Sunday, January 21, 2007

Lana Reddin

Lana Reddin

5 feet tall
reddish hair
green eyes… maybe blue
clothes, lovely garments
smile, most warm and welcoming
always joyous

time, measured by minutes
seasons, years
lost, never to return
how do I capture all that
I treasure?

Vineyard house, sandy beach, warm
sun , ocean’s sound
laughter, talk of days
past, relationships, friendship




Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Did you ever have a moment in your life when you were in deep, sorrowful pain and no one was around to hold you?

That is how I felt when you left today.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Summer Nights

Summer Nights

summer nights
sweetly perfumed air
gently caressing

dancing lightening bugs
frogs serenading
moonlight embracing

pure bed
lush green grass
cradling you

thoughts of tomorrow
safely told
friends take



summer nights

Fields, Forests, Friends & Family

Fields, Forests, Friends and Family
Written by Ernest F. McGray, Jr.

Chapter One

“Making Friends”

All over the world, there are fields and forests full of friends and family. We came to this particular place because this is where the young field mouse Hedges and his friends live. This place is called the Near Forest. Beyond the Near Forest is the large field known as Firefly Field because of all the fireflies that light up at night. In the far distance of the Firefly Field is the Far Forest. The Near and Far Forest families meet with each other regularly. Some of the families in the Near Forest have relatives that live in the Far Forest and some families in the Far Forest have families that live in the Near Forest.

Hedges loves this place. Even though he is only two, he already knows the great places to explore, hide and play. All his friends and family are here too.

Hedges’ best friend is Shorts. Shorts is a mole. They met soon after Hedges was brought home. It was in the middle of winter and Shorts was playing in the snow tunnels.

During the winter season, the Near Forest is all under snow. To keep the young-ones safe and away from the cold wind, the Near Forest has snow tunnels that reach every house.

On this particular day, Shorts was playing in front of the Thistle’s house. Mrs. Thistle came out and let everyone look at her new baby, Hedges. At first no one was saying anything. You see Hedges is not a regular field mouse.

Hedges’ tail is rather long. Longer than even the oldest field mouse in the Near or Far Forest.

Shorts was the only one who didn’t notice this. He walked, or moled, up to Hedges and placed his wiggling nose right up to Hedges. Hedges lifted his head and started to wiggle his nose too. Shorts had just been brought home only a few days ago, but he already knew the snow tunnels really well. And because he was a mole, he made snow tunnels faster than almost anyone.

“Can Hedges come play with me in the snow tunnels Mrs. Thistle?” asked Shorts.

“Well…all right Shorts. I don’t see any reason why not. Just have Hedges home before it gets dark,” and Mrs. Thistle let Hedges down and off went two new best friends. That was two winters ago, and Hedges and Shorts are still the best of friends.

Later on, Hedges surprised his mother and asked her why his tail was so long.

“Well Hedges, when you were being brought to us by the Cardinal, he was carrying you by your tail. Most Cardinals bring their deliveries in a basket. But this Cardinal was new and he didn’t have a basket. As he flew and flew, your tail got longer and longer. By the time you arrived here, your tail was twice as long. Your father and I just knew it meant you were extra special,” and with that explanation, Hedges didn’t ask or have a problem with his unusually long tail ever again.

After Hedges and Shorts became friends, so did their parents. Just like Hedges and Shorts, the Thistles and Grounds are always together. Hedges’ dad builds houses for those who live above ground. And Shorts’ dad builds houses below ground for those who want to live in the ground. Mrs. Thistle and Mrs. Ground see each other almost every day.

Shorts lives at the bottom of the hill where the Thistles’ house, made of three very large stones, sits atop of. And since Hedges and Shorts are the same age, the Thistles and the Grounds help each other out when it is needed.

Because of Hedges and Shorts dad’s knowledge of homes, they lead the Spring Committee. Every spring when the snow melts, all the families that live close to or in the ground have to lock-up and move away from home for a couple of weeks. After most of the melting show has run off and away from their homes, everyone takes down the barricades and moves back in. The Thistles are lucky since their house is made of stones and it sits on top of a hill. Because of this, they don’t have to move. During the Great Spring Melt, the Grounds stay with the Thistles since their house is so high up. This is Hedges and Shorts favorite time together. But Shorts still likes it when he can go back home after the Great Spring Melts are over.

Another friend of Hedges and Shorts it Toes. Toes and his parents, the Dews, live high up in an oak tree. Shorts, who doesn’t climb very well, has never been inside Toes house. As a matter of fact, that’s where the three met.

Hedges climbed the Dews house; not knowing anyone lived there, and was dropping acorns down to Shorts below. Suddenly…bam! Hedges is run into by something and falls onto the branch he was standing on. “Hey, what was that for!” Hedges screams.

“Hi, I’m Toes,” explains the tree frog. Do you want to be my friend?”

“Your friend?” Hedges asks a little surprised, “Why would I want to be your friend, you just knocked me over for no reason?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you would like to have some fun,” Toes continues, “Who’s that you’re throwing our acorns to?”

“Our acorns. Do you live hear?” asks Hedges.

“Yes, but don’t mind taking the acorns, there is more than enough for us,” Toes offers.

“Well thanks. That’s Shorts. He can’t climb very well, so I throw them down for him to catch. He’s my best friend,” Hedges states proudly.

“So do you want to be friends?” Toes asks anxiously.

“As long as you don’t jump on me anymore.” And Hedges heads down the tree to where Shorts is gathering all the acorns. Toes follows behind.

And that is how Toes met Hedges and Shorts. That was two years ago in the spring, after the Great Spring Melt. Toes rarely goes out in the winter, so when spring comes around, Hedges and Shorts are really happy. Especially Shorts, since he can’t climb Toes house.

Another friend of Hedges, Shorts and Toes is Cone. Cone is only a little under a year. He was brought home in the summer. He is so small, and all three of them protect him like a brother, even Shorts, and Shorts is not the bravest. Even thought Cone is such a small snake, he is fearless. Nothing scares him, and he is always looking and going into places he shouldn’t. But he is really fun to be around, and he likes being with his friends.

Hedges first met Cone at his dad’s, Mr. Green, firefly shop. Hedges came in to have a new firefly house made for his sleeping room and Cone was snaking around the shop. Hedges and Cone hit it off immediately and have been friends since.

What is a firefly house? Well, at night when it is dark, all the fireflies live in these glass houses. While they are in the glass houses, they light up their tails. When they light up their tales, the glass houses light up the rooms they are in. Everyone in the Near and Far Forest has a glass house in every room in their home. It works really well. The fireflies have a place to stay at night and during the winter, and everyone else has light when they need it. The fireflies know when they are needed. If they are not needed, they are allowed to fly and play with other fireflies in the Firefly Field. It has always been this way, and everyone likes the arrangement.

At night when Hedges is in bed, he likes to let the fireflies out of their glass house. If you ask them nicely, and Hedges always asks nicely, fireflies will do a light dance for you. He loves to watch them dance in his room with their lighted tails making different shapes and movements. He falls asleep and the fireflies either go back into their house or they go the Firefly Field.

- - - - -

Chapter Two

“Cone’s First Excursion”

“Does everyone have their food and things?” asks Toes.

“Got it!” replies Cone.

“As set,” Hedges answers.

“Mmmhmm,” Shorts says quietly.

“Great, let’s go!” continues Toes.

And off they went further into the Near Forest. Cone is excited, he has never been any further into the Near Forest than the fast moving water.

“Do you think the fish will be in the fast moving water yet?” asks Cone.

“I don’t know if they will. It may be too early in the Spring for them,” Hedges responds.

“Where are they if they are not in the fast moving water?” Cone questions.

Hedges looks at Shorts who looks at Toes, none of who knew the answer. But Toes, who talks about anything even though he knows nothing about it replies, “When the Winter comes to the Near Forest the fish swim away, far, far away from the cold. When the snow melts during the Great Spring Melts and the fast moving water moves even faster, the fish know this means it’s time to return. It can take them five to six days to make it back to their homes. During their trip back, they stop at friend’s and families’ homes and they feast. The feasting is to give them strength to continue their journey. And once the fish reach their homes, they will have feasts for the fish who are to continue to reach their homes. After 12 days, most of the fish have reached their homes, and the feasts stop until next Spring.” Toes finishes proudly.

The others look at Toes and then look at cone. “Yea, yea, that’s how it is,” Hedges and Shorts reassure Cone. Not quite sure Toes knows what he is saying, but agreeing it does sound right.

Actually Toes is right. Toes’ dad, Mr. Dew, told Toes the story.

You see, years before, when all frogs still lived in the fast moving water, they were a part of the traveling in the Winter and Spring and all the feasts. But some frogs, like the Dews, for some reason climbed out of the water and headed into the trees. This was many, many lives ago, before Toes parents and before Toes’ parents’ parents were around. But the story has been told from parent to child, and is still close to what really happens. It actually takes up to 35 days for the fish to return, depending how close the fish live to the North Pole. The closer to the North Pole, the longer it takes to return. It takes the Near Forest fish up to 14 days to return.

The four friends reach the fast moving water and see no fish. This only makes Toes more proud, and it helps the others to agree with Toes explanation. The fast moving water is still moving faster than usual, so the four friends have to find a place they can walk over it. Hedges looks to the North and Shorts and Toes look to the South.

“Do you guys see anything?” Hedges asks.

“Nothing,” Toes replies sadly.

In the meantime, Cone slithers back and forth between the two look-outs all excited, hoping they do find something they can crawl over on. ‘Crawl over on’ Cone thinks to himself. “That’s it!”

“What’s it Cone?” Hedges asks.

“Instead of looking for something to walk over on, how about something we can sit on that will run over the fast moving water to the other side,” Cone says all excited he had a great idea.

“Hmmmmm, that’s not half bad, hey Shorts, Toes what do you think of this?” Hedges yells down to his two friends.

“Think of what?” Toes replies.

“Cone came up with a great idea. How about getting something that will move on top of the fast moving water towards the other side?” Hedges explains. “All we have to do is decide what will work.”

So the four of them get back together and start searching for something that will stay on top of the fast moving water and will hold all four of them.

“How about this?” Toes points to a log that is rotted out on one side.

“Hmmmm.” Hedges thinks aloud. “We could all sit in this part, let’s try it!”

Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone move the log closer to the fast moving water.

“This is heavy,” states Cone. “But it will stay on top of the fast moving water.” Cone really has no idea whether it will stay on top of the fast moving water or not, but his confidence helps the others believe it will.

The log is placed on the edge of the fast moving water. Hedges and Toes get mud and old leaves and moss to patch up the rotted ends of the log to keep the water out.

Cone and Shorts get inside the log as Hedges and Toes push one end into the fast moving water. Shorts starts to get nervous. Cone heads straight up to the front of the log to look out onto the fast moving water. His eyes are big and excited.

Toes jumps in the log and hedges pushes the other end out onto the fast moving water and hops into the log.

At first the log rocks back and forth from side to side. But once Hedges and Toes settle in, the log stops moving.

Quickly the log picks up speed and heads with the fast moving water.

“How come we’re going that way and not to the other side,” Hedges yells to keep his voice above all the noise of the fast moving water.

Shorts does not move or say a word. He’s afraid that if he does anything the log will tip to one side and they will all fall into the fast moving water.

The log continues to head down the fast moving water and not toward any of the edges. As they continue to float, they look at the new surroundings.

“Have you ever been here before Shorts?” asks Hedges. Shorts doesn’t answer or turn around.

“Shorts!” Hedges raises his voice. No response.

“SHORTS!” screams Hedges.

Cone turns around and looks at shorts and yells, “He’s scared!” and quickly turns back around to continue watching the fast moving water.

Slowly toes heads up to where Shorts is sitting, making sure the log doesn’t start to rock from side to side. Toes notices the log seems to not mover from side to side as easily as before. Hedges also notices it and gets up to also check on Shorts.

“It’s O.K. now Shorts. The log has been in the water long enough to know what it’s doing and where it’s going. We can move around and it doesn’t make the log move from side to side,” Hedges reassures Shorts.

Shorts clears his throat and slowly starts moving around. “Oh,” Shorts says quietly. “You’re right,” Shorts slowly starts moving around while still shaking. ‘Ahhh, this is nice’ Shorts says to himself.

Eventually Hedges, Shorts, Toes and even Cone start to get tired. They have been in the log for quite some time. It is starting to get dark and everyone notices how different the new surroundings are.

The sun seems so far away now. The trees are much larger and the forest is much darker. Hedges looks over and can only see the trees at the edge of the fast moving water. Behind those trees is nothing but darkness.

Hedges notices Cone is sitting on Shorts soft flurry feet while Shorts is slowly nodding off.

“Toes, gather some of these left over leaves. We’ll make some warm beds to sleep on.” Hedges whispers to Toes.

They gather up the smaller leaves and put them on the floor in the middle part of the log. That part has a rotted out hole that is deeper than the rest of the log. This will keep everyone warm and away from the wind and splash from the fast moving water.

Hedges wakes up Shorts. Shorts quietly and carefully picks up Cone and they go into the hole that was made into a warm bed. Hedges and Toes gather some of the larger leaves and some of the moss and also climb into the hole. Toes puts large leaves over the top of the hole to shed them from the cold. HedSes puts the soft moss around them to make sure everyone is comfortable and warm. Shorts is in the middle with Cone nestled against him to his little self warm with Shorts’ furry body. Hedges and Toes are on either side of Cone and Shorts.

The continuous movement of the log puts everyone quickly to sleep.
- - - - - - -
It is bright and sunny. Cones’ parents are putting food on the rock while Cone and his friends are playing with the
grasshoppers and butterflies. Cone can smell the food. It smells so good. Cone hides behind a large pine-code waiting to
jump out and scare Shorts. Then suddenly it gets dark and cold. Cone’s parents and friends are gone.
- - - -- - -

“Uh,” Cone gasps and awakens. “Oh,” Cone realizes he was dreaming and begins to cry.

Shorts awakens and hears Cone crying. He puts his warm, furry arm around Cone and hums softly. Cone quickly goes back to sleep and Shorts does soon after.

They all suddenly wake with a big BOOM!

“We’ve hit the other side!” screams Cone. Everyone quickly gets up out of the hole and looks to see what has happened. Sure enough, Cone was right. Everyone quickly grabs their things and jumps onto the other side of the fast moving water.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” Toes exclaims!

“Not at all!” Cone agrees.

“Piece of cake,” Hedges states.

“MMMHMMM, that was fun,” Shorts says quietly.

They all look at each other and start laughing.

“Whew, I’m glad that’s over!” Hedges breaks out while laughing.

“Let’s go!!!” screams Cone.

“Wow, look at this place, I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Toes says while looking all around.

As everyone walks around, the bright, warm sun makes them forget about the dark and dreary night they just had.

- - - -

Chapter Three

“New Friends”

Hedges thinks aloud, “Wow, could someone live here?”

In front of Hedges, Toes, Shorts and Cone is a large hill with a hole in the front of it. The hole is wide but not very tall.

“What is that sound?” asks Cone.

“I can hear it too,” says Toes.

“Wwwee better get back in the log,” Shorts suggests, while shaking nervously.

“Not until we see who lives here,” Hedges responds. Hedges continues towards the hill with Cone and Toes quickly behind him. Shorts on the other hand is walking very quietly and staying far back from the other three.

‘I’m not going near that noise, it could be a very hungry monster’ Shorts says to himself. ‘And everyone knows that a little mole is always what monsters like.’

“Shorts, are you coming! Toes yells back. Shorts pretends not to hear Toes and looks the other way.

“Shorts, did you hear me?” Toes continues. “O.K., stay over there all by yourself, all alone. If something happens none of us would now…”

Shorts never moved faster in all his life. Before toes had time to turn around and yell at Shorts again, Shorts was beside him, panting for any air he could breath.

“Good to see you Shorts,” Toes states with a smile.

Shorts smiles politely and nods his head, and continues to walk with others.

Cone and Hedges are now at the entrance of the hole. It is all rock, with dripping water from above them, and there is grass and trees and vines growing all around the hole entrance.

The sound they heard before is much louder, and a breeze constantly comes from inside the large hill.

“Hello? Anyone there?” Hedges asks.

Hedges enters into the large hill, with Cone and Toes right behind him. Shorts finally decides to come in as well.

There is a long tunnel, also made of rock, that leads down into the hill. There is a dim light towards the right side of the rock tunnel. Hedges, Cone, Toes and even Shorts are now really excited, wondering who is down there.

Everyone stays close together, trying to be as quiet as possible. The sound they have been hearing is now more distinct. It sounds like voices, many voices.

Hedges says one more time, “Hello?”

There is no response, possibly all the voices cannot hear Hedges.

Toes decides Hedges isn’t speaking loud enough, and at the top of his lungs yells, “Hello!”

Suddenly, all the voices at the end of the rock tunnel stop. The entire hole and rock tunnel went silent; you could hear the water dripping at the entrance of the hole.

“Uh oh!” exclaims Cone.

The light that was dimming at the end of the tunnel went out.

“Uh oh!” Cone says again. He quickly climbs onto Shorts’ shoulders, and he repeats, “Uh oh!”

“Hello, who is there?” asks Hedges. “I am Hedges, these are my friends; Shorts, Toes and Cone. We saw this great hill and we heard some voices, so we wanted to stop in and say hello.”

Then hundreds of eyes appeared where the dim light was before it went out. There were BIG eyes, small eyes, eyes of all sizes looking at these four friends.

“What are you going here?” a quiet voice asks.

“Like I said, we heard voices and we wanted to say hi,” Hedges continues, “Who are you?”

“What do you want, you shouldn’t be here. Please leave us alone, we want to be left alone,” the same quiet voice says.

“But why do you want to be left alone, don’t you like having friends around?” Toes asks.

“We are all friends here, but we never have seen anyone else before, we are nervous and shy,” the voice responds.

Shorts moans in agreement and says quietly, “I am also shy and nervous, but I realized hiding is not the way to live.”

“We just wanted to say hi, that’s all,” Cone says. And the four start to leave.

A very tiny pair of eyes flies around the four friends and he says quietly, “Please stay, we will welcome you.”

And with that, the dim light comes back on. The pair of small eyes are now gone, but the same quiet voice says, “Come towards the light, we are in here.”

“This is exciting!” says Cone.

Everyone is excited and a little nervous, especially Shorts.

They reach the end of the rock tunnel and to the right is a very large room, also made of rock.

The room shines, but there are no glass houses of fireflies. Instead they have these glowing rocks all over the room, and these rocks make the room light up with a soft golden color.

The small eyes that met the four before, now is in view. He has two eyes, two feet, and hands, but with wings. Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone look at this peculiar new friend. He looks like the Birches, who live at the edge of the Near Forest overlooking the firefly field. Only the Birches don’t have hands on the ends of their wings.

“I am Hedges,” Hedges starts and points to Shorts, “This is my friend Shorts,” Hedges continues by pointing at Toes and cone, “And these are my friends Toes and Cone.”

“Hi, I’m Flapper, and these are all my family and friends,” Flapper explains, “We live here because we don’t like the sun. We only go outside at night.”

At that statement, many of Flapper’s friends and family come out of their homes, which open up to the large room. Most come from way above, flying down to the floor. Others stay in their doorways, which are high above the floor in the walls all around. Many of them greet Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone. Flapper’s friends Nectar even takes Cone for a ride around the great room.

“Wow, this is great, weeeeee!” exclaims Cone as they fly around the room. It actually isn’t a great room, but the center of town for the newfound friends. There are many doors, all throughout the4 walls of the town center where everyone lives. As Flapper had said, they only go outside at night, because they get too hot in the sunlight. Flapper called this great hill where they all live ‘Moundhaven’.

Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone are the first outsiders to ever know of this place.

“Would you do us all a favor?” asks Flapper and his friends.

“Of course,” answers Hedges.

Flapper requests, “Please don’t tell anyone of Moundhaven, we wish to keep our home a secret.”

“We will, but why?” asks Toes.

“Our home is very important to us. A long time ago, before my parents’ parents were around, we were being destroyed. We survived by finding places like Moundhaven to call our home. We fly at night to also keep ourselves out of sight. We visit others like us who live many, many places away. We want to be the ones to make ourselves known, not let others do that for us. Being cautious is what has helped us survive for so long, so please, shall you?” the Moundhavens plead.

“We will do what you wish,” Hedges responds. “But we must leave now, my parents are going to be wondering what happened to me and my friends. It was great meeting you and to see you home. I hope we meet again.”

“Bye!” Cone yells to everyone.

Shorts waves as they leave the town center.

While in the rock tunnel, Toes yells, “Hope to see you again sometime!”

With all the good-byes, Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone leave.

Later that night, after walking many miles, they all reach the Near Forest, tired and glad to be home.

“This was exciting, I am so glad I went with you guys!” exclaims Cone, “Good-bye, see you tomorrow.”

“This really was a great excursion, but we must promise to tell no one,” Toes responds as he leaves to go home.’
“Well,” says Shorts.

“Yeah, well,” says Hedges, “I’ll see you in the morning, good night.”

“Hedges, we really found some nice new friends, didn’t we?” asks Shorts shyly.

“We sure did Shorts, we sure did.”

- - - - - -

Chapter Four


“Hedges!” Mrs. Thistle yells up the stairs towards Hedges sleeping room.

It is the morning, and Mrs. Thistle is trying to get Hedges out of bed. Hedges had previously told his mom that Shorts, Toes, Cone and he were going over to see the Birches’ new house.

The Birches use to live in a very old, very large oak tree on the edge of the Firefly Field. During the winter, a very windy storm blew their house down. So during the Spring, the Near Forest helped the Birches build and move into their new home. It is now built on a large peeling tree.

It is called a peeling tree because the tree’s white bark peels as it grows larger to make room for its new bark.

The Birches have always been known for throwing fun, exciting get-togethers every year. Their old house overlooked the Firefly Field, and at night it was beautiful to watch the fireflies flicker in the night. The Birches’ new house is only a few trees away from their old one, and they still have the great view of the Firefly Field. It should be a nice home, since Mr. Birches build homes above, in trees (like Shorts’ dad builds homes below ground and Hedge’s dad builds homes above ground). Mr. and Mrs. Birches actually built Mr. and Mrs. Dew’s house (Toes mom and dad). Mrs. Birches is the designer, she decides where the best place to build a home is, and which spot is the strongest and safest from wind and rain and other elements. Mr. Birches is the one actually does all the building, although without Mrs. Birches he would run out of materials all the time. Mr. and Mrs. Birches never had any young-ones, so they love having all the Near Forest young-ones over a lot.

Hedges finally gets up, and his friends are waiting for him in the kitchen. Mrs. Thistle is feeding everyone, and Hedges’ food was ready when he came into the kitchen. Mr. Thistle was cleaning the sleeping rooms and the rest of the house. The Thistles are having the Spring Committee over to check and see how this year’s Great Spring melt went, and whether the committee will have to make changes or alternative plans for the next years Great Spring Melt.

“Is everyone ready?” asks Hedges, as he gets up and heads towards the sittingroom.

Shorts and Toes follow Hedges, but Cone hasn’t quite finished his breakfast, so he is still in the kitchen. After Toes and Hedges pester Cone for the fifth time, he finally follows them.

“Did you hear about Mrs. Willow?” asks Cone.

“What about her?” asks Hedges.

“I was told that she fell and hurt her tail,” Cone answers.

“Is she home?” asks Toes.

“Yes, but she can’t get around too much, so I thought we could go over there after we see the Birches,” Cone suggests.

“Sure!” says Toes.

“We’re there!” Hedges demands.

“O.K.” Shorts says quietly.

As they head towards the Firefly Field, they pass Mr. Mud’s office. Mr. Mud is the Near Forest’s Helper. Whenever anyone gets hurt, or doesn’t feel well, Mr. Mud will help them get better. Being a toad, Mr. Mud knows about which plants help for whatever ailment.

Toes suggests they stop in, maybe Mrs. Willow needs some of Mr. Mud’s help food.

Hedges greets, “Hi Mr. Mud”.

“Well hello, how are my favorite friends?” Mr. Mud says, buttering them up.

“We wanted to know if you have anything for Mrs. Willow, we are going over there on our way back from seeing the Birches’ new house,” Toes asks.

“Actually, I do, but it’s not ready yet. I’ll have it finished and packaged before you get back,” Mr. Mud states.

Mr. Mud has been the Near Forest’s Helper since anyone can remember. Mrs. Mud has been gone for a while. Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone never knew her. Everyone in the Near Forest says that the Mud’s were always happy, always ready to help anyone who needed it. With that, Hedges and the gang head out to the Birches.

“Isn’t this the Birches old house?” Toes asks.

“It looks like it,” states Hedges.

“It seems so small now, not big like it used to be,” Cone explains.

“We had so much fun up there, now it’s down here,” Shorts points to the large trunk that is in front of them.

They walk around the old, broken home and in a few moments time they were at the Birches’ new home.

“Hello up there!” Toes cries out. And suddenly a lift is lowered. It is part of the outdoor room that fell with the old house. Mrs. Birches put nice furniture in it. ‘There is no reason our friends have to sit on old things just because they are in a lift’ Mrs. Birches states whenever anyone asks her why she has such nice things in her lift. It is a good thing that Mr. and Mrs. Birches are always building, because Mrs. Birches likes very nice things.

Everyone piles on, and up, up, up and up they go. As they rise higher and higher, more and more of the Firefly Field and more and more of the Far Forest come into view.

“Wow!” Shorts says under his breath.

Even though Shorts has been up to see the Birches many times, he never gets tired of seeing things from so far above. Shorts cannot climb very well, so he doesn’t get a lot of chances to see things so far up.

Cone has only been to the Birches old house once, so he finds the whole trip really exciting. Actually Cone finds almost everything exciting, that’s why his friends love him so much. Just like the old house, the Birches have a large outdoor room where you can stand, sit, talk, look out over the Firefly Field, they even have a cooking stone outside so they can cook and eat. Mrs. Birches even has furniture outside during the warmer times that is just as nice as her furniture in the sittingroom.

“Welcome my friends,” Mr. Birches greets. “Mrs. Birches is with the Nights, they are having a baby, so they want a bigger house. Mrs. Birches should be back in a few moments.” Mr. Birches continues, “Now, what can I get you, oh but first, would you like to see the rest of our new house?”

“Yeah,” Toes responds, thinking ‘well that’s what we came for’.

“This is so much fun,” Cone says excitedly.

And everyone heads into the new house. The kitchen is the first thing you see. Actually, it’s the first place you come in, but you see the kitchen and sittingroom all at once. The kitchen itself is huge. Mrs. Birches is always cooking for friends, so she has two cooking stones, not counting the one in the outdoor room. Beyond the kitchen is a room so large, you could fit Hedges whole house in it. When you walk into the sittingroom, you look up and you see four levels of balconies overlooking the sittingroom. Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone had seen only one other place that had a sittingroom so big; it was at Moundhaven, where they met their friend Flapper. But they didn’t say anything; because they promised all the Moundhavens they wouldn’t tell anyone about them. They all agreed it is really amazing to look at. Mr. and Mrs. Birches need the space to fly around in when they can’t go outside. As for the four levels of balconies, Mr. and Mrs. Birches have a lot of friends and relatives that live in the Far Forest, and they visit the Near Forest quite often. So they have four levels of sleeping areas. Each level has four sleeping rooms, so in all they have 16 sleeping rooms. Each sleeping room has its own entrance from the outside also. It’s handy when one is trying to cook in the kitchen. Mr. Birches shows each sleeping room, which each one is done differently. One sleeping room has a large bed, and then 5 small beds. “This room is for one of our friends who has 4 young-ones and a baby being delivered by the Cardinal anytime now,” Mr. Birches states. “And the reason we have this sleeping room with lots of shelves and books is one of our relatives loves to read and write.” Mr. Birches continues to show each sleeping room. Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone are having a great time seeing all these rooms.

“Hello, I hear some of my best friends,” a voice from the sittingroom rises up, into the sleeping room Mr. Birches is showing, it’s Mrs. Birches.

Everyone runs out and looks down from the balcony above, “Hi Mrs. Birches,” they all scream at the same time. And everyone goes down to the large sittingroom to meet Mrs. Birches. “Would you like something to eat?” Mrs. Birches asks while walking into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Birches, but we have to go. We have some help food we need to pick up and give to Mrs. Willow. She fell and hurt her tail,” explains Toes.

“Oh dear, wait just a moment.” Mrs. Birches goes through her food cabinets. “I’ll package this up… please give this to Mrs. Willow from Mr. Birches and me.” Hedges takes the package of food and they all descend on the lift and head to Mrs. Willow’s house.

“That was neat, I wish I lived there,” explains Cone.

“It is nice, but I like living at home,” Shorts says quietly.

“If my mom and dad lived there, I wouldn’t mind living there,” Toes decides.

“Actually, I like my sleeping room, but that sittingroom is really neat. Did it remind anyone of Moundhaven,” Hedges whispers the word Moundhaven.

“Yea,” Cone says excitedly.

“It sure did, I had all I could do not to say anything in the house,” Toes responds.

“MMHMMM,” hums Shorts. Everyone was then silent.

While walking back to Mr. Mud’s to pick up the help food, no one is thinking of anything but Moundhaven and the nice friends they met there.

Along the route back to Mr. Mud’s, Hedged decides he wants to stop by and see Ms. Bristlecone. Ms. Bristlecone just had the Cardinal visit her, and her new baby is named Pine. Of course, everyone agreed.

“Well hello, it’s really nice to see you. Would you like to come in for a little snack of pine fruit and maple juice?” Ms. Bristlecone offers.

“Sure!” exclaims Hedges.

“Thank you Ms. Bristlecone,” Toes politely responds.

“That looks delicious!” Cone says excitedly.

“Thank you,” Shorts says sweetly.

Hedges eats his snack neatly. Toes gulfs down his quickly, as usual. Shorts nibbles at his snack, and says very little. Cone eats quickly, but takes tiny bites, and as usual he is last to finish. Ms. Bristlecone tells everyone about the games Pine and her parents played while she watched.

“After my parents left, we had to take Pine over to Mr. Mud for his usual look-at,” Ms. Bristlecone finishes, “everything is fine.”

“Mr. Mud, oh my!” Hedges says in surprise, “We have to go! We have to pick up some help; food for Mrs. Willow, she fell and broke her tail!”

With a frenzy, everyone quickly thanks Ms. Bristlecone and rushes out the door. But before they were all out… “Wait!” Ms. Bristlecone requests, “Would you please give this to Mrs. Willow, tell her it is from Pine and me and we hope she is feeling better.” Ms. Bristlecone hands Shorts a knitted bag full of soft pine needles. “Tell Mrs. Willow to use this while sitting, she will be more comfortable, thanks!”

The four of them left and rushed over to Mr. Mud’s place. Mr. Mud was helping Shades. Shades mother, Mrs. Cranberry was teaching Shades how to fly-jump, and the branch she was landing on broke under her weight and she and the branch fell to the ground.

“Give this to your mother after she eats her meals, and make sure she stays off that leg,” Mr. Mud tells Shades.

“O.K., thanks Mr. Mud, my mom also thanks you,” Shades humbly thanks Mr. Mud and leaves the store after saying hello to Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone.

“Mrs. Cranberry will be fine, this is a normal occurrence with flying squirrels,” Mr. Mud reassures the four friends.

“Is everything ready for Mrs. Willow?” Hedges asks.

“Oh yes, I put it over here for when you came back,” Mr. Mud walks over to the cabinets by the door. “Tell Mrs. Willow I will be over the day after tomorrow for another look-at. What do you all have there?” Mr. Mud inquires.

“The birches gave us the food, and Ms. Bristlecone gave us the soft knitted bag full of pine needles, all for Mrs. Willow.” Hedges shows Mr. Mud the two items.

“Well, that is really nice of them, remember, tell Mrs. Willow I’ll be over the day after tomorrow.” Mr. Mud reminds them. “And thank you for taking her help food over for me.”

The four of them head out. Mrs. Willow lives a fair distance from Mr. Mud’s place. Mr. Mud is near the Firefly Field. Mrs. Willow is at the other end, closer to the fast moving water. Somewhere in between is where Hedges and Shorts live. Toes lives closer to Mrs. Willow’s house, and Cone lives closer to Mr. Mud, the Birches and Ms. Bristlecone’s home. Cone lives close to the Firefly Field because his dad, Mr. Dew, makes firefly glass houses.

As the four friends walk towards Mrs. Willow’s place, they run into Mr. Clove. Mr. Clove is best friends with Mr. Mud. They have been friends since they were young-ones. Mr. Clove helps anyone out who needs it. If the Birches need help putting together a party, Mr. Clove helps them. If Mr. Mud needs his work place organized, Mr. Clove will help. If the Grounds need help in getting their winter food stored, Mr. Clove will help. He is always helping someone, and being a beaver, it is only natural for Mr. Clove to be helpful.

“Mr. Clove, my mom told me if I see you, to ask you to come over for dinner whenever you can.” Toes offers.

“Well that would be delightful. I’m headed over to clean Mrs. Cranberry’s house. I’ll stop by after I’m finished. It shouldn’t be too long after dark. Where are you headed?” Mr. Clove asks.

“We’re delivering some help food to Mrs. Willow, from Mr. Mud. She fell and hurt her tail and she needs the help food to get better,” Hedges shows Mr. Clove the bag of help food.

“And what have we here?” Mr. Clove inquires, pointing at the things Toes is holding.

“This is some food from the Birches, and Pine and Ms. Bristlecone gave us this soft knitted bag to help Mrs. Willow when she is sitting, Toes states proudly.

“Would you mind coming to my house? I have some scented cones Mrs. Willow could use in her fire. The cones are said to relax and soothe when in pain,” as the gang heads over to Mr. Clove’s house, Mr. Clove continues, “I make these cones myself. I go all over the Near Forest and collect all kinds of plants. Then I add some maple tree sap and mix up all the ingredients and then place them in the cone. I then put the cones in water to get them to close up a little. I then keep them out to dry. They are a favorite of mine.” Everyone goes inside to Mr. Clove’s house.

In the entrance of the house, there is a large sittingroom with a massive fireplace on the left. As usual, Mr. Clove has some of his cones in the fire. The smell is really quite pleasing. To the right of the sittingroom is the kitchen. Looking from the entrance, there is a stairway that leads upstairs to a large balcony. There are three doors along the wall upstairs. There was never a Mrs. Clove, and Mr. Clove’s family all live in the Far forest. But Mr. Clove has been a part of the Near Forest since most can remember.

“Here Shorts,” Mr. Clove hands Shorts a leaf bag full of scented cones. “Tell Mrs. Willow to leave the cones far from the fireplace, in a dry, cool spot, and toss a couple when the fire has quieted down. If the fire is strong, place the cones away from the direct flames, sitting them on the stones. Thanks everyone, and tell Mrs. Willow I’ll be over in a few days to see if she needs anything done on her house.” With that, the gang leaves and heads to Mrs. Willow’s place.

Instead of going back where they just came from, Hedges suggests walking through the Old Forest. Mr. Clove lives on the edge of the Old Forest. The Old Forest has the largest trees in the entire Near Forest. This is where the first houses were built a long, long time ago. Mr. Clove’s house is one of the newer ones.

“Cool, I always like going through the Old Forest,” says Cone. “Everything is so big!” he continues.

“It will save us some time,” says Toes. “Do you think we should stop by Mrs. Cranberry’s house?” Toes asks.

“We should… all right,” Hedges agrees. Everyone else nods in approval.

“Mrs. Cranberry lives near the other end of the Old Forest, on the edge of Squirrel Corner. Squirrel Corner is the most crowded area in the Near Forest. But this is what the friends of Squirrel Corner like. They are all friends and family, and they like being together.

The four friends start entering the Old Forest. The trees tower high above, reaching as high as the eyes can see. The trunks are huge.

“All of Squirrel Corner could live in one tree!” Toes exclaims.

A long, long time ago, long before Mr. Mud was around, long before Mrs. Willow was born, homes were being built in the Old Forest. The trees were large and strong, even then. The trees protected anyone who lived there.

When the Near Forest grew, the Council realized the Old Forest was a treasure, so all agreed to move out of the Old Forest and keep it as a reminder of what once was.

All of the Near Forest takes care of the Old Forest. It is also a very popular place to be during the warm times.

Mr. and Mrs. Ground met there.

Toes quickly starts to climb up the largest tree in the Near Forest. Everyone calls the huge tree FRIEND. It is named Friend for two reasons. First, Friend was the Near Forest’s founder. Friend was an explorer. Even when she was a baby, legend has it, Friend explored parts of the Far Forest and the Firefly Field that no one dared to before. When Friend was older, she said goody-bye to her family and friends and went to explore the world on the other side of the Firefly Field. Two Summers, Two Falls, two Winters and two Springs went by before Friend returned to the Far Forest. She told of a world with towering trees, fast moving water, and absolute quiet.

Soon others from the Far Forest wanted to see for themselves this wondrous place. Many went to explore, but returned to the Far Forest. The isolation and quiet was too much.

But Friend stayed and she proclaimed this beautiful place Near Forest. Eventually others stayed and families were raised and friends were made for life.

The largest tree was named in Friend’s honor.

Secondly, the tree is named Friend because everyone thinks of the massive tree as an old friend, always there, always safeguarding, always welcoming.

Behind Toes, Hedges begins to climb. Cone, who can climb by squeezing his body between the layers of the bark, is not far behind. Shorts, who cannot climb very well, looks around for something else to do.

Hedges, realizing Shorts feels left out, tell Toes, who is ahead, and Cone, who is beside him, “We can’t do this, we’re letting Shorts feel left out. Let’s go back down.”

“O.K., yeah, you’re right,” Toes agrees. And Cone follows his two friends down the historic tree.

When they reach the bottom, Shorts is nowhere to be found. “Shorts?!” Hedges yells, panning around the area.

“Where are you Shorts?” Toes screams in earnest.

Cone climbs the tree again, to see if he can locate Shorts. “I don’t see him, where could he be?” Cone asks, a little concerned.

“He could be up here!” a voice above Cone states proudly.

“Who’s that?” Cone asks, startled. Cone whips his head around and looks up. “Shorts!!!” Cone screams.

Shorts just looks down at Cone and smiles a little proud smile.

With that yell, Hedges and Toes look up.

“Shorts!” the two friends yell, quite shocked to see Shorts up in the tree.

“How did you get up here?” Hedges asks while climbing the tree.

Toes, who is well equipped with big, sticky toes is all ready up where Shorts is. “Shorts, how did you do it, you hate to climb?” Toes is curious.

“I can’t climb trees very well, but I can climb vines,” Shorts continues proudly, “see the tree next to us, it has a vine that goes all around and up to the top of it. I climbed that tree and then walked along that branch,” while pointing to the tree and then the branch, following his path, “and on to this one. Pretty nice up here, isn’t it. It’s so peaceful.”

Hedges, who is so proud of his friend, just reaches them; listening to Shorts’ explanation while he was climbing up to them. Hedges looks at Shorts and says, “You really are something Shorts.” Then Hedges whispers to Shorts, “Is it any reason you’re my best friend.”

By this time, Toes and Cone are above Hedges and Shorts, jumping from one branch to another, seeing who can jump the best. Of course, Toes is the best. Toes knows his friends can’t jump around like he can, so he takes it slowly. If toes wanted to, he could disappear into the trees in a split second. His friends would never see him. When Toes is with his family, he can jump from tree to tree and reach the other end of the forest in no time. But while he is with his friends, he takes it easy, it’s only fair. As Toes puts it, ‘that’s what friends do for each other’.

The gang decides they better continue so Shorts heads back over to the other tree, and the others descend once again.

Toes is all ready below, getting all the things for Mrs. Willow together. Everyone else reaches Toes and they head off to see Mrs. Cranberry, and then Mrs. Willow.

As the gang reached the end of the Old Forest and enters Squirrel Corner, it starts to rain. Not just any rain, but down pour, drenching rain. Fortunately Mrs. Cranberry lives on the edge of Squirrel Corner, and the gang reaches her home quickly. Because the Old Forest and Squirrel Corner are dense in trees, the four friends only get a little wet.

Mrs. Cranberry lives in one of the large homes in Squirrel Corner. As a matter of fact, it was her great-great-grandfather who first moved to Squirrel Corner. Now Mrs. Cranberry and Shades live in her great-great grandfather’s home.

The gang walks up the Cranberry’s stairs (Mr. Cranberry’s mother could no longer fly-jump, which happens sometimes, so Mr. Cranberry built the stairs that go up inside the large tree, spiraling to the top) and Mrs. Cranberry welcomes them at the door.

“Mrs. Cranberry, what are you doing on your foot?” asks Hedges, surprised.

“Now, Now, did Mr. Mud send you over to check up on me?” Mrs. Cranberry said with smile and let them in.

“We are on our way to see Mrs. Willow, so we thought we would stop by and see how you were doing, “Toes says nicely, and continues, “and we have all these things to give to Mrs. Willow.”

“Oh that is so nice,” Mrs. Cranberry says while turning to call for Shades. “Shades; Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone are here.”

With that, Shades comes out into the kitchen with something he made for Mrs. Willow. “Hi, can you give this to Mrs. Willow, I made it for her?”

It was a small glass house decorated with a green and white vine around the neck of the glass house. The bottom of the glass has moss attached to it, to keep; the fireflies warm. All around the glass house are berries and flowers that have been dried. As shades is handing it to Toes, Mrs. Cranberry explains, “Shades decorates glass houses for family and friends. Each one looks different. Shades made all of them in the house, we just love them,” and Mrs. Cranberry puts her arm around Shades and squeezes him lovingly.

“Thanks Shades, we better get going, Mrs. Willow needs her help food,” says hedges, and off the four go.

After taking almost all day, the four friends finally reach Mrs. Willow. Mrs. Willow was standing outside her door and saying good-bye to Mr. Damp, who had stopped by to give Mrs. Willow a bag of new moss for her beds.

“Well will you look at that,” Mrs. Willow ways under her breath. As Hedges and his friends get closer, Mrs. Willow says, “This is a really nice surprise. You all look tired and hungry, why don’t you come inside for a while.”

And with that, they all go into the large hill know as Willow Hill.

Mrs. Willow asks her four guests to come into the sittingroom. As they do, Mrs. Willow looks a little uncomfortable sitting down. Toes takes this opportunity to give the gifts to Mrs. Willow.

“Here Mrs. Willow, I have something that will help you while you sit,” and Toes brings over the bags of things.

“Well what do we have here?” Mrs. Willow asks, smiling broadly.

“First, this is a knitted bag full of soft pine needles and leaves and moss from Ms. Bristlecone and Pine.” Toes hands Mrs. Willow the knitted bag.

Mrs. Willow gets up and sets the knitted bag down. Slowly Mrs. Willow sits down, and sighs “Ahhh, this is so nice. I’ll have to thank them myself when I feel better.”

Hedges then takes a turn, “Secondly we have your help food from Mr. Mud. Also Mr. Mud said he would be over the day after tomorrow.”

Cone, who has Shades glass house, steps up next, “And here we have a homemade glass house by Shades Cranberry. It is small enough to put almost anywhere,” Cone places the glass house next to Mrs. Willow, “and yet it is bright enough to use while sitting in your favorite chair, reading.”

“And here we have a bag of delicious food given to you by your friends, the Birches,” Toes says, while taking the food into the kitchen.

Shorts clears his throat and takes the bag Mr. Clove gave them. “These are scent cones from Mr. Clove. He made them himself,” Shorts says quietly. Shorts then places the bag of scented cones next to Mrs. Willow. Shorts then heads out to the kitchen and comes back with a handful of flowers, “And I got you these on our way here, I hope you like them.” Shorts holds out his arm, handing Mrs. Willow beautiful flowers. Cone, Hedges and Toes look at each other, they didn’t see Shorts picking the flowers. He must have sneaked around picking them without them noticing.

Mrs. Willow, overcome with such warmth and love begins to cry, “Oh you are such nice friends. I will have to go around and thank everyone. This is so nice. Thank you so much. You are truly dear friends.” Mrs. Willow goes into the kitchen and places the flowers on the table. The four friends quietly follow her.

“Come in my friends and have a seat. It is late, I better start making some dinner for you.” As that was said, there was a knock on the door. “I’ll be right back, you make yourselves at home.”

As Mrs. Willow leaves the kitchen, Hedges goes to the cabinets with the drinking glasses. Toes gets the acorn cookies out and places them on the table. Cone gets the cleaning leaves to place the cookies on. Shorts gets the buttercup nectar and Hedges pours the buttercup nectar into the drinking glasses.

Mrs. Willow greets Mr. Gray at the door, “Well Mr. Gray, what can I do for you?”

“I heard about your accident, and I thought you could use something to read. This is my latest mystery with Miss Chester trying to find out what happened to Mrs. Baker’s apple and honey dessert. I hope you like it.”

“Oh thank you. You know I love the character Miss Chester. I still can’t believe what happened in the last story you did, you truly know how to twist one’s mind. Mr. Gray, could you do me a favor?” Mrs. Willow asks.

“Of course, just ask,” Mr. Gray responds.

“I have Hedges Thistle, Shorts Ground, Toes Dew and Cone Green here. They have been all over the Near Forest all day, getting things from such nice people and they delivered them to me. Now they are hungry and tired, so I asked them to stay for dinner and I will have them stay the night. Would you please tell their parents that they will be here tonight and I will send them home after breakfast??

“No problem Mrs. Willow. If you need anything else, just let me know,” Mr. Gray offers while leaving.

Mrs. Willow waves the story Mr. Gray gave her and says, “I have all I need right here.” And with that, Mrs. Willow returns to her wonderful guests in the kitchen.

- - - - -


“Mrs. Willow”

Mrs. Willow’s home is known as Willow Hill. It is called that because it is considered very large for most everyone in the Near Forest. But being rabbits, the Willows built the large house for all their young-ones who were to come along.

Toes is lying on Mrs. Willow’s couch with his long fingers over his stomach, “I am stuffed! Mrs. Willow always has delicious food.”

“Mmhmm,” Shorts hums while putting some of Mr. Clove’s scented cones around the crackling fire.

Hedges is in the kitchen with Mrs. Willow, cleaning up. Cone is finishing up his desert and places the drinking glass and plate on the counter next to Mrs. Willow as she is washing another plate.

Cone, Hedges and Mrs. Willow head into the sittingroom, “Oh those scented cones smell nicely,” Mrs. Willow says happily.

Shorts turns around and smiles at Mrs. Willow.

Toes sits up on the couch. Mrs. Willow doesn’t think one should like on a couch, that’s what sleeping rooms are for.

Mrs. Willow sits in her chair. She looks at the small glass house Pine made for her. The fireflies light their tales, and Mrs. Willow gives a quiet smile. Cone sits next to Shorts near the fire. Hedges is sitting on the couch with Toes.

Mrs. Willow sits back and takes a deep breath, “What shall we do this evening boys?”

“Tell us a story!” Cone says excitedly.

Hedges looks up and says softly, “Tell us about Mr. Willow.”

With that, everyone was silent. Shorts thought Mrs. Willow would be upset, so he starts playing with the scented cones nervously.

You see, Mrs. Willow has never spoken about Mr. Willow, but then again, no one has asked Mrs. Willow about her husband.

To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Willow says quite nicely, “All right! I’ll be right back.” Mrs. Willow gets out of her chair slowly and goes upstairs to one of her many sleeping rooms.

Hedges hears Mrs. Willow going through some things, “What is she doing?” Hedges says quietly to Toes.

“I can’t believe you asked!” Toes says surprised, a little angry.

“Mrs. Willow actually seemed pleased I asked,” Hedges responds to his upset friends.

“How do you picture Mr. Willow?” Cone asks.

“I picture him to be like Mr. Mud in a way,” Toes answers.

Shorts just listens to his friends, not saying anything. Hedges, Toes and Cone know that Shorts sometimes doesn’t like to join in conversation, so they don’t ask him direct questions. If Shorts wants to say something, he’ll clear his throat and say something. But currently Shorts is taking in what everyone says, and hopes Mrs. Willow doesn’t get upset remembering her husband.

Mrs. Willow returns with many things in her arms. The gang gets up quickly and helps Mrs. Willow with the things. Each one grabs a few things, looking at the objects as they take them from Mrs. Willow.

“Oh thank you, you are all so nice,” Mrs. Willow says, and continues, “Now, first I want to show you a drawing my brother made of Mr. Willow a long time ago. My brother, Mr. Shrub, loved to draw. He was drawing everyone and everything almost daily.”

Mrs. Willow takes the drawing out of a box and shows each one.

“How come you don’t have it up here?” Toes says, while standing by the fireplace and pointing above it.

“You know, that is a wonderful idea,” and with that Mrs. Willow got up and placed the drawing for all future visitors to see.

“How come you never talk about Mr. Willow?” Hedges asks.

“We were together for so long, when he was gone, I found it so difficult to talk about him. Later on I spoke of Mr. Willow, but only with friends who new him. I never thought of talking about Mr. Willow to the young-ones, like yourselves. I thought no one would be interested,” Mrs. Willow clears her throat and looks at her four friends, “but I was wrong, and I am so glad.”

That night, the four friends sat with Mrs. Willow for hours, hearing how she and Mr. Willow met. How their lives were in the years past. All about the Near Forest when it was young and new. Mrs. Willow remembered things about Mr. Willow and their life together she had forgotten long ago.

Mrs. Willow would start telling a story, and another would come clear in her mind, even if she hadn’t spoken about it, or even thought about it in years.

Every once in a while Mrs. Willow would tell the young-ones to follow her to one of her many rooms. She would pull out things from drawers, or closets, or show an item on the wall and tell a story behind that object.

“This is the food pack and glass house we used to cross the Firefly Field from the Far Forest when we finally decided to move to the Near Forest,” Mrs. Willow sat down on the steps while the four friends sat down on the steps below her. She looked away, as if seeing the past in the wall beyond everyone, “Mr. Willow made it himself. He was so proud. It was the first glass house ever made to hang on a walking stick.” Mrs. Willow laughed softly, “It was Mr. Willow’s way of telling me we were going to move to the Near Forest. I was so excited. The trip took many days and nights. But we didn’t care; we were together seeing a whole new world that neither of us had ever seen before. It was exciting starting a new life together. I always felt safe around Mr. Willow. He was dashing and confident in his decisions. Only later in life did he tell me how terrified he was to leave the Far Forest and come to the Near Forest. I miss him.”

Shorts climbs the stairs and sits down next to Mrs. Willow and places his furry arm around her. Mrs. Willow returns the favor and smiles softly.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but all this talk has made me hungry. How about some nice cranberry and mint pie?” Mrs. Willow asks while walking down the stairs.

The four of them get up and follow Mrs. Willow. Everyone loves Mrs. Willow’s pies. They are so delicious. Mrs. Willow always has a pie or some bread in the oven. ‘You never know who might need a pie or some bread, and there is always someone dropping by’ Mrs. Willow is known for saying.

Of course Cone is the first one in the kitchen, sitting at the eating table, patiently waiting for everyone else. Mrs. Willow and the other three come into the kitchen laughing loudly. Most likely Toes told another one of his bad jokes. Of course Toes thinks they are the funniest things ever. But then again, most do laugh at them.

Hedges gets the buttercup drink and places it on the eating table.

Toes gulps down his pie and asks if he could have another one.

“Between you, me, Hedges, Shorts and Cone, you can have another piece of pie,” Mrs. Willow says with a wink.

Hedges smiles at Toes while Mrs. Willow went to get another piece of pie.

“Would anyone like another piece as well?” Mrs. Willow asks while cutting Toes pie.

“No thanks Mrs. Willow,” Cone says with his mouth full of pie.

“I’m stuffed, thanks anyway Mrs. Willow,” Hedges says with a moan.

“No thank you,” Shorts says softly.

Mrs. Willow returns to the eating table and gives Toes his second piece of pie.

Toes rubs his long fingers together and says, “MMM, I could eat five of these.”

“I think two will do for tonight,” Mrs. Willow says while patting Toes back.

Hedges and Cone laugh. Shorts is putting his plate on the counter and yawns.

“You look tired Shorts. Do you want to go to sleep?” Mrs. Willow asks Shorts.

“I’ll wait until, ummmm, everyone is ready,” Shorts says shyly.

Later that night, Hedges, Shorts, Toes, Cone and Mrs. Willow sit outside and look up at the stars.

“Wow did you see that!” Toes says excitedly while pointing up at the starlit sky.

“What?” Hedges asks, looking up where Toes is pointing.

“That star moved across the sky!” Toes says in amazement.

“They are called falling stars,” Mrs. Willow tells the four friends. “When you see one, close your eyes and make a wish.”

“I wish…” Toes starts.

“No, no, no…” Mrs. Willow interrupts Toes, “…you make the wish to yourself. No one must know your wish.” After that, Hedges, Shorts, Toes, Cone and Mrs. Willow laid there, looking up at the sky. Not much more was said that night, just a lot of dreams running through the minds of four young-ones and their friend Mrs. Willow.

The next morning Mrs. Willow has breakfast ready outside in the back of Willow Hill. In the distance you can hear the roaring sound of the fast moving water. There is a warm breeze blowing over the table, and the smell of the food is going into Cones bedroom window.

Mrs. Willow puts a bunch of flowers from the Firefly Field in a bottle on the table.

“It smells good,” Toes exclaims!

“Mmmhmm,” Shorts says while he sits at the table.

Hedges yells into the house, “Cone, breakfast!”

And soon Cone is out with the rest of his friends.

The food is eaten slowly, but the talk lasts all morning. Hedges asks more about Mr. Willow, and Mrs. Willow asks her four friends what they have been doing.

Before the four friends leave to go home, Mrs. Willow gives Hedges, Shorts, Toes and Cone Mr. Willow’s old glass house and walking stick. Mrs. Willow tells her friends, “The best part of Mr. Willow’s things is when they are in use. Please enjoy them, Mr. Willow would want you to have them.”

The four friends leave with their new walking stick with the glass house hanging from it on a vine.

Mrs. Willow turns around and walks back into her house. The breakfast dishes have been moved back into the kitchen, so Mrs. Willow sits outside, enjoying the breeze and listening to the soft roar of the fast moving water. It has been a long time since Mrs. Willow has thought about Mr. Willow. The memories come back so easily. They are such good memories. ‘I can’t wait for my friends to come back,’ Mrs. Willow says to herself.

That night Mrs. Willow lies down in her sleeping room. She reaches over and touches Mr. Willow’s pillow and says goodnight to her husband. “It was nice being with you today. So, what do you think of my friends? Pretty amazing aren’t they. I think they like you too. Talk to you tomorrow. I love you.” Mrs. Willow turns on her side and falls asleep while remembering those wonderful times with Mr. Willow.

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Yellow buttercups dance in the warm wind. First they sway to the left, then to the right.

Hedges is behind his house in the field that separates his house from where Tail Damp lives in the moss beds by the edge of the fast moving water. Tail Damp and the other salamanders grow and pick the supple moss for everyone’s beds and pillows in the Near Forest.

Hedges enjoys lying in the buttercups that are spread all over the field.

Every so often, if the wind blows in the right direction, Hedges can hear the fast moving water ever so slightly.

When the4 warm breeze blows from another direction, Hedges believes he can hear Mr. And Mrs. Birches singing while hovering over the Near Forest looking for prospective homes for new customers.

Today Hedges wanted to stay close to home, so he came out to the buttercup field.

The buttercups sweet smell is all over Hedges. He even has yellow spots from the pollen in the flowers.

The hum of bees can be heard all around. Occasionally one will fly close by, then continue on, passing Hedges. Hedges listens as the buzzing gets more and more faint.

A butterfly with black and yellow wings hops from buttercup to buttercup. Normally Hedges would follow the butterfly to see where it would end up, but today Hedges just lies back as the big blue sky gives him a show of shapes from the light, fluffy puffs in the sky.

‘That puff looks like Mrs. Willow’s tail. And that one looks like a pine cone!’ Hedges thinks to himself.

A soft, warm breeze blows over Hedges and the field again. The rustling sound of all the buttercups brushing against each other makes Hedges relax even more.

Hedges closes his eyes to concentrate on the soothing sounds of the warm, gentle wind, the distant splashing sound of the fast moving water, the gentle music coming from the Birches’ singing and the rhythmic hums coming from the hundreds of bees eating their lunch of buttercup juice.

Hedges enjoys the soft cushion from lying on the tall grass and buttercups. It feels like he’s riding on a puff, high above in the soothing, blue sky.

* * * * * * * * *

Toes too decided to spend some time at home today.

Toes turns over on the soft moss and opens his eyes. He can see his mom, Mrs. Dew, putting away some things in his sleeping room.

“Well good morning sleepy,” Mrs. Dew says with a warm smile.

“Morning,” Toes says with a sleepy mumble.

“What are you doing today?” Mrs. Dew asks Toes.

Toes responds while getting up from the soft moss, “I think I’ll just stay here.”

Toes passes his mom and walks down the long, winding hall towards the sittingroom then to the kitchen.

As he walks down the turning hall, Toes passes many drawings of his family. His mom’s parents are in a large wooden frame above the drawings of Toes’ parents and of Toes. Below the drawing of Toes is one of his little sister Stub.

Stub is every young, younger than Cone. She still sleeps with Toes’ mom and dad in their sleeping room in the baby log. Toes slept in it when he was smaller.

Mr. Dew passes Toes and touches him on the4 head, stopping him in his tracks, “What are you doing today Toes?”

“Staying home with you and mom and Stub,” Toes answers.

“How would you like to go tree-hopping with your mom and me today?” Toes’ dad asks.

“Really? That would be fun dad!” Toes says with excitement.

“Mom! We’re going tree-hopping today!” Toes tells his mom while hopping back into his sleeping room.

“I know Toes, I suggested it to your dad,” Mrs. Dew responds, finishing the last of her chores.

Toes inquires, “What about Stub?”

“It’s time for Stub to learn how to tree-hop. I want you to teach her everything you know Toes. She’ll be looking at you to learn,” Toes’ mom explains.

“This will be fun!” Toes exclaims while following his parents into the sittingroom.

Mr. Dew opens the door and steps out onto the branch in front of their door high above the ground. Mrs. Dew puts Stub on her back and escorts Toes out the door.

Mr. Dew jumps to the tree next to their tree, going towards Squirrel Corner. Toes is quickly behind.

Mrs. Dew talks to Stub explaining what you have to do before you jump.

First Mrs. Dew stretches her back, left leg, then her right.

“First spot your destination Stub,” Mrs. Dew explains. “Watch its movement and judge the distance. You will need to practice to discover how long it takes you to reach a certain distance.

I know from experience that I can reach that branch where your dad and brother are in two beats.”

Two beats means Mrs. Dew can jump during a heart beat, and she will reach her destination after two heart beats. Most tree frogs say don’t try for a distance further than eight beats away.

Mrs. Dew puts her long, strong legs underneath her belly and tells Stub to put her long, sticky fingers on her mommy’s heart and to hang onto her other arm, and then leaps.

As they are gliding through mid air, Mrs. Dew counts one with the first beat, then two for the second. On two, Mrs. Dew lands next to Mr. Dew. Toes is all ready ahead of his parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Dew let Toes lead. He decides where the family is going. Only if Mr. or Mrs. Dew feels Toes is headed in a wrong direction will they say something to Toes.

Next Mr. Dew takes Stub off of Mrs. Dew’s back and sets her down onto the branch the three are standing on.

Toes is on a branch next to them. The branch is very large and is less than one beat away.

Mrs. Dew explains to Stub while she jumps and lands next to Toes.

Toes and Mrs. Dew are giving Stub a lot of encouragement on the other branch while Mr. Dew reassures Stub, “I’ll be right beside you Stub. If you feel you need help, take your right arm and put it on my shoulder, all right?”

Mr. Dew gives one last encouraging smile and says, “On three, one, two, threeee!”

Mr. Dew and Stub leap from the branch. Stub looks ahead, finding her mark and enjoying the wind caressing her as she glides through the air. Stub instinctively opens her fingers and toes to expose the flaps between them. The wind flaps, as they are known, catch the wind and allow tree frogs, like the Dews, to sail through the air from one place to another.

As Stub lands next to Toes and her mom, the entire Dew family jumps up and down and gives Stub hugs and kisses. Toes is so proud of his sister.

* * * * * * * * * *

Cone has been looking forward to this day for a long time. Mr. Green, Cone’s dad, promised Cone they could spend the entire day at Little Water.

Little Water is between Mound View and the Old Forest.

Cone loves to skim on Little Water. He can skim his body and glide on top of the water and go from one end of the water to the other almost faster than anyone.

Cone’s brother Pitch is with his friends in the Firefly Field. They are playing send-a-friend. Mr. Green knew Cone is too young to play, so he decided they would go skimming for the day instead.

What’s send-a-friend? Send-a-friend is a popular game with the older young-ones. You find a sway tree that has a lot of open space around it. Everyone gets on the sway tree to bend it back until the top of it is touching the ground. Then everyone but one jumps off.

With only one young-one on it, the sway tree snaps back into its standing position, and in the process hurls the occupant some distance away. This is why it is called send-a-friend.

Cone can’t wait until he’s old enough to play, but he likes skimming Little Water with his dad too.

Cone and his dad head out, going towards the Old Forest. They pass Ms. Bristlecone and Pine playing outside and Mr. Mud working in his help-food garden.

They enter the Old Forest and pass Friend (the big, old tree).

Before they knew it, they were at Little Water.

Cone snakes down to the edge of the water with his tail wagging from side to side.

Mr. Green snakes down beside his son and off they go.

Cone wiggles his body from side to side, using his tail to push along. Cone is so good at skimming that he can even use the waves to jump into the air, skimming one wave after the other.

Cone’s dad stays a little behind Cone so he can watch. Mr. Green knows Cone is probably one of the best skimmers ever to skim Little Water.

Other Near Forest friends also watch Cone skim the top of Little Water, looking in awe at the skill and talent Cone has.

Cone reaches the other side and as dad comes up, Cone twists his body to the right and then quickly to the left, causing his tail to splash water all over his dad.

Mr. Green laughs heavily and Cone skims back to his dad and gives him a big hug, “I love you dad.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sometimes Shorts likes to stay home and spend time with his mom and dad. Today is one of those times.

Mr. Ground is in his workroom planning a new home for Mr. and Mrs. Paws. Being bears means having to design very large rooms. It also means they need a winter home, but the Paws didn’t want to have to go far. So Mr. Ground decided to make additional rooms attached to the parents’ sleeping room used just during the winter. There will be no direct access to the outside, only from the parents’ sleeping room.

Mr. and Mrs. Paws will collect and store their winter food from spring until autumn.

Also Mr. Ground will need to create a large room for the cubs to play in during the wintertime.

Mr. and Mrs. Paws will be moving to the Near Forest by the end of the summer, so Mr. Ground needs to get digging soon.

Shorts moles up to his dad and sits in his lap. Mr. Ground puts his chin on Short’s head and reaches around Shorts to work on his plans. As he is working he explains to Shorts, “This is the mud room. Everyone will come through here first before entering the rest of the den. This allows the dirt to come off in the mud room rather than all over the den.”

Shorts follow his dad’s paw as his dad slides it along the plans, showing the path of the den.

“What happens to this part during the winter?” Shorts asks.

“The Paws will close the front and move their things into the winter den. They need to do this to rest and spend time together as a family.” Mr. Ground continues, “In the Spring the whole family will move back here and close off the winter den. They will also go outside and enjoy the flowers, never having seen the snow all winter long.”

“I’m going to see mom.” Shorts climbs down from his dad’s lap and says, “Thanks dad.”

Mr. Ground thinks life doesn’t get any better than when your son thanks you for letting him sit in your lap.

“Mom, what are you doing?” Shorts asks.

Mrs. Ground tells her son, “Why dear, I’m making some of tomorrow nights dinner that we will be having with the Thistles.”

Mrs. Ground points to the cabinet next to the kitchen door, “Shorts, would you grab me the wooden bowl in the cabinet over there?”

Shorts gets of the chair and moles over to the cabinet and grabs the bowl and asks with anticipation, “Are you going to make berry cookies in this mom?”

“How did you guess, do you want to help?” Mrs. Ground asks while getting all the other ingredients needed to make her famous berry cookies.

“Sure!” Shorts says with excitement. Shorts is excited not because he will have some cookies later, even though that is good, but because he likes to help his mom.

Shorts thinks to himself, ‘this is going to be a great day!’

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