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Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of Mr. Witmer’s adventures from the Big Old Garden, behind the Big Old House. Here are the first six.
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In a big old tree in a big old garden behind a big old house, lived the happiest grey squirrel in the world.
Well, that’s not quite true: He lived in three trees. And one morning in early spring, he was sleeping in his snuggest hole, deep in a thick beech tree. The morning was cold, and Sammy slept in late. His bed of dry leaves was fluffy and deep, and his tail, held over top of himself like a quilt, was even fluffier. The morning sunshine was bright and yellow, but it couldn’t crawl through the small hollow branch and down, down to the heart of the thick beech tree. Sammy’s nest was as dark as it was snug, and nothing ever disturbed him there.
But this morning – noise! A hammering, rattling sound beat through the hollow branch and tumbled down into his nest! Sammy woke with a jolt. The very air inside his hollow tree was shaking! His fur stood all on end and he felt as if the noise were inside his head, trying to hammer its way out.
What on EARTH could be making such a din?
Sammy scrambled up his hallway and popped his head out the hole in his branch. When he did, he found himself face-to-face with a big, dagger-like beak, attached to an even bigger black and white bird.
But Sammy was too upset to be afraid. “Hey, stop it!” He scolded.
The bird made a startled noise, “Wuk-wuk-wuk-wuk-wuk!” dropped off the branch, and took flight. Sammy’s whiskers quivered as he watched the noisy bird bob away through the air. It was nearly the size of a crow, but with bright white neck stripes and under-wings. And on the head was a brilliant red crest like Mr. Cardinal’s, only many times larger.
Now Sammy looked at his hollow branch, and saw great chunks of wood were missing from the outside – pecked away! The big bird was a woodpecker, then – bigger than any woodpecker Sammy had ever seen. The squirrel frowned. If that woodpecker kept this up, he wouldn’t have any front hall left! He was going to have a talk with this bird.
The first chance came a few days later. Sammy was picking up sunflower seeds beneath the bird feeder. Mr. and Mrs. Robin, just returned from the south, were hopping back and forth across the lawn, and wishing everyone a cheery good-morning. Then, suddenly, a hammering sound rattled through the garden.
It wasn’t coming from the beech tree this time, but from an oak by the old stone wall. Sammy scampered back through the budding shrubbery to the foot of the oak tree.
“Hello!” Sammy called up the tree, but the woodpecker didn’t seem to hear.
He started climbing the tree, feeling a little irritated. “Hi there!” He shouted, but still the woodpecker ignored him.
Sammy was just below him now, and feeling more than a little irritated. “Hey!” he shouted.
“Wuk-wuk-wuk-wuk-wuk!” With another scolding cry, the woodpecker took off across the garden, in the direction of the beech tree.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Sammy was good and angry now. He stormed across the garden like a little raincloud, and stopped by another oak tree, where he found the big woodpecker drumming again, and an English sparrow pecking in the dirt.
“Noisy chap, isn’t he?” The sparrow asked with a jerk of his head. “Handsome, though.”
Sammy looked up, and had to agree. High in the oak tree, a beam of sunlight shone like a spotlight on the woodpecker’s head. As his powerful beak hammered at the trunk, the red crest flickered like a flame above his formal black and white suit.
“I’ve gotta’ talk to him,” Sammy said, “And tell him to leave my beech tree alone. There are lots of others he can drum on. But he won’t talk to me!”
“I’ll get his attention,” the sparrow offered. He flew up to a twig near the woodpecker. “Pardon me,” he began, but the woodpecker continued bashing away at the oak tree.
The sparrow fluttered a little closer. “Good day!”
Still the woodpecker didn’t seem to notice.
Finally the sparrow flew right beside the big, red head. “Oi! Have a listen!” he shouted.
The woodpecker left his tree with a squawk, flapping out of the garden, and the sparrow fluttered down beside Sammy. “Well, what do you think of that?” he demanded. “Right posh, he was. Too pretty to talk to us, I guess.”
Sammy thanked the sparrow for his help, and grumpily made his way back to the bird feeder. He asked the finches at the bird feeder, “Why do woodpeckers chop holes in old tree branches?”
“To get the bugs out,” they told him. “That’s what the woodpeckers eat.”
This made Sammy stop and think. Maybe the big woodpecker was proud and selfish. Or maybe he was just hungry and shy! Suddenly the grey squirrel felt less angry. Still, the woodpecker was a PROBLEM, and Sammy had to convince him to leave his hollow branch alone. But how?
Sammy thought some more. If there were bugs inside his branch, he couldn’t do anything about it. They wouldn’t leave when asked nicely, and they weren’t shy like the woodpecker.
Suddenly he had an idea!
Sammy whisked back up the beech tree, and scurried back and forth on top of the hollow branch. Yes, yes, about so far from the hollow spot to the place where the branches split. Just about the right size for a bird nest, if the birds were the right size!
He scrambled back down the tree, and around the house to a sunny garden where Mr. Robin was scratching in the leaves. “Mr. Robin,” he called, “Have you chosen a spot for your nest yet?”
Mr. and Mrs. Robin came back to the beech tree while Sammy explained his idea. “The woodpecker is very shy, you see. So if he finds you two here, building a nest, he won’t want to eat here. By the time you’re laying eggs, he’ll have stopped coming round at all. And the weather will be nicer then, so I’ll be sleeping in the maple tree for the summer, and you won’t be disturbed. What do you think?”
The robins looked closely at the branch, and talked it over for a little while. In the end, they agreed that it was a very nice branch, and close to a good worm-hunting lawn, too. They began work on the nest that very afternoon and, even though the big, shy woodpecker visited the big old garden many times, he never again tried pounding at Sammy’s branch.