by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #5 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November, 2017.
Time to start your schooling, Quest,
learn for life and class,
When we're Home's the time for rest,
effort helps us pass.
“Quest, you’re older now and with your Momma gone, I can’t look after you all the time. At least I can’t if...I’m going to work to provide shelter and food for us both.”
“What are you saying, Dad?” asked Quest, who was starting to be tempted to fear. “Are you going to leave me on purpose this time?”
“O, No, Quest. I’m not leaving you for good. I just think it’s time for you to go to school, while I find work in this new part of the forest.”
“What is school?” Quest had a quizzical look on his face.
“School, my Dear Son, is a place, where you get to learn about life with other children your own age from a teacher, who helps you all learn good things.”
“But I want to learn about life with you! I can help you work! I’m strong!”
“You are, indeed, Dear One! It’s true that children receive better socialization, when they are schooled from home than they do, when they only have a bunch of children their own age and only one adult thrown together in a boxy room. Parents are, indeed, the BEST teachers for their own children.
“However, for now at least we will have to suffer through this difficult circumstance of putting you into a ‘school’ with a designated ‘teacher’ because any work I can get in the forest will be too dangerous to have a small child present. In a few years you may certainly come to work with me. Besides, you are strong, Quest, you can take it.
“If only your Mother were still alive. There would be no question about it. You would definitely be homeschooled. Your Mom was such a wise lady.”
“But, Dad, I don’t want to be away from you for any time. What if you don’t come back to get me some day?” Quest pleaded, but was too young to fully understand.
“How wonderful it is to hear your words, Quest! I love to be with you, too! With your Momma gone, you are now my favorite person in the world. However, these Temporary separations five days a week will form great Life Lessons for the both of us!”
“What if I get lonely for you?”
“Let’s see if we can find someone in this part of the forest, who owns a camera. We can take a picture together and print out a small photograph for you to put on your desk. That way you can see me all day long! Would that help you?”
“Sure, Dad! That would really help! But where is this school you are talking about?”
“Well, as I recall there is a town, named Fort Worth about two hills north of where we are right now. I don’t think it would be good to try to enroll you in a human school in that town because humans tend to get scared of bears. (The reason has to do with thinking that we will hurt them or something. They don’t know that we just want to keep them from hurting us.)
“At any rate there is a bear school just a little further north in the forest outside of their town. Mrs. Blair has a School for Learning to Play. You frolic in and around the trees! She shows you how to find berries that are safe to eat. She teaches you what types of snakes are friendly as well as the very important concept of how to recognize snakes with a bad temper, ‘whose bite really is worse than their rattle.’”
Getting Ready to Go to Town
The warm, soft bed of leaves, small limbs and evergreen needles held them in its grasps like a bar magnet holds metal shavings. It was hard to think of doing anything else right then. However, Dad soon broke the silence.
"'Bout time to put paw to trail, Traveling Buddy!"
"Dad, can't I lie here for another five minutes?"
"That's how lethargy grows, My Friend! We've got to shake off that enemy before we agree with anything he says! Up and at 'em, Quest! We've got things to do and people to see!"
"But what about our nice, warm bed that we made and slept in last night?"
"There will be other beds, My Boy! Some will even be better!"
"That was a lot of hard work! And we've just got to leave it?"
"It wasn't all that hard to make that bed. I'll bet the bed we make tonight will be wonderful!"
"You think we can make a bed like in the forest north of Fort Worth?"
"O, I'm sure we can, but I don't expect that we'll be making it tonight."
"Why not? You said we were going to town!"
"'Going to town' is the operable phrase. We are about to leave on our journey of 'going to town,' but I doubt very seriously that we'll make it there this very night. I travelled that road, when I was a much younger bear. I was going to explore the world, but I didn't get very far."
"How far did you go, Daddy?"
"Quest, your Uncle Urso and I were galumphing through Peaceful Valley, when he suggested we keep going out into the wild world. 'Let's see what's out there, Bro.!' So we started in the direction Fort Worth. It took us about two days at a pretty constant lope. It could take you and me a little bit longer, since you're not nearly as large as your uncle. He was so big, even back then, that he got the nickname of 'Major' almost by osmosis. Maybe, that was the reason he decided to join the army and to earn the title for real."
"Okay, Daddy, if you say we need to start on our trip, then I'll go. I want to obey. I always want us to have a happy relationship. I'm sorry I stole from those campers. I still don't understand why it's called, 'stealing,' but I believe what you say. I'm sure I will understand it better as I grow up."
"Thank you, Quest! You're a good boy! Children always do better in life, when they trust the word of their parents, even when they don't understand the 'Why?'"
"You're welcome, Dad! I love you!"
"I love you, too! Parents aren't any more perfect than their children are, but parents have lived awhile longer, they have more life experiences and hopefully, they have learned a good deal of wisdom through their experiences. Children have great energy and strength. Parents, typically, have more wisdom. Together parents and children make an excellent team, when they work together as a team. Don't you think so, too?"
"Yes, Sir! That is starting to make a lot of sense! What do we need to do now?"
"First, let's put out the campfire I started last night to both keep us warm and to keep predators away. Take those two buckets down to the lake and fill them to the brim. Then, bring them back, pouring them both on the fire. That should make the campfire start to smoke."
"We'll be ready to start for Fort Worth, when I do that, right?"
"Not quite. You will need to make at least two more trips to fill up the buckets with lake water, pouring those loads on the campfire as well, while I stir the embers. Actually, I'd like you to make three more trips to be on the safe side, if you will, please, Sir!"
"Why do we need that much water, Daddy? Won't two buckets of water be enough to put out the fire?"
"You'd like to think so, wouldn't you. However, it is possible for embers to hide themselves in the pile and not be fully reached by the initial deluge of water. There are too many stories of bears and people thinking that very same way, leaving the smoldering pile of their campfires, and a few hours or days later the entire forest was nothing but a pile of smoldering ash. My cousin, Smokey, would never forgive me, if I didn't do a good job of putting out my own campfire."
"Okay, Daddy. I trust you. I will take you at your word."
"Thank you, Quest! I know that it's a lot of hard work, but the trees and the other forest animals will be very glad that we made the extra effort."
"Be safe, Quest! Thank you in advance!"
Quest hurried back with part of the water sloshing out to mark the trail. He poured the first bucketful of water on the fire. The pile made a loud, "POOF!" The cub jumped back, startled, falling to the ground. "I didn't know the fire was going to do that! Did you, Dad?"
"Yes, Son, I was expecting it!"
"But it exploded at me!"
"I know that's what it seemed like it was doing, but it was really only 'coughing' because you started to cut off its air supply."
"Pour on the other bucketful, then go back for the next load. While you're gone, I'll stir the pile for the next bucketful of water. When we're done, we shouldn't see, even the slightest hint of smoke. That way we'll know it's completely out...and...SAFE to leave. As my Daddy used to say, 'When a job is once begun, never leave it 'til it's done! Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all! If you leave before you're through, you may live this day to rue!' He couldn't remember the author's name, but that's the way we lived our lives, when I was a child. I want to continue that tradition with you. Okay, Son?"
"Okay, Dad! I believe you. We'll do it right!"
The Lessons Continue
When the sermon was over and the campfire was sufficiently "put out" with both of them, Quest and Casa turned their attention to "making hay, while the sun shined."
"Why did you say we were, 'making hay, while the sun shined'? Dad we're just walking on the trail."
"I know that, Son, but 'making hay, while the sun shines' is an old world expression that my Dad heard some humans say, when he was foraging for food in a forest behind a farm. Apparently, these particular humans raised hay as a crop to feed their farm animals. Since Alfalfa hay is ready to harvest in October, the days get shorter during that part of the year, which means that there are fewer hours for harvesting the fall crops than there are for harvesting the summer crops. In the summer the days are much longer."
"But we're not on a farm. We're not doing any of that kind of work, Daddy!"
I know! I know, Son! The idea of the phrase is simply this. The farmers have to work harder and faster during the daylight hours in October in order to get their crops into the barn before they go bad in the fields. We on the other hand have a long way to go today. Since we slept in so late, we now have a shorter day in which to go that long distance and find and make a new bed at the end of the trip. Does that make sense now?"
"O, Yeah! We've got to 'make hay, while the sun shines'! Now, I get it! Thanks, Dad! Great lesson!"
The ease of travel was a "mixed bag." Loping through the tall grasses of the narrow valley was fun, but as they started to climb, the tall trees were thick in places. That slowed their pace, but when the trees gave way to rocky cliffs, the pace was slower still. Cliffs are usually a place for mountain goats and sheep, but thankfully these cliffs were not nearly that steep nor as high as all that. Father and son were glad that the footholds were large enough for big bear feet, and real worries were few...thanks to Casa's experience from all those years ago.
Up and down ridges and flat plateaus combined to cause great fatigue through the exertion of the hours. However, as the sun's rays began to lengthen, Casa remembered a secure and gentle nook under an outcropping of stone. "There's plenty of time to 'feather our nest'," the Papa bear thought.
"Let's look for some limbs and leaves and anything fairly soft to make a bed under that outcropping, Quest." Casa pointed to the left of the trail as Quest gave a wordless, heavy nod. "As soon as the bed is made I'll let you get comfortable and sleep, if you like, while I find supper. Sound like a deal?"
Another heavy nod with a weary smile...
Hunt for Food
Thirty minutes later Quest was fast asleep, but Dad was busily foraging for food, even though his whole body ached from the trip. All four paws wanted to pause to rest, but as every parent knows parenting requires great self-discipline. Parents press on, when tired because the family must be fed and have the rest of their basic needs met, too.
As the sun was dropping past the horizon Casa had his arms loaded with nuts and berries and sticks of skewered honeycombs, which were dripping down, making his fore paws sticky.
Back at the campsite, Dad dropped the delicious booty next to his comatose son.
FINALLY,...it was time for him to sleep, too.