“When the world was very young, a beautiful tree began to grow in the forest. With every day that passed, the tree grew taller and taller. From its lofty place, the tree could look down on all the life of the forest, both the very small and the very large. It could see how difficult life was for the smallest animals: the mice, the rabbits, and the squirrels. The tree watched hawks and owls swoop through the forest every day, hunting the small animals and making them run for cover. Each day, the hawks and owls got better and better at hunting. This made the tree sad because it liked all the animals of the forest, even the hawks and owls. One day, the tree watched a tiny mouse run from a hawk until it had run out of places to hide. The tree could see the mouse cowering amidst the cones that lay on the forest floor, bravely awaiting its fate. “Quick”, said the tree, “make yourself as small as you can so that you can hide between the scales of one of my cones.” The mouse did as it was told, squeezing its body under one of the cone’s woody scales, with its tiny hind legs and tail just peeking out from beneath the scale. Frustrated, the hawk flew off and the mouse was safe, its life spared by the kindness of its tall friend. To this day, Douglas-fir cones have an unmistakable three-pointed bract between each cone scale, one that looks just like a little mouse in hiding and reminds us that we must always look out for others”.
Variations of this simple tale are many. This particular version is related by Audrey DeLella Benedict at the beginning of her chapter “The Raven’s Forest: Douglas-fir forests” in “The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies” – a book I highly recommend if you are making a visit out our way.