Part of the grassroots movement of prison education has to do with supporting our fellow prisoner-students and bolstering their activities. In practice, this takes the form of celebrating their successes and in lending a helping hand when one is needed. Today I wish to celebrate one of my student’s phenomenal pieces of work. This work, titled The Acorn, was written by A.J. Pettitt. He is quite a character. I jokingly told him that he is such a character he actually wrote something very normal. I hope that you enjoy this piece.
By A.J. Pettitt
The gray squirrel scampered hungrily around the base of the mighty tree. It was the biggest oak this forest had to offer, towering over its surrounding neighbors. The tree’s rough bark was starting to wither with age while giant branches and multicolored leaves overshadowed the ground below. All of this splendor meant little to the young squirrel as he chittered his way around, collecting the last of the year’s acorns, bushy gray tail twitching in his excitement. So enraptured was he in collecting this bountiful harvest, he quite ignored his rivals as they, too, partook of this feast which was possibly the last to be provided by this monarch of the forest.
Also bypassing the contented creature’s attention was the phenomenon of the sun setting a rosy red within the sky. A hushed gloom pervaded the forest as the light dimmed, sending the daytime denizens to their rest, safely snuggled in their respective homes. But not this young, greedy squirrel, chattering his way into that time of evening when the creatures of the night awoke. He had just found the most promising specimen of the day when, with great shock, a sharp pain entered his sides and his feet began to lift from the ground. A frightened chitter escaped him as he frantically clutched the last acorn he would never eat. It was a sad sight to behold, the owl grasping her family’s next meal as the squirrel held onto his last, all three winging silently through the dark forest.
Somewhere along the way, this once vibrant gray squirrel let loose his hold upon the acorn but never noticed. He did not get to see as it tumbled through the air, striking the branch of a slender birch tree, rattling its way down to land in a tiny spring-fed rivulet which flowed silently by. This small trickle of water was just big enough to carry the acorn through its winding, twisty way along the forest floor. By the time the sky showed pearl gray – a frosty new dawn – the spring’s flow mingled with a bigger stream. The acorn joined with other debris of the forest as it hobbled its way along, meeting a twig here, some fallen leaves there, and even a few tufts of browning grass. Crayfish scuttled under stones as it passed overhead, casting shadows upon them while water bugs skated nimbly out of the way as it floated merrily by.
The acorn kept time with the babbling stream as it gurgled its way along, eventually coming to rest upon the edge of a dam being built by an enterprising young beaver, who, for no other reason than that he could, constructed his first structure across this stream which passed through a small clearing. The poor creature did not know that when the spring rains came and the snow melted, his stream would be a river, his snug home turned into a pile of sticks awash in the water’s angry torrents. For now, though, he was happily content in cutting and dragging, building in his little meadow which, for as far as he could see, was surrounded by nothing but slender birch that makes for good chewing, and the hardy maple which does not.
It was quite by accident that the beaver, trying to place his newest branch, slipped from his precarious perch and tumbled into the water. This was all very comical to the crow currently winging his way overhead who gave out a raucous call to show its mirth at the scene below. More important to the acorn, however is that the beaver’s spill sent ripples through the water which, in turn, pushed it over the bank’s edge and onto dryer ground. The acorn lay there for awhile, reveling in the feel of the sun as it baked into its shell. Toward evening a slender doe braved the serenity of the meadow to sip from beaver’s stream, and chew on the lush grass before winter snow hid it from view. Ears twitching to catch every sound, she bent her sleek head to lap the cool water, completely missing the acorn lying just at her feet. Which is just as well for the acorn would have been counted as dinner had she seen it.
After drinking her fill, the tawny doe cautiously turned toward the clearing, inadvertently stepping on the acorn, causing it to lodge within the folds of one of her hooves. She trotted on in search of the best grass, the misplaced acorn causing her to do an amusing little hop-step as she grazed. Her ears swiveled sharply, catching the sound of a crow cawing hoarsely as it passed overhead returning home. It was with a sense of relief, for both the acorn and the doe, when she unwittingly placed her tormented leg in an extra soft spot of ground in the exact center of the clearing. Her hoof came out but the acorn stayed in as she continued with her meal until the light faded from dusky-blue to black and the stars came twinkling into the night-time sky as she made her way home in the forest.
The acorn enjoyed its cozy little spot within the beaver’s meadow. The sun kept it warm through the day, the ground kept it snug through the night. The doe would come and visit nearly every day, along with other animals of the forest. By the time winter showed her harsh breath, it was buried comfortably beneath the earth. It felt the soft thuds of the doe and her friends as they walked the clearing, pawing through the snow, or stripping the nearby birch for its bark. It felt the tiny tremors as the field mice tunneled their way around, the slight pat of the fox’s paws as they hunted the mice. Yes, it was quite cozy and warm in its little home. But as winter passed and the spring sun spread its warmth, the acorn felt a strangeness overcome it.
Its once hard shell began to crack as little tendrils snaked out into the ground. With every new day of warmth and occasional rain, these shoots would get a little longer, grow a bit stronger, and burrow a little deeper. Really, it could no longer be called an acorn as it was evolving into something new. An entirely different organism with new needs and wants. The surroundings faded into the background as this being struggled to survive within its new environment. Straining towards the sun even as it reached further into the earth. Not until the following spring did it break forth from the earth. Into the life giving air, creating an entirely new struggle.
This budding young oak had to now battle elements as of yet unknown. Instead of worrying about being eaten by an energetic young squirrel, it had to fear all of nature’s wrath. From violent winds and harsh, cold winters, to filling the belly of hungry deer. Somehow, miraculously, it survived first one year, then another, and even more after that. An endless season of growth has eventually seen this tiny acorn grown into a beautiful young oak, unique in its own right for it was the only one of its kind to be found for miles.
The stories it would be able to tell if it were able to speak. Tales of the cycles of life and death it has witnessed, of the doe and her children, and their children in turn. How beaver enjoyed a few peaceful seasons before a great storm uprooted his home. How the crow who loved to laugh at the misfortunes of others grew old, resting in the oak’s branches. A tender tale or two of young couples coming to watch the sunsets and starlit nights, carving their names painfully into his bark, wondering how this fine oak had come to be there. Surviving the howling winds that threatened to uproot it, and the fierce lightning bolts that left jagged scars as they tried to strike him down. Yet, through it all, the many years of joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, the acorn remains, king of the meadow, everlasting sovereign of the forest.