Up in the Scottish Highlands lies a beautiful valley, crowded by wild, rocky mountains, cut by a long, flowing stream. Birch and willows cast their shadows over that stream and hazel thickets dot the land. The valley is sheltered from the strong north winds, wide open to the sun, full of health and joy, especially in the spring when the Highlanders celebrate their good fortune and their strange history.
The valley was not always so lovely. Long ago, the grass grew green and tall, and the cows in the valley grazed all day long upon that grass. But no matter how much grass the cows ate, no matter how fat they grew, they gave no milk. The people plowed the fields and planted new fields of grass. Still, the cows would eat but give no milk.At last the people understood what was wrong. They had never shown gratitude for all their gifts, and so the fairies must have cast a spell upon their land. They sought cures of all kind, but no matter how much they chanted and prayed, danced and sang, their cows gave them no milk. The people grew downhearted as the milkless years passed.
Late one afternoon in early June, just as the hills were haloed in reds and golds, a village farmer returned home to the valley from a journey. He tramped down the last hillside and smiled, for just below him he could see his own farm. He heard the friendly barking of his collie and the laughter of his children, and in the distance he could hear the chimes of the church bell. "'Tis a fine evening," he said to himself. But then he heard the long, deep lowing of his cows and remembered the valley's sadness. "Ah, but if only our cows would give milk."
He stopped to rest beside a tree when suddenly he saw, in the distance, a small figure climbing toward him. He thought for a moment it must be a lonely shepherd boy, but when he looked again, he saw that the figure was no boy at all. It was a tiny old man, as small as a child, with a face so wrinkled and worn he seemed to have lived two lifetimes. His hair, though, shimmered brown and gold in the fading light of the day. He seemed half old and half young, half man and half elf. The farmer knew he had come upon a fairy here high above his valley.
The farmer squinted at the figure and noticed that the little man carried a long, slender hawthorn twig over his narrow shoulder. The twig was so long, the farmer could not see the end; and stranger still, though the twig was thin and reedy, it was bent as if it carried a weight of some invisible burden.
The farmer kept his eyes on the man, and as the figure drew nearer, the farmer could see that he was breathing heavily. The burden he pulled seemed huge. The old man's muscles throbbed from the weight, and the farmer waited breathlessly to see what it was the old man pulled.
At last the end of the twig came into sight. The farmer gasped, for there was nothing there at all!
The farmer watched the man climb on, struggling and heaving, his back bent terribly, his legs moving wearily, his breath coming in gasps. The wind swept up the mountain after him and let out a low moaning sound and the leaves of the mountain ashes trembled.
The farmer's heart began to pound, for he suddenly had a notion, curious indeed, but he was certain he was right. He knew what he must do. He waited patiently by the foot of that tree as the old man came nearer. At last he was near enough to touch the man. He quickly drew his hunting knife and leaped. In one swift movement, the farmer cut the hawthorn twig in two.
Oddly, the little old man seemed not to notice at all. He continued to climb the hillside carrying one half of his twig. At last he reached the summit and disappeared over the other side. As he did, the farmer heard a rushing sound, like a waterfall gushing from a mountain crag, and when he looked at the half of the twig that lay at his feet, he knew he had imagined correctly.
You see, from that twig rich milk was flowing. The flow of milk grew thicker and thicker, longer and longer, until it was streaming down the mountainside into the valley. The milk spread fast across the green fields, and soon it gushed into the dry bed of the village brook. All through that night, a creamy torrent flowed from one end of the valley to the other. The spell was undone!
Within a day, all over the village the cattle were giving milk just as they had before the spell, and the grass grew even greener, and the cattle grew fatter, and all the people grew healthy and happy once more. They named their enchanted valley Milky Hollow. There even the tiniest calf, weak and wobbly-kneed, grew strong and gave the people endless buckets of creamy, sweet milk. And the people of Milky Hollow gave thanks for their bounty.