The Launching Tree
A giant, old willow overhung the pond near Dr. Brigit’s cottage on the
northwest shore. It was known to the animals as the ‘Launching Tree’.
Several years ago, the animals built a high wooden platform near the
tree. A narrow ladder led to its upper level. The platform was used as a
“launching pad” during the swimming season.
This is how it worked. A bluebird pulled one of the long, flexible
branches of the tree over to the platform. An animal grabbed the branch
and jumped off the platform. Then, they would be swung out over the
pond. They would try to let go at just the right moment so that they
could be “launched” as far as possible out into the pond. The animal
launched the farthest, was the winner for the day. Everyone loved being
propelled into the air and splashing down into the pond. For safety it
was required that at least one duck be stationed near the landing zone.
The area was also used for regular swimming.
The only animals who had not tried the launching pad were the bluebirds
and Grenby. Bluebirds didn’t like to get wet and well, Grenby is Grenby.
Bartholomew tried it once — sort of. After he let go of the branch and
just before he crashed into the water, he flapped his wings and flew
off. Those watching were disappointed as they had hoped to see a soaked
owl. Oh well, he had to maintain his dignity, I suppose.
August was the perfect month for swimming. Since the expedition to the
cave, the weather had turned hot, and the water was cool and refreshing.
It was also the perfect month for picnics. The animals frequently spread
out colourful blankets and sat on the shore near the tree with their
baskets. Even if they didn’t participate in the launchings, they enjoyed
watching and rooting for their favourites.
Wednesday was a normal August day in Ballymore. At least, it began that
way. The “Launching Tree” would be getting plenty of good use. Darma
Duck was the life-guard, and Brie Bluebird would be pulling the
branches. Typically, the life-guard was on duty from 9 bongs in the
morning until 4 bongs in the afternoon.
There weren’t any official launching competitions scheduled, so it would
be a free-style day. Colin, Conner, and Craig Chipmunk were there early,
wearing their new swim trunks. Shane and Seely Squirrel soon arrived.
Later, came Finn Frog and the whole Mole family.
The breezy August day was also good for sailing, and the weasels were
learning how to sail the HMS Ballymore off of the south shore. The
rumour was that they had big plans for Halloween night and that the boat
was somehow involved. Sean Swan was teaching the class today. Wilde and
Wilder were good students but still had a lot to learn. This morning the
wind was making it a little difficult for them. The lesson was on
tacking. That means making a turn into the wind. The wind was mostly
from the south and the water choppy.
If you have ever sailed, you know that a boat can seem to have a mind of
its own. It is constantly interacting with the air, the water, and the
crew. When all goes well, the boat behaves in accordance with the crew’s
wishes. Today was NOT one of those days.
For most of the lesson, Wilde was at the rudder and Wilder was
positioning the sails. Wilder was standing near the front of the boat on
the port (left) side when the wind unexpectedly shifted. The foresail
swung from centre to port.
Sean yelled, “Watch out!”
Wilder turned just in time to be solidly smacked by the moving sail. It
picked him up off of the deck and deposited him in the water about ten
feet from the boat. While he yelped and flailed around, Sean took
control of the boat and swung around to pick him up.
Wilde couldn’t help but laugh. He said, “Next time, could you do a
triple summersault before hitting the water instead of only a double.”
“Very funny!” said the soaked Wilder.
Sean said, “The lesson here is to never stand in the possible path of a
sail. It might hit you and knock you overboard.”
Both looked at Wilder who was not happy.
“Wilder, how about if you take the rudder for a while,” suggested Sean.
He moved next to the rudder and sat down where Sean had just been.
Sean felt they were too close to shore and told Wilder to turn to port.
Unfortunately, Wilder turned to starboard (right). The boat swung
sharply right, shot up onto the shore, and ended up twenty feet in front
of Rhonda Rabbit’s kitchen window. Wilde had been on the bow and was
thrown over it. After a triple summersault he landed on the sand and
slid to a stop, covered in wet sand.
Rhonda had been watching the sailing lesson, with amusement, from the
window as she peeled some carrots. She hadn’t thought that the show
would involve her. The carrots ended up all over the floor. She ran out
of her cottage and stood in front of Wilde, with her paws on her hips.
Uninjured, he picked himself up and asked, “Uh, what’s for dinner?”
“You’ll BE dinner if you don’t get that boat out of here,” was her sharp
Wilder was thrilled with the turn of events. “Is that the triple
summersault you meant?” he asked. “VERY well done, and the lesson here
is: Don’t stand on the bow of a boat when it is about to beach itself.”
Did Wilder deliberately turn the wrong way? We’ll never know.
Sean climbed down off of the boat and apologised to Rhonda. She calmed
down and asked if the boat was okay. A quick inspection revealed no
damage, but they were going to have to get the ducks to pull it back
into the water. The ducks arrived in a couple of hours and removed the
boat from Rhonda’s front yard. Sean and the weasels returned it to its
cove. The sailing lesson was over.
But the day of swimming, launching, and picnicking continued. It was
mid-afternoon before anyone knew it. So far, Finn had the longest
launches. His success was a combination of skill and luck.
Then, the weather changed quickly. The temperature dropped, the wind
became stronger and started to swirl. An August thunderstorm was coming.
Clouds rolled in from the southwest and many began to pack up their
Darma looked at the sky and decided that the launchings would have to
end. She told Brie to stop pulling the branches over to the platform and
told the disappointed swimmers they would have to leave for today.
Everyone left the water, and soon most had left the shore and platform.
Still standing on the platform were Finn, Colin, Conner and Craig. They
watched as the storm closed in. The water now had whitecaps on it. The
wind was blowing the branches of the weeping willow this way and that.
When one branch was blown over the platform, Colin grabbed it.
“Hey,” he yelled. Let’s go for a ride, but don’t let go. The wind will
blow us back to the platform. Craig thought that it was a great idea and
grabbed on with Colin.
“Okay. When I say, ‘Jump!’, we jump,” yelled Colin.
Both chipmunks jumped, and the wind swirled their branch and them around
and around and up and down. Sometimes they almost hit the water. Whee!
Whee! It was the best ride, sort of a combination between a roller
coaster and a Ferris wheel.
Then, the rain came. It was still the best ride, but now they were
getting wet. The wind was not bringing them back to the platform. Worse,
Colin was losing his grip on the wet branch. He lost it, slid down the
branch, hit Craig, and both chipmunks tumbled into the turbulent water.
They had to get back to shore! Both could swim, but neither had swum in
this kind of weather. The waves kept pushing them down. Colin was a
stronger swimmer and was better able to stay up, but he was making no
progress towards the shore. Craig was in trouble.
He couldn’t stay afloat and started yelling, “Help! Help me!”
Colin tried to grab him, but he was out of reach and being blown farther
away. “Help,” he continued to cry and then sank below the surface. As he
was sinking, he was frantic but could still see. What he saw was a
large, dark shape closing in rapidly. Almost upon him, it opened its
gaping mouth. Terrified, he thought it was the end for him. He closed
his eyes tightly, and everything went black.
Sam’s mouth closed gently around Craig’s small body and quickly raised
him to the surface. Colin saw the giant snapping turtle come up with
Craig in his mouth. For an instant he was afraid until he saw that the
turtle was rescuing his brother.
It’s not easy to speak when you have a chipmunk in your mouth, but Sam
was able to yell, “Grab my tail or climb on my back!”
Colin first grabbed Sam’s tail and then was able to crawl up onto his
back. Sam swam through the waves, rain, and wind to shore. As the turtle
carried Craig to shore, the chipmunk regained consciousness, but when he
realised he was in a snapping turtle’s mouth, he passed out again. Colin
bounced along but managed to hold on. Finally, Sam reached the shore
near the platform.
Sam Rescuing The Chipmunks
He lay Craig gently on the grass. Colin fell onto the grass also,
totally exhausted. Sam looked at Craig, but there was nothing else he
When Finn and Conner saw that Craig and Colin were in trouble, they had
rushed to Dr. Brigit’s cottage for help. Shortly after Sam reached the
beach, Dr. Brigit ran down to them.
She bent over Craig’s body.
“He’s still alive!” she said.
Soon, Craig coughed and coughed again and again. He was breathing!
“I think he’s going to be fine,” said Dr. Brigit happily.
Craig opened his eyes and saw everyone staring at him.
“Where am I? What happened?” he asked weakly.
“The snapping turtle saved you and me too,” said Colin.
Craig sat up slowly and looked at Sam. Everyone looked at Sam.
Sam said, “I’m sorry. I carried them to the beach, but I didn’t know
what else to do.”
Dr. Brigit said, “You saved their lives! You’re a hero! I’m Brigit
Badger, and I’m very happy to meet you.”
“I’m Sam,” said the turtle, softly.