Bucky Badger Travels the Mississippi
By Dan Wallace
Sometime at the turn of some century in the past, Bucky Badger lived in the northern wilds of Wisconsin above the Dells. No one is quite sure where he lived exactly, but it has been said that on a spring day, when the wind blew just right, that the briny fragrance of the big lake could be noticed among the fresh blossoms of the newly green trees.
Bucky, though small, could show off a fine furry coat with black stripes starting at his snout separating along his shoulders and back, and joining again at his brushy tail all the way to the tip. The rest of Bucky’s fine fur was tan, which appeared light or dark depending upon the time of the year. Bucky could also brag of very sharp needle-pointed teeth, (that is, if he had been the type that bragged, which he most definitely was not— most of the time). Most proud, though, was Bucky of his gracefully curved, polished black claws that not only looked beautiful, but in fact were absolutely the best digging tools that any beast could want. Indeed, Bucky was known as the finest tunneler among all of the burrowing animals.
The good use that Bucky made of his excellent claws, however, created the very circumstances that eventually led to the predicament that led eventually to this story.
Bucky succeeded so well in carving out palatial dwellings beneath the ground, with wonderful dips and angles , and enchanting sitting spots, and handsome halls, all decorated in the very latest and most attractive taste, that all of the denizens of the deep beneath the dirt wanted to live in a Bucky Badger Custom-Built Burrow.
Ronald Rabbit thought that Bucky's corridor craftsmanship could not be matched in quality. Now, normally this opinion wouldn't have made any kind of impression upon Bucky. Ronald Rabbit, though, did something unusual; he told Bucky that his burrows were the best. Well! What could Bucky say? Of course, he allowed Ronald Rabbit, and Ruth Rabbit, and all the little Rabbits—Ricky, Randy, Ralph, Robin, Rachel, Rudy, Red, Rupert, Renee, Rona, Rhonda, Rolly, Rhoda, Rita, Roland, Roddy, Rotisserie—all the little Rabbits, to move in.
Things got crowded. Things got more crowded. Things got a lot more crowded, and cleaning out the attic did not help for long. Bucky said to himself, "This is getting to be ridiculous. I'm the world's greatest tunneler, I don't have to put up with these cramped quarters, I'll move! I'll dig myself some new digs!"
Which is what he did. Never one to sit on past successes, Bucky improved on his old design by carving out an underground split-level, room to entertain and room to be by himself. Needless to say, Bucky's subterranean splendor was the chatter of all the animal s with curved teeth and polished fore claws. Gabby Gopher especially liked what he saw.
This is not to say that Bucky was a soft touch, mind you. Gabby Gopher did have the Gift of Gab. Chattering a mile a minute as he passed through Bucky's majestic dwelling, Gabby couldn't heap enough praise upon Bucky. Bucky was not altogether sure when Gabby suggested moving in.
"No way!" said Bucky.
Gabby pointed out, however, that they only had three other gophers in his family, each of whom would love to live in such a homey hole. Bucky thought only four. So, he said okay.
Gabby moved in with his family, Giddy, Glossy, Garrulous, and Big-Mouth. Only four, but they talked as much as forty. Bucky moved out.
Bucky chewed out another bountiful burrow, and promised to himself that he would live by himself from now on. Not one other creature would he allow into his blessedly quiet and roomy home.
Marian Mole liked the feel of Bucky's manor, the curlicues he'd carved on the walls, the sculpted surfaces of the ceilings, and the bas reliefs on the floors. Marian Mole lived alone, and she was one mean tunneler herself, given that she couldn't match his work because of her poor eyesight. Bucky had to admit to himself, Marian Mole had a nose for tunneling. So, Bucky asked her if she wanted to share the rent. She jumped at the chance, and bumped into a wall.
While Marian went off to get her belongings, Bucky decided to climb to the top of this, his most marvelous architectural feat, and do what he liked to do most on spring days turning to summer. He rolled up on top of the opening to his underground estate and lay flat on his back to catch the warming delights of old Sol, the sun. He snoozed.
Glorious hours later, he awakened and stretched, much refreshed. Since the sun had gone down, he decided that it was time for bed. So, he slid down into his burrow.
“Turn off that light!" shouted Marian.
Stumbling, Bucky mumbled that he was sorry. He groped around in the dark, and stubbed one of his lovely black-clawed toes on an unfamiliar piece of furniture. "Ouch!" he bellowed. He moved around very carefully, and bumped his snout on a new statue in a place where one had not been before. This is getting ridiculous, he thought. He turned on a light, and Marian yelled, "Hey!" He turned off the light.
Bucky placed his f ore claws on his hind-hips. This wasn't working out either! But, what was he going to do?
"I listen too much to friends telling me how much they like my homes, and then I end up out in the dark … or light … or whatever. Anyway, I've got to change some things," he decided.
I'll move, he thought, away from the northern wilds above the Dells. I'll begin again, build a new home, a most lavish home for myself, and I won't listen to any other underground animals when they tell me what a great place I've built. I'll thank them, but kindly refuse when they talk about moving in.
With a firm nod of his head, he decided that he would do exactly that. He would move south, where he could work on tanning his fur, and wear his favorite pair of sunglasses, the ones with the Brooklyn Bridge stretching across his eyebrows. Satisfied, he said goodbye to Marian Mole, and set out for the South.
He traveled down past the Flambeau Flowage, down the Flambeau River, down the Red Cedar, across to the Chippawa, over to the St. Croix, and down it. He experienced many adventures, like the time he had to go around the giant anthill, and the time he ran into the dark, furry animal with the white V on his chest, a wolverine on his way to the Indian land called Michigan.
Bucky came to another Indian land where all of the Indians played a game with forked sticks and a sewn ball. These Indians spoke their language with a French accent. Bucky wanted to pass by, but the Indians' playing field was right in his path and besides that, he was quite interested in the game they played, running back and forth, tossing the ball with the forked sticks to their fellows, yelling and shouting “Vive la vie!”
Unable to contain himself any longer, Bucky cried out, "Say, what game is that you're playing?"
All of the Indians stopped in their tracks and shouted as one, "Lacrosse!" and so Bucky did. Thereafter, he always called that place La Crosse.
A short time later, Bucky came to a small stream. This stream was moving so fast that, when Bucky tried to take a drink from it, he couldn't. The water raced by too fast for him to sip any of it up into his mouth. Shaking his furry snout, he decided to call this stream the Missi-A-Sippi, using the Indian pronunciation. And, when they heard this, all of the other animals around him groaned loudly, though he didn’t know why.
He was still very thirsty, and he still wanted a drink. But, how to slow down this fast little stream so that he could lap up some of it? That was the question. Then, it occurred to him that he was the world's best tunneler. And, what is a tunnel but a long hole in the ground? Bucky figured that he would dig a hole right next to the edge of the speedy little creek he called the Mississippi, and some of the water would fall in and be caught. Then, he could drink at his leisure!
Feeling pretty good about his bright idea, Bucky got to work. He was plenty thirsty, so he dug a long hole next to the stream, leaving a wall up so that it wouldn't flow in until he was ready.
He was ready; he went back to the edge of the stream, the wall to his tunnel-hole, and sat back on his haunches with his mouth wide open. Using his hind feet, he kicked in the wall.
The water swept him all the way back to the end of the tunnel, filling it up fast. Choking and gagging, Bucky thought to himself, "Bright idea." Then, he was underwater, and he quickly saw that his only escape was to burrow to the surface. As fast as he'd ever dug, he clawed his way to the top of the earth, where he could breathe deep breaths.
But, the rapid little rapids followed fast on his heels. Before it could overflow all over him again, Bucky started to dig. Faster and faster he dug, staying just ahead of the roaring Mississippi. He was going as fast as he could, flinging the dirt behind him like a Tonka, but the stream seemed to eat it up “This is getting to be ridiculous," he thought.
After miles and miles of digging and digging, Bucky found himself getting tired. But, dig he must, he knew, and so dig he did. To his dismay, he also knew that the Mississippi wasn't getting tired.
At last, just when he thought he couldn't put one more claw in front of the other, Bucky fell off of a high dirt bank into, of all things, another little stream. As Bucky fell, he yelled, “Yowa!” and thereafter, he called that little stream the Iowa, using the Indian way of pronouncing it. And, when they heard this, all of the other animals around him groaned loudly, though he didn’t know why.
The Iowa, as it turned out, moved much more slowly than the Mississippi, because it had a great deal more room in which to f low. When the Mississippi flowed Bucky off the bank into the Iowa, it too, slowed its movement, though it filled the entire earthen bed around the Iowa. The Mississippi had become big as it flowed south with the waters of the Iowa.
Bucky floated on top of the slow-winding river. Though he was tired, he was happy, too, to be done with the speedy little Mississippi. This giant, easy-flowing river was much more to his liking. However, he began to feel that he'd spent too much time away from his home in Wisconsin. So, he slowly paddled back to the riverbank, and climbed out of the big river. With tired feet and claws, he started on his way back to Wisconsin.
Bucky never did return to the northern wilds above the Wisconsin Dells. Instead, he found himself a new home in a lively little place called Madison, Wisconsin. There he found another new housemate, one by the name of Becky Badger. Together, they built the most beautiful and magnificent tunnels and burrows beneath the ground. Taking some of what he had learned digging his long tunnel-hole for the little stream, Bucky also built a big hollow above ground, with tunnels leading in and up to its highest levels. Indians came to play on the grass it surrounded, and in honor of Bucky, they called it Badger Stadium. But, nothing much happened there. Bucky was much happier sunning with Becky, or carving a curlicue with her on the wall of their beautiful burrow.
Dedicated to the Hamilton Elementary School
Class of ’87
(especially Mary Ellen Brown)
Dan Wallace is partially a product of
the University of Wisconsin, Madison