Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tale of the Christmas Squirrel

The little squirrel was busy picking flowers in the woodland glade not far from his favourite tree. He needed the pretty, fragrant flowers to decorate the tree to attract the bumble bees to pollinate the tree so it would produce lots of nuts. Some of the other squirrels and woodland creatures were just lolling in the sun as the squirrel neatly decorated his favourite tree and then started on the tree next door. He was a busy little thing.

Then Autumn came and the leaves began to glow as the nuts and berries ripened and the squirrel tended them carefully, encouraging the growth and looking forward to a bumper harvest. When the nuts were ready he quickly picked them while allowing some to ripen fully and drop to the ground but the choicest nuts were taken to his many secret larders. And he collected the best fruits from the bushes and small trees to make blackberry cordial and other delicacies to see him through the hard winter.

He was diligent and worked hard at filling his larders and sharing some of the bounty with the other squirrels and creatures since he had more than enough for his own needs. And the leaves turned golden and gently fell down in the breeze into great drifts of gold on the woodland floor and the days became shorter and colder

One morning he looked out of his snug den and saw that all the leaves had fallen on the nearby trees and only the deep green spiky leaves of the fir trees at the centre of the forest were still resisting the urge to fall. There had been frost and the squirrel could see the tiny paw prints of the hedgehog who lived in the roots of the tree and the larger prints that told of Reynard's passing as he slinked around the woodland in search of his breakfast. The squirrel grabbed his muffler and wound it round his neck to keep him warm as he breakfasted on a nut sitting on his favourite branch and dangling his legs over the side to swing them in the morning light.

He spent the day chatting to his neighbours, making sure they were warm and snug in their burrows and nests and leaving them a shiny chestnut as a gift before making is weary way back to his own snug den where he fell asleep with his bushy tail wrapped around him.

But something woke him, the sound of hooves and a great weary sigh and a swish and he looked out from his den to see a great sleigh had pulled up in the clearing near his den and a great big man looked weary. The squirrel tied on his scarf and scampered down his tree to welcome the old man and make sure he was all right. The old man turned to the squirrel and gave him a weary smile as his eyes twinkled and he leaned against a pile of colourfully wrapped boxes. He let out another sigh and that decided the squirrel - this old man needs some cordial and nut, he thought, and I have just the right food in my larder in that tree over there.

The squirrel scampered away and poured some cordial into the biggest nut shell he could find and piled some nuts into a sack he carried over his shoulder and returned with his offering to the strange old man with the bushy beard. When the squirrel hopped up onto the sleigh to offer the old man a nut shell of delicious cordial the old man roared with hearty laughter that made the stars twinkle and look down on the woodland glade as he bowed his head to the generous squirrel and accepted the cordial and nuts and his cheeks became rosy and his laughter even more infectious. The squirrel couldn't help but feel the joy from the old man and his bushy tail whisked from side to side as he joined in with the old man's great merriment.

Lifting the squirrel gently off the sleigh and returning the nut shell, the old man bowed and said, 'Thank you Master Squirrel' and flew his sleigh off into the night with a great roaring laugh and a sprinkle of stardust. Well I never, thought the squirrel as he scampered back to his den to continue his sleep but, when he got there, he found a tiny package waiting for him. Hesitantly he opened it and found a lovely new scarf in all the colours of Autumn and Winter and he knew it would be the warmest scarf ever made. He held it close as he snuggled into it and drifted off to sleep to dream of great chestnuts and raspberries.

The Spring melted into a glorious Summer that led to a fruitful Autumn and the squirrel's harvest was good and fulsome. He wore his old muffler as the days got colder. And one day he knew it was time to get out his special scarf with all the colours of Autumn and Winter and he prepared a shell of his best cordial and a little pile of the most tasty nuts and he sat patiently waiting for the old man to return. And return he did with a twinkle of light and a great roar of a laugh and his sleigh pulled down into the woodland glade for a rest on a busy night. He looked over at his little friend and laughed with such joy that that squirrel immediately scampered over and up onto the sleigh and sat on the old man's knee offering him a nut shell of cordial. As the old man drank and chewed the nuts the squirrel told him about the flowers he'd found to sweeten the cordial and how the nuts came from the best crop he'd ever harvested. And all the while the squirrel's bushy tail whisked and twitched from side to side in his excitement.

And so it happened every year on that special night when the stars twinkled brightly and there was joy in the air. The squirrel always greeted the old man with his special cordial and some nuts and the old man sought the squirrel's help to deliver tiny parcels to the woodland creatures and then the humans in the nearby village. The squirrel looked forward to his special work on that night and noticed that the creatures of the woods, and then the villagers, started leaving gifts of food and drink to keep the old man refreshed on his busy night. The squirrel helped the old man when nut or cordial was involved.

The years passed and the squirrel's coat turned from red to rust tinged with frost and his eyes grew weaker but he still wound his special scarf round his neck on that special night and he was warm again. The old man saw that the squirrel could no longer scamper onto his knee so he picked him up and placed him on the warm blanket on the seat so he could sleep a while and the old man delivered the tiny presents to the woodland creatures and accepted their gifts of food and drink, saving some cordial for his little friend.

Before he flew off again the old man asked the elderly squirrel if he'd like to come with him this time. The squirrel smiled and nodded, wanting to see the flowers and nuts that grew in the world outside his beloved woodland and the old man brushed his hand over the squirrel's now thin tail. The frost flew from his tail and it bloomed in its previous bushiness and the squirrel felt the sap returning to his bones and he perked up and jumped onto the old man's knees again and whisked his tail energetically in the starlight. He was ready to travel and off they flew into the night sky, lit by the stars and joy and to the sound of great laughter.

Only the old hedgehog that lived in the root of the squirrel's tree saw what happened and he was happy for his old, kindly friend. He told all his neighbours and his grandchildren the following day and word spread far and wide about the honour shown to one of their own, the squirrel who flew with Santa Claus.

So, if you see a squirrel on Christmas Eve wearing a scarf in all the colours of Autumn and Winter, give him a cheery wave and remember to leave out some nuts as well as a mince pie for the old man. I will.

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