By Gazelle Buchholtz
You can listen to the audio story version narrated by Gazelle in this podcast episode of 1000 Better Stories.
“If you sign here, then I’ll make sure Isla will have a great day in the outdoors and returns tonight before 6 o’clock,” says Doreen eagerly and points to the dotted line where the mum is supposed to file in her name.
Doreen feels her heartbeats. The document is a creative alternative to her typical visits, her personal twist on a check-up. It was easy to copy and paste a few lines from another context and add a line about an excursion. Isla is over the moon at the prospect of a field trip, searching for eggs.
“I don’t remember being told you are showing up today, and on the weekend,” says the confused mum. She is settled on the sofa watching TV, but sits up and clears a corner of the table to sign the paper allowing her daughter to participate in a field trip; organised at short notice.
Doreen and Isla take a bus to the outskirts of town, to the closest woodland. During the walk among the trees, Isla looks up and witnesses the canopy roof, created by the spread branches and their mosaics of leaves.
“We don’t need your umbrella, the trees are doing the job,” Isla exclaims loudly.
Doreen suggests they walk in silence, as not to disturb any hidden birds. Isla picks up the message and moves like a stealthy ninja. The green treetops block not all the rain, so Doreen’s boots and Isla’s trainers are getting muddy. Doreen notices the black watery soil crawling up on Isla’s socks and trouser legs, but the girl doesn’t seem to be bothered.
At lunchtime, they rest on a couple of stones close to a tree in the most sheltered spot. They eat sandwiches and take a sip of tea that Doreen has brought.
Isla breaks the silence when a group of two adults and three children are nearby.
“Hey!” she says and waves her arms.
The children run towards them.
“Are you also looking for eggs and birds?” asks the boy, the youngest of the children.
Finding like-minded people in a random gathering and lively discussion gives Doreen a warm feeling in her chest. As they speak, one of the adults pulls out a white feather from the breast pocket and receives a reward of audience enthusiasm as if he were a magician making the Easter Bunny appear from a top hat. A soft, immaculate feather was a clear sign. There had to be at least one bird nearby. Fuelled by the excitement they share information and knowledge with each other and split up into their original groups to continue the search.
“Wait here a second,” says Doreen to Isla before she suddenly trots back to the other group shortly after they have gone separate ways.
“What will you do…,” she is not used to moving fast and lets her breath return before completing the question, “What will you do if you find eggs?” Doreen gravely asks the other egg hunters. “Will you eat them or protect them?” she adds with furrowed brow and a wondering voice. After hearing the answer, she returns to Isla.
“Look”, says Isla in a whispering cry.
They both instantly bend their knees and reach towards the forest floor with their upper body, not to be noticed by the bird. Five trees away a bird with white and brownish features lies restfully on something which could be a nest. It looks undisturbed by Doreen and Isla’s eyes and the tops of their heads popping up behind a fallen tree trunk covered with mosses.
“Of course there are survivors,” mumbles Doreen to herself.
As they keep watching the bird, they get to know its habits and routine. No other bird arrives to share the egg incubation, so they assume it is a female. Finally, the bird gets up to eat bits and pieces from the soil around the nest. The uncovered nest reveals white eggs. Doreen and Isla stretch their neck to get a better look, but cannot count the eggs in the distance. Thrilled by the scene they stay for a while and the bird gets back to duty on its nest. Not until Doreen looks at her watch, she realises they got to move fast to catch the bus home in time. She would not risk Isla’s mum calling the office and discovering the unauthorised field trip.
“Did you see that?” Doreen asks Isla, as they sprint through the woods. They both turn their head toward a movement near a stone. It looks like a plucked hen has taken the run across the ground.
“It not only looked naked without the feathers, but it also had some glittering scales,” says Isla in surprise.
“We have to come back and keep an eye on all that’s happening here, states Doreen and meets Isla’s eyes.
For the next forest trip, Doreen has invited her grandchildren to join their expedition.
“But mum, you said it yourself, Easter egg hunts no longer exist. Don’t get the kids’ hopes up. The pouring rain has destroyed the game,” Mirren says sighing.
“Not really. We have destroyed it, but that’s another story. And likewise, there is another story of life and possibilities in the forest. I might even bring you and your dad another time; if you can keep a secret,” Doreen says with a light, smiling voice that is spreading to her whole face.
“Mum, I’m watching the umbrellas,” says Isla, shouting to reach the other room. She is busy, excitedly dreaming away about the next egg search.
Okay, if I bring her the next drink, she will leave me alone for a while, she discusses with herself and goes into the kitchen to pick up the next splash to the eternal thirsty stream. After delivering to the sofa, Isla is back in her seat by the window.
As the umbrellas drift by, her eyes stop by one of them and she can’t believe what looks like sticking out from under. Even though she has imagined it, it makes no sense for a horseshoe crab body to seek protection under an umbrella, it would already be protected from the rain by its armour. She suddenly gets the thought that it is wearing a city camouflage. The birds in the forest need to hide themselves, so why not also this kind of protection? Immediately, Isla starts to track for feathers, fur, shields, skin and scales under umbrellas and other places normally occupied by city dwellers.
Gazelle wishes to strengthen people’s connection to the natural world with her thought-provoking stories.
She’s an associate in The Surefoot Effect, a community interest company, which aims to equip people, communities and organisations with skills for sustainability and resilience.
In her home country Denmark, she graduated with a Master of Science in communication of scientific knowledge, and a Minor in creative writing. She’s based in Scotland, and after the publication of her first fictional book ‘Sleepless tracks’ (in Danish), she works on finding ways to get stories out in English.