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.

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