For a long time, Toby Pig had nurtured his dream of getting the animals of Klamath National Forest together for a festival. Well maybe not a festival, but a parade or a circus. A spectacle. And it wouldn’t be organized and run by bigs either, but produced, written and directed by animals…well actually, he would do it all himself. Other animals could be in it, but the production would have his hoof prints all over it. He would call it, “Toby’s Greatest Show in the Forest.”
His friend, Happy Dog, disagreed with him.
“It’s not a spectacle!, Happy insisted. “It should be a play-like… well, an act-like! Bigs tell stories about themselves… Your production aught to tell stories about animals.”
“And birds … don’t forget birds,” Richard Raven joined in, “They have stories too.”
“Toby’s Greatest Show in the Forest will dazzle the eyes,” Toby had insisted, “It’s a spectacle!”
As the mid-afternoon sun warmed the thatch covering of the Old Globe Theater nestled in quaint village of Ashland, Oregon, Toby could be seen trotting past the ticket booth with his friend, Richard Raven, riding on his back.
Bold letters on a billboard out front of the Old Globe Theater read, “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and spurts of laughter coming from the large wooden structure meant that the show was in progress. It was clear to Toby Pig that a company of act-likes was in the midst of presenting what the precocious, domesticated pig called, “a spectacle.”
“Fly up there and have a look … see if you can spot Happy Dog.” Toby said to Richard Ravin. “Bigs won’t let a live pig in the seeing room … well hams maybe… but not a real live pig like me. But you … you can fly to the rafters and see what’s going on.”
“Why? What do you care about Happy Dog? Richard asked shifting his weight on the fence rail and smoothing his shinny feathers.
“He got himself a part in the human show and I want to see if there are any secrets I might use in Toby’s Greatest Show in the Forest.”
“Spectacle! Greatest Show! That’s beyond me,” Richard said pecking at a pesky bug crawling on his back.
“Stick around and you’ll see …” Toby said confidently. “I gotta know… get going before you miss him.”
“You domesticates confuse me… I don’t get it, but… got nothing better to do,” Richard said hopping from Toby’s back and taking to the air.
“He plays Crab,” Toby yelled watching Richard disappear above the thatched roof on the famous theatre structure. The sleek raven settled on one of the large wooden support beams of tiring house. A matinee of the famous play was in progress. Happy Dog was in the show, playing the role of Crab. Richard was uncomfortable with his assignment. He knew nothing about acting and less about the strange ritual bigs endured telling their ancient stories. His discomfort was compounded by the fact that Hap was a domesticated animal, which meant he spent a lot of time with humans learning their habits and ways, while wild birds like him, avoided close contact with humans as much as possible. Nevertheless, Richard had agreed to watch the action and tell Toby what he thought.
A stir of music rose from the stage. Richard saw an actor, dressed in weird plumage, leading a dog into the performing area. It was Hap. Richard almost let out a caw… but caught himself just in time. The performers came to a spot on the platform near the watching bigs and stopped. Hap sat down on his haunches and looked at the spectators with a solemn look on his face.
The weeping actor spent several moments looking at Hap, then, the spectators… back at Hap and so forth. The audience laughed and continued to laugh. Finally, the actor spoke, “Na, ‘t will be this hour ere I have done weeping …” More laughter.
Richard didn’t understand most of the words… but he wondered why the actor was weeping. He thought Hap must also be wondering why the actor was weeping, since he had such a sour look on his face.
The weeping actor continued, “… I think, Crab, my dog, be the sourest-natured dog that lives,” laughter from the audience, “… my mother weeping,” laughter, “… my father wailing,” laughter, “… my sister crying,” laughter, “… our maid howling,” laughter, “… our cat wringing her hands,” laughter, “… and all our house in a great perplexity,” laughter. The actor paused, for more laughter and looking at Hap said, “… yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear,” laughter, “… he is a stone,” laughter, “… a very pebble stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog.” Uproarious laughter.
Richard couldn’t understand why everyone was laughing at a somber dog and a weeping man… and he was sure Hap didn’t understand why all the laughter either. He’d seen enough to give Toby his report. He waited for another flurry of laughter, and flapped his huge wings taking flight into the damp coolness of the nearby woods where Toby Pig sat contemplating the opening number of the Toby’s Greatest Show in the Klamath National Forest.
“I know what I know,” Toby Pig squealed nose to nose with Happy Dog. “I know a thing or two… two plus two’s four… You can’t just sit there like a stone… is that what you said? … Isn’t it, Richard?”
“Yeah, like a stone,” Richard agreed, “… That’s what the act-like big said… ‘A stone… a very pebble’.”
“Well, we’re putting on a spectacle… not… what do you call it?… a play… so don’t tell me what will work and what won’t.”
“Yeah, and your great grandfather was ‘The Learned Pig’ I suppose,” Happy Dog goaded pulling away from Toby’s sizable snout. “If you know so much about it, why did I go to all the trouble to be Crab in the big’s play? … You think being a sour-faced dog was fun?” Hap asked.
Richard laughed, “You sure didn’t look like you were having fun to me… You didn’t’ look like your happy self,” and turning to Toby added, “You should have seen his face… ‘the sourest-faced dog that lives,’ is what the master big said.”
“I wasn’t myself… I was acting,” Happy Dog informed.
“Well, if acting like a stone is what acting is, then acting isn’t what I need in Toby’s Greatest Show in Klamath National Forest,” Toby said emphatically and chided, “How about being a spectacular, dancing dog? … That’s more like it,” Toby enthused, “or better yet, a whole line of dancing dogs,” he paused thinking and then rising in excitement added, “But not just dancing dogs… but learned pigs solving riddles. Come to think of it, I come from a whole line of learned pigs … and a learned pig can pull it off… the Toby Pig’s Great Show in the Forest,” he puffed poking Happy and nudging Richard’s bill once more. “Think of it… a muscled brown bear balancing delicately on a vine, stretched tight… high between those hemlocks over there,” Toby concluded pointing to a stand of evergreen trees nearby.
“Yeah sure, and a spindly legged weightlifting crane pressing weights with it’s beak… enough to snap a pine post into splinters!” Happy said, “That’d bring in spectators, wouldn’t it?”
“Why not?” Toby challenged, “or a chorus of rainbow tailed peacocks preening against a forest green backdrop… dazzling the eyes.”
Happy paused cocking his head giving Toby’s visual time to sink in. “That would be something to see,” he said and warming to the idea of Toby’s spectacle continued, “We’ll need a band, won’t we?” Happy asked wagging his tail. “The bigs always have them in their shows.”
“Yeah… a band… an orchestra with singers… and that’s my idea…” Toby chided. “You ever hear Delilah Mockingbird run an arpeggio … both ways? … I’ll sign her, for sure.”
“How about a crow family quartet… the Jay brothers, Magpie sisters? Ever hear them sing?” Richard asked finally catching on and warming to the idea of an animal, bird extravaganza.
Toby scoffed sarcastically, “Yeah sure… a bunch of crows cavorting among the leaves and caterwauling against the sky… that would bring them in.”
“Okay… Mockingbirds then,” Richard conceded and added hopefully, “and maybe, Charles and Silvia Canary… wouldn’t that work?”
“I thought you thought I was crazy… writing, producing and directing the greatest show on earth,” Toby gloated and without waiting for Richard’s response added, “You stick to crowing and I’ll take care of the artistry.”
“Well, you can’t do it all, can you?” Happy protested coming to Richard’s defense, “You’ll need a talent scout.”
“I do the casting. I’ll need someone to hold the script,” Toby conceded.
“That’s the stage manager’s job,” Hap corrected. Hey, what about coaching the acting? … I know about that.”
“You know about being a sour-faced dog… if that’s acting, my spectacle doesn’t need a sour-faced anything,” Toby grunted.
“I’m not a sour-faced dog… I was acting like a sour-faced dog… There’s a difference… that’s what the part called for… I can act like any kind of dog you want… How about an grinning, acrobatic dog that dances on his hind legs, while balancing a ball on his nose?”
“Spectacle… that’s more like it,” Toby said mulling the idea.
“And I’ll bet I can get the woodpeckers to accompany the dances.” Happy said hopefully.
“I’ll get the orchestra and conduct it,” Toby said, “I’m thinking… I can’t leave anything to chance… the wolves have to howl like French horns at the right instant and with the right intonation.”
“Well… okay then… do it all yourself… We thought we could help,” Happy said wagging his tail and motioning for Richard to join him, “I’m off to look over the part of a dog who becomes emperor of a tiny village… there’s drama there, wouldn’t you say? … or maybe to annoy the ducks down in Rogue River… do a little barking, you know.”
“I’m not much for barking,” Richard said hopping into flight and hovering above his two friends, “I’ll go get Rusty Eagle. He’ll get a kick out of this.”
“Rusty Eagle…. hmmmm… a whole bunch of eagles… wings fully spread… impressive… spectacular. Okay then, but come back tomorrow morning!” Toby called after his friends. “Rehearsals start promptly at sunrise.”
The next morning, as the yellow sun peeked over the green hills, Toby Pig stood in place atop a big stump. Happy Dog sat on his haunches on one side and Rusty Eagle stood on the other. Richard Raven perched not far away atop a scrubby alder watching. The trees near Richard were filled with a flock of noisy warblers and beyond them in a grove of spindly maple rested a group of brightly colored kingfishers. Several osprey hovered in the air nearby watching and waiting to do their hop-up number.
An impressive assortment of other animals milled around a grassy meadow awaiting instructions. A hubbub of excitement filled the air.
“How’d you get the word out?” Rusty asked.
“Word of mouth… my mouth to Mazie Magpie’s ears and voila… everyone knows,” Toby bragged.
“What did you tell her? … Must have been powerful words to get this turnout,” Rusty quizzed.
“I said, ‘Rusty Eagle says there’ll be a giant parade at sunrise… everyone will be there! Don’t miss it!’ ” Toby said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I get credit for this, is it?” Rusty asked not totally pleased.
“You think they would bother to come for Toby Pig? … But Rusty Eagle!”
“It’s my credibility you’re messing with… It better be good,” Rusty cautioned.
“It’s Toby’s Greatest Show in the Forest, Toby enthused. “It’s spectacle, Rusty. It’s a parade. Who can pass up a parade?”
“Has it ever been done?” Rusty asked.
“Bigs do it all the time,” Toby replied, “It’s time we animals did it, right Happy?”
“Yeah, they do,” Happy replied, “And they tell their stories too. I think we should tell our stories … like a coyote blowing the helpless pig’s house down. That has conflict… it’s dramatic.”
“No! ‘The sourest-faced dog that lives …’ none of that… It’s spectacle … that’s what we are going to do,” Toby rejected.
“Why not both?” Rusty asked. “If my reputation is at stake, we’d better do it all,” Rusty affirmed. “It’s pretty amazing,” he gushed, “persuading the domesticates and the wilds to gather like this? Pretty amazing. So, Happy where do you begin, what story?”
“I’m producer, director, talent scout and playwright,” Toby protested.
Rusty laughed, “That would be a spectacle to watch you pull all those jobs off at once. You’re going to need a lot of help from a lot of your friends to make it work.”
“Yeah, Toby,” Happy agreed. “Richard and I want to help too… I can coach the acting.”
Rusty laughed again and surveying the menagerie of animals with his wing said, “Antelopes, eagles, bears, coyotes, deer, dippers, herons, kingfishers, mountain lions, osprey, falcons, raccoons, warblers, waterfowl of all sorts, even wild horses. Where are you going to begin? Whose story are you going to tell first?”
“I think we should start with a big who puts on wings and tries to fly to the sun,” Richard said chuckling at the notion that bigs can fly.
“No … no bigs!” Toby said emphatically, then added, “that would be a spectacle.”
“How about a classy dog that risks his life by rushing into a burning hut to rescue his big master?” Hap suggested.
“No!” grunted, “I mean how you going to show that?” He paused to take in the image before saying, “That would be a spectacle.”
“How about a story about an eagle who likes to soar with hang-gliders?”
“Hang-glider? Wow, I’ve heard about those… bigs acting like birds … that would be spectacular… you want to do that?” Toby asked.
“Sure, I can soar or find a powerful eagle who can…” Rusty said taking to the idea…. He paused and chuckled before asking, “Who’s going to get a big to hang-glide with me?”
“Hap, you can do that, can’t you?” Toby answered, “or get his master to get someone to do it.”
“So you are going to let bigs be a part of Toby’s Greatest Show in the Forest?” Hap teased.
“I might, if you can get your master to find a hang-glider,” Toby conceded.
“And you’re asking us to help?” Hap jabbed.
“Alright,” Toby conceded, “for that one number… listen I’m going to start with the five pig number.” He lifted his bark megaphone and shouted toward the large gathering of animals and birds, “Which one of you is wee, wee, wee, all-the-way-home?”
A hush fell over the animals. They eyed one another with perplexed looks. It was clear that they didn’t know who wee, wee, wee all-the-way-home was.
Happy said, “Without a script they don’t know what to do. You have to give them scripts.”
Rusty, shuffling his weight and ruffling his feathers suggested, “Why don’t you call one managing coach from each group and tell them what you want. The coaches can take it from there…. “
“Maybe so…” Toby interrupted.
“And listen… Richard Raven can coach the birds with their stories, Happy Dog, you can coach the domesticated animals with their stories and I’ll coach the wild animals with their stories and you, Toby can concern yourself with the Tableau Vivant.”
“The what?” Toby, Happy and Richard said together.
“Tableau Vivant… the overall picture… the arrangement, the order and so forth.”
“Oh,” Toby said still not totally understanding.
“Cows… mine can be about a big who traded a cow for some beans,” Happy enthused.
“Mine about an ugly duck,” Richard said, “or a raven wrapping at a door… nevermore.”
“Good!” Rusty said, “now, go find a leader from each group and bring them here for instructions… don’t you think, Toby?”
“Yeah, bring them here so I can give them their scripts,” Toby said confidently. “Get going.”
Richard and Rusty took to the air and Happy hopped to the ground and scampered toward the open meadow.
Toby found a cool spot out of the sun to lie down where he could think. Rusty hadn’t mentioned peacocks, but there were some in the crowd of animals and birds. The splendor of spread tails appealed to him to lead the parade. They would be instructed to emit a blood-curdling scream a regular intervals. “That’s dramatic,” Toby said to himself.
The screams of the peacocks would segue into gobbles of turkeys strutting like kings to the regular drum beat of woodpeckers pounding hollow logs in the nearby forest. Then, would come a regiment of raccoons looking like gangsters, ‘More story,’ Toby thought, ‘Maybe that will satisfy Happy.’
All the while warblers, canaries, mockingbirds and other melodious singers would fill the air with an orchestrated background of sounds. Next, the wild horses maybe… or coyotes… Toby’s eyes drooped, his mind fragmented as he faded into sleep.
The next day all the elements of Toby’s Greatest Show in The Forest were in place in the woods just south of Ashland. Bigs living in the southern sector of the town heard the noises created by the animals and birds. Word spread quickly and groups of bigs gathered along a road not far from the staging area and parade route.
Toby found it painful to swallow his pride and admit that Happy was right… his spectacle was better with the addition of dramatic stories improvised by several of the animal and bird groups. His friends were right, too. He did need help… lots of it.
Deloris Dipper took on the task of inspecting what everyone was wearing. Happy Dog tried to get her to add dramatic touches to costumes, but, for the menagerie of birds and animals, the costumes they were born with were perfect. Deloris complained that she didn’t have enough to do, but in the end was content to be a part of the spectacle.
Peregrine Falcon led an orchestra and chorus of singing birds and animal bellowers. The trombone roar of the mountain lions was particularly impressive sending shudders down the spines of the antelope causing them to emit percussive snorts. The tuba growl of the bears provided a counter melody to the lion’s roar, while deer added a syncopated bleat to the jazzy movements of a line of cows doing the Jersey shuffle. Howl of a dozens of coyotes rose like the mournful taunt of French horns above prevailing body of sounds.
Muscled Brown Bear did a tight vine-walk between two tall hemlock trees. The bigs cleared away from below the stretched rope for fear the big bear might fall. But he didn’t.
Other bears presented a tableau of four bears seated at a table eating soup. A group of Billy goats, led by Oscar Goat, challenged Wilma Deer who tried to cross the bridge and pass to the other side. Ricky Raccoon tried to hold up Wilber Wild Horse. That encounter served as comic relief. Geraldine Golden Eagle tried to pass herself off as the Little Red Hen. That was comical too. Gloria Dipper lost her slipper on her way home from a ball; Jack Coyote tried to disguise himself as a fox so he could raid the Ellie Bald Eagle’s nest. That was comical too. It took one side-ways glance from Ellie to send him scurrying for cover.
The festivities lasted for most of one day. Short of zoos and circus settings, where wild and domesticated animals and birds are trained to interact, such a convocation of unlikely animals and birds had never been seen before by the bigs living in Ashland or anywhere for that matter.
That day the woods near the small Oregon town were filled with all the sights and sounds you would expect from the The Greatest Show in the Forest.
“It’s a ripping success!” Rusty Eagle said, when the forest quieted down and the sun had disappeared beneath the treetops to the west.
“Yeah, Tob… what a great day… thanks for thinking it up and doing it.”
“Me too,” Richard said, “It was a hoot.”
“I liked it, but I couldn’t have done it without your help. Thank you.”