In a vast wilderness far, far away there lived small tribes of gnomes. They lived in little villages scattered throughout the landscape. They were nomadic and loved exploring new places. If they found a place suitable enough, they would move their village to that new location and start over again.
One day, there was a small group of gnomes out collecting wild strawberries when they saw another gnome rapidly approaching.
“Friends! Friends! You’ll never believe it!”
The strawberry-picking gnomes exchanged puzzled looks with one another.
“What is it?” Replied one of the puzzled gnomes.
“The myths! The legends! They are true! I found the fountain of youth!”
The group of gnomes stopped gathering and stroked their beards curiously.
The excited gnome continued, “Here, let me draw you a map and you can go there yourselves! I’m going to return to my tribe to tell them the same news so they can travel there as well.”
The gnome pulled out a scroll and began drawing a detailed map. He drew significant landmarks, hills, mountains, and meadows so the other gnomes could easily find their way there. Gnomes aren’t typically that good at following maps, they more like to explore on their own, but he was confident that the map would get them there.
After discussing the map together over handfuls of wild strawberries, the gnomes said goodbye to one another and went their separate ways. The strawberry-picking gnomes began following the map to the fountain of youth, and the traveling gnome headed back to his village.
It took many days to reach the fountain of youth — much longer than they anticipated. However, in such a vast wilderness there were always plenty of wild berries and delicious edibles to eat so they were never hungry. And since these gnomes were used to traveling they were quite good at making cozy shelters to sleep in. Eventually, after a week of journeying through the forest and carefully studying their map, they came into a clearing where they heard the sound of running water off in the distance.
“We must be close! According to the map, the fountain of youth is just ahead and slightly to the right!” Shouted one of the gnomes.
Discovery and Transformation
They dropped their baskets and walking sticks and ran ahead. Sure enough, there was a beautiful spring trickling down over a pile of large grey boulders and into the river below.
“This is it! Ah-ha! We’ve found the fountain of youth!” Shouted the gnomes.
After scaling the boulders and reaching the source of the spring, they cupped their hands and tasted the cool refreshing water.
“My goodness,” said one of the forest gnomes, “I’ve never tasted such pure and invigorating water!”
“Neither have I!” Called out another gnome between sips.
“Normally I’d say it was time for my afternoon nap, but I feel like building instead! I think I can feel the effects of the water already!” Cried one of the gnomes.
“Now that you say that, I do too! Not only do I feel like building, I feel more creative as well! In fact, I think I already have some new ideas on how to build our homes. Let's get started!”
They filled up their canteens from the fountain of youth and got to work. Normally, forest gnomes like to take frequent breaks and naps, but after drinking from the fountain of youth they were able to work well into the night. They even had to light a large bonfire to illuminate their working area because they didn’t want to go to bed! They were coming up with all sorts of new ideas too. They built their gnome houses in new and interesting shapes that they had never experimented with before. They told funny stories as they worked and came up with interesting riddles and jokes together. They were also noticeably more patient with and kind to one another.
“Say, I feel a bit younger already!” Called out one of the gnomes from the dark as he cleaned up his last project for the night.
“Me too! I’ve noticed quite the spring in my step today!”
“My muscles aren’t even sore! And I think my bad knee has healed!” Called out another.
Eventually, they settled down for the night but were awake with the first light of the morning to begin working the next day. They continued on like this for quite some time. Each day they would scale the boulders, drink from the fountain of youth, and go about their projects for the day. They would often complement one another on how much younger and happier they looked. Each day that they drank from the fountain of youth, their lives seemed to get better. They felt better about themselves; and their village looked better than any they had built before!
A Perplexing Reunion
A few months had gone by and they hadn’t yet seen the traveling gnome who originally told them about the fountain of youth. They figured it was just taking him some time to get his whole village through the thick forest to the precise location of the fountain. One day as they were sitting around eating lunch together, laughing, and carrying about they heard a rustling nearby. To their surprise, the traveling gnome came tumbling out of the forest.
“Ah, there you are! Where have you been? I was wondering if you ever found your way or not!”
“Yes, we found it just fine!” Said one of the gnomes pointing up to the fountain of youth atop the boulders.
“Yes,” Jumped in another, “And we’ve been having a marvelous time! Look at all that we’ve built!”
The traveling gnome looked around and was quite impressed. Their houses were stacked and staggered in whimsical ways. Their walls were covered in smooth clay and very intricate designs had been carved into them. It was beautiful! Gnomes are very jovial by nature, but he could see that these gnomes seemed unusually happy and cheerful.
“My my, I love what you’ve built here! It is wonderful!”
“It is wonderful! We’ve never been happier! Say, where are your friends? Have you come to the fountain of youth all alone?
“Oh, of course not, my entire village has come with me. We’ve been getting settled in,” said the traveling gnome.
The other gnomes looked at one another puzzled. They didn’t see anyone else around.
“But, the fountain of youth is right up there, why haven’t we seen anyone from your village? Why did it take you so long to get here?” Asked one of the puzzled gnomes.
“Oh! Goodness,” said the traveling gnome, “That’s not the fountain of youth! That is just a natural spring! You must have turned right instead of left at the giant oak tree I drew on the map. The fountain of youth is on the other side of this forest. I just came from there! My village has been building and getting set up for the past month.”
Now the gnome friends were really confused! Not only were they confused, but they also started feeling defensive!
“If this isn’t the fountain of youth, how do you explain the marvelous houses that we’ve built?” Said one of the gnomes firmly.
“Yeah,” Jumped in another, “And how do you explain the fact that I’ve worked harder and faster than ever before, and my back isn’t the least bit tired? Or that my knee has been healed?”
“And we’ve been happier than we ever have been before!” Chimed in another.
“Well — ”, started the traveling gnome scratching his head, “I don’t know, but I do know that’s certainly not the fountain of youth that I told you about.”
Interpreting Lived Experiences
“Well, what is different about the real fountain of youth then? How do you know what you’ve found is actually the fountain of youth and not the one we’ve been drinking from?” Asked one of the gnomes trying to make sense of things.
“How do I know our water is the fountain of youth?” Repeated the traveling gnome.“ Because of how I feel after I drink from it. When I drink its water I feel a little bit happier, there is more of a spring in my step, and I find that I can work harder and longer than I could without it! It is magical! It is by tasting and seeing that I know!”
“But, that’s exactly how we felt when we drank this water said one of the gnomes pointing up the tower of boulders.”
They all stood looking at one another in silence for a moment. They were all very perplexed and stroked their beards as gnomes do when deep in thought.
Then, one of the gnomes who had been very quiet all this time finally spoke up, “Perhaps the fountain of youth isn’t a specific source of water; maybe it is a certain way of seeing any source of water? When we see it in such a way, it becomes the fountain of youth.”
The traveling gnome stormed off at this statement; and what a divisive statement this turned out to be! As this idea spread, some of the gnomes thought this was quite perceptive and marvelous; while others were absolutely offended and entirely rejected this thought. Some gnomes started consecrating all the rivers and streams throughout the wilderness as sacred. Naturally, this only upset the gnomes who believed that had found the one and only source of sacred water. One group kept expanding. The other kept digging its heels in.
And I’m sorry to say, but this is how things remain today. So if you ever meet a forest gnome — beware. Some will try to lead you to the one place in the forest and convince you that it is the best and only place you should be. Others will teach you how to see the world so that every place is the best and most wonderful place to be.
And it is completely up to you which one you decide to follow.
If you like this type of fiction I think you’ll also like some of my other short stories:
Duck and the Bend in the River — A Parable
A story about leaving, coming home, and the strange tension between the two.