The Squirrels of Chestnut Hill


Wally woke up bright and early.  He was excited!  Today was finally the big day Dad had told him about when the gathering was to begin.  All the squirrels would quit their summer play and begin storing up the nuts and cones for the winter.  Wally, which was short for Walnut, was a very little squirrel who had been born the previous spring.  He had a fluffy tail, two bright eyes sparkling with fun, and four white feet. In the world of squirrels, he was ordinary looking and was hardly noticed when he scampered on flat broad branches, but climbing up and down through the trees was where a difference showed.  You see, Wally had been born without toes on his two hind feet.  This made climbing more difficult, as he had to shinny himself up and down the trees, kind of like we might climb a rope without using our legs to help.  Squirrel feet without toes can’t hold onto the tree bark, making back legs pretty useless, for a tree dweller.  Yet, Wally had learned how to get just about any place, but just not very quickly.  Hazel and Acorn, his two best friends were kind and patient with him and they had merry romps along many flat branches up in the ancient chestnut trees, which covered the hill where they lived.  Missing toes made life at times a challenge, but Wally and his friends had adapted their play to his particular speed.  Life had been fun under the blue spring and summer skies.   Today Wally was waking up to a new day loaded with adventures, and even though their usual play would be exchanged for work, it was exciting to think about the new experiences lying ahead.  The gathering had been the talk of the young squirrels for many days now.  Each was eager to climb the high branches and get the choice chestnuts, acorns and other nuts, which drooped underneath the large autumn leaves.  Wise Grandpa Beechnut had been testing the ripeness for the colony every evening at sundown, and last night he had declared the chestnuts just right.  The cracks in the spiny shells were showing the plump brown nuts bulging beneath and it wouldn’t take much of a nibble to break their hold on the old branches.  Young legs would soon be running up the thin branches gathering for the winter ahead.

Wally ate his breakfast of hazelnuts quickly.

“It’s not polite to leave the table with bulging cheeks,” his mother said with a smile.

So he had sat a while longer, chewing and swallowing until his cheeks had passed mother’s inspection.  Then out he ran to get to the opening ceremonies.

The home of the Filberts, that was Wally’s last name, was halfway up an old chestnut tree growing on a very steep side of Chestnut Hill. The entire hill was steep, but their home was located on the very steepest side.  It really was a good location since enemies living below had a hard time keep their footing on the steep ground and seldom came into their particular neighborhood.  The squirrels stayed most of the time in the trees and never took notice of the hill’s slope.  The only disadvantage the hill showed was during the gathering.  Then, any nuts, which dropped, disappeared quickly down the slope, and no one ever saw them again.  Adventuresome squirrels on other, less steep sides of the hill sometimes did a little ground gathering.  Occasionally one of them was caught by a sly fox or weasel.  The Filbert’s neighborhood kept entirely to the trees, since there weren’t any nuts on the ground.

Wally came out into the bright sunlight and headed up to where instructions for the gathering would be given.  Shinny, shin, shin, up he went, and sooner then you could say pistachio, he had reached the meeting area.  Hazel and Acorn were already there, waiting for him and had saved him a place.  Grandpa Beechnut was explaining the job at hand; his instructions were clear and soon the squirrels broke into groups and the gathering began.

Wally watched his two friends scamper away and begin bringing back nuts to store in selected hiding places.  He tried to follow as best he could but soon realized for the first time, that his hind feet were a real hindrance to collecting nuts on the thin branches.  Watching Acorn nibble off a chestnut, carrying it between his teeth and then running to a hiding place, made him understand that Acorn’s hind feet were holding him to the tree, while his front ones kept balance for the heavy nut.  Wally tried to nibble a nut and run with it in his teeth.  But just when he thought he had it, he would lose his balance and have to spit out the nut.  Hind feet were just too important of a part of carrying nuts.  Wally, a disappointed little squirrel sat watching this fun project, unable to help his friends.  It was one thing to be a little slow at running through the branches, but it was another to do nothing at all to help.  Eyes, which had been so bright and snappy, only a few minutes before welled up with tears.  Grandpa Beechnut, who was too old to gather anymore, sat watching.  He had given himself the role of supervising the gatherers and had seen Wally’s inability to gather any nuts.  Remembering the joy of collecting nuts for the first time, Grandpa called, “Wally!  Come here and sit by me and help me supervise this crew.  Maybe you can be in charge of deciding which nuts go to which hide-out.” It was a nice gesture and the little squirrel knew that it was because Grandpa loved him that he was trying to cheer him up.  So, putting on a tear-stained smile, he watched the scurrying squirrels, under Grandpa’s careful guidance, and sent them to the right hideouts for their kind of nuts.

Wally became Grandpa’s helper from then on and became quite an expert with giving directions.  The other squirrels liked hearing his voice, since his directions helped them work faster.  Many nuts were out on slender little branches which were hard even for a squirrel to reach and quite often a nut was dropped, before two tiny paws could tuck it in.  Down the nut would roll and disappear.  It was a mystery for Wally to see all these dropped nuts roll out of sight and not be able to find where they went.  It surely wouldn’t be safe for a squirrel without hind toes to crawl down on the steep uneven ground to investigate this mystery.  So, Wally watched and tried to figure where they went from his overhead view, but he didn’t have much luck.

All of the nuts from the gathering were stored in various hollows in the biggest chestnut tree.  There were oak, hazel, filbert, walnut, and almond trees in the forest as well as various pines and firs, but the big chestnut had the best hiding places with its hollows which had rotted in various parts of its trunk.

One day the sky grew dark.  The squirrels knew that a fall storm was approaching quickly.  The alarm chatter was sounded and each squirrel ran as fast as he could to his home.  Wally ran and ran but the falling rain had made the branches slick.  He slipped and slid as he moved towards his home.  He knew that he wouldn’t make it before the storm hit with full force, so he headed for one of the food hideouts.  Just then, a terrible crash echoed through the forest and the old chestnut tree went toppling to the ground.  Fortunately for Wally, he was still two trees away, when the lightning struck.  He watched in horror as the old tree burst into flames and soon the whole tree was afire, burning their entire precious gathering hideouts with it.

The rains came and put out the flames, but it was too late to save the food.  Only the charred remains of an old fallen giant lay upon the floor of the forest on the steep, steep hillside.  The little squirrel had held on tight to his tree with his 2 front feet, during the storm, but after the tree had been reduced to smoking ember, suddenly a big gust of wind blew unexpectedly hard and he was plucked up and blown away.

The next morning Grandpa Beechnut gathered all of the squirrels together to form a search for little Wally Filbert.  Mr. and Mrs. Filbert had waited all night for their son to return.  At the first let-up of the storm, they had run to Grandpa Beechnut.  The squirrels searched everywhere, but no trace of Wally was found.  He had disappeared, just like the nuts the squirrels dropped off of the trees. Another serious problem soon was discussed, as thoughts of finding Wally grew doubtful.  “Where were they going to get food?  All of their hard work in collecting nuts had been burned up in the fire.  Was this to be the last winter for the squirrels of Chestnut Hill?”

“Hey!  Hey! Look down here,” called a little voice from below. Looking down, Grandpa, even though his eyes weren’t too good, soon spotted the little voice, and you guessed it, it was Wally.  All the squirrels scampered as fast as they could down to the little squirrel. They were happy to find that he was none the worse for the storm. Wally was too excited to explain how he had survived the great fall. He just had to share his discovery!

“Follow me,” said Wally.

They were on a low branch about 10 feet above the ground, and Wally ran to the center trunk and disappeared in a little hole.  The squirrels had never been down this low before, since these branches were mostly dead or broken without any nuts, and weren’t safe for running and playing on.  But curiosity caused them all to follow, even Grandpa Beechnut.  Once inside the trunk they scrambled down this passage and that until they came out in the bright sunlight on a branch above another large chestnut on an unfamiliar part of their neighborhood.  The hill was so steep here that the tree they were on had branches which towered over the top of a large tree below.

“Look!  Look!” squealed Wally, as he pointed excitedly.  Looking down, the squirrels eyes grew big with wonder and excitement, for in the top of a broken hollow tree, was the largest pile of nuts any of them had ever seen.  All of the various grades of the hillside sloped towards this one particular tree.  Looking up, the squirrels could see that the whole hillside looked like one gigantic funnel and they were in the bottom.  The broken top was 5 feet across and every nut, which had dropped on Chestnut Hill, had fallen down the hillside funnel into this pile on top of the old broken giant.

And so the squirrels of Chestnut Hill thanked little Wally for saving their lives that winter and also for making gatherings easier for them in years to come.  And how do you think Wally had survived the fall from so great a height?  We could leave that for another story, but the squirrels wanted to know and I suppose you do too, so I’ll let you find out the same way the squirrels found out from Wally…  After the excitement had died down, Wally was eager to show his friends one more thing.  By now, all the squirrels were attentive to see whatever Walnut, as many were now calling him, wanted to show them.  “Follow me!” cried Wally and of course, they all did.  Up, up the steep little passage, they followed Wally, winding this way and that until they popped out the little hole on the low branch.  Then, up climbed Wally, shinny, shin, shin, until he was up to the top of one of their favorite trees.  “This is where I was when the wind came and blew me off,” said Wally.  “And this is what happened.” With that, Wally jumped from the tree out into the clear blue sky. Mrs. Filbert fainted dead away and Grandpa nearly swallowed a whole chestnut he had been nibbling on.  But the rest of the squirrels watched Wally, their little hero, spread the flap of skin between his front and back legs and sail right over their heads, landing safely on a branch 4 trees away!  Wally had discovered how to fly, and that, my friends, is how these flying squirrels learned the gift of flying.

Mrs. Filbert revived and Grandpa spit out his nut and there was never a day as exciting as that on Chestnut Hill again, except when, Oh!  That’s another story entirely.  So, if you see a little squirrel flying between the trees, think about little Wally, who, because he had no hind toes was a little too slow and ended up solving a mystery and bringing a new age to dawn for Chestnut Hill, all in one day.

Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.  Isaiah 26:12 (KJV)

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Wally was not one of the strongest or wisest squirrels and yet he was used to save the whole squirrel colony.  God often uses the seemingly weak or lowly to do great things for Him.  This is because people who think they are really good at things often let their success go to their head and don’t give the credit for what they do back to God.  Wally didn’t find the great nut pile because he was looking extra hard and he also didn’t find out he could fly because he figured it out from studying a lot.  As you get older and God begins to use you to do things for Him, remember that He is giving these opportunities to you and make sure you honor God by giving Him the credit.

 

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (KJV)