“This must be what an oven feels like,” Barney Beaver said. “Hot and stuffy! Winter must surely be a long way off. No need to hurry to get ready for it.”
In the Sunken Forest, it was more like the middle of July than September. The sky was clear and it wasn’t quite dark yet. A big bright yellow moon was just rising up over the horizon, and the stars were beginning to twinkle. Not even the smallest breeze stirred the trees.
Some of the forest creatures were hunting for food. Others were sleeping in their dens. Now and then, some little animal broke the stillness of the night with a low growling sound.
The dark, glossy surface of the pond looked cool and inviting. Barney slid from the grassy bank into the water. It wasn’t as cool as it looked. In fact, it was too warm.
Barney swam slowly across the pond and climbed up on the other side. Back where his parents lived, at the foot of the mountains, the pond was always cool.
“I wish I was back there now,” Barney said sadly.
“Talking to yourself again?” Jimmy Blue Jay was perched on the limb of an old spruce tree. He never settled for the night until it was very dark. “Everyone will think you’re crazy,” Jimmy warned.
Barney sighed. “I was just thinking. Jimmy, did your parents drive you away from home?”
“I wanted to go,” Jimmy said. “I wanted to see the world.”
“My parents pushed me out,” Barney said.
“Aw, come on, Barney. All beavers leave their parents’ home when they are grown up and build new homes for themselves.”
“I still think there was room for me, even after the new babies were born,” Barney said.
Jimmy flapped his wings. “Are you homesick, Barney? Or are you just too lazy to build your own house?”
Barney slapped the ground angrily with his wide tail. “I am not homesick, Jimmy, and I am not lazy.”
“Then why don’t you build a house instead of living in that old abandoned one?” Jimmy asked.
“Why don’t you just go away and mind your own business!” Barney slid into the water again and swam towards his house.
“Lazy Barney!” Jimmy called as he flew away.
The strong beaver tail slapped the water. Sometimes Barney wished Jimmy would go away and never come back. But the Blue Jay was the only companion he had.
The Sunken Forest was a small green valley. It was surrounded by very high hills that sheltered it from strong winds.
“From the sky, it looks like the whole forest sank into a giant hole,” Jimmy had told him.
There was lots of green grass and sweet-smelling clover all around the pond. There were raspberry bushes, flowering dogwood trees, tender willow, tasty poplar, and lots of tall, proud birch.
Best of all was the abandoned house Barney had found, the one Jimmy teased him about. It was almost in the middle of the pond and only needed a few minor repairs to be ready for winter. Why should he build a new house when this one was perfectly good?
“Winter will be late this year,” Barney said to himself as he swam around his house. “I don’t have to hurry.” He climbed onto the roof of his house and lay down.
Yes, the Sunken Forest was a beautiful place. But Barney was lonely. He missed his parents, and his brothers and sisters.
There was only one other beaver in this pond. Barney thought she was the cutest little female he had ever seen. But if he went too close, she slapped her tail on the water and hissed sharply at him. So Barney asked Jimmy about her, because Jimmy knew everything about everyone in the Sunken Forest.
“That’s Buffy,” Jimmy said. “She has a lame leg.”
“What happened?” Barney asked.
“She got caught by a lynx but she managed to get away in time,” Jimmy said. “Only her leg was hurt.”
“She’s very brave.” Barney wished they could be friends. He liked to watch her. She had built her own little house. She was always busy, no matter how hot it was. She never seemed to get tired of working.
The days and nights passed, each as warm as the one before. Each day Barney slept, snug and dry in his secondhand house. Each night he lay on the grassy bank and watched Buffy work.
“Hey, Barney! Why aren’t you getting ready for winter like Buffy?” Jimmy flew down and pitched close to Barney.
“There’s lots of time,” Barney said. “It’s still too warm to think about winter.” He watched Buffy dive into the pond with a tender willow branch in her mouth.
“Busy little beaver, isn’t she?” Jimmy said. “Beavers are supposed to be busy, aren’t they, Barney?”
“Oh, what do you know!” Barney retorted. He slid into the water to get away from the Blue Jay’s teasing.
Jimmy flew circles around Barney’s head. “Why do you think Buffy won’t be friends with you? It’s because you’re lazy, and she knows it.”
© Fay Herridge 2003
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