(Cont. from Part 5)
The wolves started a chain mail; their howls crying out into the night sky, searching for the answers to their questions.
Some wondered if they would be waiting there all night. These were tough questions. Was there any animal who had all the answers?
The ground started to rumble. Some pebbles and dirt were kicked up in a small dust devil, pelting animals in the face with rock fragments.
Atop an old burnt stump, a large owl hovered with his forceful wings, before perching himself before the flock of geese. The burnt stump was all that remained of a great fire that ravaged through the forest years ago.
“Why have you summoned me here today?” his deep voice rumbled.
“We’ve come to you this night in search of the truth,” Sheriff Badger began. “There are questions for which we do not know the answers.”
“Oohh,” the owl said intrigued.
“We are still investigating the details,” the Sheriff continued, “but it appears Bill Beaver was chopping down trees in the forest and one of those trees had the ill fate of falling on Shirley Skunk. There is clear cause for motive, in both the cutting of the trees and the killing of a skunk.”
“However, we find ourselves conflicted over matters of morality and justice.” The Owl listened intently to the badger’s comments. “Animals are killed every day in this forest, usually for the purpose of self-preservation. But just who should have the right to end a life?”
“Whoo, indeed?” the owl recited, cracking his knuckles and stuffing some bones underneath his perch.
The Sheriff waited a minute for the Owl’s answer, but the Owl only nodded for him to continue.
“There also appears to be a general sense of individual entitlement in the group. That is all well and good until one animal’s rights start to encroach on another’s.”
“We find ourselves wondering who should have the right to access the resources of the forest. Particularly, was the Beaver wrong for chopping down the tree in the first place?”
The Owl’s second answer mirrored his first, “Yes, Whoo?”
“So, what is the answer? ” the badger asked.
“The answer to what?” the owl crypted.
“To our two questions: Who owns the rights to the forest and who has just cause to end a life?”
“Those are good questions. Just Whoo among us holds these rights?” said the Owl.
Frustrated and scratching his head, the badger commented, “I’m a little confused. I guess I thought you might have given a little clearer answer. At the very least, I thought you would have had an opinion, since it was your house the beaver chopped down and all.”
The Owl became visibly upset. His head began to spin, his feathers ruffled, and his omnipotent eyes glared down at Bill.
“WHOO, WHOO, just WHOO do you think you are?!” the owl stuttered. “You come into my house and tear down my walls! You have no right!”
This got the crowd very excited. They all started to yell, “Off with his tail!”
“Hang him out to dry!” some bats echoed.
“Enough everyone!” the sheriff barked, “Bill has a right to be represented by a weasel in kangaroo court. Besides, charges have not even been pressed yet.”
“Good,” Bill said. “Then I’m out of here.”
Bill was blocked by a wooden crutch held against his chest. It was his old coworker, Harry the Rabbit. “Feeling Lucky?”
They hadn’t been friends since a bad logging accident took Harry’s Foot. “Well, are you?”
“Quit foaming at the mouth Harry! Don’t think for a second that just because I built a dam that I have any to give. I will knock you off your crutches?”
Bill pushed past Harry and began looking for his friends and family. He saw Chuck and started walking towards him. Before he could get there, Chuck mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’ and lowered his head, before running back to his home.
The protestors around him were chanting “Oh no, this dam must go!” Even Otto and Fin, who could never resist a good rally, were marching with the group. “Oh no, the dam must go, the pond belongs to everyone!”
Woody stepped back from his friends and tried to see his parents through the mob. The tension was so thick, he just couldn’t seem to break through the crowd.
Owl spoke loudly and forcefully, “You had no right to tear these trees down in the first place. Nor should you have the right to their profits!”
“This isn’t right! You would take the fruits of my hard labor and divide it amongst yourselves, those of you who have not done the work to earn it?”
Before he could say anything else, the roof of his house flew off. He turned around to see Barry ripping into his home. All the animals quickly joined.
Sticks and stones were flying everywhere as the animals demolished their abode. Everyone seemed unscathed, well, everyone except the Beavers.
Working together, they made quick work of the dam. Once the support beams had been lifted, the whole house came crumbling down, breaking the dike free.
Woody found himself on the opposite shore of his parents, but still able to hear his mother’s cries. The destruction of everything he had ever built was just too much for Bill. He pulled his wife off into the distance and disappeared into the woods.
With his parents out of sight, Woody just sat at the edge of the water.
He watched as the crowd dispersed into the trees and beneath the surface of the pond. He noticed Barry had a mouth full of salmon as he headed towards his cave. He saw the Owl and some of the displaced chipmunks shopped around for a new piece of real estate. Mostly, he just stared at the water, pondering what he would do next.
Where would his parents go now?
Woody recalled overhearing his dad and his friends talking about the last round of forest layoffs. Fifty-five workers had been given their walking orders, forced to move out of the forest their pups had grown up in; that they had grown up in.
“What ever happened to John?” Chuck asked. “He was such a deer friend.”
“And his wife Jane, what a pair of doe eyes that one had on her. Now, she was a looker.” Barry remembered fondly, “I could just stare at her for hours when she was in the spotlight.”
“We lost a lot of good guys that day,” Bill said. They sat in silence for a moment, remembering all the animals they had lost from the forest, vanished without leaving a trail. “I’m sure they are in a better place,” Bill shared.
Woody wondered if a week, a month, or a year from now, Chuck and Barry might find themselves having this same conversation. “I wonder what ever happened to Bill?”
As the young beaver sat at the edge of the pond looking at his image in the water, he reflected on the beaver he saw staring back at him. What would his future look like without his family? Who would he become?
A log bounced up out of the water, creating ripples across the surface. As the log rolled passed him, he noticed some strange horizontal lines cutting against the grain.
It was the Oak tree they had cut down earlier in the day.
Woody remembered as a little kid, his Mom would measure him against the tree and cut marks into it.
“Aren’t you hurting the tree?” he asked when he was just a pup.
His mom took him over to look at the rings on a fallen tree.
She had already taught him that the rings represented how old the tree was. They had a standing joke about how dad’s belly was like a tree, adding another layer each year he grew older.
This time she showed him some break lines and burns, interrupting the symmetrical circles.
“Son, each of these marks represents something that has affected the tree. These breaks are not the only things that have ever hurt it. Some cuts were replaced by new, tougher bark and the memory of that pain was erased.”
“Over the life of the tree, many animals will grace its presence and touch its bark. Some will take its fruits and some will plant its seeds. Some animals will touch the tree so profoundly, that their paw print will leave an impression. Those marks can leave a scar, a reminder to the tree of the animals that have touched its life. Our presence here may or may not leave a lasting impression.”
“However, you can tell by looking at this tree that the scars never stopped the rings from multiplying. There is no living creature in these woods who gets through life untouched or unscathed. As long as you continue to keep growing despite the things in life that affect you, those scars will serve as a map for you to see how far you have come.
The memory brought a smile and a tear to the Woody’s face.
The sun was beginning to come up over the horizon. All the animals had retreated to their homes, no doubt exhausted from the night’s rave.
Woody looked down stream and noticed remnants of his childhood home piling up and preventing the flow of the water. He looked at the logs and saw there was work to be done.
Except this time, his dad couldn’t be here to help clean up the mess before him.
But for once, Woody wanted to go to work; a feeling deep inside, pulling him towards his duty.
So he did.
One after the other, he moved the blockages out of the way.
He made his way down the river quickly, but was stopped when he came to the giant waterfall. Many of the logs he had already pushed away were piled up against the rocks. The mess he had thought to have cleaned up just waiting for him further downstream.
The view from atop the waterfall was breathtaking. Woody had always wanted a house with a view.
This time, he looked at those same logs and saw it as a sign. Woody smiled, this was the place he should build his own dam.
“Perfect!” he beamed, standing on the brink of his future. He used the existing log jam to build a solid foundation. Woody then gathered more wood to guard against the rivers swift current.
He worked proudly building the new floor plan, with his dad’s words beating in his heart the entire time.
“After all,” Woody thought, “since a Beaver works the hardest, a beaver deserves to have the best.”
For previous installments of Reflections on the Pond, click the links below.
Reflections in the Pond is a coming of age, forest fable; where the only lessons you take from the story are the ones you are ready to learn. Origins and Insight into the story will be coming shortly.
Thank you so much for reading and going on this journey with me! Please leave comments below and let me know what you thought; good or bad.
This story was written for my niece, a girl of a different color: May you see something different every time you read it.
Honorable mentions to my husband, whose lakeside picture inspired the environment and our hardworking friends who inspired the ending.
Pictures by Elaine Kelly, author of Free The Truth