Adapt Or Die

Entry by: Paul McDermott

11th August 2017
Adapt or Die

“Where can all this water be coming from?”
Bella Badger scrubbed desperately at the cloying, evil-smelling mud between her long, beautifully-manicured claws. They were long, strong, and flawless, without a single chip or rough edge to them, but several hours of strenuous digging and repairing of one of the deeper runs of the family’s sett had left their mark. As she inspected them closely, checking for damage, she wondered if she’d ever again manage to get them clean: really, properly clean.
An untidy hump of soil quivered and collapsed as her partner backed awkwardly out of his latest excavation. He shook himself, muttering and cursing as soil and rubble flew in every direction. Within seconds, Bruin’s fur was as clean as if he’d spent the last hour or more grooming himself for the annual Woodlands Ball.
“How bad is it?”
“Most of the tunnel I dug last season has fallen in. Just as well we didn’t have anything stored there yet: we’d have lost it, for certain! We won’t be able to dig in that direction for some time. We’ll have to tunnel off on the other end of the sett next time we need more living space. The ground out that way needs time to settle.”
This with a lazy flap of his tail in the direction of the collapsed passage.
“Best we go tell the cubs, sweetheart. They’ll soon be old enough to help me dig – and we’ll need an extra bedroom before long!” he added with an exaggerated wink. Bella’s pot belly was rounded with the promise of twins expected in the not-very-distant future.
“Where’s all this water coming from, Dad? And why does it stink so much?”
Billy hero-worshipped his father, and believed without question that Bruin knew all that could possibly be known about everything Above and Below the entrance to the complex maze of tunnels he’d carved, adapting to the growing family’s needs.
Bruin sipped thoughtfully at his dandelion tea. Billy’s younger sister, Blue, put aside her favourite doll, willing her father to find a solution.
“The Tall Ones are building more of their Caves not far from here,” Bruin sighed.
“We know – that is your mother and I know!” he corrected himself “ … that they don’t care how they deal with their waste properly, in the way Nature intended …”
“Like we do!” Blue chirped.
Bruin nodded and smiled, but it was a tired smile of resignation and reluctant agreement.
“That’s right, little one! We take what we need (and no more) from Nature, we recycle what can be recycled, and we bury our waste. Much of what we bury will break down and fertilise the soil to grow more plants for your children and theirs in the future.”
“They use untold amounts of water as if it were worth little or nothing at all, use it to send their waste Somewhere Else, for others to deal with – at least, I think that's the reason they send it there.” Bruin said. He was on unsafe ground here. He didn’t have any proof this was what happened to the waste products flushed away from the ugly Caves the Tall Ones preferred to live in.
“You mean, the Tall Ones don’t even know how to shit in the woods?” Billy asked, his eyes showing horror at the thought.
“You mind your language, Billy Badger!” his mother warned him. A half-smile hovered on her lips, suggesting she wasn’t too offended by her son’s choice of phrase.
“All the same, he’s right!” Bruin said. Billy took this as a sign of his superhero’s approval: the highest compliment his young mind could imagine. His heart swelled with pride. He raised himself to sit on his haunches.
“What can we do about it, Dad? I’m big enough, I can help you dig – even if we have to move and start building a whole new sett …!”
Bruin shook his head and set down his empty mug.
“For the moment, son, we can do what we’ve always done. We adapt ourselves and our comfortable, warm home, and carry on. In a few years from now, we may be able to work again in tunnels and passages in that part of the woods, but for now we change our plans, expand in another direction. And yes, I believe you’re both old enough to help me build a new bedroom …”
This with a loving glance at Bella, who suddenly became intensely preoccupied with a meticulous (and completely unnecessary) claw inspection and manicure.
“Let the Tall Ones carry on with their wasteful, inefficient ways of dealing with their stinking, polluted water and their foul-smelling wastes.” Bruin declared.
“Our paths seldom cross, and when they do the Tall Ones always seem to come out on top – literally! For they live Above ground, in the full glare of daylight. They spend their days (and perhaps their nights?) fighting against Nature.”
“We will continue as we have always done, by Adapting to our safe, secure homes Below ground, at one with Nature and at peace with ourselves.”