The Old Badger (2)
Once upon a time ...” began Father, because that is how all the best stories are supposed to start – nobody knows why, but it is, “... there was an Old Badger1. He was very old at the time this story starts and even older by the time it finishes.”
Mr David Wright (UK)
“Even older than you, Dad?”
“Even older than you, Dad?”
“Yes, much older than I am, but don’t keep interrupting or I shall forget the story and we shall never hear the end.”
“No, sorry Dad,” came one small contrite2 voice, followed by another even smaller contrite voice, “No, sorry Dad”.
“All right then, where was I? Oh, yes, there was this very Old Badger and he was the leader of a huge tribe of badgers, for in those days, badgers lived together in huge tribes, maybe several hundred, all in more or less the same place. This was because there were many things for them to eat: worms (their favourite), insects and their larvae3 of all shapes and sizes, animals (like mice and shrews4) and loads of fruit, nuts and corn. There was no shortage5 of food so they didn’t have to waste time fighting over it or in staking out6 a claim7 to a personal territory. Badgers were all different colours in those days – just about every colour you can think of, except purple. I don’t know why there weren’t any purple ones, but there weren’t. They all lived together in nests and tree-houses8 above the ground then instead of digging setts9 in the earth. This Old Badger was not only very old, he was also very big and strong ...”
Brock almost said, “Bigger and stronger than you, Dad?”, but he stopped himself just in time when his sister said, “Shhh.”
“...he must have weighed about a hundred kilograms, which is an awful lot of pounds. You see,” continued Father, “the badgers had a very fierce10 enemy, called a sabre-toothed tiger, who liked nothing better than a crisp badger for breakfast or a succulent11 cub as a tasty snack between meals. All together in a tribe with their big, strong leader (I didn’t mention that he was also very strong, did I? Well, he was.) and their united powerful jaws they could chase off any sabre-toothed tiger, but if one was found alone, it was good-bye badger! There were other enemies too, like wolves, but the sabre-toothed tiger was the worst.
“All went well for many centuries. Badgers lived for about a thousand years in those days as you can read in the Badgers’ Bible, just as humans like Methuselah12 did. But gradually the weather began to change. Whereas13 it had been all one long summer, it now began to get quite chilly in the evenings and there was a definite14 difference between the hot season and the cold season. Some foolish young green badgers called this ‘climate change’ and said it was the fault of the hot air coming from the old badgers talking too much and making what they called ‘greenhouse gas15’.
“It got colder and colder until it was far too cold for the sabre-toothed tiger. He moved away in search of warmer places and eventually went extinct16, which just means nobody knows what happened to him, but he is gone forever. Without the need for protection against the sabre-toothed tiger, the badgers didn’t have to band17 together any more so they also began to move around to different parts of the world in search of warmer places. It still got colder and colder and the tribe still got smaller and smaller until at last the Old Badger told the rest of his few followers that they had better move too. It is just as well that they did, for soon after that, all the area where they had been living got covered with thick ice which didn’t melt all year round.
“The Old Badger wandered18 around with his small band of followers. They crossed deserts and hills, grassy plains and snowy tundra, but everywhere food was hard to come by19 and now the wolves were their greatest enemies. When they crossed the grassy spots, the green badgers could easily disguise20 themselves, but when they came to a snowy part, they were readily visible and got caught and eaten up until there were no more green badgers left – you just try to find one now if you don’t believe me. The same thing happened to the yellow badgers when they crossed the deserts; and to the brown ones when the crossed bare21 earthy places. As there were soon many more places where the ground was covered with snow with just black rocks poking22 through, the only badgers to survive were the snowy white ones and the patchy black and white ones.
“Fortunately, the cold didn’t last for ever and the climate began to warm up again. A few foolish young greenish-white badgers that had managed to survive said that this was ‘climate change’. They surmised23 that it was all the fault of old badgers talking too much and making too much hot air, which they called ‘greenhouse gas’ just as the other green badgers had before them – which all goes to show that there is no new thing under the sun and that foolish young people are not half as clever as they think they are.
“The important thing,” said Father, who could see that his two children didn’t relish24 this dig at their immaturity25, “was that it got warmer, trees began to grow again and worms began to flourish. It was a jolly good job that it did, for the Old Badger and his little band of weary26 badgers were just about all in and ready to go extinct like the sabre-toothed tiger and the green, yellow and brown badgers. They travelled on until they came to a wide flat valley. One half of the band wanted to stay where they were and the other half, who were more adventurous27 and still led by the Old Badger, wanted to cross over. The ones who stayed behind were the ‘Le Blaireau’ family and were closely related to the weasels28, whereas the Old Badger and his little band crossed over the valley into a land full of green pastures, deep dark wildwood and multitudes29 of worms. They had no sooner got across the valley, than the sea came rushing in and made what is properly called the ‘English Channel’. The poor Blaireaux didn’t know that, of course, as they were all still living on the wrong side of the water and they called it ‘La Manche’ – and still do! They never changed their name either, which you would have thought they might have done, seeing as it can be taken to mean ‘water-from-a-Blair’! I think one of their descendants married a human, crossed over the English Channel and became someone fairly important, but I wouldn’t swear to that.
“Be that as it may30, once the snowy white badgers got over the Channel into this pleasant land and started living in the woods, their colour began to change until they became black with just the remains of white stripes on their faces to remind them of their glorious ancient history. There were still a few wolves and the occasional bear around, but the badgers found that their new colouring matched the deep, dark wildwood perfectly and it wasn’t long before the wolves and bears decided to go extinct as well. That left just the badgers and the worms and a few other creatures that don’t matter in this story.”
At this point Mother came over and touched her husband gently on the arm saying:
“It’s all right now, dear, they are both fast asleep!”
And sure enough, they were. Brock was dreaming about the sabre-toothed tiger and the big, strong Old Badger while his sister was dreaming about all the pretty coloured badgers that went extinct.
1 badger – барсук
2 contrite – кающийся
3 larva – личинка
4 shrew – землеройка
5 shortage – нехватка
6 to stake out – отмечать границу вехами
7 claim – притязание
8 tree-house – шалаш на дереве
9 sett – барсучья нора
10 fierce – свирепый
11 succulent – сочный
12 Methuselah – Мафусаил
13 whereas – несмотря на то, что
14 definite – определенный
15 greenhouse gas – парниковый газ
16 extinct – вымерший
17 to band – объединяться
18 to wander – скитаться
19 to come by – доставать
20 to disguise – маскировать
21 bare – голый
22 to poke through – торчать наружу
23 to surmise – догадываться
24 to relish – нравиться
25 immaturity – незрелость
26 weary – утомленный
27 adventurous – смелый
28 weasel – ласка, горностай
29 multitude – множество
30 be that as it may – как бы то ни было
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