In this new adventure, the now legendary Ping has become the teacher. His travels take him to a pond-centered village ruled by Toad the Elder, locked into its provincial view of the villagers, except for two frogs, Daikon and Hodo. They convince Ping to take them on a journey that will change their lives forever. This delightful story captures the fears and doubts faced by all who choose to leave the familiar to make their way in an unknown world, and teaches them to find their true path.
As Ping says, "Years can wrinkle a frog's skin, but to live without purpose, well, that wrinkles the soul."
|Publisher:||Stuart Avery Gold|
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The Way of PingJourney to the Great Ocean
By STUART AVERY GOLD
Newmarket PressCopyright © 2009 Stuart Avery Gold
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Grand Visit
Once upon a place ...
Most of the pond dwellers began to gather twenty-four hours early. Those who came from the furthermost edges of the pond had arrived some forty hours before that, which was important only if you wanted to grab a good seat. Even the turtles knew that if you wanted a spot up close or if you wanted one in the shade, you were in terrible trouble if you didn't get there in a hurry. The turtles were great believers in a good spot so, as much as they could, they hurried.
Especially lucky were the creatures that arrived early enough to claim a place on the flat rock among the brilliant blue bellflowers, elder blossoms, and fragrant gardenia, for all agreed they truly had a superb view. And hovering above it all, Dragonfly kept a lookout.
There were many wonderful jobs around the pond, but on this day, flitting and dancing around the roof of the world with delicate wings of gauze, Dragonfly had a task that was the envy of all. Having the optimum vantage point, Dragonfly was designated in charge of rumor control.
As the crowd grew, the rumors of Ping's arrival continued to mount, so Dragonfly had the vital task of darting about spreading truth. It was noontime on the dot when Dragonfly announced that Ping's splash time was imminent, then he cleared the air to make way for what could only be described as an extraordinary straight and fine leap of distance, followed by an oh, so colossal and spectacular splash.
Those who were new to Ping's glorious jumping thought, How fantastic, and said so. Those whose memories were full of the stories told said only this: are they ever right. Ping's jumping was much more than a thrill to behold-it was proof that the legend of Ping the frog was pure.
Ping's adventures had become fable, his inner metamorphosis mythical. His transformative journey had brought Ping such notoriety that it wasn't any wonder a large group had amassed for the spectacle of his appearance. Whatever else was to take place at the pond that day, there was no denying that the moment belonged to the honored visitor whose spring-legged leaps of distance they had heard so much about.
Nimbly, Ping pulled himself up onto a lily pad, accepting the hoorays and hazzahs, the waves and endless chants of "Ping, Ping, Ping" caressing his ears. The crowd grew quiet only as it parted way for its ancient ruler, the lordly Toad the Elder.
How long Toad the Elder had held the occupation of ruler, no one knew. It had only come up for conversation once in recent memory at the annual Bugfest, when Tortoise, who was then 106, remarked that Toad had ruled the pond for as long as he could remember. That was good enough for the rest. The pond dwellers loved tradition.
Whenever Toad the Elder took a break from dozing to totter out and grumpily appear, he was greeted royally and with reverence, for he represented the origin of origins, the deliverer of all that was wise and wonderful.
Toad was from the pond, but his voice was from the clouds. It was weak and wispy, and even the rabbits at the water's edge had to tilt their long ears to catch every word. So whenever Toad the Elder chose to speak, the inhabitants of the pond listened closely. Whatever Toad the Elder said, the inhabitants of the pond believed.
Toad made a gnarled, throat-clearing sound, raised his weakening arms, and with a sweeping gesture said, "Today is a day of salutation for the one who leaps great distances."
Thunderous roar of cheers.
"Welcome to our home, the magnificence of all that exists. The most glorious body of water ever imagined by any living being. From here to there and from there to here, nothing could be more than our pond."
This was a declaration that Toad had stated before and stated often.
"So tell me, Frog, why is it that you have devoted yourself to the jumping that you do?"
"Always to further challenge the sky," Ping impulsively beamed.
Toad glanced imperiously across his subjects and observed the nods and smiles from the younger frogs. More precisely, he took note of a whispering Daikon and Hodo, two of the more troublesome young frogs ever spawned.
Even as tadpoles, Daikon and Hodo had not been easy. Their penchant for venturing out too far from the safety of vegetation in the pond shallows was a constant source of head-shaking among the adult frogs. When the day came that Daikon and Hodo grew into the shape of full-fledged frogs, they found that their affection for each other grew as well. Daikon was sure of one thing: Hodo carried the colors of the world in her perfect, glistening skin. And that was enough for him.
In the whole long history of the pond, no two creatures had enjoyed the close together time that they had spent chatting through the afternoons, their days full, enjoying each other's company, questioning the certainty of their surroundings, and pondering the very nature of their everyday existence. Their inquisitive spirit and rebellious behavior had become an irritation to Toad, and today was no different.
Toad snorted his disapproval at Daikon's and Hodo's brazen glee. There was no understanding the young anymore. He turned away, adjusted his royal robes. "So, then, from where is it that you have come to visit us?" he asked Ping.
"From the Great Ocean."
Bewildered silence from one and all.
A puzzled look clouded Toad's old eyes. "Hmmm. I've never heard of such a place," he said. "But do not be overwhelmed by our most marvelous pond. How much smaller is your ocean?"
"As with all things, Highness, the ocean should not be judged by its size but by its openness," Ping replied simply.
"Nonsense." Toad made a show of proudly pointing out their surroundings. "How many of your oceans would it take to fill our pond?"
"With respect, I am delighted to tell you that the ocean is a vast thing."
"What do you mean, exactly? Do you mean to say that the ocean can't even begin to compare?"
Ping nodded. "It is true, there is no comparison."
"As I thought," Toad said, looking to his subjects. "But still, how small is the ocean?"
"The ocean is not small; it is big."
"Big? Big how? Is it half as big as our pond?"
Ping shook his bead. "No. Bigger."
The crowd began to stir.
The grouping of young frogs blinked in amazement.
Toad began to ponder the absurdity of the statement. "Is it as big as our pond?" His voice was growing stronger.
"Bigger still. I guarantee you," Ping answered. "All rivers pour into it, yet it never overflows. It is constantly being drained, yet it never empties. The seasons of spring and winter bring no change. Floods and droughts also leave it unchanged. It is vastly superior to both stream and pond. Majesty, forgive me. I don't mean to displease you, but your pond would not even be a drop in the Great Ocean."
The crowd gasped and looked to Toad the Elder.
Toad the Elder glared at Ping and boomed angrily, "What kind of creature is this that visits us with such lies?" Toad had been tough when he was younger, and he was still tough. "You speak heresy!"
"I speak the truth," Ping replied.
"I promise you here and now that there is nothing bigger, nothing more exciting, and nothing more fulfilling than our pond!"
Ping blinked, blinked again. His remarkable eyes looked at Toad as if he had the power to see through him, which he did. With a voice that could only be described as calm, he invited Toad and all who would be willing to have both the courage and the curiosity to take the journey of discovery, to follow him and see for themselves how glorious and true the Great Ocean was, that a bigger world could indeed be found outside their pond.
No one ever dared disagree with Toad. His ancient face began to flush, his eyes blazed with fire. "SUCH INSOLENCE!" Toad bellowed furiously, sputtering spittle. "YOU INVITE ME TO SEE THE OCEAN TO TEACH ME, AS IF I DON'T HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OR WISDOM? THERE IS NOTHING CALLED OCEAN. THERE IS NOTHING BEYOND THE BEYOND...." Toad the Elder continued the tirade without even taking a breath, his voice strengthening and reverberating as his rage increased. While his words hit Ping head-on, it should be noted, so did the bog balls. The older pond dwellers had begun hurling bog balls at Ping, quickly fashioning handfuls of muck and marsh into spherical scatter splatters that pelted Ping from this way and that as they joined in Toad's roaring rage, fuming, screaming at Ping to leave their pond for good. Some of the bog balls reached their target with remarkable force and accuracy.
Or, to be more specific, fury. And why Ping did not leap away was not only a good question, clearly, it was the only question. Ping stood his ground, blinked and winced and blinked some more, taking the jeers and sneers and the bruising blows of the bog balls, knowing that how you respond to others is always more important than how they respond to you.
Finally, looking out at the youngest faces of the smallest pond dwellers, Ping said, "What is greatly dreamed is nobly dared.... The journey begins with you." Then Ping jumped as straight and as fine a jump as he had ever jumped, disappearing from sight, far into the heavenly distance, gone.
The older creatures, satisfied, shouted yes! Two of the younger creatures marveled with exuberance and very bravely shouted yes! also.
None at the pond knew it then, but history was about to be created.
Chapter TwoOld Path, New Path
They agreed to meet at midnight, under the ten thousand stars, in the thicket of reed grass. "Meet" was probably the wrong word. "Hide" would be more correct, given that gathering together in secrecy was against Toad the Elder's latest decrees. Since Ping's visit, old Toad had been keeping a very suspicious eye on the young frogs. Most, of course, did as they were told. Six small frogs, led by Daikon and Hodo, did not.
"We must be careful to stifle our voices as we go," Daikon cautioned, making certain that his own voice was speaking softly in the night. "Remember how sound travels over water."
The six small hoplings looked at one another. Trembling. No one said anything for a moment because all of their terrible fears dealt with leaving the pond's haven of security and familiarity for the unknown. It was Kiku, the greenest of the group, who spoke all their thoughts then.
"It is so, so very nice here, isn't it?" Kiku said to Daikon, thinking of their pond, their world. "What if this is as good as it is?"
For a moment, there was a silence. Daikon nodded his head with heartbreaking understanding. He had known that when the time came, his fellow frogs might be afraid to leave the comfort of their pond for possibility. He could not fault them. Still, could depriving oneself of possibility be anything but sad?
Daikon took a long pause, and then started speaking. "We are all creators of our own dreams, and we make our own decisions. You must do what you believe in," he said.
Kiku, though he smiled, could not stop his sudden tears. "You'll be killed out there. You know that." "Maybe."
"Please don't go."
There was no changing Daikon's mind. Seeing this, Kiku held out his hand, offering Daikon a necklace fashioned from a single root vine with a pond stone as a pendant. "To remember us," said Kiku.
Daikon put on the necklace, looked at the pendant, then gazed at the group, his turn now to be emotional. "I will not forget any of you," he said. "This I promise."
Hodo made a little nod, found it very hard to breathe. There had not been an evening that the dream of leaving the pond did not flutter behind her sleepy eyelids, and now it was time.
The small frogs sat silent then, the six. They did what they could, smiled sad, brave smiles at Daikon and Hodo. Who reassuringly smiled back. The evening could not have been prettier, the breezes inviting and warm.
Daikon and Hodo looked up at the twinkling stars, then at their fellow froglings, giving them an affirmative blink, embracing each.
And with that, took a leap of faith into the beckoning darkness, their own belief never more evident.
Excerpted from The Way of Ping by STUART AVERY GOLD Copyright © 2009 by Stuart Avery Gold. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. The Grand Visit....................9
2. Old Path, New Path....................23
3. The Corridor of Useless Trees....................29
4. The Awakened Eye Sees No Obstacles....................41
5. Bamboo Teachings....................49
6. Slither Swamp....................71
7. Dawn in the Mountain....................83