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.