There was hardly a bug to be found this beautifully warm day @ Legacy-Ranch, so Ashley decided it would be a nice change to have a Picnic Tea at Turtle Pond. Ashley, who is the loveliest of lady rabbits, (and proprietor of the famous gathering place, Ashley’s Inn) is exceedingly community minded, but always makes time for a proper tea, whether rain or shine.
While she made Preparations for Portability (Ashley tends to speak in capitals and quite boldly when she’s Organizing), Marty Mocker was flying about inviting everyone to join in the fun. Already at her door were four of the cats from the Cottage on the Knoll… Joie, Spike, Lefty, and Mary Jane who happily helped Ashley carry the refreshments.
Ashley put a note on the door to say that tea would be at the pond, and off they went on a picnic parade, down The Butterscotch Trail.
Trailing them were the two Legacy Ranch horses: Maverick, the very grown-up colt, and his mother, Comanche, the rather worldly but mystical chestnut mare who wore a brilliant white diamond blaze on her forehead.
Maverick had a tiny trace of a diamond too, and was a chestnut like his Mom some of the year, but he tended to sunburn, so most of the time he looked more like a sorrel, and the fur just above his heels was quite blond when not dirty. The Little Red Colt with the Golden Feet was how people described him when he was a baby.
He, followed by his stately mother, trailed eagerly behind the little ones… being careful not to walk too fast.
meanwhile @ Turtle Pond
It was even more beautiful down by the water, with a soft breeze to keep everyone cool. The horses immediately went to graze by the water’s edge while Joie and Spike took off to investigate what might be lurking in the rocks by the waterfall.
Mary Jane and Lefty, the black and white twin kittens, stayed fairly close since they were still quite young. (Even Turtle Pond can sometimes be quite wild. But then… so could the twins.)
Ashley began to lay out the picnic under the shade of the big oak tree while Lefty and Mary Jane played nearby. Taking inventory, Ashley confirmed there were plenty of carrots for the horses, lots of oat muffins for everyone, with a choice of either a bit of honey or her Simply Divine Strawberry Jam to go on them. She’d selected some lovely ham and cheese scraps for the cats and there was enough to share with any other carnivores who came to join them.
Ashley put her customary jar of clear spring water in the sun with the cluster of her Special Picnic Blend of dried herbs, which she’d securely tied to the rim. Her famous Ashley’s Sun Tea (which varied in blend with the occasion) would be ready in a jiffy on such an unusually warm day. There was milk for the cats…who took very little tea with their milk (plus a few drops of honey), and a few miscellaneous goodies for whoever else might happen along. Ashley prided herself on Being Prepared…for Anything!
Mary Jane came trotting over to Ashley. “AFFLEY! Ouk wa I haff fo fa turffles!” said Mary Jane excitedly, her mouth obviously full of something. Setting her work aside, Ashley turned her full attention to the precocious young lady kitten… who all too often forgot she was a lady.
“I can’t understand you when your mouth is full, dear. Take that poor grasshopper out from your teeth and try again.” Ashley insisted on good manners from the young ones, no matter how wild! There was so much to teach them. She always tried to tell children the why behind her requests or cautions and not burden them with empty demands.
“I said… look what I have for the turtles!” Mary Jane looked a bit miffed that she had to drop her catch, but her lightening fast little white paw snagged him again before he could hop off.
Those paws were literally her name, by the way. You know those cute little dress-up shoes called Mary Jane’s that humans put on their little girls? Well, that’s how Mary Jane got her name. Lefty liked to say that she’s always dressed to kill.
To the uninitiated, her paws looked as innocent and dainty as her name, but every bit of Mary Jane could be lethal, which Lefty knew better than anybody since he’d been forced to wrestle her all of his life!
“Good Girl!” said Ashley, patiently. “Now I can understand what you’re saying. That is indeed a fine specimen, and how clever of you to find such a fat grasshopper. They Do have a tendency to take over, and can be So Destructive. I’m sure Boris and Doris Tortoise and the Girls in the pond will simple love it. Why don’t you go and deliver it personally. I simply Must get tea ready. I’m sure everyone will soon be hungry and thirsty.” Mary Jane chomped down on her prey once again, and skipped off to the pond to present her present to the turtles.
Ashley looked after the adorable kitten, knowing that if Mary Jane was hungry, she’d have eaten the grasshopper herself. She turned to watch Maverick and Comanche, who were always hungry. The horses were knee deep in the water now, eating the ripe heads off grasses that looked much like rice, which thrived on the banks of the pond.
She looked over toward the waterfall at Joie and Spike. Their gray coats made them almost invisible in the rocks. Joie, with her magnificent long coat of tones of gray with highlights of peach, was invisible. Spike, with his dapper white shirfront, was always a giveaway. The brother and sister, now the most mature of the ranch cats, had teamed to corner an innocent prey and would likely spoil their appetite with a small rodent or two.
Only Lefty, who had wandered back to be near the goodies, actually looked hungry.
Lefty was hungry! Not willing to scare up something on his own, he pretended to be ever so casual, in order to see what Ashley was doing, and what he might be able snitch.
meanwhile @ Mz Possum’s Cafe
Spying on the group from Ashley’s Inn were some of the regulars at Mz Possum’s Cafe. Her establishment was in another big oak tree near Turtle Pond, across the pond and back a ways… in the shadows of an area called The Island.
Today, what with the weather being absolutely perfect, Mz Possum was simply hanging out, (literally since possums can hang by their tails on a tree branch).
She was dozing in the upper branches of the tree that served as her home, the cafe, a hotel, and dance hall and seemed to be oblivious to what was going on around her. Mz Possum was what you’d call a low pressure entrepreneur.
From her precarious perch, she actually had an excellent view of everything that went on. Not only at Turtle Pond, but up and down the main part of Corn Creek, including Bobcat Creek above the pond, and Stony Brook, below the waterfall. When she looked over her shoulder (which for her was rather easy), she could see all of The Island, including Spring Creek and The Wishing Well.
She wasn’t really watching much, since being a very nocturnal animal (and quite the party person), she was sleeping soundly, and even snoring now and again.
It had been the usual rowdy Friday Night @ Mz Possum’s Cafe, with rough talk, spicy food, a few too many fights, and everyone thinking they had actually had a great time, though some of them were surely sporting bruises by now. The behavior at Mz Possum’s Cafe tended to be quite the opposite of that at Ashley’s Inn.
Manners weren’t particularly important at Mz Possum’s Cafe. Few of her close friends… and fewer still of her patrons, had any “manners” whatsoever. But then… what can you expect from vultures, badgers, snakes, raccoons, skunks, and all sorts of other wild critters? The worse were the coyotes. But that was understandable when you consider that most of the patrons were carnivores and many carnivores, quite naturally, have aggressive tendencies.
Mz Possum didn’t particularly care if Ashley was having a picnic tea at the lake or not. As her Mama often used to say, hanging from this very tree, “Makes no never mind to me!” Besides, none of her crowd was hungry yet, and it was a big pond. She was perfectly content, upside down, hanging from her tail in the upper branches of her tree.
The primary reason she rested that way was because she could! The other was because it felt mighty good when she was nursing a headache and backache from a hard night’s work. All that new blood flowing into her brain felt quite refreshing after the long night of rowdyness.
Nearby was Mz. Possum’s pal Rocky, who was a raccoon, who told everyone that The Beatles (the world’s greatest human rock & rollers) wrote the song Rocky Raccoon just for him, which wasn’t true, of course, but it made a good story.
Hanging with her on her favorite branch was Marty Mocker’s cousin, Martina…the strongminded, highly talented Mockingbird who entertained on weekends and full moon nights at Mz Possum’s Cafe. She sang and did imitations, of course. So like a Mocker! Today she was trying to… in her words… “Get the hang of Mz Possum’s persona!”
Martina was trying a feat only her Cousin Marty seemed able to accomplish…hanging by one’s feet, upside down, like Mz Possum! That’s how Marty conducted his first indepth interview with the legendary Mz Possum. If Martina could just hang in there, she might add it to her act. An imitation of Mz Possum would be the hit of a show.
Hanging there, with growing discomfort, Martina was doubtful, as all her blood was rushing to her head. It was starting to hurt!
“It requires a very tranquil state of mind, my dear,” said Mz Possum, opening one eye and addressing her courageous young friend. (I guess Mz Possum wasn’t asleep after all.)
Buzzing nearby, and thereby adding to Martina’s difficulty, was Griswold, a crusty old Giant Hornet who, all year long, hot or cold, never even considered going dormant. No matter what time of the year, he was always up to mischief.
Griswold buzzed about, morning, noon or night, wherever there was warmth and food. As it grew colder, he just took to the cottage attic and buzzed the antennas and sunny side window screens for solar heat, or if it wasn’t too windy he and his family would play around the windmill. Hornets are very resilient people.
Griswold was also Armed! He could sting when he had reason, as many times as necessary, and as hard as he chose, without it effecting him in the least. Hornets are somewhat like rattlesnakes in that regard. Leave them alone and they won’t hurt you. Threaten them and the resulting pain can be Very Severe.
Like many snakes, most hornets tend to stay to themselves and don’t look for trouble. While generally not aggressive, hornets are curious, however, and have a tendency to get in people’s faces. Griswold was buzzing about, a little too curious and a bit too close to the faces of Martina and Mz Possum. They lazily swatted at him, being careful to miss by a mile. It never paid to make Griswold angry.
“Hey Griswold! Bet you’d can’t infiltrate Ashley’s picnic,” dared Rocky who was bored since the women weren’t talking much, but too lazy to climb down and actually do anything himself. Clearly it would be more fun to get Griswold to do his dirty work. “Bet you can’t find out what they’ve got under that red checkered cloth, especially. Bet you…”
Griswold turned on the Gs, swerved until he hovered right smack in front of Rocky’s smug, masked, furry little face, looking Rocky square in his big black eyes as though the Giant Hornet was a Harrier, threatening the raccoon with the ultimate answer… a carefully placed attack from his awesome stinger.
“Don’t you go betting me, son! Not unless you’re ready to make it worth my while!!”
Rocky backed off and took a different tact. He’d try the round-about way to get Griswold to go over and bug Ashley’s picnic.
Instantly pretending he was calm, cool and collect (Rocky was a great actor!), the clever raccoon turned his attention from Griswold to the ladies and set to his usual taunting.
“Hey, Mz Possum. Look at that. Ashley and all her goody-four shoed friends have come out to play today…on our pond. Bet she’s got some nice honey for those oat muffins,” jeered Rocky, knowing that hornets lived for insect nectar (not to mention all the parts of harmful insects they prey upon, for that matter), and there isn’t anything tastier than Ashley’s personal supply of HONEY!
Mz Possum knew Rocky was just up to his usual. Probably ten times a day…or maybe a hundred… she had to take him down a notch or two. She did it without blinking her only open eye. “Leave me alone… and leave Ashley’s picnic alone. I’m napping! Plus, I ate so much last night, I couldn’t fit in one of Ashley’s muffins, even if you snitched it, buttered it, spread it with honey, and catered it all the way over here yourself.”
Rocky seemed sufficiently subdued, so opening both of her little beady eyes as wide as possible, she turned instead to Griswold. “And you, young man. You made such a pig of yourself last night diving in and out of my stew, you shouldn’t be hungry until midnight. Both you and Griswold just BUG OFF. Now!” And with that, she cleared her throat crustily, by coughing, then spitting on the ground below, which wasn’t difficult from her position, and pretended to nod off.
Martina, with a ghastly headache now, righted herself, tried to regain her balance, and flew off (a bit wobbly winged) without even a word of goodbye. She flew over to join Ashley’s picnic. Those oat muffins Ashley was unpacking really did look mighty tasty to Martina, and she knew she’d be welcome. Who doesn’t having the free talent of a mocking bird at a tea party.
Griswold was starting to get hungry too, but it was beneath his demeanor to say what he actually wanted to say, since Rocky had been playing the bully. Plus, Griswold actually loved to be dared, and a bet is as good as a dare.
“OK, Rocky. I’ll bet you I can find out what’s under the cloth, and I bet you BIG! Cause I’m a GIANT HORNET. So when I get back, you better have thought of what you’re gonna pay up with! And it better be something good.”
Griswold sounded as threatening as he could to the pesky raccoon, who was, unfortunately heavily coated with long, deep fur and therefore too difficult to sting. Stings work best on bare flesh! On furry critters, you have to aim for things like noses, and the bottoms of people’s paws, which isn’t easy.
Just what Griswold meant by his tough talk, he didn’t really know. He was just talking “tough” like Rocky and the other guys did. All he really was thinking about was that it would sure be nice to get hold of some of that honey!
Off he flew, silently, to the other side of the pond.