by David Gore

covered by ancient oak trees.  The acorns from the oaks fed a huge clan of us - aunts, uncles, cousins, and even second cousins once removed.  Hardly anyone lived here on the shady side of Worldhill.  After all, there's just one oak tree on this side."
"Is that because oak trees don't like the shade?" asked Whiskerface.
"I guess so," replied Grandfather Great Ears. "And the fir trees make it even shadier.  In those days no one thought it worthwhile to come to this side of the hill."
"And then the World Fire came," prompted young Whiskerface.
"Yes," continued his grandfather, "and then the World Fire came.  It was after a wet spring and in the middle of a hot dry summer.  The grass was high and very dry.  One afternoon when storm clouds rolled over, we were all looking forward to the rain.  Lighting flashed out of the clouds, but somehow rain never came.  One bolt hit an oak tree at the bottom of Worldhill, and it burst into flame.  With the grass so long and dry, the flames quickly climbed the hillside until half of Worldhill was engulfed.  It was terrible.  Most of us escaped, but when we came back afterwards the trees were gone."
"And that's when everyone moved over to the shady side!" concluded Whiskerface.
Grandfather Great Ears thought a moment. "The first thing we did was dig up our caches of acorns and move them here.  We knew it was going to be a winter of famine, and we collected every nut we could find.  Even so, it wasn't enough.  By spring, most of us were gone."
Whiskerface saw that his grandfather was sad, and tried to think of something to say to cheer him up.  "Maybe the oak trees will grow back," suggested Whiskerface.
Just then another squirrel named Snaggletooth (so named because his teeth were slightly crooked) ambled by.  Whiskerface had heard that Snaggletooth had the bad habit of interrupting conversations, and he quickly proved the gossips right by saying "What's that about oak trees?"
"I was just saying," repeated Whiskerface politely, "that maybe the oak trees on the sunny side of Worldhill will grow back."
"Ha! You're a hopeful one!" replied Snaggletooth.  "If they haven't started to grow back yet, they never will.  No one knows how to make a tree sprout from the earth if it doesn't want to."
"I've heard," said Whiskerface, "some elders think oak trees grow from acorns that are buried in the ground.  Maybe we could bury some acorns over on the sunny side, and they would grow into trees, and then we could eat the acorns from the trees."
"You're a dreamer," scoffed Snaggletooth. "Besides, even if that's how trees get started, don't forget that an acorn in the ground is an acorn you can't eat.  Who's crazy enough to give up eating an acorn, just  because it might, after all of us are dead, grow into a tree?  Not me!"  With that, Snaggletooth hopped off in search of mushrooms to eat.
  Soon it was fall, and each day an acorn or two could be found on the ground under the one surviving oak tree.  Whoever found an acorn could keep it, but the squirrels had agreed in council that to avoid having acorns picked too green, no acorn could be picked off the tree.  So it happened that as soon as an acorn fell from the tree and hit the ground, there would be a frenzied race to grab it.
Whiskerface noticed that more acorns fell when the wind blew, and he began to listen to the sound of the wind in the treetops.  One dark night he woke from sleep to hear the moaning of the wind as it bowed the tops of the fir trees.  Now, it is well known that squirrels are creatures of the day, and like all squirrels, Whiskerface was frightened of the dark.  But he was curious to see if the wind had brought down more acorns.  So in spite of his fear, he crept out of his nest and down the fir tree that was his home.
  In the darkness he worked his way towards the stunted oak tree, then began to search the ground.  Since he could not see very well in the darkness, he crossed back and forth under the oak tree.  After a while he stumbled across first one, then several acorns.  In his excitement he ran around in circles, wondering what he should do with them.  He counted them -- four!  Where would he put them?  How would he move them?  He had seen his elders carry two acorns at a time in their mouths, but his mouth proved too small.  So he carried them one at a time to a hiding place he knew of, then went back to his nest to a restless sleep.  The next morning Whiskerface woke to find that he had missed two acorns in the dark, and that both had been eaten by an early-rising squirrel.  No more acorns fell that year.
After the windfall, the four hidden acorns were frequently in Whiskerface's thoughts.  Although he loved eating acorns as much as any squirrel, he kept thinking of his argument with Snaggletooth about planting trees.  One night as he lay curled in his nest he resolved that on the next day he would plant an acorn on the sunny side of Worldhill.
Whiskerface woke early the next morning, packed an acorn into his mouth, and scampered up the hill.  After a few minutes he reached the top.  Already he could see the burned stumps of a few of the ancient oak trees.  He continued on down the sunny side until he found the largest stumps.  Here, he thought, the acorn will surely grow.  He dug a hole next to a large stump, put in the acorn, and carefully packed soil back into the hole. 
Each morning for the next three days Whiskerface picked up another acorn and carried it over the top to the sunny side of Worldhill.  He planted each acorn next to a different burned oak stump.  Soon after that it got cold, and Whiskerface snuggled with his brothers and fell into the long sleep of winter.
* * *
With the coming of Spring, Whiskerface and the other squirrels woke famished from their long sleep.  They spent every waking minute searching for mushrooms, plant seeds or berries to eat.  Grandfather Great Ears had not survived the winter, and Whiskerface missed him.  But he was too hungry to think for long about anything other than foraging for food.
It was not until midsummer that Whiskerface remembered the acorns he had planted.  He hopped over to the sunny side to see if they had turned into trees, and was excited to see short green sprouts pushing out of the earth at three of the places he had planted acorns.  Noticing that the day was hot, he pulled dead grass around each sprout to keep the soil moist.   Then satisfied that he had done what he could for the little seedlings, he returned to the shady side of Worldhill.
It was not long after this that Whiskerface met a very attractive female named Flufftail (so named because her tail was unusually fluffy).  They fell in love and were married according to squirrel customs, and by fall had three baby squirrels to share their nest.  During this time Whiskerface was busy providing for his family.  Never in his life had there been much food, and now he and Flufftail had to struggle to nourish not only themselves but also the young ones in their nest.  It isn't surprising, then, that he gave scarcely a thought to the oak seedlings over on the sunny side of Worldhill.
But after another winter and spring had passed, and his children were mostly grown, he remembered the seedlings and took his children to see them.  The three sprouts had grown into saplings, and Whiskerface found great joy in explaining to his children how he had planted the acorns and kept them moist, and how one day they would grow into giant oak trees laden with acorns.  As year followed year and Whiskerface grew old, it became a custom of his family for him to take his children and grandchildren to see the growing oak trees and explain how he had planted them and how one day they would produce huge numbers of delicious sun-ripened acorns. 
When at the great age of twelve Whiskerface died, his sons and daughters took up the task of telling the story of Whiskerface and the Oak Trees.  From generation to generation the story was told faithfully as a promise for the future.  Then one day, twenty-five years after Whiskerface had seen the seedlings sprouting from the earth, the trees began to bear acorns.  For hundreds of years after that, squirrels came from all corners of Worldhill to hear the story of Whiskerface and to enjoy the acorns produced by the forest giants he had planted.

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"Tell me again of the World Fire," pleaded Whiskerface.  The young squirrel looked up to his grandfather, hope large in his eyes.
Grandfather Great Ears twitched his ears in thought.  To other creatures across the wide Earth, all squirrels looked the same.  But to squirrels, small differences such as slightly long whiskers or slightly large ears were as distinct as night and day.  So Grandfather Great Ears twitched his slightly large ears and began again the story he had told so many times before.
"Ah, the World Fire!  It was long ago, in my youth.  Our family lived on the other side of Worldhill.  In those days, the   sunny   side  of   Worldhill   was