Beyond that faraway place of yesterday, and over the seas of long-since-passed, there was a time when the world was young and not yet carved by the river of progress. The skin of the earth grew with purpose, stretching over every bone from the arching spine of the white capped mountains to the heaving breast of glacial ice.
Upon this sleeping and gentle giant, there was a land, once named Ötztaler by the Germanic settlers of the Iron Age, but to the beasts and breezes it was always known as Mathair Barrog. ‘Mother’s Embrace’ the stones would tell you, if one were willing to wait for their patient response. Though even then not the snail or the turtle would have bothered to ask. When man came to this place, and began taming it to his will, he changed more than just the name. His herd was different than the others, and after some time (far more than the passing of seasons, and much longer than the maturing of young groves into somber forests) man’s herd seemed to grow tired of living as the other animals did. His burrows became larger and more permanent. He stopped traveling with the seasons and instead learned to remain in one place, defying the suggestive nudge of winter as he huddled together in larger and larger clusters that continued to strengthen.
As his knowledge of survival bred, a powerful thing took root in the mind of man. An idea, and perhaps even worse than that, a belief, that he no longer had to bend to the will of the world around him, but that by his defiance, he could make it bend to him instead.
Things began to change. Man settled among the forests, and journeyed into the hills. He learned to master the wild rivers by riding their currents, and even found a way to alter their ancient paths, changing the tears of the earth in a way that none had dared to conceive. He took from his surroundings whatever she would give him and more. And as the rumors spread of man’s offensive ambition, fear echoed through the herds of the valleys and murmured amongst the flocks of the northern skies, until at long last the earth trembled in reckoning, giving its response in unbridled riposte.
Awakened from within itself, the land unleashed a vengeful mistress, her lessons taught in the cruelest of ways. She would be known from then on and evermore as the Goddess, still a mother of life to be praised and admired, but who was now surrounded by a distancing fear. She would be revered as a tempered warden to all who lay witness to her powerful reply. Conflict was met as it always was, by testing his will for existence. Man could either adapt and comply, or dwindle and be removed like others before him who had liken found themselves in the shadow of nature’s displeasure.
Her harsh biting storms drew out man’s ability to survive, her unforgiving terrain carved through to his endurance, forcing him to strengthen his reserve and adapt to what could be the equally generous resources that she would offer in return. All throughout her attack, the Goddess would bribe him with these gifts. For those who loved and obeyed her, she would be kind, as had always been the understanding. From the hummingbird to the mountain, each knew and respected this rule. But even the longevity of tradition cannot outlast the progression of time. Nor can it escape that treacherous, impending rebellion. As it was with man, to her everlasting sorrow.
Progression tore humanity from her embrace, taking with it their respect, their remembrance, and eventually, their understanding. The last man to hear the voice of the wind and understand the stories that she would tell has long since passed, taking with him many a conversation with fox and robin. No more would the mountain hare remark to man that, yes, today it did look as if they were in for a spot of rain, nor would the black woodpecker inquire about the health of man’s cubs, after he had heard that the little ones had recently taken ill. The sun set that day on a once great community, and when the world turned its face again to the morning’s light, it revealed a forest silenced with mournful segregation.
That moment on, something changed in the mind of all beasts. Having witnessed man’s rebellion, they all grew to shun and scorn him. But his blasphemy did not come without inspiration. These ‘ideas’ of superiority that he had invented were contagious and started the herds thinking. No doubt man was wrong to believe that he was high enough to challenge nature, but there was something to this ‘importance’ that the other animals liked. One species began to compare themselves to another, and as discussions led to debates, arguments and competition soon ensued.
Since no agreement could be made on which species was better, and therefore closest in the Goddess’s favor, the animals simply stopped looking, and instead drew into themselves. Licking their wounds, the members of the herds comforted one another by reaffirming their own inherent strengths.
‘Don’t listen to the chuffs,” the chamois would say to one another, ‘what does a bird know about strength? We are the fiercest in the Goddess’s arms, that’s why she gave us our strong legs and horns.’ And all the chamois butted their heads in agreement.
‘What do the chamois know about being fierce?’ would scoff a group of passing snow voles, ‘they think they are brave… when they cannot even reach the mountain’s summit. We are the only ones to live there. Closer than all to the Goddess’s home.’ And all the snow voles scampered in agreement.
‘How dare you speak of summits!’ A golden eagle would cry, as he snatched up one of the voles in his powerful talons, ‘when the highest peaks are those of the clouds. The goddess gave us her wings so we could fly amongst her heavens. We are made in her image, and carry her favor above all.” And from every corner of the sky, the eagles pierced the air with their agreeing cry.
Made in her image. The goddess often wept when she thought of that, for it was a principal that all her children had come to believe, and that had separated her from them in the most terrible way. How did it feel, when her daughter the deer looked upon her face and saw only her own likeness looking back, when the bear looked and saw her in the form of a bear, when the salmon saw a salmon, and when man looked… he often saw nothing at all. Her purest identity had been taken from her, pushing and forcing the Goddess into a plenitude of forms in an exhausting bout of interpretation. One mask for each set of eyes that took from her only what they wanted to see.
Things had changed, and when the time came that only the Goddess herself still remembered the unity that used to be amongst her children, when only her sad song of the wind whispered of the old days, and the breathing earth sighed with remorse for that happier long ago time; She began to fear that there would never be another who would hear her voice, and truly understand it. Who would look upon her face, and see all that she was, and all that she could be once more.