Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 7, 2014 - The Elusive Lady Slipper

I suppose I ought to tell you the tale of how the lady slipper flower came to be.  There once was an old cobbler and his wife who had tried to have a baby for a very long time, but luck never seemed to shine on them.  Finally, when the woman was much older and thought beyond childbearing, she learned she would have a child.  She and her husband were beside themselves with happiness.  Now this all took place in a part of the world where people were exceedingly poor, but even so this man and woman were always known for their kindness and generosity toward others.  Not only did they freely give to their neighbors, but the woman always made sure that fresh milk was left out for the fairies, even if she and her husband had to do without.

And so it came about that she had the child, and never were parents more delighted.  But the baby girl soon fell very ill, and there was nothing the midwife could do.  On an evening that looked like it might be her last, she was kissed by her mother and father and placed in her cradle.  When her father left the room, her mother took the pair of old iron scissors that had been placed beneath the cradle and buried them deep within a drawer.  She never told her husband, for she knew how angry he would be.  Sure enough, during the night, the fairies came and took the child and left a changeling in her place.  Back in their world, they had magic medicines that could cure the human child, but because they loved the woman so much for her kindness and could not bear to see her sorrow, they left her one of their own children in her child's place.  This, of course, the woman knew and it is why she removed the scissors in the first place, for fairies will not leave a changeling where iron scissors have been left in the open.

In the morning, the tiny fairy baby delighted her parents with her health, and though the man thought her appearance to be a bit odd, he never said a word to his wife for she seemed so happy.  The child grew quickly and was the love of her parents' life, but oddly enough, she would never leave the cottage where they lived.  One day her father insisted, but when he brought her outdoors and set her in the grass, she let out a terrible howl and ran back into the house.  Upon examination, burns were found all over her tiny feet.  Her father was terribly distressed and apologized profusely, and she kissed him so sweetly that he determined he would make special shoes that would fit her tiny little feet so that she could run in the grass without getting any burns.  So he set to work and made beautiful pink little slippers for her, which she wore everywhere with joy and pride, and now her days were filled with the wonder and beauty of the outdoors.  Her father's eyes filled with tears as he watched her playing in the fields.

But time marched on as time will do, and soon her parents were very old.  Because she was a fairy, she was still just a young child, and this worried the other villagers until they shunned the man and woman, afraid of the fairy changeling.  One night, the men all came with pitchforks to drive the old couple and the fairy away.  They came so quickly upon the house that the man and woman and their fairy child had no time to think but had to flee immediately.  They left without the changeling's slippers and fled into the forest while the villagers burned their house down.  Soon the changeling could go no further due to severe burns on her feet.  She kissed the tears from the faces of her loving parents and disappeared into a wisp of smoke, never to be seen again.

Her parents, old though they were, built a tiny cottage in the forest away from the cruel villagers, and there they stayed for the remainder of their days.  Shortly before the woman died, she took an old pair of iron scissors and buried them at the base of a pine tree.  She never told her husband of this.  In the Spring, lo and behold, little pink flowers grew and spread through the forest, favoring only pine trees.  Each flower looked like a tiny little slipper, and her father cried with joy and longing when he saw them.  After he died and the years passed, the pink slipper flowers grew and spread everywhere, always under pine trees.  To this day, you will find them under pines, although now they are almost as elusive as fairies themselves.  If you are lucky enough to find them, you may still hear the fairy child laughing and delighting in the forest.

(The lady slipper flower is a protected flower in many areas.  Once common, it is now rare due to loss of habitat.)

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