John of the Crossroads
by Susan Bruck
John put down his axe and paused for a moment to listen to the wee ones of the woods. The birds sang of ripening berries and the squirrels complained that the nuts were still green. He smiled as he gathered the wood into a tidy pile. It was cool and green deep in the forest, even though the sun shown brightly above. .
As he set off on his daily round of the forest, he felt life all around him, from the tiny ants gathering seeds to the owl sleeping in his hole in the oak tree. Mother Earth had woven great beauty and strength into the forest. John kew the forest so well that he could feel if a spider’s web had been damaged or a tree had fallen. Today, he headed for the crossroads, the place of sanctuary and transformation. He knew something was happening there. It was his place, for he was John of the Crossroads.
When he arrived, his eyes opened wide in astonishment, for there, growing in the center of the crossroads, the empty place, was a strong young birch tree. He walked all around it, wondering. Where had it come from? No matter, this was a safe pace for all beings. He sat under the tree, leaning against the trunk. He felt the heart beating within the tree. Drops of what felt like rain fell on his head. He looked up towards the cloudless sky and saw water falling from the leaves of the trees.
“I am not a tree. I am a human girl,” said the tree. “I ran away from the dwarf who kept me. He made me work night and day, cleaning and polishing his mountains of things, but I long to sing and dance in the sunshine. He followed me, so I turned myself into a tree so he couldn’t make me go back with him. Please help me.”
“You are safe here,” John replied, “and may go in whatever direction you choose. I would suggest you not stay a tree for long, though. Choose your path, and I will keep you safe.”
He took his broom made of forest grasses and swept the dirt path clean and smooth around the tree girl. He returned home and brought back some vegetable soup he had made.
“Here, child, you are human and you need to eat. I wish I had some bread and cheese and wine for you, but this will have to do.”
The tree did not change back. John knew that she needed to be alone to think things over. He went back to his hut to eat his meager supper, the very same soup he’d brought to the tree girl.
As he was falling asleep, he thought about bread and cheese and wine. It had been a long time since he had those delicious things. He loved his life, but sometimes he missed those simple pleasures.
That night, he had a dream. He stood in the crossroads facing the tree. As he watched, the tree turned into a girl with dark skin and darker hair. She looked golden in the moonlight. She sat down and ate the soup he had brought her then wiped the bowl out with some leaves she pulled from a lilac bush.
In his dream, he saw the dwarf, with his pointy beard and beady eyes. He hid behind a rock, waiting for the girl to leave the crossroads so he could grab her. But dream John snuck around behind the dwarf and grabbed him. He tied him to a tree by his beard. Then John dreamed of freshly baked bread.
He returned to the crossroads the next day to find that the tree was gone and in it’s place was a basket. Looking inside, John saw a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a large chunk of cheese wrapped in cloth and tied with a string. Under his now empty soup bowl was a piece of folded paper. He opened it and read:
“Thank you for helping me find my way.”
John smiled and looked at the footprints in the path that headed east, the path of new beginnings. He smiled. She had chosen to follow her heart.
“God speed to you, dear one,” he said with a smile.
“And thank you for the food. I shall eat well tonight.”
He picked up the basket and headed for home, pulling a few long grey hairs from the lilac bush as he walked by.
As he walked, he sang this song:
I am John of the forest green,
At the crossroads, I’ll be seen.
Into the forest walk with me,
In the forest wild and free.
I will guide you along the way,
To the crossroads to rest and pray.
I’ll stay with you ’til you know
Which direction you wish to go.
I am joyful, I am free
John of the Crossroads your friend will be.
I originally wrote this story for my puppetry training with Suzanne Down in Boulder, Colorado a few years ago. We all made marionettes and wrote (or adapted) stories. I had been reading about the significance of crossroads in ancient times. They were a place of sanctuary, and also a place of decision–which way to go. I feel like I carry the crossroad within me–always choosing which direction to go in next. Also, I carry the sanctuary within me, although I don’t always remember that. That idea of the crossroad inspired this story. I feel like there might be more stories about John, but he hasn’t told them to me yet.
I hope you enjoy this one and that you find your own place of sanctuary.
Thanks for stopping by!