Prologue

The thoughtful owl gazed out over Ballymore pond, as he has done many times previous. It was just before midnight on the final night of February. The small cottages of the Ballymore animal residents hugged the water’s edge, and smoke drifted from the chimney of each. A bright moon was rising to highlight the wavelets on the water. As the large pond responded to a cool north breeze, changing light patterns danced across its surface. The moonlight also outlined a small island near the centre of the pond. On the island were a few more cottages. The wild creatures of the area were asleep in their own burrows or nests. The trees and bushes also rested, each in its own way. Save for the wind there was a peaceful silence, as the sounds of spring remained a few weeks away.

Bartholomew, as he was known, firmly gripped the branch of the old oak tree on which he perched. He was careful not to injure the bark with his sharp talons. Over the years, he had developed a warm and mutually beneficial relationship with the tree. Since his arrival, the pesky bugs, which had long annoyed the tree, were gone. In return, it provided a safe place for his cozy treehouse. More than once it had arranged its branches to protect his home from storms. It was on nights like this that he felt a sense of brotherhood with the tree. He couldn’t describe it but it comforted him.

He has lived in the tree at the edge of the pond for many years. His treehouse was built with wood from another oak that hadn’t survived a winter storm. With much help from his beaver and squirrel friends and more than a few hammered tails, it was securely built in the main crook about twenty feet above the forest floor.

His home was modest with only three rooms, a parlour, kitchen and bedroom. A small stone fireplace sat in one corner of the parlour. The furnishings were comfortable but not fancy. A large, pillowy rocking chair faced the hearth. Along one wall was Bartholomew’s library with books on nearly every subject. Along another were paintings of Ballymore and his friends. The bedroom held only a well-used chest of drawers and a small but very soft bed. The kitchen was full of pots and pans and cooking gadgets. A wooden bucket-n’-pulley system filled a corner. Each morning he used it to hoist cool water from the pond through a hole in the floor. Of course, he made sure the hole was covered when not being used. He preferred not to fall into the pond again. It was small comfort that no one witnessed that embarrassment. He was also lucky that he didn’t catch a bad cold. That was a morning both to remember and forget.

Near the base of the tree, he had a root cellar filled with every type of food and herb on which he could get his talons. Its small round door was securely locked to keep out prying paws. Although, it was unlikely that anyone from Ballymore would take anything, except perhaps Wilde and Wilder, the weasels.

Bartholomew felt the gentle breeze and inhaled the soft scent from the many pine trees. He was content as he watched the slowly moving water. He absorbed the silence and enjoyed this peaceful time away from his many responsibilities. It helped him stay in harmony with the natural world. Nature moves at a steady, even pace and will not be rushed. Everything has its appointed time and place. Bartholomew learned that lesson many years ago, and it has served him well ever since.

Does Bartholomew have responsibilities? Oh my, yes, as you will see. As one of the oldest and most educated animals in Ballymore, he is often relied upon for advice and guidance. Over the years, he has come to love this role, and he felt a sort of calling to watch over his “sheep”.