THE SQUIRREL AND THE BIRD BY OLIVER PERRY RAUCHSquirrel, who resided in Central Park, was known throughout the island of Manhattan as the city’s best food gatherer and hoarder. Squirrel was the wisest legendary stockpiler and prided himself on never running out of food, even in the coldest weather. It should be noted that a squirrel’s food is rarely found in one place and, therefore, like all proactive squirrels, Squirrel would saunter around many a neighborhood in pursuit of food. As a habitual gatherer, he spent days gathering and storing acorns, berries, and other epicurean delights, followed by several days of lounging around his tree house.

It was in his tiny tree house that he would unpack the contents of his foraging bundle made from a worn bandana, cleverly tied together at the corners and hung from a sturdy twig. One day, Squirrel realized that his tree abode was beginning to feel even tinier than it had in seasons past.  From under an old coat, which served as the blanket on his bed, Squirrel peered at his miniature wooden chest whose drawers were so full they could no longer close.  From there, he stared at his distressed wooden shelf overflowing with too many used books he’d found over the course of many years.  Squirrel began to contemplate the questionable benefits of all his material possessions, to speak nothing of his enormous stockpile of food.

The next day, Squirrel awoke early to the sound of his neighbor’s singing.  While others often referred to the less than melodious sounds coming from the tree’s nest as chirping, Squirrel loved the familiar sounds of his neighbor, Bird.  Squirrel decided to scurry over and ask Bird’s advice regarding the overwhelming tree house clutter.  Bird greeted Squirrel with his usual cheerful refrain, “An early bird catches the worm!” as he pecked at one with his beak.  Squirrel prefaced his query for Bird with the fact that Bird had not been up the tree to visit him in quite a while.

Bird replied with a head nod and offered a sincere apology in a true feathered-friend manner.  “I am sincerely sorry, my good friend Squirrel.  Allow me to offer you a fresh cup of coffee and a toasted croissant.  Would you believe this divine French pastry was thrown away?”  Squirrel accepted Bird’s breakfast offerings and sat beside Bird as they each prepared their coffee with dollops of cream and heaping teaspoons of sugar cubes.  Squirrel replied with,  “Speaking of throwing items away, that rather relates to what I wanted to get your advice about this morning.”

Bird inched a bit closer to Squirrel, spread out a wing, and patted Squirrel on the back.  “Certainly,” Bird said reassuringly.

Squirrel proceeded to explain to Bird that when he first found his tree house years ago, he was excited about his new dwelling and its ample square footage.  Now, however, he had squirreled away too many sentimental things and just . . .  plain things.  Squirrel confessed that his home had hit rock bottom and he needed to make a strategic plan for tidying it up.  On that note, Squirrel and Bird decided to tackle the task of tidying immediately.  Squirrel scurried up to his tree-house while Bird wasted no time and flew beside him.  When they entered, Bird perched himself on top of the stockpile of acorns.  From this vantage point he was able to get a perfect aerial view to truly assess the situation.  Squirrel climbed up to survey beside him.  Bird cocked his head from right to left, fluffed his feathers and declared, “The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t want.”

Squirrel and Bird put on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and started to address the book shelves.  They began selecting just a few choice books Squirrel genuinely wished to read in the near future, and set aside stacks of used books for a Reading & Literacy charitable organization.  Next, they began digging through old sweaters and dozens of mismatched socks and prepared them for the donation bin at Goodwill.  Purging felt so good!

Just then there was a knock at the door.  Squirrel could hardly see the door at this point with the vanload of items ready for donation.  Squirrel shouted, “Give me a moment! I’m coming to open the door.”

It was a fellow squirrel in her floral apron with a large bowl in tow, wondering if Squirrel had a few extra acorns to spare for the chocolate brownies she was baking.  Needless to say, Squirrel filled her bowl with acorns and explained why the tree house appeared in such disarray.  Squirrel was overjoyed by his friend’s reaction, who told him what an inspiration he was and that she would continue to spread the message across the park.  She too, even confessed that she ought to be way less attached to so much stuff.

Afterwards, squirrel continued to sort through his old, wooden chest of drawers, one of which contained exactly 55 old pens, only a handful of which actually worked.  Squirrel and Bird were on a decluttering roll and it felt liberating!  This tidying and decluttering went on and on for hours before Squirrel and Bird were satisfied with their work.  The tree house looked brighter and Squirrel and Bird felt lighter and more joyful too.

And so, Squirrel and Bird sat together in Squirrel’s little tree house looking out at their leafy view of Central Park.  “What I know for sure,” said Squirrel to Bird, “is that when you declutter — whether it’s your home, your head, or your heart— it is simply astounding what can flow into that space.”

“Indeed,” said Bird.

Oliver Perry Rauch’s story, “The Squirrel and the Bird,” won third prize in the Eighth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Oliver is a freshman Illustration major at SVA. Oliver writes, “My dream is to illustrate children’s books. I especially love short fables.”