ROWAN AND THE MARCH HARE
Rowan was hiding. It's true that you could see her feet, where she stood behind the window curtain, and every now and then a bright blue eye and a glimpse of golden curls, when she peeped out. But when you're hiding really well, that sort of thing doesn't really count.
It was Spring Eve, and Rowan wanted to see the March Hare. Her mother and father had told her about the Hare coming, with fairies as his helpers, to fill the Spring Day baskets with toys and treats. She had decorated her basket with flowers, and put green grass made from paper inside. Then she had gone to bed--but not to sleep; and after the moon rose she had slipped down the stairs. The house was very quiet, only creaking and whispering to itself from time to time, as old houses do.
Truth to tell, Rowan nearly fell asleep once or twice. Every time she peeked out, there were only the baskets sitting there on the hearth, innocent in their emptiness. But at last, when she was in the middle of an especially big yawn, something happened. There was a thump, thump from somewhere just outside-and then-
There they were! The March Hare was just as she had imagined him-tall, just as tall as Rowan (and her mother was always telling her what a big girl she was), with rumpled fur, an expression half wild and half bewildered, and big floppy ears-one pointing up, one down.
But the fairies - she had not imagined how beautiful they were. They were tiny, and looked as if they were made from light, or were so clear that light from somewhere else was always shining through them. Their voices sounded something like wind chimes, on a day when it has been still a long time, and then a faint breeze comes, like a shy question. Their clothing was of all the colors of the rainbow, even the in-between colors that you don't usually see unless the rainbow is very clear, and looks as if it might really lead you to where the Gods live, if you went just now and didn't wait at all.
But we must get back to Rowan.
Even though she was hiding so well, Rowan must have made some sound, because all of a sudden the March Hare was looking straight at her. He smacked himself on the forehead. '"I'm early,' he said, 'that's what it is! You see," he continued, while taking Rowan by the hand and drawing her out into the room, "it's like when you reset the clock in Spring. 'Spring forward, fall back'-you've heard that, haven't you?"
Rowan nodded. "There you go," the Hare said, triumphantly. "I'm always springing forward-I never fall back-so I must be early, and that's why you aren't in bed!"
"No, you're on time," Rowan said. "I stayed up just to see you!"
The Hare shook his head. "Oh, no. That won't do at all. What would happen if children always stayed up and got to see me?"
He waited, but Rowan couldn't think of anything to say. "Well," said the Hare at last, "we don't want to find out, do we? No, I'm afraid I will have to have the fairies take you away. So come along, now."
"But I wanted to see you fill the baskets!" Rowan said. Somehow that was what came out, even though she was really thinking about never seeing her brothers and sisters, and her mother and father, ever again; and tears were starting in her eyes.
"You can see us fill other children's baskets--if you're good," the March Hare said. "No one ever sees their own basket get filled. I really have to draw the line somewhere."
Then two or three of the fairies were flitting around Rowan, and she forgot to be sad for a moment. One of the fairies perched on her shoulder, and said close to her ear,"Don't worry. We won't really take you away."
"Oh-won't you?" Rowan said, sounding a little wistful this time.
"You can go with us for a while," the fairy said. "But we'll bring you back. The March Hare will never notice. He's always telling childen we'll take them away, but he forgets everything in a few minutes."
"Thank you," said Rowan, remembering her manners.
"I really don't know," said one of the other fairies, a green and gold one who reminded Rowan of a dandelion, "why the Goddess put him in charge of this holiday. He is mad, you know. Well, She moves in mysterious ways."
"Do you mean Ostara?" Rowan asked. She was very proud that she remembered the name.
"Yes," said the fairy. "But I think her name might be Idunna, too."
"What an idea!" said the fairy who was on Rowan's shoulder. "What made you think that?"
"Well," the first fairy answered shyly, "she was walking by one day and something made me whisper 'Idunna'! And she turned her head-or I think she did-and she was looking at me, or just past me, or maybe just a bit over my head-and I think she smiled."
There was a brief silence while the other fairies and Rowan all tried to think of something to say, and then the March Hare was calling. "We're done here. On to the next house! Quick and lively, all of you! We won't finish before the Summer Solstice at this rate!"
"Come on!" the fairies cried, and Rowan was rushed along with them as they all jumped onto the March Hare's back. She wasn't sure how it would work, but it seemed that somehow he was bigger now, and had no trouble carrying them all.
"Ready….set….GO!" he shouted, and then he gave a tremendous leap. Rowan thought this must be what springing forward meant. Suddenly there was a chill like the depths of winter, and wild winds swirling around them. Stars streaked across the open sky. Rowan held on as hard as she could and buried her face in the Hare's fur, which was soft, and had the fresh smell of grass and spring breezes.
Then there was a THUMP! and they were in someone else's house. Rowan slid down the Hare's back and off, and looked around in awe. "We must be on the other side of the world!" she said.
"Just on the next street, really," said a voice at her ear. "But he likes to show off."
Rowan turned her head, expecting to see the fairy sitting on her shoulder still. She was surprised to see that the fairy (a hyacinth-blue one) was just her size now. "But I thought you were little!" she exclaimed.
" We can be whatever size we want," the fairy smiled. "But don't think of that right now. Just watch!"
This house, too, had a hearth, though it was one of the kind that had a gas-fire of logs that are always burning, but never burn up and break apart. Three pretty baskets sat there. Rowan watched entranced as the March Hare filled the baskets, producing (out of nowhere, it seemed), chocolate rabbits, marshmallow chicks, streamers and kites just waiting to dance on the April winds, picture-books, dolls, white-bearded little gnomes, and other things she could hardly see, because he was moving so fast. Then the Hare began to juggle. He began with one egg, a bright sky-blue one. In a moment-though she couldn't see how-there were two, then three, and soon he was juggling an entire rainbow of eggs, somehow keeping them all in the air at once.
"Now it's our turn," said the green and gold fairy to Rowan. "Come on, you can help us!"
She ran over to the Hare with the fairies, and as each one passed, the Hare flipped one of the eggs out for that fairy to catch, then, as quick as thought, another for the next one in line. Then they would run or flutter around the room, looking for a place to hide the egg. Some of them shrank to mouse-size again, and ran under chairs or between books and knick-knacks in the bookcases. Some opened drawers and hid the eggs in among forgotten drawings and the ends of broken crayons. Some flew up in the air and balanced eggs on top of pictures hanging on the walls, or on the lintels above doorways.
Rowan herself got a yellow egg with purple spots. After long thought, she hid it behind an old clock that sat on the mantel. "That's a good place," said the hyacinth fairy, approvingly. "What I really like is when it's warm enough to hide them outside. That doesn't happen often around here, though. I like to leave one in the mailbox."
"Do the children always find all the eggs?" Rowan asked.
"Usually," said the fairy. "I do remember one year when we found one that they'd missed. The March Hare was peeved, and said we'd made it too hard. But we know that children don't want it to be too easy."
"That's right," Rowan nodded. "But what about that egg?" She pointed at the one that the hyacinth fairy held in her hand, which was silver and had a faint glow about it.
"This is a special egg," the fairy said, taking her hand. "Come with me and I'll show you."
Together they tiptoed upstairs, and into one of the bedrooms. A boy about Rowan's age was sleeping there. The fairy carefully lifted his pillow up, and tucked the egg underneath. "It's a dream egg," she explained.
"Oh!" cried Rowan. "Can I see what it's like?"
"We should have one or two extras," the fairy said. "Snowdrop!" she called to a fairy who was just passing the door. "Could you give us that dream egg, and get another one? Thank you!"
This egg glowed as the other one had, but with a pale green color this time. Carefully, as she and Rowan bent over it, the fairy cracked the egg open. A luminous mist arose from it, which encircled Rowan, and then she was seeing the things in the dream instead of what was around her.
As she had expected, it was a dream of spring. She was playing with other children in the warm sunshine. Birds were singing all around, and flowers peeped out of the grass, thick as stars on a clear night in the country. Then they joined in a dance around a tall Maypole that was bore a high wreath of flowers. All the children were crowned with flowers too, and the red and green and gold ribbons tangled and untangled again as they danced.
In another moment Rowan found herself back in the house, kneeling across from the hyacinth fairy. "That was a good dream," she said.
The fairy nodded. "They're all good. That's what the March Hare does all year, aside from these few nights-he sleeps, and these are his dreams."
"What about the rest of you?" Rowan asked, a little shyly.
"Oh, we keep busy," the fairy laughed. "All the growing things need us to guide them, these long months until the shadows of Autumn begin to fall. Even then we have a few hectic weeks, painting all the leaves. But it's work that we do gladly, and afterwards, we get to sleep all winter."
Rowan yawned. Even though she was excited, she was beginning to feel a bit sleepy again. The fairy took her hand again, and they went downstairs. The fairies were just finding places to hide the last few eggs.
"If you go to the window over there," the fairy whispered in Rowan's ear, "you can just see the Goddess herself passing by."
Rowan went to the window, and pressed her nose against the glass. Yes, she could see Ostara walking there. Her hair streamed out into the wind, and became the wind. Where She walked, flowers grew in Her footsteps. Snow melted at Her glance. As She passed, animals stirred in their sleep, stretched, and awakened. Butterflies filled the air, spiralling up into the sky. And all these things were real….not dreams, like those the fairies had shown her…but real.
Rowan's eyes closed then for a while. When she opened them again, she was leaning against the window in her own house, where she had been hiding behind the curtain. She blinked a few times, seeing that dawn was just starting to make the sky pink. Then she went quietly up to her room, not even once thinking about stopping to look at the Spring baskets.
Rowan's mother and father wondered, that Spring Day, why Rowan was a little hard to wake up, instead of being one of the first to get out of bed and wait at her parents' door, as she usually was. She seemed a little dreamy and far away all morning. "It's as if she's been with the fairies," her father rold her mother.
But despite that, it was one of the best Spring Days, and one of the best Springs, that anyone could remember. As the days and seasons and years went on, Rowan's time with the fairies and the March Hare seemed more and more like a dream to her. But she never quite forgot it, and when her own daughter woke up one Spring morning after what she said was a funny dream, with a big rabbit in it, Rowan smiled and told her this story.
© 2007 Oak Hedge