Hidden within a sprawling city by the edge of the sea, there a small canyon. The story goes that long ago, a woman lived at the canyon’s mouth. She lived alone as a hermit singing lonesome songs, with only the birds that would visit at her doorstep to listen. She was said to be beautiful and suitors would visit, each promising gifts and jewels to match her striking looks and red hair.
They all ended their proposals with the same words, “Let me take you away from this place.” To which she would always smile with fire in her eyes saying, “No. This place is my kingdom, my sanctuary, my home.”
As time passed, the hillsides all around her were scraped clean and the surrounding city grew. Soon the animals from all around fled to the canyon. Upon their backs, they brought the seedlings of plants and trees whose parents had sent them away with silent prayers that they may grow strong. Each passed the doorstep of the woman pleading to be welcomed into the canyon. Each was invited in and settled throughout the canyon; Thier kingdom, their sanctuary, their home.
So the canyon flourished with wild noises and smells. The woman would walk along the canyon floor and knew it was a treasure of the natural world.
Years went on and the land turned into towers and high walls. Soon the city began to flourish and its builders realized they needed a new road to join one sprawling end of the city to the other. Their eyes fell upon the small canyon, its deep groove running across the city’s center. A plan was set, and orders were made to flood the canyon with sand.
It was at the builders final meeting, arguing over which day to begin that the woman appeared. She was old now, her hair the color of ash. She spoke to the planners and told them plainly, “You will not build within this canyon. It is a secret kingdom, a sanctuary for others, a home.”
And as the story goes, the builders had heard a voice filled with the sounds of the wilderness and looked upon eyes of wild colors. The sound echoed within them, and they soon all agreed to place the road somewhere else.
* * *
I could never explain what it was that inspired me to begin running for exercise, and as a greater mystery still, for enjoyment. What I know is that in the early summer of last year I had found a calling to begin running the twisting routes of the city in which I lived. I soon grew accustomed to streets and paths, each with their own distinct cracks and curves. My familiarity soon turned to boredom, and my feet itched to find new ground on which they could step.
I was elated to find an almost hidden canyon in the heart of the city. My routine run had taken an unusual turn, and I found myself traveling to the end of an old road where I discovered the mouth of the canyon. To one side of the entrance, there was a community center, its windows covered with cobwebs and dust, and just beyond it a little garden. On the other side, there was an old house made of wood. The white paint was washed-out, and shrubbery nestled into its shaded corners. It looked to me to be an ancient dwelling, and I was unsure of what type of person could still dwell there.
The pace of my restless heart pushed me on. I was in the canyon now, its dirt path clear and beaten smooth. The steep cliffs to on either side were covered with shrubs of greens and browns and it wasn’t long before I could smell the deep richness wild nature.
Then suddenly, turning a corner, the canyon opened into a little valley, and I could feel the warm prickles of the beating sun.
With the steep canyon walls no longer there to shield anything, the plants and even the ground showed to be terribly dry, blistering under the sun. The elation I had felt only seconds before had turned to a mode of quite somber. I found myself walking now, with a sense of respect that should be given for a place that once held such a great abundance of life. Now it was a boneyard. Full of husks, and twigs, and dust.
And, to my great surprise, in the middle of it all stood a man surrounded by iridescent bubbles.
He was slender, though not very tall. He seemed normal enough it not for his interesting outfit. He had on a collarless shirt, like those I have seen worn by Englishman in the early 19th century. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and on top, he wore what looked like an open wool vest, its dark buttons all undone. He had on black pants and shoes and topped it all of with a dark green bowler hat. Such a strange ensemble brought the only notion I could think of as I approached him; He seemed altogether too warm!
In his hands, he held two wooden wands, tied together with a piece of string at each end. As I approached I watched him dip the wands and string into a shallow basin at his feet. I could hear whatever liquid lay within the basin slosh and he moved his hands back and forth. Then he stood back up, and in a fluid motion created a ring between his hands, the wands, and the string. A warm breeze drifted through the canyon, and as it passed the man, bubbles formed between the two wands. Dozens of bubbles, with color almost indiscernible, took flight and headed further down the canyon.
I found myself instinctively chilled suddenly, like seeing a gravedigger at work. The single path bowed in his direction and seeing how we caught each other’s eye, I had no other choice but to continue and greet him.
“Hello.” I said, my voice trembling from the effort of my run and secretly my own nerves in meeting such a strange stranger.
“Hello there.” he responded. His voice was quiet but charming. He continued his work, crouching down, sloshing the mixture onto the wands, and with perfect instinct, rising to meet the wind and create giant spheres of liquid glass.
We watched quietly as the last flock drift away before I felt comfortable speaking once more.
“Thank you. Its an old habit of mine actually.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Truthfully. I have always enjoyed bubbles from an early age. My grandfather used to tell me they were magic.”
I laughed in surprise, enjoying the idea. Yet as the man cast another set off into the breeze, I realized how true it was. “I like that idea.” I finally admitted.
“It is a nice thought.” The man replied. “We would often walk through this canyon together. I remember how alive everything was back then. Everywhere you looked-” Another set of bubbles drifted away. “-wildflowers.”
“It sounds beautiful.” I told him quietly, respecting the dead that surrounded us in that boneyard.
“My grandfather thought so. Anyways he taught me how to cast the bubbles after meeting a woman at the far end of the canyon. Apparently my grandfather and fallen in love with her, and after making the mistake of picking wildflowers from the canyon that caused her great distress, returned a second time with this set-up and gave her a show of magic.” With that final word, the man lifted his arms above his head. A great bubble grew from the wands. He trotted backward, letting the bubble grow huge in size. Then, with a quick flick of his hand, pricked it with one of his wands, shattering it into droplets, that sparkled in the sun like diamonds.
“What a wonderful story,” I replied, wishing I could clap without embarrassment at the wonderful show he was putting on for a single audience member.
“I thought so too.” He said with a sigh, “Anyways, I come back now in order to fulfill one of his last wishes.”
As the man had explained it, his grandfather never saw the woman in the canyon again. But he would return each summer none-the-less with his bubbles. After each trip, his grandfather said there would always follow a great rainstorm. The canyon floor would flood, but once it had passed, the wildflowers would bloom like a great explosion of scents and color. When he became too tired to travel, he asked his son to go into the canyon with the wooden wands and basin. He ordered him to wear his best outfit, in case the woman should return and ask her to see the old man one final time. Years past and with it the tradition lived on. Now the grandson created the bubbles.
“Don’t stay too long now, or a storm might catch you by surprise!” He said with a laugh as he packed his things and headed back the way I came. Lastly, he removed his hat, showing me a full head of deep red hair, and departed. I continued on with a smile on my face. I had met my first wizard that day and watched him conjure spells of wonder.
When I returned to the canyon, only a week later, I found the ground soft and moist. Most of all, everywhere that I could see, there were wildflowers covered in dew.