Autumn arrived quickly. The leaves changed color and fell gently to the ground with the breeze.
“It’s time to go foraging again,” the little field hamster thought to himself. Careful not to be seen, he nimbly scurried out of his burrow and across the field.
Until recently, tall grass and bushy corn stalks had been here. Anticipating a hail storm, the farmer had quickly mowed the fields. With little coverage, the field hamster had to move very carefully over the open area.
He laboriously collected individual kernels of corn and other leftovers from the harvest. With his supplies stored in his cheeks, he dashed back to his burrow. He placed the kernels in his pantry and headed for the hazelnut tree.
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He met a squirrel there who was busy picking nuts and dropping them to the ground below where he would collect them to bury.
“Hey!” the squirrel called down from a branch. “What are you doing here? This is my tree!”
“What makes this your tree?” asked the field hamster. Before the squirrel could answer, they were both distracted by a loud rustling sound.
“Hello!” called a little field mouse, sticking her nose out of the pile of leaves. “I’ve been watching you. I suppose you’re foraging as well?”
She looked at the pile of nuts the squirrel had already collected under the tree.
The field hamster and squirrel nodded.
“Winter is almost upon us and there isn’t much time left for gathering supplies,” the squirrel explained. “Each day is colder than the last and once the ground is frozen, I won’t be able dig. I have to be especially industrious now so that I won’t go hungry.”
This gave the little field mouse an idea.
“Why don’t we all look for supplies together!” she said. “I can run fast and fit through small spaces. Plus, I know the best hiding places in the granaries and I’m so nimble that I can outrun anyone.”
“If we work together, we can collect a lot more in total and better protect our supplies from thieves!” the field hamster agreed. “No one is better at digging caves and tunnels than me. Plus, I can carry lots of grain in my cheeks.”
“I can climb and jump from one branch to another,” offered the squirrel. “I’m not afraid of roofs and gutters either. I can get to lots of goodies that very few others can!”
“And I can fly!” exclaimed a little titmouse who had been listening to the conversation. “If there’s danger, I can give out a warning and get away quickly. Plus, I can see bugs and worms from high up and find grains or bread crumbs almost anywhere. May I join you?”
“All right!” exclaimed the squirrel. “If no one objects, we can join forces. We’ll gather supplies together every day from now on and then take them to a secret storage place. We won’t tell anyone where we hide our supplies and each of us can take turns keeping watch so that no one steals from us!”
All the animals agreed to the proposal.
For the next several weeks they gathered everything they could find. One foggy day, they decided to visit the hiding place together to see how much they had already accumulated. Winter was not far off and everyone felt well prepared.
“I’m sure we’re ready for winter!” the little field mouse exclaimed when everyone gathered at the secret hiding place. They looked at a small mountain of nuts, berries and grain.
“Wait a minute,” said the titmouse. “This pile looked much bigger yesterday!”
The animals looked at each other suspiciously.
“The field hamster was the last one to stand guard,” said the squirrel. “He could have snuck out supplies in his big cheeks!”
The field hamster assured them he hadn’t stolen any of their supplies and let them look into his cheeks as proof.
“Well, who else could it have been?” asked the squirrel.
Discouraged, they left their hiding place. The titmouse stayed behind to guard the entrance.
The next day they all came together again and brought their freshly collected acorns, beechnuts and grains.
“Where are all our supplies?!” said the field hamster. “The pile is getting smaller and smaller!”
“Well, it must have been the titmouse,” said the squirrel. “She was on guard duty and she can fly. She must have carried everything off without any of us noticing.”
But the titmouse shook her head and assured the others that she would never do such a thing.
“I’m going to get that thief!” said the squirrel. “I’ll keep watch tonight and be extra attentive.”
When they all met again the next day, they had very special treats with them—blackberries and rose hips, dried bread and quite a few seeds.
“Oh dear!” said the field mouse. “I think the squirrel is the one who has been stealing our supplies. More are missing! After all, he can climb high up in the trees to hide them!”
But the squirrel affirmed that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the supplies.
They were at a loss. As they were trying to figure out what to do next, there was a loud rumbling. They all turned towards the sound and could not believe their eyes. The remaining pile of chestnuts and acorns disappeared into the ground in a landslide.
The animals looked at each other and ran to where the supplies had disappeared. They looked into the tunnel and came face-to-face with a mole.
“Why are you stealing our supplies?” said the field mouse.
“Why don’t you go foraging yourself instead of taking our nuts and berries?” said the field hamster.
“Hold on! I didn’t take your supplies on purpose!” the mole said quickly. “I was digging tunnels when all of a sudden treats began to trickle into my burrow. I haven’t touched any of it because I didn’t know who they belonged to. You can have it all back!”
“Oh, thank you!” said the squirrel. They were all relieved.
“I’m really glad it wasn’t one of us,” said the titmouse. “We were too quick to lose trust in each other.”
“I agree,” said the field mouse. “From now on, we will trust each other.”
Then they invited the mole to share their supplies too.
“Together, we’ll get through the winter for sure!” said the squirrel.