The Surprise

A simple story written quite a few years back as part of the “Adam” series.  These were stories about the routine adventures of a boy who happens to be part Abenaki and is caught between two cultures.



Stepping out the back door, the very cold air caught Adam off guard. The frigid wind stung his face as he hurried to put gloves on his hands. Adam did not like to wear hats, but on this day he had no choice. He pulled his wool stocking cap down over his ears so that they would not get frost bit on this early January morning. Ten below with a twenty mile an hour wind would be the primary obstacle of the day. His mother had warned Adam about the freezing cold weather. He ignored her warnings and decided to proceed with this day’s adventure despite the arctic like temperatures.

Adam planned on crossing the 40 acre hardwood forest to the north of his house and spending some time in the fields of a nearby neighbor who farmed the land despite the rocky soil. Adam knew of one field of corn that was still not cut, and he hoped to spy on some wildlife as it entered and exited the field for the easily accessible food supply. After a morning of exploring he would visit his grandmother and share some lunch with her. He had not told his grandmother of his plans, but she always seemed to know when he was coming without him telling her. He wished just once he could arrive unannounced and surprise her. She always told him that the Abenaki people knew of events before they happened because they listened to the voices inside their heads and let their dreams speak to them.

This winter had not brought much snow thus far, but it had been cold for a long, extended period. The few inches of snow that lay on the ground was light and blew around with each gust of wind. As Adam entered the forest the low angle of the sun was on his left-hand side. The wind was in his face and moving his scent away from his direction of travel. This would help his approach and aid him to go unnoticed by wildlife. The frozen leaves under the snow crunched loudly with each step. He hoped the strong wind would cover the noise of his careful movements.

Adam moved from the shadow of one tree to the shadow of another tree. When he paused he would stop only behind the cover of a large tree trunk or the root ball of an overturned tree. He knew that he could navigate the forest unnoticed if he could stay focused on the task.

As Adam came to the edge of the woods he stopped under the cover of a hemlock tree. The cornfield lay ahead some 300 yards. He would have to cross three open pastures, each separated by a stone wall, in order to reach his destination. He would accomplish these field crossings by entering a frozen stream bed that had high banks and ran on the south side of the fields. Crawling on his hands and knees would conceal his movement as he moved in an easterly direction.

Adam slid down the bank of the stream and started the cold crawl towards his destination. He found both fox and coyote tracks along the same route he was traveling, evidence that they shared his strategy in approaching the cornfield and any potential prey that might be feeding there.

The cover of the high banks lessened the winds noticeably. Adam could hear the stream moving beneath the ice. He stayed near the edge being unsure how thick the ice was given the moving waters beneath the icy surface.

Staying within the channel, he might be able to observe deer, turkey, and squirrels in pursuit of the corn forage. He might also see predators such as coyote, fox, and bobcat in pursuit of their prey. Then again, he might see nothing at all. Adam had learned long ago that the reward was the adventure and not necessarily the sighting of wildlife.

Adam stationed himself towards the top of the bank near an obvious deer run where a warn pattern could be seen in the beaten down soil and thin layer of snow. The tracks were plentiful in this area along a nearby hedgerow adjacent to the cornfield. While waiting Adam couldn’t help but notice the fluid motion of the corn dancing in the wind. Brown with age, the stout corn stalks all moved with one motion with each breath of wind.

Winter Corn

His grandmother often spoke with reverence of the important role corn played to the Abenaki people. In the early days the Abenaki people were an agrarian society that grew the native maize as a critical staple to their diets. The corn was easily stored and utilized in the harsh New England winters. From this staple they made flour and also stored the dried kernels and used them in broths and stews. So important was the corn that they had a legend as to its origin. Adam had heard the legend many times as told by his grandmother about the strange beginning of corn.

Long ago at the time of the first Abenaki people, there was a man who lived alone far away from all other people. This man did not know of fire so he had no way to cook. He lived on berries, roots, bark, and nuts. After many years of this existence he realized he was very lonely and must find a companion.

Like all Abenaki people in search of important things, he went on a quest to find a companion. He did not eat for many days and waited for a dream to guide him. One day he had a vision. A beautiful woman with golden hair stood before him. She would not let him approach her. He sang and chanted to tell her of this loneliness. He did this for many weeks, and one day she finally replied, “Do exactly what I tell you and I will stay forever.” He was most anxious to have her as a companion and so he agreed to do exactly what she told him to do.

She told him to gather small wood tinder and make a small pile from it. Then she told him to get two sticks and remove the bark from both of them. She told him to rub the sticks together very quickly over the dry tinder. He did and a spark flew from the sticks he rubbed together and this started the tinder on fire. The fire quickly spread and burned down a large section of woods where the man lived. The man though he had done something terrible.

The woman with the golden hair then strolled through the burned area and proclaimed that wherever she planted a yellow seed a plant that looked like grass would grow and the plants would have yellow hair between the leaves from which would sprout a hard cob with many seeds.

And then the woman disappeared. The man was very disappointed. But soon the grass appeared and the yellow hair grew between the leaves, and the seed grew on the cob just as she had told him it would do. The seed could be eaten by the man, and he soon learned to save some to replant the next year.

And then the man realized that now he knew how to make fire and he could use the fire to cook his food and stay warm in the cold, and that he had the yellow silk to remind him of the woman with the golden hair. And that in this way she would be with him forever.

The story comforted Adam, and thinking about this legend helped to occupy his mind during the next hour or so. Adam realized he was getting too cold from sitting still. Seeing no wildlife Adam knew it would be another day when the adventure was the reward. He thought about how hungry he was and headed to his grandmothers house which was about a half mile to the east through the hardwood forest. Adam hoped that this would be the day he could surprise her with an unexpected visit.

Although the brisk walk through the woods warmed his frozen feet, it increased the hunger gnawing at the walls of his stomach. When he saw the smoke coming form his grandmother’s chimney he broke into a dead run aimed directly towards her back door. The run was fueled more by anticipation than hunger.

Adam burst through the door. The warm house smelled of fresh cooked food. His grandmother sat at the kitchen table smiled holding her cup with her bronze colored hands while she drank her elderberry tea. “Hello, Adam, I’ve been expecting you!” she said as she moved toward him to give him a big hug. After the warm welcome from his grandmother, Adam looked incredulously at the kitchen table. The table was set for two with a meal of freshly baked corn bread and a kettle of corn chowder.

Originally written in February of 2005.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    This is a great story … there are aspects that I couldn’t help noticing would also make a great little poem … :)

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you. But now you have me curious. Which aspects do you see? I have some ideas but am not sure what your ideas are. Perhaps you could reconstruct this on your website!

  • Teresa Evangeline

    There’s something in the paragraph that begins,”As Adam came to the edge of the woods…” that seems ripe for poetry. The edge of the woods .. under cover of a hemlock … three open pastures … three stone walls … winter corn … the wind … :) )

  • Annie

    Love your poem too, Teresa.

  • Wild_Bill

    Your observation powers when it comes to poetry are amazing, certainly part of what makes you such a good poet. What I like the most is your economy with words yielding maximum images and expressions. Very rare to see this, at least in my estimation.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    :) ) Bill provides some great material to worth with here …

  • Barbara

    A beautiful story, simple, with a great message for all of us who are so easily distracted and/or goal-driven. And Teresa Evangeline’s poem is equally lovely. Thank you both for starting my day and my week joy, anticipation and a great reminder…it’s the doing that is the adventure and the real goal is sometimes a surprise at the end. Something I needed to remember this morning.

  • Wild_Bill

    I’m glad you enjoyed this Barbara. Yes the adventure is enjoying the moment. Something we should all remember each and every moment. Check out Teresa Evangeline’s Poetry, you’ll love it. There is a link on by blog list.

  • craftygreenpoet

    lovely story, beautifully told

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you. I’m happy that this has been received so well. Perhaps I’ll post some of the other stories from the Adam series.

  • Ratty

    I love love love the Abenaki legend of corn. I used to read about stories and legends like this when I was a kid. I’d scan my school’s history books for things like this. They actually had a surprisingly large amount. We used to go to the library a lot back then as well, and I always looked for legends from any culture I could find.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Ratty. There are many of these. Some I’ve written about. Native American lore shows a strong connection between their cultures and the planet. Their spiritual habits were completely intertwined with the Earth. Something that we could all learn from, no doubt.

  • Emily Brisse

    I love when you post these forays into short story writing, Bill. Thank you for sharing this. A small part of my ancestry is Native American, so I’m always fascinated by the way various tribes understood the world, and I like the way you wove this one around Adam’s experience out of doors. The photos here are haunting and lovely, too; cornstalks are as much a part of my childhood as bicycle rides at sunset, which is to say they remind me of being young and home.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Emily. I did not know that some of your ancestors were Native American, something else we have in common. I an easily see the Native American heritage in your beautiful facial features, high cheek bones and all. Minnesota had both woodland Native Americans (Ojibwa) and plains Native Americans (Sioux I believe).

    Of course, Adam is a fictional character, but I could not help but weave some of my childhood wanderings into the various stories I’ve written about him. That this reminds you of your youth made me think about what growing up in Minnesota might have been like…….wonderful I would imagine.

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