This story starts with a tale, then
ends with a tail.
Legend has it that long ago, when small rodents ruled the
forest, that a particular mouse named Mallow boosted of his
fearlessness. He claimed to be Lord of the Forest Litter,
ruler of Things Fallen From Above. He could climb a tree much
better than Vole, and he could burrow deeper than Rabbit.
His claims made him a legend in his own mind.
Now one day a terrible storm descended upon the mountains.
Winds blew with a fury and lightning streaked through the
sky. Hail the size of grasshoppers pelted the earth and thunder
made the trees jump. Like the crooked fingers of some old
hag, lightning spread across the mountains and touched off
fires as it moved across the forest. What started as a puff
of smoke soon became a raging inferno.
Mouse was so terrified that he could barely move. Mule deer
bounded over him and Turkey got the flock out of there. The
Long-Eared woke up and hissed in displeasure. As other rodents
scurried past him seeking safety in the rock slopes or beneath
the waters of the forest ponds, Mouse could only shake with
fear. His boasting was like a Western movie set - all front,
no foundation. As the fires leapt across the tree crowns,
Mouse could only watch in awe.
Fortunately for Mouse, Porcupine waddled over him, his spines
striking deep into Mouse’s fur. Mouse jumped with a
realization that he was not quite dead yet. His pain brought
him back into reality and with this second chance, he raced
before the hungry tongue of flames lapped up the forest fuels.
Seeking shelter from the fire, Mouse spied a large tree with
thick bark and strong limbs. Thinking that this tree could
provide him with shelter, Mouse ran up the bark just as the
flames burned away the hairs on his narrow tail. Without a
moment to spare, Mouse burrowed deep beneath a shield on the
tree’s cone, willing his body into a space too large
for his fitting. The fire raced across the forest carpet,
climbed as high as it could along the furrowed bark, and did
not succeed in toasting this plump, mouse Mallow.
To this day, legend has it, the Douglas fir tree that provided
safe haven for Mouse holds an annual remembrance of this occasion.
The tree’s cones, borne hanging from stout limbs, have
thumbnail-shaped scales from which protrude tiny appendages.
These appendages, upon closer inspection, resemble the tiny
hind legs and hairless tail of one, toasted mouse.
Though the tale ends with a tail, one has only to go high
up into the La Sals to see the evidence for themselves. Douglas
fir trees, their thick bark furrowed like a watermelon field,
grow at elevations intermixed with aspen, white fir, and Engelmann
spruce. Their pendulous cones hang down like bad habits, unlike
the upright cones of the white fir. Their leaves have a much
softer feel than the needle-like Engelmann spruce - beware
the offering of a spruce’s handshake. Not admitted into
the genus of True Firs (Abies), the Douglas fir was named
after its poor imitation of a hemlock - Pseudotsuga, means
Though Mouse survived the fire, barely, it was his bad fortune
to select a tree with fire resistant bark. Others had the
same idea. Unfortunately, Mouse was eaten by Redtail who happened
to be perched in that same tree. The last known sighting of
Mouse was his tail disappearing down Redtail’s throat.
Such are the ways of Nature.