The Boy And The Old Man

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Once upon a time…in a land not so far away, by the river, there lived a little boy. Pure at heart. ❤️ Thoughtful and happy. 🤗 He didn’t need much to be content. There were so many things that brought him joy. The small and the big things alike. 🦋 Be it a tiny butterfly, sitting down on his nose, tickling him and making him burst out in laughter. ☀️ Or feeling the warm sun on his skin, lying in the soft grass, relaxing by the river. Or going outside barefooted in the rain. 💧🌳 Enjoying the sensation of raindrops on his head, finding shelter under a big tree in the forest. 😊 His happiness often got mixed with a feeling of awe, respect and curiosity. 🌊 When he thought about the vastness of the ocean, that he had only seen on maps and pictures, into which the river would eventually flow. 🏔️ Or when he saw the huge, massive mountains peaking in the distance. All while admiring the beauty of nature and knowing his place in it. ✨ Sometimes, when he couldn’t sleep at night, he would gaze at the stars. 🌎 Wondering if somewhere out there, far far away, there was another little boy just like him, looking back down (or up) at him. All that gave him deep satisfaction.

😟 But not only happy thoughts were on the little boy’s mind…

Imagination and reality mix. Creekside low angle view. Grass, fallen leaves, water plants

Sitting by the creek, alone in serenity, the little boy pondered. 🤔
There was one thing in the world that made him sad sometimes. When he would see other people not being as happy as he was. Some just couldn’t see the beauty around them. Some would even quarrel or fight about the most meaningless things. He felt sad for them. He could feel their pain and struggles. He would imagine himself in their shoes, trying to understand them better. He wanted to help them. 🌍🌄🌼🐝🌱🌳💧 If only he could show them the world exactly how he saw it. With all its beauty and wonder. 😃 Maybe that would make the other people as happy as him.

😱 Suddenly, something distracted the little boy’s thoughts…

creekside stones, perfect for stone skipping

The little boy had spotted some stones by the creekside. Oh, how glad he was to be so lucky! They were perfectly wieldly sized to pick them up and throw them into the water.
He didn’t care about anything else at that moment. He was fully immersed in the here and now. Content with what he was doing, as it was his way.
With his fingers, he felt the different surface textures and forms of the stones. He was generally curious about what made things how they were; and interested in finding and learning answers to WHY things worked how they did. Why did some stones create bigger splashes than others? And why did some bounce off the water’s surface, if he threw them a certain way? Understanding that contributed to his appreciation of nature and his admiration for its beauty.
😊 But in that very moment, he was just a boy throwing stones into the water.

ℹ️ Short explanation of stone skipping:
The stone generates lift in the same manner as a flying disc (frisbee), by pushing water down as it moves across the water at an angle. Surface tension has very little to do with the physics of stone-skipping. The stone’s rotation acts to stabilize it against the torque of lift being applied to the back.
creek view out of the forest through trees and branches

One day, like on many other days, the little boy was doing what he loved – being outside, exploring the land. 🗺️ He was used to it and he knew his way around. 🌄 In case he got lost, which had happened once or twice, he followed the setting sun until he recognized familiar trees, meadows, treelines or creeks. At the very latest when he arrived at the big river, he knew the way back home.

But that day it was only shortly after noon and he planned to stay outside for a while longer. ☀️ The midday sun was burning down, so he looked for shelter in the nearby forest. 🌳 It wouldn’t be long before he stumbled upon a small rivulet. 😊 Strolling upstream, full of excitement and a sense of discovery, all of the boy’s wishes had already been more than fulfilled. Anything happening henceforth would be like an extra cherry on top. His imagination, fuelled by his unrestrained creativity, was running wild. What would he discover behind the next river bend, under the next rock he turned, or over the hill far ahead?

Forest river scenery landscape

🌳 The little boy was witnessing an alluring scenery. It was impossible to comprehend everything at once, let alone suitably appreciate every diddy detail’s charming beauty. So he took in an overall impression of the forest’s mood before focusing on one attraction at a time.

💧 Water was gently flowing, dripping down miniature waterfalls.
Hesitant at first, he started dipping his tiny toes into the crystal clear creek water. Cold, but not too cold. Just right and refreshing on a sunny summer day like this. Both whole feet followed. Standing ankle-deep in the brook, the little boy felt…alive. He was in a heightened state of awareness and sensitivity.
Water funneling around his feet, softly massaging his skin. Heart audibly pumping. Blood flowing. Inspiring fresh, fragrant forest air through his nose, filling his lungs. He listened to the purling brook and the rustling of the leaves in the wind. Here and there, a cracking sound in the boscage complimented the harmonic chiming. A bird cheerfully chirped, chipping in chatter between the forest’s song. “I wonder what it is saying…”, the boy thought to himself. Minutes passed, hard to say how many.

Yellow fallen maple leaf, stranded on a rock, bounded by water

Wading through the creek, something caught the little boy’s attention.
Stranded on a rock – bounded by water – a single yellow fallen maple leaf. 🍁🍂 How did it end up here? The boy’s green eyes widened with curiosity and excitement, trying to imagine the marvel of this leaf’s journey. Strangely enough, there were no maple trees to be seen anywhere nearby. Also, at this time of year, most other trees still had green leaves. Maybe it fell off a tree further north, higher up in the mountains, where it was colder already.

Once again, as he was used to doing, the boy let his imagination run wild.
In his fantasy, he would shrink down to the size of an ant, putting himself right in the middle of the action. That way he could closely witness the leaf’s whole life cycle from up close. From the time the maple tree put forth buds in spring, to the development of green leaves, to the moment the tree decided to shed its leaves to conserve water and energy…

ℹ️ Abscission:
As unfavorable weather approaches, hormones in the trees trigger the process of abscission whereby the leaves are actively cut-off of the tree by specialized cells. At the start of the abscission process, trees reabsorb valuable nutrients from their leaves and store them for later use in their roots. Chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green color, is one of the first molecules to be broken down for its nutrients. This is one of the reasons why trees turn red, orange, and gold colors during the fall.

🌳🍁 In his imagination, the boy was able to parse nature’s language. The mighty maple tree was heralding its annual ritual in a deep, awe-inspiring voice: “You served me well. Getting too cold now. Have to let go. Thank you.”

🍂 And thus, bit by bit, leaf by leaf was shed. The boy, still shrunk to ant-size, was sitting on his own select leaf. When it turned yellow, it was finally time to fall. A soft, silent pop and the leaf succumbed to gravity’s pull. Downwards they went, following fellow leaf siblings gently gliding down to the ground. There they would decompose, returning their energy to the earth and to the very soil the tree’s roots would later absorb as nutrition.

🌬️🍃 Suddenly, a strong gust of wind took the boy’s leafy vehicle higher up in the air. 🌪️ He held on as tight as he could to not get tossed off by the twirl. Victorious against the windy forces of nature, the little boy throned triumphant on top of his leaf. By now he was scores of meters higher than the tree crown. From this elevation, he had the most wonderful sight. Relishing the wind in his face and hair as he was flying through the air, the boy had a full 360-degree panorama view. Blue mountains far away drew the horizon line. Green fields and forests, traversed by lakes and rivers, painted a wonderful landscape. “So this is how birds see the world”, the little boy figured in amazement. His eyes honed in on a small, familiar-looking woodland valley. That reminded him: “Time to get back to reality”. Through shifting his weight, telekinesis and especially luck, the boy managed to steer his leaf in the right direction towards the creek. In order to transition back into his real self, he had to assume the exact same physical location in both worlds. So he landed on that rock, bounded by water, where the fallen maple leaf was stranded. He grew back to real life size before retaking possession of his worldly hull. Happy but exhausted, the boy thought: “What a fantastic trip!”
“I set you free and leave you be.”, he poetically uttered while nudging the leaf off its temporary rocky haven. At the mercy of the creek’s current, it was slowly drifting out of the boy’s sight, towards its destiny.

When the little boy stepped out of the water, he noticed mild numbness in his bare feet. The soft forest ground felt different than before…somehow weirdly funny. Moss and leaves tickling him, he couldn’t help but laugh out loudly and heartily.

Creekside forest moss

It was late in the afternoon by now. The forest still provided perfect protection from the blazing summer sun. So the boy continued his exploration and went deeper into the woods. He passed several river bends and finally reached the foot of the hill. Hiking up the steep terrain, the boy noticed peculiar noises afar. “That doesn’t sound like anything natural.”, he presumed. Eager to investigate the mysterious noises’ source, the little boy rushed up the hill, almost stumbling, as fast as his tiny feet would carry him. The closer he got, the louder the noises became. He arrived at the hilltop gasping for air. Exhausted, he leaned onto a big tree to catch his breath.

Quite a few meters away, across a forest glade, the little boy spotted something. Or rather somebody? It was a dark figure, covered in a tattered, dark green cloak. The noise came from exactly that direction. It was more audible now and the boy made it out to be a deep singing voice in alternation with high whistling noises. The figure looked like an old man singing and whistling joyfully while repeatedly picking up something from the ground. “How strange and interesting”, the boy thought, watching from a safe distance. Suddenly, a loud and deep voice roused him from his thoughts: “Do you plan to hide over there forever or you wanna come closer?”
The boy stepped out from behind the tree and approached. “I wasn’t hiding. What are you doing?”
“I am collecting moss.”, the old man calmly but cheerfully replied. His long, white beard covered his whole face including his lips, from where his words invisibly escaped. Quite a funny sight and an impossible challenge for lip readers.
Boy: “Why?”
Old Man: “Haha that’s a great question! Mostly because I simply like the activity itself. It is delightfully mundane, a treat for body and mind. It brings me joy and a feeling of accomplishment. And as a bonus, I get to sleep better. I will dry the moss and cushion my bed with it.”
Thinking that was a great idea and infected with enthusiasm, the little boy asked: “Can I help?”

And of course, he could. The old man welcomed a little company once in a while. So together, they picked up the softest, most beautiful green moss they could find alongside the creek. They were joking around, laughing, and having a great time. They had so much fun that time flew by unnoticed. Eventually, they had filled up all their baskets and bags.
Old Man: “Good job! Thanks for your help and the good company.”

They both felt a familiarity like they’d have known each other for a long time.
“Until we meet again, my friend.”, the old man smilingly said before disappearing into the forest. 😊 The little boy made a friend today.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it! 🖖😊

This is a collection of all nine episodes of my short story, which I originally published on my Instagram. You can also find it under the hashtags #TheBoyAndTheOldMan🌳 and #spreadfirestories.

I plan to continue the story in the future. So if you want to get notified on updates, follow me on Instagram or subscribe to my newsletter.

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