Sunday, June 30, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 7

Chapter 7
Elizabeth had been away awhile. Years. Enough years for she and her husband to have a baby girl, Victoria, and Victoria to get a little sister, Isabella, and Isabella to start walking and talking--just a little.
Her grandmother, every time she held Isabella, got tears in her eyes and told her that she looked just like her mother when she was that age. Isabella didn’t disagree neither did she understand.
Elizabeth, in the way of women, was becoming more like her mother each day. She missed her mother and wanted to be around her and was constantly on the lookout for a job near home.
Then came the day they surprised each other.
Elizabeth called her mother.
“Momma,” she said. “I’ve got some news.”
Then she shared that both she and her husband had gotten jobs in their home town.
“We can see you all the time,” she said. “Now we just need to find a house.”
There was a silence on the other end of the line that she wasn’t expecting. It only last a second or maybe two, but it was enough to make her worry.
“Well,” her mother finally said, “you can have my house.”
Elizabeth’s mother had never dated before Elizabeth left home. Somehow the manner of Elizabeth’s father’s death right before Elizabeth’s birth had frozen out any other relationship. When Elizabeth married and left herself, it was judged to be time. Elizabeth’s mother joined groups. She’d met people. She’d met a man, and she’d introduced him once to Elizabeth.
She’d worried that as he was a bit older than her whether it would go anywhere.
“But today, he asked me to marry him,” she said. “I said yes. He lives in a very nice house out in the country that he’s had all to himself since his wife died. You all can just have this one.”
And so it came to pass that one winter day Elizabeth--and her family--returned.
The movers had moved everything in. They got unpacked. Elizabeth and her husband got into the flow of their jobs, and Victoria and Isabella got into the flow of preschool and daycare.
Winter passed slowly but then spring came, and Elizabeth did something she had dreamed about for years. She took her daughters out into the backyard to do yard work.
It was one of those days of spring that was sunny but there was a reminder of winter in every breeze. The leaves of the some of the more daring trees had burst out, but not of the oak. The oak was waiting until it was surer that spring wouldn’t retreat again.
Victoria ran quickly to the swing set that had been waiting all winter for her, while Elizabeth and Bella, as Isabella was called, walked along behind.
Elizabeth looked at Isabella toddling toddling ahead of her and had to admit that she did look like her own baby pictures. There were pictures of Elizabeth standing in this yard, near this very spot, with the only difference being the tree.
She smile to herself.
“Bella,” she said. “Do you know what your grandmother and I called this tree when I was your age?”
She hadn’t expected an answer because Bella didn’t act like she was listening. Instead she seemed looking at something in the tree. So what Elizabeth heard next surprised her in more ways than one.
“The Daddy tree!” Isabella said with a giggle, still looking up.
Elizabeth was surprised because she didn’t remember having told her about the Daddy tree.
But then in the way of mothers who are teaching their children how to speak, she grabbed Elizabeth up in her arms and tickled Bella’s tummy.
“Who told you that? Who told you that?” she asked. “Did grandma tell you that?”
“No,” Isabella answered through giggles. “He did!”
She was pointing up the tree.
Elizabeth followed her finger to a point twelve feet up the Daddy tree and saw a squirrel. And the squirrel did appear to be talking.
And, as you know, the squirrel was talking. He talked a lot. Indeed, he preached a lot. Among his many name segments, most of which referred to his loquaciousness in some way, the most prominent was the Prophet. This is how we shall call him.
The Prophet had been preaching for years. He could tell the whole story from the planting of the Daddy tree; the day the Emissary saved the tree; the Death of Postumus; the elimination of the Creep. He’d known Ninja Squirrel himself only briefly but long enough to learn not only the story of the Emissary’s parting but of her promise to return.
As time moves so differently for squirrels and little girls, the fact there had been a change of occupants in the house had almost been missed. It’s like barges or continents moving past each other. One has to really pay attention and even then sometime details can be missed.
When Elizabeth stepped out, the Prophet thought that she was her mother, or, rather, the Mother. Then he’d seen the two little ones come out and was confused. Who were they? Ninja who had seen the Emissary who had, indeed, guarded the Emissary, has said she was as tall as the Mother. By way of contrast, the early stories had suggested that the Emissary was much smaller than the Mother. The story was that the Emissary had grown into an adult, and it is not the way that adults grow smaller again. And to become twain? No.
But he had to be sure, so be did what he did best. He talked. He preached.
“And in those days, Postumus visited this tree, the tree of his father...”
As he continued, it looked as if the smaller of the two were listening. He was sure of this when he heard her translate for her mother.
“The Daddy tree,” she had said.
He had seen the Mother look at her and follow her finger, and he was now looking into the Mother’s own eyes as she looked at him. Being a squirrel and being very good at body language, he could tell there was a very great deal going on behind her eyes.
And indeed there was. She was remembering Ninja Squirrel, the day she had been attacked, the furry images she had seen, and the sound she had heard. She remembered all the times squirrels had left her little gifts. She remembered the day Grampa Squirrel had died. There was even a faint, half-remembered dream of a time when a squirrel had told her about the Daddy tree.
She turned to look at Bella and believed her.
And when she believed, she could understand what the Prophet was saying.
And the three of them--and the Mother and the Male and the Rich Man--they had many adventures the writing of which would take many lifetimes.
But the Prophet told these stories to his disciple, who told them to his disciple, who told them to his, and that disciple was me.

The End

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 6

Chapter 6
Squirrels know where baby squirrels come from.  They are a product of what squirrels call the Chase.  Every mating season, boy squirrels and girl squirrels chase each other.  When one or the other manages to get caught, a batch of baby squirrels is the result.  This is the purpose of the Chase. (When a boy squirrel or a girl squirrel is never caught, they are said to be “chased.” This is a pun in English, but not in squirrel.)
It is the way of squirrels to have this chase every season but not with the same pair of squirrels chasing each other every year.  Squirrels don’t pay much heed to lineages, other than to know one’s father and mother as everyone is related to everyone else by many, many connections.  This is simply their way.  They know that there are  creatures, like doves, who mate for life.  They know of cats and dogs who were as promiscuous as themselves.
But, as we mentioned earlier, they have trouble understanding humans.  One big reason for this problem, as has been said, is the fact that the human lifespan is so long relative to that of the squirrel.  A squirrel born at the same time as a human could live three or more lifetimes, were he granted such, before a human starts a family.
Time flows differently for squirrels and trees and little girls.
But squirrels do know where oak trees came from.  This is because they are part of the very process that Nature has for oak trees to reproduce themselves.  Squirrels failing to retrieve an acorn they’ve planted is all a part of the plan.  
Nature is subtle. It is all about life, so all sorts of ways have been devised to make sure life continues.  With squirrels it is the Chase; with oak trees it includes squirrels; and with humans too there is also a way.
Squirrels are not part of the human process as they are with oak trees. While there are certain human activities they could have extrapolated from had they seen them and thereby received insight, they’ve never seen them.  They go on behind closed doors in houses, hotels, cars, and the occasional linen closet.
So it took the combined genius of the followers of Postumus to discern even that children were of the same kind as Man.  This could happen because the followers of Postumus as a group continued to exist through time after individual members had died. The knowledge of one generation was not lost to the next.  Indeed, the knowledge of one generation was a foundation the next could build upon.
But squirrels are prisoners of geography.  Crossing a street for them is a life-risking act of heroism. Streets to them are somewhat like oceans in the time of Columbus were to human beings. Few are so bold as to be able to move more than a few blocks in their lifetime, but there are exceptions.  Bold, heroic exceptions. Like Ninja Squirrel and his disciples.
Because of his rare ability, Ninja Squirrel had been made He-who-guards-the-Emissary and had taken that as a name segment.  He and his disciples travelled several miles every day as they followed the Emissary on her mysterious pilgrimage. They had saved her from the creep who had attacked her, receiving only minor wounds themselves and had continued to guard her afterwards, as clearly they were needed.
They continued following her as she went alone to the university day after day until one day she didn’t.  That is to say, she didn’t stop going to the university, rather she stopped walking alone.  One day she emerged from one of the buildings and someone was walking beside her.  Her companion was taller than she was, broader in the shoulders, and had shorter hair.  He had biceps that rippled visibly.
Ninja had seen this kind of creature many times before and knew it to be the male of Man.  Ninja and his disciples watched as they walked out of the quad, off the campus, and toward the Emissary’s home.  About two-thirds of the way there, they came to a corner, stopped and talked to each other for what Ninja considered an overly long period of time, and then they parted.  Squirrels didn’t like extended conversation on the ground for extended periods because of the constant threat of brain-eating cats.
Ninja allowed his disciples to follow the Emissary home as he himself followed the male. He noted the male paused after he’d walked about a quarter of a block to look back at the Emissary for a long moment and then walked on with a spring in his step.
This happened every day. The ritual where the talked before parting lasted longer and longer, though cats never did take advantage.  One day, as it became spring, they stopped in the park and the Male pulled a flat round object out of his back pack.  They tossed it back and forth to each other until Ninja heard the Emissary say she was thirsty.  The male then left her and came back with something the Emissary began to drink from.  
Then something strange happened.  While the Male’s back was turned, the Emissary reached into the cup and brought out something and put it down his back.  Then he started chasing her.
This aroused Ninja’s interest to a large degree and he watched intently because he thought he knew where this was headed.  The Male did catch the Emissary, but it didn’t end the way Ninja thought it would.  Instead, they kissed.
Summers and winters came and went and then it was spring once again.  Ninja saw people on campus walking around in flat hats and wearing robes as he had every year, but this time the Emissary and the Male were among them.
Soon after there was a large gathering in the Emissary’s yard.  The Mother--who had not been called She-Devil in years--was there; she was smiling and crying at the same time.  They were standing beside the Daddy tree in the sunshine and a man in a robe like the ones on campus said some things.  And they kissed again.
Then the Emissary rode off with the Male in a car, but before they did,Ninja heard her say something to the Mother: “I will be back.”
Ninja, though, never saw her again.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 5

Chapter 5
Though he was not yet two years old, his name had grown so long with so many segments as to take several minutes to say. Most of the segments were of the squirrelishly obscure variety, so we will call him by the name that Beth christened him with: Ninja Squirrel.
Beth had come upon him shortly after beginning her time at college. There were many squirrels on her college campus, of course, but none of them so bold and cheeky as Ninja.
Ninja would often confront her on the sidewalk and attempt to engage her in conversation.  Beth’s ability to understand squirrel had waned as she had grown older.  Certain things still leaked through, but mostly on the unconscious level, and that was probably a good thing because people who say they can speak to squirrels are often fitted with funny coats with long sleeves and spend a good deal of time hugging themselves.
When Ninja tired of waiting for her to answer, he would often segue into preaching.  He liked quoting extracts from the story of Nut-gazer and the story of Postumus. He admired the heroism of Postumus’s death and the mystery of Nut-Gazer’s disappearance.  Whenever Beth tried to escape because she was late for class or simply had something better to do than listen to a squirrel chatter at her, Ninja would dodge in front of her and block her way until he was finished with his sermon.  
She had given him the name Ninja because he would vault down trees and leap across sidewalks to get to her when he saw her coming out of one of the buildings on campus to walk across the quad.
Because of his long and weighty name and all the acts that earned it, Ninja Squirrel was greatly respected by all of the other squirrels on campus, at least the ones were followers of the teachings of Postumus according to the Council of Lincoln Park. Being on a college campus, the squirrels were a very independent lot.  Some of these denied there was a Source, some denied there was a First Tree, and some of them denied there were any trees at all, as trees were simply a social construct.  They often proclaimed this very thing while sitting in a tree.
There were those, however, who believed and faithfully followed the teachings of the Council.
Beth herself was gaining a long and weighty name.  Her mother had always called her Beth, but when she came to college and heard the professors calling her name from the roll as Elizabeth Katherine Rosewood, she liked the heft of it.  Beth was your friend, but Elizabeth was a queen’s name, a couple of them in fact.  While she didn’t mind being Beth with her mother and her childhood friends, she rather liked the way she felt when her professors and her college friends called her by her full name.
This may very well have been part of her kinship with the squirrels going back to Postumus. The squirrels, more than anything else, understood the power of a name.  In their culture, their religion, their names were the very things they were.  They remembered their achievements, both positive and negative, by commemorating them in name segments.  While a hero might take the segment Car-dodger, another less heroic might have the name segment Almost-dodged-a-car.  One of this variety might also be missing a part of a tail.  Sometimes the final name segment was Didn’t-dodge-a-car.
Though she went to college during the day, she still lived at home as the college was but a half-hour walk away.  She enjoyed the walk back and forth everyday as it gave her time to think and experience nature.  She enjoyed it especially well as the autumn progressed, the evenings cooled, and the leaves turned.  
She enjoyed it except for one thing.
There was a young man who sometimes crossed her path as she made her way home.  He was not un-handsome, although he wasn’t nearly so handsome as apparently he believed himself to be.  When their paths crossed, he spoke to her, and she would be polite, but no more.
As was said, before the Fall, Man could talk with the animals.  A good part of that ability resided in the reading of body language.  The body tells its own story whatever the mouth might say.  When different stories are perceived, this creates a disconnect.. When this young man talked to Beth, it left a disconnect which she, being talented with words, had no trouble putting a name to. Indeed, it only took one word in English: creep.
Had this young man been a squirrel, he would’ve had a long name: the word creep repeated a thousand times.  Being less separated from Nature than Man, squirrels would’ve worked in dangerous a dozen or so times along the way.
One could discuss how the young man had gotten to be that way. One could talk about ways he might be changed.  At this point for Beth, for Elizabeth Katherine Rosewood, it doesn’t matter. The Creep was like a wolf. She felt that.  She started altering her path to and from the university so as to avoid him.
And so it was on this particular autumn night Beth was going home from the university.  She had stayed on campus late because there was a speaker that interested her.  She heard the speaker, lingered for hor d'oeuvres, and then began her way home in darkness.  Her way was dark, but not particularly scary. At one point, it took her past a part of town that had not been developed.  It was wooded and quiet and very, very dark.
While many people might’ve been very afraid while walking in this part of town, that was not Beth’s nature.  She wasn’t afraid until the very moment she felt an arm crooked around her neck, a knife scratching her under her chin and drawing a trickle of blood, and a body pressing her backpack into her spine.
She struggled but she couldn’t get a way.  She tried to scream but the arm rammed under her chin wouldn’t let her.  Her assailant threw her to the ground so hard that it knocked the breath out of her.  
There were all sorts of things she might’ve thought but didn’t.  She saw the glint of the knife and there was no thinking; there was only fear.
Then something very odd happened.
The figure above her began to make noises.
“Ouch! What the? God dammit!”
He rolled off her and began to tug at himself somewhat frantically.  He was pulling at his sides; he was pulling at his neck; he was pulling at his head.  He was pulling things from his body and flinging them to the ground.
This gave Beth time to think. While part of her wanted to hit the man who had attacked her, the smarter part told her to run.  And she did just that. She was a block away before she even slowed.  She then found a house that was lit and awake in which some college kids were drinking beer, playing cards, watching TV, and doing anything but studying.  Beth hammered on the door screaming and crying.
She explained to the college kids that she’d been attacked.  The boys ran down the street to where it had happened, and the girls called the cops.
It was the boys who found the body and stayed with it until the cops arrived.
When the cops shined their lights on the body, they couldn’t understand what they saw. There were hundreds of bites on the body. Many of the bites were through the man’s clothing.  One of the bites--the fatal one--had gone through the carotid artery.
They brought out Beth who identified the man as the fellow she knew as the Creep.
The detective on the case was a very practical man.  He looked at what had happened and could not come up with a narrative that fit all of the evidence. Given that, he decided to ignore quite a lot of it.  In his report, he suggested that the assailant had suffered some sort of a fit while he was attacking his victim and had accidentally stabbed himself.  Case closed.
The truth would not have been believed anyway.
The for those who believe, the answer isn’t so complicated. One of Ninja squirrels squirrelly name segments was He-who-guards-the-Emissary.  He followed Beth back and forth from the university as a part of a holy vow he had made to keep the Emissary safe.
He was good to his vow and, and he and a group of his disciples were following her tree to tree when the Creep attacked her.  It was Ninja himself who had delivered the fatal bite.  His name grew even longer among squirrel-kind.
Beth, for her part, had seen more than she realized while it was happening, though her rational mind was having trouble letting her believe it.   The things the Creep were pulling from his body made noises, and she believed she recognized the noises.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 4

Chapter 4
With the passing of Postumus, the squirrels who followed him continued along in the ways he taught them.  If anything, they practiced it even more faithfully because they didn’t have him to ask face to face; they could only ask him through memory.
It was providence that on the day of Postumus’s burial a squirrel of rare intellect was there to witness it.  His name was Nut-gazer.  He was still young and only had one name segment, but if even if he’d lived to be as ancient as ten, he would’ve still only had that one but perhaps repeated 100 times.
He thought.  He stared absently at a nut--any nut--and thought.  He thought deep thoughts, broad thoughts, and important thoughts, and he was respected for this.  He put his talent for thinking to the service of his community and solved the puzzle of one of the neighborhood “squirrel-proof” bird feeders and many other problems along the way.
On the day of the Postumus’s death, he’d seen Beth’s mom bury Postumus and it had raised questions in his mind.
Indeed, it had raised questions in most of the squirrels’ minds.  Why would the She-Devil bury Postumus, and why would she choose to do it in such an appropriate manner at the base of his father’s tree?
Some had said later it was because the Emissary had made her, but this didn’t dovetail with what they’d seen with their own eyes. Clearly the She-Devil had been the initiator.
Nut-gazer thought long and hard.  He sifted through memories of what he’d seen and what other squirrels had told him.  This was important because not only was he a great thinker, he was a great listener and remembered everything he’d heard in his short but inquisitive life. 
Squirrels thought humans were devils because they fed the dogs and the cats, but some humans also put out food for birds.  Nut-gazer knew this because he’d helped steal it.  Some humans also put out food for squirrels and he had seen the She-Devil feed the Emissary.  So humans fed other creatures.  They didn’t feed just enemies of the squirrels; they fed all creatures.
He gazed harder and harder at his nut.
It followed, therefore, that humans weren’t devils.  They were feeding other creatures, but who were they feeding the creatures for, whom were they serving?  There must be something, someone to whom they bowed a knee.  Were they servants of the tree?  But there were many trees.  Ah, but each tree came from a nut and each nut from another tree.  Was it possible that all trees were connected to a first tree?  Were humans servants of that first tree? 
He thought this must be the case and he began thinking of it as the First Tree.  It became this way in his mind.  The humans were not devils. They were servants of the First Tree whose job was to care for all of the First Tree’s creatures.  All--squirrels, dogs, cats, humans--were all creatures of the First Tree.
When great seriousness he shared these thoughts to a close friend of his whose name would eventually include the segment Truth-bearer.
Indeed, Nut-gazer was a truly rare squirrel, and shortly after he told his story to Truth-bearer, he was gazing at a nut and Mischief came up behind him unnoticed, killed him, and ate his magnificent brain.  No one saw this.  No one of the Children of Postumus, as they began calling themselves, ever found Nut-gazer’s body.  This became part of his legend added to his mystique.
As time passed, the Children of Postumus began to believe the things he’d said.
Time flows differently for squirrels and trees and little girls.
The years passed away until Truth-bearer, who had become the leader of the Children of Postumus, died quietly in his sleep inside his home, which was the attic of Beth’s home.  She and her mother could smell something odd and had guesses, but never knew for sure what it was.
Not long after this, Mischief and Charlie, who themselves had been very old relative to their kind, passed-away within months of each other.   Beth and her mother were twice more at the base of the Daddy tree burying each of them in turn.  The squirrels witnessed this and approved as the words of the Prophet Nut-gazer were confirmed.
They began preaching the unity of all animals under the First Tree to everyone: squirrels, cats, dogs, and humans.  Most scoffed, but some believed.  The humans were mostly clueless as to what all the chattering was about.  That did not keep the squirrels from preaching to them, however.
Then there came, as so often is the case, a miraculous summer.  One summer when Beth was thirteen, she became taller than her mother.  She lacked her mother’s breadth and her mother’s heft, but she was taller.  She looked rather like someone who’d stepped out of a painting by El Greco; tall, thin, and beautiful.
It was then the squirrels noticed. 
The younger squirrels noticed first because they been around to know the Emissary when she was small, but the very oldest of their kin, the venerable six-year-olds, confirmed it and said it must be so.  The Emissary and the She-Devil were of the same kind. They were both the female of Man.
The Emissary, indeed, must be the She-Devil’s child.
This was not as shocking as it would have been before Nut-gazer had discerned, and Truth-bearer had proclaimed, that humans were simply creatures of the First Tree like squirrels.
The truth was simply the truth and was to be lived with and bit by bit understood. Nothing could be done about it, but the discovery did make calling the one who was the mother of the Emissary “She-Devil” unacceptable.  The squirrels about all believed names were important.
After thinking about it among themselves and a great deal of chattering, the answer came and it was so clear they’d wondered why it took them so long.  They called her Mother.
And the winter came and another and then several more.
The Daddy tree became thicker than a cat’s body and taller than a house.  Squirrels throughout the city had learned of the teachings of Nut-gazer and believed. They saw their wisdom and talked of them ceaselessly. 
But there was a question:  If there was a First Tree--and they believed that there was--then the First Tree being a tree must have needed light.  Where did the light come from?  It was possible the light and the First Tree were both eternal, but even so, the First Tree would need the light but the light would not need the First Tree.  The light would be greater than the First Tree.  This would have great ramifications.
So all of the wisest squirrels of that town gathered in one place and talked about it.  They talked with such intensity that they brought along some of their brethren who were not great thinkers in order to serve as guards lest some wily cat sneak up on them.  (There were some among the wise who had theories about the fate of Nut-gazer.)
On the third day of the Council of Lincoln Park, as it came to be called, someone asked whether it were possible that the First Tree and the Light (they were thinking about it in capitals now) might emanate from the same source, an ultimate source.  This would make sense.  If so, didn’t it also make sense that everything emanated from this Source?  While the Daddy tree and the First tree and the Emissary and even the Mother were objects worthy of veneration, shouldn’t worship be reserved for the Source?

This seemed reasonable to the Council of Lincoln Park, so they voted to accept it. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 3

Chapter 3
The religion of the squirrels is right in at least one thing. One purpose of sunshine is to feed trees, so when the Daddy tree was moved into the sunshine, it prospered.
Beth’s mother, believing that this little tree had a special meaning to Beth, took special care of it.  She staked it so it would grow straight; she mulched around it to keep the weeds away; and she gave it fertilizer.  She even chased Charlie away from it whenever he tried to urinate on it in her presence. Postumus appreciated that.
While Postumus was respected before his father’s tree was moved, afterwards the respect of the squirrel community for him increased greatly and spread widely.  The younger squirrels respected him and many of the females wanted to be his mate.  As this is Nature’s way with squirrels, he obliged as many of them as he could.  Soon he had many, many sons and daughters and they all paid homage to his father’s tree.  There were also others who, being inspired, chose to follow their practice of veneration of the tree.
They all could tell the story.  Postumus had been on the way to visit his father’s tree.  He’d come upon the She-Devil who was about to root it out of the ground.  He’d spoken boldly to the She-Devil and she’d replied with evil laughter and said that she would uproot the tree and use it for his funeral pyre. (Some embroidery had occurred in the retelling somewhere along the way.)  She was about to do this foul deed just when the Emissary appeared.
Here it must be explained that the squirrel understanding of humans is at best limited.  Squirrels believe humans to be devils.  They believe this to be the literal truth.  They’ve seen human’s taking care of their deadly enemies the dogs and the cats; they’ve seen humans cutting down trees.  There is also a collective memory among squirrels of humans eating them.  It is a fresher memory in some parts of the country than others.
They also don’t have a good grasp of the connection between human children and adults.  That is to say, they don’t understand that children are human children.  Human children are much smaller than adult humans and they are so for a very long time.  This is not the case among squirrels which grow up very quickly.  Squirrels consider children to be a separate species, as it were, and they are suspicious of them because they choose to live in such close proximity to Man (and cats and dogs), but the true nature of children remains a mystery to them.
So it is not surprising that when squirrels encountered Beth as translated for her mother, they didn’t have a good category to put her in. She appeared to them to be a special sort of creature. They called the Emissary.
Time flowed.
Let it be said again, time flows differently for squirrels and trees and little girls.
In the sunshine, the tree grew quickly so that soon, even though it was small for a tree,  it was taller than Beth’s mother. 
Beth grew so that she was almost as tall as her mother’s waist.  While humans would remark to her mother how big she was getting, in squirrel time the process took so long that it was not noticed.
Postumus did not grow in size.  He had reached almost his maximum size during his first year.  Instead, he grew old.
Beth continued to call the tree the Daddy tree.  He mother told her the story about the squirrel fussing at them and of Beth crying for her to not kill the tree but move it. The story her mother told began to replace her own memory of the event and whenever she had flashes of her true memory, they felt like a dream to her.
While the day she and her mother had moved the Daddy tree stood out in her memory, it wasn’t the only incident in her life. Odd things happened to Beth.
On some sunny days, she and her mother would be walking down the sidewalk when a young squirrel would run in front of Beth--giving Beth’s mother a wide berth--and put an acorn at Beth’s feet and then run quickly away. Or instead of an acorn, it could be a ribbon. Or a popsicle stick. Or an old toy dug out of a sandbox. Gives-offerings-to-the-Emissary-and-braves-the-She-Devil became one of those mumbledies that squirrels had in their names. 
Often Postumus would come by to pay Beth his respects and speak to her.  At times, she almost remembered understanding him. She and her mother recognized him from among the rest of the squirrels and knew him as an old friend. They called him the Grampa squirrel.
Postumus, his red hair becoming gray, encouraged offerings to the Emissary. Postumus had seen six winters and this made  him ancient among squirrel-kind.  But as old as he was, he  clearly remembered the day the Daddy tree had been saved.  He had seen the Emissary speak and had noted the effect her words had on the She-Devil.  Even a loathsome dog-feeder and cat-stroker like herself had been moved when the Emissary spoke. 
The Emissary had very powerful medicine indeed.
Postumus knew that he must soon go the way of all things mortal and he wanted his children and those allied with them to keep in the good graces of the Emissary.
We will soon come to the death of Postumus, but before that happens the reader must learn something more of the squirrel understanding of the world.  Squirrels don’t have a good understanding of motorized vehicles.  Cars and trucks make sounds like the wind and like the thunder, so, from the squirrel point of view, they appear to be forces of nature.  They’ve seen birds flying in the air and on the wind, and so they believe humans are doing something similar when they ride in cars.
 Given how deadly cars are for squirrels, knowing that humans drive them would only confirm in the squirrel-view that humans are devils.  Ironically, garbage trucks, which are the most deadly to squirrels of all vehicles, are much more like forces of nature that is generally recognized.  They are so large and have so much inertia the laws of physics have more influence on them than the will of those who drive them.
The day that Postumus died was garbage pickup day in Beth’s neighborhood.
Beth was playing with her beach ball in the front yard.  It was one of those rare days that Beth’s mother had let her play outside without her, having a small chore to do herself on the inside before she could come out.
But Beth was not alone.
In a tree across the street, Postumus had taken a perch and was watching Beth play with her beach ball.  The ball confused him. It was the shape of a nut, but it was oddly colored.  If it was a nut, then it must be incredibly heavy and so, by way of reason, the Emissary must be incredibly strong to toss it about the way she did.  But there were times when the wind caught it and moved it like a leaf.
It was a mystery.
Postumus heard the garbage truck coming.  As he was getting old, he didn’t hear it as soon as he once might’ve, but he did hear it and was aware of it.  And he knew it was coming down their street even before Beth’s beach ball was blown out of her hands and into its oncoming path.
Postumus could understand human language and a big part of this is body language.  He looked at Beth when he ball rolled out and knew that she was thinking about going after it.  He also knew she wasn’t aware the truck was coming. He raced down his tree, screaming at her all the while.
“Stop!” he said. “Stay out of the street!”
Beth was focused on the ball and wasn’t paying any attention to him.  She heard nothing of what he was saying, not even as chatter, but continued to eye her ball that was in the street and make small, reluctant steps in that direction.
Her steps were small and reluctant because her mother had talked to her very seriously about the dangers of playing in the street.  Whenever she played with the ball and it went out into the street--which it had--her mother had told her specifically never to follow a ball into the street.  She had then gone to fetch the ball for her.
But Beth’s mother wasn’t there now and Beth wondered if she should go after the ball herself. She continued to move toward the street.
The fellow driving the garbage truck was a good man, but he had gotten up early and he hadn’t seen the ball roll out, and it was lost in the glare of the sun besides.
Postumus was down from the tree, and ran out into the street, yelling at Beth to stop all the way.  His aim was to either make her stop or to somehow push the ball back to her.  He didn’t know how he was going move such a heavy nut as he believed the ball to be, but he would figure that out when he got there.
And he did get there.  He hit the beach ball with his body expecting it to be quite heavy.  It was so light he didn’t realize he had hit it and it just bounced away back onto the grass, but in one fraction of a second he felt something quite heavy hit him as he was brushed by a truck tire.  Had he had time to think, he would have thought it was the weight of the ball.
Beth’s mother emerged from the house just in time to see the ball bounce onto the grass from the street, to see the garbage truck go by, and to then hear Beth begin to cry.  This confused Beth’s mother’s mind terribly.  She could see that Beth was not in the street.  She could see that the ball was okay.  She couldn’t see the reason Beth was crying until she ran and grabbed Beth into her arms.
“What’s the matter, honey?” Beth’s mother asked her.
“Grampa Squirrel,” she sobbed. “The truck ran over Grampa Squirrel.”
Beth was inconsolable.  What happened next will surprise no parent, but caused ripples in the squirrel world for years, nay, decades to come.
Beth’s mother, after telling Beth gently, but firmly, to stay where she was, went into the house and emerged with a shoebox and an old rag.  Covering Postumus’ lifeless body with the rag, she transferred them both to the shoebox. leaving the rag to obscure the damage that had been done to Postumus.
They then went together to the back yard.  Beth guarded Charlie off the box while her mother fetched a spade from the potting shed and dug a hole beside the Daddy tree.
By this time, Postumus’ children and disciples had gathered around and, in a state of shock, were looking in from trees outside the yard.
With much sweat and obvious effort, Beth’s mother finish digging the hole.  Then Beth put the box into the hole and her mother covered it up.  Then with an act of foresight marking her as a very wise woman, she put a large rock over the top of the hole to keep Charlie out.
Then Beth and her mother went back into the house.

The squirrels sat looking at the stone trying to make sense of what they had just seen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel: Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Postumus was born exactly one cycle of the moon after DT’s death. Squirrels aren’t named until they’ve done their first defining action and this usually isn’t until a while after their births, but BFR said that defining action had been done when DT died and so named him Postumus.

Beth was born on the same day. Thus, from the very day of their births they already had two things that tied them together: birth and death.  This is powerful medicine.  A third way lay ahead, but there are things we must learn first.

There was no religion before the Fall.  There was no need of it. God, Man, and Nature were in harmony and all spoke the same language. But, with the Fall, rifts were open between Man and Nature, Man and God, and Nature and God.  There were three rifts, but the three rifts were all one.

Religion was the bridge across this rift.

Dogs and cats, who were closest to Man and so the most messed up, took to worshipping the sun and the moon.  They recognize them as sources of light and warmth.  Both cat and dog honor the sun in the same way: by sleeping in its rays.  It is in the worship of the moon that they differ.

Dogs sing hymns to the moon.  Those who are sequestered in yards worship with their trapped brethren by singing their hymns across the night.  They believe the sirens of fire trucks and ambulances to be instruments of a heavenly choir.  They join their voices with those instruments to joyously sing praises to the moon.

Cats, for their part, honor the moon by hunting to seek sacrifices.  They offer these sacrifices to their human owners. Cats consider their human owners not to be their masters but rather priests.  The function of the priest is to be an intermediary between themselves and their gods, the sun and the moon.  They give their priests sacrifices and their priests are to act on behalf of the gods and satisfy each and every of the their needs.

Dogs also consider humans to be priests, though their view of the priesthood was somewhat more elevated than what cat’s hold.

There is not much similarity beyond that.  Dogs and cats consider each other to be heretical.  There is the occasional dog that will defect to the cat religion and cat to the dog, but in general the separation is deep and bitter. 

There is one thing dogs hate more than cats and cats hate more than dogs,. Being the alert intelligent readers you are, you have guessed it: squirrels.

Squirrels worship neither the sun nor the moon.  Squirrels worship trees.  This should not surprise anyone. Squirrels believe the purpose of the sun is to nourish the tree, and it is this fact that infuriates dogs and cats so.

Dogs respond to this perceived abomination by urinating on the trees and squirrels react accordingly.  This is why “dog-tormenter” is an honorable name-segment among squirrel-kind.

 Cats aren’t as crude in their contempt for squirrels but show it in a more deadly fashion.  To kill a squirrel and eat its brains is quite a common practice among cats; they would do it even if they didn’t find squirrel brains to be so tasty.  Squirrels do bait cats, but they are more careful about it than in their torment of dogs. 

Postumus was very pious. He grew in favor with his people and added many segments to his name which grew to be quite long. 

In the squirrel religion, the site of the last acorn burial, if it be known, is honored in remembrance of the departed, so Postumus was taught by his mother the place where his father’s last acorn was buried. Postumus visited the place frequently, though not with the boldness of his forbear. He did it quietly and reverently, when Charlie and Mischief were otherwise engaged. 

After a time, his visits were blessed by the discovery of an oak tree growing from the acorn.  This was strong medicine among the squirrels, indeed, as it is so rare, and the fact that it had occurred and that Postumus had been the one to discover it added a segment, one of those segments that can only be said in squirrel, to Postumus’s name.

Time moves differently for squirrels and trees and girls.

Postumus grew to be a great leader among his people and paid special reverence to this tiny tree, his father’s last, even though it was not a bush nor even a sapling.  The tree was small even for its age because it was in a shaded flower bed close to Beth’s house.  And Beth was toddling around and could speak a little, as befitted a child of age three.

Beth’s mother who’d retreated to be alone with herself and her daughter after her husband’s death, began to move back into the yard which had been her pleasure and into her garden which had been her joy.  She took Beth with her, where Beth could play in the grass and dirt and be in the sunshine when there was sun and smell the air when it was full of the scent of flowers.  In the spring, it was much like Eden.

In Eden, Man and animals could talk to each other freely, but this was before the earth was cursed on Man’s account.  Since then Man and animals have not spoken except rarely.  The Wisest know that there is a time during which young children in their innocence can understand animals, at least some can. It is an ability that has become less common as Man forgets who he is. 

Beth, however, was special in having the ability and retaining it longer than most.

By way of contrast, many animals can understand what man says very well, but they find little he says worth listening to.  Squirrels can understand Man quite well and some are so frustrated with his stupidity they will preach at him like a prophet of yore, but, of course, to no avail most of the time. 

But not all.

And so it came to pass, that Beth was with her mother in her garden when they came upon the tree that Postumus revered.

“Well, Beth,” Beth’s mother said with a sigh, “I need to remove this little oak tree.  It’s much too close to the house.”

Beth’s mother wasn’t really telling this to Beth for Beth to know it.  She was just teaching her to talk in the way that mothers do.  Beth was listening the way small children listen to their mothers because they want to learn to talk, but she didn’t understand.

Postumus, who was waiting in a dark shade to the side did hear and understand.  He was overcome with horror.  He didn’t think of the dog; he didn’t think of the cat; he didn’t think at all.  He simply ran out into the yard to within three feet of Beth and her mother and began beseeching them in the manner of a prophet.

“NO!” Postumus screamed.  “Such a thing cannot be done!  It is a horror!  This is the tree from the last acorn of my father who died before I was born! You cannot, cannot kill it!”

Beth’s mother was at first startled and then amused at the squirrel’s antics.  Then she, being a mother, was concerned about Beth’s reaction.  Was she scared?  She turned to look at Beth and saw that she was not scared, but appeared to be listening.  She was cute. When the squirrel stopped, Beth’s mother turned to Beth.

“Well,” she said.  “That squirrel is, mad isn’t he.  What do you think he said?”  She, of course, didn’t expect Beth to answer.  Beth didn’t know this.

“He say no kill tree,” she said.  “It daddy tree.”

This was the best that she could get out because her understanding of squirrel, ironically, was somewhat better than her command of English.

“What?” Beth’s mother was confused.

Beth was frustrated because she’d tried so hard, so her little eyes teared up.

“No kill tree,” she repeated with effort. “It daddy tree.” 

This last came so hard there were tears down her face.

Beth’s mother was still confused but in a deeper way.  She had talked to Beth about her father because being a bright little girl she’d noticed other little girls had men around them and had asked.  She’d tried to explain to the three-year-old things that even her grown-up heart had trouble understanding.  She meditated on Beth’s words and came to the conclusion  that somehow Beth had gotten the idea that this little tree was her father’s tree.

“Okay,” she said after a bit. “We will move it over here in the middle of the yard where it can get more sunlight.  And we will take care of the Daddy tree, okay?”

Beth and Postumus heard this at the same time.  Postumus understood it better and answered.

“Yes, this would be most satisfactory,” said Postumus.

“O-tay,” translated Beth.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kingdom of the Squirrel:Chapter 1

Chapter 1
His name was Dog-tormentor-mumbledy-mumbledy-cat-baiter where the mumbledies are standing in for things that are virtuous and admired in the squirrel world--as are dog tormenting and cat baiting--but cannot be translated into the English tongue without novel-length prose.  Suffice it to say it was a good, long name and that he was much respected within his community and among his peers.
Dog-tormentor had a good mate who, although it was not known to him, was about five minutes pregnant. Had he known this chapter might take a different direction, and, indeed, it might not be written at all.  Tragedy is the bard’s surest muse.
In any case, DT--let’s cut his noble name there for sake of brevity--had just buried an acorn in the flowerbed of a yard belonging to Charlie.  Charlie was a Brittany Spaniel with an Irish temperament.  He loved to lay in the cool grass in a puddle of sunshine so as to maintain the perfect temperature.  While he dug a few holes and jumped the occasional fence, he had few other vices and was general a quite pleasant dog. He guarded his territory with admirable virtue from the dangers of mailmen, people walking down the sidewalk, and, of course, squirrels.
His pleasantness, to his dismay, made him an attractive target for DT.  DT wanted to show off for his mate (who we will call BFR for Birdfeeder-robber, though she had a long and respected name herself) who had found an acorn.  He thought he would impress her by burying it in a yard underneath Charlie’s very nose.
And that he did do. Charlie, having reached a glorious equilibrium upon the cool grass in a puddle of sunshine, never stirred.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  If it were, you would be staring a blank sheet of paper wondering why.  No, Charlie didn’t stir until Mischief yowled.
Mischief was a cat, a well-named one at that.  DT took great pleasure in baiting Mischief, but he had not noticed Mischief in the yard that day.
Exactly as Mischief had planned.  Mischief not only resented DT’s constant baiting, but she also had a taste for squirrel brains and suspected that DT’s would be most tasty indeed.
DT had buried the acorn and was making his way back to BFR when he found his way blocked and himself facing Mischief who was only two feet away.
BFR had been watching her mate from the side, but didn’t see Mischief until a split second before DT did.
“Look out!” she screamed.
It was not much of a warning, but it was enough to get DT’s adrenaline flowing.
Mischief pounced and would’ve landed directly on top of DT had not this surge of adrenaline given him quickness to just jumped out of the way.  
Missing him caused Mischief to yowl in frustration.
Mischief’s yowling started Charlie from blissful slumber.  Charlie, angry and resentful from being disturbed from restful slumber, was immediately alert and saw his old nemesis, DT. He took to the chase.
DT had earned his name honestly, but he had always taken care to torment dogs and bait cats separately.  Doing both at the same time added a new dynamic to his predicament.
DT had initially darted toward Charlie it hope that Charlie would provide a deterrent to Mischief, not thinking that Charlie would be alert and awake.  As Charlie was alert, DT darted in another direction, the direction of a tree that was inside the yard.  He made the tree easily enough and went quickly beyond the reach of both Charlie and Mischief.  The could not get him, but he was also trapped.  That is, trapped except for the electric line that laced its way between the limbs of the tree.
DT could have simply waited these two out. He’d done it before.  The cat had no patience at all.  The dog had patience enough, but he was easily distracted.  DT need only wait until the mailman came by; or some people walked down the sidewalk with a baby stroller; or any number of another things for Charlie’s atterntion to be drawn away for just a moment.
But DT wanted to show off for BFR. With the combined euphoria of mating and narrowly missing death by dog and cat, DT wanted to add another hyphen to his name: Transformer-jumper.
DT shinnied out onto one of the thin limbs that came into contact with the electric line.
“Be careful,” BFR called out.  “Just wait until they are distracted.”
DT paid no mind.  He crawled onto the electric line.
“Don’t worry about me, Sweetie,” he said.  “It’s a piece of cake from here. I’ve done it dozens of times.”
This last wasn’t actually true.  He’d seen it done dozens of times.  He’d watch his hero Tranformer-jumper-mumbledy-car-dodger-mumbley-attic-dweller (who we wall call TJ) do it dozens of times.
TJ had always promised to tell DT the secret, but he never had, and then he’d disappeared.  He’d disappeared about the same time a grease spot had appeared in the middle of the street, but this is a digression.
There was a reason that “tranformer-jumper” was a fairly rare name segment among squirrells.  There is an art to the thing that is not understood, but approached on faith.  Discernment of the full mystery requires both doing it right and doing it wrong, and doing it wrong pretty well precludes talking about it afterwards.  DT’s friend had done it correctly and had stuck to his method, but, and I can’t repeat this enough, had not shared it.
DT hurried down the line, came to the point where it connected to the transformer, and jumped.
He did it wrong.
The scene is best left undescribed except for the bitter weeping of his mate.
Beth’s father was a good, kind man and loved Beth very much though she had not taken her first breath yet.  Upon learning that he was going to be a father, he had taken out a largish life insurance policy on himself, which, as we shall see, turned out to be a good thing.
Beth’s father and mother were greeted by Charlie barking and Mischief begging to be fed even though she had just eat squirrell-brain asado. They immediately noted that the electricity was off.
Had they been there, they would have heard a loud pop from their transformer and would’ve know that the problem this time was not with the neolithic breaker box in their wet, dark, scary basement.
Beth’s father had spent considerable time trying to keep from paying an electrician to actually fix the neolithic breaker box.  He had put patches in here, patches in there.  Each time he’d fixed the problem--or delayed fixing the problem depending upon your point of view--and, in his mind at least, impressed his wife.  Had followed the squirrel practice of naming, he would hyphenated an “electrician” into his name.
As the following moments will tell, this was not actually justified.
As poor luck would have it, Beth’s father was standing in a puddle that had come into contact with something he had not properly grounded and touching something he should not have touched at the exact moment the power company restored power.
Less than an hour after DT passed from the scene, Beth’s father did as well, in near enough the same way.
We shall leave this scene to the weeping of Beth’s mother and put no finer point on it than that, but lest anyone should worry, the EMTs arrived before Mischief could sate her hunger yet again.