The Mole and the Owl is a romantic fairy tale about a Mole who falls in love with an Owl. Shunned by their own kind, these unlikely soulmates create a life of their own—until one day the Owl disappears without a trace. The Mole leaves the safety of his burrow and for the first time enters the wide world, risking everything to find his lost love. Filled with humor, adventure, danger, and wisdom, this story is being adapted into an animated film with the wonderful title, Beyond the River. Read the first two chapters below...
Mole dreamed of a path in the woods. The path turned left at a blackened tree then cut through an open field, ending at a still green pond. He followed the same trail everyday. In his dream, the days sped up, the sun rolled over the sky, tree shadows spilled like water across the ground. Still he followed, day after day after day—until one afternoon, at the lightning-scorched tree, the path that always turned left now split into a fork. The sun stopped overhead. The day waited. The wind rose and swept past, turning him to the right. Mole watched branches and leaves part around the new trail. The wide, unknown world seemed to be opening her arms. The wind leaned on his shoulder, whispering, Come away...
Mole stepped forward—and bumped his head on the burrow wall. He woke underground in cool darkness. "So," he said, rubbing his forehead. "Another walking dream. I used to dream of food. Blueberries and blackberries and nuts and water. I'd wake up so deliciously hungry that a seed was a feast. Now I wake up tired, as if I spent the night walking. Sometimes my feet even hurt!"
He smiled to himself as he crawled through the dark. Always find the humor, if you can. That was one of his new laws. But was "law" the right word? Could he just declare a new law? Could he make his own way through the world as easily as he dug through the earth? He smiled again. That was pretty good: comparing the instinctive world to the solid earth. She always said he was good with words, though he could scarcely remember using them at all before they met. "My mockingbird," she called him.
The burrow was nothing more than a roughly dug tunnel, a place to safely spend the night. Squinting up at the opening, he saw a bright circle of sun-backed leaves. "Looks like a green sun. Are there other suns? Where does the sun go at night? Is it afraid of the moon, or chasing it? And why does it always come back?" He rubbed his head and smiled again, an expression more in his small eyes than his mouth. "Dreams and questions. I don't know what makes my head hurt more, this bump, or these dreams and questions."
He waited at the opening and sniffed the air. Spring. Green. Safe. He peeked out at the forest. His eyes and ears confirmed it: spring and green and safe. How could such a beautiful world be dangerous? He sank back into the hole, startled by such a reckless thought. That's the kind of thinking that got pups killed! Making new laws for yourself did not overwrite the old laws, the oldest of which was this: he was a small animal in a world of teeth. And so he waited, breathing and watching and listening, until the forest was as safe as he could make it.
Mole pulled himself out of the burrow, sat down, and dangled his legs into the hole. With stubby paws, he pushed the dark gray fur out of his eyes, as he did every morning. A mole's eyes were so hidden behind smooth fur that many animals assumed moles were blind. Now the fur, flattened backwards and sideways, made him look like wide-eyed, as if he was startled by everything he saw. He knew he looked a little foolish, but the light was brighter, the colors deeper. How did other moles live in the shade all the time?
Through the breeze and leaves, beyond the early birdsong, he heard the faraway rush of water. He stood, dusted off—another new habit his fellow moles didn't understand—and continued on his way.
The Elder Tree stood in a clearing by the river. The maples and dogwoods grown in a half circle on the clearing's edge, and the taller, wilder oaks and elms across the water, all seemed to lean toward the Elder, holding out their green leaves like an offering. The Elder's silver branches, bare even in spring, did not reach back, but spun upward as if to catch the sky in a net. Five huge ravens perched in the branches, so still and black they looked like holes torn out of the world. But as Mole crept closer, he saw the indigo of their eyes and the dark crescent moon of their beaks. They were the oldest animals in the forest; the tips of their feathers were singed white by time.
He knew the Four Winds met here, whispering news of the world in a language only the ravens understood. At one time or another, every animal needed to know something they couldn't know, something more than the law. And so they all came, from the hesitant sparrow to the proud wolf, to bow before the dark birds.
The fox: "Are my grown cubs surviving on the far side of the hills?"
The swallow: "Is the barn across the vale a safe place to build a nest?"
The hare: "Will winter be so harsh we starve again this year?"
The mouse: "Can you teach me to hear the hawk in flight?"
The deer: "Is there a forest where men do not go?"
The mockingbird: "When will my love songs be answered?"
Last fall, on his first visit, Mole had watched a raccoon and her two cubs bow before the ravens. The mother asked, "How can I protect my children from the predators who cut our lives so short?" She explained that raccoons could live ten years or more, maturing into wise old age. But most were taken in their second or third year. The ravens said her question was one of the oldest, and so far the winds had found no answer. That winter, when Mole made his weekly trip to the ravens, the raccoon cubs came on their own, asking the same question.
Taking a deep breath, Mole stepped into the clearing and lifted a paw.
"Back again," he said, shrugging in his humble way. "It's me. The mole."
The ravens waited as he moved into the tree's shadow. He walked slowly, starting and stopping, as if expecting to step on something sharp. On his previous visits, they always startled him by barking, "Not yet, not yet!" or "Later! Later, later!"
He took another step. This was as close as they had ever let him come. This time, they must have an answer. Finally, the Four Winds have brought news. News for him.
"So," he said, lifting his brown eyes. "When will I see her again?"
After a pause filled with the restless voices of the wind, the raven on the left spoke a single word.
"Never," echoed the next.
"Never," tolled the third and "Never" the fourth.
Mole waited as his heart cracked, waited for the fifth raven to contradict the others. But the last, without even glancing his way, repeated the verdict.
The last "Never" fell, bowing his head. He stared at the ground. The Elder's shadow tangled around his feet. He knew the ravens expected him to leave now, but his feet wouldn't move.
"So," he began timidly, looking up. "The Ravens of the Brook have spoken. The Rooks of the Tree have judged. Your wisdom is legend. You are older than memory. You have never been wrong. Never spoken in haste. I know that. But. Well. Two seasons I waited. Do you know how lonely autumn can get? And such a cold winter. Two seasons you listened to the winds that listen to world. And now your judgment is delivered, and the word is Never. But love," he ended with a helpless shrug, "cannot endure the word Never."
"Never," the first raven repeated.
One by one their heads sank between stiff shoulders, their eyes closed into purple seams, and their attention returned to the eloquent wind. Mole waited, staring up at the dark judges. He hoped his determination would move them to reconsider.
The first raven opened its eyes and noticed Mole was still there. But neither sadness nor sympathy shone in the bird's expression; it seemed puzzled, as if a stone had asked a question and was now waiting for an answer.
Unable to bear the raven's gaze, Mole lowered his eyes, turned around, crossed the small clearing, and stopped at a wall of bushes between two maples. He listened to the wind talk behind his back, then pushed through the thorny green into the forest.
Mole followed the river as it widened through the woods. He didn't think about where he was going, and so missed the narrow path that turned for home.
"Rusted hearts and dusted souls! Never, is it? Set as many Nevers on my back as trees on a hill! This is love, you sooty birds! Love!"
But small animals who burrow in the ground were not built for courage. He walked on, hushed by doubt.
"I'll never give up. I'll wait out the world for you. I'll dig tunnels to the horizon's ring. I'll reach for you as the moths reach for the moon."
His brave promises overwhelmed him. He felt how small, how insignificant he was. The raven's word lapped in his mind like the water against the mud banks of the river.
Stumbling, Mole knelt by the water. He gazed into the upside down world. Sunlight sparked off the river, skipping away like stones of light. He felt like crying, but no tears came to his eyes. Moles never cried. They were matter-of-fact animals, more so than most, grounded to the earth.
"In a story," he said, "my eyes would fill with tears and my tears would fall with gold and silver splashes. The river would carry my tears undiluted to the sea. The ocean would feel suddenly sad and wonder what great thing has happened in the world."
His eyes warmed. Surprised, he touched the wetness and smiled. "Look at that," he said. "A mole, crying."
Mole looked up: something had shifted in the world. He brushed his wet eyes and turned from the river.
Branches trembled as if afraid of the sky. Leaves flashed a warning, light green, dark green. All the birds stopped singing on the same note. Even the river, now at his back, grew more agitated, rushing away over a group of huddled stones.
He rose to his feet, heart pounding. Turning, turning, he stare in every direction: bush and tree and bramble and sky, a collage of leafy shapes. It was the world, just the world--
Then the breeze shifted, bringing news from upwind. His eyes widened, his throat tightened, and suddenly he was running, instinct taking over, fear shouting through his body, shouting the word Wolf.
Padded footfalls dropped in behind, rhythmic and swift. Mole didn't dare turn to look, but he knew he couldn't outrun that sound.
The river widened on his left, the bank rose on his right, walling him in as if the earth itself was helping the predator. Glancing up, he saw jays and squirrels hunched on safe branches; in their frightened eyes he saw his life pass.
Lungs burned, legs cramped, his heart ached in his chest. The word of the ravens now came back and mocked him. When will I see her again? Never!
A huff of breath hit his shoulder. He spun and scrambled up the steep bank, clawing at roots and stones. The top of the ridge came closer, a wall of thick green, bushes to hide, time enough to tunnel, that's all he needed—another moment! He was one reach away, his life that close, when something hard knocked his feet out from under him. He tumbled down with a sad cry, rolling into the shallows of the river, and thumping his head on a smooth stone. He lay on his back, dazed, staring up at a magnificient knot of clouds that seemed to hug each other as the wind pulled them apart.
A weight fell on his chest and a huge shadow blocked the light. Mole found himself staring up into the gray eyes of a Wolf. The hunter's shoulders held up the sky; clouds rolled off his back.
"A mole above ground," the Wolf said, his voice deep and quiet. "And so far from his porch."
"I have a reason," Mole stammered. "I—"
The Wolf leaned on his great paw and pushed Mole underwater. Through the cold current, the Wolf trembled, the sky shimmered. Mole struggled and clawed and kicked, but the pillar on his chest held. Stones dug into his back and his pulse thundered in his ears: ne-ver, ne-ver, ne-ver. With each wild beat of his heart, the world darkened.
The pressure eased. He sat up, gasping, coughing water.
"Still alive?" the Wolf said to himself, surprised.
"I will not die!" Mole sputtered. "I can not die! Not yet—"
The Wolf leaned forward and Mole breathed the river. His lungs grew cold. Water squeezed in around his eyes. He no longer told hands and feet to struggle, for he no longer felt them at all.
Time stood still. The current paused. The Wolf and sky froze in shimmering fragments. A soft shadow floated in from the edges. His heart beat once, waited a long time, beat again. Time snapped and flew forward like a hawk swooping, then darkness fell in an instant.
He dreamt of underground caverns, connected by long tunnels, and lit by a warm glow. A small forest filled one cavern, in another stood a lake, a river ran through a third, the waves of an ocean fell gently in a fourth. Mole wandered happily from cavern to cavern, following the silent flight of a beautiful white Owl.
Mole woke in a sunlit clearing. His heavy lungs ached with each wet breath. His hands and feet tingled, numb and cold.
He fingered his ears until he heard the wind through the leaves, and rubbed stinging eyes until his vision focused on the sharp face of the Wolf.
"Not heaven, I take it," Mole said, trying to sound brave.
The Wolf neither smiled nor frowned. "Your dying words saved your life." Clouds met before the sun; in the shade, his gray eyes darkened. "You said you would not die. Not yet, you said. I have hunted many of your kind. They always surrender when caught. Yet you held to your last breath. Why the sudden courage? What is so important? Why must a lowly mole, of all the creatures in these woods, not die today?"
"Love?" Mole asked, shrugging.
"Are you guessing?" the Wolf demanded.
"Love," Mole repeated with a nod, trying to sound certain.
As he began to explain, he felt the yoke of fear fall from his shoulders. For a moment, his brave desire so ruled his timid nature that he spoke without trembling, even into the steady gaze of a hungry Wolf.
"Three summers ago," Mole began, "an Owl and I fell in love. Don't smile. It's true. A rider of the winds and a tunneler of the earth fell in love. She taught me the beauty of moonlit nights, the joy of evening breezes, and painted on my mind's eye such places, places I never even knew existed. Canyons. Mountains. Oceans. Oceans..."
He paused wistfully, trying to imagine what he had never seen.
"What she saw in me, I myself never saw. As humble as lady earth, she said. Gentle as flowers, sturdy as trees, she could go on and on. That's perspective for you. Really, I am none of these things. Yet thus christened, I began living up to her image of me. I am more now than I have ever expected to be."
He smiled sadly. "We pledged our love to one another. I began digging and tunneling, building a world underground, where she could shelter from the light of day. A world for us."
The smile faded and his gaze fell to his small hands, half open in his lap. "Then, this past summer, on the anniversary of our third year, she rode out on the evening winds … and never returned."
Tears warmed his eyes. He was his timid self again, all courage gone. He shrugged in his helpless way.
"I went to the windy ravens to ask where she had gone. They listened through autumn and waited all winter, only to declare we would never meet again. My mind knows the ravens have never been wrong, but my heart can't accept their decision. After all, this is love. So what can I do? I must find her. Will find her. Should I have to tunnel to the sea, to the cawing Never of ever rook in the world."
He looked up at the Wolf. "Provided, of course, you fast tonight."
The Wolf gazed intently at Mole, as if he could see the beating of that tiny heart. Finally, he stood.
"Go. Seek your love. At this moment, you are not prey, and so I will not be predator. But I have your scent, and can find you when I choose. I'll be watching from time to time. If you ever abandon your search and accept the word of the ravens, you will be your old self. So then will I. And as such we will meet again."
He walked a few paces off, then turned and glanced back. "Wolves, too," he said quietly, "love as if life depends upon it."
With a leap, he disappeared into the woods.
Mole watched the branches settle, laying against one another as if they had never been disturbed. Birds sang again, their casual songs sounding the same as always. Behind him, the river moved at its slow, quiet pace. Even the air smelled the same as it had before--
Before a wolf let you go, he thought.
But he knew things like that didn't happen in real life. Wolves don't let moles go. I should be in pieces. I should be digesting!
He stood and looked around.
On the surface, the green world was the same as it had always been. Yet he felt as if he was seeing beneath and behind for the first time, as if someone had unlocked a door and showed him the true working of the world.
A Mole in love with an Owl? Ravens who made mistakes? A Wolf who placed the law of love above the law of nature?
"What do you know?" Mole muttered to himself. "You're in a story after all."