There was a time in Badger’s career when he appointed himself to tend a grove of tall Redwood trees. He remembered Grandmother’s instruction, to “tend as a sacred place a place upon the land.” Badger liked to wander about the grove and ask questions of the ancient trees, who answered with slow liquid voices that floated down from their crowns and sounded like the movement of waves on a watery surface high above. It was a place where the ancient spirits were very much alive.
At that time there was a generation of young squirrels who had been born in a nearby Oak Forest. They wanted to play somewhere beyond the watchful eyes of their parents, and eventually they found their way into the grove.
These young ones had no respect for the grove. The caroused through it calling out to each other with loud voices, annoying the deer and silencing the frogs. They left litter strewn about; candy wrappers, discarded wads of chewing gum, cigarette butts. They made campfires and tore the bark from living trees to feed the flames. They brought cans of bright paint and sprayed graffiti on the stones along the creek and even on the massive trunks of the old trees. They sprayed right on top of the homes of the unseen Grove Spirits, whose right to exist they thought of as belonging to another time in the long ago, when their great-grandparents were alive.
Badger was very frustrated. He spent hours cleaning things up, muttering to himself. When he came across the young squirrels, he scolded them, telling them they were being disrespectful and terribly naughty. But all of Badger’s scolding and judging and grumpiness made no difference; if anything, the situation grew worse as the young ones put even more creativity into their antics. They knew an opportunity to pull a grumpy old Badger’s tail when they saw it!
Badger decided to put up a big sign at the trail leading into the grove. The sign said, “No Trespassing!” in big red letters. The squirrels looked at it and laughed, and the continued with their mischief. So Badger put up a second sign, a little bit farther in on the trail. This one was larger and said, “No Trespassing or Else!” He drew an eye on it, to let it be known that trespassers were being watched. The youngsters threw rocks at the sign as they walked past it.
Badger was really mad now. So he put up a third sign, even bigger than the others. It said in very large letters written in glowing orange paint, “No Trespassing or You Will Be Turned Over to Very Serious Authorities Who Will Make Your Lives Miserable Until You Learn to Comply!”
A couple of the squirrels turned around when they saw this sign, but their friends who were not scared by it teased them and they ended up coming into the grove anyway. More trash appeared, more limbs were broken off…in fact, it seemed like they were putting even more energy into harming things, as if doing so was a way of being sassy to the Very Serious Authorities mentioned on the sign. When they saw Badger coming they just ignored him. It was clear that his signs and scolding were not working.
One day Coyote visited. He asked Badger how things were in the grove. Badger explained the situation. “Let’s see about this,” Coyote said. That day he and Badger waited near one of the popular clearings in the grove. Early in the afternoon a group of young squirrels arrived. Badger said, “Watch this!” As Coyote observed, Badger confronted the squirrels and told them they had better behave and not make messes.
One of the squirrels stood up and adopted Badger’s grumpy posture and repeated his words back to him in a Very Sassy Tone. The group scampered off into the Tan Oak brush under the trees. A nut was hurled out and narrowly missed Badger, who stood listening as the laughing squirrels scampered their way deeper into the grove
“See what I mean?” Badger asked, when he returned to where Coyote was observing. “What can I do? Do you have any advice?” Coyote said he would think it over and return the next day.
Coyote went to his sit spot under the Old Oak Tree. He sat there and thought for a long time. He asked the Oak Tree what he should do. He waited for an answer, listening to the background sound of the Towhees and Juncos gossiping, watching the Red-Tailed Hawk gliding overhead. The rabbits and deer played in the Meadow below. Coyote felt the breeze with its scent of ocean washing over him, rustling the leaves above. He started to feel quiet inside. But he still did not know what to tell Badger.
He picked up his rattle and started shaking it. He shook his rattle for a long time. He listened deeply, very deeply, for as long as he needed to listen. For as long as it took for a knowing to come into him. Finally he knew he had listened enough, and he stopped shaking his rattle.
The next day Coyote went to the Redwood grove and met Badger. “I have an idea,” Coyote said. “Let me try it out and see if works.” Badger agreed. Pretty soon a group of young squirrels showed up. They saw Coyote standing there, with Badger nearby. “Oh,” one of them said mockingly, “I see you’ve brought your watchdog!” The other squirrels laughed.
Coyote smiled at them. He said, “Hello squirrels! I’m not a watchdog. I’m just here to congratulate you. You made it past three ‘No Trespassing’ signs. That is indeed an unusual thing.”
The squirrels paused, quiet now, and wary; was this a trick? Coyote continued, “I am very curious about something. Maybe you can explain.” The squirrels listened. “What is it about this place that calls you so strongly that No Trespassing signs cannot stop you?”
The squirrels were surprised by this unexpected response, and a bit suspicious also, but one of them spoke up. He answered Coyote’s question. “It is beautiful and peaceful in here,” he said. Then another one added, “It always seems like there is something magical that lives here.” The other squirrels also began sharing. They relaxed and seemed eager to tell Coyote about their experience in the grove. Coyote’s heart was gladdened that they had to so much to say about the beauty and power of the grove. “Yes!” he thought to himself. “They can see it too!”
He realized that in the web spun by the many thoughts of their heart-minds, there was a strand, a thread that is the natural capacity for connection with the land. And they all carried this strand and the desire for this connection. And while it was true to say that they came to the grove because it was a place to make mischief away from the restraining eyes of their elders, it was just as true that they were here because they recognized the sacred qualities of the grove.
So he decided to call attention to the connection-feeling-strand, to tug on it in a way to make it stronger. He said, “Yes, it is like that for me also. The beauty of this place blesses me every time I come here.” He paused, and looked around him, noticing the beams of light filtering through the trees. The little group of squirrels looked around also, curious to know what Coyote was seeing.
Then Coyote said, “Say, I wonder if you will help me with something?” The squirrels said “OK, sure, what is it?” without waiting to hear what Coyote was asking. “I am picking up litter in the grove to help keep it beautiful. While you are enjoying yourselves here, will you also pick up any litter that you come across? I would appreciate it, and I know the grove would also.” The young ones agreed. Badger watched all of this closely.
Coyote and Badger then wandered away. The young squirrels had an enjoyable afternoon among the big trees. When they left they carried away some litter. Badger noticed over the next year or so that when those young ones visited they did so in a new way that was more aware and respectful. When a new group of young weasels showed up the next year, he tried doing things Coyote’s way.
Badger thought about taking those No Trespassing signs down. But after considering it, he changed his mind. He has left those No Trespassing signs up to this very day.
Questions for listeners:
River Otter’s Commentaries on Trespassers
When the old ones forget, the young ones remember. There are no elders without youngers; Coyote was lucky they came along. It takes a village of squirrels to raise a Badger; it takes a grumpy Badger to raise a Coyote. Who is served by that necklace of “No Trespassing” signs you wear? Perhaps you should ask the forest.
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of Forest Therapy Guides to see if there is one in your area to lead you or a group on a walk.