Celeste

I named my apple tree Celeste after a litttle girl who was killed by her father. I chose the name to honour that girl, who I couldn’t get out of my mind, and because my apple tree is a delicate creature with fragile pink and white blossoms.

With Darkness encroaching,

Celeste

undressed,

her clothes scattered on the ground

like an apple tree losing her leaves.

-Laurie, 2022

 

Jag- a story from Bangan Forest by Laurie Fraser

This story was written for Jenna, an indigenous child, my friend’s niece, who killed herself at age 14.

We’ve already met Runt Rabbit in previous stories from Bangan Forest- one is here. Jag becomes separated from her father in another story- Lynx in Pinks- that is yet to be published.

Jag

Summer Solstice

You might think that Runt Rabbit had no skills at all. After all, he was uneducated and undersized. His faded tan coat was oversized, his feet were oddly large, and he had a twitchy brain. He’d left the den at an early age, and it was his poor fortune to settle in Town where there was no work for the likes of him.

You might think that Runt had no skills at all, but he had street smarts. He’d been homeless for a while before he found a way to squeeze under Bunny’s fence. Now he had a hut to sleep in and a soft female to snuggle and cuddle. She was an addict though, and she tolerated Runt only because he provided her with sugar.

Bunny thought it must be difficult to find sugar because it took Runt all day, every day. In fact, he didn’t work very hard. He’d go downtown and hang with his friends, at some point grabbing a coffee and swiping some sugar packets for Bunny. He usually didn’t return to the hut until suppertime- Bunny was on the bossy side.

Runt Rabbit was an easy-going guy. He hung out behind the grocery store where two dumpsters served the entire strip mall. The food sucked: pizza crusts, hard slices of white bread, scraps of meat that no one but Crow wanted. Runt remembered clover and nettle galore in Main Meadow where he was from. He’d never developed a taste for human factory food.

This morning, the earliest morning of the year, he was sitting on a curb in the parking lot with his friend, Jag, eating some leftover Thai noodles from a box. Jag had scored an actual leftover breakfast- some homefries and egg yolk in Styrofoam with a lick of that bacon grease she liked. As usual, they were talking a blue streak.

Probably I should tell you right off the bat that Jag was not a jaguar. She was a beige cougar in a stretchy black skirt with jeggings and purple nail polish on her claws. Being a cougar, she had no business living in Town. Humans were terrified of cougars and now that she was getting too large to pass for an alley cat, Jag had to spend more and more of her time in hiding. She was constantly in danger.

Like Runt, she had come to Town as a youngster. Unlike Runt, it wasn’t her choice. She’d become separated from her father in Bangan Forest, and she had gotten lost.

“They don’t celebrate Solstice here,” said Runt, watching Dawn and Sky toss oranges back and forth.

“Solstice is special in Bangan Forest. Floral bells are ringing today. Nature Spirits are gathering at Oaky Dokey’s place; fairies are wearing new summer dresses.”

“I remember,” said Jag.

“Gnomes are probably in the sauce already.”

She smiled. “Flutterbys are losing their minds.”

“Sun and Stream are making love all day long.”

“My sisters and I used to swim with River when it was hot like this,” said Jag.

Runt nodded. “No pavement there. Just clover and moss.”

“I would like to be home by Winter Solstice.” Jag’s voice was wistful, as if she didn’t believe her own self.

“If leaving Bunny was an option, I’d already be home,” said Runt.

“I’m not 100% sure where my home is.”

“Oh, I think you’ll be able to find it,” said Runt. “You’re bigger now. I mean, you don’t fear Fox and Hawk like I do. You could just run Forest’s paths- you’re a cougar, probably only take you a few days. Ask a squirrel- they know everything.”

“No, I mean that my father might not be in Bangan Forest now. His first home was on Bangan Mountain where cougars have been for a few generations. Before that, all cougars had to go to West Grasslands. But my family’s true home, the home that cougar blood knows, is South Grasslands, many days journey from here. My ancestors lived there since beginning times.” Jag bounced one leg as she talked. “My father spoke of returning to South Grasslands. He called it home.”

“Oh. Why did your family keep moving? Are they nomads?”

“No, they didn’t want to leave their territory. Humans came and took our land.”

Runt nodded. “Deer told me a story like that. They all had to move. She said a clan called Dragon was wiped out!”

Jag rubbed her forehead with her front paws.

“What about your mother?”

“Ummm, well… us girls lived with my mother sometimes. It’s complicated.” Jag turned her face away from Runt. When she spoke again, her voice broke, “I miss my dad.”

“Don’t cry, Jaggy.” He jumped up and hugged her neck.

“I don’t belong here.”

“None of us belong here.” He climbed around to the back of her neck. “Let’s go for a walk.”

It was still early morning, most humans were still in their houses, so they left the parking lot and headed right down the sidewalk, scattering rats as they went.

Jag stopped at a small square and they watched some pigeons fight over scraps of human food. Seagull zoomed in and chased the pigeons around. She grabbed a shiny hamburger wrapper right out of another bird’s foot.

“What a bully,” said Runt into Jag’s ear.

“Everyone’s gotta eat,” said Jag.

At the Voyageur Bus Station, they watched an early arrival unload its passengers: sleepy students, a pair of beaver builders, a few businessmen, some mice, a couple of snakes, then – lo and behold – a kangaroo.

Town had a few immigrants, most of them kangaroos, a few swans and of course, the monkeys, try as humans might to get rid of them. No one minded kangaroos though, and Jag and Runt welcomed her. She said her name was Karen and she used a hard hoof to give them high-fives.

Karen had contraband with her, but what Boundary Bear was going to check her deep baby pocket? It was too intimate, too smelly. She’d never been caught smuggling her macaroon treats, and she made a reasonable living at it.

One set of ears stuck out of her baby pocket. When Jag tried to meet Karen’s baby, she found it was fake- just a hairband with kangaroo ears and a tape playing: Mama, where’s my other sock? Mama, can I go surfing?

Karen gave them each a macaroon.

It was magic in Jag’s mouth. Runt saved his for Bunny.

After leaving Karen at Kangaroo Kuts, Jag and Runt took alleys and parking lots until they got to the employee’s entrance at the Lord Elgin Hotel. It was a spiffy joint, but they’d been here before, just to take advantage of the air conditioning and use a clean bathroom.

Jag hung around the dumpster, due to being a cougar and all; she stayed just out of sight while Runt waited for opportunities by the employee entrance. Runt wasn’t much bigger than a mouse, barely a rabbit at all, really, and he was invisible to Bellboy when he stepped out for a smoke. Runt darted past Bellboy’s feet and once inside, he placed a chunk of newspaper in the crook of the door.

Runt hid under a corner of the carpet until Bellboy finished his smoke, picked his nose a bit and then went back to work. As he walked away, the door closing behind him did not shut completely and so Jag nosed her way right in.

After that, they did their usual stuff: picked a room, watched a movie, ordered room service- piles of chicken nuggets for Jag, garden salad for Runt and 2 chocolate eclairs to take home for Bunny. It was super-easy to get anything they wanted- they just provided the room number over the phone and said, “Put it on my bill, please.” When the food arrived, they hid in the bathroom and yelled, “Thanks! Just leave it on the table.”

It was nice to cool down after the heat of the street. Jag loved to get a shower in, shaking and spraying water all over the room. Runt always got into the free coffee and went home smelling like a roastery.

Summer Solstice in Town was sweltering and so, Runt and Jag spent most of the day in their air-conditioned room. When they finally left, they carried the coolness with them for a few blocks. It was suppertime by then. They heard Cubby Bear before they rounded the corner. Runt twitched like crazy, and hopped big excited hops.

“Cubby!”

He grinned at them with one side of his mouth. He was playing his saxophone. He’d drawn a fair-sized crowd and some coins bounced into his green felt hat on the ground in front of him.

It was fabulous music, the blues that Runt loved, the blues that swelled Jag’s aching heart. They danced on the edge of the crowd, their limbs moving in the bluesy heat, their hearts beating the bluesy beat and for some time, as they danced in the thick soupy heat of the longest day of the year, all was well: Jag was a beautiful female cougar with a bright future, Runt Rabbit was a cool and capable dude.

 

Winter Solstice

It was Winter Solstice when Runt got the news. He’d been slow getting up… feeling lazy, sleeping in dark mornings for weeks. It was 7 o’clock before he reached for his splotchy tan overcoat, shouted “Baa maa pii” to Bunny and headed out the door to find food, coffee and sugar.

He stopped in the doorway of the hut to catch Winter Dawn in her pale pink jammies.  That’s where he was- he’ll never forget- when Crow cruised by.

“The cougar is dead. The cougar has died,” Crow screamed overhead.

“What cougar? Jag?”

“She took her life. It was her will.”

“No! Not Jag!”

Runt hopped so fast that he somersaulted and then rolled downhill all the way to the grocery store. The parking lot was full of crying raccoons and mice and kangaroos. Squirrels scolded at the top of their voices. Moles and rabbits sobbed. Blue jays shrieked and cardinals sang. Morning doves mourned. It was intense.

Runt hid behind bags of firewood for sale. He pulled his long ears over his eyes. He rocked on his haunches. “Jaggy.”

Crows flew all over Town. “Cancelled! Solstice is cancelled!”

Humans had already canceled Christmas, but that was because of their pandemic. Humans didn’t know Jag. They didn’t know the cougar who had walked in their backyards, swum in their pools and licked food off their babies’ faces. But Jag had friends who knew her well. Her friends knew a sweet young cougar who danced behind dumpsters, headphones on her ears, purple nail polish on her claws. They knew a girl who had lost her home, a child who missed her dad.

“Her name was Jag!” screamed Crow.

“Her name was Jag!”

“Her name was Jag!”

And so it came to pass that there was no light and nothing to celebrate in December, 2020.

(C) Laurie Fraser

S.Farmer

S.Farmer

Remembering Rebecca

I found this today:

I wake up with cramps

and her with holidays.

She drives me to work.

She laughs.

Sunshine Beauty

become me your laughter.

Raise me home.

Drive me to work.

Laugh me life.

                                                            1984

What a sweet summer memory. My work was daycamp counselor and it took 2 buses to get there. But I was looking for this one:

Sitting, holding the railing

on the back stairs here,

in case I fall off.

I lost you.

Rebecca was under my heart.

Rebecca was on tire swings.

My house is quiet.

Sometimes I forget to pull a breath in.

How was it?

I lost you.

Even the cat here has died.

1991

Happy Birthday my sweet baby girl.

 

Runt Rabbit Runs Away – a story from Bangan Forest by Laurie Fraser

This is Runt’s debut in Stories from Bangan Forest. He is a recurring character and will show up again as Jag’s friend, Ricky Raccoon’s rival & Bunny’s saviour.

art by William Fraser

art by William Fraser

Runt Rabbit Runs Away

When Runt Rabbit’s mother took off, he barely noticed- that’s how crowded the den was. She said she wanted to stretch her hoppers; she needed a breath of fresh air. That was an understatement given that the older litter was still at home, and the newest one was still untrained. Runt Rabbit’s mother didn’t bother with moss diapers- there would be no end to them with 12 babies. She just swept out the den every morning.

It did get harder for Runt to get his fair share of food once she left, and he got no affection at all. He was last in line for carrot juice every morning. Big Brothers practiced their kicks on him, on all the new bunnies, and Big Sisters were always dressing him up in their doll clothes.

Runt was the smallest of the rabbits; his tan coat was faded and oversized. His feet were too large for him. The slightest noise made him jump up to the ceiling, even when he was sleeping. Runt was one twitchy rabbit. He skittered from topic to topic in conversation as if he were on skates, as if his words were sliding out of control all over the icy surface of his busy brain. His attention twitched, but so did his black eyes and his girl-nose and his sparse bent whiskers.

Runt Rabbit’s father tried not to look directly at him. He had so many children anyway, what was one dud? Odd little thing would be out of the den in a moment anyway; they grew up so fast these days. If he even made it to moving-out size. Probably Hawk would eat him up on his way home from school one day.

Runt was unreasonably confident. You’d think he’d be hiding most of the time, hanging out with Thistle or playing games with Long Grasses. Sometimes he did those things, but Runt was a sociable fellow. He considered Beaver and Mole to be his friends, although they didn’t treat him very well. In fact, Runt was bullied at school, but to him it was normal. He was in a good mood most of the time.

Like all young rabbits, Runt Rabbit was exploring career options. He considered architect, but he’d rather dig holes than draw pictures. He considered builder, but Little Fisher and Mole had laughed their heads off at that idea. He was just too small.

“Sex worker,” suggested Mole.

“Magician’s assistant,” grinned Little Fisher.

“I know! You can be a good luck charm in a human’s pocket!”

They rolled over each other, laughing wildly.

“Stew!” shrieked Little Fisher.

“Human toilet paper!”

Runt Rabbit didn’t do well at school. It wasn’t because he was bullied or because he looked like a girl, although those things were true. Runt Rabbit didn’t do well at school because his brain twitched. It twitched here and there and everywhere until Runt didn’t know what was a number and what was a letter. F and 5 were the same to him.

And so it happened that one day, when Owl’s glasses sat sideways on her face and she banged her pointer hysterically on ‘FIVE’ written on Big Slate and screamed, “It’s a word about a number,” Runt just got up from his stump in the front row and walked right out the front door of that school.

Now, I’m not passing opinion on quitting school, I’m just saying, it’s best to wait until you have a plan. Runt Rabbit had no plan and a twitchy brain.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

Runt hopped right by his den at Tom Tree without stopping in to get a scolding from his father.  He hopped right down Small Hill covered in goldenrod and purple asters to Main Meadow. He hid from Hawk by hopping erratically through Long Grass, stopping only under Queen Anne’s faces as if they were umbrellas.

Once he was through Main Meadow, he chose his favourite of Forest’s paths, a shadowy trail kept narrow by tall birches on both sides. It took all day, but he followed Forest’s path to the end where Debwewin River waited with open arms.

Runt could swim, and he crossed River without Current giving him a hard time. He quickly got out of open space and into a welcoming crowd of pines. This was the furthest he had ever been from Tom Tree. He stopped and twitched his whiskers. Runt Rabbit’s father had taught caution when it came to new spaces. Runt hopped around a bit, looking for safe shelter. He found Daisy Patch nestled under Little Bush, and he curled up beside her for a nap.

He woke up to a clawed foot in his face. Even before looking up, he could smell who it was. He twitched his pink nose at a face bigger than his: black, whiskered, not friendly.

“Move it,” said Skunk.

“Sure,” said Runt, and he hopped along the edge of cedars until he couldn’t smell Skunk anymore.

Runt was thirsty and hungry too. He foraged for forbs and greens along Shoreline for an hour before his belly was full. After that, he took Widest Path deep into Bangan Forest. It was a random choice, but it was a good one.

Widest Path was busy with animals of many species nodding politely to each other as they passed; even a group of mice with suitcases seemed to feel safe. Two skunks had stopped to talk by sugar maples and Runt passed them unnoticed. He was startled by Fox who overcame him from behind, his hot breath on Runt’s neck. Fox trotted right on by as if he wasn’t hungry, not even for a little snack like Runt. There were so many animals travelling that Runt wondered if he might find his mother.

He thought about his family sitting down to supper. Overcooked carrot tops. Weed salad. Two dozen chewing rabbits and two empty chairs. Maybe they thought Owl had locked him in the cloakroom again. Runt wished his father could see him now, strutting down Widest Path with all Forest’s animals.

And so he strutted a while, gaining confidence with every swagger of his hips.

He came across Turtle in a black cap. He had his shell up and was tinkering under the hood. Boxes were piled beside him.

Runt stopped to watch. “Hi,” he said.

Turtle was not fond of conversation at the best of times. He did not hit reply.

“Are you stuck here?” asked Runt.

Turtle ducked deeper under his shiny green and black shell.

Runt wasn’t surprised- Turtlegirl at Main Meadow’s creek was always in her shell. He shrugged and hopped behind bushy bushes to pee. From there, he could hear Turtle muttering, “Need a whole new transmission.”

An odd silver-grey cat suddenly appeared in front of Runt, facing him. He stopped.

“Greetings,” he said with a smile.

Lynx broke her own pledge of non-interference and said, “Watch out for Jag.”

“What’s jag?”

Lynx’s yellow eyes held Runt’s brown eyes. “Take care of Jag.”

“Who’s Jag?”

Then there was no one there. Runt swung his head right around in a circle. No lynx, no cat.

Widest Path led the way for nine days and nights. Raccoons and squirrels were the chatterboxes; they shared all sorts of information: old stories and new stories. One thing Runt learned was that Widest Path’s traditional name was Mnaadendmowin.

Mnaadendmowin was a place where all beings were respected. It had been safe passage for all animals since beginning times. Blood was never spilled there. Unless it was an accident of course, or maybe a surprise birth. Even humans didn’t hunt on Widest Path – in fact, nowhere in Bangan Forest at all – due to some metal signs near Danger Road.

Oh, Runt Rabbit learned many important things from raccoons and squirrels. He learned to watch out for Councillor Wolf who was obsessed with returning runaways to their homes. Just as important, Runt learned that no one cared about 5s or Fs. He learned that skunks can be distracted with a love song. He learned to pitch a tent in 3 minutes.

He learned to step aside for size when Buffalo almost pancaked him.

But the very best thing that Runt learned, was that all the things his father had taught him about survival were true all along Widest Path, not just at home in Main Meadow. Lamb’s Quarters loved Water, Clover loved Sun, and Moss welcomed him into bed at night.

One evening, Runt joined a singalong with young animals like him sitting in a circle, many of them playing music: Deer with wind chimes, Cubby Bear on saxophone, lots of little raccoons with guitars, mice with tiny harmonicas and tambourines. To Runt’s surprise, they sang songs that he knew the words to, and soon he raised his voice and stamped his oddly large feet along with everyone else.

After that, the young ones all trooped down Widest Path together, sometimes with their arms slung around each other, sometimes racing or playing games. Runt had lots of fun. They were always laughing, these guys, not a care in the world: young raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, even a weasel and a couple of skunks were tolerated.

Some of them were runaways like Runt (technically a hopaway), but most of them were just out of the den. Innocents. Legal age, but they hadn’t yet mated or fed yawling babies. Winter had a long journey before he would arrive at this place. Hunger could not be imagined. Grass and weeds were plentiful. Sun’s arms were welcoming and long. Rain fell gently, generously, and no one thirsted, not even Moss.

Runt was not bullied by his new friends. No one made fun of him at all. No one asked what he wanted to do with his life. Runt felt not stupid- he felt the same as everyone else. Spelling dictation was nothing but a bad memory, and his mind was free of Fs and 5s. Still, there was one important thing Runt didn’t think about. And because he didn’t think about it, he didn’t ask about it either.

The thing Runt Rabbit didn’t ask was this: Where are we going?

All of Forest’s animals know basic survival rules at an early age. Children are taught the signs of human presence and how to avoid them. These instructions first appear woven into bedtime stories for children: A hunter disguised as Wolf, Three Bears surprised by a home invasion, many tales about the Dragon Genocide. And then there was the warning that mothers whispered when they tucked their little ones in at night: “Don’t ever cross Danger Road. Many animals have died on Danger Road.”

Runt and his brothers and sisters would shudder and crowd together in bed when Father said those things about Danger Road. They would beg him to leave the candle lit. One evening, when Big Brothers and Big Sisters were close to leaving the den, Father said something different. He started the same as ever, “Never cross Danger Road. Many rabbits have died there.” but then he added, “If you absolutely must cross, ask Silence and Moon for assistance.”

This was what Runt was remembering as he stood at the end of Widest Path with his new friends. He recalled Father’s whisper on his twitchy cheek as he watched giant metal vehicles with giant rubber tires rage by on Danger Road. No one had ever mentioned the specific danger, but it was obvious now.

A few animals wandered along the side of Danger Road, in the ditch. They were afraid to cross and some of them told stories of dead animals down the way- Toad, Squirrel and Deer.

“Impossible,” said Runt. How could a big animal like Deer fail? And if Deer couldn’t get across, for sure, Runt wasn’t going anywhere either.

“Forget it,” he said to his friends. “We’ll never make it.”

“Sure we will,” said Little Raccoon. “Just hold hands and run fast.”

“What for?” asked Runt. “We don’t need to go anywhere. Everything we need is here.”

Wee Weasel rubbed his hands together. “Treats, my friend. We are going to Town for treats.”

“We crossed before – me and Wee Weasel and Squirrely,” added Little Raccoon.  “No worries. We’ll be back in a couple of days.”

“Besides,” grinned Little Skunk, “the sugar is worth it.”

Later in life, when he was so old that he had a patch of skin showing between his long ears, and a hint of grey in his wrinkled tan coat, Runt would look back on this moment in his life. It was the moment that everything changed. He didn’t realize that he was making a choice; he just liked his new friends.

Runt Rabbit’s stomach felt sour as if he’d eaten white strawberries. “Father told me to ask Silence and Moon for help.”

“We always do.”

And so it happened that some hours later, nine little animals faced Danger Road under Moon’s light in the middle of Night. Their arms were linked. After waiting carefully for Silence, Little Raccoon hissed, “Now!” and they scurried across as one being.

No one died.

Alternate ending due to the possibility of an electric vehicle these days:

They all died.

DSC03781 (2)art by Laurie

Stream Knows – a story from Bangan Forest, by Laurie Fraser

Stream Knows

It was one of May’s cool damp mornings. Fawn wore a beige sweater and an acorn necklace, but nothing on her legs. Her legs were so gorgeously awkward that no male of any species could pass by without gawking at them. Frogs and herons alike admired Fawn’s legs.

She came soundlessly out of Bangan Forest and stood for a moment where Long Grass began. Peace was all around except for Baby Jay squeaking for his mom. Turtle was beside Stream, acting like rocks. His dark eyes peered at Fawn from under the brim of his cap. Turtle was a sucker for legs, but he posed no threat. Fawn stepped over to Stream.

Her exquisite legs were on display as she splayed them apart and bent her mouth to Stream to drink, her saucy white tail in the air.

“Thank you,” she said to Stream, “you quench my thirst.”

“I’ve been gaining weight,” said Stream. “I could fill a camel.”

Fawn lifted her pretty head and looked around. At this point Stream moved slowly, hanging out with little pools and inlets, but further down Stream, rocks would break water into tiny white waves, causing Stream to spit up like a baby. She was small by nature, not a river, but Stream was long, and she knew mountain meadows as intimately as she knew Bangan Forest.

“I don’t know about a camel, but my brother is just behind me,” Fawn laughed her tinkling little laugh. The whole family needed Stream, and they visited every day.

Stream was birthed by Spring herself when Sun came closer each year. Sun hugged Snow with his many warm arms. Snow would melt with love for Sun and take off running and playing all the way down Bangan Mountain. And so it was that baby streams were born all over the place.

Sun hugged everyone- ice and snow, but also tree trunks and winter sleeping places. He woke bears and groundhogs and turtles. Old friend Rain came back as he always does, even Sleet showed up once in a while.

This Spring, Stream had grown until she felt quite large. Deep curves developed, pockets and eddies came into being. It was because of Sun’s warm kisses that her body was constantly changing. Stream adored Sun and would do anything for him, give him anything- even her own self.

Stream and Sun had a complicated relationship. History. They had kissed before- this wasn’t Stream’s first trip down the mountain, after all. Sun hugged the others- snakes and lizards and baby robins- but Stream was the one he kissed. Stream was special.

Stream freely admits to silliness and poor judgement those first heady days with Sun each Spring, when Pussywillow sang her songs, and Crow seemed to fight with everyone. Every year, Stream would expand and stretch under Sun’s attention, her little ripples giggling, her fingers reaching and reaching for more. She would rush and chase and take some crazy risks choosing her path, but streams are like that.

Of course, Day would grow longer then, and Sun had plenty of time for Stream. Stream could count on Sun to shine on her, warm her waves, glisten her peaks, reveal her precious stones. She loved to give to him- vapour, mist, wet kisses… whatever he asked.

The animals of Bangan Forest would come to slake their thirst and to feed too, for small fish frolicked in her. Stream slowed down with Summer and she gave to all who needed her: dragonflies, moose, clouds.

It wouldn’t be until late summer, but sooner or later, every year, Stream would give too much to Sun. Conversation would dry up first, and then it would come to pass that Stream herself would become quite weak. Sun became hard then, and he would dictate her path. He refused her soft kisses, and it broke her in places. Sun would glower and glare as Stream thinned. Bushes often grew nearby, gaining size by late summer, and she would try to hide under them. Sometimes clouds protected her. Rain rarely helped.

When Sun did bother to show up, he was cold and distant. He didn’t have much time for Stream. She would miss him then and call, but if Sun did pick up his phone, he made excuses: he had to work overtime, he wasn’t accustomed to Stream’s constant babbling.

The truth was that Sun had other streams. Spring was always arriving somewhere, causing melts and havoc everywhere she went. I mean, Spring is famous for that. In Paris or on a tall mountain, Spring will mess you up.

And this hard truth meant that Sun could not be present for Stream when leaves fell. Deserted every Autumn, Stream would cry until she was dangerously thin. Some years she barely survived, nothing but a frozen trickle on rock-hard ground.

Winter was good to her though, holding her safely in his strong arms every year. She could always count on Winter for some stability. He brought the Snows, and they guarded her too. She would rest there until Sun came nudging around again.

Oh, he was confident! He could play guitar and of course, being Sun, everything revolved around him. Beautiful, charismatic, he reached every year, reached for Stream.

“Not this year,” Stream would say, her icy thin arms still tight around herself under sleepy slopes of snow.

“Deer is thirsty,” Sun would tease. “She can’t drink ice.”

“She can eat snow!”

“Aww c’mon, Stream. Her babies are coming.”

“Not yet, they’re not.”

But Sun would flirt, you know how he does it- a clear ray right into an eye, a breaking smile, and then the hug that she had been missing… warmth.

“Sweetie,” he called her.

You could say that Stream never learns, but Stream would answer that she always forgives. Stream would say that she loves the cycles of life, the coming of Sun with all his mania, and the leaving of Sun with all his peace. Stream would say that when love encircles us- we must revel in it, expand, and when love has more important things to do- manoo, let it be, take a nap.

Stream knows about this, the cycles that always circle- seasons and water and love.

© Laurie Fraser 2020

DSC02884

Debwewin River – a story from Bangan Forest, by Laurie Fraser

Debwewin River

Oaky Dokey’s testimony was the most interesting, just because he was the oldest witness, the oldest by far. Oaky Dokey was 436 years old. Can you imagine? He has seen more than 5,000 full moons. He remembers when Bangan Forest had no borders, when there was nothing but trees and rivers and rocks; nothing but animals and birds and plants.

Oaky Dokey wasn’t the oldest tree, Black Gum was even older, but Oakey Dokey had spent his entire life beside Debwewin River with his roots pushed right through River’s North Bank, his gnarly toes in water every day. He was the best witness to what had happened to Debwewin, and so it was his role to come before Council and talk truth.

The case had been brought before the Council of Seven by Debwewin River himself. He cited his right to be clean. Council had come to River to hear witnesses on North Shore.

Oaky Dokey grew on a small crest; River was slightly lower and water was wide here. Long Grasses loved both water and land; they danced all over North Shore. Spectators and supporters had trooped over with the seven Council members and they stood around in small groups. The situation was critical.

Oaky Dokey had a gravelly voice. “From the time I was a boy, River has been my friend, cooling my toes, quenching my thirst, growing my leaves, fattening my acorns. We are entwined and my health depends on him.”

“What changes have you witnessed over the years?” Councillor Crow led the questioning.

“Before Town was built,” said Oaky Dokey, “changes were seasonal: flooding, freezing. Current moved around and Sand Bar was erratic, but the quality of water never changed. Spring streams fed Debwewin fresh melted snows and he was clean. Since Town arrived, I sometimes see garbage in River: plastic bags and cigarette butts. Sometimes there is a smell or a pool of oily substance floating on top of water and she can’t breathe then, through that oil.”

A surge of agreement erupted from groups of deer and beaver and heron.

Ducks quacked loudly from River and frogs pumped their fists. They hated the oil slicks. Trout had already testified about the smell. Goose had brought evidence: one of her babies was all sticky.

“Flooding has increased,” continued Oaky Dokey, “and streams come earlier now that Heat has intensified. Year after year, it is too warm. But the dramatic change has been recent, ever since Town humans built pipes and culverts to join Town water with River. Town water is dirty- brown and smelly- and it mixes into River, our pristine Debwewin.”

Stream testified next. “More animals come to me now because I am clean, and I taste better than River. They are depleting me.”

Councillor Turtle was concerned with Truth and so it was he who spoke next. ”Debwewin River has the right to be clean. It is his birthright. More than that, Debwewin shows us our true selves when we look into him. This truth must not be distorted by garbage or oil. Water must be clear.

This very council uses Debwewin River to show wrongdoers the truth of who they are. It is essential that water reflects clearly for the health and good function of our community.”

Councillor Wolf raised his bushy eyebrows. “May I remind you that Mr. Fisher is waiting for his day in court.”

Everyone already knew that Debwewin River’s case had been pushed ahead because of the Fisher case. There was no way to help Mr. Fisher when there was no Truth to be seen in Debwewin.

“Clearly there is an urgent need to rectify the problem,” Councillor Wise Beaver spoke up. “I’ve been out to the site a number of times. It is a matter of re-directing that sewage water back into Town. Give me a team and 3 days.”

It took 3 days of stealthy work and 3 nights of manic work. It took 45 beavers, maybe 20 or so turtles, and a slew of muskrats and otters. It took about a hundred otters, but you’d swear it was a thousand the way they swarmed the project… and wanted all the credit too at the end.

Wise Beaver’s design perplexed Town humans. It was weeks before they realized that their dirty water was being recycled right back to them. Wise Beaver had blocked the pipelines with dams so that dirty water couldn’t reach River. Otters’ slides and tunnels re-routed that Town water right into the water tower on the edge of Town.

Councillor Eagle took Debwewin River under her loving wing and he healed rapidly there. The trees and plants and animals poured love and gratitude into River as he quenched their thirst once again.

Mr. Fisher’s case came to Council and it was agreed that the time had come for Mr. Fisher to stop hitting Mrs. Fisher. Crow walked with him to Debwewin River, and Fisher looked at his own face in water.

Debwewin showed him the truth of who he was, for when Mr. Fisher looked in water he saw himself as a boy. A sad boy; a scared boy. He saw his father hitting his mother. Then he saw his father as a boy. A sad boy; a scared boy. He saw a teacher hitting that boy. And then Debwewin showed Mr. Fisher another truth. He showed him Little Fisher, his own son, sad and scared, growing up and hitting his wife.

Mr. Fisher saw all these truths in Debwewin River. He understood that he was a hurt fisher; not a bad fisher. Like all animals in Bangan Forest, Fisher trusted Debwewin River, and so he believed the Truth of who he was.

Humans figured it all out, of course- they are the clever ones. The Town workers unblocked the pipelines, bulldozers ripped apart the dams and tunnels. Garbage flowed directly into Debwewin River once more.

So, Wise Beaver’s team got back to work.

And then the bulldozers came back.

Just when it looked like the cycle would never end, a teenage human posted a few pics on Instagram. They went viral- did you see them? Pics of beavers at work, bulldozers at work, sewage flowing into River, trees weeping, ducks unable to fly with their heavy oily wings. Those pics were shared all over social media.

A reporter came and interviewed Oaky Dokey, Wise Beaver and Town Mayor. Mr. Fisher was on the news too. He explained how Debwewin had shown him his true self. He had taken his hurt to Eagle who gave him so much love, that he came to forgive himself and his father too. But the most important interview was with Debwewin River himself. It was the first time a river had been interviewed by a human.

The media exposés about the cycle of waste made people angry. Humans in Town gathered outside the mayor’s office. They pumped their fists like frogs. They pumped their fists for frogs… and oak trees and fish and fisher families. They protested for Debwewin, the truth of the matter.

And so it came to pass that Town workers installed some expensive machines that clean water. Beaver Team became a consulting firm, much in demand in Town. Mr. Fisher became a loving husband; Little Fisher grew up to be peaceful too. And Debwewin River’s rights were upheld- the right to be clean, the right to be treated as a living being, the right to be his own true self.

© Laurie Fraser 2021

Wild and Blue- a short story by Laurie Fraser

Wild and Blue

a story from Bangan Forest

Blue Sky was skinny and sharp and blue. That about covers it. He was no more than 2 inches tall, thin as a pin, sharp nose, pointy hat, blue skin. His skin was losing colour. I mean, he was born bright blue, but a decade later, he was more the colour of faded jeans. He’ll die young – all fairies do – and he’ll be translucent by then.

Blue awakened early in anticipation of Corn Moon. She would be full tonight. Blue climbed out of his bluebell blossom bed and slid down her stalk. Grass was taller than Blue. He pushed blades and stalks aside and made his way to Echinacea who had some drops of Morning Dew on her petals. He washed his hands and face in Dewdrop. Since it was a special day, he pulled off his pointy blue boots and washed his pointy blue feet too. It tinged Dewdrop blue, but Dewdrops are used to these fairy effects. I mean, sometimes, if you take the time to notice, dewdrops resting on Sweetgrass and flower petals in the early morning are many different colours: pink, green, gold, violet… depending on who’s been washing in them.

Deep Summer had a way of making everyone believe that she would never leave. She settled into Bangan Forest like a fat human in a double-wide chair: heavy heat spread into every nook and cranny. It seemed it would be too much of an effort for her to ever pull herself out. Temperature was already torrid as Blue picked his clothes for Corn Moon’s celebration. He picked 3 clover leaves and wrapped them around his body. His belt was Blade of grass who wound around his waist 3 times, that’s how skinny Blue was. He topped his outfit off with his blue felt hat. He’d worn that hat every day since he found it hanging on Tiny Twig, forgotten by a long-ago fairy. It was a bit sticky but that’s because he used it to filter maple syrup in Spring.

Blue gathered food for breakfast: fibre from Dandelion’s bitter leaf sweetened with honey drips from Bee’s hive and milk from Milkweed. After he ate, he sat on Earth and wrapped gifts to share at the celebration. He put several honey drips in the middle of Buttercup’s blossom and then folded her petals over one by one to protect the tacky treasure. He was building a pile of these sticky yellow gifts, absorbed in his task, when:

“BOO BLUE!”

He startled even though he knew who it was immediately. “Wild! Don’t scare me like that!”

She giggled. “What are you doing?”

Blue showed her the sharing gifts. Wild had brought a little package of Primrose Pollen for the party, but she sat down beside Blue and helped him wrap Honey Drips. Soon they were both covered in honey up to their elbows. By then Morning Dew had evaporated, so they gathered the sharing gifts up in a sack and headed to Cricket Creek to wash up. The sack was heavy, but no dragonflies were around to help, so Blue and Wild held the sack between them as they doggedly flitted up and down, at the mercy of Breeze, all the way to Cricket Creek.

Wild checked her reflection in Water. She had fresh Daisy Blossom on her head, the white petals reflecting Sun and keeping her cool. Her enormous eyes were violet- smokey violet. Wild had picked a white party dress- 2 fresh rose petals. As always, lavender filled her shoes and pockets; lavender flowers tangled her long hair. They were even in her ears. Sometimes she woke up with lavender petals in her mouth! All of that was because she slept in Lavender Bush. Her full name was Wild Lavender, and Blue Sky adored her. She looked good and she smelled good, but most important of all, she was his best friend.

Once they were all cleaned up, they flitted over to Sunny Rock. Sunny Rock was wide, low and flat. Sun loved him and they were always hanging out together, making themselves quite popular with snakes and dragonflies and fairies. This morning, Sunny Rock was covered in fairies who wanted a ride to Little Clearing. Red Dragonfly Service was working non-stop, but there must have been 20 fairies waiting. Blue took Wild’s tiny hand in his and they flew down Elk’s Path a short way to get away from the crowd. A few minutes later, he flagged down LuLu Butterfly, and they were on their way.

Now, fairies will celebrate anything. Their lives are short and jam-packed with joy. Every single moment is worth celebrating in a fairy’s life. They celebrate new moons and full moons. They celebrate every new plant, every death; they celebrate the first fruit and the last fruit.

If you see a wild strawberry plant and there is a fairy ring around it, a ring where the grass is lighter and thinner, you can be sure that fairies danced there. You can be sure that this plant birthed the first strawberry of Summer. Fairies never eat that first white berry, even once it turns red. Well, no one in Bangan Forest does that, for all have agreed to abide by the Honourable Harvest rules, one of which is: Do not take the first one nor the last one.

This day Corn Moon would be full and Little Clearing was full of fairies: fairies in summer dresses, fairies in supple leaves, fairies in flower blossoms, fairies with no clothes at all, fairies with acorn lid hats, top hats, garden hats…

Wild and Blue took their sharing gifts over to Buttercup Clump. Many sharing gifts had already arrived: pine needle baskets and pouches too, dried salty plants from Old Swamp, soapberries from the other side of Bangan Mountain, Dandelion straws filled with honey and milk, Lavender from Outer Meadow, a wide selection of feathers, some White Birch syrup, a few flint flakes.

“How blessed we are in Bangan Forest!” said Wild.

“Plenty,” smiled Blue. He wanted to kiss her. He kicked the toe of his pointy blue boot into Earth. “Plenty blessed.”

“With food and friends,” Wild said. She wanted to kiss him, but she just took his hand.

The friends flew over Goldenrod and Asters. Little Clearing was busy, but it would be downright crowded with fairies by Nightfall. Some friends lived here, like Morel Mushrooms and Pond, Rockin’ Rocks and Lilypad Knot. Others travelled a long way for the festivity. Wood fairies, River Fairies and Mountain Fairies were all here, gathering to gather together.

Fairies celebrate the moment because they live in the moment. Although there was plenty of chatting, there was little actual news. Fairies don’t care about the past and they have no faith in the future, so for them, it’s just now. This Day’s news was that Corn Moon was full. No gossip. No fake news. No fearful imaginings. The only news a fairy needs is what to celebrate today.

Hummingbird had contributed to the buffet and she was a remarkable cook. Always humming, Daisy stuck behind her ear, Hummingbird loved to prepare festive foods. For Corn Moon, she had prepared corn muffins, corn panna cotta, corn chips, popped corn kernels, charred kernels, and creamed corn. No matter how much fairies ate, Hummingbird would dart in with more delicacies: candied crab apples on branches, pine nut brittle, candy floss clouds. To cut through the sweet treats, she served the tart tastes of Deep Summer: fresh blackberries and blueberries and ground cherries.

Blue filled 2 glasses with Nectar and brought one over to Wild who rested on Queen Anne’s Lace. He thought she was exquisite with her violet eyes and white rose petal dress, her long lavender braids and Queen’s throne. She reached out one delicate arm to take the drink.

“To this moment,” toasted Blue. It was Fairy’s Toast; it was always the same.

“To this moment,” grinned Wild. She thought he was spectacular with his blue skin and Clover clothes, his pointy nose and fancy boots.

Their glasses clinked as if they had kissed.

You would think Wild and Blue would kiss then. I mean, fairies don’t waste time. They cherish every moment. Like flutterbys and butterflies, fairies don’t live long. It’s their wings, their delicate wings. They are dripping fairy dust, dropping fairy dust everywhere they go. Enchanted dust that grants wishes, heals hearts and wields magic. So little precious dust, so little precious time. Because of this, fairies savour moments.

For sure, you’d think Blue would kiss Wild or maybe, Wild would kiss Blue… in that moment, that toasted moment… but they did not. All afternoon, Wild and Blue chose to sit side by side on Queen Anne’s Lace, holding hands and waiting for Corn Moon to show up. Who’s to say they didn’t savour every moment?

Deep Summer remained hot when Dusk arrived. Corn Moon showed up early; he was ecstatic to be full. He poured love down upon Mother Earth and all her life: plants, rocks, animals, humans, fairies. Moon loves all without judgement. If you exist, Moon loves you; it’s that simple.

Forest fairies and River fairies and Mountain fairies all danced in Moon’s light. Fairies love circles and Little Clearing was full of fairy circles: big circles, circles within circles, overlapping circles. Wild and Blue held hands as they danced, their wings beating faster than Hummingbird’s. Spirits were high. Fairies were drumming; fairies were strumming. Grasses swayed, flowers bobbed. Night Breeze was filled with petals and giggles and merriment.

Most feet were bare and not touching Earth at all. Fairies spun in pirouettes. Precious dust flew off fairies, sparkles sparkled. Fireflies joined the light show.

Each fairy was glowing their own colour, and as they circled together, they became halos of light. Pink halos, blue halos, golden rings rolling up into Starry Sky. Dancing fairies swirled like Saturn’s Ring. They whirled like Galaxy. And they were no less.

Wild and Blue were born of this place, Forest and Sky. Mother Earth’s love and Corn Moon’s love were one and the same to them. The love they had for each other was no less.

Corn Moon saw Wild and Blue dancing in her light. She saw sweet shyness in their hearts, and she pulled them close to her. Wild and Blue rose through Starry Sky on Moon’s beam. And so it happened that Corn Moon kissed Blue, and then she kissed Wild, right on the lips.

Still holding hands, they slid down Moon’s beam, back to Mother Earth, back to Queen Anne’s Lace.

Oh yes, you’re right. It happened there and it happened then, Blue Sky kissed Wild Lavender, or maybe Wild Lavender kissed Blue Sky in Corn Moon’s light. It was a tiny little kiss, and it changed the world.

How can one tiny fairy kiss change the whole world? Every kiss does that. Every kiss changes the world.

tree spirit

 

LayLay Flutterby- a short story from Bangan Forest

In honour of Indigenous families on this special day.

This story was written for an Ojibwe friend to read to his pre-teen daughter. Her feedback is below. Your feedback is welcome too- please comment below!

A. Miranda

A. Miranda

LayLay was flying distractedly, her focus more on the book in her hands than her surroundings. She was new to the world, born yesterday, so she wasn’t especially practiced at flying, or reading either for that matter. LayLay was brand new, just born, but she could fly; she could fly right by because she was a flutterby.

Now flutterbys are different than butterflies, everyone knows that. Usually flutterbys are brown or beige or white; they aren’t bright like butterflies. They’re soft too- their wings are made of dust. So delicate that they cannot be touched- that’s how fragile flutterby wings are.

LayLay was brand new, born yesterday, but she knew that she didn’t want to be a flutterby. Her wings were white with matching brown ovals that looked like eyes. What a disappointment! She wanted stiff purple wings with black scalloped edging and a few white dots. Or, she’d be happy with yellow wings, bright ones with green spots. But she’d have to be a butterfly to have colours like that.

She wasn’t alone- plenty of LoLos and LeeLees and LuLus were furry brown and beige. But, she was the only one nicknamed Four Eyes. Most flutterbys were content with their wings; LayLay alone read Vogue and restricted her food intake. LayLay was brand new, born yesterday, but she was already saving up for a wing augmentation.

LayLay was so preoccupied with her reading that she didn’t see Lady Bug coming from the other direction. Alas, Lady Bug was speeding- her daughter, Ann, had told her teacher that she had a tummy ache and Lady Bug didn’t know that it wasn’t true. She was in a rush, and she crashed right into LayLay’s left wing. Both of LayLay’s wings showered dust everywhere, and she dropped her book.

Lady Bug was in shock for a few seconds, but she gave herself a shake and shouted, “No reading in flight!” Then she hiked up her red tights and flew away.

Now, the book that LayLay dropped was no ordinary book. It was her diary. It was tiny, and it had fallen from a great height. Worse, it had fallen from a great height onto Forest’s floor which was a very messy place.

Poor LayLay fluttered about Forest’s floor. She searched among lichen and mushrooms, old leaves and pine needles, but no luck.

LayLay had no luck because her diary had been found immediately. LayLay’s diary had fallen from a great height right through a small pile of sticks and right smack onto Cruel Cricket’s table- just as he was sitting down to lunch.  And so, Cricket read all of LayLay’s secrets, right then and right there.

Now if Turtle had found it, well, that would be fine because turtles can keep a secret. Crickets- well, that’s another story. Like warblers and blue jays and squirrels, crickets just can’t keep news to themselves.

After lunch, Cricket went out for a stroll over to Main Meadow where he read the diary out loud to all LayLay’s friends and enemies- she had a few even though she was brand new, just born yesterday- plenty of birds and bats considered flutterbys to be a tasty mouthful.

I don’t know if you can imagine the scene: Cruel Cricket reading aloud on sturdy Milkweed in the middle of Main Meadow, flutterbys and butterflys, lady bugs and lady birds… insects of all kinds and plenty of songbirds too, swooping over his head… and laughing. Imagine LayLay darting furiously among them, her four eyes glaring, her miniscule mouth open, screaming at the top of her lungs (but still inaudible to most beings) about her right to privacy, her right to run her own life, her right to privacy, her right to express herself and… her RIGHT to PRIVACY!

How vigorously did LayLay flap her wings! How furiously did she shout! She might have been a fragile flutterby, but she had guts and she had rights. All living beings have rights- even fat grubs with wings made of dust. LayLay took her fury to Councillor Buffalo because she wanted respect. Buffalo decided to involve the rest of Council because the case was complicated.

Butterflies and flutterbys have very short life spans, only one to ten days. The Council of Bangan Forest gathered to hear the case without delay. Bear, Beaver, Wolf, Turtle, Buffalo, Crow and Eagle travelled to Main Meadow to hear LayLay’s complaint.

Councillor Buffalo was correct- it was a complicated case. LayLay had written some disturbing things in her diary. She wrote that she didn’t want to be Moth- she used the old derogatory term. The word Moth had been replaced by the more accurate name, Flutterby, and nobody said Moth anymore. ‘Moths are hideous!’ LayLay had written, ‘and I am the ugliest of all.’ She wanted to be a butterfly. ‘Butterflies have bodies as slender as pine needle. I want strong gorgeous wings that don’t fall apart,’ she wrote. ‘I would give anything to be rid of my plain hairy wings and my fat grubby body.’

Laylay stood in front of Council with her wings folded back, her antennae shaking, her little hands in fists. “Perhaps it would be easier to respect me if I was a butterfly,” she declared.

Councillor Wolf’s ears pricked. “Flutterbys are vital to our community … and so is every other being- from Algae to Buffalo. You are not more or less than anyone else. We are all beautifully different and we are all valued equally.”

“LayLay Flutterby,” Buffalo spoke next. “It is true that Cricket must respect you. However, you must also show respect. You must respect your own Flutterby self, LayLay.”

Councillor Eagle agreed: “This is a case about self-love.”

“Indeed,” cawed Councillor Crow. “This is a case about accepting yourself for who you are.”

And so it came to pass that Cruel Cricket was asked to join the Peace Committee to do some work on the anti-gossip campaign.

As for LayLay, she flew down to Debwewin River with Councillor Crow on one side of her and Councillor Eagle on the other. Land below was summer green. Wind was mostly calm, just active enough for Leaves to wave back at them and for the trip to be pleasant- lots of gliding.

“I know how I look already,” LayLay said to Crow. “I saw myself in a mirror at the Bay where I was born under some wool blankets. I have never seen an uglier moth than myself.”

“Flutterby,” corrected Crow.

“I have a million headbanger cousins in Town. They smash into lamps and lightbulbs all night long. That’s how much they hate themselves.”

As they soared over Debwewin’s south shore, Eagle said, “Look down now, look into water. What do you see?”

LayLay looked down at Debwewin River. He was completely calm today, a twinkle in his blue eyes. LayLay saw her reflection: white wings with matching brown spots that looked like crossed eyes.

“I see a fat moth with an extra set of freak eyes.”

“Look again,” said Eagle. “Look with love. You are a precious being, LayLay. Born with purpose and freedom both. Look closely, my Love. What do you see?”

“Dirty brown dust falling off me.”

“Ah, but it is not dirt. Precious LayLay, when you spread your wings and fly, happy dust floats here and there and everywhere, bringing a lightness, a delicate bliss. Just the sight of you can cause happiness. Plants and animals alike bask in the silt of flutterbys… and butterflies too, for they are similar, spreading joy among the wildflower blooms and Forest’s paths. Pollinators follow your pristine energy trails to meadows and fields. Bee depends on you.”

“All creatures with wings clean Air,” said Crow. He flapped once and glided with Wind, who played a little.

LayLay got curious then, and she really looked into Debwewin River. For the first time she looked carefully into her eyes- not her oddly-crossed painted eyes, but her real eyes. She saw a sweet soul, an innocent.

“I am just a baby,” she spoke with wonder, “I will spread happy dust and I will not live long.” Debwewin had shown her the truth of the matter.

“You will give of yourself, your whole self, to Bat or Robin or maybe, Robin’s hungry baby. It will be your final gift.” Eagle tilted one wing over her, loving her.

Her body looked fat in Debwewin, it was true. But it was no longer disappointing to LayLay. She understood that she was a rich source of protein.

_______

Now, if Ann hadn’t lied to her teacher, if LayLay hadn’t dropped her diary, if Cricket hadn’t read it and cruelly gossiped, if LayLay had never complained to the Council of Seven and then had never seen the truth in Debwewin… what a tragic life she might have led.

As it was, LayLay lived 4 days and nights. She didn’t waste a moment wishing to be anything other than her own spectacular self. She loved her work!

LayLay fluttered here, there and everywhere, clearing Air of black and blue emotions. Her brown happy dust was golden by her third day of life. It was plentiful and LayLay gave it freely- to Breeze and Wind, to meadows and Forest’s paths.

LayLay fluttered near Meadow Creek where Raccoon and Turtle had broken up and she dissipated the sadness there. She fluttered along the ditch beside Danger Road, and she cleared fear and despair. She fluttered along the trail left by Black Bear as he stomped angrily to Blackberry Thicket.

When LayLay fluttered by, animals felt happy. Sometimes they felt lighter, as if they might flutter too, at least dance a bit, darting up and down like LayLay Flutterby, the sweetest morsel that ever flew.

In the end, it was over Weeds that LayLay gave her own fat body to Wren, who did declare, “What a sweet-tasting protein! Megwich Flutterby.”

Raccoon & Turtle, by Laurie Fraser

A short story from Bangan Forest.

Raccoon was singing Morning Song as she ran along one of Forest’s paths. Animals of all sizes passed this way: chipmunks, skunks, deer, but tall birches on each side kept this path narrow and dark. Sun was barely out of bed, still stretching his fine arms, but Raccoon was sweating. It was so humid in early summer that heat followed animals right into shade and slept with them day and night.

Raccoon was on the skinny side and her mask was askew. She should have found a bed by now, but Dawn was early these days; there was little time to forage before Night disappeared.

Raccoon was moving so fast when she came upon Turtle that she had to hop right over him. He was a mature strong-legged turtle of enormous size. A beauty.

Raccoon had travelled a long way all by herself; she sure was happy to come upon a handsome dark-eyed turtle.

“Greetings! Where are you headed?”

Turtle adjusted his black cap. He was not fond of conversation, but he answered. “I am bringing provisions to my family.”

“I see,” said Raccoon as she eyed the many packs and boxes tied to Turtle’s back.

“You don’t see.” He nodded back toward his polished shell. “Food is inside.”

“So, what’s all this?” Raccoon motioned to the pile of boxes.

“Burdens.”

“Ah, burdens… Are they heavy?”

“What do you think?” Turtle was tired, and it made him irritable sometimes.

“I think they must be terribly heavy,” soothed Raccoon. “Can I carry one for you?”

Turtle did not answer.

Raccoon ran a circle around him. “Just one?”

“No! Go away!” Turtle knew that all raccoons were thieves and not to be trusted.

Raccoon fell back and watched Turtle’s thick legs dig into the earth and pull him forward a few inches. He flipped his feet forward and then pulled again, dragging his weight and his boxes. His muscles were clearly defined as they strained. One heavy metal box marked ‘Injustice’ was tied to his tail and as he walked, it drew a twisted trail in the earth behind him.

Raccoon picked up the metal box with her front paws. She walked upright, carrying the box still tied to Turtle’s tail. Turtle noticed how good this felt, and he said, “You have beautiful hands.”

Raccoon took this as an invitation to stay. She untied the metal box from Turtle’s tail, tucked it under her arm and began to talk. Now, no one can talk like a raccoon. Once they start, they never shut up. Raccoon told Turtle everything she knew, all her secrets, and all the important thoughts she had had until that moment in time.

It took a very long time for Raccoon to share all of this, and for Turtle to move down Forest’s path between tall birches. Time after time, Raccoon realized that she was ahead of Turtle, so excited was she and so slow was he, that she would have to stop and wait for him. She would sit with rocks or nap covered by Shade while Turtle progressed at his own pace.

It was a day of sitting with rocks for Raccoon and a day of hard work for Turtle, but at the very end, they found themselves at River’s edge. River was silver and flowing fast. Sun had started his drop toward Mother Earth and Sky chose her orange silk nightgown with pink straps.

“We must part ways now,” said Turtle, his dark eyes on Sky’s nightgown. “I will swim across River to the other side and you must continue to tread Forest’s paths.”

“I can swim,” said Raccoon and she took off her shoes.

“It is not an easy crossing,” said Turtle. “You are not heavy enough. River will toss you into Sky and she will catch you in her arms and never let you go.”

He directed her to attach the metal box to his tail again and so she did. He turned his face to Sun and readied himself.

Raccoon tied her shoes to her tail and jumped in Water. Current was strong even near Shoreline and Small Rapids could be heard by an ear turned in their direction.

“Come on!” she shouted from Water. “Why am I always waiting for you?” She showed off some new dance moves. “Hurry up!”

“We separate here,” said Turtle. “I have listened to your silliness long enough. I have important things to do, responsibilities.” He eyed Water’s edge and started a deliberate descent.

Raccoon laughed. “You work too hard!” She somersaulted into baby waves.

Turtle slipped into Water with relief. His burdens lightened, and he moved easily just under the surface of silver ripples.

Raccoon tried to grab the box tied to his tail, but Turtle swished her away. “I don’t need you.”

Raccoon swam alongside Turtle. She could talk even while she was swimming and she offered Turtle advice, a great deal of advice: how to untie boxes from tails, how to reduce baggage, how to run.

“Preposterous,” muttered Turtle, “why would I run?”

Raccoon tried to say, “It’s fun,” but River filled her mouth when she opened it. As always, River was greedy for space. He filled all the spaces he could find in Raccoon- throat and lungs and stomach. Raccoon became heavy with Water and she slipped below the silver surface.

Turtle heard silence and knew Raccoon was gone. He had secretly become fond of the raccoon who had finally shut up. He had chuckled on Forest’s path, and he was no longer accustomed to silence. Turtle reached over with one giant foot and flipped Raccoon over and then slid her onto his back. Raccoon choked and spit and sputtered until Wind found her spaces and forced Water out. Raccoon curled up among the boxes on Turtle’s strong back. She felt protected there, and he liked her weight on him.

River hugged Sky in her orange nightgown with pink straps. Sky hugged River back and got orange all over him. Even Raccoon and Turtle were silky orange for a time as Raccoon slumbered on Turtle’s back. She dreamed of waiting with rocks, as Turtle swam gently, careful not to wake her.

By all accounts, Turtle had journeyed for provisions many times and was expected to arrive without incident, without delay, without a raccoon on his back. Maybe Darkness knows what happened, or maybe Stars could piece it all together… but Moon was the opposite of full that night and so the most reliable source was unable to report.

Raccoon had been dreaming, of course, and Turtle had been charting his way as usual, but something disoriented him. Perhaps it was Darkness playing his games. There is no way to be certain how Turtle got stranded on Sand Bar, but Sand Bar is notoriously erratic, constantly shifting and changing in size. He traps his food by lying in wait.

Once Turtle got stuck, his belly in the grips of hungry Sand Bar, his flippers uselessly flapping the air, Raccoon did her best to move him. She pushed; she shoved.

“You must remove the boxes,” Raccoon said, “or you will die here.”

“Take one,” allowed Turtle.

Raccoon used her clever claws to unfasten the largest burden, over Turtle’s big fat liver. It was full of anger. Turtle felt lighter, but he could not be moved. Raccoon took down a second box marked ‘Explosives’. Then a third one labeled ‘Past’ that had been tied much too tightly to Turtle’s soft heart. As Turtle lightened, he felt relieved… even, just a bit… happy.

Raccoon rocked Turtle from side to side. She sang a love song to Mother Earth as she rocked Turtle. Turtle felt loved. Mother Earth felt loved. Sand Bar gently opened her jaws and released Turtle. He swam free into River. Sand Bar swallowed the boxes.

At Shoreline, Turtle stopped and offered Raccoon a ride. Now, there is not a single raccoon alive who will turn down a ride on a turtle’s back. It’s like a sports car to a raccoon. Everything is fun to them. So Turtle offered a ride and Raccoon clapped her beautiful hands.

Things had changed between them.

“You are slow and heavy,” admitted Raccoon. “I feel safe with you.”

“You are fast and light,” answered Turtle. “I feel uplifted by you.”

And so it was that Turtle arrived with Raccoon on his back. They were both smiling.

© Laurie Fraser 2020

Stone Turtle

Stone Turtle