It was the season of new little faces and adventures. The woods were alive with the sounds of all the new babies of the forest, the new arrivals of late spring, called forest babies by the animal people.
Mama Wolf had a new litter of eight pups, and most had gotten into one form of trouble or another already. Mama Bear had her paws full with two new fluffy balls of trouble. Mama Owl was terribly busy fetching food for her young ones. It seemed all the new moms of the forest were very busy. Not that the new dads weren;t doing their part, but it seemed most of the care of these new ones was their moms' duty. The forest was just as busy as it could be.
Now there was one mama who could not be busier if she had 20 cubs, and that was Mama Possum. Her litter was unusually small this year, only three cubs; but the smallest of the three, whose name was Hoo Doo, made up for the 17 she didn't have. There was not a day that went by that this little furball didn't get into trouble. He was forever pestering Mama Owl's brood. Since he was a possum, he was quite a climber. When his brothers were still being carried on their mother's back and couldn't yet climb or hang from their tails, Hoo Doo would climb Owl's tree for his first fun of the day and playfully torment Owl's chicks.
He would then steal Wolf cubs' tiny morsels of food and hide them in the trees, and playfully flip Mama Turtle's babies on their backs just to see them rock and roll trying to flip themselves back onto their tummies. When he grew bored, he would flip them back over and find more mischief to get into. Poor Mama Possum. Try as she may, she never could keep up with Hoo Doo.
One day, a terrible thunderstorm struck. The sky grew dark as night, except for the lightning that looked like the mighty elk's antlers. The winds blew so hard that the trees bowed to touch the ground. This was the forest babies' first storm, and everyone cried out for their mothers and ran for safety.
Hoo Doo was nowhere to be found, and Mama Possum's voice could barely be heard as she cried out his name over and over again. Meanwhile, Hoo Doo was alone in a clearing, crying for his mother as he desperately tried to find a place to hide. Just as he was about to give up, he saw a cave through the driving rain. Off he ran, barely keeping his little body from blowing away. He finally made it to the cave entrance and dragged his drenched body into this strange darkness of safety.
As his keen little eyes finally adjusted to the dark shadows of the cave, he saw there was light that danced about the walls like sunbeams. He sat with his eyes as big as walnuts, trying to figure out this new place. As he cautiously walked a little closer toward the dancing lights, he saw trees. Not just any trees. They shown like the sun and grew from the ground right up to the top of the cave. Hoo Doo felt safe.
He did what all possums do: he started to climb this new, strange tree. Try as he might, though, he kept sliding down. He tried to wrap his tail around, but all he did was slide back down to the ground. Since he was cold and wet and even more afraid than ever, he just sat there and cried.
Well, it just happened that Hoo Doo did not just wander into any old cave, but into the cave of Mama Bat and all her bat babies. She heard poor Hoo Doo crying and quickly flew over to see what this crying was about. Hoo Doo cried his woes to Mama Bat: All he wanted was his own mama and to go home.
Mama Bat understood and flew like the wind out of her cave to find Hoo Doo's mother. By then, the storm had gone as fast as it had come and flying was easy. She found Mama Possum, explained what happened and where her cave was, and quickly flew back to the cave before her own babies got into trouble.
She got Hoo Doo calm and happy again, explaining to him that his mother was on her way. But what Hoo Doo didn't know was that all the mothers, fathers and babies of the forest were on their way. So when he crawled out of the dark cave into the sunlight, they were all there to greet him.
Hoo Doo was so happy, he promised he would never wander from home again or tease and torment any of the other forest animals again. As he safely clung to his mother and they all made the journey back to the forest, the lesson he learned the best was, ''There's no place like home.''
Ken ''Rainbow Cougar'' Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.