a single momentous experience
We share stories so many wonderful ways these days - whether it be a movie, a book, a song, a piece of art, or a meme. But we are sometimes forgetting where it all came from; what started with gossip and brought together communities, created cultures and religions and magic - verbal stories.
So don't just click the share button and send to someone on Facebook. Don't write this down or copy it. These "Storytelling" stories are short and general, like a small fable. If you like it, let the words and images settle into your mind and tell it, verbally and from memory, in your own way influenced by your own beliefs and experiences. Tell it around a fire or during a relaxing evening with friends. Let's not forget that before we could all acquire a book, we told stories, and that was what bonded us most.
What myths would one imagine of the world if one had never experienced it?
What of a woman, whose entire experience was of a single microclimate? Her name was Leyla, and she lived hidden away at the edge of the farmed countryside. She was simple enough to find for the adventurous spirit who sought her out; down the last rugged dirt road, where the evening summer sun fell between the canyons east, find the wild footpath and follow it between the ancient pine trees. At its end, tucked into the sturdy embrace of the canyon wall and the trees that climb it, you will find Leyla’s hovel.
Around her small wooden cabin is the most colourful of gardens; bright wild flours, herbs, and vegetables gave the home the illusion of a familiar yet distant sense of place. Leyla would admit to anyone who asked that, having never seen anything beyond her home, her knowledge of colours was limited to what she could grow and see around her.
From crop, forage, and hunt, Leyla would craft the most wondrous of meals. She cooked with deep wisdom and respect for the burning fire, whether it be a roaring flame or calm, patient coals. She could feel the moisture of the fish caught from the river down the canyon’s maw, its steam storming inside clay, buried in embers. She listened to the rareness of the meat as it crackled and seared on the fire, breathing in the spice and marinade. She spent time with every ingredient, every process, every element and temperature, until it was as comfortable as her hearth.
Once, with the company of experience-seeking friends, I traveled to her sanctuary. We arrived in the late morning, upon when she began to tame the fire, dress the meat, and prepare the forage and crop. As Leyla cooked, she asked of us our stories. She listened and worked as we recounted events in the world she had never seen.
After many stories, she began to tell her own; of the people who had ventured to her and of worlds she only heard of and imagined. “The world, I have never seen, so to experience it I must imagine it,” she told us. She spoke of a family who had visited her from far to the south, in wild and colourful lands. They only spoke the most well-versed Spanish. She did not understand a word of it, but she fell in love with the romantic rhythm of the words that danced around the table. They left her with a book of Spanish poetry, which she read over and over, dancing along with the words. She imagined haunted and ancient ruins, endless jungles full of colour and culture, and untameable mountains.
She shared, spoken from memory, one of the Spanish poems. I did not understand a word of it, but hearing her speak of a land she had never seen in a language she could not understand was the most beautiful moment I had ever experienced. The sound of the words dripped from her lips like the wild honey she fetched from the high cliff walls, not a single rope attached.
The food was cooked and ready, and we each collected our share ourselves before joining her at the log table. We experienced aromas long forgotten in a world of ovens and microwaves; the rich, intense, and timeless flavours of the land as it is. We laughed, drank homemade mead, and revelled in stories from two different yet familiar realities.
I awoke the next morning in one of the hammocks. She greeted us like the rising sun with a warm fire, patiently steeped coffee, and eggs. We shared with her our fee for the meal and slumber; a single poem, a tin of tea leaves, a cast iron pan, and a personally hand-carved model of an elephant, a creature she had never seen.
What wonderful myths and imaginations she must now have of elephants.