Hieronymus spent the next few days agonizing over what he should tell the others about the people. He knew it would inspire panic and wanted to have a plan in place to combat their unrest. Fear would get them nowhere. If their town were to be overrun, they would have no option but to move. But he knew that people measuring land didn’t necessarily mean new people burrows. And a move, by even a handful of Little Left inhabitants, would put them at risk. Moving a whole colony would surely lead to lost lives. Yet, if they waited too long to begin a move, they’d risk being without burrows because they could not dig new homes in frozen ground. Hieronymus sought Corot’s counsel.
Finding Corot was never easy. He didn’t have predictable habits or regular feeding spots like the others. He could be meditating near any of the three safe borders or on some secret ramble beyond town. He sometimes fed beside other prairie dogs, sometimes alone. Hieronymus couldn’t even be sure he’d sleep in the burrow they shared because Corot often slept alone in abandoned burrows he found beyond the edge of the town. Only once had Hieronymus risked a breach of clan decorum by asking Corot about his unusual habits.
With no sign of offense, Corot had replied simply. “It makes me more aware of our continuity with our ancestors, prairie dogs that lived here before people came.”
After circumnavigating most of the town, Hieronymus found Corot at the same spot along the creek where he’d been the day they dodged the hawk. He watched the rise and fall of his friend’s back, noticing the bit of early grey creeping into his coat.
“What’s going through your mind today, my friend?” Hieronymus asked as he came up along side him.
“What I suspect has been going through yours,” Corot said, touching his nose to his friend’s. “I’ve been looking at the water, hoping for an idea.”
“Where the water is shallower, it moves more slowly and maintains its form as it meets obstacles, as though concentrated volume forces it to adapt to a greater degree. Of course, it’s misleading because the volume stays the same. I’ve no idea if there’s a lesson there.”
“What do you think we should do?”
Corot shrugged and it seemed as if a heavy weight pressed his slight shoulders. “I honestly don’t know. We can’t simply wait to see what happens . . . and not all of us can up and migrate to another place. Either way, the colony risks annihilation. Our best chance at survival would be for some to stay . . .” Corot looked up at Hieronymus as though he could not bear to finish the sentence, “and others go.”
Hieronymus barely heard the sloshing of the creek over the numbness Corot’s words aroused in him. Slowly, the import of his friend’s analysis sunk in like rocks pushing down through soft mud. He knew what this meant: family units torn apart, mates arguing about the better course, separation depression no matter what. “Who will go and who stay? Where will we go?”
“Any wanting to go should go.” Corot etched a map into the dirt with a claw. “As I see it, we’ve two options for which way, west into the mountains or north toward . . . we don’t know what.”
Hieronymus peered down, impressed by the graphic details.
“One takes us into unfamiliar terrain with severe weather and rocky ground,” Corot pointed, “and the other through the place the cattle stray from, where we could get shot . . . or killed by canines.”
“And south?” Hieronymus looked left.
“We know there are more people towns there. My grandfather once said that people towns are like enormous animals and have to grow or die. The one about to spread across our town was once quite small and a long way away. Or so he told me.”
“Which way then?” Hieronymus felt his despair lift a bit.
“It may depend on how many of us choose to leave, but let’s think about it and meet here tomorrow.”