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'The Great Acorn Robbery' | Circle Round 7120:15
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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever lost something?

Maybe you misplaced a favorite toy, or lost a sock. Maybe you lost a tooth!

We’re about to meet a character who loses something very dear to her, so a good friend swoops in to help her out.

Our story this week comes from the Seneca people: Native Americans who originally lived in what’s now known as New York state.

Voices in this episode include Emily DiPietro, James Konicek, Diedrich Bader and Katy Mixon. You might recognize Diedrich and Katy from American Housewife on ABC. Its fourth season premieres September 27.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Virginia Marshall. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn. Laney Ruckstuhl helped adapt this story for web.


Things To Think About After Listening

Squirrel spent months getting ready for winter. So think about the last time you prepared for something big.

Maybe you practiced for a recital, you memorized lines for the school play or you packed your own bag for a sleepover.

Whatever it was, find a grown-up and tell them what you did to get ready and how it all panned out. Then ask them about a time they geared up for something — and how their preparation paid off.


Musical Spotlight: Pitched Percussion

(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)
(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)

Instruments in the percussion family include anything that you hit with a stick or with your hand.

Composer Eric Shimelonis scored this episode with a combination of special drums, cymbals and other noisemakers that are tuned to play particular notes or pitches — i.e. not just bangs and crashes — so they are called "pitched percussion.”


NARRATOR: Long ago — before your grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother was born — the world was ruled by animals.

Back then, most animals stayed awake all year long, instead of going to sleep and hibernating during the winter. And one of those animals was squirrel.

Squirrel lived in a clearing in the forest, inside a hole at the base of a hickory tree. Squirrel knew that food would be hard to find once winter came. So she spent each and every crisp autumn day zipping in and out of her hole in the tree, collecting acorns.

But one morning, when she woke up in her nest and examined her stockpile of food, something looked off.

SQUIRREL: Hmmmm. I could have sworn this pile of acorns was a whole lot bigger last night, before I went to bed!

Nah. I must be imagining things. Anyway, better get to work!

NARRATOR: So Squirrel scurried out of her hole at the base of the tree, and scuttled across the clearing to collect more food.

That night, Squirrel was so exhausted from her work that she went right to bed. But her stockpile seemed even smaller when she got up the next morning.

SQUIRREL: (wonder/confusion) Wait…

NARRATOR: ...and the next morning…

SQUIRREL: Huh…

NARRATOR: ...and the next!

SQUIRREL: (decisive) Okay. There’s no way I’m imagining things! This pile of acorns is definitely shrinking.

Someone must be stealing my food while I’m sleeping! If I don’t do something, I’ll have nothing to eat once the snow falls!

NARRATOR: Squirrel was determined to catch the scoundrel who’d been pilfering her food. So she vowed to stay up that night and stand guard outside her hickory tree. But after toiling so hard all day…

SQUIRREL: (yawn)

NARRATOR: …she could barely keep her eyes open!

SQUIRREL: (more yawns)

NARRATOR: Squirrel was leaning against the hickory’s trunk, trying not to nod off, when who should come hopping into the moonlit clearing but Frog.

FROG: (surprised to see her awake, but trying to play it cool) Uh, hey there, Squirrel!

NARRATOR: Now, remember, our story takes place long ago, back when most animals stayed up all year long, including Frog. Back then, Frog also had sharp, pointy teeth instead of a long, sticky tongue.

When Frog’s big, bulging eyes caught sight of Squirrel, he clicked his teeth and flashed a smile.

FROG: So, uh, whatcha doing out at this hour, kiddo? Is something wrong?

NARRATOR: Squirrel let out a yawn, then told Frog her story: how she’d spent the autumn months collecting acorns for the winter but now, every morning, her supply seemed to be shrinking.

SQUIRREL: (tired) So tonight, I’m trying to stay up and nab the scamp who’s been stealing from me!

I mean, you stay up all year, Frog, so you know how hard it is to find food once the snow falls. You don’t happen to know who’s been raiding my winter stash, do you?

NARRATOR: Frog shook his bright green head.

FROG: I’m afraid I don’t. But I’ll keep my eyes open!

NARRATOR: Then, he leaped away, his long legs and webbed feet carrying him back into the shadows.

By now, Squirrel was tuckered out. Just as she was about to give up and hit the hay, who should come waddling into the moon-drenched clearing but Groundhog.

GROUNDHOG: Uh, howdy, Squirrel!

NARRATOR: Back when our story takes place, Groundhog was another animal who didn’t hibernate during the winter. She also lived above the ground, unlike today’s groundhogs, who dig deep holes and dive into their burrows at the slightest hint of danger.

GROUNDHOG: I do declare, Squirrel — you look plum tired! What are you doing up at this hour?

NARRATOR: So Squirrel told Groundhog her tale, how she’d been plugging away to save acorns for the winter.

SQUIRREL: ...and yet every morning, my stash seems to be dwindling!

So now I’m trying to stay awake and snag the thief. We’ve got a long, hard winter ahead, and we both know how tough it is to gather food in all that snow. Any chance you know who the robber is?

NARRATOR: Groundhog wiggled her nose and twitched her whiskers.

GROUNDHOG: I wish I did, pumpkin. But I’ll keep my ear to the ground!

NARRATOR: Then she shuffled away on her stubby brown legs.

At this point, Squirrel was so weary she could hardly stand up.

SQUIRREL: Well, I might as well call it quits. I’ll try again tomorrow night.

NARRATOR: Then she dragged herself inside the hickory tree, collapsed onto her nest and conked out.

SQUIRREL: (snoring)

NARRATOR: Now, little did Squirrel know but all this time, someone had been watching her every move. Perched high in Squirrel’s hickory tree with his giant talons curled around a branch was the most respected animal in the forest — and the wisest one, too: The great bird known as Hawk.

HAWK: (to himself) Well, well, well. It appears we have a thief in our midst! And to think, they’re robbing the hardest-working animal in the forest. That isn’t right!

NARRATOR: Hawk’s golden eyes glittered as he tilted his feathery head from side to side.

HAWK: (to himself) Hmmmm. I don’t usually work nights, but I’m going to stay awake and use these hawk eyes of mine to see what I can see.

If I’m lucky, justice might be served before the night is through!

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next? Will Hawk catch the culprit?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[BREAK]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Great Acorn Robbery.”

When we left off, Squirrel was collecting acorns for the winter. She stored the nuts inside her house: a cozy hole at the base of a hickory tree.

But then she realized someone was stealing from her while she slept! So she tried staying up to catch the thief. Frog hopped by, but he just clicked his sharp, pointy teeth and claimed he had no idea who the culprit was. Then Groundhog waddled over and said the same thing.

So Squirrel gave up and went to bed. But wise Hawk stayed awake to keep watch.

Before long, the great bird spotted something strange.

HAWK: Well, would you look at that?!

NARRATOR: From opposite ends of the clearing, two shadowy figures were slinking out from the bushes. From the left came a creature with bulging eyes, a bright green head and long legs with webbed feet. From the right came a critter with a brown, furry body, stubby legs and twitching whiskers.

If you’re like Hawk, you know exactly who we’re talking about.

HAWK: Frog and Groundhog! I knew there was something strange about those two!

NARRATOR: The sneaky animals tiptoed toward each other. Groundhog wiggled her nose, and Frog clicked his teeth.

FROG: Hey there, Groundhog! Back for more ‘takeout’ from the ‘Squirrel Cafe’?

GROUNDHOG: (giggling) You bet! The portions are big enough to last us all winter long! Not to mention the excellent service!

FROG: Oh yeah! That spry little Squirrel always has those acorns ready and waiting!

GROUNDHOG: Seriously! I mean, talk about your fast food!

FROG/GROUNDHOG: (laughter)

NARRATOR: After Frog and Groundhog regained their composure, they glanced to the right…

FROG: All clear!

NARRATOR: ...and to the left...

GROUNDHOG: All good!

NARRATOR: ...then snuck inside Squirrel’s tree.

When they crept out again, their mouths were so full of acorns, their cheeks puffed out like balloons! They were about to skulk back across the clearing and dive into the bushes, when…

HAWK: (playing innocent) Good evening, friends!

NARRATOR: ...Hawk swooped down and stopped them.

HAWK: Frog! Groundhog! Fancy meeting you here. I didn’t know you were such night owls!

NARRATOR: Their mouths were too full to talk, so Frog and Groundhog just smiled and nodded.

HAWK: Hmmm. You didn’t come to the hickory tree to visit Squirrel, did you? Surely you know she’s deep in dreamland at this hour. After working so hard collecting nuts all day, that little critter sleeps like a log!

NARRATOR: Again, Frog and Groundhog just nodded and smiled.

HAWK: Is something wrong, friends? Cat got your tongue?

NARRATOR: Frog and Groundhog knew they were in trouble. They couldn’t spit the acorns out of their mouths because then Hawk would know they’d been stealing! But if they didn’t say something — anything — they might offend the wisest and most respected animal in the forest!

So with hearts beating faster than a hummingbird’s wings, they did their best to talk.

FROG: (nervously trying to speak with mouth full of nuts)

GROUNDHOG: (nervously trying to speak with mouth full of nuts)

NARRATOR: Hawk motioned for them to stop.

[mumbled talking stops]

HAWK: I’m sorry, friends. I can’t understand a word you’re saying!

Can you try again?

NARRATOR: Frog and Groundhog exchanged a look. Then, they shrugged, they sighed and they spit their acorns all over the ground!

FROG: (spitting)

GROUNDHOG: (spitting)

NARRATOR: Just then, who should come stumbling out of the hole in the hickory tree but Squirrel!

SQUIRREL: What’s going on out here? All the commotion woke me up!

NARRATOR: Hawk laid a wing on Squirrel’s shoulder.

HAWK: Little Squirrel, it’s time you knew the truth. All this time, Frog and Groundhog have been dining out at your expense!

But now that we’ve caught them red-handed — or should I say, full-mouthed — I’ll see to it that justice is served.

NARRATOR: The great bird narrowed his bright, golden eyes, then fixed them on Frog.

HAWK: Frog, you’ve been too lazy to gather your own food for far too long! So listen well, for here’s how it will be from now on. No longer will you have those sharp, pointy teeth to nibble someone else’s acorns. Instead, you’ll have a long, sticky tongue, and you’ll have to use it to catch bugs, flies and other creepy-crawlies!

FROG: Yuck! Do I have to?!

HAWK: And furthermore, Frog no longer will you stay awake all year long. Come winter, you will sleep deep under the water, buried beneath the mud, and we won’t hear your ribbits and croaks until the ice has disappeared and spring is here. Do you understand?

NARRATOR: Frog hung his bright, green head.

FROG: Yes. I understand.

HAWK: Good. Now, as for you…

NARRATOR: Hawk shot a withering glance at Groundhog.

HAWK: Listen well, Groundhog, for here’s how it will be for you. From this day forward, you will feel so guilty about stealing from Squirrel that whenever you see anyone — anyone at all — you will immediately hide underground. In fact, that’s where you’ll live from this day forward! Under the ground!

GROUNDHOG: Well! I declare!

HAWK: But that’s not all, Groundhog. Like Frog, you too will sleep through the winter. And no one will see your furry face until the snow begins to melt.

Do you understand?

NARRATOR: Groundhog slumped her furry brown shoulders.

GROUNDHOG: Yes. I understand.

HAWK: Excellent. And finally…

NARRATOR: Hawk’s golden eyes softened as they turned to Squirrel.

HAWK: Listen well, Squirrel, for here’s how it will be for you. No longer will you store your acorns in a hole at the base of a tree, where thieves can sneak in and out. From now on, you will keep your stash high in the treetops. And to ensure that your food is truly safe, no longer will you sleep at night. Instead, you will slumber during the day, then stay wide awake when the darkness comes.

SQUIRREL: Wow! That’s so cool!

HAWK: It is cool, isn’t it. But wait, little friend — there’s more! I’m giving you a special blanket, one you will wear forever. Stretch this special blanket from leg to leg, and you can skim the air like a leaf and soar from tree to tree! That way, if you do spy someone stealing from you, you can glide over and stop them!

NARRATOR: And she did! But once she got her blanket, she was no longer known as Squirrel. She was known as Flying Squirrel!

To this day, Flying Squirrel dozes while the sun is up and when it goes down, she emerges from her hole high in the treetops. With help from her special blanket, she soars and glides through the forest, making sure her hard-earned food is safe.

As for Frog, well, thanks to Hawk, Frog does indeed stay asleep during the winter. And when he wakes in the spring, he uses his long, sticky tongue to catch his ‘creepy-crawly’ meals.

Then, of course, there’s Groundhog. Groundhog is now a skittish creature who hides underground in her burrow, and snoozes all winter long.

In some cultures, when February rolls around, Groundhog ventures to the surface and peeks her head above the ground. If she spies her shadow, she dives back down and sleeps even longer!

But hey, that’s another story, for another time.

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