Welcome to the first in a series of short stories or fables.
The Acorn Fable, is provided courtesy of author David George.The first fable is about the natural world. Each story contains a fable highlighting a “law” of nature. But all fables are framed by a series of adventures by a granddad and his new grandson exploring nature. The grandson, Jeremy has just turned three in this first story. In subsequent chapters, Jeremy grows up a little each time, just as the author’s (now eight-year-old) grandson grows.
We invite you to read this fable aloud to your grandchild and then (depending on age and reading level) ask them to read it back to you.
BY DAVID GEORGE
Granddad led little Jeremy through his breezeway door and onto the shady front drive. Giant oak trees, hundreds of years old, crowded the rays of warm sunshine into narrow spears of light, brightening patches of pavement like spotlights.
Jeremy, barely three, was old enough now to surprise Granddad with his new physical skills. He jumped from one sun patch to the next, two feet at a time, until he reached the far side of the driveway. It would not be long before he took up a bat in peanut league or won medals at swim meets.
Fall had come early to the coastal hills of California. By August, the dense clay soil held little moisture. Baseball-sized seedpods were all that remained attached to the naked limbs of buckeye trees. Lizards darted in and out of large cracks in the grey soil. Even the poison oak vines lurking in the shadows had pulled their life giving juices their roots, painting their leaves blood red.
Jeremy reached out to pat the mossy bark of a broad-trunked valley oak near the pavement’s edge. He ran his fingers up and down through the mossy hairs, their color dulled by dryness.
“You know, Jeremy,” Granddad said. “In the wintertime, this moss turns bright green, as green as spring ivy. We’re blessed here with heavy rainfall in the cool months. That’s why the trees grow so big and tall.”
Jeremy pulled a hunk of moss from the trunk and squished it in his palm. It sprang back to its original form once his hand opened. He turned to Granddad with a questioning look on his face.
“Is it dead, Daddad?” Jeremy asked.
“No, just asleep,” Granddad said. “The moss will grow again when the rains return. “Nature tests us with droughts and floods. If we prepare for both, we do okay. The moss and the woods, well they just know how to deal with it all. They sleep through the droughts then grow wildly after the floods.”
Jeremy bent down to pick up a fat, brown object.
“What’s this, Daddad?”
“That’s an acorn,” Granddad said. “A little one, just like you. This is the baby seed of that big oak tree standing tall above us.”
Jeremy looked high into the oak tree branches then back down at his brown treasure. He turned the acorn around in his chubby fingers. Reflections of sunlight through the leaves shone off its shell. Jeremy tried to bite its end, but the shell proved too strong for his young teeth. He screwed his face into a grimace and tossed the acorn onto the pavement.
“You know what we can do,” Granddad said, “is plant that acorn in a little pot. Oma and I can water it every few days while you’re away. Then each time you visit, you can see for yourself how that acorn spouts into a baby oak tree, grows a long tap root, then sends up a trunk with leaves into the air. We’ll name it Jeremy’s Oak.”
Jeremy’s eyes looked unfocused. Either he imagined that little acorn growing into one of these mighty oak trees, or he had no idea what Granddad gabbed on about. Jeremy glanced at the acorn then up at the nearest tree. He turned to Granddad, smiled, and nodded his head up and down. Granddad smiled, too. Jeremy had understood.
“Okay, that’s what we’ll do,” Granddad said.
“But what do we do with the little tree, Daddad?”
“We’ll plant it,” he replied. “I have a good spot down the slope next to the ravine that could use a big, strong oak tree.”
“Why?” Jeremy asked, true to his age.
“Because the winter rains take the soil on a ride down the hill and off to the ocean, and that’s bad.”
“Why?” Jeremy asked again.
Granddad led Jeremy by the hand across the front lawn and onto a bench in the oak shade.
“Because I’d like my soil to stay put where it belongs,” Granddad said.
“Why?” This was not the first time Jeremy had shown a tendency toward the relentless.
“Well, because,” Granddad began. “Uh…”
Granddad sipped on his iced tea, then shared the glass with Jeremy, who gulped the sweet liquid. The tea felt good on Granddad’s dry throat. Honeybees darted about the yellow flowered vines nearby. Their gentle buzzing made the only sound he could hear, other than the whoosh of an occasional warm breeze through the treetops.
“Have I ever told you the story of the little acorn and the mayor?”
“Nuh, uh,” Jeremy said.
“Well, sit back and listen then,” he said. “You may learn why I love these trees so.”
The Fable of the Acorns
Once upon a time there lived a little boy about your age in a village nestled among tall mountains. The village sat in a low, green valley alongside a winding river called the Snake. Townspeople relied on that river for drinking water and for irrigation to grow their fruits and vegetables. But they feared its regular floods that washed away their homes.
So, many years before, the village’s forefathers had built an earthen dam at the entrance to their valley. A sparkly blue lake had grown behind the dam. Townspeople carefully managed the flow of water through a metal gate to one side, opening the gate wide during the dry summer months, but not allowing flood waters to roar through their village during the spring snow melt.
One crisp fall afternoon, a boy named Henry stood with his older brother, Selk, on top of the earthen dam. He watched the silver sunlight sparkle on the blue lake. Henry thought there was no prettier place on earth.
Many oak trees grew along the winding trail that led from the village below. Henry loved to pick up acorns scattered along the path and to stuff his pockets full of them. He pulled some out as they stood admiring the lake.
“Look what I got,” Henry said. He raised his hand to show Selk what he had found. Selk looked at the handful of brown seeds and sniffed.
“Eh, them’s just acorns,” Selk said. “Small and useless. Just like you.”
Selk whacked Henry’s outstretched hand and the acorns went flying. Henry shrieked, but Selk just laughed and turned away.
“Why don’t you ever like my treasures?” Henry asked.
“Cause your treasures are useless as dirt,” Selk said. “You can’t eat acorns. They’re too bitter. You can’t feed them to the cows. Their shells are too hard. You can’t give them to girls ‘cause they think they’re stinky, or trade them for candy ‘cause they’re worthless.”
Henry pulled more acorns out of his other pocket. They may not be worth much, but he sure thought they were pretty. As pretty as the silvery water. But his brother was right. They were worthless as dirt. The little boy tossed the rest of his acorns on the ground. They scattered among the grasses and dirt, and rolled down the earthen bank next to the big gate, flippity floppity.
Many years went by, and Henry grew up into a strong and hard-working man. The townsfolk called him Friend, then Councilman, then His Honor, Mayor Morley. Henry had many responsibilities, but his most important duty was to keep his village safe from harm. Despite his duties, he would find time once a month to climb up the winding trail to the top of the earthen dam and inspect how much his little acorns, now young oak trees, had grown. Their trunks grew sturdy and round, and their limb tops reached for the sky. One particularly large oak’s branches stretched in all directions, shading the iron floodgate below. How had such tall trees grown from those little seeds he had once carried in his pockets?
The next winter proved especially wet and snowy. In the spring, the little lake at the top of their valley swelled with water, despite the fully opened floodgates. And still the rains fell. Water rushed down the oak canyon and swirled through the valley, dark and swift. The river water overflowed into the pastures and farmland.
Mayor Morley feared the dam would burst, so he sounded the alarm. Everyone was to evacuate to higher ground. Townsfolk slipped and ran in the pelting rain, carrying what belongings they could, but leaving most behind. Thunder rumbled in the mountains as the mayor said a prayer for his sweet village.
A long night passed as he watched the swollen river rage past the homes. But the rain and thunder stopped after midnight, and the giant wall of water he expected did not come to destroy his village.
The morning dawned sunny and by afternoon the floodwaters began to retreat. What miracle had saved them from disaster? Henry put on his muck boots and trudged to the top of the muddy dam. Small portions of it had given way and had been swept downriver. Larger cracks had turned into crevices, and lake water seeped through in places. But most of the dam of dirt and stones had held.
How could that be?
Then he noticed the trees. A few smaller oaks had been yanked out by their roots but the larger ones remained. His favorite oak, the especially large one near the floodgate, had acted as an anchor. Its roots had grown deep and strong. These sturdy young oaks held the soil, the dam, and even the metal floodgate in place. The trees had saved his village from destruction.
That summer, crops grew high and lush from the rich food the flood had deposited in the fields.
Mayor Morley declared a holiday to celebrate the saving of their village. On a warm, late summer evening, he led the villagers up the winding path through the oak woodlands to the top of the repaired dam. They hung wreaths of flowers from the branches of the sturdy oak trees then sang songs of joy.
“So you see, Jeremy,” Granddad said, “that even the smallest acorn lying in the dirt can grow into a great tree. A tree strong enough to defeat a flood and save a village.”
“Uh hum,” Jeremy said.
“And guess what?” Granddad continued. “You are just like that little acorn. You are small right now. But you’ll grow into a tall, strong young man. Someday you will be asked to stand your ground and protect your family and friends from harm.”
“Will I win like the big tree?” Jeremy asked.
Granddad reflected for a moment on the story from his youth. He envisioned Jeremy as a proud leader of his community standing before the flood, just as he had stood watch over his village that long, wet night.
“Yes, I think most certainly you will.”
David George is a fiction writer and current state president of the California Writers Club. He is currently completing “Granddad’s Place: An Anthology of Modern Day Fables about the Natural World.”
Residence: Lafayette, California
Married with two grown children, one grandson.
David George has written several dozen short stories and poems exploring the ironies he experienced during his 30-year high tech business career and his encounters with the wildlife of rural California. His non-fiction has been published in local newspapers and periodicals, and has won several writing awards, including First Place in the Jack London Writing Contest. David has participated in writing critique groups for over ten years, actively contributing his perspectives and suggestions to aspiring and published writers. Visit his writer’s group BLOG at: https://writersotj.wordpress.com/
David is currently completing two longer works, a novel based on his Irish ancestral roots, The Lord of Larkin Street”, set in Ireland and 1950’s San Francisco, and “Granddad’s Place – An Anthology of Modern Day Fables about the Natural World”, set within a framework of adventures exploring nature with his grandson.