Fish Footprints and Earth Whales

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in an ordinary wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One afternoon after lunch, Benson was bored. He had a bit of a snuffly nose and a kind of a headache, and he didn’t feel like doing anything. He didn’t feel like reading, he didn’t feel like building spaceships or dinosaurs. He didn’t even feel like digging.

He said to his mother, “There’s nothing to do. I’m bored.”

His mother was busy cooking a casserole for dinner. She said, “Why don’t you go and dig?”

“I already did that,” he said.

“Why don’t you ride your bike?” she said.

“I rode my bike yesterday,” Benson said.

She said, “Well, you can give me a hand cooking and cleaning up, then.”

Benson didn’t feel like cooking or cleaning up. He peeled the carrots so badly that his mother had to peel them all over again. He spilled flour all over the floor and his mother had to sweep it up. He almost put chocolate sauce in the the casserole instead of tomato sauce.

His mother said, “I think we’d better stop cooking and go for a walk.” She finished cleaning up and put the casserole in the oven.

Benson didn’t feel like going for a walk either, but he got his hat and his water bottle and they set out.

They walked for a long way through the bush and Benson was bored. His mother kept going slowly but Benson just wanted to hurry up and get it over with.

After a while his mother said, “I think it’s time for a rest.”

Benson had to stop and wait while she sat down and rested. His mother said, “Look at that tree, Benson.”

He looked around and saw how the track had to turn out of its way to go past a huge old red gum that looked like it was growing out of a rock. Its trunk and roots were spread out across the the rock like giant fingers, as if they were trying to open the rock like an enormous jar of pickles.

His mother finished resting and they went on. They came to a gully and went down to a creek at the bottom. Benson scampered over the stepping stones in the creek and went up the other side, but his mother said, “Wait, Benson, it’s time for a rest.” She sat down, and Benson waited impatiently.

Then he noticed that the stepping stones across the creek had big round holes in them, big enough for Benson to sit in. His mother said, “They look like giant prehistoric fish stepped in them while they were still soft, mushy circles of clay.”

“Fish can’t make footprints,” Benson said. “They don’t have feet.”

“Maybe prehistoric fish did,” his mother said.

He sat in the circular holes one at a time and let the water rush past him while he thought about fish with feet, stepping in clay.

His mother finished resting and they went on through a cool forest full of tall blue gums. After a while his mother wanted another rest. She sat down and pointed. “Look at that rock,” she said.

Benson looked around. There was a huge rock covered in green moss poking out of the side of the hill.

His mother said, “It looks like an earth whale poking its head out to see what’s going on.”

Benson said, “What’s an earth whale?”

His mother said, “A whale that swims around in the earth instead of the sea.”

Benson said, “There’s no such thing.” But he imagined great big huge whales swimming slowly around in the earth under their feet, coming up to put their heads out now and then for air, then going down again. He climbed up onto the rock and searched all over it for the whale’s air hole. Then he sat at the very top and looked out over the valley, imagining what a whale would see if it was looking out.

When they got home, the dinner was exactly ready to eat and smelled wonderful. They all sat down at the table to eat it. Aunt Moss said, “Did you have a nice walk?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Did you see anything interesting?”

Benson said, “It was pretty boring. We didn’t see anything.” Then he thought for a minute, and he said, “Except a tree trying to undo a rock, and fish footprints and an earth whale.” And he told them all about it while they were eating dinner.

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