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January 2000

The Mother of the Forest and The Creature of Curiosity

One day, many lifetimes ago, a little redwood was born in the middle of a vast forest. No sooner had the tiny sprout popped its green head out of the soft needle-covered forest floor, than it began to ask questions. Because the forest was alive with friendly creatures, the little tree got many answers to her many, many questions.

She learned the language of every animal that lighted in her branches and every creature that scurried across her roots. Even the insects that trickled through the deep furrows of her bark taught her to understand their whispers. She was a good and patient listener, and so she learned about the big wide world around her without ever having to move from the place where she was growing.

The little tree soon grew to be a gigantic tree with branches reaching high into the sky and roots that spread deep into the ground. The creatures that lived near the mighty tree made homes for themselves among her roots, in her bark and high in her branches. Because she was always so gentle and protective to every creature in the forest, the animals all gave her a very honorable name. “Mother of the Forest” they called her; and they deeply respected her for her tenderness, her protection and her vast store of knowledge.

But despite her age and her wisdom, the Mother of the Forest was still very curious. Every day she listened carefully to the creatures that came to her and every day she would learn something new. A complex, lovely world wove itself in and out of her branches and wound itself warm and damp about her roots and the tree treasured every strand of this marvelous tapestry.

But often the answers to her questions did not seem complete. She asked the grey spider meticulously spinning its perfect orb, why it spun such a beautiful circle. The spider replied simply that it spun to trap its supper. But when the morning lit up a gossamer web hung with thousands of tiny rainbow water globes, the tree felt sure that a web was not simply for capturing supper. When she asked the white-crowned sparrow why he sang so beautifully, he replied that he was only claiming his branch in the tree. But when his lilting melody made the whole forest come alive with music, the tree knew that the song was not given simply for boasting.

One day, as the Mother was sleeping the very still sleep of a great Sequoia, dreaming of still more questions and mysteries, a small, sharp pain pierced her trunk. Although the vast tree had very thick skin and it was not easy to disturb her, this pain was quite different from the pecking of a bird. It was different than the chewing of a bug. It wasn’t even anything like the clawing of a bear. She looked down and saw the long straight shaft of an arrow sticking straight out from her trunk. This was an arrow shot from the bow of a two-legged creature that walked upright and looked out at the world with two intelligent and very curious eyes. The man approached the tree on quiet feet and pulled the arrow from her side. His hands felt the furrowed bark and his eyes looked up, up to the top of the tree towering far above him.

The Mother of the Forest had never before seen a creature like this one. Here, perhaps, was a kindred spirit; one who wished to learn and discover the world as much as she did. She would speak to this animal; they could learn much from each other. The tree could talk to all of the creatures in the forest, but this new creature did not seem to understand. The Mother of the Forest spoke as loudly as she could and the two-legged animal only stopped to look up to the top of the tall tree and to listen to the wind blow through the branches. Try as she might, the Mother of the Forest was not able to make the human understand the questions that she was trying to ask.

That night, as the moon rose, cool and distant in the sky, the old Mother Redwood could stand it no longer. She wanted to know the world more than her roots could allow. She wanted to see the world with creature eyes and feel it with sensitive hands. She wanted to hear and taste it. Most of all she wanted to walk around; to travel the wide world and explore its wonders. She willed her roots to walk, but only succeeded in exposing one of her larger roots and tripping a startled squirrel that was scampering past.

The curiosity deep inside her began to smolder; it burned hotter and hotter until flames began. And in the center of the flame, a creature was being born; furry and agile with sensitive hands, and bright, very intelligent eyes. But most of all, this creature was curious. The ball of curiosity burned so hot that a cave began to form in the center of the tree. By the time the first rays of the morning sun began to filter through the branches, the fire had burned through the thick bark on one side of the tree and opened a door to the heart of the tree. The cool forest air rushed in, hushing the flames.

The creature of curiosity came barreling out of the charred cave. The heat had caused dark scorch marks across its eyes and lines of charred fur ran in stripes across its tail. It skidded across the forest floor and the gray-black ball of fur rolled to a stop next to a puddle. Chattering and scolding, the animal plunged its little hands into the water to cool them off.

Raccoon had been born and he was just as curious as the giant redwood that had birthed him. He could pick up the smallest of objects in his little black hands and turn them around and about, carefully examining the details. He tasted this and that, always searching for new smells and delicacies. He could run and climb and scamper wherever he wished to explore. The redwood’s child became the eyes and ears of the towering Mother of the Forest. Raccoon would follow the two-legged animals, watching them closely for many moons, and then he would amble back to the cave in the tree and describe to the waiting redwood all the wonders of the human villages. And the tree would smile and sigh and drink in the stories that her creature of curiosity would share. There seemed to be no end to the wonderful tales that raccoon would relate. At last the tree was satisfied.

To this very day, the raccoon can be found investigating the habitations of humans, rummaging through their garbage cans and learning everything he can about those strange two-legged animals so that he can hurry home and share his discoveries with the Mother of the Forest. Quite often, too, you will see him plunge his little hands into a cool stream of water as if he cannot quite forget the fire of curiosity that gave him life.

by Ruth Gilmore; January 2000

I welcome any comments or helpful critiques that you may have regarding this story. If it might be of use to you in your teaching, feel free to use it. I only ask that my name be attached to the story as I may try to rewrite it someday as a children’s book.

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