Far up in North America, near the Saskatchewan river, in the Winnipeg wheat country, not so far from the town of Moose Jaw named for the jaw of a moose shot by a hunter there, up where the blizzards and the chinooks begin, where nobody works unless they have to and they nearly all have to, there stands the place known as Medicine Hat.
And there on a high stool in a high tower on a high hill sits the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers.
When the animals lost their tails it was because the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers at Medicine Hat was careless.
The tails of the animals were stiff and dry because for a long while there was dusty dry weather. Then at last came rain. And the water from the sky poured on the tails of the animals and softened them.
Then the chilly chills came whistling with icy mittens and they froze all the tails stiff. A big wind blew up and blew and blew till all the tails of the animals blew off.
It was easy for the fat stub hogs with their fat stub tails. But it was not so easy for the blue fox who uses his tail to help him when he runs, when he eats, when he walks or talks, when he makes pictures or writes letters in the snow or when he puts a snack of bacon meat with stripes of fat and lean to hide till he wants it under a big rock by a river.
It was easy enough for the rabbit who has long ears and no tail at all except a white thumb of cotton. But it was hard for the yellow flongboo who at night lights up his house in a hollow tree with his fire yellow torch of a tail. It is hard for the yellow flongboo to lose his tail because it lights up his way when he sneaks at night on the prairie, sneaking up on the flangwayers, the hippers and hangjasts, so good to eat.
The animals picked a committee of representatives to represent them in a parleyhoo to see what steps could be taken by talking to do something. There were sixty-six representatives on the committee and they decided to call it the Committee of Sixty Six. It was a distinguished committee and when they all sat together holding their mouths under their noses (just like a distinguished committee) and blinking their eyes up over their noses and cleaning their ears and scratching themselves under the chin looking thoughtful (just like a distinguished committee) then anybody would say just to look at them, “This must be quite a distinguished committee.”
Of course, they would all have looked more distinguished if they had had their tails on. If the big wavy streak of a blue tail blows off behind a blue fox, he doesn’t look near so distinguished. Or, if the long yellow torch of a tail blows off behind a yellow flongboo, he doesn’t look so distinguished as he did before the wind blew.
So the Committee of Sixty Six had a meeting and a parleyhoo to decide what steps could be taken by talking to do something. For chairman they picked an old flongboo who was an umpire and used to umpire many mix-ups. Among the flongboos he was called “the umpire of umpires,” “the king of umpires,” “the prince of umpires,” “the peer of umpires.” When there was a fight and a snag and a wrangle between two families living next door neighbors to each other and this old flongboo was called in to umpire and to say which family was right and which family was wrong, which family started it and which family ought to stop it, he used to say, “The best umpire is the one who knows just how far to go and how far not to go.” He was from Massachusetts, born near Chappaquiddick, this old flongboo, and he lived there in a horse chestnut tree six feet thick half way between South Hadley and Northampton. And at night, before he lost his tail, he lighted up the big hollow cave inside the horse chestnut tree with his yellow torch of a tail.
After he was nominated with speeches and elected with votes to be the chairman, he stood up on the platform and took a gavel and banged with the gavel and made the Committee of Sixty Six come to order.
“It is no picnic to lose your tail and we are here for business,” he said, banging his gavel again.
A blue fox from Waco, Texas, with his ears full of dry bluebonnet leaves from a hole where he lived near the Brazos river, stood up and said, “Mr. Chairman, do I have the floor?”
“You have whatever you get away with—I get your number,” said the chairman.
“I make a motion,” said the blue fox from Waco, “and I move you, Sir, that this committee get on a train at Philadelphia and ride on the train till it stops and then take another train and take more trains and keep on riding till we get to Medicine Hat, near the Saskatchewan river, in the Winnipeg wheat country where the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers sits on a high stool in a high tower on a high hill spotting the weather. There we will ask him if he will respectfully let us beseech him to bring back weather that will bring back our tails. It was the weather took away our tails; it is the weather can bring back our tails.”
“All in favor of the motion,” said the chairman, “will clean their right ears with their right paws.”
And all the blue foxes and all the yellow flongboos began cleaning their right ears with their right paws.
“All who are against the motion will clean their left ears with their left paws,” said the chairman.
And all the blue foxes and all the yellow flongboos began cleaning their left ears with their left paws.
“The motion is carried both ways—it is a razmataz,” said the chairman. “Once again, all in favor of the motion will stand up on the toes of their hind legs and stick their noses straight up in the air.” And all the blue foxes and all the yellow flongboos stood up on the toes of their hind legs and stuck their noses straight up in the air.
“And now,” said the chairman, “all who are against the motion will stand on the top and the apex of their heads, stick their hind legs straight up in the air, and make a noise like a woof woof.”
And then not one of the blue foxes and not one of the yellow flongboos stood on the top and the apex of his head nor stuck his hind legs up in the air nor made a noise like a woof woof.
“The motion is carried and this is no picnic,” said the chairman.
So the committee went to Philadelphia to get on a train to ride on.
“Would you be so kind as to tell us the way to the union depot,” the chairman asked a policeman. It was the first time a flongboo ever spoke to a policeman on the streets of Philadelphia.
“It pays to be polite,” said the policeman.
“May I ask you again if you would kindly direct us to the union depot? We wish to ride on a train,” said the flongboo.
“Polite persons and angry persons are different kinds,” said the policeman.
The flongboo’s eyes changed their lights and a slow torch of fire sprang out behind where his tail used to be. And speaking to the policeman, he said, “Sir, I must inform you, publicly and respectfully, that we are The Committee of Sixty Six. We are honorable and distinguished representatives from places your honest and ignorant geography never told you about. This committee is going to ride on the cars to Medicine Hat near the Saskatchewan river in the Winnipeg wheat country where the blizzards and chinooks begin. We have a special message and a secret errand for the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers.”
“I am a polite friend of all respectable people—that is why I wear this star to arrest people who are not respectable,” said the policeman, touching with his pointing finger the silver and nickel star fastened with a safety pin on his blue uniform coat.
“This is the first time ever in the history of the United States that a committee of sixty-six blue foxes and flongboos has ever visited a city in the United States,” insinuated the flongboo.
“I beg to be mistaken,” finished the policeman. “The union depot is under that clock.” And he pointed to a clock near by.
“I thank you for myself, I thank you for the Committee of Sixty Six, I thank you for the sake of all the animals in the United States who have lost their tails,” finished the chairman.
Over to the Philadelphia union depot they went, all sixty-six, half blue foxes, half flongboos. As they pattered pitty-pat, pitty-pat, each with feet and toenails, ears and hair, everything but tails, into the Philadelphia union depot, they had nothing to say. And yet though they had nothing to say the passengers in the union depot waiting for trains thought they had something to say and were saying it. So the passengers in the union depot waiting for trains listened. But with all their listening the passengers never heard the blue foxes and yellow flongboos say anything.
“They are saying it to each other in some strange language from where they belong,” said one passenger waiting for a train.
“They have secrets to keep among each other, and never tell us,” said another passenger.
“We will find out all about it reading the newspapers upside down to-morrow morning,” said a third passenger.
Then the blue foxes and the yellow flongboos pattered pitty-pat, pitty-pat, each with feet and toenails, ears and hair, everything except tails, pattered scritch scratch over the stone floors out into the train shed. They climbed into a special smoking car hooked on ahead of the engine.
“This car hooked on ahead of the engine was put on special for us so we will always be ahead and we will get there before the train does,” said the chairman to the committee.
The train ran out of the train shed. It kept on the tracks and never left the rails. It came to the Horseshoe Curve near Altoona where the tracks bend like a big horseshoe. Instead of going around the long winding bend of the horseshoe tracks up and around the mountains, the train acted different. The train jumped off the tracks down into the valley and cut across in a straight line on a cut-off, jumped on the tracks again and went on toward Ohio.
The conductor said, “If you are going to jump the train off the tracks, tell us about it beforehand.”
“When we lost our tails nobody told us about it beforehand,” said the old flongboo umpire.
Two baby blue foxes, the youngest on the committee, sat on the front platform. Mile after mile of chimneys went by. Four hundred smokestacks stood in a row and tubs on tubs of sooty black soot marched out.
“This is the place where the black cats come to be washed,” said the first baby blue fox.
“I believe your affidavit,” said the second blue fox.
Crossing Ohio and Indiana at night the flongboos took off the roof of the car. The conductor told them, “I must have an explanation.” “It was between us and the stars,” they told him.
The train ran into Chicago. That afternoon there were pictures upside down in the newspapers showing the blue foxes and the yellow flongboos climbing telephone poles standing on their heads eating pink ice cream with iron axes.
Each blue fox and yellow flongboo got a newspaper for himself and each one looked long and careful upside down to see how he looked in the picture in the newspaper climbing a telephone pole standing on his head eating pink ice cream with an iron ax.
Crossing Minnesota the sky began to fill with the snow ghosts of Minnesota snow weather. Again the foxes and flongboos lifted the roof off the car, telling the conductor they would rather wreck the train than miss the big show of the snow ghosts of the first Minnesota snow weather of the winter.
Some went to sleep but the two baby blue foxes stayed up all night watching the snow ghosts and telling snow ghost stories to each other.
Early in the night the first baby blue fox said to the second, “Who are the snow ghosts the ghosts of?” The second baby blue fox answered, “Everybody who makes a snowball, a snow man, a snow fox or a snow fish or a snow pattycake, everybody has a snow ghost.”
And that was only the beginning of their talk. It would take a big book to tell all that the two baby foxes told each other that night about the Minnesota snow ghosts, because they sat up all night telling old stories their fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers told them, and making up new stories never heard before about where the snow ghosts go on Christmas morning and how the snow ghosts watch the New Year in.
Somewhere between Winnipeg and Moose Jaw, somewhere it was they stopped the train and all ran out in the snow where the white moon was shining down a valley of birch trees. It was the Snowbird Valley where all the snowbirds of Canada come early in the winter and make their snow shoes.
At last they came to Medicine Hat, near the Saskatchewan River, where the blizzards and the chinooks begin, where nobody works unless they have to and they nearly all have to. There they ran in the snow till they came to the place where the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers sits on a high stool in a high tower on a high hill watching the weather.
“Let loose another big wind to blow back our tails to us, let loose a big freeze to freeze our tails onto us again, and so let us get back our lost tails,” they said to the Head Spotter of the Weather Makers.
Which was just what he did, giving them exactly what they wanted, so they all went back home satisfied, the blue foxes each with a big wavy brush of a tail to help him when he runs, when he eats, when he walks or talks, when he makes pictures or writes letters in the snow or when he puts a snack of bacon meat with stripes of fat and lean to hide till he wants it under a big rock by the river—and the yellow flongboos each with a long yellow torch of a tail to light up his home in a hollow tree or to light up his way when he sneaks at night on the prairie, sneaking up on the flangwayer, the hipper or the hangjast.