Chapter 1 – Jimmy and GGpa go fishing
“What kind of moss is this, GGpa?” Jimmy Kindred asked, holding
up a swag that looked like it might have come from GGpa’s beard.
GGpa looked at the mottled swatch, laughed and then turned serious.
“That’s a gnome hobgoblin. You see its teeth?” he asked as he pulled in his fishing line from Hidden Creek.
“I don’t see any teeth. Where are they?” Jimmy said examining the gray-green foliage.
“Careful, they’ll bite,” GGpa cautioned clicking his own teeth.
“Awe, GGpa, you’re teasing,” Jimmy returned.
“You’re smarter than paint, Jimmy,” GGpa laughed removing the bait from Jim’s hook. “That’s Spanish moss.”
“How come there’s so much of it?” Jimmy asked fingering a strand of the soft stuff hanging from an alder tree.
“Cause… the forest elves cultivate it.”
“Ah, GGpa! Quit it!” Jimmy retorted.
“Well, Jimmy me lad,” GGpa said, “Mosses like damp and rain. You can bet they like it here on Rainy Mountain. We get enough the wet stuff here, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah, it rains a lot,” Jimmy agreed grinning.“… but I like rain, too. Does that mean I’m moss?”
GGpa laughed. “You like rain, do you? Rain running over your head, down your face and the back of your neck, soaking your clothes… ruining your shoes… How come you like it?”
“I guess I must be a gobhobler too,” Jimmy chuckled examining the patch of sphagnum moss on a nearby fallen tree.
GGpa laughed too. “Gnome hobgoblin… You better get that straight. They don’t like to be called out of their name.”
“Gnome hobgoblins…” Jimmy said wrapping his fish line around his pole.
“Here, carry the bucket,” GGpa said handing Jimmy the pail and hoisting the backpack onto his shoulders. “I’ll bring the rest.” He began the hike down the mountain. Over his shoulder he called, “Tell GGma you caught them.”
“She knows better,” Jimmy said following GGpa.
He stopped at some swags of moss hanging from an aging hemlock. “I’ll call this bunch, Harry Gnome,” he said to the shaggy plants.
Dull, bluish teeth seemed to be snarling at him through curled lips, and two dark gray eyes followed his movements. A shudder of fear shot through him. He quickly skipped ahead to catch up with GGpa.
Jimmy followed GGpa along the trail that snaked its way north along Hidden Creek toward the Junction of Water Hole and Mehl Creek roads where GGpa and GGma’s mobile home sat on a narrow plot of ground over-looking the Umpqua River just west of Elkton, Oregon. Sometimes GGpa took Jimmy fishing in the Umpqua’s swift, pristine water that meandered to the Pacific Ocean 40 miles west.
But, they both preferred hiking up Hidden Creek or driving GGpa’s gray pickup up Camp Creek Road to fish in Camp Creek. The crystal clear creek gathered its waters from the north watershed of Rainy Peak nestled in the mountains of Oregon’s Coastal Range.
Jimmy’s parents also lived in Elkton – across the river about three miles northeast of GGpa’s place. Their comfortable bungalow sat on the west side of 3rd Street just north of B Street. Every school day Jimmy walked the five blocks from his home on River Road to Elkton Elementary School.
Chapter 2 – Miss Crenshaw
Jimmy was popular with the other children in his third-grade class. If they could have found the words to describe Jimmy, they would have included: fun loving, smart, curious and friendly. His teacher, Miss Crenshaw, struggled to keep up with all of the fun-loving and curious dimensions of Jimmy’s personality. She said, ‘Jimmy, pay attention!’ so often that the words had become ritual. When Miss Crenshaw said, ‘Jimmy!’ in a certain tone of voice, the class knew to finish with, ‘Pay attention!’
Miss Crenshaw was finishing her thirtieth year of teaching at Elkton Elementary School. She’d been there ever since she was graduated from the University of Oregon’s School of Education in Eugene.
The students liked her. Jimmy wondered why she never married.
Miss Crenshaw knew why… even as a young woman she was what potential dates called homely. They’d never said it to her face, but she’d overheard a few say it to each other and more often than that, their eyes said it. When she looked in the mirror she understood why. She had a long narrow face with etched features that accented her somewhat hooked nose. Her eyebrows grew together over large, non-descript gray eyes, one of which rolled a bit when she was thinking. Yes, that’s why as Jimmy’s father had put it, “…she has remained an unclaimed pearl.”
Eventually, she ceased to hope that she might get married and in recent years she had let her straight, stringy gray hair grow long. It hung on both sides of her face like drab, tweed drapes. It cascaded down her back like a silver waterfall. The children didn’t seem to notice… well, Jimmy did, but he kept it to himself. He and the other children loved her because she loved them so much. She had devoted her whole life to seeing that the children in her class felt safe and first learned, to read and, then, to master math.
Jimmy was beginning to be interested in girls and even had warm feelings for Miss Crenshaw. Of course, he never told anyone about his feelings and easily let them fade into thoughts about his marble collection, flowers, dodge ball, fishing with GGpa and the mosses on Rainy Mountain.
Sometimes his dad took him fishing in Hancock Creek near the Umpqua Highway bridge. Jimmy liked those times but getting to go to GGpa’s on Saturdays was still his favorite.
Chapter 3 – Saturdays with GGpa
GGpa had a way of teasing Jimmy, which created a unique bond between them. And he loved their hikes into the dense woods covering the hills south and west of GGpa’s place. There was something primal in those trips into raw nature. His spirit fed off the clean fresh air of the dense forest and the varieties of vivid greens defining trees and understory blanketing the hillsides.
The soft needle carpet of the forest floor welcomed his feet and on occasion, his body. Sheep sorrel and trillium grew in festive packages everywhere. His favorite sights were majestic foxgloves that found patches of sunlight in which to display their purple-throated splendor. Of course, he always looked forward to the taste of wild huckleberries and wild blackberries. That’s how he explained his fascination for the forest to GGpa. “Sounds reasonable to me,” GGpa had said. The wonders of the forest and his relationship with GGpa made Jimmy eagerly look forward to Saturdays.
Chapter 4 – Alf
“Tie up!” Wilma Blusher told her son, Alf.
“Awe mom, it too hot,” Alf pleaded. Can’t I just play in the shadows?”
“Shadows aren’t enough today,” she said. “It’s Saturday. That old big and his cub will likely show up.”
“I know where they always sit to string for fish. I’ll stay away from there,” Alf reasoned.
“Wear your moss disguise or play inside your log – you decide,” Wilma insisted.
“Awe…. “ Alf said moving to the rack where an array of moss garments hung. He didn’t like wearing moss hats, coats or jackets. While he was almost grown, he wasn’t quite there yet. The moss disguises were too big and hung on him like a sack… they got in the way of the games he played. And, the strands of moss covering his head and hanging on both sides of his face made him look old like bigs he’d seen tramping the forest.
“That’s the idea…” his dad said when Alf asked him why Blushers want to look like old men bigs. “Look all around you at the mosses hanging from the trees. You’ll see old men with long gray hair and stringy beards everywhere. When bigs come around, they won’t see us Blushers, they’ll see a whole forest of mossy old men… clever, huh? It’s the way we’ve escaped detection for centuries. Let’s keep it that way.”
Alf slipped on his moss disguise and scampered into the forest to his favorite stand of vine maples. There he climbed up the branches until he could reach where the tops groped for the sunlight among the taller trees. Then, he grasped the thin trunk of the supple maple, flung himself into the air and rode it to the fir-needle covered ground below. During the flight Alf pretended he was gliding like birds do, especially big birds like eagles. Alf repeated these flights over and over again.
Usually, when he’d had enough maple tree swinging, his moss jacket was pretty well tattered. He maintained his disguise by grabbing fresh pieces of moss and hanging them over the bare spots. Spanish moss was his favorite.
Chapter 5 Alf hides and watches
Alf moved through the woods fairly confident he was invisible. He made his way to where Little Rainbow Falls cascaded down Camp Creek. There he intended to gather materials to practice color dabbing. It wouldn’t be long before he would be a full-grown Blusher and would be expected to have mastered the art of coloring flowers. He grabbed a small needle brush and a smudge of pale green paint and went looking for a newly opened Columbia windflower.
He stroked the delicate, five petaled white flower giving a pale green color to its center. He was dabbing the final dots to the anthers, when he heard the sounds of something coming through the forest. Blushers’ hearing is acute. He could tell by the weight and rhythm of the footfalls that the approaching creature had to be a big and not an animal or another Blusher. As he quickly released the coloring palate and feathered brush, both fell to the ground and quickly blended into the texture of the forest floor. He moved to an abundant cluster of moss hanging from a large oak tree, morphed himself into their likeness, and waited.
Chapter 6 Fishing time
Jimmy and GGpa hiked through the woods to a spot along Camp Creek where the water flowed into a sizable pool. Schlep, GGpa’s shaggy dog, ordinarily accompanied the pair on their trips into the woods, but the poor old dog’s arthritis had gotten so bad it hurt him to walk… so today, he stayed home in the kitchen with GGma.
“Skippers and mayflies, there’ll be trout,” GGpa said removing his backpack and setting his tackle kit down on a rotting log.
Jimmy was already hungry. While GGpa baited his hook and eyed the water for the most likely spot for a catch, Jimmy dug into GGpa’s backpack and extracted a ham sandwich GGma had lovingly placed there. He offered GGpa one, but the old man had already tossed his line into the placid water, had leaned against stump and closed his eyes to await the tale-tale tug on his line. Jimmy settled beside GGpa on the moss-covered bank and prepared to fish.
It wasn’t long before GGpa was asleep. For a while Jimmy munched his sandwich and impatiently flicked his fish line, as if doing so would get the attention of a trout and cause it to come swimming toward his hook.
He looked at GGpa. He was the only great grandfather Jimmy really knew. Two had died before he was old enough to get to know them and he had never even seen the one who lived in Ohio.
The old man breathed evenly and snored softly. Jim studied his face. He chuckled to himself… ‘GGpa looks like, Schlep.’ The old man had let his hair grow long like Schlep’s and he had a lengthy, full beard that ended at his chest. Sometimes, when he worked in his shop or tended the small garden, GGpa tied his hair in a ponytail. Jim liked it best the way he wore it today… the way it fell loosely about his rugged face. He liked to see his great grandfather content enough to fall asleep.
Chapter 7 Jimmy meets Alf
Jimmy and GGpa had been to this fishing hole before. Last time they’d caught thirteen nice trout.
“Maybe we’ll be lucky again today,” Jimmy chuckled softly to GGpa. The old man grunted but didn’t open his eyes.
Jimmy decided to explore further up dancing Camp Creek… up Rainy Mountain, which rose 1767 feet above sea level. That wasn’t very high for a mountain, but high enough to get lot of rain and snow in the winter.
Following the creek, Jimmy made his way through the thick underbrush. He came into a level spot near Rainbow Falls where the creek’s flow slowed. Its southern bank gave way to a large meadow where Jimmy spotted an array of delicate wild flowers. GGma was the expert on identifying wild flowers. Her garden was full of them. She’d taught Jimmy the names of many. “That’s a Western Wild Ginger,” he said out loud practicing what his mother had taught him, knowing no one would hear. “Big-pod Miraposa,” he said of another. “Elk Horns!” he said of the patch of funny looking lavender flowers. “I wonder if that’s where Elkton got its name? “There’s a Fairy-bulbosa,” he called leaning down touching one of its dark lavender wings. “You look like a fairy. This is a good place for fairies. I’ll bet the trolls come here.” He laughed looking up at a tree’s moss covered branches. Dozens of varieties of moss covered everything. “Wish GGma would teach me about moss,” he said, surveying the masses of the lacy stuff handing from trees. “That one is Spanish Moss,” he bragged fingering a strand of the sage colored swag hanging from an alder tree. “And you know something,” he told a wall of moss, “You look like Miss. Crenshaw.” He paused for a second look. “You do,” he repeated, “and you look like GGpa, and you look like Schlep. Wonder what you’re called… Schlep, maybe…?” Jimmy was startled when a voice sounding like Miss Crenshaw said, “Kindbergia Organa.” Jimmy looked around thinking that GGpa must have followed him up the creek, disguised his voice just to tease him. But there was no one in sight. Jimmy thought maybe he imagined he’d heard a voice. Nevertheless, he decided to get back to GGpa. He had started to retrace his steps, when he heard the tiny voice say, “Cat-tail moss.” “Oh Boy!” Jimmy said under his breath looking around hoping to see someone.
There was no one in sight. Then, he noticed movement and scampered toward the creek.
“Miss Crenshaw?” he asked, hoping GGpa or some of his friends had gone to a lot of trouble to fool him. But he couldn’t imagine that.
“GGpa, is that you?” he asked. His voice trembled and his heart pounded.
“I’m Alf,” the voice answered and before Jimmy could say anything, Alf drew back his moss wig revealing the face of a creature the likes of which Jimmy had never seen before… not even drawings in fairytale stories. His heart raced faster. The short creature looked at him with large eyes that resembled deep pools of rainwater and in the center of a pudgy face it had rosy cheeks and a button nose.
It wasn’t a trick. It was real. Jimmy braced himself to run if the creature moved toward him. It didn’t move but spoke in a high-pitched breathy voice, “I’m not supposed to talk with you.”
Jimmy didn’t know what to say… he wanted to ask ‘why?’ but his courage hadn’t yet caught up with his curiosity. He just stood by the creek looking. The creature’s soft eyes looked back. Jim thought the creature must be sitting or kneeling on the ground, but a closer look revealed that it wasn’t. Jimmy could see its three toed feet showing through its moss disguise. It was standing… maybe 4 feet tall… it was smaller than Jimmy.
“I’m not supposed to talk with you,” the creature repeated.
“Why?” Jimmy asked, his anxiety easing.
“I’m a Blusher and Blushers don’t want bigs to know we exist,” the creature whispered.
Jimmy couldn’t believe his eyes or his ears. Surely GGpa knew they existed. He knew everything. ‘Why hasn’t he told me about them?’ Jimmy wondered.
“Grown up Blushers say that bigs mess up everything they touch,” Alf said wishing he’d not revealed himself to the little big. “I think I’d better go,” he said turning and waddling toward the big oak.
“No, wait. Tell me more!” Jimmy begged, taking a tentative step toward the strange creature.
“I’m afraid I’ve said too much already… I gotta go,” Alf said and disappeared behind the tree.
“Come back,” Jimmy called, “I won’t tell…”
Alf peeked around the tree, “You promise?”
Jimmy hesitated. How could he not tell? Surely, GGpa and Miss Crenshaw… surely all grownups knew about the moss covered creatures living in these mountains… ‘Kinda like Santa Claus,’ Jimmy thought. He could brag to everyone at school that he’d not only seen a Santa’s helper… he even talked with one.
“If you don’t promise… I won’t stay… I can’t stay anyway,” Alf said disappearing into the thicket of hanging moss. “I promise!” Jimmy urgently called, his voice full of conviction.
“Cross-your-heart and hope to die?”
Jimmy hesitated, ‘cross-your-heart and hope to die’ is about a serious commitment as one could make… like bigs promising when they swear on the Bible. If he took this ‘double-dare’, he could never tell anyone, no matter what. “What have I done?” Alf cried ringing his three fingered hands, “Now, the whole world will know about Blushers. I’ve betrayed my own.” He sat down and wept.
Chapter 8 Jimmy learns about Blushers
Sitting down, the moss covered creature looked tiny… helpless. If he hoped to learn more about the tiny creature, Jimmy had no alternative but to emphatically exclaim, “Yes! Cross-my-heart and hope to die… I promise.”
Alf sniffled twice and then said, “Please don’t… ever!”
“Not even to GGpa?” Jim pleaded.
“No one… you crossed you heart and promised.”
“No one!” Jimmy repeated settling the matter.
“I told you my name, what’s yours?” Alf said.
“I’m Jimmy…” Jimmy said warming to the idea of talking with a Blusher… maybe the only human ever to do so. “What are Blushers… what do they do?”
“See that red columbine over there?” Alf asked pointing.
“Yeah,” Jim answered, admiring the flower that looked something like a court jester. “It’s pretty.”
“Blushers give them their color… we paint them,” Alf said proudly and added, “Well, I’m learning to paint… but grownup Blushers are experts at adding color to the flowers of the forest.”
“Wow, can you show me?” Jimmy asked hopefully.
“You can’t tell,” Alf cautioned.
“No, I won’t tell,” Jimmy agreed.
“Ok, watch this,” Alf said extracting his pine needle brush from his brush bag. He looked around for a drop of dew. “The dew is almost gone… help me find a dewdrop,” he said getting to his feet to examine a nearby sword fern for a bit of dew.
“Here’s a bunch,” Jimmy said pointing several beads of water still clinging to a skunk cabbage leaf.
“Good,” Alf said dipping his brush into a shining drop. He then waddled to a red columbine growing nearby. “I touch the color palate, say the magic word and carefully lay a finishing touch of color on the flower.” Alf whispered something to the plant Jimmy couldn’t quite hear.
“Wow!” Jimmy exclaimed. “That rocks!”
“Rocks?” Alf quizzed. “No rocks… just a brush, pasty color palate, a drop of dew, a magic word and a delicate sprinkling touch on the flower’s stamen. That’s how we do it.”
“Can I do it?” Jim asked hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” Alf answered. “It’s what Blushers do… You’re a human boy.”
“Yeah, I guess so… but to be able to paint flowers like you do… I can try… I know where to find needle brushes and color palates. There’s always dew in the morning. All I need is the magic word. What is it?”
“I’ve told you too much already…” Alf hedged.
“I promise… hope to die,” Jimmy pleaded.
“Did you know that sometimes Blushers live among bigs.”
“They do?” Jimmy said surprised, “I’ve never seen one.”
“I’ll bet you have and didn’t know it … think about it… Have you ever asked that old man your with?”
Jimmy’s mouth dropped open, “GGpa? Nah, he doesn’t even like flowers that much…. maybe GGma… but not GGpa….”
“Well, when you see him, say ‘flowers are forever’ and see what he says…”
“Flowers are forever?” Jimmy smiled, “I say flower all the time.”
“Yeah, just see what he says,” Alf paused not sure he should go further.
“So?” Jim implored, “What’s he supposed to say, when I say flowers are forever?”
“If he says, RAINBOW, you’ll know he’s a Blusher,” Alf said.
Suddenly a distant voice frantically called, “Jim! Jimmy! Where are you?” It was GGpa. “Oh growing puffballs, I’ve got to go!” Alf said scrambling to collect his painting paraphernalia. “You promised… pain of death!” He struggled into his moss disguise and trotted toward the underbrush.
“Yeah… I promise,” Jimmy called. “But wait a minute… you didn’t tell me the magic word!”
But, it was too late. Alf was gone.
Chapter 9 Around the bend
“Jimmy!” GGpa cried. “Where are you? Are you there? Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy called eying the avalanches of moss hanging all around. He couldn’t see evidence of Alf anywhere, except in brilliantly colored flowers dotting the carpeted forest floor and in phantoms, bearded faces of old men and shriveled, moss draped visages of women… and trolls.
GGpa struggled the last few steps through a stand of young spruce, thickets of creeping mahonia and squawcarpet and into the meadow-like clearing. Breathing deeply and eying Jimmy with concerned eyes, he settled on a moss-covered stump.
“You scared me, boy!” he said breathing heavily and revealing his annoyance with his young offspring. “What are you doing up here? Why’d you leave me?”
Jimmy was surprised at the depth of GGpa’s concern. He’d not thought about what GGpa would think when he woke up and didn’t see his great grandson. “I was just looking around,” Jimmy said meekly.
“What’d you think you’d see up here different from what’s down there?” GGpa asked gruffly.
“I just wanted to see what was around the bend in the creek,” Jimmy said hoping GGpa would understand and let the subject drop.
The old man’s countenance softened. He did understand. Curiosity had gotten him into trouble more than once in his long life and some of those instances occurred when he was a lot older than Jimmy.
“Well, you needed to let me know.” he smiled stroking his beard. “My old ticker can’t take that kind of a fright.”
“I’m sorry,” Jimmy said relieved the issue was diffused and he could change the subject. “Hey, you know what? You look like a moss covered troll,” he laughed pointing to swags of moss hanging near GGpa’s head. “Did you know that?”
GGpa laughed, too, “Yeah, I guess I do,” he said observing a clump seigrinella hanging from a nearby fir branch. “Did you know trolls live in these woods? The Norwegians call them nisse. Remember the stories I used to tell you about Hedinn and Hogni?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said excitedly, “Hedinn kidnapped Hogni’s daughter, Hildr… Wasn’t that her name? ….Hogni was mad at Hedinn. He put on his helmet…the one with the horns… and went to rescue Hildr. The two trolls fought with each other for days… Heldr ran away from them both…”
GGpa laughed and warned “Well, if you look closely, you might find Hildr in these scary woods. This is where she ran, you know… so watch out.”
“Ah, GGpa… you’re teasing,” Jim said. He paused, looked at the red columbine Alf had painted and turning to GGpa asked, “Are you a troll?”
The old man laughed an echoing laugh. “That’s good, Jimmy… GGma tells me that all the time. She says, ‘You’re nothing but a crazy old troll!’ That’s what she says when I sneak into the kitchen and snatch a piece of pie before she’s ready for me to eat it.” He laughed again.
“Flowers are forever!” Jim said suddenly. He carefully monitored GGpa’s reaction.
“Flowers are for…?” GGpa asked puzzled at the Jimmy’s words.
“Flowers are forever,” Jimmy repeated giving GGpa another chance.
“Yeah, they are pretty… I don’t know about forever…” GGpa said. “…Don’t know why, but they always look prettier out here in the woods than they do in GGma’s garden. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, prettier,” Jimmy mouthed, glad to have his question about GGpa answered without risking his ‘hope-to-die’ promise.
“Ready to head for home?” GGpa said getting to his feet.
“I am if you are,” Jimmy said willing to linger in the enchanted woods as long as possible.
On the way the hikers stopped to pick up their fishing gear. GGpa hadn’t caught any fish and Jimmy had spent his fishing time exploring the moss-covered terrain up Rainy Mountain near Little Rainbow Falls. He wanted to tell GGpa about the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to him but ‘hope-to-die’ rang in his ears. He kept silent. The two explorers climbed into the pickup and GGpa guided the old jalopy home.
Lying in bed in the quiet night, the sounds of the powerful Umpqua parading its way to the ocean soothed Jimmy’s mind. He fell asleep trying to remember exactly what the Alf looked like and what he had said. He remembered he had large, deep blue eyes, a small round nose and rosy, puffy cheeks. His skin was leathery… not rough… but smooth like the chamois skin GGpa used to wash his pickup. Alf’s hair resembled long strands of Spanish moss hanging over hunched shoulders framing his chubby face. His arms and legs were stubby with three fingers on his hands and three toes on each foot. He moved with a little waddle like Jimmy’s neighbor, Mrs. Grimes. She complained about her arthritis. Jimmy wondered if Alf had arthritis.
If only he’d gotten the magic word… magical words… colorful words… color….
Chapter 10 Flowers are forever
At breakfast on Monday morning, Jimmy could hardly contain himself… he was bursting to tell his mother about Alf and the community of Blushers he’d discovered living on Rainy Mountain. The words were on the tip of his tongue aching to find voice.
‘If only I hadn’t crossed my heart and hoped to die,’ he thought. ‘Alf wasn’t supposed to tell anyone either and he had betrayed the Blushers so why can’t I at least tell mother?’ He weighed the temptation. ‘People break promises all the time,’ he reasoned. ‘How would Alf know?’
“Mom…” he said excitedly. He paused. The emphatic ‘I promise,’ he’d made to Alf, rang in his ear… ‘I promise.’ Alf might not know, but HE would know. It was like he was about to plunge over the cliff of betrayal. If he jumped, he’d loose his ability to trust himself… to trust anyone.
“Jimmy! You okay?” Mother asked touching his shoulder.
“Mom, GGpa says that elves and trolls live in the forests… you think they do?” he asked thinking that he could at least give a hint.
“It’s fun to think so, isn’t it?”
“You don’t, do you?”
“Well, I’ve never seen any and don’t know anyone who has… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”
“Flowers are forever,” Jim said finishing his orange juice and watching his mother’s reaction.
“What?” his mom puzzled.
“Flowers are forever, that’s all,” Jim returned and added, “Where do flowers get their color?”
Mother laughed, “That’s a good question, Jimmy… haven’t thought much about it… God I guess… or Mother Nature. Where else?”
“Do you think God has helpers keeping track of all that stuff?” he asked.
“I guess we are helpers, when we work in the garden. Don’t you think?”
“And maybe trolls and gnomes?” Jimmy said putting on his coat and heading for the door.
“I’ll bet you’re right,” Mother said chuckling and giving her son a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll get some marigolds and we’ll plant them when you get home, okay?”
“Oh, boy,” Jim said and was gone.
On his way to school, Jimmy walked passed a dozen homes and looked at the flowerbeds and other foliage in a way he never had before.
“Alf, you’ve been busy,” he said out loud looking at the narrow-leaf stonecrop separating Mrs. Grisham’s and Mr. Jefferson’s yards. In the open field next to the Ford dealership grew clusters of giant-headed clover and Western Wild Ginger. The deep red of the scarlet gilia growing in Mrs. Salem’s yard fascinated Jimmy. Along the bank of the Umpqua River grew clusters of prairie smoke.
Of course, moss grew everywhere. Jim looked for Alf among the masses of it hanging from the large trees thriving on the banks of the life-giving Umpqua. Jimmy stooped to pickup a needle brush, thinking that surely Blushers had been at nature’s canvas last night laying delicate touches of color on flowers everywhere. He placed the brush between to sheets of paper in his notebook, picked up his backpack and trotted off toward school.
Jimmy’s dalliance along the way made him almost late for class. The bell rang just before he entered the classroom.
Miss Crenshaw gave him a mild, scolding glance and then continued writing on the blackboard. Jim tiptoed like a clowning elf down the isle and into his seat behind Roxine Brown. His classmates giggled until Miss Crenshaw cleared her throat.
Roxine’s long golden hair fell onto Jim’s desk. He liked to finger it. It was soft to the touch and smelled like lilacs. Jim wondered if the Blushers were also responsible for the fragrances given off by flowers. If he ever got to see Alf again, he would ask him.
Miss Crenshaw wore a lightweight, sage colored sweater, which hung loosely over a pale cream-colored dress. Her long gray hair flowed down her back. ‘It looks like moss,’ Jimmy thought.
He looked at the poem Miss Crenshaw was writing on the board. “October gave a party, the leaves by hundreds came, chestnut, oak and maple, leaves of every name…”
Jimmy wondered if flowers were invited to the party. They weren’t mentioned in the poem. Miss Crenshaw finished writing and turned.
‘She does look like a gnome… a Blusher,’ Jimmy thought.
Almost involuntarily he said out loud, “Flowers are forever!” half expecting Miss Crenshaw to say, ”Rainbow!”
But she didn’t. Instead she stared at him. The rest of the class stared at him.
Jimmy was caught off balance. “I was just wondering why flowers weren’t invited to the party,” Jim said recovering.
“That’s a good observation, Jimmy,” Miss Crenshaw said approaching the line of flowers growing in pots along the classroom’s south-facing windows. “I suspect the writer was thinking about the spectacle of leaves falling from trees and swirling around blown by early winter winds. Maybe we could write poem about flowers having a party. What do you think?”
“I’ll bet a bunch of elves knock the leaves off the trees at night,” John Vale smirked.
“I think its Paul Bunyan,” Fred Womack said laughing at the idea. The rest of the class laughed too.
“Well, we could write poems about the colors, smells and beauty of nature, couldn’t we. The wonders of nature all around us are pretty special, aren’t they?” Miss Crenshaw said. “We need to remember to take care of them, don’t we?”
“I’ll bet we can help,” Jimmy said taking the brush needle from his notebook. He got up from his seat and walked to a pot of pansies at the window. He raised the needle brush to a pansy’s face and traced its purple fields. “There, that’s the way the gnomes do it, I’ll bet. If we only knew their secret words, we could do it, too.”
Everyone laughed again.
“Good! At least pretending to paint flowers will make us look at them more closely,” Miss Crenshaw said. “Thanks Jimmy for helping us to pay better attention… Now, we’d better get to that spelling test.”
Everyone groaned and took out pieces of paper. Jimmy returned to his seat wishing he knew the magic words.
Chapter 11 Keeping the secret
Jimmy came in early from lunch. Miss Crenshaw trying to help Dale Dockens to understand that decimals are just another way of expressing fractions. Jimmy had fractions down cold. He skirted the math lesson and made his way to the flowers blooming along the windows. He stopped by his desk to get his needle brush. “Abracadabera,” he said to a wax begonia, lightly touching a blossom with the pointed end of his paintbrush. His gaze lingered on the colorful flower to see if he could detect any change.
He moved to a cluster of impatiens blossoms. “Alikazam,” he said applying what he hoped was a magic touch to an isolated bright orange petal.
“Do they say anything back?” Roxine Brown asked coming up behind Jim.
Jimmy quickly hid the needle… scrambling in his mind for an answer as he turned to face the charmer. “I’ll bet bees talk to them all the time.”
Roxine giggled, “My mom talks to her plants, too. She says they like it.”
Miss Crenshaw rescued him by asking the class to return to their seats. Everyday after lunch she read to them. Miss Crenshaw made them lay their heads on their desks while she read. Jimmy liked that. It allowed his imagination to soar. Lately, Miss Crenshaw had been reading folk tales about mythical creatures of the forest. Today’s story was about Askeladden who bested his older brothers. In the story a giant was stealing strawberries from the family patch. Jimmy’s thoughts went to Alf and the Blushers living on Rainy Mountain. He wondered if Alf had brothers or sisters.
Chapter 12 Jimmy tests his powers
Throughout the week Jimmy secretly talked to flowers everywhere trying out every word he thought might have magical powers. But, nothing ever happened to make him think the Blusher’s magical painting powers were available to him. He also said, “Flowers are forever,” to anyone who looked like they might be a Blusher in disguise… so far no one ever said ‘Rainbow’ in return. One day after school Jim was pulling weeds in his mother’s flower garden. It’d become a habit for him to pass his brush through water and then touch flower petals. “You need the touch of a Blusher?” he said out loud to an anemic rust colored mum growing near the sidewalk. He laid the pine needle brush against a blossom and said, “Flowers are forever!” After a slight pause he said “RAINBOW.” He paused again before saying, “You’re supposed to say, RAINBOW.” A breath of wind startled the flower and Jimmy. The flower danced for a few seconds, then, returned to rest.
The next day, Jim noticed that the mum’s anemic blossom looked fresher. He decided to apply Alf’s formula to the blossoms. He dipped his needle brush in a drop of morning dew, dragged it across the palate’s rainbow of colors and touched the blossoms, while saying, “Flowers are forever…RAINBOW.”
Everyday, Jim checked his mum experiment and everyday the flower looked healthier, larger and the colors were more vibrant. It was clear to him that Alf… the Blushers were responsible for coloring the flowers and that he’d discovered the magic word. “I am a Blusher,” he said proudly to himself.
At school, Jimmy secretly nurtured the flowers in Miss Crenshaw’s window. “Flowers are forever…RAINBOW,” he would whisper to them when he was confident that no one was watching. Almost over night they broke into splendor not seen before. The whole class marveled at what had happened.
“Maybe Askeladden comes visiting at night,” Harold David laughed. Connley Whitehurst asked to spend the night to see, but despite her own curiosity, Miss Crenshaw couldn’t allow that. However, she returned to her classroom at midnight four nights in a row in hopes that she might learn the secret of the flowers… but she never saw anything other than a row flower pots with lush, colorful flowers smiling at her.
Jimmy’s mother was astonished at what was happening to the flowers in her yard… Presently, the whole town was astonished with what was happening to all the flower gardens. Even the wildflowers around Elkton looked prettier. No one could explain it.
Chapter 13 A gift for Alf
Hoping for another encounter with Alf during his Sunday visit with his grandparents, Jimmy insisted that he and GGpa return to Rainy Mountain to fish. Well, he used fishing as an excuse. What he really wanted to do was to thank Alf, give him something and tell him what had happened. They arrived at the familiar fishing hole and settled in to fish, Jimmy tried to talk Ggpa in to taking a nap, but the old man had learned his lesson and wouldn’t let the curious great grandson out of his sight. Jimmy impatiently fiddled with his fish line, throwing it into to water, taking it out adjusting the bait and repeating the process.
“Never catch anything…you keep that up…scare them away,” GGpa said a bit perturbed.
“Let’s try the hole up stream at Rainbow Falls, just this side of the big oak,” Jimmy said with pretended boredom providing motivation for his request.
GGpa wondered why Jimmy wanted to fish in that part of the stream, but eager to please his great grandson, he agreed to make the move. The two fishermen settled on logs on the creek’s west bank near the water and tossed in their lines. While GGpa focused on his fish line, Jimmy scanned the moss for signs of Alf. He thought he saw swags of moss move but he wasn’t certain. He knew that Alf, or any Blusher, would not show itself, when humans were near.
Nevertheless, looking more closely at what he thought was a face, and soft enough to avoid GGpa or Alf’s brothers from hearing, he whispered, “Is that you, Alf?”
The moss moved slightly but said nothing.
“I thought we came up here to fish,” GGpa said gruffly. “You can stay here and whisper to the moss, if you want, but, I’m headed back to ol’ reliable. When you get tired of waltzing the moss, come join me.” With that GGpa picked up his gear and, feeling that Jimmy was safe, began trudging down the creek and out of sight. Nevertheless he shouted back, “Don’t be long… Don’t make me have to come looking for you!”
When GGpa was gone, Jimmy again whispered, “It that you, Alf?”
Alf was almost bursting with excitement. He wanted to answer Jimmy but knew that his brothers were monitoring his every move and that his parents would strip him of his roaming privileges, if they found out that he made friends with bigs. He didn’t say anything.
Jimmy took from his pocket a crumpled brown bag that contained his prize cat’s eye marble, along with others, and carefully placed it at the base of the large oak tree, looked around hoping to see Alf…no Alf…only a jungle of moss hanging from the branches of every tree and carpeting the ground in all directions. Jimmy, then, turned and began making his way down stream to join GGpa.
Chapter 14 Alf becomes a full grown blusher
Alf had watched Jimmy put the bag at the base of the tree and, though he knew it contained something for him, he dared not reveal himself to Jimmy. Wilma Blusher suspected that her son was tempted to make contact with intruding humans, so she started keeping an extra close eye on him and insisted that Alf’s two older brothers watch him as well.
Alf waited for an opportunity to get to the bag and see what Jimmy had left. He hoped his brothers hadn’t seen the bag, nor heard Jimmy’s whisper.
He decided to try to trick his brothers into taking their eyes off him long enough for him to snatch the prize.
A while later, Alf said to his brothers, Squat and Pudge.
“Those bigs that were here are stupid. We can see them, but they can’t see us. They don’t even know we exist…”
“Yeah, and, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll help to keep it that way,” Pudge sassed. “I saw you wiggle when that little big came near you.”
“You ought to try it,” Alf said setting them up.
“Try what you little dwarf?” Squat asked.
“Well, if you look at the mosses closely enough, you can see humans hiding in the moss…just like us,” he said pointing to a huge swag of moss hanging from the big oak.
“Mom thought you’d betrayed Blushers,” Squat said looking closely at the swag. “And she was right.”
“Yeah, you little twerp,” Pudge said, “What were you thinking? We’re gonna tell…”
“Look closer at that cluster!” Alf said, ignoring Pudge’s threat and easing his way toward the brown sack.
“Ah, go on!” Squat mocked, “What do you know about bigs?”
“I know they disguise themselves as moss… just like us… look closer.”
The two brothers looked at one another and then, gingerly inched their way toward the swag, half expecting a human to spook them… but nothing happened.
“You have to get closer!” Alf chided.
When the two brothers had their faces in the swag, Alf reached for the bag and quickly hid it in his moss jacket.
“You’re even a bigger idiot than I thought,” Squat said, “There’s nothing there but moss.”
“Yeah,” Pudge said giving Alf a shove.
“I thought it was one of them,” Alf said, “guess I was wrong.”
Later that night, when Alf was alone in his bed, he opened the sack. In it were, what looked like, several huge dewdrops. Alf had never seen dewdrops that big… not even raindrops. And, suspended in one was a streak of color that looked like the iris of a deer’s eye. He closely examined the deer eye dewdrop and the other treasures. The variety of swirling colors in the marbles gave Alf decorating ideas for a whole array of flowers. As a result he won first prize in flower decorating contest at the Blusher’s Summer Flower Festival. His brother’s bullying and teasing ceased and, even though he still wasn’t a full-grown Blusher, no one treated him as novice anymore.
Chapter 15 Jimmy becomes a Blusher
Several Saturdays later, when they went fishing at Rainy Mountain, Jimmy asked GGpa if he could trek up to Rainbow Falls and the big oak by himself.
GGpa was reluctant at first… but he had been to Little Rainbow Falls with Jimmy and had seen nothing he thought would endanger his curious great grandson. And he recalled a time in his youth, when he had special places he loved … loved to go to and be by himself. One he remembered was a ditch along the dirt road running past his father’s farm. People from town often threw trash in the ditch. To him it was treasure: old bottles, tin cans, pencils, glass jewelry and other wonders.
“Nothing up there, boy,” GGpa said, “but… guess there’s no harm,” he said smiling. “When you’ve had enough, you’ll find me here doing what we came to do… catching fish.”
“Thanks GGpa!” Jimmy said and trotted up stream to big oak. There he began looking among the swags of moss for signs of Alf.
“You here, Alf?” Jimmy whispered pointedly at branch hanging low under a load of heavy moss.
“I’m here,” Alf’s soft voice came from a different moss covered branch.
“Can you talk?” Jimmy asked.
“A moment,” Alf said,” It’s better now I won the contest… they don’t watch me so close.”
“What’s the magic word?” Jimmy asked eagerly getting to the point.
“You know it,” Alf said.
“I do?” Jimmy asked surprised.
“Yes, you know it…“Cousin Ted Gnome has seen your work in the gardens and river banks of Elkton. “He says you’re a blusher for sure.”
“Ah… ‘Flowers are Forever…Rainbow’… that’s the secret phrase, huh?” Jimmy said relieved and added confidently, “I guess I should have figured that out.”
“Thanks for the dewdrops. I’ve never seen anything like them. They helped me win at competition… helped me gain respect.”
“I was afraid I’d gotten you in trouble… talking to a human … helping me become a blusher.”
“My parents weren’t happy… But when they saw you didn’t tell… When they saw your work…” Alf paused and laughed, “‘He’s a Blusher,’ my dad said.”
“Oh, boy!” Jimmy shouted, “Wait ‘til I tell…”
Alf interrupted, ”…You can’t tell! You’re a blusher as long as you don’t tell… You tell and neither one of us can be a blusher anymore.”
Chapter 16 Cross my heart and hope to die
Soon the people of Elkton began to suspect that Jimmy Kindred knew secrets about flowers that no one else knew.
One day on their way home from school, Roxine and Jimmy stopped at vacant lot next to the Ford Dealership to admire the flowers.
“That one needs a little more cyan,” Jimmy said absentmindedly.
“Everyone wants to know,” Roxine grinned. “You can tell me.” She touched his hand and asked, “How do you do that?”
For a moment Jimmy couldn’t say anything. He’d said too much. But, Roxine’s gentle touch was another matter. It sent feelings through him that were new to him. It took him a nervous minute to regain his voice. He stuttered, “Cr..Cr…Cr…Cross my heart and hope to die…” he paused a moment. Then, looking into her dark brown eyes he said gently, “I can not tell.”