The Walrus And The Cricket

Walrus and Cricket.jpg

I am in the process of editing a story called The Walrus and The Cricket. It is a chapter book for pre-teens. A few years ago I went to see Edgar Meyer and Chis Thile play. Edgar was a bear of a man holding the double bass. Chris jumped and hopped as he played the mandolin. I leaned over to my wife and I wanted to reference an animal more mysterious than a bear, so I said, "They look like the walrus and the snippety cricket up there."

They had a whimsical stage presence that made you wonder how the two of them had met so I began to imagine a world where a walrus and a cricket could be friends. A walrus is not a flattering thing to call someone so, of course, Edgar is a skinny walrus who is always too cold. Below is the opening scene in the story.

The Walrus and The Cricket

Edgar always complained about the cold.  It was a funny thing for a Walrus to do.  He did not understand how the others could stay in the water so long, how they could bare the icy shore. Pulling the mass of his body onto the frosty sand he laid there hoping the sun would warm him.  The sun shone off his pinken’d leathery skin but did not make him any warmer. How he longed to be by the fires that men built, to take the chill out of his bones.

His cousin tumbled and slumped out of the water laughing at Edgar tossing him clams and a few shrimp.  His front flippers were full of shrimp and shells and he towered over Edgar a little over twice his size.  Breath like smoke came out of his mouth, “You’ll never catch anything that way.”

“It’s too,” Edgar shivered, “too coooold!”  Taking one of the clams he tapped it against his yellowed tusk and shook it next to his ear.  It rattled. His lips trembled as he wrapped them around the clam sucking the meat out with one loud smack.  Spitting a pearl out he tossed the shell to the side “That was no clam.”  He finished all of the food his cousin gave him.  “Thanks Simon.”

“You are never going to get any bigger lying around on the shore.  You need to eat.  I can’t keep hunting for the both of us.  If you want to eat and stay warm you need to stay with the herd.  They are a little less then a days swim south. You are way beyond being a pup.”

“A pup? Is that what they are calling me? I take good enough care of myself,” Edgar reminded him.

“I am just saying, we had moved south to warmer waters for you, so that you could be warmer.  And I admit warmer water is nice,” his shoulders slumped and he looked at the ground, he tried to muster up a smile, “but that shore is not home,” he said shaking his head.  “It is no home for us Walrus.”  At that moment Simon’s friends tromped onto the shore.
 
Isaac, Frederick, and James were  4 years younger than Edgar but they were twice his size.  Their tusks were a brilliant moon white, and their skin was tan like the sand and it shimmered as if they were just born.  Edgar’s skin was a matte brown always made pink by the cold.  The brown matched his eyes. Simon with a hopeful look in his eyes motioned for Edgar to join them in the water.  “Edgar,” he whispered motioning discreetly with his flipper, “come on.”

“Stop feeding the little guy and get back in the water,” James hollered.

“Yeah quit feeding the locals,” Frederick said in a scratchy voice that trailed off into laughter.  Simon was holding back.

“Leave the little Shore-Pony alone to play in the tide pools.” Isaac shouted and all four of them burst into laughter.  Simon couldn’t contain himself.   He boomed with laughter causing his whole body to shake. He dropped all of the clams and shrimp he was holding.  One of the shrimp scurried towards the water.

Edgar shot a hopeless glance at Simon and hung his head low.  “Come on Edgar.  You are small for a walrus,” Simon begged laughing and picking up his meal as it tried to get away.  As he picked up the shrimp he ate them but he let the clams lay like stones.  “The locals call us Whale-Horses or Shore-Giants when they are hunting us. That is why my friends call you those names.” He spread his flippers out as he explained, “When we hunt we tease each other.”

“I know.  Don’t patronize me.  Go play with your friends.”  Edgar’s stomach growled.  “I will catch up.”

“Simon, let’s head north through the Strait to the Kotzebue Sound. The seals at... Admiralty Bay say that the ocean floor is rich with clams there.  No killer whales have been spotted in weeks.”
Simon would normally stay south with Edgar and not venture that far north with the boys because it was warmer in the south and all that they had to worry about was Yupik people hunting them.  Edgar noticed the hesitation in Simon’s eyes.  “I am old enough to take care of myself.  I will catch up with you later in the week.”

“Watch out for the orca and the Yuit.”  Simon hollered as he tromped back into the water.

“They don’t hunt pony.”  Isaac said as he dove in.  

“Only if they want a light snack.” Frederick gargled with laughter.

The four of them entered the water laughing and spitting.  Edgar picked up one of the clams his cousin left on the shore and skimmed it across the water at them.  It missed Isaac, Frederick, and James completely, on the third skip it smacked into the back of Simon’s head.  It silenced their laughter, but Simon looked back and shook his head at Edgar.  Looking down at his flipper, Edgar shrugged.  He did not say a word.

Simon dipped his head into the water and then all four of them were gone as if the sea had swallowed them.

With his hind flippers Edgar kicked up the sand.  His stomach growled again.  Knowing that he was just south of Hazen Bay, a little into the Baird Inlet, he did not feel like swimming home.  Home was a little over a half days swim 55 miles south.  So he picked up the rest of the clams his cousin had left for him and ate them quietly.  A sickle moon hung low like a glowing Walrus tusk coming out of the distant mountains. Sucking out the last clam from its shell, Edgar watched the light fade from the sky.  The ocean ahead of him lapped softly.  Its surface looked like glass reflecting thousands of stars.  There were no clouds that night, and the sky changed colors with flashes like twirling ribbon, purple and a chilling blue.  Edgar liked it when the sky did this. He imagined that it was the sky and the sea coming together and that he could swim up and warm himself by the warmth of the stars. He called it the horizon-bloom.

Pulling at the stiff bristles above his tusks Edgar turned to look behind him.  He heard shouts in the distance, a song, the soft pounding of drums; the night air chilled his weather-beaten skin.  He did not want to crawl back into the ocean.  He shuddered and his bones ached just thinking about the cold water. Everything was calm.

As Edgar’s eyes adjusted to the night, the snow and ice along the shore started to glow. It reflected the colorful flashes from the sky.  In the distance he saw what he longed for.

There was a fire no bigger than a match flick.  It leapt and tickled the air.  It trembled like the reflection of the stars on the water. Just the thought of being next to the fire sent a shiver of joy up Edgar’s spine. Edgar had been close to a fire only once when hunters came with torches in the middle of the night and surprised them while they slept. One of the torches fell next to Edgar as one of the men tried to strike Edgar with a spear. Edgar was warmed by the fire for only a second, his cousin pulled him quickly into the freezing water away from danger.

Thinking about the warmth of the flame made the air feel even colder.  His whole body shook from his head down to his hind flippers and back up again.  All of his bristles danced in the tranquil night air as if they were dancing to the distant drums.  “Shore-pony.”  Edgar said to himself.  Most Walrus’ do not venture onto the land farther than the shore.  Edgar knew this, but he was enticed by the fire.  He walked towards it, towards the people that hunted and killed Walrus.