The Wizards of Sheep Valley
A Story About Three Boys
Anders, Petter, and Johan Olafsson were brothers. Their father was a sheep rancher in northern Arizona. They were not much more than babies when their family immigrated from Götaland, Sweden. They were two, three, and four-years-old at the time. The year was 1910. Their grandfather was a sheep farmer in the "old country" or det gamla landet. Jacob Olafsson became a landowner in Arizona, where he hoped to raise many sheep. His wife, Mari, had been a "saeter" or caretaker of children in Sweden. Now she was busy caring for her own sons and spinning yarn from wool for profit. Her mother had taught her how to weave cloth, and soon she was making blankets and clothing for other ranchers and settlers.
There were colorful hand-braided rugs about the large room. Mari would read aloud Swedish stories and letters from their homeland when she wasn't spinning or weaving. The boys sat on the rugs and carefully listened. They loved to hear her voice. She wore her hair in a long golden braid. Sometimes, she wrapped it around her head, like a crown. At least that was how Johan saw it! She was always a happy person. Each day she would awaken them and say, "En sån underbar dag!" (What a lovely day!) It didn't matter if it were raining or snowing outside.
Their father was a large, bearded man, who was away much of the time herding the sheep or busy with ranch chores. But he did find time for a cup of coffee several times a day. He would sigh and say, "En kopp kaffe, tack."
Jacob hired a young Navajo Indian to supervise much of the sheep-herding activities. He became a friend to the Olafsson boys and taught them many things about the Indian culture. When the boys were old enough to help with the herding work and spend their summers at the northern camps, they accompanied Little Wolf to the cooler summer valleys. They enjoyed sleeping under the stars and learning about the Navajo life. They shared stories they had been told about the Scandinavian traditions.
Little Wolf made them laugh when he said he could beat a drum that would make the bad spirits run away. But one day a big brown bear came into their camp and attacked a lamb. Their collie dog was brave and chased the bear into the hills. Little Wolf said they should rename him "Bear Eater" because he had tried to bite the bear who was much bigger than he. Anders, the oldest brother, said that was true, and from then on the dog was called by his new name.
Johan, the youngest brother, had almost white hair, but it usually looked dirty. He found himself thinking about the toy bear he had seen at a neighbor's ranch that had brown fur. One night as he lie on his blanket under the stars, he dreamt he was a bear with two little sisters. He loved the idea of having sisters. But, in the morning he felt guilty because his dream had revealed his secret jealousy of Anders' and Petter's brown hair.
One night while they were sleeping they awoke to a loud humming sound. Right above their heads they saw a large bowl-shaped object as big as three houses. They were all frightened and ran into the hills, leaving their sheep unattended. Strangely, Bear Eater had not barked once. Johan cried and asked if they would be carried off to the moon. The moon had been a bright quarter moon in an almost cloudless sky. He imagined that the big bowl was like a ship that traveled in the sky and visited the stars. No one answered him. His brothers and Little Wolf were afraid too.
The loud humming sound stopped and they worried that the sky ship had landed nearby. Suddenly, everything was dark. It was like the moon had disappeared.
They walked and stumbled in the dark and tried to find their way back to the sheep. Then, they heard a strange moaning sound. They followed the sound. The moon began to reappear with a dim silver appearance. The low light revealed a small gray figure hanging in the branches of a piÁon tree. The figure was not much bigger than Anders, who was only ten years old.
Little Wolf said, "I will help him." He suspected that the figure had somehow fallen from the flying ship when it moved above them. Petter said, "I will help him too."
They gently disentangled the small gray creature from the branches and placed him on his feet. He was slender and gray from head to foot. His head was shaped like a large egg and his eyes were narrow slits. His mouth was also small and narrow. Yet, when he looked around at his rescuers, he almost looked as if he were smiling. Then, he silently walked away. Shortly afterwards, they again heard the hum of the sky ship, but soon the sound ebbed into the distance.
They returned to their blankets and tried to get back to sleep. None of them spoke of their strange experience. They stared into the sky and Johan hoped the moon was real. He thought about the little gray visitor from the ship and wondered if he lived on the moon, when he wasn't flying around the stars. He wondered if anything in their recent hour had been real.
Summer was soon over and school sessions began at the Reilly home where Mrs. Reilly was the school marm for eight boys and girls. There were two older boys than the Olafsson brothers. A twelve-year-old boy, named, Tom Reilly, made fun of Johan's white hair and their Swedish manner of speaking. His father was a driver for the stage lines, while his mother taught the school. Tom was a "bully" in the true sense, frequently making cruel jokes and frightening the youngest children with his taunts.
The Olafsson brothers spoke limited English but they had learned to use one word well. They called Tom a "getabock," meaning "billy goat." Then, they would all laugh uproariously. It all seemed harmless enough until one day when Anders called him "getabock," again, Tom suddenly began hitting his own head against the wall until he had bleeding lumps on his forehead. When he finally stopped battering his head, it was fear they saw in his eyes, not humor or ridicule.
Mrs. Reilly tried to be fair to all her students most of the time. Of course, the mischief was usually done when there were no adult onlookers. However, one day when Mrs. Reilly assigned Petter repeated blackboard work for misspelling the word "allegiance," (a troublesome word for most of them), Anders muttered, "May all the spelling books fly to the sky." Suddenly, books were flying out the windows and flying through the air like they had wings. The spelling book pages flipped as if invisible fingers were moving them.
Mrs. Reilly screamed the words, "Wizardry--witchcraft!!" Maybe, Mrs. Reilly thought Anders was a wizard. Petter cried, "Stop--stop." The books returned through the windows and the spelling book pages stopped flipping. Now, all eyes were on the Olafsson brothers. Everyone was frightened, but especially the Olafsson brothers. Johan started sobbing and no one could make him stop. Not until Anders said, "fårgödsel," (sheep manure), did he stop crying. Anders whispered, "Now we make the jokes."
Little Wolf was a wise man. When he was told about the strange events happening to the brothers, he was silent at first. Then, he said, "We have been given a gift. I too have had strange things happening to me."
No longer did Tom bully them. However, all the other children treated the Olafsson brothers with a respect more akin to fear. But, now, the brothers knew they had a responsibility to use their gifts wisely and kindly. They also understood that learning to read and write English well would make their tasks easier.
"Bear Eater--Bear Eater--come here," called Johan. There were new lambs in the flock that needed their constant attention. The sky was darkening and monsoon rains threatened to flood washes and cause sudden tragedies.
Animals were rushing into the hills as if they understood that they were at risk in the lowlands.
There was panic all around them. There was a loud boom and a flash of lightening. The skies seemed to open up. Within minutes a tidal wash of muddy water with brush and tree limbs came crashing towards them. There was no time to get to higher ground. The lambs floundered in the torrent of water.
Suddenly, in Anders' mind's eye he saw a gray figure. It was the gray creature beckoning them towards him.
Calmly, the sheep all began moving with them as if in a tunnel to safety. The water quieted around them. The storm passed and the water subsided.
"Where did the gray man go?" Johan asked. He had seen him too. They had all seen him. But now that his business was completed, he had returned to wherever he had been. No longer did they fear their gifts. They knew the gray creature would continue to guide them.
As quickly as the monsoon had come and gone, it seemed winter arrived. There were snows in the passes and wood fires to be tended in the houses and on the land for animals and orchards.
One day, a fierce wind shook the tree branches and rattled the windows. The chimney smoke seemed to settle in their throats. The smoke became stronger and the heat from flames beating at the roof threatened to sear their lungs. There was a chimney fire and the roof began to burn.
Mrs. Reilly quickly gathered her charge. The children filed out of her home quickly. The Olafsson boys breathed in unison, admonishing the flames to stop. "No more fire!"
There was silence as they watched the smoke fade away. There was joy as the teacher and her students realized that the strange gifts of the Olafsson brothers were something to behold with gratitude.
Tom Reilly brought Johan a new brown cap the last day of school and offered him a ride on his pony. There were things they would never understand. The wizards of sheep valley had found a new home with new friends and new understanding. The three Olafsson brothers had learned about a new country and they were learning a new language with new traditions. Next 4th of July they would be celebrating Independence Day as eagerly as any other Americans.
"Frihet är det bästa ting,
Som sökas kan all världen kring
För den henne rätt kan bära.
Vill du vara dig själver huld,
Så älska frihet mer än guld,
Ty frihet följer ära."
Perhaps translated as:
In all the world
Freedom is the noblest thing to strive for--
For the one who justly can uphold it.
If you want to be true to yourself,
Then love freedom more than gold,
For with freedom follows honor.
Donna Bloomquist © 2000
The Wizards of Sheep Valley
Credit for the quoted lines regarding "freedom" and its translation go to Lilly Lorénzen, from "OF SWEDISH WAYS," by Dillon Press, Inc., 1964