by Jane Doe
"The addition of wild animals in the form of Forest Defenders is both hilarious and inspiring. I highly recommend it." — Judi Bari
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Margaret is still very sick," the golden retriever announced to the concerned gathering of animals outside the kitchen door. Despair and frustration rippled through the crowd. None of them knew of a time before Margaret. She had always been there, feeding them, caring for them when they were hurt, milking them, organizing them, putting them to bed at night. They trusted Margaret and more, they depended on her. "Who will feed us?" asked the chickens. "I need to be milked." Rosy was right; her udders looked ready to explode. "The barn is a mess. It needs cleaning out." The mule had gotten used to clean straw in his stall. "When will Margaret be well again, Goldie?" The retriever sighed and shook her head. "Margaret is very old. No one knows how old, and she doesn't seem to be getting better. I don't know what we can do." She sat down on the back stoop to wait. All the other animals stood or sat or lay around the yard under the empty clothesline and waited, too. There had been a time, a few remembered, when Margaret's husband had been alive and the farm had been a busier place. Ed had made big plans for the future, always planting some new exotic crop and trying out the newest theory on pest control. He had brought Juanita and Carlos all the way from a far off land. The llamas were still at the farm, but Ed had been dead for years. Margaret ran the place herself after that, putting her whole heart into it. The plans were of a more modest scale, now, but the wonderful orchard had matured, the meadows reseeded themselves for summertime grazing and she had planted a large garden by the kitchen door. The animals could see the garden looked desperate for water in the summer sun. "The plants will die if someone doesn't water them," said a young sow named Susie, "and then what will we eat?" "I'm really hungry," complained a kid. "Do you like milk? asked Rosy. "Yes, I do!" answered the kid, and Rosy beckoned him to her bulging udder. "I don't think that's proper, do you, Goldie?" an indignant goose asked the dog. "Why ask Goldie? It's my udder and unless you have a better idea it seems proper enough to me." The kid was doing his best to nurse from the cow's teat, although he had been weaned for some time. "Whatever works," Goldie said. "These are desperate times." "We're hungry too," the chicks were chirping, "but we don't like milk." "I know," said the hen, "but we must wait for Margaret to get well and feed us." Goldie looked at the hungry chicks and she knew waiting for Margaret was not a good plan. "I don't think we can wait for Margaret anymore. She is too sick. We can help her by doing some of her chores for her. She will be happy if we do. It will be a burden off her mind. We all know where our food is kept, I think we should feed ourselves." It was a radical idea, but one they were just hungry enough to try. The hen took her chicks to the hen house and slowly opened the bin of cracked corn. Her whole life she had known of its existence, but had never dared to look inside. It was almost full and the plate Margaret always used to scoop out breakfast for her lay on top. Penny took the plate in her wing and dug it deep into the grain. The other animals gathered around and watched Penny do the unthinkable. The hen carried the plate of corn into the yard and sprinkled it out in front of her chicks. They fought to gobble it up. With a smile on her beak and the plate waving in the air she turned to the others and squawked, "We can do it!" All the animals raced to where their food was kept. Oats and hay and corn: everyone ate their fill and it tasted extra sweet that day. Everyone was careful to put everything back just the way Margaret always kept it. "I hope she isn't mad at us for feeding ourselves," said Rosy, feeling much better after being milked and fed. "Of course, she won't be mad," assured Goldie, who knew Margaret best, since she was allowed in the house. "She will be glad you did this for her, to help run the farm." Susie, the sow, having finished her mash, looked again at the thirsty garden. "I'll water the garden for Margaret," she announced. "I don't know, Susie," said the goose. "Margaret doesn't let us into the garden." It was true, the garden was fenced to keep the animals out. "Margaret doesn't want the garden to die, she would be happy if I watered it. Don't you think so Goldie?" Susie turned to the dog, now the Margaret expert. Goldie thought it over. Margaret didn't let the animals in the garden but there would soon be no garden if they did not water it. "Susie, Margaret would be happy for you to water the garden." The dog had spoken. Soon everyone thought of something to do for Margaret. The mule swept the barn for Margaret. The pigs picked the apples for Margaret. The ducks even ate the worms for Margaret. All the animals spread themselves around the farm to perform chores, some necessary, some not so necessary, to help poor old Margaret. Days and weeks passed as Margaret lay in bed getting sicker and sicker. Goldie brought her food from the garden and orchard. Margaret smiled and patted her golden fur. As Margaret got weaker, the farm got stronger. The animals found they knew the farm routines and even improved on them. Together they brought in the harvest and stored it away for winter for Margaret. They planted the garden with winter vegetables and even pruned the roses for Margaret. Through the winter the animals made plans for spring, what they would plant in the meadows, what the kitchen garden would be like, maybe they could build an addition to the barn, to help Margaret, of course. With spring almost there and the sun warming the land again, Margaret died. For Goldie the loss was a personal one. She had been at Margaret's bedside at her last moments and had nursed her all these past months. Margaret had been her friend. But for the others, Margaret's passing was abstract. They had never known her as Goldie had and yet Margaret's death loomed over the farm like a vulture. Margaret's illness had been a rallying point. It had driven all the animals to try and do things they never thought they could. The farm was alive as never before and now Margaret was dead. How could they help Margaret now? Margaret was buried on the north side of the house, next to Ed, under the oak tree. The animals paraded slowly around the graves, weeping for their beloved Margaret. Tales were told of Margaret's kindness and love for all animals. Goldie told them Margaret would always be with them in spirit since she lay buried right there on the farm. They could continue to do things for Margaret because it would help her dream of a wonderful farm be a reality. The animals loved Margaret even more now that she was dead. They begged Goldie to tell them more about Margaret and the dog felt truly moved. "I will tell you what I heard Margaret say many times, it was her guiding rule." Goldie closed her eyes and repeated from memory. "Always treat others as you would wish to be treated." The animals soaked it in. Goldie's rule became the motto of the Circle H farm. Chapter 2 Much later, on a different farm, far across the forest... His brain raced as fast as his heart; if only his legs would catch up! He hit the ground running with all the energy of terror, the dogs inches behind him as he tore across the muddy pasture. Clots of mud flew from his feet into their slobbery mouths. "What should I do? The farm is fenced. I'm trapped," he thought. Suddenly in a puddle he slid on his side through the mud, slamming into the wooden fencepost. A bit stunned, he scrambled to his feet and took off down the side of the pasture, tracing the fence line. "Boy, that was close! I can't believe they didn't catch me." He glanced quickly behind. The dobermans seemed to have backed off a bit, but were still barking and snarling as loudly as before. He came to the corner, took a ninety-degree turn along the hedgerow, and then suddenly remembered: "There's a hole in the hedge. I was going to assign a work crew tomorrow. I hope I can find it." He slowed down his pace to search for the hole. Strangely, the dogs slowed also. "There it is, I hope I can make it through." The hole, probably made by a small animal, perhaps a rabbit, would be a tight fit. Squeezing his front half into the hole, his bottom half got stuck. The dogs skidded to a halt and stood facing the plugged hole in the hedge. They chuckled sarcastically as one gave the curly white tale a sharp bite, which proved to be just the inspiration the pig needed to shoot through the hedgerow. Popping through the hole, the renewed adrenalin from the dog bite sent the pig flying through the neighbor's cornfield and deep into the woods beyond. Only a stumble on a tree root brought him to a halt. Hiding behind a bush he peered out to see he was not being followed. He sat beneath a pine tree to catch his breath and examine his bitten tail. It hurt, but was not too bad. "That dog could easily have bitten it off." He felt lucky, but why? Then it came to him. "The dogs were following orders. They were to chase me off but not kill me. Of course, how could they kill me in front of all the other animals. They love me, I'm their leader. Even now they are probably searching for me to bring me home." But no one appeared within view. Then the pig had a turn of thought. Things had changed on the farm. In the beginning he had felt love and support from the other animals, but now? He spent less time with sheep and cows and chickens. He was always with the other pigs. "And now the pigs have turned on me, and the other animals don't care enough to stop them. After all I've done on their behalf." He leaned back against the rough bark, a tear rolling down his cheek, as he remembered the old times. The revolution, ah, that had been glorious. He had been a hero, with a medal to prove it. Running that greedy farmer off the land and turning the farm over to the animals to run for the benefit of all, now that had been a wonderful achievement. The pig smiled as he thought of the parades he had led and of the stirring speeches he had made to the grateful animals, in the early days after the revolution. As a pig he had been more naturally inclined to leadership than, say, sheep or ducks. Was it his fault that it turned out that not all pigs were kind and just? His eyes narrowed as he thought of the pig who had trained the doberman pups into the vicious killers who just minutes ago had run him off his own farm. The farm where he had been born and lived his whole life. In fact, the farm was his whole life; making plans for the farm, organizing the animals, inspiring everyone through tough times... "And this is the thanks I get," he moped as he rubbed his sore tail. The memory of his former power and unforseen fall from grace caused an empty ache in the pit of his stomach. Or perhaps he was just hungry. The pig looked around. Trees. Never in his life had he set foot off the farm. Now he had no food, no friends, no place to sleep and no plan. The last was the most frightening of all. He always had a plan. But now it was getting dark in an unfamiliar wood and he sat all alone with no plan. He picked up a stick and set to work. From the bushes a dozen eyes watched a muddy white pig with a stick scratching strange lines in the dirt: Plan for Survival in the Woods. 1. Find Food. A. Apples or other fruit if possible. B. Good fresh water source. 2. Find place to sleep. A. Must be safe. B. Warm and soft. The eyes moved closer and tried to decipher the scratches. 3. Find The pig bent over even closer to the ground to see his list in the failing light. After thinking for a minute about #3 he decided to scratch it out. "Yes, 1 & 2 are the true essence of the plan," he announced suddenly as he stood back to admire his work. The eyes jumped back to the bushes in something less than silence. His back stiffened and his sore tail twitched as he realized he was not alone. Mind racing, eyes open wide to peer through the darkness, he croaked out hopefully: "Comrades?" There was a moment of silence, then sounds of a scuffle and a muffled giggle. Every pig has an acute sense of smell. Even a pig as distant from his true nature as this one could tell many things by his nose. He could tell who this was not: pig, cow, sheep, man, or dog. In fact, it smelled like no animal he had smelled before. Since the scent was strong and unknown to him, his mind began to spin out possibilities. "What lives in the forest? Bears! Wolves! Tigers? No, not here. Well, also deer and rabbits." Aloud he said: "Are you rabbits?" The reply: more giggling. "Don't be afraid, comrade rabbits, I won't hurt you." This seemed to really hit a funny bone. The laughter grew more menacing as six adolescent raccoons tumbled out of the bushes, surrounding the pig. The raccoons moved more quietly now, circling slowly around the pig. Getting a grip on himself, the pig tried a friendly tact. "Well, I guess I was wrong, I beg your pardon, you're not rabbits but squirrels." "Squirrels!" One of the largest raccoons jumped at him and at that range even in this dim light he could see his mistake. "Who are you calling squirrels?" The pig sniffed the animal in front of him and still couldn't identify him. "You're not bears, are you?" All farm animals had heard of bears, but few had ever seen one. Still, the stories of their fierceness and strength were told at night in the barn to entertain and frighten young piglets who might consider venturing outside the farm boundaries. "Well, no, not exactly bears," admitted one raccoon. "Where are you from, anyway?" "I'm from a farm over there, or ... maybe there." He moved his pig leg around in an arch as he realized he had no idea where he had come from. It is a wonderful farm run completely by animals and I was their beloved leader, until today when I was run off by a pack of vicious dobermans." "Dobermans!" A shudder ran through the raccoon pack. "We really hate dobermans. I'm called Riff Raff and we are Raccoons." He spoke slowly so the pig would not mistake them again. "This is Bandit, Rascal, Mischief, Rags and Ripper. What's your name?" The pig began to answer "S..." before he caught himself. He was a rebel fugitive now, hiding, on the run. It would never do to give his real name. Besides, he had always hated it. It had no dignity, no romance. And it was no name for a rebel. He needed a name that would inspire legend and command respect. He knew just the name. He had always seen himself as ... "Pancho," he said, "the name is Pancho," and then smacked the uplifted paw of Riff Raff with his foot. "Pleased to meet you all." Pancho was not at all sure he was pleased to meet them, for raccoons had a bad reputation among farm animals. But since he had never actually met any raccoons he decided to keep an open mind. "We were watching you scratch with the stick," said Mischief. "Ah, yes," said Pancho. "I was making a plan." It was quite dark now and the lines in the dirt were nearly invisible to his eyes, but the raccoons seemed to have no trouble seeing them. "Shall I read it to you?" He was always pleased when he had a plan to explain. The raccoons huddled around the plan and stared at the dirt, so close that they blocked the view even if there had been enough light to see. No matter, Pancho knew it by heart. "At the top it says þPlan for Survival in the Woods.þ" There was a murmur, the raccoons were impressed. "Then it says, þ#1. Find food, #2. Find place to sleep,þ" he announced. A moment of silence followed, then Riff Raff asked, "Is that all?" "Well, I left out some A's and B's, but yes, that's pretty much it." Pancho was the quiet one now, thinking perhaps he had left out some important survival points. A #3 jumped to mind: Avoid Raccoons. Finally Rags, after sniffing the entire plan and smearing most of it, stated "I don't get it." "You don't get it? What part are you having trouble understanding?" said the pig in his patronizing voice. He had spent much time explaining complex plans to animals of lesser intellect. Surely raccoons would fall into this category. Rags did not care for Pancho's tone. "I don't get," he said emphatically, "why you would waste your time scratching `Find Food' in the dirt. If you want to find food, why don't you find food!" and with that he did a little raccoon shuffle-step all over the plan. The other raccoons found this quite amusing. Amid laughter and playful shoves Bandit said, "Let's get out of here." "Wait," cried Pancho, "where are you going?" The raccoons all turned to face the pig. With a glance at each other for timing they yelled "To Find Food" and they were gone. It took only a heartbeat for Pancho to know what to do. In the dark his eyes were almost useless, but the smell of six raccoons was hard to miss. Plus, the laughing and shouting made their trail easy to follow even for a farm pig. They were young and moving fast. Pancho stumbled, crashed into a tree, ran through a blackberry bramble picking up quite a few stickers, and slipped into a brook while attempting to imitate the raccoons' hopping from stone to stone. This was more exercise than he was used to getting in a year. What a day! What a night! Suddenly, he heard no more laughter, no more joking or sounds of any kind. The raccoons were moving slowly and silently as they approached an old wooden fence. As they came out from the cover of the trees the moonlight allowed shapes to form in front of Pancho's eyes. "It's a farm!" he spurted out. "Sh-h-h-h," six heads turned to scold him. "If you're coming, keep quiet." He nodded his head and they all slipped under the fence. Riff Raff signaled him to keep his distance and Pancho obliged. He hung back and watched the six small figures glide through the pasture. As he moved near to the barn his nose picked up a friendly odor: pigs. While sniffing out the pig pen he caught sight of the raccoons circling what appeared to be a large hen house. So the rumors he had heard at the farm were true. At the pig pen Pancho saw several sows and piglets sleeping in one corner. He sneaked under the gate and tip-toed to the trough. Hurrah! Corn, and they had not eaten it all. Pancho began to pig-out as only a true pig could. He was trying to eat quietly and also to eat fast, not an easy combination, especially for a pig. He supposed this was stealing, technically, and so it was wrong. But these sister pigs had eaten their fill and had left this corn to help him in his rebel cause. "If they were awake," he thought, "I'm sure they would be glad to share with me, they would be proud to do it," and yet he was careful not to waken them. The raccoons were not so careful. At the hen house feathers were flying. The hens, trapped by six hungry raccoons, screamed for help. The terror in their voices made Pancho's blood chill. A collie ran to the rescue, barking loud enough to wake the whole farm. Lights went on in the farm house and the half-dressed farmer raced out screaming and firing buckshot from his shotgun. Pancho sank down in the soft mud of the pig pen. Maybe he could stay here. He could fit in with these pigs and start a new rebellion on this farm eventually. The raccoons took off, chased by the dog and farmer, with barking and gunshots ringing through the meadow. "Yes," he thought, "I'll stay right here." As he turned around to look at his new home, for the first time, he noticed a huge boar leaning against the barn. Awakened by the ruckus, he had just noticed Pancho. "New plan," was all Pancho had time to think as he ducked under the gate and took off running towards the woods but away from the raccoons. Reaching the cover of trees, he slowed down. It was too dark to run in the woods and he felt very tired. "I must get deep enough into the woods to be safe," he thought. "But how deep would that be and would that be safer?" While he was thinking it out, he crawled into the blackberry thicket. He fell asleep mumbling, "Got to make a plan."
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