Letter from Birdland | A canine conversation in the forest

Letter from Birdland | A canine conversation in the forest

"The Philosopher of the North Woods"

A one-act play

Characters: Mary and Michael, a pair of wilderness backpackers; Madame Ursula La Osa: a black Lab; Sir Cullen P. Dingleberry, esquire, a duck-tolling retriever

Setting: A wilderness campsite. A green, two-person tent center stage. A bag hangs suspended from the upper branches of a tree. Two dogs lie near a log. The tent unzips and Mary steps out.

Cullen: Mary! Mary! I thought I'd never see you again, but here you are! Oh, joy!

Ursula: Hello, breakfast. I mean, hello Mary.

Mary: Good morning, pups, but you'll have to wait until Michael gets up for breakfast. The kibble is in the bear bag, and I can't undo his sailor knots.

Ursula: You gave my kibble to a bear?

Mary: No, see that bag hanging from the tree? The bear bag is to keep the bear out of your kibble.

Ursula: Can't we wake up Michael?

Mary: No. I'll tell you what. Answer my question, and then we'll see about breakfast. If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

Ursula: Tha's the dumbest thing I ever heard.

Cullen: Whoa! That's a good question.

Ursula: No! Don't fall for it. She is trying to distract you. Don't you remember when she forgot to buy kibble and she asked you about SchrÃdinger's Cat?

Cullen: Cat? Where's the cat? She's lost!

Mary: The cat is at home. She's not good at backpacking. So, what about my question?

Cullen: What's a forest?

Mary: You're in a forest right now. It has trees.

Cullen: So, a forest is trees?

Mary: Well, not just trees. It has shrubs and vines and those ferns over there, and the little green plants that I thought were orchids, and these with three leaves that look like short Jacks-in-the-Pulpit, and those funny little sticker bushes with big leaves and only one berry that looks like a raspberry growing right in the top, and the moss and funguses on these logs here, and all these living plants.

Cullen: The forest is alive then?

Mary: Yes, alive, but also dead. The logs are dead trees, but they're still part of the forest. The fungus couldn't grow without dead trees. See those trees all growing in a line over there?

Cullen: The ones that look like they're standing on their tiptoes?

Mary: Yep. They grew on a dead log. You can see how the ground is humped up over there? That's where the log has decayed into the earth. These young trees probably started growing in the log, and their roots grew around the log, and used it for food until it was all gone. Now the roots are — yes! They do look like they're standing on tiptoes.

Cullen: The forest is plants, dead and alive, right?

Mary: Well, you can't have plants without animals too. Like you carry burrs in your coat to make new plants. Bees and butterflies and birds and bats have to pollinate some of the plants or they won't make seeds. This forest has frogs with green lines and that little snake we saw yesterday that went between Ursula's legs, and the chipmunks I told you not to bark at, and ...

Cullen: And bears?

Ursula: We saw a bear last night.Mary: You saw a bear? Where? Why didn't you tell me?

Cullen: Actually, Ursula is exaggerating. She didn't really see a bear; we just smelled it.

Mary: What did it smell like?

Cullen: Like Ursa, only worse.

Ursula: Hey!

Cullen: So a forest is plants and animals all living together?

Mary: Yes.

Cullen: Well what is "nobody"?

Mary: Nobody?

Cullen: You said, "If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears."

Mary: Nobody is the opposite of somebody.

Ursula: I'm somebody.

Mary: You certainly are somebody, Madame Ursula.

Cullen: Am I somebody?

Mary: You, Sir Cullen, are the best somebody I know.

Ursula: Hey!

Cullen: Is the bear somebody?

Mary: For sure.

Ursula: I wish we could wake somebody up. I'm feeling weak.

Cullen: And the snake and the chipmunks and the hawk we heard screeching?

Mary: Yep.

Cullen: It sounds like the forest is a whole lot of somebodies.

Mary: You could say that.

Cullen: Then if there's nobody in it, it's not really a forest is it?

Ursula: I told you it was a dumb question.

The tent unzips and Michael steps out.

Ursula: Good morning, kibble. I mean, good morning, Michael.


Wonder in beauty; ponder in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in the web of life. If you find some of your Sundays lacking in Birdland, you can still find it every week at the Piatt County Journal Republican. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

Sections (1):Living