One Winter’s Day
A Jasper Story
by Ron Burley
Once upon a time, there was a little gray squirrel named Jasper, who lived high in a tall tree, next to the big house on the hill.
It was Jasper’s first winter in his new home, across the creek and up the hill from the craggy oak where he grew up. As he uncurled from sleep one cold morning, he felt a little hungry. He looked in the nut box in his tree house. It was empty. “Got to dig up some food,” he thought. “Glad I hid so much away before winter came.”
During the fall, Jasper had collected more than enough acorns and pine nuts to keep him well fed until spring. All the food was buried in secret nut holes around the forest. There were so many, that it was hard to remember where all the food was buried. Daddy squirrel had taught Jasper how to make a map on a piece of bark. But Jasper thought that was too much work. He had invented a better way. Jasper dug his nut holes along the forest paths and marked each with a small piece of red ribbon he had found in the forest. That way, he didn’t have to remember where he’d hidden the nuts. When he felt hungry, all he needed to do was walk down the paths and look for the ribbons.
But when Jasper stepped onto the limb outside his hideaway, he knew he had a problem. A white blanket of snow covered the branch. It covered the trees, the bushes, everything in the forest. Worst of all, it covered the paths and the ribbons that showed him where the nut holes were. Jasper became scared, a started to feel a lot hungry. “I’m going to starve,” he thought and started to cry.
“Whoooo is sounding so sad?” said a voice from above. Jasper looked to the sky as Oscar the owl swooped in from his nest a couple of trees away.
“I am,” replied Jasper. “The snow has covered the paths and I can’t see the ribbons I used to mark my nut holes.”
“Where’s your map?” asked the big gray owl.
“I don’t have one,” said Jasper.
Oscar looked at Jasper with scowling owl eyes. “Didn’t Daddy Owl teach you to make a map?”
“Yes,” said Jasper, sheepishly. “But, I thought that was too much trouble. I thought a I had a better way.”
Oscar eyes opened wide. Jasper thought he was about to be scolded, but instead, the old gray owl leaned close and said, “Well, now you know better. In any case, I may have and idea to help you find your food.”
“Really,” asked Jasper. “I would be so very grateful.”
“I’ll be right back,” said the owl. “You wait here.” Oscar stepped from the branch and soared out of sight into the sky.
A short time later, Oscar spiraled down and landed on the branch next to Jasper. “I may have solved your problem,” he said. “But I will need at least one acorn. Do you have one?”
“No, I am all out,” said Jasper, but then he remembered the golden acorn next to his bed. He brought it out to Oscar, who said. “Take it to the bottom of the tree, and wait.” Jasper climbed down the tree with the golden acorn in his mouth.
“What next?” He called to Oscar, sitting on the limb high above.
“Just stay there,” replied the old owl. “Help is on its way.”
Jasper waited in the snow at the bottom of the tree. His paws were cold. He squinted his eyes, hoping to catch a clue to the paths beneath the snow. But he couldn’t see a thing.
He was rubbing his paws together to keep them warm when he heard a noise in the forest. He recognized the sound of a big animal coming in his direction. Big animals and little squirrels don’t always get along real well. He called up to Oscar. “I’m scared.”
“Trust me,” said the owl. “Stay where you are.”
Jasper waited, but as the animal sound grew louder, he became more scared. He closed his eyes, and covered his ears. Even through his paws, he heard the animal burst through the bushes. Jasper could smell it’s foul breath. Jasper was shaking. He just knew he was about to be someone’s lunch. Then the young squirrel felt a slimy wetness on his face. He opened his eyes. He was staring at the shiny black nose of a big brown and white floppy eared dog.
“Who and what are you?” Yelled Jasper. “And why are you licking my face? Yuck!”
Oscar spoke from above. “Calm down little squirrel. That is Darby. He’s my basset hound friend from across the road. He’s going to help you find your lost nuts.”
“Yup. That’s me,” said the dog. “Darby. Nice to meet you.” He stuck out his paw.
Jasper extended his own paw. “Nice to meet you to,” he said.
“Just saying hello,” replied the basset. “What do you say we find some acorns?”
“Sure,” said Jasper, feeling hopeful. “But how?”
“Let me see that nut in your hand,” asked Darby.
Jasper held out the nut for Darby, who sniffed it, then sniffed Jasper.
“What are you doing that for?” Asked Jasper.
“So I know what I’m smelling for,” replied the basset. “With this nose, I could sniff out a bad apple at the bottom of the barrel. “Follow me.”
Darby trotted off into the snow with Jasper close behind. The basset hound sniffed at the snow, his wet black nose dancing over the white carpet. He walked in circles and then in straight lines. Jasper was beginning to lose hope, when Darby stopped in his tracks and dug at the snow next to a dormant wild rose. The basset uncovered moist earth and, to Jasper’s amazement, six golden-brown acorns.
“Wonderful,” said squirrel, jumping joyfully.
For most of the morning, Jasper followed Darby on the acorn hunt through the forest. They uncovered all of Jasper’s nut holes, more than a hundred acorns. “Thank you very much,” he said to his new friend Darby. “How can I repay you for all your trouble?”
“You are very welcome, young squirrel,” replied the hound. “But you don’t need to pay me. Just help out someone else sometime.”
“I will,” promised Jasper.
“I must go now,” said the hound. “There’s a bone back home with my name on it.” Darby trotted off into the forest.
Jasper looked up to branch next to his tree house. “And thank you, Oscar owl.”
“My pleasure,” said Oscar, stepping off the branch and into the air. With three beats of his wings and he landed back in his nest.
Jasper spent the rest of the afternoon, reburying his acorns. This time, he made a careful map, which he took with him into his tree house as the sun set. “Sometimes new ideas are better,” thought Jasper, “But not always.” That night, Jasper’s stomach was full, and he knew that even if it snowed again, that thanks to the map, he would have a good meal.
Jasper smiled, closed his eyes, and was asleep before you could say, “Goodnight squirrel.”
* Underlined words are spoken by the audience