The Story of Graw

by Katharyn Howd Machan

for CoraRose and Scarlett

Once there was a little green girl who lived in the rain, and her name was Graw.

All of her family had turned into flowers, and every day when it wasn’t winter (for that was when she slept safely—though fairly lonely—in ice) she visited them to make sure their roots stayed strong and deep and that their stems and their leaves and their petals and their seeds all followed the seasons as they should.

Graw’s life was happy and full of adventures. Every morning (except in winter) she went to a special place where she found good foods to eat. In the spring she dug up onions and leeks. In the fall she picked crabapples and gathered nuts and mushrooms. Summer was her favorite, though, sweet with strawberries and raspberries and—best of all—blueberries so round and firm she could carry them in her grass-basket backpack as she ran and climbed and hiked all over.

Graw had never met anyone just like her, but animals welcomed her and she welcomed them. Chipmunks, skunks, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, even striped garter snakes and bulgy-eyed bullfrogs did not flee when she approached. Bigger animals, though, made her turn still in fear—until one very early August morning when she woke up hungry and knew she just had to have

B L U E B E R R I E S !

Grabbing her backpack, Graw skipped quickly to her favorite bush. Three berries into her mouth, three into the backpack, three berries into her mouth, three into the backpack…but suddenly the bush began to shake and shimmy so hard it almost knocked her over—and she heard a big WHOOF! and a GRRR! and AH-CHOO! from the other side.

Before Graw could even think to move, the blueberry bushes seemed to split apart, and through them stepped, well, a creature MUCH bigger than her. Black fur, huge paws, a great wide chest, a big head with round ears and orange-yellow eyes and a snout with a red tongue hanging out of an open mouth…full of sharp white TEETH!

She wanted to run, but she felt stuck to the ground. She wanted to cry out, but who would hear her? Instead she just stared and stared at the creature as the creature just stared and stared at her. Neither of them moved.

Then something inside Graw said to her, Offer it your berries! So with both hands she lifted her backpack up and held it out in front of her.

A new sound started, rumbling from the creature’s chest, making its shoulders shake until it roared outward from its jaws. Graw realized it was laughing!

“Little one, little one,” the creature finally said. “You remind me of one of my cubs. He used to find berries for me.”

Cubs? Ah, now Graw understood: the creature was a bear, a MAMA bear. She had heard about them—and how dangerous they are.

“Pl-please, ma’am,” Graw said timidly. “Help yourself.”          

The bear laughed again and lowered herself down to all fours. “You have nothing to fear from me, little one. But what are you? A fairy?”

Graw was still uncertain about the bear, but she answered, “I’m a little girl. My name’s Graw. I live in the rain most of the year and sleep in ice during winter.”

“Hmmm,” said the bear. “Your kind is new to me.”

“I may be the only one, ma’am. I’ve never met anyone like me,” offered Graw.

“You’re certainly a polite little being,” said the bear. “But you may stop calling me ‘ma’am.’ My name is Lady Brunha.” The bear’s eyes seemed to smile. “I’ve traveled a distance to find this blueberry patch. Let’s both keep eating!”

And so Graw and Lady Brunha picked and ate and ate and picked (well, for the bear it was more like grabbing and chomping) with plenty of berries for both. Afterward they lingered to talk, and Graw felt more and more at ease.

“We bears are big,” said Lady Brunha, “and we can be fierce, especially us mama bears if our cubs are threatened. But mostly we just like to be left alone.”

“And I’m so small,” said Graw. “Mostly I am alone, and I love exploring, but in late autumn I always start to feel too alone.” And she told Lady Brunha about her family.

The bear listened, very carefully, looking steadily at her. “You are a brave little girl, Graw. I am glad we have met.”

And they continued to meet, most mornings in the blueberry patch while the fruit kept ripening. And then they shared other places with each other: not just where they could eat, but where they could play. Lady Brunha brought Graw to a river with a waterfall where silver fish jumped. Graw led Lady Brunha to an oak tree so old and tall and wide that both could climb its many strong branches. She even shyly brought her to where her family lived in all their splendid colors.

Summer ended. Butterflies and hummingbirds and geese flew south. Leaves lost their green, became red and golden and orange, then fell. Frosts came. Graw’s family settled calmly into the earth, and she carefully covered them with good clean straw.

Lady Brunha began to move more slowly, Graw noticed. One morning when they met for some last apples, snow began to fall. As the bear’s black coat became whiter and whiter with cold flakes, she turned to Graw and said, “It’s time, little one. I must go deep into my den and stay there until spring.”

Graw understood. Soon she would be entering her place of quiet ice. But she lowered her head in sadness.

A chuckle surprised her. “We have become so close, little green girl who lives in the rain.” Then Lady Brunha grew still. “I have not told you why I am alone. I had two cubs. A hunter shot them, dragged them away, after wounding me. I have never had cubs again.”

Graw could only gaze silently at Lady Brunha as she continued.

“Graw, you have told me you sometimes wake up lonely in the ice. I know it is not quite yet time for you to go there, so I hope you will consider this offer: might you instead join me deep in the mountain so we can together sleep through winter? I don’t know if nature will allow it, for we would stay warm together, not frozen. But might you try?”

Graw’s eyes filled with tears. To not be so very, very alone through the end of another year! Could she dare to try?

Lady Brunha said, “I know you must think about it very carefully.” And then, before leaving for the mountainside, she told Graw how to find her hidden den.

Through the cold air Graw walked to where her family slept. She sat and thought as snow continued to fall. She had always slept in ice through winter to be as much like them as she could. But must she? She was not like them; she was not like anyone else. She wasn’t a flower or a fairy or a bird or a wild animal of the woods. She was the little green girl who lived in the rain—Graw—and her friendship with Lady Brunha was strange and wonderful and exactly right. What would happen if she tried this change?

She looked at the white flakes settling slowly on the straw over her resting family. She imagined herself again soon lying down into her place of ice. And then she turned and started toward the mountain, to follow Lady Brunha, for whatever would happen next.

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