Part 9 -Bertha Digby saves the Woods.

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There are those among us that help Mother Earth heal hurts of the Cousin Animals and earned respect from Humans. Bertha Digby, a mere Squirrel, is one of these unique creatures.

Bertha Digby loved flowers. When she left her parents, Bertha brought all the seeds and nuts she could carry. She journeyed to a spacious valley and saw a creek meandering through a few shrubs. She flicked her tail and chattered, "The perfect place for my garden." As she buried her nuts and seeds, she chatted to anyone who listened, "The seeds and nuts will grow into a large woods."

Often she visited her family and cousins in the next valley to bring back more trees: walnuts, oaks, almonds, alders, willows, elms, fir, spruce, cedars, cherry, plum, and crab apples filled the valley. Flowers, grasses, and shrubs grew in sunny places.

As the Cousin Animals, birds, and insects passed by Bertha Digby's garden, these folks asked, "Can we live in your woods?" Bertha flicked her tail and cheerfully chattered, "The woods welcome you." She was happy if anyone enjoyed her garden. The beavers built a dam to store the creek water.

In turn, every cousin, bird, fish, lizard, and insect in the valley admired Bertha Digby. These folks knew Bertha cared for every tree, the shrubs, all the grasses, and flowers. Bertha grew an abundant woods for all of them. The Animals Cousins were safe. They had food, homes, and their families were happy.

Bertha Digby journeyed into the next valley to visit her relations. She wanted more flower seeds to plant under the big trees in the shade. While walking home, Berta Digby saw gray smoke reaching into the sky. She ran up a hill and gasped. "Trees burning! Flowers!" She saw her Animals Cousins walk among burned trees trunks that were once her woods. The Cousins climbed the hill, dazed moving with slowed heaviness, faces saddened. Bertha Digby ran to them. "What happened?"

Mother Rabbit told her. "After the bright flash and the loud BOOM, the immense flames blazed hot. Around us, flames raging to eat us. Thick, dark smoke choked and made us cough. The flames scorched us as we hopped for the Beaver's pond. Hours went by before the smoke cleared, just ashes. All the trees, the flowers, our homes, and our foods gone. FIRE ate everything. Many of us are missing."

Sorrow overwhelmed everyone. In silence, the Animal Cousins looked at Bertha Digby. Fox dared to say, "We are moving to the next valley."

The animals climbed to the top of the hill. Bertha Digby followed them, "Some trees are here. You can build new homes. Stay and help me replant."

Bear whimpered from a saddened heart. "We're moving to the next valley."
Cousin Opposum said, "There is nothing here."
Cousin Fox said, "FIRE ate everything."
Cousin Lizard said, "Our families broken."
Bertha begged, "PLEASE!"
They shook their heads, "NO!"

Bertha held on to them, "Everyone is needed to replant our woods." She pulled at them, "Our homes we will rebuild. We will have enough food. Stay, don't go, please help me."

"We're traveling to the next valley." Cousin Wolf pushed Bertha away.

Bertha burst into tears. "Go if you want. I will rebuild the woods."

Papa Rabbit hopped over to Bertha, "My children and I will stay. The work will help us with our grief over Mama Rabbit."

Mama Bear came over, "The woods are all I know. I will stay with my cubs and help."

Mother Beaver turned, "Of course, my family will stay and fix the dam."

Father Beaver added, "With the water, we can grow new trees." Hearing Father Beaver's words about water convinced the Cousins.

Cousin Fox said, "The Woods is our home, and we can replant it."

Bertha Digby sighed, relieved, twitched her tail. "Each of you will have a job." "The work will be hard." The Cousins nodded their heads in agreement, "We are ready."
Bertha Digby directed, "Cousin Coyote, Fox, and Wolf dig the dirt while Cousin Pig rutted and mixed in the ashes."

"Cousin Rats and Chipmunks bring Oak, Walnut, Maple, and Hazel stones along with Pine, Blue Spruce, Fir, and Cedar cones from the neighboring valleys."

"Cousin Squirrels bury the nuts and cones into the soil."

"Mama Bear with your cubs bury the raspberries, blackberries, wild strawberries, and currants seeds into the soil."

"Father and Mother Beaver with your children repair the logs in the dam to catch the creek's water for the plants."

When Papa Rabbit hopped along with the grass seeds, he tripped, and Wind blew the seeds all over. His children gathered more flower seeds and threw them to Wind, who again danced and blew the seeds everywhere.

All the Cousins danced and sang while they worked.

Birds scratched the seeds into the softly prepared soil.

Cousins Gopher and Mole with Prairie Dog dug tunnels to spread the water over the valley for the new trees and flowers to sprout.

Cousins Porcupine and Skunk with Weasel guarded the new plantings against clumsy feet or hungry unwanted visitors.

When the flowers bloomed, the Bees and Moths with the Ants spread pollen from flower to flower, which grew more seeds for the whole meadow.

Bertha Digby chattered directions and twisted her tail up and down with pleasure. "This is good." "Plant right here." "Enough soil." "More water." Rains fell every day with the right amount of water. The sun shone perfectly warm for the new plants.

Other Animal Cousins who lived in the neighboring valleys heard about the planting of the burnt Woods. They traveled to help and brought seeds and trees to plant. The Woods blossomed. The Cousins were pleased with their work.

One day Father Beaver pounded a warning, "Humans come into the valley." Birds hid in the shrubs, insects in the stones, Squirrels in the trees, Rabbits in grasses, and the Lizards under large rocks. The other Cousins spied for the bushes and trees.

Carefully, Humans walked through the woods, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the grown of trees. They smelled the flowers. Bertha chattered to them, "Easy with that flower!" "Be careful!" "This is our home!" "We love that tree!" "Watch where you walk."

Humans seemed to understand Bertha Digby's chatter. They walked carefully, staying with the group, enjoying every inch of the woods. They carried no FIRE.

Days later, Father Beaver pounded another warning. "Humans come with long sticks." The Animal Cousins observes the Humans, who worked for days moving dirt to wedged paths through the trees. Bertha chattered alerts to them. "Walk here." "Not there!" "Watch the flowers!" "Look out for that small tree." "That's a home!"

The paths finished, many Humans walked through the new growth of trees and flowers. They talked and laughed, pointing to this tree, or that tree, or those shrubs. They touched and smelled the flowers.

Bertha flipped her tail at the Humans and chattered along with the other Squirrels whose heads nodded and tail bobbing. "Stay on the paths." "Step carefully!" "That is beetle's house." "Careful with that new tree." "Watch those branches!" "Just smell the flowers!" "Please, whisper our babies' sleep." The Birds chirped warning, "Respect Bertha and our woods; we live here."
Human respected Bertha Digby's chatter and the Cousins' warnings. The woods grew into a forest mightier than the burnt woods.
To this day, Bertha Digby's great, great, grand, children guard and the trees, bushes, and flowers while directing visiting Humans to walk on the paths and keep campfires in pits. Humans respect Grandmother Bertha Digby's work, which saved the woods for all of us: animals and humans.
© 2006 My folktale to honor all Animal Cousins who and restore woods, that we, Humans destroy by one means or other; FIRE being the worst predator eating everything. Published as 'Saving the Woods' pages 67 - 69, in the anthology from the 4th Street Studio's Saturday Salons, The Livermore Wine Country Literary Harvest.

______________BEWARE of FIRE.

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