It was growing dark. It was getting cold. Mouse was starting to feel very worried. You see, he often came out at night. Mice are nocturnal. But he only ever walked at night in his own small patch of land, where he knew the hidey-holes and the places to scarper to if Owl swooped overhead. He had never been so far from home at night before.
He walked on the quietest paws he could. He looked through the dark with his beady eyes.
Then, suddenly, he froze. Because in front of him were the two biggest eyes he’d ever seen. They glowed with a green light. It was none other than Fox, out for a midnight stroll and a sniff.
“Well hello there Mouse,” said Fox smoothly. “I hear you’re on a journey.”
“That’s right,” said Mouse. “It’s a very important journey, so you musn’t eat me, Fox. A journey on behalf of all the other creatures of the forest. The green man has tasked me to discover the name of the old tree, because it has been forgotten, and without it, the old tree will die. And without the old tree, eventually, the forest will also die.”
“I won’t eat you,” said Fox. “But you know, I’m not sure that there is anything you can do. You are so very small. Far too small to make a real difference.”
And Fox sat down and idly swished his beautiful red bushy tail.
Mouse said firmly, “That isn’t true. The Green Man entrusted this task to me because I am the best animal for the job. Or at least, I will do my best.”
“Is that true?” said Fox. “I heard otherwise. I heard you volunteered for the job. And the Green Man was too kind to say no to you.”
Mouse’s mouse-mind was all of a flurry. He couldn’t quite remember what it was that had happened. Had it been as Fox said? Had he been the one who volunteered? No wonder all the other animals hadn’t thought he could do the job. He was being laughed at.
Surely not. But the more Mouse thought about it, the more he was sure that he had been a Foolish Mouse to think he could have done anything to save the old tree from dying and keep the forest from growing sick.
“I am a brave mouse,” said Mouse to himself. “I am a clever mouse. I can complete this task.” But even as he said these words to himself, he wasn’t really believing them anymore.
Fox pretended to look sorry for Mouse.
“Oh don’t listen to me,” he said in his smooth fox-voice. “It’s not just you. It’s everybody. Nobody could do anything in the face of what will happen to the forest if the old tree dies. We must accept that. Things move on. Things get forgotten. All we can do is survive. That’s why I have learned to adapt. My cousins in the city are the same. We have learned to scavenge, to survive, and whatever happens, we will manage. Your kind should do the same. Everyone should look after themselves. That’s the best way. That’s the only way to be.”
Mouse summoned his best courage. “That’s not true,” he said firmly. “The Green Man told us that everything is connected. The old tree holds the balance of the forest, but everything is off-balance at the moment because she is dying. It’s not that we must all survive on our own. It’s that we cannot survive without each other.”
Mouse swallowed hard and scared because he realised that Fox was looking thunderous. Nobody ever disagreed with Fox. It wasn’t the done thing. But he continued nonetheless, because he wanted to be a brave Mouse. “That’s what I think too. And I’m sure that we are right.”
Fox smiled in a disagreeable way and his sharp teeth flashed in the moonlight. “Well, small Mouse, perhaps you’re not as small as people think you are. But, nevertheless, I do not think you will be successful.”
Mouse held himself strong. “Fox, I really must be on my way, unless you can tell me something useful about the old tree and her name. Do you know what it is? Or do you know someone who might know?”
“Goodness me,” said Fox, “I know nothing at all. After all, I’m just a silly old Fox.”
Mouse’s face must have fallen, because Fox relented a bit. “If you go to the bird hide, you may come across a bird that has flown for many thousands of miles to be here. Many of the folk around there are of the travelling kind, you see. Perhaps you can ask one of them. They’ve been much further afield, they may know more than I do.”
“Thank you!” said Mouse, and he was about to scurry off, when he remembered his plan to bring the old tree gifts. He said to Fox, a little begrudgingly, “I am collecting gifts for the old tree. I think this will remind her of how rich and beautiful she makes the forest, and how important she is for us all. Do you have something you’d like to give her?”
Fox thought for a moment, and then he said, “I have always thought how wonderful it must be to see all the prints of the creatures that live in the forest, so that even if they are the kinds of creatures like you, Mouse, that hide away during the day, you know they are still there, scurrying about and bringing life to the place.”
So, as you journey along with Mouse, why not look for different animal prints? These could be birds, foxes, mice…they will be in places where there is mud that has dried, or maybe on top of fence posts. You could draw them, or take photographs of them, and take them with you to show the old tree.
And don’t forget to hearten poor Mouse as he journeys. “One foot in front of the other. Off I go. Off I go. Off I go.”