Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall tales from Texas about characters I know and have known. Who knows, you might be one of them.

The Legend of Shorty J. Squirrel


On a  sultry Texas afternoon, a group of men gather around a small, flag decorated concrete pedestal just a few paces from the 18th tee box.

They stand in a loose semi-circle, reverent, staring at a small metal figurine of a Squirrel.

From a box, one of the men produces a metal plaque and passes it around to the others for their approval. It makes the rounds, one by one, each man taking a moment to read the inscription, and nod his approval.

This will be their final tribute to one of God’s small creatures that had touched each of their lives.

In the woods of Berry Creek, life for the animals is good. The Deer are safe from hunters, the Ducks are well fed and sassy, and the wily Squirrels rule the forest. The occasional Bobcat and Coyote might pay a visit, but they don’t fancy the closeness of the humans, so they quickly move back to the wooded outskirts. The Skunks are courteous and know their place.

Most mornings, as dawn creeps over the tree tops, life on Lanny’s Pond is already in full swing.

The Ducks congregate to plan their day of begging, and who will get the prime mooching spots. The Mallards usually win the best locations based on their good looks and surly attitude. The other Ducks resort to the equivalent of standing by the cart path with a cardboard sign.

The Squirrels, not ones to socialize with the lowly Ducks, meet at the base of a gnarled oak tree behind the 13th tee box to discuss the previous days events.

Who’s still around, and who’s not?  Who stole somthing from the giants little cars yesterday? It’s always a vibrant discussion, and the main topic usually involves their encounters with the “giants”. In Squirrel language, there is no word for humans, so they simply refer to humans as “giants”.

The Squirrels consider themselves the self-appointed royalty of Berry Creek, and  take no lip or beak from the other critters. They view the Ducks as stupid and clueless, the Deer, beautiful but dangerous, and the Skunks a foul annoyance. The remaining animals are categorized as flagrant opportunist. But not the Squirrels. They always have a plan. They don’t beg, they just take what they need.

In Texas, legends are part of the culture.  Every patch of woods in the state has at least one critter or human that falls into the legend category.

We have Ol’e Rip the Horned Toad, Bob the Bobcat, the Chupacabra, Big Foot, the Jack-a-lope, Pecos Pete, Davy Crockett, William Travis, Ol’e Blue, Ol’e Yeller and Pasquale the horned toad that started the battle of the Alamo. There’s no shortage of legends in Texas, and it’s folks like it that way.

But the woods of Berry Creek, there is but one uncontested legend, Shorty J. Squirrel.

The oppressive Texas heat is tough on all the critters, but Shorty knew how to keep cool. He would find a bare spot beneath a tree, stretch out on his belly, and let the damp earth cool him down.

On one of these cooling off sessions, he fell into a deep sleep and didn’t hear the large black dog creeping up from behind.

Jolted awake by the sense of being flung violently through the air, Shorty realized  something large and vicious had a firm grip on his tail and was swinging him around like a stuffed toy.

After several violent roundhouse swings, the dog lost its prize, when a large piece Shorty’s tail broke off in its teeth.

Escaping to a nearby tree, bloodied, and missing more than half of his familiar rear plumage, Shorty glared down at the slobbering mongrel standing there with a substantial piece of his former beautiful tail protruding from it’s muzzle.

“Stupid inbred animal” he barked.

Shorty knew he was lucky, and thankful to be alive. Many of his extended family had been whisked away by the dog killers.

Squirrels, because they all look-alike, are not prone to personal vanity, but they do have a bit of a rude streak and tend to take notice when one of their own looks a little different.

The few days after the dog incident, Shorty made his morning appearance at the meeting tree, and was greeted not with concern for his brush with death, but by laughter and ridicule focused on his damaged tail.

He explained the attack in animated and vivid detail, wanting the others to know how close he came to death at the jaws of the large dog killer, but the other Squirrels could only point at his damaged appendage and laugh all the louder.

Disgusted and dejected, Shorty made his way over to the sand bunker on the 17th green, sat down and had a good sulk.

While sulking in that sand bunker, Shorty noticed a group of  the “little cars” stopped nearby, and being the breakfast hour, he hopped over to see if there were any hidden morsels worth taking. Creeping ever so quietly, he raised himself into the little car.

Smelling something fragrant and nutty, he climbed into the glove box, finding a nice piece of a half eaten granola bar.

Hidden in the glove box and munching away on his prize, Shorty didn’t notice the little car moving forward. It was too late, he was trapped in the little car.

Shorty, hunkered down in the glove box, frozen in fear, and no way to escape, could only stare up at the faces of the two giants riding in the little car.

When it stopped and  the giants exited, Shorty escaped back to the safety of the sand bunker. He told himself that was a little risky, but well worth the meal, and he would likely try it again.

The next morning, the same group of little cars came again.

Shorty saw one of the giants throw a handful of nuts onto the ground next to the car.

When the giants were on the mound swinging their long sticks, Shorty stole a few of the nuts and scampered back to the sand bunker.

The giants smiled in amusement as they drove away.

A few days later,  the little cars came again, and Shorty bounded over to see what was to be offered.

One of the kind giants sitting in the car, held a nut in his paw and offered it to Shorty. Cautiously, he approached the large paw and took the nut from its grasp. He devoured it, and the large paw produced another nut, then another, and another, until Shorty could hold no more.

After a rousing round of nuts, Shorty was uncomfortably full, and waddled back to the sand bunker. Not having to look for food that day, he relaxed in the sand. ‘This is the life” he told himself.

The other Squirrels, having watched this scenario for a good while, approached Shorty, begging  to learn his technique of training the giants to give him food.

Shorty, being pretty full of himself at this point, and seeing an opportunity to raise his status in the clan, explained that only “he” was able to train the giants.

His newly  deformed tail had bestowed upon him, special powers that allowed magical interaction between himself and the giants.

The other Squirrels, being somewhat ignorant, and naturally superstitious by nature, accepted his explanation without question.

As the days progressed, Shorty, intent on milking this to the end, and starting to believe his own story, would put on his daily show for the clan.

Shorty would approach the little cars, raise up on his hind legs, and staring intensely at the giants, would wave his small paws in a circle, bark a few commands, and the giants would extend a nut bearing paw. The Squirrel clan, watching from the trees would bark in wonderment and approval of their new guru.

The giants enjoyed the unusual antics of the little Squirrel, and noticing his shortened tail, appropriately named him “Shorty”. They thought he was the friendliest Squirrel they had ever encountered.

As the months progressed,  Shorty warmed to the giants and would trustingly climb into the little car and take nuts from an ever-present bag. The giants would speak to him, using his new name and he would respond as best he could with a chatter and the flip of his small tail.

When the little cars would approach the 17th green, the friendliest giant would sometimes yell out Shorty’s name, and he would scamper over to receive his handout.

The other Squirrels in the clan, noticing how completely  Shorty had trained the giants,  unanimously elevated him to “deity status”.

Shorty’s name was now sacred in the woods of Berry Creek.

As Shorty’s legend grew in the woods, it equally grew in the community of giants.

Giants in their little cars would yell for Shorty and throw nuts on the ground as they drove by.

But Shorty was confused. These giants were not “his giants”, and some threw objects at him when he tried to retrieve the nuts. He was always happy to see “his giants”, and they were always happy to be in his company.

One afternoon, Shorty was retrieving a nut that had been thrown from a little car. Dashing across the cement path, he failed to see the little car as it sped toward him, and

Shorty was crushed beneath the wheels of the little car.

His last thought was of his circle of “giant friends”, and who would now train them?

Who would be their friend?

The driver of the little car, thinking it was just a lowly Squirrel, continued on his way. Not caring, not knowing that he had ended the life of a “small legend”.

The life of Shorty J. Squirrel.

One of the kindly friends of the giants found Shorty on the path, took his small broken body home and called Shorty’s “favorite giant” to inform him of his death.

The group of giants were grief-stricken at the passing of their small friend, and vowed to give Shorty a proper tribute to honor their friendship.

As the sun sinks low, one of the men places the small metal plaque on the monument and they silently walk away into the Texas afternoon.

Their tribute, now complete.

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