One day, a man goes for a walk and returns a few hours later to find his cabin missing. His little home has disappeared, as if a magical spell has wiped it off the face of the earth. In shock, he stares at the place where his house used to be. Once the reality sets in that he has lost everything, he cries. Later, he comes to his senses and sets out through the woods in search of a new life.
Because he begins in the afternoon, the man does not walk far that day. At nightfall, he lies down under the stars, but the cold autumn air makes sleeping difficult. After a while, he gathers leaves around himself, curls up shivering, and falls asleep. He dreams of a beautiful woman who speaks to him in a foreign language. She seems to want something from him, but he is unable to interpret what it is.
When he awakens, he is comfortable and warm. He sits up and finds himself covered by a woolen blanket. The discovery amazes him, and to his further astonishment, food and a bowl of milk are on the ground next to him.
He looks around and, seeing no one, wraps the blanket around himself and partakes of the food, which consists of sweet cakes and cheese. Then he drinks the milk, which is mostly cream and is warm and sweet. After eating and drinking his fill, he washes the bowl in a nearby stream, folds it in the blanket, and continues on his journey.
He walks for hours, and as he progresses, the forest becomes denser and darker. The gloominess makes him uneasy, but he shakes off his anxiety and camps by a stream. He has saved a portion of the food, so he consumes it and is sorry he has no milk. He wants to make a fire, but he has nothing with which to light it, so he resigns himself to the darkness.
He curls up under the blanket and sleeps soundly until morning. Upon awakening, he finds at his side more sweet cakes and cheese, as well as frothy milk in another bowl. He cheerily downs the breakfast, and now he has two bowls to carry in the blanket. The first bowl is round and smooth, and the second one is square with figures engraved on the sides. Each is carved out of wood and polished into an artistically rendered piece.
He sets out walking again, and by midday the forest thins. After stopping briefly under an oak tree to rest, he comes to a winding stream and decides to follow it. The water is clear and pure, and being near it fills him with gladness.
This goes on for many days and nights. By day he walks through the countryside, and in the evening he wraps himself in the blanket to sleep. Miraculously, each morning he finds fresh sweet cakes, cheese, and milk to sustain him. He is grateful for the gifts, but he wonders about their origin, especially that of the bowls. He has quite a collection of them, and no two are alike.
After a while, so many bowls accumulate that he is no longer able to carry them, and he is forced to make a decision. Either he must leave some of his treasures behind or remain where he is and make a new life. The bowls have unique shapes and are elaborately sculpted from the finest woods, and he prizes them as works of art.
The stream empties into a crystalline river with rolling green meadows, billowy willow trees, and majestic cottonwoods decorating its banks. He camps at a picturesque spot on a sward with a view of the water, and the food and milk appear each day just as before. After a number of months, he has scores of bowls, and he decides to start a business. He builds a cabin and adds a shed on one side in which he intends to display his wares.
He foresees two problems with respect to merchandising the bowls. First, he has become attached to them, and parting with them will not be easy. Second, he has not seen another human being since setting out on his journey. Although he finds food and milk each day, he is alone. He arranges his bowls attractively on wooden shelves and waits for customers, but no one comes.
One day he sees two men on the riverbank downstream, and he shouts and waves to attract their attention. The strangers step onto a raft, push off, and ride away without seeing his gesticulations. The man stops waving and is sad.
Several days pass, and the man decides to build his own raft and float downriver to sell his bowls. He gathers some small logs, lashes them together with ropes that he weaves from vines, loads his belongings onto the craft, and looks back at his little cabin.
Intuitively, he knows that if he leaves, no more food and bowls of milk will await him in the mornings, and he becomes afraid. He unloads his things, cuts the raft loose, and watches it drift out of sight. Staying put seems better than risking the loss of his sustenance.
The man lives to be old, and the wooden bowls fill several lean-tos that he constructs nearby. He places the more pleasing ones inside the cabin as decorations, and he stacks the others neatly in the outbuildings.
Increasingly, he marvels not only at the beauty of the wooden vessels, but also at the quality of the fare he receives. Although the repast is essentially the same every day, he never tires of it, and he is thankful for its presence in his life. The breads and cheeses are always fresh, tasty, and pleasant to the senses. The designs of the bowls do not repeat during the man’s long lifetime.
The man has everything necessary to sustain physical well-being, but his loneliness continues, and he views it as a striking imperfection in his existence. Even though the bowls in their marvelous variations fulfill him in many ways, he is saddened at being unable to share them with someone. The only thing he lacks is a companion, and he thinks constantly about the mysterious appearances of the food and milk.
On one hand, he would like to believe that a beneficent god provides for him. On the other, he prefers to imagine a beautiful woman carving the bowls and preparing the food. He dreams of a generous female who in the wee hours of each morning creeps near him and holds her hand close to his face to feel the warmth of his breath. He does not understand why she does not awaken him, and he wonders why she feels no need to know him better. He thanks her in simple prayers, but at the same time, he resents her leaving him alone. He is unable to overcome his ire, and in his sleep, his confused expression reveals that he does not comprehend why his life has been so.
He dies one evening while sitting in front of his cabin, leaning against the wall and facing the river, cradling his favorite wooden bowl in his arms. His head drops to his chest, and the bowl rolls onto the ground beside him.
Before daybreak the next morning, a graceful and stately older woman emerges from the forest and finds him. She buries him, moves into the cabin, and rearranges the bowls, placing the one she finds at his side on a table in the center of the room.