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July 15, 2024

Winter's End

By Jon Renaut

There was a strange and eerie silence hanging over the crowd gathered in the meadow. The level of tension in the air, usually so low in such an idyllic location, was like a Code Orange day in our nation's capital. Nervous military police, called in for the special occasion, scanned the crowd for suspicious behavior. The Fox News team was busy designing "Breaking News" alert graphics, and the makeup artist was liberally applying anxiety to the face of the anchorwoman with the contents of a large makeup case.

A man coughed, like a gunshot in the silent field, and drew the glare of more than a few of the policemen, baking in the warm sun in full riot gear.

All eyes were focused on a small hole in the ground, breathlessly waiting. The breeze was conspicuously absent, and the tall grass around the hole was totally still. A single bead of sweat rolled down the forehead of a man in the front row, only a few yards from the hole.

These people had been waiting for almost six hours, and that was after a two hour wait in line to go through security. No food or drink was allowed, nothing that might upset the natural balance of nature spread out all around them.

A murmur spread through the crowd, as perhaps something was momentarily visible in the darkness of the hole. The police stood at attention, ready at the drop of a hat to restore order, should the need arise. The news team had set up their cameras, sixteen in all, trained on the hole, the crowd, and the anchorwoman, who was doing strange breathing exercises, her eyes closed, her hands at her sides.

There was a slight disturbance as the police viciously beat a man foolish and clever enough to smuggle a small digital camera inside the restricted area, but soon all was quiet again. All were focused on the hole. They had waited a long time for the moment they knew would come soon, leaving behind their jobs, their lives, some even their families, to be here in this small and previously peaceful field. After the dedication of so much time and energy, none were willing to sacrifice the smallest bit of satisfaction, of reward for their perseverance, for anything or anyone.

Now, something was definitely visible in the hole. The crowd gasped as one, and the police looked menacing. The news crew exploded into action, moving cameras, cueing teleprompters, and starting a large fan to blow the hair of the anchorwoman and enhance the already tense situation for viewers at home. She began to speak of the scene, describing every mundane detail of the crowd, the weather, and the pollen count. She went on to mention that a local man had claimed just last week to have been attacked by a swarm of killer bees not half a mile from where she stood. His story was never confirmed, but she urged viewers within a fifty mile radius to panic and run screaming if they heard buzzing sounds, or saw a bee.

At last the moment arrived. Six people were trampled by the camera crews, but the first emergence was caught on tape. No less than seventeen graphic designers and video editors rushed the precious tape back to the studio where it could be enhanced and played in Dolby Digital Surround on that afternoon's special breaking news interruption.

I was there, on the front line, as the small grey and white nose tentatively poked its way out of the hole and into the blinding sun, like a child leaving the comfort and safety of the mother's womb for the harsh glare of the hospital's florescent lights. A small child cried out in terror at the emerging beast, and she was quickly hushed by her mother.

Slowly but surely, the monster crept from its hole, its sanctuary. The anchorwoman had added her own look of fear to the mask of makeup she already wore. The police shifted uncomfortably, wishing it would be over so they could return to quiet and peaceful order of the barracks.

The beast was fully visible now, and the more learned of the onlookers recognized the Taxidea Taxus, the North American badger. It was a creature of uncommon grace, lithe and beautiful as it surveyed the gathered crowd. Like his better-known counterpart, the groundhog, his exit from his burrow was an eagerly anticipated event. However, unlike the groundhog, who is more easily fooled by tricks of light, the badger ignores the presence of his shadow, or lack thereof. Instead, the fate of winter rests on the side of the hole on which the badger first chooses to urinate. If he goes to the right, then the early spring will be cold and harsh, and many will struggle to survive. But if this wondrous creature turns to his left to empty his bladder, then springtime will be a time of rebirth, as it should be, and gentle weather will provide ample food for all the creatures of the meadow, big and small.

The crowd held its collective breath as he nosed to the right. Even the anchorwoman froze, mid-sentence, and briefly turned her eyes heavenward, willing him to turn in the other direction. Wide-eyed, the crowd watched as the creature sniffed the ground, pensive and curious. The crowd barely moved.

The badger turned around, and wandered toward the left, and the crowd reacted eagerly, but quietly, afraid of startling the magnificent beast. He cautiously sniffed the ground again, on the left, and all onlookers silently willed him to stop there. And he did stop, raising his head and cocking his ears, perhaps at some sound inaudible to the inferior ears of the surrounding humans.

The silence was suddenly broken by cheers as the badger finally made his decision, doing his business on the left side of his den. Winter was over!

Article © Jon Renaut. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-03-31
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