It seems I have not posted anything for two weeks, which means something must be posted. The following is a very rough draft of a chapter of a book I am, or am not, writing. My apologies for the length. Enjoy.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Squirrel lived in a large oak by a medium-sized lake, and was very content, for the most part. Every spring when the leaves on the old oak would blossom, as the white snow and frost melted under the rays of the shimmering sun, Squirrel would begin to forage. He would rise with the early sun and watch it rise over the pines and elms and maples across the blue waters, and he would do his annual inventory. “Fifteen walnuts, three acorns, five bottles of acorn rum, and half a barrel of acorn ale,” he would say. And after he had properly scoured the cabinets and checked every item on his notepad, he would rush out of his hole in the old oak and begin to forage. He would forage and forage and forage all through the spring and all through the summer and all through the autumn until there was surely nothing at all left to forage. And he was so busy with foraging that he would say nothing to any of his neighbors around the lake. He would run by Beaver, a friendly chap who would always stop to say, “Hullo good Squ—” before being nearly bowled over by the determined rodent. Otter too would call to Squirrel during one of his great forages, saying such things as “Hey there Squirrel, why not come in for a swim?” as he floated in the lake on his back. Rat too would call to Squirrel from his boat, asking him to join in the fun. But even with all the rack and distractions, Squirrel would continue to forage and forage and forage. And then when the many colored months of autumn slowly bled into the dead days of winter, Squirrel would finally stop foraging and enjoy his work.

There was nothing Squirrel loved more than the winter months. For there was nothing so grand to the Squirrel as warming himself by the fire with his feet in his slippers, propped up on his footstool, while he smoked his acorn-flavored tobacco and sipped on acorn rum. Nothing was tastier to the Squirrel than the flavor of acorn. In addition to smoking acorn tobacco and sipping acorn rum throughout the winter, while the soft snow was falling, Squirrel would make acorn soup and acorn casserole and for every thanksgiving—Squirrels observe nine for each non-winter month—he would bake a sweet acorn pie and acorn cobbler, and when he tired of his acorn rum, he would brew acorn ale, which he stored in large, oak barrels below his living quarters. And so Squirrel was like any other common Squirrel who spent the warm days out searching for acorns so that he could enjoy the supreme virtues of life: sitting by his fire, smoking his pipe, and not being disturbed. He was a very content Squirrel. Most are. That is until one particularly snowy day. On that day, Squirrel rose to make acorn omelets with acorn-smoked bacon and hash-browns and toast made of the finest acorn bread and smothered in butter and acorn jam. After he had his large breakfast, he took off his robe, put on a leaf-green sweater vest, put on some logs for the fire, lit his pipe, made of the oldest and finest oak wood in the region, and pondered.

“I say. I am the most common of common animals there are, and all anyone sees me doing when I leave my hole is foraging, and only so I can enter it again. All I ever eat is acorn—day, after day, after day. And besides Hedgehog the milkman who stops by every Tuesday, I talk to few others.”

And with that, Squirrel stood up and began saying some rather extraordinary and incomprehensible things while he scurried around his hole in the large oak by the lake. He said such shocking things as “Drat!” “Fiddle-sticks” “Phooey!” “Hang it all!” And he would scurry along the walls on his hind legs like a biped, with pipe in mouth, saying such astonishing things until finally he ended up on the back of a long, nut-brown, plush couch and said, “I’m out!”

Before you could say “cat-got-your-tongue-but-I-got-his-tail,” the Squirrel had attired himself in nut-brown shoes, corduroys, tie, scarf, mittens, and a tiny, nut-brown portmanteau, which had primarily tobacco and acorns in it as well as a place for his pipe and some much-needed matches. And grabbing his stocking-cap, knitted by his elder sister and shaped like an acorn, he opened the door to his hole in the old oak by the lake, grabbing the knob carefully placed in the center of the door, and flew down the trunk with furious speed. Initially, after leaving his hole, he was almost blinded by the powdery white blowing around him. But he overcame the initial shock and climbed right on down his trunk on his two hind feet with one mittened hand clutching his portmanteau and the other clutching his hat lest he should lose it in the wind. He ambled down so quickly and with such a pace that he nearly completely disregarded Hedgehog who approached the old oak, slowly fighting against the wind, one arm placed out in front as if to shield himself from the effects, another grasping his cart of milk. Vaguely noticing snow being kicked up ahead of him, Hedgehog squinted and saw the glorious figure of Squirrel and his portmanteau running in the opposite direction. To describe the expression on Hedgehog’s face would be impossible. It is safe to say the he was surely wide-eyed and taken aback by the scene. Just as he began to say, “Hullo Squirrel, rain or sn—” Squirrel rushed by, leaving him with only the sound of his chanting, “I’m out!” and thus completely bewildered.

The snow only seemed to increase as Squirrel continued on. Luckily, for him, he was heading with the wind, and his determination motivated his continued pace. As he followed the shoreline of the lake, he was only able to tell what was lake and what was land by the slight decrease in elevation from shoreline to front water. Thus, he continued south and east along that line—at times flying by lit, warm homes, now chanting, “I’m adventuring!” (for he was now fully convinced he was “out”) to those perplexed heads that would come out of their holes. At times, Squirrel would let out a full and exceptional “I’m adventuring!” when the wind had died down and he discovered dry ground to run on. At other times, heads would poke out of their holes only to hear “I’m advent—” as Squirrel unwittingly discovered deep patches of snowdrift, caked up by the persistent winds.

Squirrel prided himself on knowing the lake “like the back of his paw,” and therefore he would not stop yelling out, “I’m adventuring!” in such a way to convince his neighbors as well as himself. But like most things that are done for the very first time, Squirrel convinced no one but himself that he was adventuring. And the heads that went back into their holes would either say such things as “Numskull!” “Asinine!” “Vapid!” or, if there were children, use this time to explain when an action became foolish.

But Squirrel did convince himself. And as he began to believe he was actually adventuring, this meant that, by degrees, he began to see his all-too familiar landscape much differently than ever before (the snow, of course, did help). Thus it was that Squirrel began to lose track of what was lake and was land. He even forgot that a very large cove existed near the southern-most boundary of the lake. Now, to be fair to Squirrel, he rarely ever foraged these parts, for they were full of pines, evergreens, and firs, and they did not provide him with nearly the amount of acorns he needed for his general supply as did the north lake, heavy with oaks. In fact, Squirrel only ever came down this way if in need of pine-cones to light his home, for all his lamps were lit by pine-cone. In any case, it is no excuse. And Squirrel, convinced he was adventuring, ran right out onto that frozen cove.

He immediately became aware of a large, lighted home to the west that lay on the water (though he was ignorant of this). The house was surrounded by boats—mainly small dinghies and skiffs—though two or three larger sailing vessels were also harbored.

“Now, how in the blazes did all those boats get on land?” Thought Squirrel, as the cold began to numb his mind. While he mulled this over, he decided to rest his weary bones. He found a good plot of snow, sat his portmanteau on it, and sat himself on top the portmanteau. To the direct south he gazed, and he noticed the snow began to slightly let up. He scoured where he had just come from and was hit with a blustery dash of wind, for that had not let up. He then stared west again at the large, wooden house and continued muttering to himself, “How the blazes…” It was during one of his reveries explaining the boats that along the northern edge of the cove near the house, he thought he perceived the snow wink and shuffle. For some time he was under the impression that he had only imagined it. But there again, the snow winked, or blinked (he couldn’t quite pin down the verb) and then shuffled. By this time the snowfall had stopped almost entirely and the wind had begun to die. For indeed, the day itself was closing up shop, and had the sun been out, Squirrel would have realized this fact. But as it wasn’t, and as Squirrel now fully believed he was on some wild adventure in a land yet explored, he began to lose track of time.

“Phooey and hang it all! I can’t explain those boats.” It was then that an extraordinary thing occurred. The blinking (surely now that was the verb!) and shuffling of the snow was seen again, and this time it was much closer to the northeastern edge of the cove where Squirrel had entered unwittingly moments earlier. But this time Squirrel not only perceived the snow much more closely, he also believed he heard it speak—almost as if it spoke directly to him.

“Ahoy there!” it seemed to say. “Hast thine ship blown asunder matey?”

“Now why in the name of all things holy is the snow speaking of my being adrift at sea? And why is it speaking in such archaic speech?” murmured Squirrel to himself.

“Dost thy portmanteau, O Squirrel, keep thee afloat? Canst thou paddle ashore?” The snow questioned.

“Can I what?” yelled back the Squirrel. “What need have I? The lake is to my east. I am safely ashore. Can you tell me your name? Are you some Snow-God from the South?”

“Squirrel!” The snow shouted. “I am no god or fairy. I am your faithful friend Stoat. Please, do leave the waters. It would be a real shame if the ice broke, and I certainly have no desire to go in after you, though I will if it comes to it. Come now, this is all a very silly game is it not? You out there on the ice, pretending to be at sea.”

It was with that final sentence that the mystery Squirrel had landed in was made clear. He looked with no little dread at the boats ahead of him and then back at the Stoat now somewhat visible against the backdrop of snow surrounding him.[1]

“Well, I say,” Squirrel murmured. “That explains…”

“I don’t have all day now, Squirrel, hurry up! Chop-Chop!” and Stoat turned away as if he was to leave. To say Squirrel was terrified would not be entirely accurate. But his determination not to make this a completely failed adventure motivated him to turn back towards Stoat. His knees wobbled, and his hands shook, as he grabbed the portmanteau, and his head was, well, swimming, as he pressed on back the way he had come. It was certainly fascinating to see how slowly and delicately Squirrel ventured back to land. He was not even particularly sure where land began; nevertheless, with each soft, shaky step, Squirrel made his way closer to land. He thought that perhaps Stoat was a god of some sort, for now he could not see or hear him. And it was during an unfortunate moment when Squirrel decided to look up and see if he could find Squirrel that he made his fatal mistake.

He had been, up to this point, careful not to step in any parts of the snow he had previously trampled on, so as not to give the ice anymore reason to break from under him. However, common with any species, with each step Squirrel became more confident the ice was not going to crack beneath him, and this thought led to pride, a pride, I am sorry to say, that caused him to stop taking the necessary precautions of looking where he stepped.

Now, Squirrel felt, or perhaps knew, his folly before he experienced the effects. With eyes glued to the north in search of Stoat, Squirrel continued to walk in that direction, albeit carefully. And he managed, for a little while at least, to dodge his prior tracks, until, at once, one of those steps felt a little deeper than the others. Having stepped into his former track, and with eyes ahead, not down, his momentum was carried forward, causing him to lose hold of his portmanteau and fall flat on his face.

Aside from a face full of snow, Squirrel was initially not too depressed about the situation. That is until he heard the first faint “cracking,” which sounded distinctly like the embers of a dying fire. Immediately, Squirrel was transported back to his warm hole in the old oak on the shore of the lake—a lake he never dreamed of floating on. He thought about his warm fire and comfy slippers; about the acorn rum and sweet acorn pie enjoyed on blustery evenings like the one he was currently experiencing. He thought about his warm bowl of acorn tobacco, how he could smoke late into the evening and blow smoke-rings into his fire, which, after inter-mingling with the smoke, would weave and wind its way up the chimney before escaping out the side of the old oak. The warm thoughts warmed Squirrel’s heart, and in the deep reverie, a smile formed on his face, and he forgot his current woes. But all dreams must conclude, and a deeper “crack” jolted Squirrel from his dream and reminded him of his plight. Terrified, Squirrel lay stunned.

As any common Squirrel will do in a road when pursued by a car, the first thought Squirrel had was to turn back and go the other way. However, a quick glance to the south showed that his plan would be folly, for the other shore was a distance away, and moreover, the portmanteau lay in the opposite direction. Unsure of how to proceed without causing more damage to the ice, Squirrel began to slowly crawl towards the bank, now roughly fifty feet in front. Not hearing anymore groaning from below, Squirrel maneuvered himself away from his tracks he had previously made, so that considerable distance was between him and his prior path. He now had lost all hope in getting help from Stoat, as he was unable to clearly perceive any figure on the shore.

“A dream vision,” he thought. “All a dream vision.”

And with those thoughts, Squirrel was rather dismayed, for even if he was fortunate to make it to shore, he knew not where to go or what to do without a guide. But something to know about Squirrels is that they are both blessed and cursed with short memories. Though dismayed about his prospects on the shore, Squirrel very much longed for those prospects over his current situation, and because Squirrel was thus determined to reach the shore, he began to forget, rather quickly, that the ice had begun cracking. Indeed, had Squirrel known that, he would not have been so foolhardy. But Squirrel figured that because he had simply dashed out onto the ice before, perhaps he could do so to get back to shore. Squirrel, still somewhat shakey, slowly rose to his feet and decided he would go for it. With each step Squirrel became more determined and yet more certain that he would make the shore without any complications. Thirty feet away, now twenty; fifteen feet away, now ten. But then!

“Alas!” thought Squirrel. “My portmanteau!” Stopping in his tracks just five feet from dry land, Squirrel stood, staring with intensity at his portmanteau, about thirty feet from the shore, yet in the same line as his previous path he made upon entering the lake. Staring at the portmanteau, Squirrel battled thoughts of a return for the coveted suitcase and safety on shore. “O my acorns! O my tobacco and pipe!” thought Squirrel. Screwing his courage, Squirrel at once looked across the cove with the air of a noble conqueror. He looked at the huge wooden house with steam coming out of its chimney; he looked at the row of boats and then across the waters to the opposite shores.

“Cove,” he said out-loud. “I have conquered you twice already. I have ran out on your frozen waters; I have planted myself in your midst as if you were mere land; I have made my way back—both with the carefulness of a subservient servant and then as I entered, as one who is the true master; I have fallen only to rise; been terrified only to laugh at your dangers. Nothing you throw at me can stop me now; no ice of yours is too thin for me; yes, you have taken my portmanteau; you have stolen what rightfully belongs to me; and I will tempt you once again to reclaim what is mine; I will head back for my portmanteau.”

And with his two mittened hands raised in the air as he said these final words, Squirrel made his way back. But he did not dash out as before, nor did he crawl with carefulness. No, but he walked as one would suppose Pike or Lewis[2] once walked. He stepped the step of a conqueror, and with that first step broke clean through a sheet of ice, as if the heavens had tossed a bowling ball onto it. Immediately, a hole more than large enough for a squirrel opened up and swallowed him. Intense cold shot through his fir, and he saw only the black waters surrounding him. As luck would have it, he saw a bright light and the hole, and he was able to clear it and stick his head out, screaming for help. But his screams lasted for only a moment before he was sucked back into the hole slipping from the ice he grabbed. Final thoughts of another hole in a tree in an old oak returned to him briefly before more pain entered him. He began to see only black and then a sharp, shooting light, a pain in his right shoulder, movement upwards, more pain in his head, a flash, and then, nothing.

Broom Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in Manhattan, KS
January, 2015

Painting: “A Red Squirrel Eating a Nut”
By Basil Bradley,
Oil on millboard, n.d.

___________________________________

[1] Stoats are known for taking on a white, fur coat in the winter months.

[2] Zebulon Pike and Meriwether Lewis

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