Tony, Antonia’s stuffed panda, tried to control his excitement. He watched the commotion of prepping for a family excursion to the woods. Anticipation made him quiver with excitement. Not wanting to be left behind, he sat amidst the chaos.
Tony always wanted to go on a picnic and ‘Get back to the land,’ as the song said. Only Tony heard, ‘get back to bamboo.’ Either way, he wanted to reconnect with his roots. Especially if they were bamboo roots.
Antonia placed Tony atop the wicker picnic basket.
She called out, “Mom! That’s everything!” She went to the car. Tony held his breath until placed safely between Antonia and her little sister Cindy.
Jane, their mother, sat behind the driver’s seat. “All aboard! Everyone present and accounted for? Seat belts?”
“Where’s Dolly!” Cindy cried in a panic. “She was here! We can’t go!”
Tony sighed. Dolly could never resist making a problem.
Jane rested her head on the steering wheel and counted to ten.
Antonia said, “Don’t sit there crying. Go find her.”
“But I brought her! She was right here!”
Jane said, “Everyone stay put.” She stepped out, opened the back of the SUV and rummaged.
Tony hoped Dolly wasn’t lost. The picnic would be cancelled. He would miss her, of course. But he really wanted to go on the picnic.
Antonia said, “Don’t worry. Tony says she’s around. We’ll find her, Cin.”
Jane opened Cindy’s side of the car.
“There she is! Right under your feet.” She retrieved Dolly from the floor and smoothed her dress. “Buried in with the jackets. Guess it was too cool for her.” She passed Dolly to Cindy, kissed her head and shut the door.
“Tony says, ‘Too cool for the room.’”
“He does not! She just fell.”
Jane got in and started the car. “Seat belts, everyone! Especially Dolly and Tony.”
Antonia said, “Got ‘em, Mom.” She whispered, “Don’t be such a drama queen, Cindy. You know Tony’s humor.”
“Yeah, he says what you can’t get away with.”
“Tony says he can speak for himself.”
“Then let him. You stay out of it.”
“Stop bickering, or I’ll turn the car around.”
They were on their way.
Arriving at the picnic spot, they unpacked the car and found a sunny spot in a meadow. Beautiful trees towered around the clearing. A chorus of birds sang. The girls had never been to the forest. They lay on the grass, pointing at clouds while Jane prepared lunch.
Cindy said, “I see a pig.”
Antonia pointed. “See the duck?”
Cindy held Dolly’s arm up. “Look, a sheep.”
“Tony wonders why no one sees a panda.”
Cindy pointed at Tony. “I see you…”
“Tony means in the clouds.”
Cindy asserted, “Tony, clouds aren’t black and white.”
“Tony asked if they have to be fluffy farm animals.”
“They’re clouds, Tony.”
“Tony sees an airplane.”
Cindy became impatient. “That is an airplane.”
“Tony says he knows. He saw it first.”
“That’s silly. Even Dolly sees it’s not a cloud.”
“Tony asked, do they have to be fluffy and smell bad? Or just fluffy?”
Cindy looked over to her mother. “Mom!”
Jane held a finger up. “Just a minute, kids…”
Cindy scoffed. “Clouds don’t smell bad, Tony.”
“Farm animals do.”
Jane called out. “Come and get it…!”
Cindy scrambled to her feet and ran to the picnic. “’Bout time…!”
Antonia said, “Tony sees a sandwich.”
The picnic went well. The tuna burgers were delicious. They finished the big bag of potato chips.
Cindy said, “The perfect mix of pickles and mayo, Mom.”
Antonia said, “Tony wishes there’d been more bamboo.”
“Thanks, Cindy. Tell Tony I’ll address that on the next picnic.”
After lunch, the girls languished.
Jane stood and clapped her hands. “Let’s explore for acorns and visit the lake.”
Antonia set Tony atop the picnic basket. “Keep look-out, Tony. Don’t let anyone take our stuff.” Tony stared fiercely into the distance.
Cindy propped Dolly back-to-back with Tony. She hoped Dolly could sweeten Tony’s sharp tongue.
The sisters followed their mother and disappeared into the trees.
Tony watched them go. He held his gaze, determined to scare off intruders.
Jane led her daughters to the ridge overlooking the lake.
“Look kids… What do you see?”
They saw three raccoons, a mother and two kits, moving away through a clearing.
“Wow!” They thrilled at seeing animals in the wild.
Back at the picnic spot. Tony saw the raccoons approach. He didn’t know what they wanted but he knew he must resist them.
The raccoons methodically hunted the site. Smelling food, they knocked Tony and Dolly off the basket and rummaged through it. They took what they could carry and then circling, sniffed Tony. He held still as possible.
The mother raccoon, Bazile, grunted.
Tony said, “Take me, if you must. But leave Dolly. She’s useless. I mean, she’s no use to you.”
Bazile slung Tony onto her back and lumbered toward the trees. Tony whooped and hollered as he bounced along. Her two little ones followed closely.
Back in the forest, the raccoons scampered up an ancient oak. They ate and slept where three large branches split from the trunk.
Bazile placed Tony in the center. Unusual sounds, from above, drew their attention. Three chirping blue birds circled over Tony’s head, trailing bright ribbons from their beaks. In awe, Tony could only watch.
Bazile and her kits left food at his feet, bowing in homage.
This completely surprised Tony. Expecting to get eaten, they honored him like royalty.
He thought, ‘These creatures appreciate me. I’m accepted. Finally, some respect…’
Unsure of the etiquette such situations required, Tony assumed a noble pose. Holding his head up, he nodded, acknowledging the raccoon’s tribute.
He said, “Call me King Tut Tut.”
A scream drew their attention to the base of the tree.
There, Antonia ran in circles, pointing and wailing. Her shouting attracted others. Children and parents gathered and looked into the tree.
Tony and the raccoons stared back.
A park ranger named Greg arrived in his truck to assess the situation.
Clutching her mother’s skirts, Antonia whimpered and fretted over Tony’s safety.
Cindy said, “Who’s the drama queen now?” Holding Dolly close they gazed into the branches above.
Antonia ignored her. She pleaded Tony’s case to Ranger Greg.
“Please save him, Mr. Ranger. He’s my Tony Panda. I’ve had him forever.”
Jane’s imploring look confirmed Tony’s importance to Antonia. Grunting, he nodded and set about rescuing Tony.
He fetched some climbing equipment from his truck, including heavy duty web belts utility workers use to climb electrical poles. After attaching cleats to his boots, he fed the belt around the tree and secured it to his harness. Greg worked his way up the tree to where the trunk branched off.
By the time he got there, mother Bazile and her kits had fled to safety further up the tree.
Greg pulled himself up to find Tony glaring at him.
Tony thought, ‘You have a tough act to follow, Bub.’
The ranger grabbed Tony. ‘Watch it Grabby! You know who I am?’
Greg didn’t respond. He tucked Tony behind the strap and descended to the base of the tree. Antonia gratefully took Tony into her arms and squeezed him.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you, Mr. Ranger!”
Applause from on lookers made Antonia hold Tony up. She’d never seen him look so happy.
Jane told Greg, “I can’t tell you how much this means. You saved the day.”
Greg demurred, “It’s all part of the job…”
“Is there anything we can do…?”
“Not at all. It was kind of fun. The raccoons didn’t mistreat Tony. Looks like they took care of him.”
Tony thought, ‘Tell it, brother!’
Greg left and the crowd dispersed. Jane and the girls strolled back to their picnic spot.
Antonia placed Tony safe on the grass by the car. “Now, you stay here, Tony.”
Jane and the girls packed the car. Their day was waning.
Tony sat and watched them. He thought, ‘We need to do this every day.’ It had gotten warm. He began to itch. He wondered, ‘How can a panda get a bath?’
He noticed an ant crawling on his foot. He said, “Do you know where I could get some bamboo to munch on?”
Packed and ready, Jane did a quick inventory. “Picnic basket, cooler, blanket… anything else? Cindy, you have Dolly?”
“Safe in the back seat, Mom.”
“No, no, no…”
She ran frantically around the SUV and fell to her knees, looking under the car.
“Where’s Tony! Cindy, what did you…?”
“No! I didn’t touch your grubby bear.”
Jane asked, “Where did you put him?”
“He was right here! Where could he be?” Antonia began to wail.
“Now what…?” Jane walked around the car and sighed. “Stop whining, Antonia. He must be nearby…” Shielding her eyes from the setting sun, Jane scanned their surroundings.
She gasped and pointed. “There!”
Antonia followed her gaze. At the bend in the path they saw Tony lying on his back, moving slowly away. Antonia sprinted to him and screamed.
A swarm of ants carried him.
She picked Tony up and began brushing ants off of him.
With each slap, Tony said, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Hey! Gentle with the panda! I’ve had a rough day.”
Holding him tightly, Antonia returned to the car. She secured him in the back seat, next to Cindy.
Jane asked, “What happened?”
Antonia shook her head. “Ants had him. They were taking him toward the bamboo by the stream.”
“That Tony. What can you do?”
They laughed, got into the car and went home.