Dino’s Dragon Story

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February 24, 2015

I did not write this. It was written a number of years ago by my younger daughter Geraldine Mongold. I can guarantee that any fiction written by Dino will feature a female protagonist who Goes. Out. And. Gets. Things. Done.

Once upon a time, in a little village near the mountains, lived a girl named Calida. Calida was ten years old. She had orange-red hair and lots of freckles.

Calida had a very normal family. Her father was a clockmaker. He carved beautiful wooden clocks in his workshop on the ground floor of their house. Calida’s mother helped sometimes in the clock shop when she wasn’t cooking or chasing after Calida’s little brother Clovis. Clovis, being two years old, was always into everything he shouldn’t be, but his adorable brown curls and big blue eyes made it impossible for anyone to be mad at him for longer than a minute. Calida also had an older sister named Candace. Candace had golden hair, blue eyes, and was considered by many, including herself, to be very pretty.

It was a Monday morning in October. Calida put on her blue school dress and buttoned up her brown shoes. She brushed out her red hair and braided it in two long braids with blue ribbons tied at the ends. She didn’t feel like going to school. It was her eleventh birthday, but somehow having to go to school made it feel like an ordinary day.

Downstairs, Calida sat down at he round kitchen table to eat her usual breakfast porridge when she saw a small brown leather box next to her spoon. She forgot all about porridge and picked up the box excitedly.

“Happy Birthday, Ladybug,” her father laughed. “Go ahead, open the box!”

Calida took the lid off the little box. The inside was lined with purple velvet. Nestled in the velvet was a narrow golden ring. Etched all around the gold of the ring was the figure of a dragon, with a tiny sparkling green jewel for an eye. Calida held her breath and took the ring out of the box. She slid it onto her middle finger. It fit perfectly.

“Wow. It’s absolutely amazing.” Calida whispered at last.

Jewelry of any sort was unusual in their small village. Her mother had a gold pin that she wore on her dress for very special occasions. The mayor’s wife wore a necklace of amber beads on feast days. Most of the farmers in their town did not have extra money for such fancy things.

“It belonged to your Grandpa Rufio,” Calida’s father explained. “It’s very old. It’s sort of a family heirloom that gets passed down to each redhead.”

“But Grandpa Rufio didn’t have red hair!” exclaimed Calida.

“Do you think his hair was always gray?” laughed Calida’s father. “When I was a boy, my father’s hair was bright red. His beard too. Like a carrot. That’s what my mother called him, Carrot.”

“Hurry up and eat,” said Candace. “We’ll be late to school.”

After breakfast, the girls grabbed their school books and their lunch bucket and hurried out the door. Their teacher, Mr. Frobnitz, was rather strict, and they did not want to be late and get a scolding from him.

At school, the morning seemed to drag on and on. Calida sat at her desk and worked division problems on her slate. Now and then she looked out of the window and sighed. The weather was perfect and sunny. A few yellow leaves clung to the trees in the schoolyard. It was a wonderful day to be anywhere except school.

Suddenly, the breeze that was fluttering the maple leaves turned into a wind, and gray clouds slid across the sky. From the distant mountains thunder rumbled. One of the window shutters banged against the outside wall of the school. All of the children looked up from their work. Mr. Frobnitz tapped his wooden ruler on his desk to get their attention.

“Robert,” he directed the oldest boy, “Please go bring in some firewood for the stove. Candace, you will kindly secure the flapping shutter. The rest of you, continue with your lessons.”

Calida bent her head over her slate and tried to concentrate on math, but the storm outside was much more exciting. She glanced at the ring, which still felt strange and new on her finger, and sighed again. It would have been bad manners to show off, but she had hoped one of her friends might have mentioned it.

The rain came like a silver sheet across the red tile roofs of the village. Calida saw and smelled the rain a few seconds before it pelted down on the schoolhouse roof. Thankfully, at that moment Mr. Frobnitz rang the little brass bell on his desk. That meant morning lessons were over. It was time for lunch. The children slid their books and slates into their desks and got their lunch buckets from the shelf under the windows. Candace and Calida sat together at Calida’s desk to share their bread and butter, apples, and soft white cheese.

Lunchtime was half over when Calida heard a shout and thumping on the school house door. Mr. Frobnitz put down his ham sandwich and opened the door in his usual unhurried way. The shoemaker, whose shop was next door to the school, stood dripping wet in the doorway. In one hand he held a large wooden pitchfork.

“The trolls are coming!” the shoemaker shouted. “They’re crossing the river at Harrison’s Ford! Get these children to the Hidden Caves! Hurry!”

Without waiting for Mr. Frobnitz to answer, the shoemaker dashed across the street to join a group of men in the church yard who were gathering with all the weapons that could be found in the village. Mr. Frobnitz turned towards his students, who had dropped their lunches and were staring at him with wide eyes.

“All right, everyone, let’s not panic,” he said in his calm way. For once the children paid no attention to his words. They began to scramble for the door, grabbing jackets and cloaks from the pegs on the wall and running as fast as they could towards their homes. When they were all gone, Mr. Frobnitz locked the school house door and joined the others in the church yard.

Candace and Calida held hands and ran silently for home. Calida’s heart was fluttering with fear and her feet were slipping on the wet cobblestones of the street. They ran past the baker’s, turned the corner, and saw their mother waiting for them in front of the house. She was holding Clovis on her hip and had a canvas bag next to her. Just seeing her made Calida feel calmer and braver.

“There’s not a minute to lose! Run!” their mother ordered.

She handed Candace the canvas bag and lifted Clovis, who was crying quietly, ont her shoulders. They jogged across the road, through the blacksmith’s yard, and straight up into the rolling green hills toward the Hidden Caves.

Calida had heard stories about the trolls, but it had been so long since they had come down from the mountains and across the river that some people said they must be extinct. In the old days, the trolls had raided villages during the winter months, taking sheep, cows, and goats. They would set fire to villages just for the fun of watching them burn, and bash anyone who tried to stop them with their enormous wooden clubs.

Even though she was used to running and playing ball at recess, Calida’s breath was burning in her chest from the uphill run. Through the rain she could see the other villagers struggling up the steep slopes, mothers and children and grandmothers and grandfathers all scrambling over rocks and tall grass toward the caves. Just then Calida jammed her toes hard against a sharp rock hidden under the grass.

Maybe it was the pain in her toes, or maybe it was the sound of her baby brother whimpering in fear, or maybe it was the thought of her father, back in the village, trying to defend their home with Grandpa Rufio’s old sword. Maybe it was just the way the cold air burned her chest as she ran. Whatever caused it, Calida’s fear began to change. It began to turn into anger. Anger is hot, and it spread through her like fire, until even her fingertips felt hot and angry.

They reached the entrance to the caves, which was a narrow opening in the rocky hillside. Only one or two people could enter at a time. A small group was gathered right outside the entrance and Calida’s family hurried into line. Old Mrs. Redhawk, who was twice as wide as anyone else in the village, squeezed in, and then Candace with her bulky canvas bag. Instead of following her sister, Calida turned and began running back down the hill.

“Calida, stop!” her mother shouted. “Get back here!”

Calida didn’t slow down. She was running into the wind and rain now. The rain slapped her face and blurred her eyes. She spread out her arms, running so fast it felt as though she were flying. She glanced down at her feet and gasped in surprise. Her feet were no longer touching the ground. She was flying! Her arms had become huge blue wings. She flapped them up and down. She swished her tail back and forth. Her tail? She glanced quickly over her right shoulder. Sure enough, a long blue tail with a little tuft of orange fur seemed to be following her. How remarkable.

She didn’t have time to wonder about it though. She could see the trolls now. There were about thirty of them and they had almost reached the houses at the edge of the village. Calida pointed her nose downwards and began to glide lower. Below her the village defenders were shouting but the storm was so loud she couldn’t understand their words.

Calida was getting closer to the trolls. They were about twice as tall as adult humans, with green-gray skin, short hairy legs, and huge muscular arms. Long mossy hair grew on their heads, falling in tangled locks over their lumpy shoulders. They wore animal skins and carried wooden clubs and burning torches. Calida wondered how their torches could burn in such rain and decided that maybe they were magical.

Now the trolls looked up and noticed her. She was close enough to see the fear in their ugly faces. With fierce delight she opened her mouth to roar at them, and a blast of flame shot out of her mouth. She was so startled that she almost fell out of the sky! Quickly she flapped her wings and regained her balance. Swooping low over the trolls’ heads, she turned in a wide circle to pass over them again. They had stopped moving towards the village and were clustered together nervously.

Calida flew even lower, sucked in a deep breath and blew out a long stream of fire. The trolls shouted and began to run back towards the river on their stumpy legs, dropping their torches on the soggy grass. Calida circled again, flying as low as she dared, blowing another ball of fire at the shrieking trolls. They plunged into the cold river, pushing and shoving each other in their panic. Calida wrinkled her nose in disgust. Even flying overhead she could smell the awful scent of wet troll–a combination of moldy cheese and dirty goats.

The rainstorm was beginning to taper off. Calida shook the raindrops out of her eyelashes. She flapped her great wings slowly, following the trolls and shooting a few blasts of orange flames at their backs to keep them running. They were well into the mountains when she decided they weren’t going to try returning to the village. She turned and flew back towards the Hidden Caves. Her wings were tired and the fiery anger inside was fading. She glided over the river and the shining wet roofs of the village.

The village men were waving their swords and pitchforks in excitement and shouting, “Hooray for the dragon! The dragon has returned!”

Calida flapped her tail happily but she did not slow down. She kept flying into the hills. She glided to a bumpy landing on the same grassy hillside where she had leaped into the air. She was behind a pile of rocks where she couldn’t be seen by anyone in or near the Hidden Caves. She folded her giant wings and took a deep breath of damp air. It felt good to sit still for a moment and rest her trembling muscles. The sky above the valley was beginning to clear. A sun beam broke through the tattered clouds and shone on her face. She closed her eyes contentedly.

When she opened them she looked down at her feet. They were once again wearing her neat brown winter shoes. Above them was the hem of her plain blue school dress. She lifted her arms and looked at her hands. They were ordinary hands again. Ten freckled fingers with short fingernails and a golden ring. She smiled at her hands and stood up. She walked around the pile of mossy rocks toward the mouth of the cave.

Her mother ran out of the cave and grabbed her by the shoulders, hugging her and shaking her at the same time.

“Calida!” she scolded, “Don’t you ever disobey me like that again! I was worried to death! Where have you been? We thought that frightful dragon had eaten you!”

She pulled Calida into the cave without even pausing for breath. Clovis ran to Calida and grabbed a fistful of her skirt.

“We looked everywhere! I’ve never been so frightened in my life. What on earth were you thinking of?” Calida’s mother continued.

Calida couldn’t think of anything to say. She looked down at her feet and mumbled, “I’m sorry, Mother.”

She knelt down to hug her little brother. He stared at her with his bright blue eyes and grinned impishly.

“I saw,” he whispered.

“You did?” Calida whispered back.

“I was on Mother’s shoulders. I could see you. You turned into a dragon.”

Calida sat on the hard floor of the cave and pulled him onto her lap.

“I chased the trolls away. They’re all gone now.” she told him gently.

He snuggled against her chest. She put her arms around him protectively.

Just then the blacksmith trudged to the mouth of the cave and shouted, “The trolls are gone! The dragon came and chased them back to the mountains!”

Everyone began talking excitedly and hugging each other in relief.

“The dragon! No one’s seen the dragon for years!”

“I wonder if it ate the trolls.”

They all began the long walk back to the village. The young children laughed and chased each other through the grass, their fear already forgotten. Calida’s father met his family halfway up the hill. He kissed his wife on the cheek and then turned to Calida. He hugged her and ruffled her hair with his hands.

“Good job,” he told her with a wink. “Very impressive indeed.”

“Thank you Father,” Calida answered calmly.








A Word of Explanation


February 23, 2015

The picture above really is the view from my back fence, looking across Mr. Spurling’s cow pasture (not visible in the photo) and towards a small section of the Ouachita National Forest. My place is a tumble down shack in the country but I have an enormous backyard. Queen Elizabeth’s 40,000 acres at Balmoral is nothing in comparison.

There really is a Serendipity Trail. It is about two miles from where I live and it is a pretty mile and a half loop with a lovely view at the halfway point. It is only one of innumerable hiking/biking/horse trails in the forest.

I really do live between Ink and Mt. Ida. It just doesn’t get any more literary than that and no, I’m not making this up. My imagination is not that stupendous. By sheer chance I landed in this amazing place. Yes, it was my choice, but I also found more here to love than I expected. I am also very close to Pine Ridge (of the old Lum and Abner radio show fame) and not far from Hole in the Ground.

Yes, there really is a Little Hope Baptist Church and a very lively and friendly group they are.

Montgomery County (named for the general who died at the Siege of Quebec) is about two-thirds national forest. We have lots and lots of trees and about ten thousand people. We are far enough south to grow live oaks and magnolias, although they are not native here, and far enough north to grow maple trees.

From my house it is about a thirty minute drive to the far western fringes of Lake Ouachita, very large and very beautiful as there are no houses on the shoreline, only a few scattered marinas.

We have black bears. We have mountain lions. We have alligators. I see bald eagles every winter although for how much longer I do not know. We are losing the fireflies and the bird numbers are plummeting here as they are everywhere.

The last of the virgin forest in Montgomery County was logged in the 1950s. Greed, greed, greed. We are, as a species, such slow learners that I fear that fact will eventually do us in. Never mind. It will probably be better for the total biomass of the planet in the long run.

The Tale of My Chandelier


February 20, 2015

First the backstory: In 2005 I spent three months traveling and camping out in the northwest. I visited a number of national parks and a number of places associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I had no RV; I slept in a tent. I was by myself and I had a grand time. But it was in Grand Teton that I met a young woman who had a very large impact on my life even though I only exchanged a a few words with her. On the edge of that park a family has a horseback riding concession that they have operated during the summer months for years. I wanted to ride and, after going down a few wrong trails, I found the place. They had no other customers but they greeted me and I explained what I wanted. The first person who spoke to me to inquire what I needed was a girl in her late teens. I wanted to ride, I said. Yes, I knew how to ride. I had experience owning horses. I was not a beginner. What she said next was, “Oh, you remind me of my grandmother. I lost her a year ago. I miss her so very much.” It was simple and it was commonplace but I was struck by the openness and intimacy with which she spoke to a complete stranger. I had lived in large cities all my life and that was not something one would often encounter in a chance meeting in an urban setting. Years later I realized how very frequent such a response is among country people who grow up in communities where everyone knows everyone, either personally or at least by sight, and where it is still quite safe to treat everyone as a potential friend. “My brother can take you out for an hour, if you like.” she said. Brother was delighted. He would much rather go for a ride than help other family members vet mules which was his assigned task that day; he did not much like mules. It was not a quiet ride as he was one of the most garrulous people I have ever met. I heard his life story and answered innumerable questions as to where I was from, what I was doing traveling alone, my family, and on and on.  Beautiful trail, gorgeous scenery, slow pace on one of the most placid horses I have ever bestrode, but that was okay. There was not much room for a gallop anyway on a steep and winding trail through the lower wooded slopes of the Tetons.

Fast forward a few years: George retired and we moved to the Ouachita Mountains in southern Arkansas. We bought a tumble down house on two acres in Montgomery County. At one point I wandered into a business in Mena that did repairs and remodeling simply to inquire as to prices and the availability of help. The woman in the office, who was, together with her husband, the owner of the business, offered coffee and coffeecake, and visited with me in a friendly manner. As it transpired their services were beyond my budget, but she clearly wanted to be helpful and offered the names and phone numbers of several local carpenters and handymen who might be able to serve me. In country communities one still meets with a strong tradition of helping one’s neighbor and this lady was obviously distressed that she could not do more on my behalf. Suddenly she asked, “Do you need a light fixture?” Now how on earth does one answer that one? The phrase “light fixture” covers a very broad territory and what one person thinks beautiful and another thinks hideous is nowhere more apparent than in the area of lighting. In addition there is the problem of what will fit the style of the interior and the space. However, as she so very much wanted to be useful, and I thought that if the offered piece didn’t suit I could always pass it on to someone who could use it, I said, politely, “Why, yes, that would be lovely.” She disappeared into a back room and presently re-emerged pushing a very large cardboard box along the floor, labeled “Schonbek.” Now those in the know will recognize that name. They make, and have for years, a very expensive line of light fixtures, chiefly chandeliers, most of them hung with cut glass. A bit startled I said, “Surely you aren’t offering me a Shonbek.” She beamed at me and said, “Oh, I knew you were the very person for this; you know the name and what it is.” She opened the top of the box and I was staggered to see a huge, solid brass, traditional chandelier, with a dozen lights. It was also brand new and would have carried a hefty price tag in any lighting showroom.Later I measured it. It is 23 inches wide and has a total drop of 33 inches. That’s huge and ridiculously oversized for any room in my house. Nonetheless I accepted happily and graciously. Together we wrestled the unwieldy and heavy box out to my car and got it loaded.

I couldn’t bear to give it away, firstly, because it is beautiful and, secondly, because it was such an incredible gesture from someone I only met once. Obviously it was not designed for a small country cottage with eight foot ceilings. I hung it over the table in the dining room, which is a misleading description of the small semi-enclosed area off my kitchen where we eat, simply to put it in a place where there would be no likelihood of anyone running into it. Bang your head on that thing and you will be laid out cold on the floor. It’s super heavy and we had the devil’s own time hanging it. George worked for hours reinforcing the supporting ceiling structure to take the weight and getting it up involved both of us, two ladders, and some strong language. It’s completely out of place in my tiny rustic house but it certainly is very elegant. It is partnered in elegance in the dining room by my mother’s gold framed mirror, also large, formal, and out of place in a farmhouse. She bought the frame for a song in NYC during WWII and I can’t remember a time it did not hang wherever we lived. Frame is in the Victorian High Renaissance style and when my Fort Worth framer repaired it he commented, “Looks like it should be holding an Alma Tadema, not a mirror.” Over the past seventy years the mirror has acquired some marvellous vertical streaking as the silvered backing has aged and begun to deteriorate adding to the entire decayed chateau ambiance. Present owner is likewise falling apart but we won’t go there.