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Daphne Wood was the new home for the colony. For the past few months it had proved to be a very hospitable place to live, providing good drinking water and excellent fishing possibilities. It also had plenty of trees with edible nuts, for the animals and birds who enjoyed that sort of food.
The wood had been discovered at the end of the previous summer by Mr. Choli the cat and his expedition party, who had been sent by Mr. Vinegar the walrus to find the colony a new place to settle. The site of the old colony on the coast had begun to disappear beneath the water as the sea level had suddenly risen. However, this was not before all of the creatures in the colony had moved successfully to Daphne Wood and found their new places to live. Indeed, there had been many advantages to the new wood over the old colony. Mr. Vinegar now had an old abandoned miner’s cottage to use as his new hardware store, there was a small coal mine which provided fuel to keep the animals warm from the harsh winter winds as they swept across the lands, and Mr. Ginger had found a secret tunnel which led to an abandoned town. Of course the town they found was long-since absent of people who in the distant past had destroyed themselves with their wars and diseases that they invented to attack each other. However, the animals had found some useful items there to help them in their struggle through the hard times and climatic changes that they now faced.
The colony had even managed a rescue mission to a nearby volcanic island to save the animals that were stranded there. So the cold harsh winter had been survived, the colony at Daphne Wood had a slightly larger population, but was perhaps an even more happy place for it. The desperate, biting winter winds had been endured and the warmer months of the dry season had returned. For the animals and birds of Daphne Wood, this was a most welcome change from huddling around a fire trying to keep warm. However, the hot dry winds did bring problems of their own.
Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger the cats lived in an old broken car at the back of Mr. Vinegar’s abandoned miner’s cottage. The boot of the car tended to feature a good stock of tinned fish, which Mr. Ginger diligently fetched from an old food shop that he had found in the abandoned town at the end of the secret tunnel. Mr. Choli had also placed a sign saying ‘detective’ on the car door’s wing mirror, as his role in the colony was now established as head of security and chief detective. He even had his own magnifying glass and pretend pipe to assist with any professional investigations to which he might be called. Through their sea-voyage adventure to Volcano Island the cats had also acquired a deckchair each and a fishing rod, which Mr. Carnigier the flamingo had provided, and taught them how to use.
Now that the dry season was arriving in Daphne Wood, Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger had taken to carrying these items down to the river bank, following a suitable morning lie-in of course, and setting up their day for what they did best: cat napping and showing a healthy interest in eating fish. It could be argued that they were actually in a bit of a rut, as sleeping in their deckchairs and roasting fish was all they seemed to do these days. However, they were both very happy with their rut and didn’t really want to change it. On this particular morning a very glum looking gardening team was working in the meadow a little way behind the two dozing felines.
The key gardening team members of the colony included Mr. Denzel the mole who did the earthwork side of things, Miss Schnitzel the chicken and Mr. Taverre the Parrot who did the planting, and Mrs. Cat-biscuit the goat who managed all of the weeding requirements. Today they were standing around looking at the vegetable patch with great concern.
“It must be the hot dry winds,” concluded Mr. Denzel the mole, who was shaking his head in disappointment. “We’ve never had a planting season as hot and dry as this one. The climate is changing faster than the plants can adapt. They can’t cope with the loss of moisture from their leaves and they are simply shrivelling up,” he added.
“But we’ve watered them everyday, using the flow diverted from the underground pool!” complained Miss Schnitzel, pointing to the spring at the end of the meadow with her wing.
“Maybe that’s just not enough this time,” replied Mr. Denzel glumly. “These vegetables just aren’t going to grow here this year. The conditions are no longer right for them.”
“That’s not all,” added Mrs. Cat-biscuit. “The grazing this year is very poor indeed. The lush grasses just aren’t growing, and these drier brown grasses aren’t providing much food at all. Some of the grazing animals are getting rather thin,” she concluded and munched into a clump of dry brown grass while pulling a face to make her point.
If anything, Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger had somewhat the opposite problem, and their rut of sleeping and fish-eating was leaving them with rather more portly figures than they had sported during the winter months. Having woken from there deckchair-based naps, Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger had decided to wander over to where the vegetable team were chatting to say hello, despite their ever-increasing bellies suggesting to them that a further catnap would be the more sensible decision.
“How’s the day?” began Mr. Ginger cheerfully. “The fish catch is coming on nicely over on the riverbank there. Should be an excellent fish roast tonight. I’m quite looking forward to it!”
It was a very good fish roast every night of late, but Mr. Ginger never lost an ounce of enthusiasm for a fish roast, as if each day was the first time he was attending such a feast.
“Things aren’t so good here,” replied a disappointed Mr. Denzel, and he explained to Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger the problem of the vegetable plants and grasses, and their struggle to adapt to the hot dry winds.
Mr. Choli thought deeply about the problem. He was the resident detective of Daphne Wood after all and so problems that arose should receive his considered opinion. However, he concluded that the problem of the winds being too hot and dry was already identified, so a detective wasn’t really needed this time. He explained this to the others who nodded their heads in agreement.
“I do think we need to call a meeting with the whole colony though,” stated Mrs. Cat-biscuit in a voice that lacked her usual enthusiastic tone. “Mr. Vinegar usually knows what to do. The point is that if something isn’t done soon then we could have a real crisis on our hooves!”
It was agreed that a meeting of the colony should be called that evening. Mr. Choli helped to inform some of the animals in the forest about the meeting. Mrs. Cat-biscuit went to the coastline to fetch Mr. and Mrs. Tinfish the penguins and their son William, and Daphne the polar bear from her cave. Miss Schnitzel rounded up some of the birds and Mr. Denzel went over to Mr. Vinegar’s cottage to put him in the picture in preparation for the meeting.
By late afternoon the inhabitants of Daphne Wood were all gathered in a circle outside the old miner’s cottage.
“Thank you all for coming,” began Mr. Vinegar. “We have endured many hard times and struggled to over-come the challenges that we have faced through the bitter winter months. Now a new threat has arrived and we shall rise again to grip the nettle firmly, look it squarely in the face, and send it packing.”
It had been a long time since Mr. Vinegar had been called upon for a rousing speech and so he made the most of the opportunity, choosing not to hold back on the dramatics.
“Now then, I believe Mrs. Cat-biscuit on the gardening team will be able to paint a better picture than I,” he continued. Mr. Vinegar then nodded at Mrs. Cat-biscuit to encourage her to come into the centre of the circle to explain the issue.
Mrs. Cat-biscuit told the animals and birds about the failed vegetable patch and the poor growth of the lush edible grass, and how she feared that a food shortage for the animals that needed that sort of thing might soon become a real problem. When she had finished Mr. Vinegar continued to address the increasingly concerned gathering of animals and birds.
“This is not a problem that we’ve faced before. A new problem requires a new solution I would suggest. Does anyone having any ideas about what can be done?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Chutney the Wallaby, “if the plants we eat can’t grow here any more, then we will need to go and find some plants to eat that can grow here. That way there will be plants to eat,” she stated. Mrs. Chutney had a reputation for stating the obvious and then explaining it. However, occasionally, as was the case now, her approach to explaining things could also bring some clarity to the matter at hand.
“So you’re saying that this is essentially a detective issue?” replied Mr. Vinegar with a degree of excitement entering his voice. “An expeditionary trip to the never-reaches to discover a new species, or some-such that likes the hot winds, to add to the gardening team’s arsenal so they can plant it up and save the harvest.”
The muttering amongst the crowd that followed was taken by Mr. Vinegar as evidence that his summary and enthusiasm had struck a resounding and acceptable chord with the audience. However, most were wondering where the ‘never-reaches’ were, and indeed what an arsenal would be, and why the gardeners needed one.
Mr. Choli, meanwhile, was rather annoyed with himself. He had been so convinced that this wasn’t a detective matter he hadn’t bothered to bring his pipe and magnifying glass with him to the meeting. He quietly improvised and stuck a twig in his mouth and held the end in the way that he would have held his pipe, and hoped no one would notice.
His more recent detective adventures had involved sailing and getting wet, which had not been at all what he had imagined when he set himself up as a celebrated detective. Since that time he had been keeping a somewhat lower profile for his line of work. However, as plants were quite clearly a land-based type of detective work, he reckoned that Mr. Vinegar’s anticipated expedition wouldn’t be a boat-orientated investigation, like his last one to Volcano Island. Having thought all of this through, Mr. Choli addressed the group with an air of confidence, as of one who knew what he was talking about. In fact it was with the confidence that his contribution to the problem wouldn’t place him in a precarious situation.
“Yes, yes, I quite see the problem,” Mr. Choli began. “I think an expedition to the pine forests and Mr. Filbert the Stag to see what plants he has up there is quite clearly the way forward. Mr. Ginger and I will pop up some time next week. Perhaps Mrs. Cat-biscuit and Daphne will also come and help to carry the plants back.”
Having concluded his summary Mr. Choli sat back down and pretended to smoke the pipe-substitute twig.
“I’m not so sure about that suggestion,” chipped in Mr. Denzel when Mr. Choli had concluded his address. “Mr. Choli is very kind to offer to lead an investigation to find new plants for us. However, the thin soils of the pine forest are not well adapted for lush grasses. No, the grasses up there will be worse for grazing than the ones that are here by the coast, and certainly won’t like the hot dry winds. Indeed it’s a wonder that Mr. Filbert the stag hasn’t come to Daphne Wood with his family asking us for assistance.”
“A very good point, Mr. Denzel,” agreed Mr. Vinegar heartily. “There are no quick fixes here Mr. Choli. This calls for a full-scale investigation for which your reputation has been duly earned. You will need to gather your team and organise a full scale expedition far beyond such places as the pine forests.”
“I would like to propose that my large boat is used for the expedition,” suggested Mr. Carnigier the Flamingo from the back of the meeting. “It could be a good way to make up some of the distance required to reach the far away places.”
Mr. Choli felt a sudden pang of despair realising that what had started as a promising slight distraction from his fishing rut, for which Mrs. Tinfish would undoubtedly have prepared some delicious sandwiches, was now plunging uncontrollably into a full-scale water-based expedition.
“The boat could be sailed round the coast looking for plants that are adapting better to the hot, windy conditions,” added Mr. Denzel. “It would be even better if there is a large river heading in-land that could be followed. That way a wider range of plants and grasses could be investigated. Not just the ones near to the coastline, as it is clear from our own coastline that these plants are not coping well.”
“Quite so, quite so,” added Mr. Vinegar, pleased at the enthusiasm which was spiralling, essentially he felt as a result of his own inspirational words.
“Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger, tomorrow you will organise your team and provisions, and then set sail to discover better adapted plants. Well done for offering your serviced so selflessly.” Mr. Vinegar concluded.
Mr. Choli smiled back politely. ‘What have I let myself in for?’ he thought to himself.