SANTA CLAUS, Ind. — They say you never know what you have until it’s gone. I agree. My years as the resident barn owl at Wonderland Farms have taught me that many take what they have for granted. It’s not until they lose something — no matter what that thing is — that they truly understand what it meant to have it.
Often times, from my perch here in this hayloft, I’ve seen the simplest things taken for granted. Water can run dry and food can easily become in short supply in just one season.
This year is a perfect example — constant rains drenched the fields, keeping the farmer from his work until it was almost summer. And then it didn’t rain until fall. Still, the crops were good, even though they could have been better, so life on the farm has been normal — whatever that is!
But I remember a holiday season when everyone was worried that things never would be the same. It happened one night when a feisty goose and his best friend, a field mouse, of all creatures, set off looking for adventure.
Despite the warnings of those around them, the pair left the barn and ventured into the unknown. They found more than they expected. They eventually made their way back home, but they had a lot of help and learned an important lesson along the way.
“You two are always running around. Can’t you just sit still?” asked Ethan, a cream-colored cat whose one white paw always reminded people of the time he tried to climb a freshly painted fence.
“Don’t mind us, Ethan. We’re not bothering you,” said Noel, running in circles around the legs of his friend, Chester.
“Yeah, we’re not bothering you,” the goose said. “So, leave us alone.”
Just then, Babs and Avery came over to calm the commotion. Avery, a pig constantly afraid that people disliked him, told the duo to stop aggravating Ethan.
“Just do what Ethan asks, OK?” Avery said. “If you are going to run around, do it someplace else.”
“Fine, we’ll do just that,” Chester quacked. “We’ll just leave the barn. We could leave and never come back.”
“Now, like, that’s not what Avery said. Don’t, like, be ridiculous,” said Babs in a Valley Girl voice, trying to make the others think she was more exotic than a milk cow. The other animals, though, already were jealous of how excited the farmer was to get milk from Babs — far more excited than when he looked at the pig. “For sure, you can’t be serious.”
“Just watch us,” Chester warned. “One of these days, we’ll just leave and won’t come back.”
The goose and mouse then scampered off, going into a stall to talk with each other away from the other animals. Perched above them in the hayloft, however, I was able to see and hear everything.
“Let’s leave this place,” Chester said, trying to convince his pal that leaving the farm would solve their problems with the others. “They don’t want us here, so let’s just go.”
Noel always followed Chester’s advice. Forever looking up to his friend, he believed Chester could never be wrong.
“OK. But where are we going to go? What are we going to do?”
“It’s a big world, Noel. There are plenty of places for us to go, and there are a lot of things we can do. Let’s leave tonight.”
So, while the other animals were nestled in the barn and asleep for the evening, the goose and mouse left. They strolled across the lawn, crept by the water pump, walked around the tool shed and headed into a field.
The night air was chilly, but the animals were confident in their mission and did not let the brisk weather deter them. A full moon lit their way, creating shadows from the stubble left standing in the field.
The animals made a game hopping back and forth on the dark spots that cascaded across the frost-covered ground. Before long, the farm was just a small scene in the distance.
That made the animals somewhat nervous, but they were having too much fun to turn around and head home. Instead, they continued on. As they walked toward some woods, they sang a song they heard the farmer’s wife once sing while she was working in the barn.
“Christmas is a great time of year. Christmas time is filled with cheer. Family and friends, never let the good times end. Christmas is our favorite time of year,” the pair sang.
Their song, however, soon was drowned out by the sound of a creek rustling deep in the woods. The goose and mouse came across the water and were elated to see a dam that bridged one side of the creek with the other. Their journey could continue.
After they trotted to the other side of the water, they heard an unusual noise. A crackling sound soon turned their holiday happiness into a full-fledged frightening affair.
A big beaver, with teeth that sparkled in the night, approached them. The beaver opened his mouth and began to speak. But Chester and Noel immediately turned and ran away, right into the creek. The water’s strong current, pushed and pulled them, tugging them down the course of the creek.
“Chester! Chester!” Noel cried for help.
Back on the farm, the other animals woke to find their friends gone. I shared the news of how the two had left. But I didn’t know where they went. We all decided to try and find them and bring them home.
Fortunately, their steps left prints in the frost. Seeing their path lead into the woods, however, made us all a bit uneasy.
“This, like, is the dumbest thing these two have ever done,” Babs said. “And that’s, like, saying a lot. They’ve done a lot of dumb things. But, if anything happens to them, I, for sure, don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Take it easy, Babs,” Ethan said, trying to ease his friend’s worries. “Everything will be all right.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Avery said. “You have nine lives!”
The goose eventually was able to break free from the current and stood on the shore. He was paralyzed by fear as he watched his best friend float down the creek, still struggling in the rushing current.
The beaver then caught up with the goose. And, as the first rays of the morning sun began to shine down on the farm, Chester could see that the beaver was not menacing as he previously thought.
“I’m so sorry,” the beaver said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Where’s your friend?”
“He’s ... He’s gone. He couldn’t get out of the water, and I couldn’t save him. And now he’s gone, and it’s all my fault.”
Tears began to fall from Chester’s face. The beaver’s gentle words could not make him feel any better.
But, when all hope seemed lost, the other animals came across the new friends. Everyone immediately set off to find Noel. Running as fast as we could, we ran along the water’s edge.
Finally, we could see Noel still bobbing in the current, trying to keep his head above the water. The current, though, was leading him to a pile of rocks.
We didn’t have much time. In just a few moments, our beloved friend would be crushed.
Screaming so Noel could hear that his friends were trying to help him, I flew as fast as possible. The mouse was still headed for the rocks. The strong wind kept blowing me back. The rocks were coming. The wind was strong. He was almost to the rocks.
I reached down, hoping to grab the little guy. Cold water splashed up from the creek. I flew to the bank where the other animals were standing. Was Noel alive?
I looked down. There he was! His eyes opened, and he began to cry.
“Chester! Chester!” he quietly called for his friend.
“I’m here, Noel. It’s me. You’re OK. We’re both going to be fine.”
Chester and Noel began to shiver in the cold, and some snow began to fall. We had to hurry and get back to the farm before our friends froze and our tracks were covered. The misunderstood beaver said goodbye and pointed us in the right direction.
The view of the farm grew as we approached. We hurried into the barn. Once we reached home, Chester and Noel warmed in a stall. After a while, the pair joined the others.
“We are so sorry,” Chester said. “And, Noel, I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK,” the mouse said. “We’re all OK now. That’s what’s important.”
We all were happy to be together once again. Chester and Noel promised to never wander away again.
Standing in the doorway of the barn, we all watched the snow fall across the farm. It was a beautiful sight, and it was even more beautiful that we all were together.
“Thank you, everyone,” Chester said.
“Yes, you’re the best,” Noel added. “This is where we belong. No matter what other adventure is out there, there’s no place better than the farm. Even when times seem bad, they always get better.”
The animals then sang: “Christmas is a great time of year. Christmas time is filled with cheer. Family and friends, never let the good times end. Christmas is our favorite time of year.”
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published by AgriNews on Dec. 25, 1998.