Palo Duro Canyon
Thorn looked up at the endless cerulean sky and thought how much she would miss her canyon. Palo Duro Canyon is the largest in Texas, close to the city of Amarillo and Thorn was a Tumbleweed fairy. To her parents surprise and delight, Thorn was heading off to the Austin School of Fairies, the first in her family to do so. Tumbleweed fairies are an anathema to the rest of the fairy world. Their unique thorny wings and muted coloring are curious in a world of fairy beauty. Even more strangely, the male and female of the species look very similar. Most had names that were gender neutral. Thorn’s siblings were Spiral, Tangle and Rustle – two were female. Thorn’s hair was a tow headed mop of curls and her lovely round cornflower blue eyes sparkled in her cute little freckled face. All Tumbleweed fairies have rounded light brown wings embellished with thorns – the perfect disguise in a canyon full of tumbleweeds.
Tumbleweeds are caricatured by humans and faerie folk and Thorn felt quite defensive about the merits of her fairy species. In truth, Tumbleweed is a most fascinating plant substance; a ball of the thorny debris of the Amaranth species which includes beet. Not only does the plant provide seeds and leaves for sustenance but Amaranth breaks up the soil to make it more suitable for farming maize and potatoes. Thorn’s mom made a delicious oat meal from the Amaranth seeds, sweetened with honey. Everything was kind of ‘plain’ in the Plains – the colors, the food, the folks. Thorn thought with trepidation about her exotic future in Austin. She had always dreamed about jalapenos and Tex-Mex food but would it burn her mouth and tummy? How plain would she seem in the midst of Red River and Caribbean fairies? Thorn mentally shook herself; she was a Tumbleweed fairy. Strong but flexible was their motto.
Thorn’s successful application to the Fairy School had rested on the skill of her basket weaving. Her prospective professors had been charmed by the superficially simple baskets but they also felt that she, as a Tumbleweed fairy, would be a unique addition to the rather conservative school, adding to its renowned diversity. It was a magical mirror image of human universities that seek to add color to their student bodies – except in this instance it was the lack of color, a peculiarity in the fairy world. In the safety of Palo Duro Canyon, Thorn had lived a hard but happy life. There were few luxuries and the weather could be extreme with snow, rain, sunshine and tornadoes. Thorn’s clothes were practical; soft woven pants and tunics in shades of fawn and blue. On cold winter evenings, they sheltered in fairy Tipis, embroidering simple but intricate patterns on their clothing with Orb Weaver spider silk that was dyed ocher, indigo and terracotta. Like all fairy folks their lives reflected or influenced the humans they live among. For fairy eons, Tumbleweed Fairies of Palo Duro Canyon had lived alongside their Native American neighbors. First it was the Clovis and Folsom people, then the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Tribes. Thorn was proficient in Plains Indian language and understood all the other tongues including the most recent, English. The Tumbleweed Tipis were identical to those of the Kiowa people but on a much smaller scale. Native Americans have hunted in the canyon for thousands of years, making clothing, baskets and pottery from the local materials. Thorn had the cutest little moccasins, warm and lined with cotton fluff. Her mom had added little beads of turquoise and fossil wood.
Thorn’s Mom, Leaf, was worried sick about the cost of Fairy School but Thorn had received a full scholarship. All they had to provide was her school uniform. For the first time in three hundred years, the Fairy School had relaxed the uniform requirements. Although Thorn would have to wear a plain blouse made from cream cotton, she could wear pants. These were made from mule horn sheep hide; sueded until it was buttery soft with matching moccasins. Mom was proud but perplexed about her ambitious daughter. She was the first of their family to leave the canyon and was she ever coming back? Perhaps the tawdry delights of Austin would tempt Thorn away from their practical life. Like Thorn had, Mom gave herself a shake, and focused on how sensible her daughter was. She would return with new skills to help the Tumbleweed Clan face the future. Seed, Thorn’s Dad, was flying with her to Austin just to make sure she settled in.
The day of departure arrived and the Tumbleweed fairies gathered to say goodbye to Thorn. Just like all the other Plains people, there were no tears just heartfelt wishes. This was an opportunity that few other fairies received. Thorn felt she should be grateful but humble; always remembering her roots. She hugged her Mom and siblings then flew off holding Dad’s rough hewn hand. It was a long flight to Austin and the weather changed. It was so much warmer in the center of Texas. They landed in the quadrangle just in time for the commencement address. Thorn and her Dad walked into the auditorium trying not to gasp in astonishment at the great variety of fairies.
There were so many vivid colors in fairy species and the building. Just like Hazel, Aiya, Ria and Blu before her, Thorn looked in astonishment at the reams of scarlet and golden fabrics adorning the building. Then she started to notice all the fairies surrounding her. Her neighbor was a boy from Belize with dark skin and hair contrasting with fantastic turquoise wings and eyes. Balam’s skin was lightly dappled like a jaguar; his wings and eyes reflected the vivid waters around the Belizean Cays. Instantaneously Thorn had her first crush! Balam looked at her with equal astonishment – never had he seen thorny wings or so many freckles. Her hair was wondrous like a ball of cotton. Thorn and Balam were entranced by each other but Father Seed’s eyes flashed with to fairies from the Piney Woods, China, Greenland, the Amazon to Australia. At last, with Australia, he saw some likenesses to the Tumbleweed clan. Their coloring matched the arid surroundings of the Australian desert and although their skin was darker, their mops of tow hair made Thorn’s look tidy. He sighed with relief knowing that Thorn would find her way in this strange place. Then he noticed Balam and Thorn gazing at each other. He started to worry until Balam’s father winked at him. Both fathers chuckled – at least their children had found a new exotic friend.
All too soon, all the fairy families had to fly home leaving the new students to absorb the delights of first day at school. The Principal of Fairy School personally welcomed all the new students at the evening repast where Thorn tentatively tasted baby squash and tomatillo tacos. There were a number of completely new species attending the school, Thorn was one and Balam another. They were both so unusual and gifted that the Principal brought them forward to explain a little about their species to the larger group. After the show and tell, Thorn was surrounded by inquisitive little fairies. Most were very polite and kind but there is always a mean fairy… A Californian Golden Fairy, Sunbeam, asked if her if she was a boy or a girl. It was an intimidating question by a stunning fairy; shimmering golden wings, long perfect golden curls and eyes the color of amber. In the human world she would have been a Barbie doll. Thorn very sensibly decided not to be offended but explained that both genders of the Tumbleweed species looked similar. Further, she pointed out that, similarly, there are very few differences in the human species’ gender, less than in many other animals. It was the right approach to take and in time Sunbeam became one of her many acquaintances. Balam would always be her first friend, however, and he adored her especially because she was different. His turquoise wings lightly fluttered when he looked at Thorn’s adorable freckled face but that is another story…
This little fairy story was just written for my own pleasure and therapy. Life has been a little thorny lately and the Tumbleweed fairy story had been lurking in my mental files. I wonder if the lack of color reflects my mood? My wonderfully talented husband who sells his photographs on Getty Images contributed the first two images. The magnificent aerial of Palo Duro canyon looks otherworldly. Thank you also to Wikipedia for such informative links.