The Expedition

Part I

Planning, Planning

Bartholomew stared at the aged letter lying on his dining table. He believed that it had opened an important new chapter in the lives of the animal residents of Ballymore and for him in particular. He felt obligated to fulfill the intentions of Cyrus Owl as expressed in the letter. He would do the best he could. He always has.

The first step in solving the puzzle would be an expedition to a cave high in The Hills. He had flown over The Hills a few times but had never hiked there. As far as he knew, no one else had been there either, except perhaps the swans. Many residents would be interested in the trip, and from them, he would select a qualified team. The outbound trip would take about three days through the forests, fields, and rocks that led to The Hills. It should not be difficult, but proper planning was always important.

The purpose of the expedition was serious, but it should also be fun. The July countryside was beautiful, and the weather generally good. He was looking forward to the adventure as would the others.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

Bartholomew went to his door and opened it. Finn Frog was standing there.

“Well, hello Finn. Come in! Come in! What brings you out this fine morning?”

“Good morning, sir. At the Midsummer’s Eve picnic, you said there would be a trip soon to search for the gift. I was just curious.”

“Are you interested in going? Oh, and please call me Bartholomew. ‘Sir’ sounds so formal,” responded the owl.

“Yes, sir. I mean, Bartholomew. Yes, I really would like to go.”

“Then, you shall, and I could use your help in planning the trip.”

Finn started jumping up and down. “Hurrah! Hurrah! Oh, thank you! Will we see mountains and waterfalls and strange animals and maybe, a fire breathing dragon?”

Bartholomew smiled.

“You are welcome. We will see a lot of interesting things but probably not a dragon. Now, this will be a fun trip, but it is also a serious trip. Good planning is required.”

“I would like you to visit every resident, and find out who is interested in going. We will be going to The Hills, and the trip could take six days. Not everybody will want to be away for that long."

“When can I start?” asked Finn excitedly.

“Right now, if you wish.”

“I will. Thank you. Goodbye, Bartholomew.”

He hopped out the door and down the steps. Within seconds he was back and out of breath. Bartholomew had not even closed the door yet.

“When should I report back to you?” he asked.

“Whenever you have talked to everybody and don’t rush. There is plenty of time.”

“Okay, sir,” said Finn.

He turned and hopped back down the steps.

Bartholomew smiled. He was pleased. Finn was a bright, young frog and this was an opportunity to guide him through the planning of an adventure.

Finn returned two days later with the names of about thirty interested residents. From them Bartholomew chose:

Wilde Weasel

Wilder Weasel

Robbie Rabbit

Birch Beaver

Brie Bluebird

Branna Bluebird

Sedgewick Squirrel

Sofie Squirrel

Shane Squirrel

Seely Squirrel

Including Finn and himself, there would be twelve going to The Hills.

Next he asked Finn to inform everyone who had been chosen. The ten animals were to be invited to a brief orientation meeting next Monday, at 7 bongs in the evening, at the foot of his treehouse. The treehouse itself was too small to hold everyone.

The next day, Bartholomew met with the swans and told them of his plans. He asked if they could fly tents to two campsites. They said they could. He just needed to tell them where. Since the sites hadn’t been determined, the three birds would have to do a survey flight.

He scheduled that flight for the following Wednesday.

Monday evening, the volunteer adventurers gathered around Bartholomew’s tree. There was a lot of excitement and chattering. This was the first time anyone had gone on this kind of a trip.

When everyone had arrived, Bartholomew asked for quiet.

“Thank you, everybody, for coming this evening. The trip we are about to begin is the first step in finding the gift that has been left for us by the Ballymore residents of 1801.”

“We will leave next Monday morning at 7 bongs. Please bring blankets, rain gear if you wish, special food if you need it, and candles. Also, wear a good pair of shoes if you will be walking. As you know, we will be going to the top of The Hills.”

The group murmured.

“The whole trip should take about six days. Our goal is to find and bring back a box that is buried in one of the caves. That is a quick overview of the trip. I will be happy to answer any questions you have.”

“Where will we sleep?” asked Sedgewick.

“There will be a tent waiting for us at each of our two camping sites. The swans will deliver them,” answered Bartholomew.

“What’s in the box?” asked Wilde.

“We don’t know. That is part of the mystery,” responded the owl.

Sofie asked, “If there’s a problem, how will we get help?”

“We will send a message back to Ballymore,” was the answer.

It was quiet for a while.

“If there are no further questions tonight, then the meeting is adjourned, and I will see you all next Monday morning to begin the trip. Thank you, again, for coming,” Bartholomew finished.

Everyone began chattering among themselves, again. Bartholomew stayed with them and answered several more questions. It was at least an hour before the last of them left.

Wednesday morning, in preparation for the survey flight, Bartholomew gathered his compass and map of Ballymore. He had created the map a few years ago. It was very detailed in the area around the pond but had less and less detail the farther away you got. Still, it was a lot better than nothing, and he would add some important information to it today.

He heard the distinctive wing flapping sounds of the swans as they flew in. Stoddard and Sean landed near the treehouse, and he went down to meet them.

The main goal today was to locate good camping sites about one-third and two-thirds the distance to the highest peak in The Hills. The swans had confirmed to him that there was, in fact, a cave on the north side of that peak.

It was a wonderfully warm day. The heat created updrafts on which to soar and glide. They took off and flew up to a height of about a hundred feet above the trees and began to slowly circle Ballymore. Mostly supported by the warm air, it felt like they were riding on pillows. The three friends flew side-by-side with Bartholomew in the center. Stoddard was to his left and Sean to his right.

They could see The Hills to the north and Waterford hamlet to the south. East and west, the forests and fields stretched to the horizon. The many different shades of green were what they most noticed. Bartholomew had seen this beauty before, but he was always impressed. Each tree, each bush, and each field was unique and contributed to the mosaic. He wished frogs could fly. Then, they could paint this magnificent view. Hmmm, perhaps there was a way. Well, that thought would have to wait for another day. Interestingly, Stoddard was thinking the same thing, but neither mentioned it.

If they flew directly to the peak, it would take about one-half hour, but that was not on the agenda. Bartholomew angled to the north, and the others followed. They weaved their way in the direction of the highest hill. At about the one-third point, they began to circle again. They were still over forested land, but there were a few glades from which to choose a camping spot. Bartholomew spotted one with a creek running by it. He dove and landed in the centre of the glade. Swans need a longer landing path than owls, so they had to circle to a touchdown. It wasn’t a significant problem for them. The glade was about a hundred feet across and beautiful. Mostly, it was a field of daisies. Butterflies and bees were busy everywhere. It would make a very nice campsite. Bartholomew took out his map and made some careful notations. Stoddard and Sean went to the creek for a drink.

They admired the glade a little longer, then took off, and continued north. Two-thirds of the way to the hill, they searched for another good campsite. The landscape was more open but, unfortunately, there was no creek nearby. The owl chose to land in a glade that was about two hundred feet across and enclosed by elm trees. It was filled with wildflowers and wild berry bushes. He carefully marked his map again.

Stoddard asked, “Do you want to go see the cave now?”

Somewhat surprisingly, Bartholomew said no.

“I would like to see it for the first time with everybody else. Seeing it today would be like opening a present too early,” he explained.

Stoddard smiled and nodded.

Sean said, “We won’t have any problem delivering tents to these glades and will have them in place for you next Monday.”

“Thank you,” Bartholomew said. “We have been very successful today, and I enjoyed flying with you both. It’s been a long time since we have done this.”

“We enjoyed it also,” Stoddard said. “We should do it more often.”

“Perhaps we could take a longer trip when we have more time,” said Bartholomew smiling. “Well, let’s go home.”

The three birds took off and winged their way back to Ballymore.