Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Big Ole' Tree

Firstly, my apologies. What with one thing and another, I haven't had a chance to illustrate this week's story.

Anyway, this story marks the first time that I have written a story specifically in response to a request. My mother decided one day that I simply had to write a story about the big ole’ fir tree in the backyard. So...I did. And I'm running it today to celebrate Mother's Day. I might as well, she remains my most loyal reader.

For those unfamiliar with the titular tree, you should know that it is entirely true that a wide variety of animals do indeed make their home in it, as it is also a fact that the geese that frequent the yard are jerks. The rest I made up.

It was that time of day again. A frightened hush fell over the various creatures who were out foraging on the lawn. Two squirrels, a rabbit and a whole flock of birds all pricked up their ears (metaphorically, in some cases) for the sound of the encroachers.

“Here they come!” cried the rabbit.

Yes, the geese had come to the backyard. Big, tough, and none too bright, they were the bullies of the area. Waddling and squawking all over the place with no regard for any of their fellow animals. Even the ducks had all but vanished from the neighborhood when the geese moved in, having decided almost unanimously to feed elsewhere and simply avoid dealing with the geese.

And this was a real shame, because the owners of the yard were very fond of ducks. One of the humans had even gotten into the habit of putting out seed and crack corn for his various feathered friends. This is why his home was known as the “Duck House.” That is, until the geese started coming and bullying all the ducks so they could get the corn for themselves. Now the ducks had fled, the animals who remained lived in panic, and the geese held indomitable dominion over all.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the animals fled for home when the geese appeared. It might, however, surprise you to learn that they did not all flee for different places. For, you see, one of the most striking features of this particular yard was the enormous fir tree which stood right in the middle of the lawn. Some people might consider it overgrown, ugly or otherwise in desperate need of a tree surgeon. The people who lived in the Duck House, however, thought it was beautiful the way it was and let it be. Which is just as well for the animals I mentioned earlier, because they all lived there.

The matriarch of this unconventional extended family was a lady turtle called Beatrice, who seldom ventured beyond the safety of the trees branches. The rabbit was called Josh and he was excitable even by bunny standards. The squirrels were brother and sister, but there the similarities between them ended. Also in the tree were a family of mice, a raccoon who visited occasionally and countless birds. The point is there was a whole mess o’ critters living in this big ole’ fir tree.

“Those darn gooses!” muttered Josh. “Why’d they have to come here and ruin everything?”

“Patience, Josh,” said Beatrice in her usual slow, deliberate way…cuz, ya know…she’s a turtle.

“Yeah,” said Rose the Squirrel, “we all know why you hate the gooses!”

“Shut up!” said Josh, who would’ve been blushing if he weren’t covered in fur.

“Leave him alone, sis,” said Jack the Squirrel. “He can’t help it if he’s in lo-ove.”

“I am not!”

“Quiet!” said Beatrice, who did not want to spend the rest of the afternoon listening to this childish bickering. “Let’s just sit quietly and wait for the gooses to move on.”

(The word “geese” does not exist in the animal language; neither do words like “mice” or “sleeth,” which is the plural of “sloth,” which wouldn’t have come up in this case anyway since there are no sleeth in the vicinity of this story.)

And that was life for the residents of the big ole’ fir tree. But backtracking ever-so-slightly, what did Jack mean by Josh being in love? Well, a while back Josh made friends with a girl he met in the backyard of the Duck House. They hit it off right away and got very close. Despite his insistence that it was just platonic, however, the other animals loved to tease Josh about his “girlfriend.” However, recently, Daphne (which was Josh’s friend’s name) hadn’t been coming to the Duck House very often. Neither had any of her species, thanks to the geese.

That’s right, Daphne was a duck.

But every now and then, Daphne did return to the Duck House to hang out with her good friend, Josh. She usually came alone, and at night where they would sit and chat under the light of the moon. Considering these intimate rendezvouses (??) it’s not surprising that Josh’s friends teased him.

“I hate that this is the only way we can see each other,” said Josh to Daphne one night.

“I know,” said Daphne. “But until those gooses stop coming around and bothering everyone, what can we do?”

Something had been building up inside Josh for quite some time.

“It’s just not fair.”

“What did you say, Josh?”

“I said it’s just not fair! Why should you and your flock have to move on just because those horrible gooses decided they were in charge?”

“Josh, calm down.”

“No! I don’t think we should put up with it anymore. Daphne, come with me. I’m taking you to the Big Ole Tree.”

The animals were, of course, asleep at this point, and they were very cross when Josh woke them, though they were sort of excited that he brought Daphne for the first time.

“Why have you woken us at this late hour, Josh the Bunny Rabbit?” said Beatrice.

“Because, I don’t know about all of you, but I am sick and tired.”

“Yeah, we’re all tired!” said a starling with a yawn. “So why’d you wake us up?”

“I mean I am sick and tired of living like this. Being afraid of the gooses. Not being able to call our own home our own. We have as much right to this yard as they do. Maybe more, since we were here first. Just because they’re bigger than us they think they can do whatever they like.”

“They’re kind of right, Josh,” said Rose. “I mean what can we do about it?”

“We can fight back!” said Josh. “All of us. Tomorrow when they show up to feed, we take ‘em all on!”

“Ridiculous,” said Jack. “We can’t fight all those gooses by ourselves.”

“We won’t be by ourselves. Don’t forget, we’re not the only animals around here.”

“You don’t mean…”

“I do! I say it’s time we went to see…the pets!

This was quite a radical suggestion. True, there were a few other animals in the area, but they were domesticated animals. Dogs and cats who belonged to the neighbors of the humans who lived in the Duck House (if you need a minute to reread that last sentence, feel free, I’ll wait). And traditionally, pets did not get along with wild animals.

“Maybe,” Josh continued, responding to one of his housemates who had expressed basically the same thing I just said in the above paragraph. “But I bet they’re none too fond of the gooses either. Now’s the time for an alliance. Daphne,” he said, turning around and facing his friend, “you should stay here with my friends. I’m going to go talk to the pets. I’ll be back!” With that, he turned and hopped away, to talk to the neighborhood pets.

Daphne was terrified, not only because she didn’t know whether Josh would come back alive, but also because she was now in the Big Ole Tree surrounded by animals she barely knew, which is always uncomfortable.

“Er…hi,” she said.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Daphne,” said Beatrice. “Josh has been keeping you sort of to himself, you know.”

“Well, it’s silly, but my flock seems to think he’s my boyfriend and they’re not too pleased about that. That’s why we have to meet in secret.”

“So…” said Jack, timidly, “he’s not your boyfriend?”

“What? No! Of course not! I’m a duck and he’s a rabbit! That doesn’t even make sense!”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

“No, Josh and I are just good friends. But I certainly didn’t want him to do all this just to help me.”

“You have to understand,” said Beatrice, “that Josh is not like other rabbits. You know that people cave where the nice man who feeds the birds lives?”


“Josh was born in that house. One of the people had two pet rabbits and they had a litter. Of course, a people cave in no place for bunnies, so most of them died. But Josh survived and when his parents were released into this yard, he went with them. By then, of course, his parents were too used to living in a people cave to survive, and they died soon after. But Josh is a survivor. He’s a fighter. He never gives up.”

“Not only that,” added a cardinal, “but since he spent time with the people, he knows of their kindness and love for us all. And they put that food out for ducks, not gooses!”

“And us birds, too!” said a blackbird.

“And they never shoo us away when we squirrels want a bite either,” said Rose. The animals were getting more and more riled up. The more they talked about Josh’s courage and the people’s kindness and the geese’s…er…bulliness? Anyway, the more they talked the more excited they got, so that by the time Josh returned, they were ready.

It was that time of day again. The geese arrived as they had on countless mornings before. But today, something was different. Normally the yard was full of other animals who ran away when they saw the geese coming. Today, the yard was almost entirely empty…except for one little girl duck, standing between the geese and the food.

“What’s this?” said the lead goose. “I thought we scared you puny ducks away for good.”

“I thought so, too,” said Daphne, as bravely as she could. “But last night I learned something. I have power over you. I am stronger than you. Because I may not be big and tough and rude, but I have something birds like you will never have.”

Through their derisive laughter, the geese asked, “And what’s that?”

“Friends!” said Daphne and she quacked loudly. It was the signal. From within the Big Ole Tree, Beatrice shouted commands. A flock of birds, all species and sizes, burst from the tree like fireworks and began swooping down on the geese. The confused geese tried batting the little birds away with their wings, but they were outnumbered. That’s when Josh burst forth and starting pawing and scratching at the geese. As Jack and Rose climbed the back porch to get into position, Daphne quacked again, twice this time, to signal the reserve troops.

The two dogs from down the road knew the people from the Duck House as the ones who always waved to them as they drove past in their car. The cat from next door remembered the people from the Duck House leaving her milk and stroking her fur on more than one occasion. Even the raccoons and possums who ate out of the family’s trash and usually only came out at night had stayed up early in order to be part of the assault.

They pawed and scratched and bit as Jack and Rose took hold of one of the large bird feeders hanging from the porch. “You want seed?” said Jack. “Here ya go!” And they dropped the feeder on the heads of the terrified geese who had finally had enough and flew away never to be seen again.

When the people returned to their house later that day, they were shocked to see the state of the yard. Feathers everywhere, bird feeder toppled over and not a goose in sight. But, to their great delight, they saw that the ducks had returned! Once again, the Duck House was surrounded by the happy quacks of Daphne and her brethren. And not only the ducks, but the rabbits and birds and even old Beatrice were now free to do as they pleased without being afraid of gooses pushing them around.

And Josh and Daphne remained good friends for the rest of their lives. And even though she still lived with her flock, Daphne was always welcomed by the other animals who made her an honorary citizen of the Big Ole’ Tree By the Duck House.


"The Missing Unicorn"

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