On the first day of nut-hunting season, Hazel, a six-month-old, bushy-tailed, gray squirrel, was first to awake in her family's nest. As her eyes flittered open, a cool breeze tickled her nose. Hazel stood on her tip-toes and peeked out of the large, leaf-woven nest. It was just before dawn and silence filled the air. Hazel’s eyes twinkled upon seeing a rainbow array of autumn leaves scattered throughout the dense forest.
'"What a beautiful day," she smiled.
Just then, rays of sun gleamed over the horizon and into the nest. Hazel’s rascally, younger brothers, Hickory and Pistachio, instantly popped up from a sound sleep.
"It’s nut hunting day. Nut hunting day." Pistachio giggled as he danced a jig.
Hickory playfully scratched Pistachio's nose. "I'm gonna gather more nuts than you, ya little toadstool."
"No. No," Pistachio laughed, as he tackled him.
Hickory squirmed from Pistachio’s hold and twirled him around.
"I’ll always be better than you."
"We’ll just see," Pistachio chuckled as they wrestled joyfully, almost knocking into their sound-sleeping mother.
Hazel walked over, "Shh. You’ll wake Mommy. Then we’ll miss the hunt. You know she doesn’t like you boys fighting."
"Sis, you’re such a worry-wart." Hickory teased, as he pinned Pistachio against the wall.
"Let’s get started. I’m koo-koo for autumn nuts," Pistachio wiggled from Hickory’s hold and leaped out of the nest. Hickory dashed behind him.
"Wait! Mommy forbids us to go without her. There’s ferocious creatures out there." Hazel darted after them.
As she leaped to the ground, Hickory and Pistachio were starting down a forest path.
"Don’t you dare go or I’ll tell Mommy."
Hickory and Pistachio turned back.
"Cool down, Sis," Hickory shook his finger at her. "We’ll be fine. Besides, we’re doing Mom a favor."
"Yeah, you know how over-worked she is with Papa off visiting relatives." Pistachio added.
"You don’t want to stand in the way of us helping, do you?" Hickory sighed. "Of course not, but--."
"Our head start on the hunt will give Mom a chance to rest. She deserves that after everything she does for us."
"I agree, however--"
"Fine, if easing Mom’s burden doesn’t mean anything to you, then make her work to the bone. But I’ll have no part in that," Hickory raised an eyebrow.
"Me neither," Pistachio crossed his arms.
Hazel’s face grew grim with worry. "No, I don’t want to do that. I love her."
Hickory flashed a pleading look. "Then let us go. We’ll collect so many acorns; Mom won’t even need to search. It’s all up to you."
Hazel nodded with confidence. "You’re right. We have to do this for Mommy’s sake."
"I knew you’d understand," Hickory grinned. "Why don’t you take the east? We’ll take the west."
"Great idea. The more ground we cover the better chance we have of helping!" Hazel exclaimed.
As Hickory and Pistachio jetted down a path, Hazel scanned the area for acorns, sniffing high and low. She was so excited. Her nose was going with all its might. As she gazed back at the path her brothers had taken, she suddenly stopped. For the first time Hazel realized the trees were growing so close together she could barely see between them.
* * *"They’re so careless. Maybe I should have gone with them," she fretted. "What should I do?"
Nearby, Hickory and Pistachio stopped at a crystal-clear stream to lap up water. "This is hard without Mama," Pistachio frowned.
"Nonsense," Hickory licked some water off of his nose. "If Mom can do it, we should be able to."
"But we haven’t found anything yet."
"Just drink your water. I’ll show you how to get acorns," Hickory demanded as they continued to slurp.
Suddenly Pistachio’s nose twitched uncontrollably.
"I smell a goldmine of nuts!"
"The only nut here is you, ya toadstool."
"Yeah? Look under that oak tree!" Pistachio pointed to a huge harvest of acorns.
Hickory’s eyes bugged-out as he spotted them, "Whoa! I’ve never seen so many."
Pistachio jumped in the air. "We’re rich!"
They darted over and started collecting the nuts.
"Diddle-dum-dum. Diddle-dum-dum," Pistachio sang as he danced around.
Hickory chuckled and joined in, flapping his arms like a turkey.
"*****!" he cheered. "Mom will sure be proud of us. We’re the greatest nut hunters around."
"You said it. There’s no one better."
Hickory over-loaded his arms with nuts. "Make sure you get every acorn in sight."
"I’ll get as many as I can carry," Pistachio laughed and continued to dance.
As Pistachio tapped his foot on a rock, a noise rang out. "Shuka, shuka, shuk." They both froze. There, hovering on the rock beside them lay a snaggletoothed, beady-eyed rattlesnake.
"What do we do?" Pistachio whispered.
The rattlesnake hissed as its tail rattled louder and louder. "Shuka, shuka, shuk."
Hickory shook in fright. "Don’t move a muscle."
The rattlesnake slowly lifted its head ready to strike.
Suddenly, a shower of acorns fell from above and hit the snake’s head. "Bonk, bonk, bonk." The dazed rattlesnake stopped hissing and nervously scanned the area.
"Bonk, bonk, bonk." More acorns fell. The scaly creature jerked back in shock. Then, in one quick move, it slithered away.
Hickory and Pistachio exchanged terrified glances.
"Let’s get out of here!" Hickory cried.
As they turned to run, they tripped on a broken tree branch. All their acorns scattered to the ground.
"Forget them," Hickory gasped. "We’ve gotta go!"
* * *Pistachio nodded while they raced off.
As Hickory and Pistachio dashed up their home tree, they gulped.
Above them stood their worried mother, "Where were you?" she called.
Hickory and Pistachio scurried into the nest.
"You know you’re not allowed out alone. Where’s Hazel?"
Pistachio shrugged meekly.
"We ran into a rattlesnake," Hickory choked, as a tear fell from his eye.
Just then Hazel darted into the nest.
"Are you all right?" she asked, catching her breath.
"Yeah, Sis," Hickory squeaked.
"I got worried. So I went looking for you. I arrived just as that rattler was about to pounce. Luckily I found some acorns on the way. So I dropped them on that mean old thing."
"That was you?" Hickory and Pistachio hugged her, "Thank you. Thank you."
"All of you. Sit down. Now," Mother commanded.
Hazel, Hickory, and Pistachio plopped down, shaking.
"You children gave me such a fright. You shouldn’t worry Mommy like that."
Hazel hung her head, "We’re sorry."
"We were just trying to help," Pistachio looked up bashfully.
"We didn’t think it would be that bad," Hickory dropped his eyes.
"I’m so glad you weren’t hurt. You’re so precious to me. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you," Mother said kissing each of them.
“We love you, Mommy.” Hazel uttered.
"I love you too,” Mother smiled. “I think you’ve had enough adventure for one morning though. I want you to stay in the nest with me. We’ll see about hunting for nuts tomorrow. "
Hazel, Hickory, and Pistachio nodded, while they nestled close to their mother, glad to be home safe in their nest. As Mother hummed a soothing tune, they closed their eyes and gently nodded off to sleep.