Gretel swept the front porch, sending gold and rust colored leaves flying. She felt the crispness of the autumn air chilling her nose. In spite of the sun filtering through the aspens and spruce trees that surrounded the cottage, she was grateful for the knitted shawl draped over her shoulders. She pulled it tighter around herself against the autumn chill. The past few mornings she had noticed a distinctive change in the weather, the warmth of summer had worn itself out.
She heard a rattling from inside the kitchen, leaned her twig broom against the front of the house and turned the knob of the door. Stepping into the cottage, she was met with a welcome warmth. She had stoked a small fire on the hearth earlier that morning and the glowing embers cut the chill that threatened at the door and windows of the cottage. She lifted the boiling kettle from the stove with a worn potholder and set it aside. Pouring the steaming water into her tea pot she watched the tea leaves spin and swirl. The aroma of the earthy tea mixed with the delicious smell of the cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. She smiled, anticipating Hansel’s return and their dinner of rolls and berries. His favorite.
Gretel busied herself around the cottage, shaking out rugs, sweeping around the fireplace and dusting the furniture. With a rag in hand, she gently wiped down the few treasures that sat on the mantle over the hearth. She dusted the hand-carved rabbit family that Hansel had made that spring. He had chosen several blocks of wood for their swirling and arcing grains and out of these scraps had sprung this life-like warren of rabbits. The long ears and cotton tails always made Gretel smile. Hansel truly had her father’s gift. They had both grown up hearing their father’s words, “I look for the creature in the wood and set it free.”
She remembered another cool autumn afternoon, sitting on the porch of their home. In her hands she held a branch and with chopping strokes she was putting a point on her stick. Beside her, her father sat, knees bracing his muscled forearms as he slowly and precisely carved two little eyes in the hummingbird taking form in his hands.
“Gretel, with each cut in the wood, you are slicing away what isn’t a hummingbird. Until at last, you have the creature you imagined to be hidden inside. In the same way, your days carve away a little bit of who you believe you are, until eventually you discover who you truly are. Let each day do its work. You, my child, are being made into a beautiful creation.” He handed her the delicate hummingbird - wings stretched in mid-flight, piercing bill sharpened to a point and inquisitive eyes staring back at her. She had treasured that little wooden bird.
And she still did. Reaching into her apron pocket she pulled out the tiny hummingbird. It was smooth; polished by years of her handling it, worrying it with her nervous hands. Absently she rubbed the head of the bird and stared out the window. She had distanced herself so from her father, even burning the old woolen cloak she had worn that cold morning they had left their cottage, but this was one treasure she couldn’t part with.
With a jump she heard the front door open and Hansel stamped into the house. He dropped his canvas bag to the floor and blew on his icy hands. “I’m back,” he announced. Smiling at her he asked, “What have you got there?”
She froze and hurriedly dropped the hummingbird back into her apron pocket. “Oh, nothing. Just a bit of wood. You’re back a bit early. How was the market?”