Once upon a time, there lived an ancient owl in an ancient tree. He had grown so old and so wise that all the woodland creatures considered him their leader. Everyone, that is, except for the Old Tortoise, who was actually quite a bit older than the Owl. But he doesn’t come into this story, except to say that whenever somebody told him that the Owl was superior, he paid it no mind because he had grown completely deaf.
One day, there arose a quarrel between the Rabbit and the Beaver over whose duty it was to warn the forest if a hunter were spotted.
“Absolutely it should be me!” declared the Rabbit. “I’m faster and nimbler and can cover the whole forest in less than half an hour. I believe the Owl should choose me!”
“And when you run hither,” argued the Beaver, “the hunter might go thither. While you’re zigging, he may very well be zagging. I, on the other hand, can slap my tail so loudly the whole forest can hear it in a moment.”
“Nonsense,” answered the Rabbit. “We won’t know if you are warning us or building a dam. That will never work!”
“Well I don’t expect a hot-headed Rabbit to see the sense of it. You think your speed is everything. But cooler heads must prevail in an emergency,” said the Beaver.
“Who’s hot-headed?” retorted the Rabbit. “Oh you think you’re so smart just because you can build things with your tail.”
“What have you ever built?” snapped the Beaver. “Just a hole in the ground! And that only if someone else got it started.”
“Why I never!” the Rabbit shouted. “I dig my own holes, thank you very much.”
They went on like this for quite some time. Finally, they decided to march over to the Owl to settle it once and for all.
The Owl was in the middle of breakfast (two mice, a spider, and a small delicious snake) when the two arguing animals arrived at the tree.
“O Great Owl, wisest of all creatures,” began the Beaver.
“Oh get on with it!” said the Rabbit. “Dispense with the pleasantries.”
The Owl glared at the Rabbit.
“I like pleasantries,” he declared. “Always in such a hurry are you, Rabbit.”
The Rabbit lowered his gaze a bit.
“Well, we don’t want to take up so much of your time, Great Owl, you see,” the Rabbit stammered.
“A simple apology will do,” stated the Owl.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Sir, for being in such a rush to…” started the Rabbit.
“Not to me!” interrupted the Owl. “Apologize to Beaver.”
“Apologize to Beaver! For what?” exclaimed the Rabbit.
“For interrupting his pleasantries,” answered the Owl.
“Oh, alright,” scowled the Rabbit. “I’m sorry, Beaver, for interrupting you. Now can we please get on with our business?”
“Apology accepted,” the Beaver confirmed. “O Great Owl, wisest of creatures,” he continued; and he continued for quite a long time.
“What is it you want?” inquired the Owl after Beaver has concluded his salutation, which included some of the great feats from the Owl’s younger days, an ode to the Owl’s intelligence, and several other impressive attributions.
“Allow me to speak, please,” started Rabbit. “You’ve said quite enough,” he said, pointing a finger at the Beaver.
He went on to describe the nature of their quarrel, how it began and how it proceeded. He was careful to leave out any of the personal insults hurled in the Beaver’s direction as he laid out his reasons for being the one charged with such an important duty.
Beaver went next. And he, too, laid out his case, being careful not to repeat any of the sleights he had thrown at the Rabbit.
“Little children,” said the Owl, when they had finished. “For all of your reasonings, you lack wisdom.”
They both looked shocked.
“He means you,” said the Beaver.
“He was talking to both of us,” replied the Rabbit.
“Beaver, you have not considered that not all of the woodland creatures can hear. Some are too old, and some live too deep in the ground, and some live too high in the trees,” explained the Owl.
“And Rabbit,” he continued. “Have you considered that not all the woodland creatures can see you? Some live in the river. How will you warn them?”
“I hadn’t thought of that, Great Owl,” said the Rabbit, sadly. “I thought my speed would be enough to let everyone know the danger. I guess I’m not the one for this task.”
“And I had just assumed everyone would be able to heed my warning. I guess I’m not the one for this task either,” added the Beaver.
“Little children,” said the Owl, with love and patience in his voice. “I charge both of you with this task. Each one of you can reach animals that the other cannot. It is by working together that the task will be done.”
The Rabbit and the Beaver looked at each other for a moment.
Then they embraced like old friends, and apologies were made, and invitations to dinner were offered, and all of the quarreling was soon forgotten.
From that day on, all beavers and all rabbits teamed up to keep the forest safe, for they had learned a valuable lesson in working together and helping one another.