FELICITY AND THE NOSE
"Felicity", said her mother Nancy, "Weevil's gone fishing again and father John's working, why don't you and I fill a bag full of goodies and go off to the cabin John's building down the bush road."
"Oh, yes," said Felicity, she was very enthusiastic right away, dancing around the table and humming a little song to herself, just a trifle off key, as she usually did. So off she went to get dressed. Five minutes later she was ready. It takes longer for people who are older and think of more things they should be doing before they finish getting ready. But mother Nancy knew how keen Felicity was to go, so she quickly prepared things for them, and in a short while away they went to the cabin.
I haven't told you about the cabin yet, but their house was at the end of town. It was about two miles past the house down the trail into the bush to the cabin. John had been building it himself for almost a year now and all the family thought it was quite romantic and a great hideaway.
Away then went mother Nancy carrying the goodies and Felicity pirouetting and dancing around her as she went. Felicity always travelled at least three times as far as a straight line, so she must have run, danced, frolicked and walked about six miles to the cabin. There was so much to chase, inspect or avoid on one or other side of the trail.
They crossed the bridge and struck off along the trail heading into the bush. It was a beautiful morning; the dew still shimmered on spiders' webs,
and clung in droplets on grasses and wild plants. The leaves of the trees began to let fall their tiny glistening water beads as the sun rose about them and spread its heat over the forest. The birds had already sung their dawn songs and now in the bush were sounds of activity as life there went about its business for another day.
There were several twists and turns in the track, and after going up over one steep hill and with Felicity's head bobbing into sight and out of it behind many of the rocks along the way, finally they reached the small clearing where father John had started to build the cabin. The site must have been cleared about ten years before, because it stretched out next to a high rocky hillside, some seventy feet long and forty feet wide, covered with blackberries and juniper and small trembling leaf aspen, with ironwood growing up the hillside and a stand of young paper birches, thin, tall and straight along the south side.
John had levelled the ground at one end of the clearing and built up one corner of the site with rocks so that it looked out over the edge of the slope falling away to a small pond, and the other side faced directly on to the clearing. He had dug twelve holes in the rocky terrain, put grocery boxes in them and filled these with cement, then came the main beam and joists, and most recently a plywood subfloor covering the area of the cabin.
When mother Nancy and Felicity arrived all they could see was a nice new platform at the end of the clearing. It looked rather strange there in the middle of the forest. "You'd think your father was going to hold a series of public meetings", commented Nancy, looking at it with some family pride but also faint amusement at its incongruity as it perched there as though on a large shelf on the hillside:
Felicity scrambled up on the flat subfloor and ran back and forth peering over the edge to the ground in every direction. "It feels very firm", she said and promptly jumped up and down on it without causing the flooring to bend at all. Then she noticed the edge of the plywood flooring. "Look at this" she called to her mother. And jumping down to the ground she walked curiously all around the four sides step by step and then announced to her mother who had begun unpacking the goodies, "Why, it's all eaten", and indeed it was. Somebody had gone carefully around the edge of the plywood and gnawed it so that it sloped inward a little now instead of being upright. This had been done on every side and as the wood showed white instead of brown it had happened not long ago. "Poor John," said Nancy, "he'll be so upset," but Felicity was engrossed in finding out who had done this. Obviously someone with sharp teeth, and very persistent they were, and very hungry, to go all the way around the edge like that.
Nancy called her to sit on the rocks and eat and there they sat enjoying the sunlight and tree shadows moving across the clearing as small clouds passed overhead. They talked about the cabin and who could be the culprit. "Could it be a bear?" asked Felicity. "I think not," replied her mother, "I doubt a bear would bother nibbling at the plywood all around the subfloor."
After they had eaten, Felicity persuaded her mother to go exploring and so they did, spending the next few hours searching the area for clues as to who had gnawed the cabin floor. Then they settled down to dig a small garden patch for growing herbs.
By the time all this was done the sun had moved across the centre of the sky and was now slanting its rays into the clearing from beyond the small pond. It was almost time to leave, but first they stopped to have a late afternoon snack.
Felicity walked around the cabin floor once more and sat down on the hillside to look at it. She put down her sandwich and went over to the chewed plywood again. "It didn't eat the boards," she said, "only the plywood - what's different about plywood?" She looked at it carefully. "They must put something in it to stick the pieces together," she said and went back to pick up her sandwich. It was gone. Now she was really cross. "Who did that," she called out, "somebody took my sandwich." She searched all around. "I'm really mad at you, whoever you are; first you ate the cabin and now you've taken my sandwich." "Who's here." Silence. "Come on, now, I know you're here", said Felicity. "I've got some things to say to you, who's here?" Silence again.
Then a Voice spoke. "Nobody," it said.
"You said," exclaimed Felicity at once, "just what I thought, you not only stole my sandwich but you don't tell the truth, of course you're not nobody."
"You left it lying there, I thought you were through with it," the Voice said.
"Of course I wasn't through with it," said Felicity, "I just put it down for a moment."
"You can't do that here." said the Voice, "you have to live by your wits."
"Well," said Felicity, "even so, there's no excuse for eating the cabin."
"That's different," said the Voice, "how would you like to be so hungry you had to do that?"
"There must be other things to eat without spoiling the cabin," she said.
"The problem is," said the Voice, "there's glue between the wood strips and it tastes very good, although you have to chew a lot of wood to get at it. I didn't think anyone would mind just missing a half-inch off the top edge all around. After all, I did it very neatly."
"That's no excuse," said Felicity, "it's interfering with other people's property, like my sandwich."
"No, it's not," said the Voice, "it's through not looking after things and paying proper attention to them, that's what it is."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with a Voice I can't even see," she said, and got up to walk back to the other end of the cabin platform, where her mother was. She knew better than to tell her mother she had been talking to a Voice.
"Do you have any more sandwiches?" she asked. "Yes, two left," said Nancy, "and you can have them both." She handed them to Felicity who turned to go back, taking her soft drink can as well.
Back she went towards the other end of the cabin again, and as she turned she saw a Nose, poking out from around the far end of the cabin. A small black Nose it was,
and as she began walking towards it, it vanished behind the corner. When she arrived at that end of the cabin, of course it was gone.
"Well, where are you now?" she asked.
"You can't be too careful," said the Nose, "I'm still here. Is that my sandwich?"
"I haven't even had time to offer it to you yet," said Felicity, "don't be so rude."
"You can't waste time on formalities here," said the Nose, "you have to act quickly to survive. In fact I've been working out a theory during the last winter or two. I call it the survival of the fittest, or my theory of natural selection."
"Don't be silly," said Felicity,"that was thought of 150 years ago by Charles Darwin."
"No it wasn't," said the Nose, "it's been going on a lot longer than that."
"Well, do you want the sandwich or not," asked Felicity.
"Of course, but I hardly know you yet. You just leave it on the rock there for me when you go."
"Then I won't get to see you," she said.
"That's as it should be," said the Nose, "that's to protect the element of surprise."
"I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about," said Felicity, finishing her drink and putting the empty can on the rock by the sandwich. Then back she went to see how her mother was getting on with weeding the herb garden patch and packing things up.
"I've found a friend," Felicity announced, "but I don't know what it is yet."
"Is it an animal?" asked Nancy.
"I think so," said Felicity, "it talks and eats and has a nose but I haven't seen it yet."
Just then there was a clatter from the can. Somehow it had been knocked over and rolled down off the rock. When Felicity went to see, the can had rolled down to the ground and the sandwich was gone.
"Now where are you," said Felicity, a trifle exasperated.
"Not far away," said the Voice, "and thank you for the sandwich, it was very good, but there was nothing in the can."
"Why should there be, it was my can," said Felicity, "you're greedy."
"No, not greedy, just hungry, said the Voice, "and I have to eat everything I can when I find it because I don't know how long I may have to wait to get something else. There's no store here to go to."
"I'm sorry," said Felicity contritely, "but can't you come to say hello, I've got to go now."
"Not now," said the Voice, "but maybe next time -- you can't be too careful you know, as your Mr. Darwin said."
"He's not my Mr. Darwin," replied Felicity, "see you soon."
"Maybe." said the Voice, and Felicity heard breaking sticks and crushing leaves going further and further away, although she couldn't exactly see anything moving.
Then she and her mother left for home, and all the long way back Felicity kept going off into the bush and walking on sticks and leaves trying to duplicate the sound she had heard. In the end she concluded it was lighter than she was, and that it went quite slowly and not at a run. After they got back she spent the next few days looking in books and asking questions of friends.
"It was too small for a bear or a timber wolf," she thought, "and too slow for fox and I didn't smell anything so I don't think it was a skunk; I wonder if it was a porcupine, they move rather slowly, and Uncle Fred says they eat glue."
Felicity kept asking her mother if they could go back again to the cabin site, and sure enough a few days later her mother said yes, and away they went again just as before. This time, though, they packed more sandwiches and spare bread, just in case of unseen visitors. She had told the whole story to her mother, who listened understandingly, although she had her doubts about the conversation and Mr. Darwin.
This time Felicity could hardly wait for things to be unpacked when they reached the cabin site, and ran expectantly towards the back of the cabin waving the sandwiches.
"Look what I've got for you this time," she said.
But there was no answer. She searched and called, and they did some more gardening, and it was not until the late afternoon sun rays were slanting across the rocks again that she noticed the rather wilted sandwich on the rock had disappeared and the small nose was protruding from another cabin corner, this time the side near the pond.
"I've caught you this time," said Felicity gaily, racing to the corner, knowing that her mother was at the far end so that the unseen or almost unseen visitor would be trapped between them. But when she looked around the corner, there was nothing in sight.
"How did you do that," she asked.
"That was easy," said a Voice up above.
She looked up and there was a raccoon with shiny coat and black nose pointing at her, forefeet stretched out between limb and tree trunk, quite motionless, and looking completely at home and comfortable, some fifteen feet above ground.
"Please come down, I won't hurt you," said Felicity.
"Very well, then, I won't hurt you either," replied the raccoon, descending quickly and gracefully but keeping a discreet distance.
"You have very strong claws," said Felicity, "come and have another sandwich."
"Thank you," said the raccoon.
It was obvious it would not walk right up to her. So she put the sandwich on the rock and retreated a little way to sit on another rock. The raccoon sat facing her and lifted the sandwich to its mouth with both front paws. It took small bites and chewed and chewed. When a piece dropped, it put down one paw on the ground, never taking its gaze from her, and felt around for the missing morsel.
"My, you're a slow eater," said Felicity, "I've almost finished and you're only half done."
"If I eat slowly there's no waste and the food goes further," the raccoon explained. "It may be several days before I eat again. On the other hand," it said dryly, "it may only be a few minutes. Do you have any more?"
Felicity was to gain a new experience during the next half hour or so. Her mother sat some distance away watching them both. She kept returning to her mother for more food and taking it to the raccoon.
"Do you realize," she said finally, "that's six sandwiches and a quarter of a loaf of whole wheat bread you've eaten?"
"Not bad a all," said the raccoon, unabashed, "do you have anything good to drink?"
"Well", said Felicity, "we have a can of ginger ale and a jug of ice water."
"I prefer the water, thank you," said the raccoon politely and after eating some more, proceeded to pick up the empty can into which Nancy had poured the water, and holding it carefully drank the entire contents.
"I thought raccoons were supposed to wash their food," commented Felicity.
"There's not much point in washing bread and sandwiches, is there," said the raccoon, "it all depends on what you're eating." While it talked, it continued looking at her and chewing its food and its restless front paws were forever feeling over and touching the ground lightly, looking for stray pieces of bread.
Nancy called Felicity, who said,"Excuse me," and went over to see her. "We must go now, it's getting late and will be dark soon," she said.
Just then there was the sound of a can being knocked over and rolling down the rock. Felicity ran back to see what had happened. The raccoon retreated a short distance and stood watching.
"Why did you do that?" asked Felicity.
"Wel," said the raccoon, "to ask for more food and more to drink."
"You can't have any more," said Felicity, "you've eaten all we brought, and I quite expect you to be sick."
"I doubt that," said the raccoon, "it was very good and as a matter of fact I believe I could eat quite a bit more."
"If you didn't eat so much you wouldn't be thin in front and fat at the back," said Felicity.
"That's a very rude personal remark," said the raccoon, "have I told you that you sing off key?" And it turned and walked slowly away into the bush.
"Please don't go," said Felicity, "I'm sorry, please come back, will you come next time I'm here?"
"That depends," replied the raccoon over its shoulder as it moved away into the bush.
But this was just the beginning of a strange relationship. By about three years later, when the building was finished inside and out, Felicity and the raccoon used to sit at the doorstep for supper together:
Here's the raccoon in those later times enjoying eating an almond:
But on that day three years earlier, all that was left for Felicity and her mother to do was to pick up the empty cans and sandwich wrap, put the gardening tools under the cabin, close up the picnic box and go home through the dusk as the fly hawks began whistling down and the first whippoorwill began its noisy call somewhere away to their right in the forest.
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