|Dave tries his hand again at children’s literature. A little heavy-handed, perhaps, for children. And it definitely needs an illustrator.
Alfi, Beti, Gema and Del didn’t know quite what to do. They had always relied on their mother (‘always’ being the three weeks since they had been born) for food, warmth and protection. And now, shortly after their father had been eaten by a house cat, they had watched in horror as an owl had swooped down and carried off their mother just as she was returning with some seeds and insects for them. At first, they just howled, at least as much as baby field mice can do that, in the remote hope that perhaps some other parent would happen along and take care of them. Then, when it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, Gema and Del looked at Alfi and Beti to take charge and tell them what to do.
“We know how to find grass, and water down by the pond, but that’s not enough — we need other stuff to eat”, said Alfi. “I’ll be the guinea pig, and try out various foods first, and if I survive and my breath smells like Mom’s did when she fed us, we’ll know they’re OK.” Alfi’s siblings laughed at the thought of Alfi as a guinea pig — guinea pigs are much bigger than field mice.
“And I think we should move our nest deeper into the brush”, said Beti. “It’s too exposed out here with no adults to protect us, and it will be warmer, because we’ll have to huddle together to keep warm now since Mom can’t do it.”
Gema and Del seemed unconvinced. “We need to look for another Mom”, said Gema. “We’re not old enough to look after ourselves.”
“Well we’ll stay here and keep the nest, and you two go and look for new parents”, said Alfi. “If you find some, come back and tell us and we’ll join you. If not, come back and we’ll try to take care of ourselves together.”
So that’s what they did. Gema and Del timidly rushed through the underbrush sniffing and searching for some new parents. They saw some spring peeper frogs, and some rabbits, and even a pair of scary raccoons, but none of them seemed to be suitable parents.
Finally they gave up and returned to their nest. Beti had pulled the nest deeper into the brush, and Alfi had lined up many strange things beside the nest, and was nibbling each one in turn. After he did so, Beti would sniff his breath, announce “good” or “no good”, and haul the rest of the “good” foods to the edge of the nest. Then they all went down to the pond for a drink, came back and finished off the “good” foods and settled into the nest for a sleep — it would soon be daylight, with many dangers for little field mice, so that’s when field mice go to their nests and rest, building up strength for the next night’s work and adventures.
When they woke that night, they immediately went to work making a cache of “good” foods. It was hard work, and half way through the night Alfi announced “Dad told me that the house where the people live, with their cat and their dog, has all kinds of delicious food just waiting to be taken. There are bags of nuts bigger than our nest, and it’s easy to avoid the traps. And Squirrel told me that they have a bag of seeds in there as big as two raccoons! I’m going to get some of that food and bring it back here.”
Beti was alarmed. “The people’s cat ate our Dad. It’s far too dangerous”, she said. “We’re getting good at finding our own food, here, where it’s safe. This is what field mice do.”
But Alfi was could not be talked out of his plan. As his brother and sisters watched, Alfi sniffed out the trail to the people’s house and disappeared from sight.
Two hours later there was a great commotion. One of the people from the house was carrying Alfi down to the pond! He was stuck fast to some glue on a piece of cardboard the human was carrying, and crying piteously. As his siblings watched in horror, the human began to pour oil over poor Alfi. With the oil, the glue lost its hold and Alfi fell into the brush beside the pond and scurried out of sight. The human made complaining noises and returned to the house.
When it was safe, Alfi returned to the nest, shaking and crying. “Well, that was embarrassing”, he said. “Help me get this glue and oil off me. I’m still sticking to everything”. His siblings helped clean him up.
“Let that be a lesson to you”, said Beti. “That house and the people in it are dangerous. They are apart from us. We are not meant to be where they are, and they aren’t meant to be where we are.”
A week later, they met another family of mice, their own age, who told them about a great Eden for mice that was only a day’s scurry from the pond. “It’s called a wheat field“, said Maxi mouse, the biggest mouse in that family. “Nothing but food as far as you can see, all planted neatly in rows for us to harvest easily.”
But Beti would not hear of moving to the wheat field. “It’s another human creation, and it will be another trap”, she said.
And she was right. A short time later Maxi mouse and his sister Noni mouse came by with a sad story. “A giant machine came and cut down the wheat field, dug up all the soil, and crushed all the mice and other creatures living there. We two were down at the pond, so we were the only survivors. Can we come and live with you?”
And so life went on for the field mice family. One night a fox came down to the pond where they were drinking and washing, and Beti bravely drew the fox away from the rest of her family, and gave her life as a sacrifice to save the others. And shortly after that, poor Del was chasing a moving piece of grass that turned out to be a snake, and which turned around and ate him in one gulp!
Maxi and Gema decided to become mates, as did Alfi and Noni, and soon there were two new families of baby field mice to look after. One night, as the new parents were foraging for food while the babies slept nearby, they were talking about life, and how short it was.
“It almost seems pointless”, said Gema. “All these babies, and chances are a year from now our family of field mice living by this pond won’t be any bigger than it is now. Most of us, or our babies, will be eaten by larger animals or caught as food for their babies. What is the purpose of it all?”
“You just explained the purpose”, said Noni. “Except for the humans, who do not understand or follow the rules, we are all one. The foxes, the snakes, the owls, the raccoons, the frogs, the squirrels, the rabbits, the little bugs we eat, even the grasses and the trees. The deaths of some of each of us are necessary for the life of the rest. It keeps our place in balance, and healthy, and at peace. When we are born we are part of this whole amazing community of life, and when we die we are still a part of it, like a giant circle that just goes around and around and never ends.”
“Very wise”, said Alfi. “Just look, and listen, and smell, and taste, and touch, and feel the buzz of life everywhere, even here in the dark with many creatures sleeping! It’s magical. This is our Eden, our perfect place. How foolish we were when we were younger not to realize it!”
“Enough chatter”, said Maxi. “Back to work. These babies will be waking soon, and complaining that they’re hungry.”
The four adults looked at the two nests of babies, huddled together andsquirming, smiled, and continued gathering a breakfast for twelve.
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