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Friday, May 10, 2013

Bernard and Chester, Rick Hartwell

   It was about two weeks after Bernard learned to fly that he met Chester.  The two of them would eventually become fast friends, however, their first meeting was anything but friendly.  Bernard had been cruising the neighborhood beyond the wooden white church with the real tall belfry.  The tall spike of a steeple jutted into the sky above most of the surrounding trees.  It provided the perfect lookout perch for him to plan his search.  He could see the entire valley from the stream that fed into the lake all the way down to the dam.  He could see his home tree and where his aunt lived.  When he turned around the other way he could see all the way up into the mountains, even above where the trees stopped growing.  It was truly beautiful, but he had to try and keep his mind on what he was doing.

    Bernard was looking for new sources of food.  He had been soaring and floating up where the foothills began to rise in earnest towards the mountains.  He had grown tired of the discarded French fries and burger buns he could find in the Carl’s Jr. parking lot or in the dumpster behind the drive-thru lane.  Those were most of the things he could find on his own and he never did acquire a taste for pickles and relish.  It was now late summer and the worms and grubs and even the butterflies and moths were no longer as plentiful as before.  His mother had been trying to teach him about seeds and nuts and berries.  She said these were the natural foods that could be gathered from trees and bushes up at the beginning of the forest tree line.

    Bernard was growing up without his father and his mother was away from the nest a good deal of the time.  She was always very busy during the day and very tired at night.  She didn’t always give Bernard great answers to his many questions.  This morning for instance he had asked his mother to describe to him again how to go about finding nuts or berries.  He thought she had been very curt.

    “I don’t have time for all this nonsense again, Bernard.  You’ve just got to pay better attention.”

    Actually, Bernard thought he had been paying attention, at least pretty well.  He remembered that berries were hard and nuts were soft.  Or was it the other way around?  He remembered that nuts were brightly colored and berries were dull.  Or was that the other way around, too?  Well anyway, he was positive that his mother had told him that berries were from trees and that nuts came from bushes.  Well, sort of positive.  Bernard just wanted her to teach him again so he could understand and remember.

    “Can’t you just take me out and show me?  Just once, please?”

    “Bernard, I have too much work to do.  I taught you all about those things before.  You should have just listened better and studied harder.”

    “I tried mom, honest.  It’s just that it’s hard to see them in my head when I’ve never seen them with my eyes or held them in my beak.”

    Bernard really did want to learn all the important things his mom told him.  Every night she would try to take a few minutes and talk over the day with him.  She tried to teach him things by telling him everything she could remember.  The problem was that all she could do was talk about things.  Bernard didn’t seem to learn things very well that way.  He wanted to actually see them and touch them in order to get to know them.  After a while he would get bored with just the talking and he would begin to fidget in the nest or on the branch.  Sometimes he would get distracted and start looking out over the parking lot or up at the clouds above the tree through the branches.  Once he even took off on a long glide right in the middle of his mother’s talking.

    “If you just insist on flying around, playing all day young man, then I suggest you fly on up to the trees above the church and figure it out for yourself!”

    “Mom, can’t you go with me and show me just once?”

    “I’m sorry Bernard, but I have to go out and find some twigs and string to fix up the sagging part of the nest on the east side, next to the trunk.  Those squirrels and chipmunks keep banging into it every time they run up and down the neighborhood.  I’ve told you once, and I’ve told you twice.  Now that should be enough.  You’d think you could learn things the first time.”

    With that, his mother had departed in a huff.  It wasn’t that she was mean or didn’t want to take the time to teach Bernard all the things he needed to know.  It was just that she was so busy and lonely.  But what she said was indeed the problem.  Bernard didn’t learn things the first time.  Or even the second or the third.  At least he didn’t learn them just by talking about them.  Sometimes he felt so stupid.  It seemed like everybody else learned things easily and by just listening.

    When his Aunt Betty had visited last week with her twins they had just showed off.  They both knew how to fly better than Bernard.  They knew the names of all the different trees.  Lonnie could even count up to six without looking at his two feet.  The other one, Loretta, had flown down to the lake on her own and had brought back a minnow to share.  She said she had caught it in the shallows all by herself.  Her mother had just bragged and bragged on her all afternoon, although Bernard had a sneaking suspicion that Loretta had just found the fish already dead.  Even so, his cousins were smarter than he was and they were six days younger!  The more he had thought about it, the dumber Bernard had felt.

    From his lookout post atop the church steeple, Bernard was scanning in a great circular motion.  He was trying to let his eyes settle on what must be a berry tree or a nut bush.  He didn’t really know what he was looking for.  He just knew that it must be different from what he was used to and he hoped it would sort of jump out at him and announce itself.  He admitted to himself that it all seemed so very useless, but he was afraid to go back without at least trying his very best to remember what his mother told him.  All of a sudden something caught his attention.  It wasn’t anything he could really put his claw on or sink his beak into.  It was just sort of a blur in his vision, off to his left.  There it was again.  It was a jerky movement on the trunk of a very tall pine tree above where the houses ended.  Well, it certainly wasn’t a nut or even a berry, but it was worth investigating nonetheless.

    Bernard dropped from the steeple in a step glide until he gathered speed.  Then he started his forward flapping motion to gain more altitude.  He kept his yellow eyes glued to the tree he had located and locked it in his mind as the one where he had first seen the movement.  After he was high enough, he just floated on the currents.  The updraft from the slope of the hills where they mounted to meet the steeper mountains formed a perfect pillow for him to float on.  Bernard felt he could hang there up in the sky forever.  Again he saw the flash of movement and he dove for the tree in order to intercept it before it stopped again.  He fluffed out his wings in order to brake just before he slammed into the tree trunk and he dug his claws into the ruffled bark on the side of the tree.  He hung there, sideways, waiting for another movement to catch his eye.  Nothing came and he started to edge his way around the tree, one foot at a time, up and over a branch that protruded almost straight out from the trunk.  He had just raised one foot to take the next step and was sort of in mid-balance when a striped blur almost knocked him over.

    “Hey fly boy, watch where you’re going,” squeaked a little chipmunk.

    “You watch where you’re going you little rodent,” retorted Bernard.

    “This is MY tree and I’m VERY busy and you are definitely NOT welcome.  Now get lost,” was the furry answer Bernard received.

    “Who the . . .”  Bernard was about to say a word he had heard Lonnie use, but he knew his mother would wash out his mouth with tree sap if she ever caught him using it, so he changed the word just in time.  “. . . HECK do you think you are?”

    “I’m Chester,” answered Chester.  “Who are you?”

    “Well, I’m Bernard,” answered Bernard, “and I can fly anywhere I want to, so there!”

    For a moment it seemed as if a confrontation was inevitable.  Chester puffed up his tail, flicking it back and forth rapidly.  He stood up.  He crouched down.  He stood up again, all in rapid succession.  He darted toward Bernard then stopped.  He stood up again to his full height of two and one-eighth inches.  He flicked his brown and black and cream colored, striped tail menacingly and started chattering in a threatening manner.  Bernard nearly fell off the branch laughing so hard, but he caught himself just in time.

    “What’s so darn funny you pint-sized feather duster?”  asked Chester.

    “You must think you are Rambo-rodent,” chirped Bernard merrily.

    Bernard tried to lessen his laughter by looking tough himself.  He puffed up his neck feathers and fluffed out his tail.  He stuck out his neck and turned his head sideways so he could look at Chester unblinkingly with just one narrowed, yellow eye.  Bernard drew himself up to his perched height of six and a half inches, more or less, but he knew Chester wouldn’t know the difference.  He spread his feet out wider to get a better stanch in case the two of them were going to have it out.  Now it was Chester’s turn to start laughing.

    “Well I’ll be.  You must be a jujitsu jay bird,” mocked the little chipmunk.

    Now with a beak it’s very hard to tell if a bird is smiling.  However, Bernard began to blink his eyes very rapidly and maybe, just maybe, the corners of his mouth at the rear of his beak began to twitch upwards.  Chester’s tail began flicking back and forth very rapidly and the corners of his mouth definitely curled up at the ends.  All of a sudden it was apparent to both Bernard and Chester that they both had been posing to each other.  Neither one really wanted to fight and both of them really wanted to be friends.  Chester finally collected himself enough to start asking questions of Bernard.

    “I haven’t seen you here before, Bernard.  Where do you live?”

    “Over in the tall pine tree by the Carl’s Jr. parking lot on the side away from the dumpster.”

    “Yeah, I think I know the place.”

    “Where do you live, Chester?”

    “A little farther down the mountain in a hollow log next to the lumber road.  That’s where my mother got killed.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry,” responded Bernard, “I didn’t know.”

    “That’s okay.  It happened a while ago,” Chester quietly responded and then added quickly, “What are you doing up around here?”

    And so Bernard told Chester about his search for colorful-nut bushes and dull-berry trees and about his mother and about not learning very well.  Throughout Bernard’s tale Chester never once cracked a smile or let a chuckle escape his lips.  Actually, he was becoming interested in Bernard.  He liked a bird who was so intense about what he was doing and he decided, right then and there, that they were going to be friends and he was going to help Bernard learn about gathering natural food.

    “Bernard, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to help you, and that’s a fact.  Okay?”

    “Yes, but . . .” began Bernard.

    “No BUTs, no ORs, no IFs.  Got that?” demanded Chester.  “And one other thing.”

    “Huh?  What?” asked Bernard.

    “You’re going to be the teacher!” insisted Chester.

    Bernard was incredulous, not believing his ears, but he nodded his head solemnly and slowly indicating he agreed.  He actually wasn’t very certain about the entire project, but Chester was a kind of take-charge chipmunk who really seemed to know what he was doing.  First, Chester asked Bernard if he ever saw a biscuit in the dumpster with jelly or jam on it.  Bernard said he had and that he liked the sweet, purple goo.  Chester then asked him if he knew what it was made out of.

    “No.” answered Bernard truthfully.

    “Well, it’s made out of berries.” Chester responded.  “Is that purple goo soft or hard?”

    “It’s real soft, of course.” Bernard offered.

    “Yeah, and . . .?” prompted Chester.

    “Well, if it’s soft . . .” began Bernard.

    “Go on!” Chester encouraged.

    “. . . and it’s made out of berries . . .” Bernard continued.

    “Yeah, yeah, now you’re getting it!” praised Chester.

    “. . . then berries must be soft, not hard!” concluded Bernard.

    “Absolutely right!  And therefore . . .” began Chester again.

    “Therefore, nuts must be hard,” completed Bernard.

    “You got it, Bernard, and you taught yourself.  Now, I’m going to go get a nut to show you.”

    And away ran Chester straight up the tree as fast as four little paws could go.  A moment later something very hard clunked on Bernard’s head.  He looked around, puzzled, for a moment and then looked back up the tree.  Chester was racing back down.  When he arrived his cheeks were all puffy until he stood up on the branch and started pulling tan and brown and chocolate nuts from his mouth with his front paws.  Bernard turned his head quizzically from side to side.  He looked at the things in front of him on the tree branch with first one eye and then the other.  Then he tapped one of them with his beak.  It was hard!

    “Now I’m going to get some berries.” Chester said as he disappeared down the tree spiraling around the trunk and disappearing off into the bushes.  He reappeared a moment or two later and spiraled his way back up the tree to Bernard’s perch.  He popped several ripe, red, round berries from his oversized cheeks onto the branch.  Again Bernard looked with both eyes, one at a time, and then stabbed one of the berries.  His beak went in and when he pulled back, a berry was speared on the end of his beak and was dripping juice onto Chester’s head.  Bernard shook his head violently and the berry sailed off into space and fell somewhere to the ground below.  He tried again, but this time he opened his beak and gripped the berry from both top and bottom like he was using tongs.  Bernard then tilted his head all the up, opened his beak, and let the berry fall in his mouth.  He squeezed it with his tongue against the roof of his mouth and let it flow down his throat with the juice.  It was sweet.  It was gooey.  It was soft!

    “Okay now,” interrupted Chester, “tell me again.”

    “Nuts are hard and brown and come from trees and berries are soft and red and come from bushes,” responded Bernard.

    “Great!” Chester said with emphasis.  “We’ll work out the details later.”

   And this is how Bernard and Chester became the best of friends. The end.

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