NOTE: This is a short story; not a poem. (author)
(Sometimes when you don’t know something can’t be done, you discover a way to do it.)
High at the top of a tree in Forest Park, Parker Squirrel lived in a nest that his mother had built from a hollowed out place inside the trunk of an old oak. A large branch forked away from the main trunk and a hole in the bark conveniently served as a doorway to the outside world. On one particular morning, Parker poked his head out from the doorway of his home and looked around very carefully at his surroundings. It wasn’t the first time in his young life that he had peeked at the outside world from his mother’s nest, but this time he was more alert and cautious than he had ever been before. Today he was orphaned and all alone. Sometime in the dark of night, while he was hiding deep inside the nest, he was forced to watch in terror when a large owl came and took away his mother. So today, feeling very timid and afraid, Parker made every effort to look in each direction before leaving his cozy home to explore and search for food.
Just ahead of him he saw that the rustic ranger station stood like a monument, to welcomed visitors to the state park. On his left he could see the foothills of the purple mountain range. He knew that these foothills and their woodlands were all part of the place called Forest Park. Off to his right a dancing brook bubbled along the edge of a grassy meadow. In its tall grasses he saw a white-tail doe playing with her newborn fawn. There seemed to be no danger in that direction, so Parker stretched his neck upward and watched as white, cotton-ball clouds floated across the azure blue sky. Finally he looked down at the ground far below just in time to see a large toad quickly hop under the cover of some wild mushrooms. Still, he sensed no danger.
Unfortunately, in order to see the forest behind him, it was necessary for Parker to leave his nest and climb around to the other side of his oak tree. And that was a problem for Parker, because the little squirrel was still much too timid to take such a chance. Instead he stretched as far as he could to look around the wide tree trunk and into the woods.
Glancing back into the forest, Parker saw more tall oak trees with their strong, stately trunks. He saw a scattering of white flowers that revealed the presence of dogwood trees. A stand of sugar maples displayed their graceful branches and delicate leaves. He also noticed some early spring flowers and wild mustard plants splashing bright yellow hues against the fresh green Indian grasses where a tiny meadow carpeted the outer edge of the forest floor.
There were no owls!
Even if they were hiding where he couldn’t see them, Parker would know they were there. He would be able to smell their unmistakable odor. To nearly all rodents, the owls have a peculiar stench that is putrid and foul. And even a young squirrel like Parker would recognize it at once.
The young squirrel was fascinated by all he saw. His furry skin tingled in the warm glow of the bright, noonday sunshine, almost making him forget the tragedy of the previous night. Parker had only arrived into the world about six weeks ago, but in squirrel time that meant he would soon be approaching young adulthood. He had always been cozy and comfortable, cradled in the nest his mother had built in the tall oak tree. He had always enjoyed foraging with her for seeds and nuts. The pantry was partly filled, even now, with acorns and hickory nuts, which emitted a woodsy aroma that reminded him of his mother. He loved the wonderful world he saw from his perch and his heart was so happy that he began to chatter a new springtime song, which he seemed to hear playing all by itself inside his head.
Parker was so enthralled by all the new sights and smells filling his senses that he nearly outstretched the length of his body as he leaned outside the doorway to his mother’s cozy nest and suddenly he fell and tumbled onto the forest floor beneath him. He landed with a horrible thud! The little squirrel landed on his back into a clump of moss that grew beneath the tall oak, which only moments before had been his citadel.
“Ouch!” chattered Parker as he recovered his breath. The fall had knocked the wind from his lungs but as soon as he discovered he could breath again he checked himself all over to make sure he wasn’t seriously hurt. Then he began to explore the forest floor.
The little squirrel was so excited, as he ran from one discovery to another, that he completely lost track of time. Before he knew it, he was a long way from his mother’s tree and it was growing dark. The little squirrel ran from tree to tree looking for his home and finally he stopped at a very tall oak. Parker was certain that this was the same tree from which he had fallen, so as fast as he could scurry, he climbed up the trunk, searching among its branches for his mother’s nest. When he failed to find his home in the trunk of the tree, Parker finally realized that he was lost. The young squirrel had exhausted all of his strength running through the woods.
Afraid and suddenly very lonely, Parker was also very sleepy and hungry. Since he had no food and didn’t know what else he could do, Parker curled up into a ball at the crook of a branch and fell asleep. Next morning Parker searched the tree again for his home. To his surprise he stumbled upon a strange nest made up of branches and twigs of oak built close to the trunk of the tree. This nest seemed substantial and well built. The interior of the nesting cup was about eight inches across and five inches deep. Although the nest looked crude from the outside, its bowl was delicately and warmly lined with a combination of moss, feathers and leaves. It was about seventy-five feet from the ground and two fledgling crows were sleeping inside.
An older squirrel might have killed the baby crows for food and driven off the adult birds when they returned, but Parker just climbed inside the nest, curled up beside the sleeping pair, and fell asleep to dream about where he would find his next meal.
Parker’s sleep was interrupted by the noise of the two young birds’ loud clamoring for food. Their incessant calls were being tended to by the mamma crow, which had returned to the nest and was now busy stuffing their hungry mouths with an assortment of seeds and worms. As strange as it seems and much to Parker’s surprise, the mother crow also began stuffing his mouth with food just the same as if she was feeding her own children. Although he didn’t like the earthy taste of the worms, Parker was very hungry and he swallowed every bite. He found that he was actually quite satisfied with the meal.
Parker soon learned that there had originally been six baby birds occupying the crow nest, but sadly four had recently been taken by the owls in nighttime raids. Perhaps the loss of her own children was the reason the Mother Crow decided to adopt the baby squirrel and began feeding it along with her own young. In nature there are many mysteries and not all of them have easy answers. But, whatever her reason, one thing is very certain. Parker Squirrel had been officially adopted into the Crow family and he now had a new mother and a new home, complete with a brother and a sister.
Parker’s new siblings were very close to his own age, which meant they soon would begin standing on the edge of the nest and even leave to nearby branches of the tree when they were being fed. In the course of another week they would be leaving the nest and taking their initial flight while being watched, tended to, and protected by their adult parents. So Parker had a great surprise awaiting him. He didn’t know it yet, but in just a few days Mamma Crow would be expecting him to learn to fly. Of course, squirrels, by nature, are curious and quite acrobatic and no one had ever yet told Parker that he couldn’t fly like a bird. So when the time came for Parker and his siblings to make their initial test flights, he spread his arms and began to flap them hard, as though they were wings, as he leaped from the nest. Naturally the little squirrel tumbled down once again onto the forest floor with another thud.
Encouraged and nudged along by Mamma Crow and by taunts from his new brother and sister, Parker tried again and again to fly. Each time he tried flapping his little arms like wings and each time he fell to earth with a thud. Soon his whole body ached with painful bruises from his many falls. But even more than the motivation and prodding from his new family, Parker wanted to fly. There was something inside Parker that made him want to keep trying. Parker really did want to fly.
Immediately after being adopted, Parker had begun foraging for his own food by pure instinct. When he found acorns and seeds he brought them by mouthfuls back to the Crow family’s nest. But now the urge to fly was almost as strong inside him as his urge to scour the forest floor for acorns and nuts.
At night Parker dreamed about flying. As a younger squirrel he had often dreamed about being a “super squirrel” that flew around the forest, from tree to tree, doing good deeds and fighting off the evil owls with his super powers. But the urge he felt now to soar through the air was different from the wishful thinking of a childhood fantasy. Parker felt that he had to fly. He just had to.
He thought about why he wanted to fly so badly. It was more than the fact that his new brother and sister could fly. There was some important reason deep inside him that made him yearn to soar from tree to tree. As time passed Parker met other squirrels in the forest and he knew very well by now that he was not a crow, so why couldn’t he just be content to be like the other squirrels and forget all about this nonsense of flying after all. He thought that perhaps it was because he remembered what the owls had done to his mother and what they had done to those siblings from his new family that were taken before he even had a chance to meet them. Perhaps now, he thought, he was just afraid and only wanted to fly so he could escape the danger of the owls. Maybe he was just a coward.
The next night when Parker went to sleep he dreamed again of flying. But there was something different about this dream. In his dream Parker was not flying like the crows fly. He didn’t flap his arms up and down like wings. Instead he just glided and soared with no effort at all. In this dream he could actually feel the wind flowing over his body as he glided from one tree to another. When the sun came out and awakened him from his sleep, Parker couldn’t wait to try again. This time when he jumped from the nest he would not flap his arms because, after all, arms aren’t wings are they?
Before anyone could stop him, Parker leaped from the nest. He began to fall straight down, but instead of flapping his arms up and down, he stretched his arms and legs out as far as they would reach. Then, suddenly something happened. Instead of dropping to the ground with a painful thud, Parker started gliding. He didn’t fly far enough to reach another tree, but he was able to glide to another branch on his own tree. After recovering from his own surprise, he looked back to the nest and he saw his mother and brother and sister all standing on the edge of the nest with looks of amazement on their faces. They were all calling out to him to try it again. This time, having learned what to expect, Parker glided all the way to the next tree. After a few more tries, Mother Crow was flying right beside him.
One day Mamma Crow told him to follow her. “Come with me,” she said. “I want to show you something.” And he followed her, gliding from tree to tree. She led him to a new place, deeper into the woods than he had ever been. Soon they arrived at a place in the forest that almost seemed enchanted. He was very surprised to see that were lots of other squirrels gliding from tree to tree just like Parker.
“This is your new home,” said Mother Crow to Parker. “You’re not just an ordinary squirrel, you know, you are a flying squirrel.”
Then she told him, “From the day I first adopted you I knew that you were special. But you had to discover by yourself who you really are. Here in this place you can be safe and make friends of your own kind.” After saying goodbye and wishing him well, she waved at him and, looking back one more time, she flew away.
Well, that is how Parker learned to fly and how he discovered who he really was. After that he continued to live a very happy life with his new friends. The owls never seemed to trouble him in this part of the woods. But he never, ever, forgot about Mother Crow and the family that adopted him. Even to this day, Parker often stops by the nest with a mouthful of acorns and nuts.
copyright by Londis Carpenter
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