Everyone just called it home or maybe the Home Forest if they wanted to make it sound a bit grander. Names are applied only if you need to distinguish one place from another. So the birds, bugs and beasts who lived there rarely thought to name it, it was simply ‘home’ for them. Other terms were bandied about by the owls who liked grand names, but they could never agree on a favourite. The slightly more sophisticated jet set of migrating birds called it something else, either ‘Roundtrees’ or more often just ‘The Forest for the Irretrievably Weird’.
There’s something unnerving about flying over a neatly circular wood with its own micro-climate. The weather was only one of many good reasons for a detour. It’s one thing to meet up and stick together when flying thousands of miles, another thing entirely to have regular ‘Lunar General Meetings’ (LGMs) with agenda and minutes. No, the forest was too strange to get involved with. Problem was, if you got too close you ended up flying around and around it and it took a kind of collective ‘let’s get the hell out of here’ to fly past it. For that reason the forest was well known, and had the geese had maps there would have been a circle marked ‘Here be strange – go around’.
Some birds do have more interesting points of view than others. Some birds scan the countryside for their prey, detecting tiny movements in the grasses. Others are a bit more ground-focussed and spend their time tramping heavily to tempt up the worms. Such lives are dull by comparison with that of the bold magpie.
Damien soared high into the air above the forest and settled onto a supportive thermal updraft.
“Ah, joy. The sheer peace of the open sky,” Damien closed his eyes are glided dreamily, “nothing like it for cleaning out the feathers and the head.” Having spent the last couple of weeks frantically building an extension to his nest for an increasingly irritable mate, Damien felt unbelievably free.
“Mmm, no twigs in the beak for me… Aha!”
Damien was just coming up to the forest’s edge when he spotted something glinting at him. Normally he’d have been a little reluctant to cross the border, but a shiny thing was shiny thing was a thing he could take home and have it be his shiny thing. Most members of the crow family spend their time waiting for old or ill animals to die, but magpies are far more interested in shiny things than in their cousins’ taste for carrion.
As Damien left the forest he so distracted by the sparkle that he was taken completely by surprise by the fleet of enraged blackbirds which surrounded him almost immediately.
“Whoah there little fellers!” cried Damien, “what’s got you so riled?” The flock wheeled around him and began to harry him with their tiny beaks.
“We’ll not ‘ave you stealing our chicks!”
“Go back to the weird woods!”
“We don’t want your bumfuzzling kind here!”
“What? What did you just call me?” Damien paused in the air and used his vastly superior wing span to tap the nearest blackbird and send it ground-wards. The rest of the flock continued to spew insults and small insects at him as he eluded them.
“Look, not only are you Outsiders slower and smaller than me, you’re not so bright either. So just pack it in before I have to give you all a good pecking.”
It only took a few more well placed taps to get some airspace, but by then Damien had lost sight of the pretty twinkling thing he’d been after. With a heavy sigh Damien gave up on it and decided to drop in on a new friend again.
The magpie alighted on the tin roof of Eric’s house and gave it a sharp rap. Here were pretty things in plentiful abandon – the weasel was at least as discerning as him in his choices.
The door popped open and a tall, scruffy weasel hopped out and stretched luxuriantly.
“How’s it going Damien?”
“Alright, apart from being harassed by some of your idiot neighbours,”
“Which ones this time? The rabbits, or have your lot irritated the shrews again?” Eric hopped onto the roof and sat down next to Damien, who shuffled over to make room.
“You’ve got to get out of here, they’re all crazy.” Damien said flatly.
“You know they’re just annoyed because of all the squirrels and their mates coming out of the forest on their recruiting runs or whatever it’s called.”
“Homecoming – we’ve talked about that. They’re just trying to get everyone back to where they belong, not out here with all these nutters,”
“The shrews are claiming it’s a shrike conspiracy. The squirrels are in collusion with them to provide an infinite food supply.”
“That’s crazy. We’ve got owls and they’re bad enough. I can’t imagine them even tolerating butcher birds in the same forest. “
Eric sighed and even from where he sat he could see the grass swaying which preceded another deposition of locals on their way to challenge one of the intruders.
“They’re just not used to this. We don’t come into the forest, you don’t come out here. Nice and simple. Apart from the foxes and owls of course.”
Damien smirked, “Yeah, it’s always different when it comes to the big boys – not much you can do about them. On the other hand the badgers have been going nuts about the new arrivals.” Anti-forest chanting was now audible form the field. “Look, I’d better be off before that lot arrive. Got anything pretty for a new nest?”
Eric smiled and climbed back inside to return a moment later with a square of blue foil. “It’s folded up, so be careful not to put any holes in it when you chuck it back up– I thought this might be nice when your chicks hatch.”
“Don’t remind me. Thanks though – and I’ll see you soon.” that last was rather garbled as Damien gulped the foil down.
“Yeah, thanks for leaving me with this lot to sort out,” Eric waved politely to the amazingly angry-looking rabbit leading the locals. That’s when Damien decided to play his only card:
“Hey – your grandparents lived in the forest you know – think about it.” Before Eric could respond, he was up and away to divebomb the shrews with a defiant, “so long dullards!” Eric watched him fly off back to the forest, shook his head and went back inside and firmly closed the door.