The Golden Mouse: A Children’s Poem for Adults

Editor’s note: George Ellison’s column this week is a sort of fable based on one of the seldom-seen (almost mythical) rodent species found in the Smokies region that climbs trees with acrobatic ease and builds platforms from twigs that it rests on while watching the world go by far below.

“I’m told you have come a long ways …

crossing seven mountains and seven rivers,”

said a woman who continued to braid the

hair of a girl who looked like her daughter.

“I need to ask why you bother to visit this

village so far off the main-traveled way.”

“Very well,” she said after hearing his reply.

“Come with us … there’s a small cove with

a spring halfway up the mountain. No need

to worry but try and enter into 

the right frame

of mind. Along the way say the names of

the mountains and rivers that you crossed.”

Privet overgrown with greenbrier and multi-

flora rose formed dense tangles that covered

the forest floor beneath a stand of hickory and oak crisscrossed with strands of grapevine.

From the treetops on the ridge far above the

hollow a scarlet tanager sang its raspy song.

“Welcome to the realm of the 

golden mouse,”

said an old man as he emerged from wood-

land shadows into the light near the spring.

The black-winged firebird and the mouse

that lives in the trees are good friends.

Few have seen him. Most have no idea

that he even exists. But no one who has

caught even a fleeting glimpse has ever

denied he’s one of the most beautiful

creatures on this earth.”

The old man paused to listen to the

tanager and then began to whistle

an almost perfect imitation that

lured the bird into full view.

“I never heard the golden mouse 

sing,” he said. “He can’t be so easily

fooled as his black-winged friend.

Look up above your head for a sun-

struck patch of fur or bright eyes

watching … always watching …

from a cluster of  rhododendron

leaves or a platform of twigs

fastened with strips of bark.

From those vantage points he

observes the world as it passes

by displaying its seductive

glamour for all . . .”

“Glamour?” the visitor interrupted but there

was no reply and the old man’s 

voice continued

as if he was talking to himself 

taking pleasure

at this opportunity to recite a favorite story:

“When startled he moves 

with arboreal grace

using that long tail to maintain 

balance as he

glides from vine to vine … 

a circus performer

dancing on a high wire. I’ve never 

seen it but

but there are those who swear 

that he can fly

just like the black-winged firebird … which

is why they’re such good friends. See if

you can find him. That’s why you came.”

The visitor’s eyes moved along each branch

of each tree that rose above the thicket of

greenbrier and honeysuckle 

until after a long

while he realized he was holding his breath

and exhaled. Dark eyes that seemed to be

watching turned out to be mottled patterns

of bark and lichens. There was movement

when a breeze passed through the leaves.

The insistent nasal “yank-yank-yank” calls 

of a nuthatch broke his concentration.

When he turned around the old man

and the girl were gone.

The woman smiled but was silent until they

were back in the village saying goodbye:

“Ustali meant the surface of things as they

appear to be but aren’t … like the inverse

reflection of a face in a mirror. Those who

see the golden mouse can pierce the world

of glamour and pass through the illusory

surface into the terrane at the heart of

things. That’s what the old people have

always believed. If you can’t see him just

yet don’t worry. Go home and be true to the

dreams of your youth. Each day recite the

mountains and rivers of your homeland.

Come back whenever you are ready

and we’ll try again. Like everything

else it’s just a matter of time so

long as you keep trying.”

George Ellison can be contacted at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..      

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