On a warm summer day in a forest made of every living tree that had ever been seen, and even a few that had yet to be discovered, a burly Lumberjack sat on a stump and ate his lunch of beans and bread and cheese. He whistled as he ate, knowing the end of the day would bring him back to his lovely wife and his bright-eyed daughter with arms full of wood to keep them warm through the winter. The Lumberjack knew never to take more from the forest than he had to, for the trees re-grew slowly and winter always came fast.
A wily Fox who was passing along heard the Lumberjack’s happy tune and paused to listen. He didn’t particularly care for music, but where there were men there was food, and where there was food, there was less work to be done. Now the Fox was as lazy as he was clever, so he approached the Lumberjack slowly, a plan forming in his little mind. Behind a bush, he carefully lay down, arranging the branches and vines around his back paw until it looked like he had been caught. He started to whine, relishing the discordance with the Lumberjack’s merry whistle. The whistling stopped.
The Lumberjack was a kind and simple man at heart, though gruff and burly to the eye, and his heart broke for an animal in pain. He found the Fox lying behind the bush and bent down to untangle him from the vines. The Fox, not actually being caught, leapt up and over the helpful Lumberjack, snatching a piece of bread from the stump and disappearing into the forest. The Lumberjack was unhappy but knew that the Fox must have been hungrier than he was, so he let the Fox go.
The next day, seeing how simple it was to steal from the Lumberjack, the Fox waited until the Lumberjack was distracted by a particularly stubborn tree branch and took the wedge of cheese still sitting in the pail. The Lumberjack yelled a curse at the Fox as he disappeared back into the forest, but still he did not chase it. The Fox smiled to himself. I’ll never have to hunt again, the clever Fox thought. And so he continued to steal from the gentle Lumberjack, growing bolder and bolder each day.
Eventually, when the autumn winds began to bite, the Lumberjack grew tired of the fox’s shenanigans. “This fox hide would make a wonderful blanket for my daughter,” he said to himself, and he brought with him to the forest a net to catch the Fox. But the Fox was wily, and he evaded the Lumberjack’s simple trap, laughing all the way back to his den under the great Estronian Yew. But little did the small Fox know, the Lumberjack had followed him through the forest and seen where the Fox called home. And so the next day, the Lumberjack brought with him a small piece of flint along with the knife he had every day to prune branches. “I’ll smoke the little beast out,” the Lumberjack said, gathering a bundle of poplar and rowan twigs and binding them together with a vine. He lit the ends and held the branches next to the opening under the yew. The Fox was sleeping the contented sleep of one well-fed and under-worked and so did not smell the wisps of smoke.
The Lumberjack, impatient, added more sticks to his bundle, ready to be rid of this pest. Suddenly a great wind picked up and blew the sparks from the Lumberjack’s hands and into the underbrush, dead and dry from autumn’s brittle touch. They quickly took to flame and the fires began to spread. The Lumberjack tried to stomp it out, but only succeeded in fanning it higher. The Lumberjack ran for home, hoping his lovely wife would know how to stop it. But his home was a mile away, at least, and the flames were hungry and the forest was dry. The Fox finally awoke, warmer than he was used to and choking on smoke. He yelped and ran out from the yew and out of the forest, right past the disgruntled Lumberjack’s net. The Fox didn’t stop until he had reached the Lumberjack’s small home, where the two watched as the forest that provided for them both was devoured quickly by fire’s greedy and uncaring spirit. The Lumberjack, petty feud forgotten in the disaster he had brought upon himself, rested his hand on the Fox’s head. They stood there until the sun went down and the moon rose and fell, and eventually it started to snow.
Softly, at first, the flakes disappeared into the fire’s roaring anger, but as it fell harder, the fire’s anger subsided, and slowly, so painfully slowly, the fire died down and the smoking ruin of the forest stared balefully at the Fox and the Lumberjack. The Lumberjack, in sorrow, offered a small piece of food to the Fox, and a place to stay throughout the long winter. The Fox knew the fire was in part a fault of his own and spent the winter curled up against the Lumberjack’s small daughter, who would wake, more often than not, crying from cold and hunger. It was the longest, coldest winter in living memory, and they all spent it utterly miserable.
But eventually spring shyly showed her pretty face again, and the Fox and the Lumberjack, who had grown quite close, and quite thin, by this time, ventured out into the ashes that were once the great forest. There they searched, day after day, for any salvageable wood with which to cook the food they also could not find. This continued. And continued. But spring brought with her an air of hope, and so, one day in their rambles, the pair found a small, green sapling growing from the burnt out husk of an evergreen trunk. The Lumberjack bent down and tenderly ran the sapling through his fingers. He smiled. The Fox at his side gave a small, joyous bark. The forest had a long way to go, they knew, but eventually it would return to its former glory. Until then, though, they knew that the winters would be long, cold, and hungry, and life would be hard, so much harder than it should have been.