Something just isn't right. He could feel it stirring in the
air, currents churned by the wing beats of a thousand honeybees
flying in formation. And the sound, or rather, lack of it, was
not the usual pleasant hum of the valley. Yes, Churchill thought,
sitting in his Adirondack chair on the tower platform, something
isn't right. On this beautiful Indian Summer afternoon, with
Thanksgiving just six weeks away, something definitely isn't
It had probably started in the Spring, when Leon, the Badger's
nephew, got back from his travels abroad and decided to run for
a Valley council seat at the last minute. Because everyone in
the Valley greatly respected and loved his Uncle Horatio, who
had been everyone's family lawyer for time out of mind, the muttering
about last-minute relaxation of the rules was muted. Leon was
allowed to run. The election would be held in September, and
as it was June, the campaigning was afoot.
signs began to emerge, outside burrows, pasted on hives, hanging
from birdhouses and stuck into hedges. Leon Badger had his supporters,
but Henderson 's daughter, a natural redhead, was getting a lot
of support from the yacht club. They had a big river regatta every
August, and many boats flew a pennant with her picture on it.
The field mice were supporting one of their own, Dickey, who was
a particularly bright articulate fellow with an infectious laugh.
Edgar the Raven watched all of this activity with some amusement,
as he had led the Valley council by unanimous acclaim for as long
as anyone could remember. He was pleased to see so many youngsters
well into the fourth week in August when the unthinkable happened.
Leon Badger took out a series of attack ads in the "Paw
& Claw", charging his opponents with everything
from noisy eating to nude sunbathing. What this had to do with
a candidate's qualifications to be on the Valley council no one
could figure out, and many Valley residents were offended. But
because the Valley, like the wider world, is full of diverse folks
and opinions, some took to the stories with relish (and even mustard),
and repeated them, frequently embellishing the stories until they
bore little resemblance to the original.
The Valley was awash in whispers and nods, and longtime friends
started avoiding each other. Horatio Badger found his diner invitations
drying up, for fear he would bring Leon . Edgar was not pleased,
but managed to keep most of his irritation to himself.
The election in September was, after the appalling behavior
all summer, almost anti-climactic. Dickey the Field Mouse won
in a landslide, but the field mice population was by valley standards
enormous, so the old-timers were not surprised. Edgar was quite
pleased to have a fellow of such good cheer on the council. So
the election bru-ha-ha finally died down, everyone shook hands
and smiled, and for all appearances the matter was ended. Leon
, suddenly finding the valley too boring, went abroad again,
and Horatio quietly sighed with relief.
So Churchill sat there
in his chair on the tower, six weeks after the election and six
weeks before Thanksgiving, sensing the stuttered rhythm of the
Valley below him, and suddenly
his head and slapped his paw on the arm of the chair. At that
instant he decided to throw a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the
Valley residents. Since he had the largest house in the Valley
(except for the Old Woman's house on the hill), he knew he could
handle the crowd. The Valley needed mending.
The next morning, shortly after a brief chat with Edgar, Churchill
announced his plans to the residents in the town square within
the topiary garden. The field mice immediately volunteered their
time and energy to help (they were still celebrating Dickey's win,
and were exceptionally cheerful). Churchill, Edgar and some closer
friends jointly created the immense shopping lists, and delicacies
were ordered in from far and wide. Over the next few weeks the
larders began to fill, the wine cellar was bursting at the seams,
and the auto park had crates stacked in all directions (but since
the auto park was also under the hedge, the beauty of the Valley
was not disturbed).
week before Thanksgiving the grand ballroom was scrubbed and
polished. House spiders in the rafters were temporarily relocated
to another floor, and an acre of tables were delivered by Bogwyn
Beaver, whose dam made a lovely swimming hole for the youngsters
(and the young at heart) during the summer. The front door,
usually a hunter green to blend with the hedge, was temporarily
painted Chinese red to welcome the guests. House wrens gathered
Fall leaves, stringing them together to create striking garlands
above the tables. Linen and napkins were stacked and ready.
The Dandelion wine for the youngsters would be ready in two
days, and the nectar had been delivered for the Monarch butterflies
who would be leaving the following day for their flight to South
America . Various dishes, shaped like wildflowers, were prepared
consisting of assorted seeds, or nuts and fruit, or vegetables
of all descriptions.
Churchill walked through the house, paws clasped behind his
back, quietly overseeing the final touches, smiling gently.
He, Edgar, and Henderson, had decided that during dinner various
groups in the Valley should entertain, beginning with an acapella
set by Churchill's house mice, who were really quite talented.
The entertainment would last all afternoon, and end at Sunset,
with Anushka Mongoose playing her sitar.
Thanksgiving day arrived, and the Valley was filled with the
aroma of food, and the sounds of anticipation. Households everywhere
were brimming with energy, children were dressed, fur was brushed
and feathers were fluffed. The party was to start at noon .
Edgar periodically sailed over the valley, just in case folks
got lost. At exactly noon the guests began to arrive.
Churchill had devised
a plan while sitting on the tower that afternoon six weeks ago.
He had taken all the R.S.V.P.'s (no one would be allowed in
who had not been polite enough to send one back) and created
a seating chart, placing folks who had quarreled during the
elections next to each other. Each name was clearly displayed
on a card, and Henderson had provided a small force of ground
squirrels with armbands to ensure no cards were switched. Folks
began to fill the ballroom and soon discovered the name cards;
they went to the ground squirrels to find the general location
of their seats. Between twelve and one groups formed, broke
apart, and re-formed all over the grand ballroom. When it was
clear that folks were reluctant to take certain seats Edgar
stood up (he was at the head table with Churchill, Henderson,
Horatio and other Valley leaders) and told the folks to be seated
so that dinner and the entertainment could begin. From all over
the ballroom they could hear "I'm not sitting next to him",
"Why can't I sit where I want to", "After last
summer I will never speak to her again".
Churchill put his
paws on the table, and slowly rose to his feet. Edgar and Henderson
exchanged glances. Horatio put his paw to his forehead, resting
his elbow on the table, and looked down. As folks looked up
and saw Churchill standing they fell silent, and the silence
was like a tidal wave beginning at the front and then rolling
through the ballroom, until the silence was so complete you
could have heard the wing beats of a gnat.
"Please sit down
by your place card" he said quietly, and his voice echoed
off the rafters. Everyone quickly moved to their assigned seats.
"This has been
a difficult Summer and Fall for many in the valley. What should
have been an interesting and informative election cycle turned
into a gross, crass spectacle eliciting behavior from many that
should have made you blush and hang your heads (he looked out
over the room, slowly and methodically allowing his eyes to
wash over every table).
"You know who
you are". Many looked down.
"The old woman
in the big house has told me about elections among humans, about
their propensity toward lies, big and small, in blatant attempts
to grab power to serve their greed. Leon, the nephew of our
beloved Horatio, in his youth brought a taste of this disgraceful
behavior to our Valley from the outside. And some of you (his
voice rose) lapped it up like honey". There was a general
shifting of discomfort throughout the hall. Chairs scraped.
Edgar caught Henderson's eye and winked. Henderson's eyes smiled.
The room was again silent.
"Many of you
came to this Thanksgiving dinner today still carrying petty
anger, and the arrogance it requires to maintain that anger
weeks and months after the offensive behavior has ended. Why?
You know that everything you heard was either a lie, an exaggeration,
or just plain silly". Folks were nodding all over the ballroom.
know that we have always looked out for each other, watched
over all the children, made sure that the sick had soup and
blankets" (a faint powder blue dust floated almost transparently
"You know that
you are living in a beautiful Valley, in a safe country, on
an exquisite blue planet floating in a galaxy in a huge universe,
and that your lives have music, and laughter, and the joys and
sorrows of days lived fully." (The faint powder blue dust
now covered most of the head table).
"How can you
have allowed this petty behavior to eclipse the bonds of your
mutual respect and friendships?" By now many in the great
ballroom had tears in their eyes. Folks were leaning over, head-to-head
in whispered apologies. Hugs were visible, and "I'm so
sorry" could be heard throughout the hall.
After several minutes Churchill, who was now standing straight,
said it was now time to start the party. Everyone applauded.
"But first", he said, "we
are going to take two minutes to be thankful for our beautiful
Valley, our friends, our health, and mostly, our community".
All over the ballroom folks reached out, paw to claw, feather
to feather, until everyone was linked. For two long minutes
a sense of peace and well-being enveloped the hall, until the
field mice started sweetly singing in their high piping voices
about hearth and harvest, and the food rolled in. Churchill
sat, smiling broadly.
It was reported some days later, by a gaggle of Canadian Geese
heading South for the winter, that they had flown over this pretty
valley with a snow-capped mountain, and saw what looked like
powder blue dust swirling lazily in the air, but they had no
idea what it meant.
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