When I was a kid, we spent every summer in the woods. On the day school let out, either early in the afternoon before lunch time, or ten to fifteen minutes before the end of the school day, a scratchy announcement came over the school’s intercom. “Will Jadi, Pam and Barbara Campbell please collect their things and come down to the Principal’s Office?”
All the other kids watched us with round-eyed excitement. “You and your sisters got called the Principal’s Office, what’d you do, you guys must be in biiig trouble!” they chanted.
My parents would be standing at the front doors to the elementary school, chatting with the principal or his secretary. Out in the street the VW bus waited, packed to the gills. If that microbus was a fish, it would have been a stuffed bass.
Tiger the cat lay on the front dashboard. We got a dog a few years later and the family dog and cat accompanied us everywhere.
Once the kids had been collected, my parents drove to the camp we called home from that last day of school until the week before school started again.
My father was a research entomologist. He and his Forest Service crew set traps in the woods to see what might be eating gypsy moths. Each year those traps yielded a flying squirrel (one glorious year, two of them). Dad brought them back to the cabin where we’d set up a cage for the creature we inevitably named Rocky.
The campsite we returned to every June had a screened-in porch that filled the side of the building looking at the lake. We put Rocky’s big cage there, built him a nest up by the warmth of the bricks of the back of the fireplace, and let him out each night when he woke up.
Watching Rocky fly through the air of that porch was better than any t.v. show.
Years later, I wrote about a little girl visiting her cousins. They always have critters, and she meets a flying squirrel for the first time. His name, of course, is Rocky.
Hannah and her brother clustered with their cousins in the cabin’s screened-in porch. “What’d you catch this summer?” she asked.
Dom was carefully lifting a cardboard box out of a wide mesh wire cage. “A flying squirrel! We named him Rocky. Right now, he’s sleeping. Flying squirrels are nocturnal. That means they wake and get active at night.” Dom pointed at the wall. “Rocky likes to fly around the porch. We helped Dad build a home for him!”
Hannah saw that Uncle Aaron, with the help of the children, had erected platforms around the backside of the fireplace.
“And he really flies?”
“No, Princess,” Dawn answered. “Rocky has webs of skin between his legs and torso. They spread when he leaps to give him flight conductivity.” Like all the Schroyers, Dawn’s speech became pedantic when she got the chance to explain something. But Hannah wasn’t listening. Exclaiming, she crowded close as Dom gently lifted a tiny furry body out of the box and handed the creature to Ryan. Large black eyes looked at her.
“He kind of looks like a chipmunk. Can I hold him next?” Hannah put out a hand.
Ryan shook his head. “Mom says, never disturb him during the daytime. But we wanted to show you him. Tonight when he’s active we’ll let him out of the cage for a while. When Rocky gets used to you, he’ll eat out of your hands!”
“What else have you got?”
“Alive or dead?”
Hannah looked at Dom in horror.
“She means animals that are living, as in, breathing,” Jake prompted.
“You remember the ranger camp on the north end of the lake?” Dom asked. “Dad knows the head ranger. He brought us Rocky. Remember how last year they brought us a flicker with a broken wing?”
“So, this year we have Rocky, one diamond back turtle, and three frogs,” Dawn listed proudly. “We had a garter snake, but Mom made me let it go already. We put all the others in the fish cage out by the dock for the summer; we’ll let them go later. We have to keep Bello away from the frogs, though! That dumb dog thinks he can eat them!”
Hannah listened, tasting a familiar sour jealousy. Her father was allergic to cats. And dogs. And anything with feathers. They had talked Fred into a tank of guppies one Christmas, and before Easter the fish had floated belly up, covered in lurid, fuzzy moss. That was her family’s single venture into pet ownership. – from my short story Princess Rain Clouds in
NOTES: Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos and images © and property of Jadi Campbell.
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