[The following is part of a challenge issued to me last night on the subject of journal writing. My son, Grade 7, has weekly journal assignments where he has to write a page of anything. Anything. Video games, dinner, splitting atoms. He thinks it hard. My husband agreed. I could write about anything, I say. Even that tree branch…”Ok, honey, make that your blog post tomorrow…]
The squirrel flicked his tail as he sat in the crook of a tree branch. The branch was gnarled and twisted, only partially leafed out whereas its neighbouring branches were heavy with leaf buds. It wasn’t much, but it was home. Third branch from the top. Doug turned his back to the dead part and inspected his tail which, frankly, wasn’t much to look at either. He sighed and scratched behind his ear with his sharp claws and then absent-mindedly began nosing dried leaves back into his nest. He tried not to think about finding a new home; after all, it was spring – a time of hope, renewal, and finding a mate. A gust of wind came,the third branch from the top groaned as if one more wind would do it in completely. Doug dug his claws into the wood and held on. Finding a mate. He should’ve taken care of that weeks ago but as everyone knew, Doug lived by the last hairs on his tail – leaving everything to the last possible minute.
As soon as the wind died down, Doug scampered out to the very edge of the third branch from the top. He bounced and swayed. With the exceptional balance that most squirrels possess, he hurriedly groomed himself, fluffed up what was left of his tail and waited as he did every morning for the little girl to walk ,under his tree. Ha! There she was, walking as she always did with two or three other humans. She never failed to stop and look up, waving her pale white paw at him. He chattered at her and flicked his tail. She showed her teeth as always and as always, Doug wondered if this was a good thing or a bad thing. In his world, if another creature showed their teeth to you, it meant you were to get bloody. If things went badly, you ended up as a meal.
She’d saved him when he was young – he’d fallen out of the nest and was three-quarters of the way mauled by a cat when the little girl appeared, waving her arms and making strange, loud sounds that scared the cat away. The cat had taken most of Doug’s tail with him but the little girl didn’t seem to mind. She put him in a box lined with soft warm things. Doug’s mother complained about how she’d never get the smell of human off of him even though she’d nearly licked him raw when he returned. Doug’s mother had been beside herself for days – chattering on about how Doug was born with so few advantages to start with and now this – his half blond, half black tail hanging in tatters from his scrawny body.
The little girl never lingered but kept walking. Doug sat on the edge of the third branch from the top for a few more minutes, trying to remember the smell of humans. A spray of tree pollen covered him in a fine green-yellow dust. He shook himself from head to tail nearly tipping himself off the branch. He ran back to his nest, nosed back a few more of the twigs that were sticking out at odd angles. He was supposed to meet his brother for grub digging later. Or was it his sister? He could never remember.
A robin landed at the end of the third branch from the top. Doug spun in fury. The robin – fat and fluffy, well groomed and well-fed – everything that Doug was not – eyed one of the few leaf buds on the branch and began pecking at it with his tiny beak. Doug let out a high-pitched shriek and raced towards the insolent bird. The robin hesitated for a moment, rudely, and then fluttered away as if he had better buds to pick at. My branch, my branch, Doug huffed. Third branch from the top. It’s not much, but it’s mine.
There. Not polished, not prize-winning. It just is. Easy-peasy.