by GABE MINICHIELLO - January 12, 2020 - A fictional story of the effects of the logging industry on animals.
It was in a cool April twilight when the comfortable stability of Mr. Shipley’s life ended quite abruptly, and somewhat violently. Mr. Shipley was a relatively normal man, in the sense that he was not a man at all, but in fact, a large whiskered beaver of 17 years. Even stranger was the occupation of this beaver, who had not chosen to become a carpenter like his brothers, but instead a lawyer, as his teeth were far too small for the noble pursuit of dam building.
Mr. Shipley’s mind, however, was a sharp and precise instrument, and many a time he would sit, honing it with a book near his beaver-sized fireplace in his beaver-sized home. The reader may surmise that this moment was one of those times. Not long had he been pouring over the contents of a volume before the weather outside his cozy home on the river began to melt into a mixture of purples and oranges; the sun had begun to sink beneath the trees of the forest. At this time, Mr. Shipley began to grow very tired, as it takes a great deal of work to be both a beaver and a lawyer at the same time. His small black eyes had not closed for near a second when there was a quickened rap at the door.
Who could that be? Mr. Shipley knew who it wasn’t. A number of animals in the forest were incapable of knocking, and many who could, kept it to themselves, as perhaps someone watching would get jealous of the knocker’s ability to knock. Very few animals were bold enough to knock on the door of Mr. Shipley, who was renowned, especially by the rabbits, for being somewhat of a grouch. Slipping out of his fireside chair, and making sure not to dog-ear the page of his book like some foul child, Mr. Shipley reached the door just as the second fanfare of knocking began. He tore open the wooden latch from its timber frame, and thereupon the porch sat a wizened squirrel of 9 years, though her age granted her no wisdom.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay far away from this property, Henrietta?” Mr. Shipley spoke in a drowsy manner, as the bark tea he had drunk nigh two hours ago was known for its calming qualities.
“News to be heard, dear! News that I have been spreading about the woods!” Henrietta spoke in an excited, shrill tone, in a voice that garnered one to listen, although it was not very pleasant to hear.
Mr. Shipley sighed, as Henrietta was well known for spreading the news around the woods, if the news could be considered fictitious stories and tales. She spoke of things only a fool would believe in: tiny Irish men with pots of gold, fairies, and most notably, a figure known as the Duke of Edinburgh. Nevertheless he continued to inquire, as perhaps the conversation would yield some slim intellectual benefit.
“And what would that news be then,” he questioned with little interest.
"The humans,” she paused for dramatic effect, “are gone!”
Now this was a situation of grave importance to Mr. Shipley, as his position caused for him to have numerous interactions with the humans. He had been merely a child when they started their logging operation. Sadly, they rarely understood the forestry zoning laws already set in place by the animals. Many negotiations had ended with them chasing him off with a broom.
“Where could they have gone?” he inquired, as humans, much like a bad case of indigestion, could disappear for days at a time, and then reappear with malicious intent.
“Gone away from the forest! Gone long enough for us to strike!” Henrietta was working herself into a frenzied excitement, something that Mr. Shipley had seen before. He quickly forced himself to gain control of the situation, as many of the animals of the forest had a penchant for wanton anarchy.
“We will have a meeting on this matter, Henrietta. You need not take anything into your own hands,” Shipley reassured.
“Already one is in progress! Meet by the brook!” With these parting words, Henrietta scurried away into the twilight. Mr. Shipley was somewhat unmoved, but the entirety of the events regarding the humans piqued his interest.
How peculiar that they did not invite me, he thought.
Nevertheless, Mr. Shipley exited from his home on the river in search of answers. Walking amidst the trees and greenery of the forest, he eventually came to the brook, where many of the animals were gathered, hastily exchanging the complicated procedures of a half-concocted plan. Many of the ducks moved about with caution, as tripping other animals was considered a party fowl. The squirrels, however, were huddled together beneath a large oak tree at the center of the brook. It stood tall and carried the semblance of a thing that was impossibly old to many of the shorter-living animals. It was, in fact, impossibly old, if impossibly old meant 110 years, give or take a decade. Nevertheless, it was a cornerstone of the community.
In the twilight of the brook, the animals collectively ceased their whispering as an old and venerable-looking stag began to ease his way towards the front of the tree. Tired and ragged, he began to speak.
“I am sure you know of the news that I have brought by now. The logging operation at the edge of the forest has ceased unexpectedly. I do not know why, but I believe that we have been given an opportunity.”
The crowd murmured in agreement.
“The time has come for change, and I believe it is time, not for us to wait for the humans to return, but to leave to new lands.” Here was a stag with a quick mind, an animal that they could all get behind. Mr. Shipley watched the animals expectedly and was alarmed when the stag, whose name was Charles, spoke his name.
“I trust Mr. Shipley will champion this project easily.” Charles gave a wry smile. If stags were known for smiling, he would have been beaming.
This must be a test of some sort, Shipley thought.
Mr. Shipley, now feeling as if he had been doused in icy water, watched as all the animals turned to him. It is important to note that Mr. Shipley had very thick fur, and was nigh waterproof, though he had read a great deal about the sensation known as “wet.” Nevertheless, Mr. Shipley, sensing the shift in mood, gave a curt nod to the crowd, before the animals began to again speak amongst themselves in a furtive manner.
What was he to do? Mr. Shipley had always been known as a thinker, as a real intellectual of the foresting beings, yet here he was stumped by a mere organizational errand. Many of his acquaintances, some friends and some clients, hastily greeted him and dispersed, as the meeting had reached its end, with the animals turning to their respective directions in the darkness of the forest. Many a tired eye was glazed by the gentle hand of the setting sun, but Mr. Shipley’s mind was racing, and he felt that tonight he would be forced to partake in burning the midnight oil.
Mr. Shipley quickly returned home. There he sat, pen in his furred paw, scrawling upon many pieces of paper all at once. He was searching for something that eluded him.
What a foolish endeavor, he thought. How can a sane individual create a solution to the mass emigration of an entire forest? There was the key. An ordinary beaver would find no solution to this issue, but a rabbit of questionable sanity just might.
With little time to spare, Mr. Shipley tore open the door of his home on the river, and hastened to the clearing near the brook where Henrietta lived. Racing amongst the tall grasses were perhaps two dozen of her children, who all scurried and hopped expertly, in the way that rabbits are known to do. The younger rabbits moved with a quickened pace, and were known to race around visitors, in an effort to trip them. He found Henrietta in the midst of wrangling a mix of belongings into two squirrel-sized suitcases.
“Henrietta, I am in need of your assistance regarding the plans for emigration,” Mr. Shipley He had never asked her for anything before.
“Sorry to say, but I don’t know much about echolocation!” she remarked.
Perhaps this was not the right idea, Mr. Shipley thought. Nevertheless he persisted.
“The question is simple in principle, Henrietta, but I am unsure how to answer it correctly.” He was unsure how to continue the conversation, as the mere thought of moving an entire forest full of animals was difficult in itself.
“I don’t know if I have an answer for you, Mr. Shipley. It’s a shame we can’t move the forest, as I still have lots of packing to do.” Henrietta promptly returned to packing her briefcases, but Mr. Shipley was already gone. He had an idea.
Thus, Mr. Shipley returned to his desk in his beaver-home, and spent the rest of his night putting his plan into place within the confines of the written word. Day came briskly, and Mr. Shipley was already out the door, sending his messages to all of the families of the forest, and making sure not to exclude any of the many animals in its boundaries. On all of the crude papers that Mr. Shipley sent out was the same phrase: Meet at the Oak.
The animals, all somewhat tired and inquisitive-looking, looked around to find Mr. Shipley missing from their congregation at the Oak. They watched and waited with the anticipation that the squirrels held for walnut season, but he remained missing.
“This is a waste of time!” one woodpecker shouted.
“He’s kept us waiting for nearly an hour!” cried one of the brown bears.
Then, the animals began to hear a great roaring sound. A grinding of motors and metal, the screaming of machinery making its way through the forest. Someone, nay, something was crashing through the shrubbery.
“Scatter! The humans have returned!” the same woodpecker shouted.
“Wait a second now!” spoke Charles, as he appeared from the side of the group. Unlike the rest of the animals, Charles did not look like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. With stoicism, he stood and waited.
The harvester first appeared in the distance, crashing through trees and the felled brush of the forest. It tore and shuddered across the green plain of the animals’ home, finally stopping beside the great Oak. Many animals had assumed a defensive position around its thick trunk. Those with teeth were baring them, and the squirrels began to chant the phrase “liberty or death” over and over again. Suddenly, a brown-furred creature emerged from the machine. It was Mr. Shipley.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your solution for emigration!” Mr. Shipley beamed proudly.
There was a silence that permeated the crowd, and if it weren’t for his entire faith currently residing in the machine, Mr. Shipley would have been embarrassed.
“We will simply move the Oak, and all the animals of the forest will follow it to its new home!”
“What do you mean, Shipley?” this phrase echoing from an older sparrow perched upon a tree.
And thus Mr. Shipley began expounding on the idea of propagation and the movement of an old tree, such as the Oak. Then he segued into the distance to which the animals would carry the Oak, and although the animals were noticeably confused, they seemed to understand the rough idea. They all turned to the approval of Charles, who nodded his antlers slightly, enough for Shipley to feel confident in issuing orders to all of the animals of the forest. The squirrels and other smaller animals began to dig at the roots of the tree, with Henrietta leading the effort. Moving an Oak such as this was difficult, but the squirrels were renowned for their handiwork. The bears formed a large mass around the tree, and when the time came, they heaved with all their might.
The harvester aided in the process, though most of the work came from the animals; with a great deal of work, the Oak shuddered, and was lifted off of the ground.
“Careful now!” they cried.
The animals took their time working the tree through the forest. The sparrows carried makeshift buckets, carved by the beavers, fill with water from the nearby streams. Days passed slowly, but with all of the creatures working together, they made it to a spot found suitable for all. A great effort was expended in the venture of digging the great hole for the Oak; then, on the seventh day of labor, the Oak was leveled, and with a tremendous amount of exertion, lowered into the hole.
The sun seemed to hang a little higher in the sky that day. The Oak took well to its new home, and the creatures divided the land amongst themselves. Many a year passed when Charles would address the animals as their leader, but time has a habit of winding on without realization. Granted, it would be known for generations that the combined efforts of all the animals were harnessed to acquire their beautiful home, all tied under the leadership of one somewhat grouchy beaver. Oh, and the harvester? The humans never found it.