Photo by Jon Sullivan
The Moss Girl gazed out from the outcrop of rocks into the clearing where the stream sparkled and the silver birches laughed in the breeze, swinging their silky green hair over the water. She saw the beeches behind them, the tree cover thickening slightly away from the glade. She felt the old stones beneath her, the skeleton to her skin, heard the soft music of the flighted and the sunlit air, and the quiet awe of the people who wandered through commenting on the beauty of the water, the trees, the flowers that danced through the grass. It saddened her that she did not have the grace of the birches and their sisters, the ash, the musical voice of the air or the bees, the colourful clothes of the starflowers and campion and buttercups, or the clarity and brilliance of the water which threw diamonds and jewels all around. She did not have the ancient stillness of the rocks or the old wisdom of the beech and oaks, the shimmering loveliness of the leaves, or the radiance of the sun and moon. She felt unseen amongst nature, unnoticed and unimportant.
In the quiet of the early morning she would rise to join the dance with the tree sylphs, and they would encourage her, whirl around her and whisper ‘Well done, little sister.’ But they were taller and more elegant than she, light as air, and try as she might she could never keep up. She rose in the night to follow the naiads as they skipped and skated along the stream, and they would call to her ‘Join us, little sister.’ But they were quicker and stronger than she, streamlined and sleek in the water, and she was always left behind.
One night, when the moon was full and the glade gleamed softly in the light, it all became too much for the Moss Girl. She knelt by the brook, watching the naiads leaping from the silvered surface and the sylphs gliding amongst the tree trunks, and felt completely bereft. Salt tears slipped down her face and into the water and onto the ground, and the naiads came to her and said ‘Don’t weep, little sister, for your tears will turn our stream into sea and we will have to leave.’ And the sylphs came to her and said ‘Don’t weep, little sister, for your tears will salt the earth and our trees will not grow and we will have to leave.’ So the Moss Girl returned to her place and curled up into a ball and wept onto the rocks where she would cause no harm.
She did not know how long she cried but finally she became aware of movement, a shifting and creaking and grinding behind her. She sat up quickly, unsure of what was happening, facing the rocks on which she made her home. There was a rippling in the surface and gradually a figure began to emerge, pulling out of the very rocks themselves. A stillness fell over the glade – the naiads slowed and came to rest at the edge of the stream, and the sylphs returned to their trees, standing silently beside them. The Moss Girl drew herself into the smallest space she could, and all but disappeared into her soft green dress.
The figure shook herself loose from the outcrop and moved forward, stretching. The Moss Girl hid her face, recognising the power of one of the most ancient spirits. The Stone Mother rarely appeared in person – she, like the others of her kind, was usually there as a presence only. For her to corporealise indicated that there was something of great importance happening, and the Moss Girl wanted to stay out of the way. So she was surprised when she felt a hand on her head, stroking her soft green hair.
‘Why are you crying, little one?’ The voice was deep and resonant, felt through the bones of the earth.
‘Oh Mother, it is nothing important,’ said the Moss Girl, horrified that she had taken the Mother’s attention away from her duties.
‘But it is important,’ the Stone Mother disagreed. ‘When one of us weeps as you are now, it affects us all.’
‘But I have no worth,’ said the Moss Girl. ‘I am plain, not beautiful like the flowers, and clumsy, not graceful like the trees, and dull, not brilliant like the naiads. I help no one, I please no one.’
The Stone Mother took the Moss Girl’s face in her hands and turned it toward her.
‘Everyone and everything has its worth, child, but it should not be measured against others. You look out and see the beauty in all around you, but you have forgotten how to see it in yourself. That is why I am here – to remind you of what you truly are. Look into my eyes and you’ll see what I see.’
The Moss Girl did as she was told and looked into the Stone Mother’s large dark eyes. She could see pictures forming and watched in amazement as the glade took shape. She saw herself cushioning the rocks, the sunlight illuminating her in all shades of green, from deepest emerald to palest jade. She saw the many tiny creatures that made their home amongst the roots she sent down and in the shade and the shelter that she provided. She saw the birds taking bits of her loose hair to line their nests ready for their young. And she saw people walking through, some of whom reached out to touch her appreciatively, and one or two who sat down to rest cocooned in her softness.
The Moss Girl’s tears dried and she began to smile.
‘You see now, my daughter,’ the Stone Mother said. ‘We all have our place and our importance, from the greatest tree to the tiniest insect, from the most colourful butterfly to the plainest blade of grass. Never forget that you are a part of the great cycle and never doubt yourself again.’
‘Thank you, Mother, I will always remember,’ the Moss Girl replied.
The Stone Mother returned her smile. Then she cast that smile to all in the glade before returning to the rocks from whence she had come. Moments later, it was as if she had never been there at all.
But the Moss Girl was forever changed. No longer feeling unworthy and second best, she danced her own dance with the naiads and the sylphs from then on.