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Brian Bushytail and the Urban Forest
By Ronald W. Hull
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Rated "PG" by the Author.
This is my first venture into writing for children. I recommend it for older children, 6 to 12, because of the realistic way I approach death. The forest in the highway really exists, just south of downtown Houston on 288, The Lady Bird Johnson Highway. Wish I had pictures for you.
Gather round now and listen to the tale of Brian Bushytail and the urban forest. The tale begins when Molly, Brian's mother was young girl. While her family lived in a vacant lot in an old oak tree in a poor part of town, Molly knew nothing of being poor, because she and her brother and sister lived well in an old oak tree with broken branches. Molly's mother scurried about amid the trash and tall grass and gathered a food for them to eat and grow. More and more, Molly grew adventurous. There were mean cats and dogs in the neighborhood and her mother taught her to always be wary of them as she ventured out to gather seeds and nuts. After a couple of close calls with loud screeching tires, Molly also learned that cars were very dangerous. They came up swiftly without a sound and would surprise you. Once, she looked up and saw a pit bull staring at her. She jumped so high she landed in a tree just out of reach of the leaping dog's vicious fangs.
It wasn't long before Molly grew up. There was a young squirrel named Charlie Bushytail that she fell hopelessly in love with. Her mother warned her about hanging out with young, inexperienced squirrels, but Molly would have none of her mother's complaining. Even though Charlie lived two blocks away near the Lady Bird Highway, they managed to meet almost daily to play and gather food in the trees and lawns between. One-day, Charlie was playfully chasing Molly when she suddenly changed directions and dashed across a street. Charlie was close behind, but she heard tires screeching and when she turned to look back a car drove off and Charlie was dead in the street. Molly was so sad she cried all the way home. Her mother was no help, only chiding her for not being more careful about cars. She found herself going over to where Charlie lived every day to remember him. From there, she could see the Lady Bird Highway. It was always filled with cars going very fast. Sometime, she couldn't remember exactly when, a magical thing had happened. A forest had suddenly appeared in the space between where the cars were going up and down the Lady Bird Highway. There hadn't been a forest there before, just grass, but now there were many trees and grasses of many kinds.
As time went on Molly's belly grew bigger and she needed a lot more to eat. She found herself in Charlie's neighborhood more often searching for food and spent very little time playing. It was autumn and she felt the urgency to make a nest. One warm autumn afternoon she was working in the sunshine by the Lady Bird Highway when she heard a terrible crashing sound. After that, there were many sirens and flashing lights. She didn't pay much attention because those sounds were common in the city. However, one thing was different. The cars had stopped on the highway. They stopped for a long time. Molly had never seen them stop so long. Her youthful curiosity got the best of her and soon she was investigating, running between the tires of the cars on the highway, headed directly for that mysterious forest on the other side of the stopped cars.
It was amazing what she found. There were acorns, pecans, hickory nuts, and other nuts and seeds of many varieties. Molly went busily about her way burying her finds wherever she could. She could not believe all the food. This was like finding heaven in the middle of the city. She couldn't wait to get home and tell her mother, her brother and her sister. It was getting dark when Molly decided to go home. Just she started to cross the highway, the traffic began to move and soon the cars were going too fast for her to scamper between them to the other side. She was trapped! In the days that followed, Molly grew very lonely and tried many times to cross the highway. Each time she turned back because the cars were going too fast. She explored up and down the forest for as far as she could go, but always had to turn back. She was very hungry now, so glad she had so much food to eat. She made a nest in a pine tree to sleep in at night. One morning, when she awoke, there were four little baby squirrelets in the nest with her. She stayed in all that day and the next feeding her young and enjoying their wiggly movement when they weren't asleep. She named them, Brian, Betty, Becky, and Betsy Bushytail. She knew the girls’ names would be confusing, but she didn't care. She named them all in honor of Charlie, her first and only love. While the girls’ names could be considered confusing, there was no mistaking Brian. He was much bigger and stronger than his sisters and hogged his mother's milk.
Soon, with a new soft gray furry coat and his eyes finally open, Brian was stepping out into his newfound world, the urban forest. The sound of the traffic did not bother his ears. He was born with that sound in them. Still, he could hear a pine needle drop. His sense of smell was so keen that he could distinguish a nut from a discarded french fry at 20 yards. The constant smell of gasoline, burned tires, and exhaust did not bother him at all. They were just a part of living in the urban forest. Sometimes, when he wasn't hungry, which wasn't very often, he in the girls would gather trinkets that the motorists had thrown by the road. Molly warned him that some of those shiny things, like bottle top caps, could cut him, but he paid her no mind.
Molly was stern in her admonishment to the kids, especially Brian. "You do not remember your good father, but Charlie was a wonderful and adventuresome squirrel. I loved him deeply. But he was not careful or cautious, and sadly, he died." A teardrop appeared in her eye. "I want your kids to promise me that you will not venture onto the road unless you are accompanied by me. Do I make myself clear?" Charlie acknowledged by clucking, shaking his tail, nodding his head, and giving her that look that always assured her that everything was going to be all right. And then he forgot and went out to play. Being bigger and stronger than his sisters and the only boy, he always ventured the furthest the fastest. Soon, he was conquering every tree in the forest, even the tallest ones. He learned to hide in the pampas grass that lined the forest so that his sisters couldn't find him. He learned that the pampas grass was as far as he should venture. Beyond that, there was grass and the highway. Sometimes, cars would stop in the grass and he could hear people talking and see red lights flashing. He couldn't understand what they were saying, but they always got back in the cars and drove away. No people ever came to the urban forest. Molly and her brood were the only squirrels there. Brian felt like he was king of his own forest!
Every night when they slept in the nest, Molly would describe dangers that they should beware. "Be careful of the cat. Cats are very smart and will sneak up on you. Sometimes, they hide in bushes. Remember, if you bite a cat, hard, it will drop you and you can run. You are faster than the cat and can climb higher. Don't be afraid of the cat, but be wary. There are no cats here, so we are safe from them. Dogs are different. One dog is not a problem. Dogs will always let you know when they are coming and they are slow and clumsy. If one does catch you, bite him in the nose and run. Dogs are such cowards when bit in the nose. Never let a pack of dogs catch you. They can’t climb trees like cats.
“Most birds are a nuisance because they don't like us. Mockingbirds, blackbirds, and crows will peck at you, but all you have to do is hide in the crook of a tree, or better a hole in a tree and they can't reach you. Soon, they will tire of pestering you and fly away. But hawks and eagles are different. If you see them circling above or sitting on a tall tree across the highway be wary and be careful. They will carry you off and feed you to their children. Possums are mean, like raccoons, but if you stay away from them, they will stay away from you. There are no snakes in the forest, but if you see one, beware. Some snakes like to bite and eat us." Brian was dozing. He didn't know what any of these creatures looked like and his mother was boring him with her constant preaching.
One day, there was a big rain, so they stayed in the nest as warm and dry as possible. All of the traffic stopped on the highway. It was the first time that Brian had ever seen it stop. The cars were there a very long time. After the rain finally quit, Brian and his sisters ventured out into the wet, soggy forest floor to play. As usual, Brian was in the lead as they neared the underpass that marked the northern edge of the forest. Suddenly, up over the wall came the most terrible creature they had ever seen. He was about their size with short black fur and a long tail with no hair. His nose whiskers twitched a lot as he ran toward them in an erratic pattern from side to side. Scared to death, Brian led his sisters back to the nest. "Mama, Mama! This terrible animal is chasing us! Please, what do we do? We are so scared!" They were all shaking as they huddled around Molly for warmth and comfort. Molly took one look out the nest and declared, "Oh, I forgot to tell you about them. That's a rat. Rats are real common here in the city. They are very nasty and you should never let one bite you. Up here in the trees, they can't reach you. One rat like that is no problem. But a pack of rats can be big danger. Always run and climb a tree if you see rats."
So they stayed in the pine tree that day to watch the rat. Traffic started moving again. The rat seemed to be running around aimlessly looking for something. After a while, Brian got tired of watching the rat and started practicing jumping from tree to tree. All of the trees in the forest were very young and close together. When Brian would jump to one, it would whip back and forth and he would have to hang on to keep from being thrown off. It was all great fun. His sisters weren't big enough to make those leaps, so they stayed by their mother all day. Sometimes, Brian would slip and fall to the ground. When that happened, he was lightning quick to climb back up the tree, making sure that dirty rat wouldn't catch him on the ground. Finally, he was tired of playing around and went back to the nest for some warm milk and a good night's rest. The next morning, as soon as the sun came up, Brian left the nest and climbed to the top to look for the rat. He could see the rat lying by the road. The rat was dead because some grackles were picking at it. The rat must have tried to cross the highway and didn't have a mother to tell it not to. Somehow, Brian felt sorry for the poor rat. He blamed it on the rain. If the rain hadn't come and caused the cars to stop and if his home had not been flooded by the rain, and.… Brian stopped trying to think of why the rat died. His head hurt from all the thinking. Besides, he would never know for sure.
Later, when they were playing in the trees, and Brian was at the top of one, he heard the cars horns honking, tires screeching and smelled rubber burning. His curiosity up, he looked eagerly to where all the noise was coming from. He could see dogs running in out of traffic, causing the cars to try to stop suddenly from hitting them. There were five of them and they were big. His mother had shown him dogs before the lying on the lawns across the highway. But he had never seen so many together and coming his way. Very soon, the dogs were in the forest and running back and forth. Brian chirped to his sisters to get in the trees. Becky and Betsy made it, but a dog caught poor little Betty just as she leaped for a tree. The dog grabbed her in his teeth and shook her like a toy, and then threw her up in the air. The other dogs caught her in their sharp teeth and shook her and threw her back up in the air again. Soon, Betty was lifeless and the dogs grew tired of playing with her. They all took off toward the other side of the highway with tires screeching and burning as cars tried to avoid hitting them again. Brian hoped that a car would hit one, but it didn't happen. As quick as the dogs came they were gone. Brian and his mother and sisters rushed down to help Betty, but it was too late. Betty was dead. Molly began to push leaves, pine needles, and sticks over her dead baby's body. Brian and his sisters joined in. They were all crying. Later, back in the nest, Molly told her remaining three children that death was a part of life and that Betty had a good life for as long as she lived.
Even though they had covered Betty's body, the birds soon found her and began to peck away. Soon after that, even her body was gone. Brian hesitated for a moment every time he passed that spot, remembering her.
Brian grew bolder as he gained strength and agility. One bright afternoon he ventured far out into the grassy area beyond the forest. He found some interesting seeds to check with his powerful nose to find out if they were good to eat. They were, and he was sitting there, nibbling away on one when suddenly a shadow appeared below him. He sensed danger immediately and jumped to the side. He saw a flash of talon and felt the thump of powerful wings beating next to him as he ran for the trees as fast as he could, zigzagging like his mother taught him. He could hear the wings and see the talons to the right or left as he ran. Once he was back in the heavy cover of the trees he was safe. The hawk glided to the tallest tree across the highway and sat there until it was almost dark, when he flew off hungry. After that, Brian always checked the sky often for birds, big and small. He was especially careful when he ventured out into open areas away from trees. That hawk came back and sat in the tall tree many days after that. But Brian warned his mother and sisters and the hawk had to eat pigeon to get a meal after that.
It started to grow colder each day and the trees began to change color. The young trees were heavy with nuts and seeds, so Molly and the kids got very busy gathering and burying food for the coming winter. Molly couldn't believe how fortunate they were to have so much food. They had pecan, hickory, sweet gum and oak acorns. There were seeds from several varieties of grasses, crepe myrtle, dogwood and river birch. There were pinecones. All of this made for a varied and nutritious diet, something that most urban squirrels have a hard time getting. Life was good. And then, the traffic stopped again.
There was a loud crash. Cars were spinning everywhere on the highway. Two cars slid into the forest and startled Molly's family harvesting nuts. They were on fire. Soon, the tall, dry grass by the road was burning and the fire was moving quickly through the forest.
Molly chirped, "Come on children, follow me!" She dashed off toward the broken cars on the highway. Brian was the first to follow, but he kept looking over his shoulder to see if his two sisters were behind. They were. The smoke from the burning grass seared his eyes and made him choke. He kept running even while coughing and choking. He could hear his sisters' coughs behind him too. They sounded so weak compared to him. He hoped they would be okay. Molly dodged in and out of cars that were stopped with people getting out and talking loud. In a minute, they were across the highway and into the yards beyond.
Molly stopped for a moment to let her children catch up and looked back at their home. It appeared to be engulfed in flames. They had lost the harvest and their home. It was a good thing that Molly knew the neighborhood. Before nightfall, they had found a hollow in a huge oak tree, thanking their lucky stars to have a home. The next morning, they started harvesting again. There were live oak acorns and crepe myrtle seedpods, but no pecan or hickory nuts. There weren't many either, so they had to bury them carefully so they could find them when needed. And there were other squirrels. Molly had to protect them from squirrels that already had their territory marked and would defend it. She did the best she could, and in the end, they only had that small territory and the hollow in the tree to live in.
Brian grew more adventuresome and strayed further and further from the nest each day. He felt the sting of BBs as neighborhood kids took potshots at him. After the first one hit, he would find a big tree and make sure that they couldn't get a shot at him from any angle. Crossing the streets, cars would come silently and out of nowhere. He always had to keep his guard up. Molly told him that Charlie was an expert on the high wire. But she cautioned him. "Remember, always leap to the wire and walk along it. Do not touch a branch or a pole or another wire while walking on the wire. I have seen squirrels get electrocuted and it's not a pretty sight. Are you listening?"
"Yes Mama. I'm listening very carefully." His eyes were intent and he nodded carefully as he remembered being chased by the hawk and his sister's death. Only by learning from his mother could he stand a chance in this world.
Before long, Brian was a high wire expert. By using the wire, he could cross streets and enter other squirrels’ territory without being attacked by children, cats or dogs. He was able to forage for food and get enough in other areas so that he didn't take from his mother and sisters. He met squirrels too. One that he especially liked was Audrey Auburnback. True to her name, she had a beautiful stripe of auburn down the middle of her gray fur back. She was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen with big brown eyes staring at him every time he passed, clinging upside down to a telephone wire. For a long time, that's all it was. They just stared at each other as he passed by. Finally, one day when all the leaves were nearly gone, he jumped to a pole and landed in the yard that was Audrey‘s domain. Brian approached her cautiously; finally, after much eyeing and neck stretching, he chirped, "Hi, I'm Brian Bushytail from the forest in the Lady Bird Highway." He stopped, too embarrassed to go on.
"Hi, I'm Audrey Auburnback. I've seen you so many times on the wire. It looks scary to me. You must be from far away. I've never heard of the forest in the Lady Bird Highway."
"It's real. My family and I were forced to leave when there was a fire. Maybe I can take you there and show you sometime?"
"Not now. My mama says that I'm too young to venture beyond the yard. But there's so much out there I want to know and I think she's holding me back. I'm grown-up, you know?"
"You sure are. She should be more like my mother and let you explore. I'll be back."
With that shy response and his heart beating wildly, Brian leapt to the pole and climbed to the wire. Too fast -- he was out of Audrey's sight looking for food again. Brian was in love.
In the next few weeks, Brian visited Audrey often, bringing her nuts and seeds that he carried in his cheek pouches. She and her mother were grateful for the variety of food he brought because they didn't have all of it in their small territory. There were many mouths to feed and not enough food. Some squirrels were resorting to chewing bark off of trees. It gave them little nourishment and damaged the trees. Brian however, was growing stronger because of all the exercise and the food he was able to find in the wide-ranging area he searched. Still, he longed for the plenty of the forest by the highway. Sometimes he would go there and look across the heavy traffic to where he once lived. There were no leaves on the trees and the grass was scorched black. There was a tear in his eye every time he saw that sight.
He brought Molly and his sisters all the food he could. But, in midwinter when it was coldest and there was very little food to be found, Molly got sick and couldn't leave the hollow. His sisters tried to keep her warm and healthy, but she grew thinner every day.
Molly's last words to Brian were, "I dream often now, Brian. I dream of that forest where you grew up. I want you to go back there, take your sisters and remember me--Promise?"
"I promise, Mama." Brian replied, trying to be a squirrel, and fighting back his tears. Her last request spoken, Molly died.
With times so tough, even the girls started ranging far and wide for food. When Becky didn't come home one day, Brian and Betsy understood. She probably had met with an accident. Dogs, a cat, a car, some kid with a pellet gun, or electrocution on a power line. There were many perils in the urban forest. After many days, they knew she was dead.
Returning to the oak tree one evening, Betsy had a bright look on her face. "Brian, you know that slick looking guy from the yard across the street, Sammy Smoothfur? I think I'm falling in love."
Brian frowned. "Now Betsy, you know that squirrel's got many girlfriends. I don't think he'll take care of you."
"You are probably right. But love is love -- isn't that how you feel about Audrey? Besides, you'll take care of me."
"You're right. I will." Brian was tired. So he curled up and went to sleep."
Gradually, the days grew warmer and buds grew on the trees. Sometimes Brian and Audrey would eat them because they had nothing else to eat. Audrey's mother trusted her with Brian now because he was a good provider for both families. Audrey's mother was building a nest because she was going to have another family. Finally, one day, she chirped to Maureen, "It is time that you go out on your own. I know Brian will look after you. I have a new family coming and I must care for them." They rubbed noses, hugged, and parted. It was for the best, but Audrey had tears in her eyes all that next day. Brian tried to comfort her as best he could, but he knew how hard it was to leave your mother.
Since Betsy left to live with Sammy Smoothfur, Brian had had the hollow in the oak tree to himself. Now, Audrey joined him. They chased each other, laughed in their own squirrelly way, and generally, had a good time when they weren't searching for food. But there was a great longing in Brian's heart and it pulled him, every once in a while, to the side of the Lady Bird Highway.
One warm spring day after several days of rain, the pull was especially strong. As Brian and Audrey rounded the corner of the last house that blocked their view of the highway, they were met with an amazing sight. Where the grass had been burned the ground was now covered in the bright blue of Texas blue bonnets. The trees in the forest where decked out in new green, enhanced here and there with white and pink blossoms. Brian was so excited that he began to turn cartwheels and had to stop himself from running across the busy highway into traffic. But he was an adult now and knew that he had to wait. He and Audrey camped out in a large oak tree overlooking the highway and waited. After several days, Betsy joined them. She pined, "I wanted to make a nest, but Sammy would have nothing of it. When I tried to persuade him, he left. I know I can count on you Brian." They all rubbed noses and hugged and Brian told Betsy of his plan to return to the forest across the highway.
After what seemed like a long time, it happened. There was the screeching of tires, the crashing of metal, the sirens, and the yelling of people. The traffic came to a halt once again, and Brian saw their opportunity. "Follow me!" He chirped. Before he knew it, he had dodged in and out among the tires and was running through blue flowers toward his beloved forest. Audrey and Betsy were close behind. It was the most joyous day of his life. He felt like he was back home--and he knew he was.
The nuts they had buried the year before were still there, the soot made everything smell a little burnt and made him sneeze, but he could still find them buried, just where he put them. After they had eaten their fill, it was time to build nests: two of them, one for Audrey and one for Betsy. Brian put Audrey's in the tallest pine tree. On the other side of the forest there was another tall pine tree that he used for Betsy's nest. At first, the sound of the traffic and the horns blowing seemed very loud after being away so long. But, like everything else, they got used to it, and the sounds of the forest were once again their primary interest.
When the blossoms had fallen and the blue bonnets were replaced by grass, Audrey gave birth to three little beautiful squirrelets. The girls, she named Betty and Becky after Brian’s sisters, had the Auburnback marking down their backs. The boy, much larger and stronger even as a baby, and the spitting image of his daddy, Junior, was all gray squirrel like his father. Brian was so proud. Soon after, Betsy gave birth to two more squirrelets, a boy, Sonny, and a girl, Susie. Even though their father had left, they were Smoothfurs for sure.
And so, with many lessons learned, Brian and his family lived happily in the forest in the middle of the Lady Bird Highway. The forest grew and the pine trees became very tall and the oaks very broad. Brian grew older and saw himself have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When he was younger he would venture across the highway when the traffic stopped, but there was a time when he no longer wanted or needed to roam. He would climb the tallest tree in the late afternoon and look at the shining skyline of the city, so close, yet so far away. He knew why the people were in such a hurry to race there, for it was beautiful and inspiring -- taller than any trees and shining in the sunlight. It must be what the people called heaven. Although he had faced many perils and wanted to go see this city, he knew he could not make it. So he would climb a tree and dream of the day when he would go to heaven and maybe get to climb a tree as tall as the shining city in the sunset.
Copyright 2005 © Ronald W. Hull
Site: Ron's Place
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|Reviewed by Peter Paton
|I agree with Sandie completely Ron !l
This is a marvellous story for children, and contains all the magical ingredients and attractions that would appeal to children
Your writing style is very professional and diligent, and I would say you have a definite forte for children's stories, on the evidence laid before us !
Keep on trucking Ron...
|Reviewed by Sandra Mushi
|Great first attempt, Ronald! The story has lots of significant morals behind it - so I think its perfect for kids!
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
Wonderful write; enjoyed much! Thanks for sharing; very well done!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your Tx. friend, Karen Lynn. :D
Hope your Christmas was merry! Happy New Year to you and yours!