Archive for April, 2012


Photo by Pamela Paulsrud

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Arbor Day

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A Children’s Story

It is told that hundreds of years ago there were small mountain folk, the Alyphanties, who inhabited the rocks and boulders of Backbone Mountain in Western Maryland. They were seldom seen, although local legend has it that on several occasions around sunset, right after the evening breeze had been put to bed and the air was still, you could see the mountain trees––the  hickory, elm, oak, poplar, maple and hemlock all dance and sway to the rhythm of a high-pitched musical instrument.

It was the music from Nephod’s flute that drifted across the mountain. He always sat under his favorite old oak tree each day, and his melodies floated away on the winds, wrapped themselves around boulders, and brushed over the plants and flowers. The trees would pick up his rhythm, lift up their branches and then bend to and fro to the tempo. Even the birds would sing along with each new melody, and it is thought that even today they sing the songs learned from Nephod’s flute.

Each spring Nephod would wander through the forests, stopping to play for the new trees that had sprouted, plants as they pushed up from the soil, and for the new flowers as they opened. He paused by animal dens to play for the arrival of new babies. Birds came out of their shells and butterflies emerged from their cocoons to his music. It is thought that Nephod’s gentle music was the reason the Alyphanties lived safely and harmoniously with the wildlife.

One day one of the children, a 12-year old girl named Zinta, who was a strong-willed restless child, decided to wander off into the forest and down the mountain. She was tired of being confined to the mountain top. She hid behind trees as she went so no one could see her. Zinta knew she should stay within the boundaries where she could hear Nephod’s flute. Surely, she thought, it couldn’t hurt to explore the land below. After all, she could always find her way back home.

The trees down on the slope squawked and moaned at her, encouraging her to continue down. “Go down, Zinta, go down,” they seemed to say. At last there was no music. Zinta had passed into the forbidden new world.

She grinned and clapped as she looked all around her. There’s no reason I can’t be here, she said to herself, it doesn’t look any different down here than it does at home. But Zinta had no more time to explore that day. It had taken her longer than she expected to travel this far and until now she hadn’t noticed how late it was. The sun would soon settle behind the far mountain. She knew she must hurry back home before it was dark and her family missed her, but she also knew she would come back tomorrow and stay longer.

She turned around to retrace her steps, but she saw no trail behind her. Was she facing the wrong direction?  She turned in a deliberate circle. There was no trail anywhere. Where could it be? She had just been on the path.  She took two steps forward. The ground softened under her feet and she began to sink into the earth.

As she sank she watched the shrubs and vines move towards her. She was now up to her knees in mud. The forest crept closer and closer. The trees creaked and howled with laughter, their branches reaching out to touch her. “Now we have you!” they screeched. Zinta looked wildly from side to side for a way through to the trail, but not only was she already surrounded by trees, she was still sinking and would soon be buried up to her waist.

“Mother, mother!” she screamed. Her cries of horror pierced through the forest. The Alyphanties looked around in confusion as her shrieks found their way to the village. No one had yet realized Zinta was missing. Some of the men rushed into the forest, hoping the screams would lead them to this person. Others worked their way down the slopes. It was Nephod, however, who knew what to do. He ran to the edge of the mountain and played his music as loud as he could in the direction of her cries. The music sped through the forest on the mountain winds down into the forbidden land. The trees down there, which had never heard music before, stopped howling as the melody brushed against their branches. They moved away from the path and then offered Zinta their branches to grab onto. They pulled and pulled, lifting her up until she was free from the mud. Nephod’s music then wrapped around her and guided her back up the trail to the safety of the mountain top. She knew that this visit to the forbidden land was to be her last.

It has since been told that from then on the trees down on the slopes would listen to Nephod’s music. They, too, learned to dance and sway to its rhythm that floated down on the breezes. They, too, learned to live in harmony with the rest of the forest.


Excerpt re-written from:

The Great Cavern of the Winds:  Tales from Backbone Mountain

by Denise Hillman Moynahan

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Photo by Barbara Runyen

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