The Great Forest Caper: A Shelby F. Squirrel Adventure
by: Eleanor Lawrie
Shelby F. Squirrel appeared in “The Complete Adventures of SHELBY F. SQUIRREL and Friends” at the age of three months, when young flying squirrels are taught to fly. Throughout that book’s twenty-four stories, Shelby learned a lot about life and even began to grow up.
Now Shelby definitely isn’t a little kid anymore. He still lives in the same forest, with the farm right beside it.
Shelby, his sister Darby, and their mother are now part of one large family with Petra F. Squirrel, her brother Peter, and their mother. Petra and Shelby are constantly together, as are Peter and Darby. They love to play in the trees as much as ever, but are quickly becoming responsible, alert grown-ups. The mothers are content to keep the two large nests fresh and well-supplied with food, but all six of them continue to hunt together every night.
Ringtail and Lottie Raccoon and their children, Molly and Polly, have moved on with their lives, too. All four of them are the same size now, furry round animals with striped tails and saucy masks. Molly and Polly have found nests of their own close to their parents’ tree.
Shelby’s best friend, Marvin Field Mouse, still loves to spend long hours clinging to Shelby’s back, soaring from tree to tree.
Rosie Robin has produced a new clutch of eggs every spring. These days the forest boasts several families of red-breasted robins who leave for the winter and return before the snow has quite melted, announcing their arrival by filling the air with their lovely trilling songs. Rusty, her mate, remains her faithful companion.
The Wise Old Owl is the respected leader of his growing family. Nobody in the forest questions his authority, and they all love him despite his gruffness.
The well-established friendships with many of the farm animals carry on as part of everyday life. Charlie is becoming elderly, but is sought out for advice, and loves a good laugh as much as ever. He introduces Shelby and his friends to his cousins, who have vital information.
Billy Goat and his lady companions, Nanny and Capra, are kept in the loop and Sultan the Rooster, with his extended harem of brown hens are frequently visited by the forest animals.
A family of skunks lives in the forest now, but so far everyone has avoided making contact with them, quite unable to face getting any closer to the rather offensive scent they carry.
Now, something very frightening is happening in the forest. It will be necessary for everyone to join forces to try and prevent a major disaster.
Mystery in the Forest:
Shelby and Petra F. Squirrel were basking in the warmth of a beautiful spring afternoon, listening to Rosie Robin and her extended family send melodious notes echoing through the treetops.
Sunshine filtered through the fresh green leaves creating deep shadows against dancing rays of gold. Tiny motes floated in the bright columns, and butterflies painted flashes of orange and yellow as they flitted about. Shelby and Petra felt more like napping than gathering food. They would have to work a little harder to make up later, when everyone joined in the night hunt.
Shelby’s sister, Darby, and Peter F. Squirrel, her new friend, had left earlier in the day, which was their habit lately. It would be nightfall before they would likely return. The mother flying squirrels were happily soaking up the sun too, high in the branches of the gentle pine where they were snacking on cones, digging out their sweet seeds, and finding clusters of soft new needles to line their nests.
Petra jumped suddenly, pricking up her ears.
“What’s that noise?” she asked, peering around and then staring at Shelby with a spark of fear in her eyes.
“I don’t hear anything!” he responded, trying to sound calm. He had seen a truck parked nearby a few times, and had an uncomfortable feeling about what it was doing there, but then he was naturally distrustful of new sounds and anything that might invade their treetop paradise.
“Let’s go look!” shouted Petra, taking off into space with a flying leap. Shelby heaved a patient sigh and followed as she led him to the forest edge. Sure enough there was the small brown van, the same one that had been hanging around for a week or two.
They decided to follow the two men that climbed out and loaded up with notebooks and small cases, some on straps which were slung over their shoulders. One glanced upward, as though he sensed them above him, and quickly brought a camera up, snapping several shots.
“Couple of flying squirrels up there, Tony,” he said, jerking his chin up.
“Yeah, hope we see lots of wildlife. Let’s take a walk. You have your recorders all set up?”
“Yup, I’ll pick up every possible sound from birdsong to mice running through dried leaves, you’ll see!”
“Glad you’re the one deciphering it later. I’ll take care of the visual. Still shots on the way in and movie on the way back. Better if we split up, so I can record notes for myself. You wouldn’t want my jabbering on your nature tapes!”
With a hearty chuckle he marched off toward the west boundary of the forest.
Shelby whispered to Petra, “Okay, you go with that one, and I’ll follow the other guy. We better tell the Wise Old Owl about this tonight.”
Petra had to stay alert to keep up with the photographer. He walked briskly, barely pausing to click the camera before swinging it away to forge ahead.
She began to realize he was seeking out the animals of the forest as he went. Their curious faces were peeking out of burrows, or around tree branches and between leaves. She spied Molly and Polly Raccoon clinging to the trunk of the tree where they lived, perfectly camouflaged in the dappled light and shadow.
Rosie Robin was easy to find while she continued warbling at the top of her voice. In fact Petra thought Rosie was following the man too.
Each time he paused to click the shutter Petra felt a kind of warm glow somewhere deep within her being. He was aiming at her friends and smiling to himself, quietly speaking as he did so.
But then she froze with embarrassed shock! He was looking directly at her, wearing a funny little grin.
“Well, well!” he said, as he aimed and snapped before Petra could react. He checked the result, laughing loudly. “Now, that has to be a first! Little flying squirrel wearing abject look of guilt! I do believe you are following me!”
Petra was horrified! She turned and fled, her heart beating frantically, crashing through the branches toward home.
Pausing to catch her breath on a sunny oak limb, her eyes widened as the truth hit her like a slap. Shelby wouldn’t be home to help her decide what to do. He was following the other man! It occurred to her how much she depended on Shelby, a thought that came as a bit of a shock.
Totally annoyed with herself, she sat still to think for a moment or two. In the next split second, she was in flight, determined to finish the job she had been given.
It was easy to find the man with the camera again, but this time she scrupulously kept her distance. He was still taking what seemed like hundreds of pictures, sometimes bending very low and sometimes just clicking as he strode along. The whole time, his voice droned quietly, recording the details he would need to catalogue everything.
Petra began to relax and feel less afraid. He wasn’t threatening any of her friends and he was being careful not to damage anything he came close to: a nest on the ground, the opening of a small animal’s tunnel, or even the delicate blooms on blackberry bushes. She interpreted that as a deep respect for nature, and knew it was a good sign.
Meanwhile, Shelby was tracking the man with the fancy recording equipment. He watched him holding a big fuzzy shape with an outstretched arm, sometimes reaching high above his head, at other times bending low. This man was careful with his steps, proceeding quite silently through the grass and shrubbery. He was avoiding any dried twigs that would snap, and loose stones that might tumble or scrape under his boots.
Shelby sat back for a moment and cocked his head, wondering what this was all about. It seemed harmless, perfectly innocent. At least so far. Shelby’s head buzzed with questions. Maybe a little visit to Charlie, the old farm horse, later on today would be a good idea, too, after they spoke to the Wise Old Owl.
It was early evening but the sun was nowhere near giving up for the day. Even though shadows were lengthening as Shelby and Petra floated across between the trees, they knew there would still be plenty of light. The two men had long since departed in their little brown van.
Suddenly the Wise Old Owl was coming toward them! He settled quickly as they hurried to meet him on a lofty oak branch. He folded his great wings and fluffed his feathers with a brisk ripple before speaking.
“We need to find out what those people were doing in our woods!” he said, with his usual tone of haughty authority. “I’ve never seen anything quite like what they were doing today, and I’ve been around forever!”
He had observed everything!
“Well,” began Shelby hesitating a little, since he wasn’t used to giving suggestions to the Wise Old Owl. He still remembered his own first night flight and the helpful lesson the huge bird had given him as a very young flying squirrel. Wise Old Owl had been a kindly uncle to Shelby and his friends for all of their young lives. They each had great respect for him and his extensive knowledge of so many things.
Straightening himself upright, Shelby said, “I thought maybe we should ask Charlie, if you think that’s a good idea.”
The owl’s head snapped around to glare at Shelby. His eyes seemed to bore right through the tiny flying squirrel. Shelby flinched a little, and held his breath.
Finally the owl blinked once, and cleared his throat to say in his deep voice, “It’s okay, Shelby! You’re quite grown up enough to voice your own opinions, and I welcome that. Your idea to see Charlie is an excellent one. Let’s go right now!” And as if on cue, another member of Wise Old Owl’s family arrived with a graceful flap of his great wide wings.
“Howard, you take Petra and I’ll take Shelby. Follow me!”
And with a flying squirrel clinging to each of their strong wide backs, the owls took off toward the farm.
Multiple Choice Questions:
1. Why is Shelby uncomfortable about seeing a small truck parking near the forest?
a) He is still curious.
b) He is growing up and has become protective of his family and friends.
c) He doesn’t trust humans.
2. Petra’s insistence on following the two men is:
3. Why is it smart for Shelby to ask advice from older animals (people)?
a) They have more life experience.
b) They will do it for you.
c) Young animals (people) don’t know anything.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Why were Shelby and Petra worried about what the two men were doing in the forest?
2. The Wise Old Owl has always had the answers to all of Shelby’s questions, but this time he asks Shelby what he thinks should be done. What does that tell you?
3. If a problem appears in a community or neighborhood, why is it better to include everyone and work on the solution together?
Special thanks to Eleanor Lawrie for providing us this excerpt from her wonderful book.