

14. Better Idle
A Fable That Follows: One Part Genius

Fox C ~ Fox Gets the Goose (Block Print)All day, the farmer muttered to himself: “If not this then that, not that then this.” Maybe the fox had the right idea: easier to steal chickens than raise them. “Ol’ Jack Smith took a few unwarranted shots at me!” Then he said to himself: “Jack owes me some chickens for that! Aye!” The farmer went that night and stole four of Jack Smith’s chickens. The next morning he slept late and so didn’t notice when Smith’s wife came for advice as to how foil a fox.

When the farmer returned the next night, he soon heard Jack Smith’s wife at the door of the coop. He leapt onto the nearest shelf. “Well, well, well,” she said, “you all look like chickens but I see that one has lost his feathers. Are you ill?” The wife took the chicken by his nose, squeezed until he opened his mouth and poured some castor oil down his throat. “That will help!” she said. Once she left, the wretched farmer staggered out of the chicken coop, coughing and choking. “Such a racket!” said Jack Smith’s wife and she came out of the farmhouse.

When she saw the fat old chicken doubled over in front of the coop, she took a rug beater from the laundry line. “Can’t stand up straight?” she asked. “You need to improve your circulation!” Then she whacked him on the behind with the rug beater. Off he ran, and old Jack Smith’s wife followed him as far as the barnyard fence. “Now you’ll lay a good egg or two!” she called after him. The next morning the farmer sat uncomfortably on the porch. “Will you be hatching any new plans, husband?” his wife asked sweetly.

“Humph!” he answered irritably. “Better idle than ill-employed.”

On the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

  • I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been working on a novel that takes place in Vermont. Anyone who wishes to read it, in progress, is welcome to E-Mail me. The novel will have some poetry in it, some fables and whatever else makes a good story. For lack of anything better, I’ve posted this first fable. I wrote it this morning. Eventually it might make its way into the novel. I’m not an artist, nothing like my wife, but I’ve thrown in my drawings for the fun of it. Edit: I shamed my wife into giving me one quick drawing. Enjoy.

A Fable on the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

There was once a well-respected Soothsayer who lived by a brook. He fished in the brook and every morning returned with something to eat. Every day children, old wives, girls and young men visited him seeking advice and notions of the future. The soothsayer always told the truth and what the soothsayer foretold always came true. As a small matter, fortune telling is an idle thing; but the future is devilish and full of trickery.

Children, among the wisest fortune seekers, forget what they’re told, but the soothsayer’s reputation spread and those with the least forethought were the most eager to foresee. The soothsayer had two visitors. The first was a young man in search of a wife. The second was personage of very great importance.

The young man came to the soothsayer first and was told a very peculiar fortune. The soothsayer said: You must be willing. You must find the tulip that blossoms at the bottom of the lake. You must pay no mind to anything else. You must pull it up by the roots. You must not let go. If you do as I tell you, your wife will fall out of the sky and into your arms.

The young man left as despondent as he came. Such a ridiculous fortune could not possibly come true.

The second visitor was a very important mayor of a very important town. He came to the soothsayer seeking advice. He said to the soothsayer: I am assured that few personages of equal importance have come to you. The Soothsayer, who was fishing at the moment, assured him that no one like the mayor had ever visited. The mayor, who was naturally complimented by the soothsayer’s remark, at once troubled the soothsayer for a fortune.

The soothsayer said: There will be a very great rain storm. The waters will flood your village until only the weathercocks, at the very tops of your houses, stand above water. The portly mayor’s face turned red and his eyes bulged. ‘When,’ he sputtered, ‘when will this terrible storm arrive?’ The soothsayer tossed his hook back into the brook and answered: in four weeks and two days.

The mayor hurried back to his town and, having considered the problem thoroughly, immediately announced that the village, built in a comfortable valley beside a gurgling brook, must be moved to the top of the hill. Now it just so happened that there was already someone living atop the hill – a beautiful girl with a tidy garden.

When the the mayor and the townspeople came to her, she would not let them touch her garden, especially because the garden was where her favorite tulip bloomed every spring. A horrible argument ensued but the girl, hands on her hips, stood her ground. So did the indignant tulip.

This piqued the mayor because the tulip was exactly where he wished to build himself a statue. He decided that once he had saved the townspeople, they would see the wisdom in building him a fine statue. In the meantime the mayor ordered that the town, with its cobblestone streets and crowded little houses built one next to the other so that each leaned on the other, be built around the girl’s shed and garden.

He also order that a great wall be built around the town. By means of the wall, the town would be protected by the great flood. The crafty stone masons built the wall as tightly as the hull of a boat. By the fourth week and the first day, the town was finished and the one gate through the watertight wall was shut. The girl and the tulip paid no mind to any of it.

On the fourth week and the second day, the terrible storm began, but a very strange thing happened. The gurgling brook merrily carried the rain away but, in the town atop the hill, there was nowhere for the water to go. The town, with its high walls, turned into a great big bathtub. Since the wall was just as high as the topmost roof, the town filled with water until only the weathercocks were dry – just as the soothsayer had foretold. Outwitting the future is a devilish and tricky thing.

The tulip thought it a very strange thing to be at the bottom of a lake, but once the sun came out and its light filtered gaily to the very bottom, the tulip blossomed. There is a time for tulips to blossom and the affairs of men and weather are of very little concern to tulips.

It just so happened that the young man, in search of just such a tulip, had come looking for the girl who knew a thing or two about tulips. Imagine his surprise when he found, not a girl, a garden, or a tulip, but the walls of a town. Taking off his boots, he climbed the wall; and imagine his surprise when he saw a lake fall of weathercocks, one after the other, drying in the noonday sun.

Could the girl, the garden, and the tulip be at the bottom of the lake?

He took off his socks and dove into the water. He swam to the very middle and dove straight downward. He passed the girl who was floating upward, like the townspeople, as surprised as anyone to be at the bottom of a lake. The girl was beautiful but the soothsayer had told him to pay no mind to anything but the tulip. The young man swam to the tulip. He pulled and the harder he pulled, the harder the tulip’s roots clung to the earth.

He pulled and he pulled. One by one the roots let go until, all at once – and all but for one little root with which the indignant tulip refused to let go – the water began to pour out of the hole that was left behind. But this was of little concern to the tulip. A mighty struggle ensued. The tulip clung to its patch of earth with its one root as the young man clung to the tulip for dear life. Down went the water. Down went one townsman after another, then the horses, then the carriages, then houses and all in the great big whoosh of a whirlpool.

The tulip was never so indignant, all the while thinking the young man was trying to pull it up. But all he was trying to do was save himself.

Finally, everything but the town’s walls and the girl had been swept into the hole. At the last minute, the young man put the tulip back into the hole, like a cork in the drain of a tub, and caught the girl just before she also fell into the hole. It was as if she had fallen out of the sky for, indeed, she had been floating above him the whole time. The girl looked at the young man and the young man looked at the girl, and they fell in love, and in just a little while they were married. The young man decided that as long as one is willing, wonderful things can happen in the most unexpected ways.

He and his wife took down the walls. They made a fence around the tulip – who had entirely forgotten the whole affair – and lived happily in their shed next to the garden.

The Animal Tales! • The Thirteenth of Several Fables

13. One Part Genius
A Fable that follows: Better Nothing for Thanks

The fox soon ate more chickens. The farmer could not bear it. “Genius is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration!” he bellowed. “Then you shall sweat yourself out of all nine parts!” his wife shot back. “And we shall see!” answered the farmer. “I’ll have his skin and you shall make me a hat!” Then neither spoke again but ignored each other, like bad neighbors with a good fence.

That evening the farmer went to his neighbor. (If he couldn’t catch a fox, he’d fool his wife, at least.) The farmer thought he’d seen the neighbor’s nose before (a little long) but he said anyway: “I’ve come to buy a fox’s pelt from you.” “I just happen to have one!” answered the neighbor. “What will you want for it?” asked the farmer. “I wouldn’t mind if your wife cooked my six chickens.” “It’s a bargain!” said the farmer. The farmer put on the fox’s pelt and the neighbor took his chickens to be cooked by the farmer’s wife.

After the neighbor ate his chickens and was gone, the farmer burst in. He was sweating from head to foot and pale as a June tomato. “That was the fox you cooked for!” said the farmer. “And where have you been?” asked his wife. “Why I’ll tell you! Jack Smith’s been shooting at me this whole night!” “And why would he do that?” asked his wife. “‘Cause that fox stole Jack’s chickens!” “I swear!” his wife snorted. “And what were you dressed like a fox for?”

Then she said,

“Stupidity is nine parts perspiration and one part inspiration!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: Better Idle

The Animal Tales! • The Twelfth of Several Fables

12. Better Nothing for Thanks 

A Fable that follows: In the Mouth

Luckily for the fox, he caught the topmost branch of the apple tree. There he hung, the branch between his teeth, his bushy tail whim to the breeze. The geese atop the chicken coop saw where the fox was. They were so overwrought that all they could do was gaggle senselessly and point at the apple tree. “What a racket!” said the farmer testily. “Hush up before I stew the lot of you!”

Humph!” said the geese indignantly. They would be subtler. They waddled through the barnyard. “Bad year!” they said. “Yes Sir! A bad year for apples!” “Very, very bad!” they said. “Such ugly apples!” they said. “Like a corncob with ears!—like potatoes with feet!—like a pumpkin with a nose!” the geese went on yammering.

By day’s end the geese were fed up. They hatched a plan. They took the farmer’s pitch fork, all of them carrying a length of it, then stood each on each others’ shoulders. They poked the fox’s behind with the end of the pitch fork. “Yip!” Down came the fox atop the geese. “Snarl! Snip!” snapped the fox! “Honk! Honk!” honked the geese. When the animals saw what the geese had done they muttered: “A foxed goose or a goosed fox, take your pick.” The geese, having narrowly escaped with their lives, humphed and clicked, grumbling sourly,

“Better nothing for thanks than nothing to be thankful for.”

 

Be it known that this fable is followed by: One Part Genius

The Animal Tales! • The Eleventh of Several Fables

11. In the Mouth

A fable that follows: The Higher the Horse

Fox & the FarmGirl“You shouldn’t have got out that cider,” said the farmer’s wife. “That horse shouldn’t have drunk it,” the farmer answered. “You’ll regret selling her,” she said. That evening, a neighbor stopped by having a very long snout. (The fox meant to get rid of that horse.) “Hello, Farmer,” he said, “I’ll take that horse off your hands for six chickens!”

“You will not!” interrupted the farmer’s wife. “Sold!” insisted the farmer, and he gave the fox six chickens and the horse. “A bargain if there ever was one!” said the farmer. The fox was no fool, though. He sniffed at the horse’s mouth just to be sure she hadn’t been drinking that cider! All the while, that horse knew perfectly well it was the fox.

As soon as the fox climbed atop her she reared and ran round and around the barn. The fox let go of the chickens one by one. Then she ran faster and faster until the fox’s hat blew off, followed by his petticoat, his breaches and his socks until his bushy tail all but gave him away. The horse kicked and the fox tumbled into the air. The farmer’s wife smiled archly.

“Never look a miffed horse in the mouth!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: Better Nothing for Thanks

The Animal Tales! • The Tenth of Several Fables

10. The Higher the Horse

A fable that follows: No Death Worse

Fox & Hunter“Fox, fox fox!” said the farmer, disgusted.  “I’ll chase him down!”  Out he went one day and bought the fastest race horse he could find. The farmer’s wife doted on the horse, feeding her apples and cabbage. The very next day, and the day after that, the farmer almost caught the fox. “Ha!” said the farmer. “I have outwitted that fox! Me! Don’t talk to me about how to catch a fox!”

The farmer was so pleased with himself that he pulled out two barrels of old cider to celebrate. The fox was in no mood to celebrate. A week without chickens! He knocked over the two barrels when the farmer wasn’t looking and the horse drank every last drop.  Never did a horse have such a head-ache! And that night, when the farmer leapt atop her, bellowing for her to chase the fox, she gave such a kick that she sent the farmer straight through the barn roof.

As luck would have it, the seat of the farmer’s pants caught the topmost branch of the apple tree.  The animals came and went the next morning. “Such an ugly apple,” they said. “Like a pear with pants.” “It will be a bad year for apples,” said the farmer’s wife. “Don’t you think so, husband?” The animals saw the lesson a little more clearly.

“The higher your horse, the harder its kick.”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: In the Mouth

Another Poet & Children’s Writer

Just noticed a new netizen blogger – Karin Gustafson. I like her for three reasons. First, she writes traditional poetry, which is to say, she tests herself against the disciplines of rhyme, meter and form.  Second, she writes children’s stories. Subway SonnetI do too. In fact, I have a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. So.. I really do like this art form. Third, she writes fun posts and has the same last name as a favorite high school teacher (way back when). Her latest post is Subway Sonnet (as of Sept. 24, 2009).

She dispenses with meter, but almost keeps to the rhyme scheme of the typical Shakespearean Sonnet. What she experiments with (which is why I say almost to the rhyme scheme) is the number of lines. She adds a fifteenth “half line” to the sonnet. It’s only nominally a “half line”, since there’s no meter in the poem. If she had written the poem using Iambic Pentameter, for example, a half line, conventionally, would be Iambic Trimeter. As it is, the sonnet could either be a modified Shakespearean Sonnet (both because of the extra line and because there’s no meter) or a nonce sonnet (which is simply what you refer to a poem whose form is unique to the poem and the poem’s author). Here are the last lines:

Today, I’m by the sea,
and water, vaster than pools, sparkles
under light so immense it cannot be
broken down for parts, yet its particles
raise up the non-molecular part
of me, what refuses to lose heart,
no matter–

The sonnets volta (which not all sonnets have) is her shift between yesterday and today, between observation and a sort of philosophical summing up. Also, check out her sonnet Post-Eden, it’s quite good. As with the sonnet above, she dispenses with meter, but unlike that sonnet she retains the rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean Sonnet (there’s no half line).

For a poem written in 8 line stanzas of four rhyming couplets, check her post: The Burden of Specialness – Firely. She’s a new blogger. 1 MississippiShe’s a good poet. And did I mention she writes for children? A book she wrote and illustrated was published by Backstroke Books, called 1 Mississippi. So, if you’re looking for poetry, take a look at her blog. If you have kids learning to read, try out her book.

One last thing, if you love Robert Pattinson, the painfully soul-drenched vampire of Twilight, you will find a soul-mate in Gustafson. (She can be forgiven, my wife was also smitten by the smolder.)

I love Robert Pattinson.  I also love Walt Whitman, W.B. Yeats and Virginia Woolf, so please don’t judge me too harshly.   Though I’ve actually been quite amazed by my love for Pattinson.  It is not just his looks (okay, it’s his looks), but also an inherent, seeming, sweetness.   The casual smile, upturned lips, harassed hair, truly harassed self.

The Animal Tales! • The Ninth of Several Fables

9. No Death Worse

A fable that follows: What’s Sweetest

Fox & Cooked GooseThe wolf paced atop the hill. “Why should the fox eat well and not me?” After some thought he went to the magpie with a plan. The magpie would distract the farmer’s wife with talk while the wolf ate chickens. “What should I say?” the magpie wondered, trying one subject after another. The wolf answered: “That would do…” or “Yes, that will work…” or “That’s a very good subject…”; but ideas, for the magpie, were like fish out of water, impossible to hold.

The farmer’s wife heard the magpie halfway to the farmyard and well warned, she planned a little surprise. “I think I shall smoke ham today!” When the magpie arrived later, she found the farmer’s wife at laundry. She straightaway struck up a conversation with the woman as the wolf snuck into the coop.

Ham hung from the ceiling! The wolf jumped and jumped and jumped! The ham was strung too high and worse!—the coop was filling with smoke and worse!—the door had locked behind him! When the magpie finally returned to coop, she gabbed and gabbed about her gab with the farmer’s wife. How the wolf sweat! All night long he sweat and sweat as the magpie gabbed and gabbed! And the next morning, when the magpie finally thought to open the door, half the wolf had been smoked away! The animals shook their heads and said,

“No death worse than talked to death!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: The Higher the Horse

The Animal Tales! • The Eighth of Several Fables

8. What’s Sweetest

A fable that follows: Cooked Goose

Juniper's Dog“I’m fed up!” said the goat. “Why should a horse get oat and barley? Clearly” he said to the dog, “the horse eats best.”

“Well… to every path its puddle,” answered the dog, speaking from experience. “Humph!” said the goat dismissively.

“Advice from a dog!” And so, that night, the goat snuck into the mare’s stall.  Before sunrise  (before there was enough light to know better) the farmer’s wife came out to feed and hitch the mare to the wagon.

“You feel thin, Bessy!” she said and she poured out a can of oat and barley. The goat ate several cans that way. But fortune frowned on the goat. The harness came next! “Why Bessy!” she said, tightening the harness, “you’re thin as a goat!” “Oof!” said the goat. Not until they were before the church did the first light of day reveal the poor goat!

The neighbors laughed themselves crooked. Church was canceled, the pastor saying: “There shall be no mirth before God!” The farmer and his wife dutifully frowned all the way home. The parched goat drank the farmyard dry and the barley in his belly plumped like a balloon. For two days that goat lay on his side. His rightward hooves pointed to heaven, the other hooves to the other place. His belly bloated for all the world between! “Ha!” said the other animals, “the lesson’s clear.

“What’s sweetest is soonest bitter!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: What’s Sweetest

The blockprint is by my daughter Juniper, Age 8.

The Animal Tales • The Seventh of Several Fables

7. Cooked Goose

A fable that follows: Greener Grass

The dog smarted from the fox’s tricks. So the dog spent the day studying the lives of the other animals and after much hind- and little fore-thought, he decided the goose led the best life. Fox & Cooked GooseIt did not wallow in mud. It did not have to pull the plow or the carriage. And it did not eat trash like the goat. And so the dog curled up with the geese that night, the same night the farmer’s wife thought her pillow seemed thin.

“I’ll be going to get some feathers tonight,” she said. “Nah,” said the farmer, “we’ll cook a goose tomorrow.” “I’ll just take a wingtip feather,” she answered, and out she went. She felt, in the dark for the softest feather.“Now that’s the feather!” she said when she found the dog’s tail. She yanked hard and merrily. “YELP!”  The dog took flight! “Humph! What an odd goose!” said the farmer’s wife and returned to bed.
As luck would have it, the dog leapt into the apple tree and  hung there by his mouth, afraid to let go. The animals came and went the next morning. “Such an ugly apple!” they said. “Like a plum with teeth!” said others. “Didn’t I say it would be a bad year for apples?” asked the farmer’s wife as she plucked a goose for cooking. When anyone came near, the dog abruptly wagged his tail (to keep it from being plucked again!) and does so to this day! Finally the dog tumbled out of the tree.

“Humph!” said he. “Better a dirty dog than a cooked goose!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: What’s Sweetest: The Eighth of Several Fables!