The Gopher and the River

There was a time, before time, when trees remained green and flush year-round.  No one thought much of it.  Trees were trees, and though some wore big, ruffled leaves while others preferred thin, elegant needles, they didn’t change by the season as they do today.

In the great history books, one reads about causes and their effects.  A moment is usually chosen for greatness – a decision, an accident, a prayer.  Who would believe that the world’s face shifted forever at a single drop of water?  Yet it is so.

But no moment may happen alone.  This single drop, left behind by an underground river to thank a large stone for safe passage, fell after hovering suspended until its weight was too much, directly onto the unsuspecting nose of a very curious gopher.

Now most history books would choose to determine the gopher, Geyosh, to be the catalyst for the Great Change; and though he played a part, would that truly be a fair telling?  For without the single drop of water, none of this would have happened.

The river lived deep underground for she was shy, and her water was the sweetest nectar, full of nutrients and refreshment.  She called herself Nachalse, though she said it only in a whisper, so none were sure of the correct pronunciation.

Nachalse kept to herself as much as she could, safely under stone and rocks, in paths she knew by heart, carved patiently with the sole purpose of avoiding contact with anyone.  It was not from dislike of the world that she hid herself away, for she wished every day to be bold enough to roar into the open air and splash happily at birds and moss.  But the moment she neared anyone at all, her panic set in and she trembled deeper underground.

Those who encountered her by chance tended to drink too deeply for her liking, and she quietly skirted herself away from their embrace.  She knew not how sweet and cool her water was, and viewed herself as a mundane little trickle, too small and trivial for the world above.

Geyosh loved to dig and explore where no other gopher dared, nor cared to go.  He was a bold adventurer to his community, and though he was respected for his bravery, none joined him in his wanderings.  So he made many friends along his way and was well liked in all parts of the land, both above and below ground.

He also tried to do as many favors as he could for those he encountered in his journeys, removing pointed stones from tender roots, mediating squabbles between ant hills, telling bedtime stories to young earthworms about the amazing adventures he’d had, and the like.

One day, while Geyosh was busy adventuring, and our trembling drop of water could hold herself to the stone no longer, she came crashing down upon his unsuspecting nose.  Geyosh, licking away the surprise and finding new surprise in the sweet refreshing flavor, was enlivened suddenly to the loveliest mystery.  He asked the stone above about the source of this delight, but as we all know, stones are the very best secret keepers on this sphere.  No amount of his gopher charm could convince the stone to tell.  He sniffed around after Nachalse, but she had dedicated eons to the art of disappearance, and was not traceable.

Doomed to curiosity, Geyosh returned to the surface and asked all he encountered whether they had ever tasted the pure water of the secretive stream.  To his surprise, he found that while none had personally tasted Nachalse’s sweet waters, all had some recollection or another of myths told around drought circles, to pass the time, of a mythical subterranean stream whose healing waters could nourish one into eternity if one could convince her to stay – but according to hereditary legend, none had.

This was just the sort of challenge Geyosh loved most.  He set out immediately, for while the trees and flowers and gophers and ants and worms above traded stories from their favorite myths, he had tasted purity and knew that no matter what had been invented for lore, somewhere below was the truth, meandering silently underground.

Guessing at Nachalse’s preference for privacy, he followed every rock tunnel he found, for stones neither drink nor tell.  He asked bats in caves when he ran across them, and begged stone after stone for even a small clue.  But neither the bats nor the stones were of any help… or so he thought.

Several stones who had become fond of Nachalse told her of her pursuing gopher and asked whether she should like him crushed when next he visited.  Nachalse had never ended even the smallest life, though she was certainly powerful enough to disregard those who came in her way.  Always, though, she deposited any unfortunate being who faced danger at her flow safely out of harm’s way before moving on.  So she protested deeply to the notion of doing harm to this gopher, no matter who he was or what his aims.

For fear that some of her more impulsive stone friends might take matters on without consulting her first, Nachalse set out to find Geyosh.  This was not difficult, for the stones were more than happy to help her after so many millennia of friendship.

She followed Geyosh’s progress for days, channeling herself into circles, for she moved so much faster than he did.  Finally, she built up the courage to speak to him, though safely through a thin wall of a very old stone friend.

“Small being, why do you chase me?” she asked, in her soft, soft whisper.

Geyosh was not sure what he had just heard.  He leaned his ear close to the stone beside him, where he faintly detected her rushing past.  Nachalse repeated her question a little louder.

“Oh beautiful river,” he cried, “I seek you because you are the purest water in all the world.  Earthworms tell of soil infused by your gentle essences when they put their children to bed.  Trees sway gracefully in the wind and sing of your virtue.  I, a humble gopher, tasted a single drop and am forever smitten.  I follow you out of love.”

“Love?” asked Nachalse, puzzled, “Love is a stone offering itself to be carved slowly over a thousand years to allow one safe passage.  Love is air breathing on you so you may live.  Love is gravity never failing to call you home, though it takes all her might and she may never rest.  You taste but a drop of me and you speak of love?”

This was a little more challenging than Geyosh had expected.  “I can’t compete with the ageless stones or the air,” replied he, “whose virtue I depend on for my life; nor gravity, who holds me fast as well with her endless strength; for my life is a single, momentary spark compared to such beings.  But I do speak of love, and would deliver the world to you, if you asked it.”

“The world?” she said breathlessly, for of all things it was the world she most wanted.  “Oh yes,” she said, “The world would do.”

This was, of course, not the answer poor Geyosh had hoped to hear.  Gulping, he asked, “How would my lady prefer the world to be delivered?”

Nachalse was silent for so long, Geyosh feared she had left.  But after carefully considering his question, she heaved a heavy sigh.

“Oh, I’m not cut out for the world,” she said.  “I am so afraid.  They would all look at me and laugh, and throw their garbage into me.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen, my sweet,” protested Geyosh, and he was then struck with an inspiration.  “Where do you go when you want to see the sky and the night stars?” he asked.

“It has been many hundreds of years since I saw the stars,” replied Nachalse.  “There is a stone path that shoots me out into the open air and lets me fall into the earth again at the bottom of his cliff.  There I used to have the courage to gasp the world for a moment.  But I have since lost such courage.”

If you tell me where this cliff is,” said Geyosh, “I shall prepare the way for you.  And you will see how the world adores you.”

“Ah,” breathed Nachalse, “if you can do that, that is indeed love.”

She led him to the caverns deep beneath her cliff.  “Farewell, my dear,” he said, bitter to part with her even for a moment, “I shall need a little time to prepare everything.  Summer draws to a close soon.  When the cool airs come, but well before the freeze, glide out into the air and you will have the world.  Farewell.”

Geyosh scurried up and up and up, and at last he reached the tender roots of an old maple.  He told his old friend how he had traveled the deepest reaches of the Earth and there found the mystical river of legend.  He bade his old friend ready himself, discard his damaged leaves, stretch a little toward the stars, put on a new, thick layer of bark; for she was to reemerge at the turn of the chill.

“I can do better,” replied the maple, “come back in a week and you’ll see.”

Word spread quickly around the cliff, and all donned their very best.  The animals grew thick, glossy coats to appear full and healthy for Nachalse.  Ants built their nests sturdy and deep.  Squirrels gathered hordes of rich nuts to show their wealth.

But the trees – oh the trees!  When Geyosh returned to the cliff after spreading word far and wide, he could scarcely breathe for the shock.  The forest had become a blanket of jewels, richer than any subterranean cave of glistening crystal.  It was as if every towering tree had caught fire without a lick of flame.

“Oh, you have done it!” he cried.

The trees were very proud of themselves, but they had used all of their energy to put on their display, and they explained that they could only hold their color briefly before they would need to rest through the winter.

“Oh no!” moaned Geyosh, for Nachalse may not come for another moon or so.  The trees agreed to hold on for as long as they could while Geyosh searched for her.  In his heart, though, he knew that he would not find her until she was ready to be found.  Desperate, he appealed to the cliff, though he knew that none but Nachalse could get stones to speak.

“Dignified majesty,” he said, “I am but a lowly gopher at your feet and a flicker before your great age.  But I beg your help.  I have prepared the forest and the creatures before you in the hope of proving to the beautiful river Nachalse that the world welcomes her, but the trees cannot hold their color long.  Will you help me to locate her so she may see?”

A deep, rumbling chuckle sent pebbles upon Geyosh’s head, worrying him more than a little.

“There is no need,” croaked the cliff face, “I have watched your work here and have hummed to my brothers and sisters tales of the beauty you brought before me.  Nachalse is below, and has listened to all of my creaky old songs.  She is ready to see for herself.”

Nachalse burst into the air in a beautiful arc, crashing passionately at the base of the cliff, and the air vibrated with her misty gasp of joy.  She splashed playfully at the trees and she laughed a vibrant, melodious laugh, then she sank slowly back into the rock.  The last words they heard before she disappeared were, “I understand love afresh!  Thank you, gems of the air!  Enjoy your sleep and drink deeply.  I shall return to see you again.”  She left behind a gift – a small pool of purest water for the animals to drink and the thirsty roots to absorb.

Year after year Nachalse kept her promise, and year after year more trees used the best of their energy to grow fuller and taller in preparation, and as the cold airs set in before the freeze, they used the last of their strength to produce a mighty show of color.  They taught this to their children, and to their grandchildren, for so many generations that few now remember why it began.

It is said that Geyosh went to live deep underground, and was seen only occasionally in various caverns of stone, where he would stop to visit and share stories of his many adventures, always with the sound of rushing water somewhere nearby.

Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com.  This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure.  Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell a friend – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure.  Thanks!

from the far side of dreams

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