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Winter Issue

How Grouse Saved the World - Part Two





Ruffed Grouse

How Grouse Saved the World - A New Age Tale

By Doug Collicutt


We hope you'll share this New Age Tale with those who cannot read the words for themselves.

Please use your imagination to illustrate this story yourself, but if you do want to see some images of "Grouse" or hear his drumming return to our Winter Issue page and click on the Ruffed Grouse article.


In a thick aspen forest spring had come again. Round green leaves ballooned from tiny buds. The sounds of courtship reverberated throughout the woods. New animals were born, broods hatched, new lives begun. One small life was "Grouse", a ruffed grouse chick, one of nine to hatch from his mothers clutch of eleven eggs. His mother had waited a day and a half beneath the alder bush for the last two eggs to hatch. The wait was in vain -- two down. Then she lead her nine chicks off, away from the scent of the nest to find food.

The long days of late spring found Grouse and his family poking through the leaves, twigs and mosses of the forest floor. Juicy new shoots and plump bugs and worms could be had. At night, with her brood beneath her wings, mother grouse dozed fitfully, worried already because the shoots and bugs were fewer than last year. One night, a moment of distraction cost her dearly. The red fox was nearly upon her, no time to do anything, but flee herself. Grouse was startled awake by his mother's beating wings. He dove beneath the forest litter and froze in place, not daring even to blink. In a flash, the fox snatched up four of his brothers and sisters and was gone. Four more down.

His mother carried on tending her remaining brood as best she could, watching for danger all the time, leading them to the choicest spots for bugs and the now-ripening berries, it was high summer. But both were in short supply this year and his mother had to move her brood often to find food. Grouse stayed near his mother. When she did find them food, Grouse was first to get it. By mid-summer Grouse had noticed that the days were growing shorter, the sun was still warm, but the nights now grew cooler. In late summer on two occasions a weasel had snatched a single half-grown chick, both times the straggler in the brood. Grouse always stayed near his mother. Now six of nine were gone.

Then one evening Grouse's world was shattered. A coyote took his mother. Mother grouse had seen a coyote approaching and moved away from her brood, clamouring, hissing and feigning injury to draw the coyote's attack. The coyote advanced toward her, away from the young birds who tried to remain hidden, and she had prepared to burst off the ground to safety, when the second coyote grabbed her from behind. Grouse lost sight of his brother and sister then, and never saw them again. He was nearly full grown, but now he was alone. The nights grew even longer. "Will the sun leave me, too?", thought Grouse.

The days continued to grow shorter and colder. Food became harder to find. The forest leaves turned colour and began to fall from the branches. After one very cold night the few berries that were left turned hard, then shrivelled and fell off the plants, and the bugs seemed to disappear. "What is there to eat now?", thought Grouse. But, with the leaves now gone he discovered the soft buds on the branches of shrubs and trees. They were often bitter tasting, but they were food. One day, it snowed. And the snow kept falling for many days. "What will become of the world?", thought Grouse, "why is the sun leaving?"

The new moon had come twice since the first snows and now the days grew so short that Grouse had little time to look for food anymore. More and more, he found himself clambering through the tops of trees and shrubs, nipping at the buds on the bare stems. It took most of each day to find enough to fill his stomach. His search often took him high into the tree tops. Grouse was sure every fox, coyote and owl was watching him way up in those trees. He felt so exposed, but he had to eat. Over the long nights he huddled under the boughs of spruce trees. On the coldest nights he would even take refuge under the soft snow. A quick flight and a short dive would deposit him firmly under the snow, where he'd snuggle in and sleep, but never too soundly. Not since the night when a mink had chanced upon the hole in the snow. It was a young mink, unsure of what lay beneath the snow, but enticed by the scent. The mink paused, uncertain how to proceed and Grouse had burst out of the snow. He flew high up to the branches of a birch tree. He'd been lucky, that time.

"How many more times will I need to be lucky?" thought Grouse. "And what's the point? Was this all life was about . . . surviving hardships, facing loss, only to come to a miserable end?" Grouse was alone, and he felt sad, hungry and cold. He was convinced the sun was leaving and his world was collapsing.

Finally, it seemed to Grouse that the days were about to disappear, forever swallowed into night. Even when it was daylight the sun remained low in the sky, most often behind the clouds. On one occasion the sun had not shone even once for three days. Grouse stared at the sky. It was midday with a cloudy sky after a bitterly cold night. He longed for the sun's warmth again. Then he watched as the shape of the sun appeared behind thinning clouds, heading towards a patch of blue sky. Grouse felt the warmth as the sun appeared, but all too quickly felt cold descend again as the sun vanished back into the clouds. He felt such despair. It was bad enough that the sun was leaving, but to not even shine for one minute was too much. He opened his wings and burst from the ground. Up and up he flew, straight past the tree tops, up to the clouds and right on through. He broke into the sunshine above the clouds and felt the warmth, though the brightness stung his eyes.

Grouse called out. "Sun! . . . sun! Why are you leaving? Where are you going? The living things will all die without you!"

The sun had noticed the little bird with the strength to break through the clouds, but waited and said nothing.

Again, Grouse called out. "Sun, what is wrong? Do you go to find new food? Or are you too weak to shine? Please, can I help?"

Then the sun spoke. "What could you do for me, Grouse? I have watched as you persevered in your young life and overcame hardship and loss. You are strong. But what can one strong, small bird do for me?"

Grouse thought as he flew in place above the clouds, "How foolish I have been, asking what I could do for the sun." Then his insides stirred. "Nothing," he said slowly, "I can do nothing for you . . . except . . . CHALLENGE YOU! Yes, I challenge you to stay and watch me survive! And if I survive for one more passing of the moon, then you must come back!" And with that Grouse turned and dove back through the clouds to land back in his patch of forest, still hungry and alone, but burning with determination.

"Must I?" mused the sun, "Strong AND proud, this one. The solstice is just two weeks away, but this winter has been bad and is far from over. I hope his strength and pride are enough." In a moment another small crack in the clouds appeared. The sun called out to Grouse. "Very well . . . YOU'RE ON!" And with that the sun was gone behind the clouds again.

Grouse caught the fleeting touch of sunlight, heard the sun's words and set his resolve. He would survive! (Continued on the next page!)

Carry on for Part Two!

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