The Woodcarver

A Fable by Michael Simms

There was once a young woodcarver who loved to walk through the forest. One day in a part of the forest where he had never been before, he came to a house in a clearing. There were people working on the house carving beautiful scenes into the doors and lintels. An old man with long white hair came out of the house and greeted the young woodcarver. The old man showed him the nearby groves and gardens where people harvested food for the community kitchen, stables where the draft animals were cared for, workshops where men split logs for shingles. Everywhere the young woodcarver looked, he saw people happily working. He was especially impressed by the quality of the woodcarvings. He showed the old man a few of his own pieces. The old man called to a couple of the men working on a nearby lintel and asked them to take a look at the young woodcarver’s work, and they were impressed. The old man invited the young woodcarver to join the community and work on the house.

The woodcarver enthusiastically agreed, but first, he said, he had a few questions. How much of the house would be his? Which of the trees in the surrounding forest would be his? How much food from the groves and gardens would be his? Could he sell what he did not eat? If he found gold in the earth beneath their feet, would it be his? The old man sadly shook his head and asked the young woodcarver to leave. The young woodcarver became angry and said that it was very unfair for the old man to invite him to join the community, and when he asked a few questions, the old man withdrew his invitation. The young woodcarver said that he suspected that the old man had tricked all of these people into working on his house for free. The old man apologized and explained that he had not meant to be unkind, but he could tell from the questions that the young woodcarver would not be happy in the community.

The old man explained that the house was not his; he was merely the caretaker. He was from the nearby village, and many years before, sick of heart at having lost his wife and children, he had come to the house in the forest quite by accident. It had been in disrepair with a roof that had collapsed and vines growing through the windows. Having nothing better to do and not wanting to return to his empty life in the village, he had started rebuilding the old house. Soon, others joined him and the community grew. It gave the old man pleasure that the house had become so beautiful, and he was restored to happiness. He thought of himself only as a trusted servant of the community, not its leader. The house and the land around it were not owned by any individual, but rather by the community as a whole.

The old man suggested that the young woodcarver go to the nearby village to seek work. The village was known for its many woodcarving shops, and a few woodcarvers had become wealthy and famous. In fact, the two woodcarvers who had been impressed by the young man’s pieces lived in the village and came to the house in the forest in their spare time.

The young woodcarver did as the old man suggested, and after many years of work, the woodcarver, now an old man himself, famous throughout the world for his beautiful carvings, returned to the house in the forest. The community was in need of a caretaker, and there the woodcarver lived out his days.

Filed under: Michael Simms, Prose

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Michael Simms is the founder of Autumn House Press and its editor-in-chief from 1998-2016. Currently he is the editor of Vox Populi, an online magazine of poetry, politics and nature. His most recent collections of poems are American Ash and Nightjar, both published by Ragged Sky Press. He lives in Pittsburgh. Find more at: