Cassandra looked out her window at the early morning sunshine dappled by her favorite oak tree. Before school, she asked permission from her dad and then ran outside quickly. She looked up at the face in the oak tree. The bark formed eyes, a smiling mouth, and curly hair. She smiled back at her friend in the tree. Some of the leaves were turning orange, and waved in the breeze like thousands of hands.
Yesterday, the rain fell in torrents, and the wind had blown down branches. Acorns had fallen like hail. She had gathered up the acorns to save them from car tires. Except for three, they were all gone from her basket, taken by the neighbors – squirrels and chipmunks. These last three she buried with her shovel in the grassy berm. A beautiful mother oak should be surrounded by her children; Cassandra felt strongly about certain things. When she finished, she waved at the face in the tree, and returned inside. She washed her hands carefully, and got ready for school. Another place to shine.
The next morning, she ran outside again to check on her acorns. As she skipped past her basket, waving at the face in the tree, she noticed something glint at the bottom. She stopped and picked up a golden ring.
“Where did this come from?” Cassandra wondered aloud.
The face in the tree cleared her throat. Cassandra took a step back, startled. The bark face seemed to lean forward, keeping its beautiful brown color but the rough bark smoothed into skin. Her eyes gleamed like dark coffee. Her mouth moved: “I am the Oak Queen, and I give you that magic ring. You have shown yourself to be a true oak princess, a friend to the earth and trees and always doing good without looking for reward. Only you can see the ring; it will always fit you. When you transform the world for good, the ring will transform into a crown you can wear for one hour. Only you will see the crown, but it will help guide you and support you.”
Then the face leaned back into the tree, and her glowing skin turned back into rough bark. Cassandra did not know what to say, but she called “Thank you so much!”
She wore the ring to school that day, and the oak queen was right, no one else could see it. The rain fell again that night, and in the morning, the street was covered in acorns. Saturdays, Cassandra was allowed to go out and play after breakfast, and out she ran. “Good morning,” she called cheerily to the Oak Queen. A couple houses up, a small girl was smashing acorns with a rock. Smash! Smash!
Cassandra crouched down next to her and laid her hand gently on the hand of the other girl. “Why are you smashing the acorns?” Cassandra asked her, her hand stopping her from smashing any more. The little girl seemed surprised and asked, “Why not?”
Cassandra held up an acorn, still with its hat. It looked like a little head to her, complete with its own hat. “The mother oak drops her acorns for our neighbors – like the squirrels and chipmunks. They eat them all winter long. Sometimes new oak trees are born.”
“But I’m bored.” The little girl seemed to think this explained everything, and she raised her rock over another acorn.
“I’m Cassandra. We could be friends. Can you help me gather acorns for the neighbors? I put them in this basket. Tomorrow, we can plant any that are left.” Cassandra gestured up the street to stumps where trees had fallen and not been replaced. “I planted three yesterday,” she added.
The other girl thought it over. “I’d like that,” she agreed. “My name is Beth.” Together the little girls worked hard, filling the basket, Beth giggling at the squirrels that also darted out and gathered acorns, too.
After Beth went home, Cassandra stopped to say good-bye to the Oak Queen. She felt something heavy on her hand, and looked down at the ring in surprise. It had grown into a golden circlet. The face smoothed from the bark again, and leaned down, smiling. “Your first crown! You changed that little girl’s life forever. And you learned the key to happiness is not what other people do for you, but what you do for other people.” Back the face went into the tree. Cassandra put the crown on her head, and the weight made her feel solemn. A golden leaf fell slowly from the tree, and landed softly on Cassandra’s head. She reached up and held it to her heart.
When she went home she told her mother the leaf was special, and her mother helped her press it into a dictionary, at the bottom of a pile of heavy books. Her mother could not see her crown, but Cassandra saw in the mirror that the circlet of gold sparkled with intertwining designs. Cassandra felt it grow lighter and shrink into a ring, once again smooth. She put it back on her finger.
Cassandra always greeted the Oak Queen, but she never heard her speak again. Thereafter, the ring helped her find other princesses and remain always an oak princess herself.
Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham