The morning sunbeams were warming a corn field. It was a large field on the sunny side of the hill, well-settled lines of corn were waving towards the horizon. It belonged to Terka the mouse who was living in her borrow dug out in the sand on the bottom of the field.
That morning sunbeams tickled Terka’s fur, so she woke up, stretched out and immediately looked out curiously. ‘Oh, great.’ She frowned. ‘With no clouds in the sky the sun will shine all day again. I need just a tiny rainfall to water my field or there will be no crops at all. A quick shower or a few raindrops would be enough.’
Even though it was a beautiful day and her friends Tola, Pola, and Rascal were supposed to visit her, Terka was not in the mood. She did not have anything for breakfast although she had some hidden sunflower seeds to eat from last year. She grabbed the watering can and set off to the brook instead.
‘When did it last rain anyway?’ she asked herself on her way. She couldn’t remember. ‘Probably a long time ago.’ When she reached the brook she saw a bleary, thin trickle which was almost fading under the dried leaves.
“The stream does not look good, there is less and less water in it every day. If it goes on like this I won’t have anything to water my plants with,’ she said, frustrated.
Terka collected the water and returned to her field. She first watered the little cornstalk. The clay hissed but the corn’s droopy leaves started to straighten up. When Terka went back to the brook, the sun was beating down even more. But just before noon there was so little water left that Terka couldn’t collect it and she had to stop watering.
She did not have time to worry about that, as her friends, Tola, Pola, and Rascal arrived just as she was going back home. Terka waved at them.
‘Hello Terka!’ shouted Tola from a distance.
‘Hello, dear Terka! We have not seen each other for a long time!’ added Rascal.
It was good to see old friends on such a stressful day. A nice snack and a long chat can always cheer up anybody.
The next morning the sunbeams tickled her fur again and Terka peeped out from her burrow planning to prepare breakfast for her friends. But when she went outside her burrow, she could not believe her eyes! There were enormous holes dug at the edge of her field!
‘Rascal, did you dig the holes in my field?’ asked Terka, surprised, seeing Rascal awake and sitting on the bank of the field.
‘Me? No… I thought you made them.’
Seeing that Rascal was telling the truth, Terka ran immediately to look at the damage. One, two, three, TEN holes as big as volcanic craters!
‘It’s not enough that my corn is going dry, someone wants to ruin it completely! These holes will damage the roots of my corn and it will dry up!’ She was angry; she screamed at a blackbird trying to find something to eat on the land as stiff as a rock, ‘Hey, blackbird! Did you see anyone digging holes on my field?’
‘No, I didn’t, I have my own worries!’ He lifted his head from his unfinished work but continued pecking right after.
Terka did not hesitate: ‘No one can do such things! I will fill up the holes and I will guard my field at night!’
Rascal, Tola and Pola, seeing Terka worried, quickly ran to her and started scraping and scraping until each hole was full again. After a whole day spent on the field all the friends slept like a log, even a falling tree would not have woken them up.
The next morning Terka opened her eyes, looked out and found out that the holes… the holes were out there again. There were more of them and down the alley there was one so big a hole that no mouse could jump over it.
‘Rascal, Tola, did you hear anything during the night?’ asked Terka angrily.
‘No! I have not heard anything,’ answered Rascal. ‘Did something happen again?’
‘Just check out yourself!’ Terka replied. Indeed, the number of holes was even bigger than the day before.
‘Why is somebody doing that?’ asked Tola, surprised.
‘It is not a funny joke,’ admitted Pola.
When they got over to Terka, Pola called a true bug which was sucking juice from a big horsetail.
‘Hey, true bug! Haven’t you seen or heard anyone digging holes in Terka’s field? There has to be lots of them, no one could do that on their own!’
The true bug nodded: ‘Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. In any case, I promised not to say anything, so stop asking!’ And puff, it was gone.
This time it took longer for Terka to jump up and say to herself: ‘They won’t outsmart me, I will show them!’
She started sniffing and searching around the holes and she noticed ruts leading to her neighbour‘s garden. Terka never went there because she was a little bit scared. It looked very wild and neglected. Hearing all the noise and insects buzzing and chirping, she would always rather come back to her tidy field.
‘I have an idea !’ exclaimed Rascal. ‘Maybe we can leave these holes here and we could hide behind those bushes or rocks. We will wait for nightfall to see who is digging the holes! What do you think?’
Everybody agreed with Rascal, thinking it was a very good idea. Unfortunately, nothing happened in the night; Terka, Rascal, Tola and Pola had to run in circles, jump around and pinch themselves so that they didn’t fall asleep. They were taking a nap when a loud bang woke Tola up.
‘Aaaaa!’ Echoed from one of the holes.Tola quickly ran to check what had happened.
‘Aaaaa!’ she screamed back. Something enormous popped up in front of her in the grey morning mist.
Something with one huge foot and big eyes at the end of two tentacles. It was as big as a cat!’
‘Rascal! Pola! Terka! Help, help! A monster! It’s a big monster!’ she cried out loud.
‘Where? Where do you see a monster?’ asked the monster confused and looked around.
‘Well… where? You are the monster!’ said Tola, terrified.
The large head with big glasses pulled out a mirror, looked at itself and said calmly: ‘Well… you can say a lot of things about me but I am no monster! Oh, I forgot… I know why you yelled so loud! You think I’m a giant but that’s just a trick! Ha ha ha! Look under your feet, here, in the hole!’
Tola and her three friends who had jumped out from their hiding place spotted that right below them, on a wooden board with wheels and a stand with a big magnifying glass stood… a snail named Tyk. He had fallen down a hole he had dug the night before.
At first sight it was clear that Tyk was a very busy snail who carried everything he needed for his job with him. On his tentacles he had strange glasses. A drill and a saw hung on his shell.
‘So you were really scared of me,’ said the snail, still smiling a little. ‘I’m so sorry that I frightened you. I made this cart with a magnifier so that no one would step on me. With such a thing, I look like a huge and beautiful snail!’ he said as he corrected his bow tie, tied above his boiler suit.
‘So you are the one who’s making the holes in my field?’ shouted angry Terka. ‘You are a shame to all the snails! You will ruin my whole harvest! Besides, raking is our job, the job of mice and voles!’
‘Yes, it was me and I humbly point out that I know something about raking and digging too, even though I don’t have paws like you,’ respond Tyk proudly and pointed next to him. Only then did Terka notice something laying at Tyk’s side. It looked like a flexible iron hand, undoubtedly Tyk’s own invention. And several carts full of tree and bush seedlings.
Terka became even angrier: ‘You want to plant trees here? Don’t you know that the trees’ roots will drink all the water and nothing will be left for my corn?’
‘But Terinka! Don’t be upset! I’m trying to help, not harm!’ called out Tyk. ‘I know that you, like any mouse, love grains and you are very proud of your crops. But look at it another way. Your field is starting to dry up and when it rains no water stays on the field. Water flows down on the hard clay and between the rows of corn like on a waterslide. Nothing stays on the field. What will the corn drink then? It will become yellow and you will end up with nothing.’
‘So why do you want to plant those trees? Do you know how much water they consume? They will drink all the remaining water from the soil. And if it rains, they will steal the water from my corn!’ said Terka.
‘No! Exactly the opposite! Trees will keep the water in the soil! I will show you but first help me to get out of this hole please,’ asked Tyk. Pola, Tola and Rascal pulled the cart with Tyk out and the snail made some space on it for Terka. Although she was hesitant, she eventually hopped on and they drove together to the nearest tree, near Tyk’s garden. There he dug into the soil and asked Terka to join him. ‘Well, it’s a little bit wet, but how is that possible?’ asked confused Terka when she put her paw in the soil.
‘Trees can breathe and hold the water,’ explained Tyk. ‘The roots drink water while it’s raining. They make tunnels deep in the ground and rainwater leaks into them and stays hidden there. And when it’s drying out, roots can drink from the soil.’
Tola, Pola, and Rascal had to admit that Tyk was right. They had heard about the positive impact of trees long before they came to Terka.
‘But that’s not all the work that trees can do, I will show you, hop on!’ said Tyk and they went to the garden. While they were inside, Terka jumped off, took a deep breath and looked around curiously. There were lots of bushes and trees with long clusters of climbing plants; pumpkins, potatoes, cucumbers, corn, beetroot, some beans, also strawberries with herbs and many weeds. The garden was buzzing with colours and life which gave Terka a little bit of headache. Right in the middle of the garden stood a wonderful wooden house with a green roof. That was Tyk’s workshop.
‘How is it so that I can breathe so easily here and I don’t feel the heat?’ asked Terka curiously.
‘It’s because of these trees and plants. They are providing coolness and shade. And also this.’ Tyk led Terka further into the garden until they saw a little lake.
‘Wow! This water is literally everywhere!’ said Terka.
‘You know, I’m a snail and we need coolness because without it we would dry out.’
‘So the hole you dug in my field is meant to be…?’
‘Yes, a little lake. While there is water in the little lake, we can use it to water my garden and your field.’
Terka was surprised. Only then did she realise that all Tyk had done (those holes for the trees, even the large hole for a little lake) was on the border of his garden and her field. He did it to save her field from drying out.
As soon as Tyk realised what Terka was thinking about, he blushed. And that is quite something for a snail! As he started to explain, his glasses fell down: ‘Well, I thought that I should do something useful not only for my garden but also for your field. You know…’ suddenly, he lost his words and slid into his shell.
Terka looked around, saw all those plants, looked closely at the roots and finally back to Tyk.
‘Come on Tyk, don’t hide from me. If it‘s true, you should have told me earlier!’
Tyk hesitantly pushed his head out of the shell. ‘So, can I continue planting?’ he asked.
‘Of course! I will help you. And I am sure that my friends will support me in planting the trees.’
Now Tyk was fully out of his shell with a big smile across his face. Terka finally listened. Tyk told her about ponds, wetlands, about paths from the grained bark, even that she could replace one large field of corn with little fields of corn, potatoes, beets and other crops. He also recommended her to plant bushes between those fields or leave a space for strips of grass, because doing so, Terka could save her field from drought. He had plenty of ideas!
And Tola, Pola, and Rascal? They were all really glad to have a new friend who could help Terka with her worries about the drought…
The tale was prepared within Kids for Eco-Action Project, co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.