We would like to introduce you to a new friend we recently made. He’s a gnome named O’Hans but most of the weefolk around here call him veerman (which means ferryman in Dutch) because of the wee boat that he sails around the canals of Amsterdam.
At night it’s a houseboat, of which he is the sole resident and during the day it becomes a ferryboat, of which he is the captain. It also happens to be the only ferry for the weefolk of the city.
He carved the boat himself when he was just a wee boy. The body of the boat has darkened with age and the hand carved patterns of interwoven waves and vines, once decorating the sides, were all but completely worn off.
The sail was made from an old piece of canvas which doubles as a roof at night. On one side of the sail is a painting of a sunflower and on the other is a hand drawn map of all the canals. Growing on the hull, just above the waterline is a large mushroom, which he says he’s saving for a winter stew. Other than that, there’s a book underneath his seat, a pencil which is sharpened at both ends and an empty pickle jar tied to the back of the boat with an old shoe string, which is there for passengers to store their luggage during their journey.
And that was it. There is nothing more in or around the boat and as far as we could see there were no other nooks or crannies to keep things. And since the boat was also his house it got us wondering…where did he keep all his belongings?
When we asked him he laughed wholeheartedly for a while before pointing to his head and saying “everything I need fits in here just fine”.
We laughed along with him although we didn’t quite understand why and we were still wondering where he kept all his important things. There was that one book under his seat, but where did he keep all his other books, where were his treasured keepsakes, his shiny things and his sweets? We thought he probably misunderstood our question so we decided to make our questions a wee bit more specific…
“But where do you keep all your books?” we asked.
“All the stories I have read are up here” he said once again pointing to his head.
“The books themselves I passed on. But the stories, those I kept.”
He reached down and pulled out the book he kept under his seat.
“This book was given to me a moon ago by a passing passenger from up north and once I’m done reading it, I will pass it on again. I’ll probably give this one to Atook the little cobbler elf from Van Baerle Steet. It’s a story about a magic pair of boots, I think he would like it.”
He reached for his pencil and wrote “Atook” inside the cover and returned the book to its place under his seat.
“But then you have no books” we all said at once.
Yes, that is true.” he said. “But I could close my eyes anywhere I am and recall all the stories I’ve ever read, and if there are any I forgot I have a great reason to go visit whoever I gave that story’s book to, and we can recall it all over a nice hot brew. And who knows…before long someone might pass another book on to me which they have read and thought I might like*.
We never thought about it like that before, but it’s true…that’s the magic of books isn’t it? You always get to keep the story. Even if the book itself was no longer around.
But what about his treasured keepsakes? Surely he had to have a few mementos around to remember his most special moments?
He nodded when we asked him about these.
“I did have a few of those when I was younger” he admitted. “but more often than not, the thing itself replaced the actual memory. So these days I prefer to carry just the memories with me…which is best because there would be no way this boat could fit them all.”
He gave a short chuckle and got up to adjust the sail.
“But I have to admit…” he whispered as he tied the sail into place, “…I don’t keep all of those in my mind, some of those I keep in my heart.”
He smiled to himself as he sat down again. We did not know what treasured memory he recalled in that moment, but we could tell it was a special one.
We were starting to see that his boat is not as empty as we first though. In fact, we were starting to worry that the boat might sink if we let him recall much more…but there was still something we were unsure about. His shiny things and sweets! All weefolk have some sort of shiny trinket and a bag of sweets hidden somewhere…and gnomes were no different.
“Well, I do sometimes keep a candy or two in my pocket, but those are not for me” he said.
“You see…almost everyone who comes on board brings a little something to eat on route, and everyone who does always shares. That’s what makes this such a special place. You’ve just shared one of your cookies with me, and earlier this afternoon I took some Elderfaeries down the canal who gave me a whole handful of sugar candies. I ate one of the candies and kept the rest right here in my pocket, because somewhere down the line someone will get on board who didn’t bring something to eat…and then it will be my turn to share.
And as for shiny things…Oh, I have more than anyone could ever imagine. Tonight, after I’ve taken everyone where they needed to go, I will steer my little boat down the Prinsengracht canal and be surrounded by the shine of the city. Lights from the people folk’s houses, flickering candles from the faeriehollows, lanterns on cafe tables and faerielights in trees, streetlights, bicycle lights, the moon..all filled with life, and each one of these glistening on the water around me. Not even kings and queens could ever wish for that many shiny things.
You see wee ones” he said, “for me, belonging, is so much more important than belongings.
That evening he invited us to sail with, and it was true. All the gold trinkets in the world could never shine that way. It was one of the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen. We shared the rest of our cookies along the way and gave the last one to a wee river troll catching a lift back to his bridge.
Many more stories were also shared that day, he told us a few, and we told some too…we even told him about you! We’ll be sharing some of those stories with our friends in the park tomorrow but he asked us to pass this one on to you…we hope you like it, and if you do, don’t forget to pass it on too.
* He was quite right, the very next day we went to give him one of our favourite books. It’s a story about a captain who sailed the seven seas, we think he would like it.