Once upon a time, a kangaroo moved to the great forest. After he settled into his new home, he noticed that the rocks and roots of the forest were hard on his feet. He was more used to the flat, grassy fields of Australia. Making up his mind to see a cobbler, but new to the forest and not knowing where to find one, he asked his neighbors.
“Why don’t you ask the owl?” the robin said.
“Yes, you should probably ask the owl. He is the wisest of all the creatures in the forest,” the chipmunk said.
“You’re right, he should know,” the kangaroo responded, and made up his mind to go right away and ask him.
Now, the owl sat in his tree and meditated and studied day and night. He knew a great deal. He was the wisest of all the creatures in the forest. From time to time, some creature would come to visit him and learn what they could of his great wisdom that he told in the form of stories. The owl had one rule: He would only answer one question per day.
When the kangaroo arrived at the owl’s tree, he bowed deeply and said, “Oh mighty and wise owl, I have but a simple question, but no other creature in this forest knows the answer. I was told that you may be able to help.”
The owl tilted his head slightly, blinked, and then responded, “Very well. I will help you. Ask your question.”
“Owl, where can I find a cobbler?” the kangaroo asked.
The owl leaned way back and said, “Ah, a cobbler. I will tell you. Once upon a time, there was an ant that spent the whole summer working and storing away food underground in his hill. Meanwhile, there was a grasshopper that spent the whole summer playing and having fun. Food was plentiful and the grasshopper did not understand why the ant spent so much time working. Finally, winter came and the grass died. The grasshopper had nothing to eat. Knowing the ant had some food stored away, the grasshopper asked if he might spare some. The ant replied that he had worked hard all summer preparing for winter while the grasshopper spent his time playing and wasting time. The ant only had enough for himself.”
The kangaroo pauses a moment. “Did the grasshopper survive?” he asked.
“I only answer one question a day,” the owl said.
“But you didn’t even answer my first question about the cobbler,” the kangaroo responded. The owl does not respond. Confused, the kangaroo eventually hopped away.
“The owl never answered my question. Instead he told a story,” the kangaroo later told his neighbors the robin and the chipmunk.
“Oh yes, all the owl’s answers take the form of metaphorical stories,” the robin explained.
“Metaphors?” the kangaroo asked.
“Yes,” the chipmunk answered.
“So there isn’t a real grasshopper starving out there somewhere?” the kangaroo asked, “The story isn’t true?”
“Oh, all the owl’s stories are true,” the robin said.
“There might not be a real grasshopper, but the story is true in as far as the principle it conveys. It only matters what truth you get from it,” the chipmunk explained.
“Oh, I get it now, but I don’t think I understand his story. Do you think the ant might represent the cobbler? Does the cobbler live underground? Is the owl trying to tell me to look in an anthill?” the kangaroo asked.
“Is that what it means to you?” the robin asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe the owl thinks of me as the grasshopper because I hop like one and I didn’t store up enough shoes, so now I have to ask for them – but that doesn’t apply to me well because I have money I did save up to pay for the shoes, and I didn’t know I would need shoes here, having never needed them before – and it isn’t even winter!” the kangaroo said, “It’s just not a true story.”
“It’s metaphorically true; that’s all that matters,” the robin said.
“How can it be metaphorically true if it’s not literally true? I’m nothing like the grasshopper,” the kangaroo asked.
“Maybe you’re the ant,” the chipmunk suggested.
“Maybe I’m not even in the story at all,” the kangaroo said, “I’ll have to ask the owl tomorrow.”
The next day, the kangaroo went to see the owl again. His feet hurt a little from hopping on the rough, uneven ground of the forest, laden with large branches, stones, and roots. “Greetings again owl, I have returned because I could not understand your story. Am I supposed to be the grasshopper? If so, I think perhaps you have been misled about me,” the kangaroo said.
The owl blinked several times, tilted his head, and said, “Once upon a time, a boy worked in the fields watching his master’s sheep. He was bored and missed attention out there alone, so he called out, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ His master came running to defend his flock. When he arrived, he saw no wolf and realized he had been tricked. He scolded the boy and left. The next day, the boy cried out again, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ Again, his master came running, but there was no wolf. He scolded the boy a second time. On the third day, a real wolf arrived. The boy called out again, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ but this time his master ignored him, thinking he was being lied to again and tired of running every day. Nobody came – and the wolf ate the boy up.”
“Er…..” the kangaroo said, “How does that apply to my question?”
The owl tilted his head back the other way, and then turns it all the way around. “I only answer one question a day,” he said.
“Right,” the kangaroo said, looking down, and then hopped away.
“The owl told me another story; now I’m even more confused,” the kangaroo later told his neighbors. “Am I supposed to be the boy who cried wolf too many times because I keep going back to the owl and asking questions? But unlike the boy with the fake wolf, I have a real question. Am I the wolf? Is the cobbler the wolf? Is the grasshopper the wolf? I don’t even know if this story relates to my first question or my second question.”
“Try to figure it out; you will learn something,” the robin said.
“The owl is very wise,” the chipmunk said.
“I wonder….” The kangaroo said.
On the third day, the kangaroo returned to see the owl again. He still couldn’t figure out either story. That day, his feet hurt a lot. “Greetings wise owl, I have returned again unable to glean any useful meaning from either of your two stories that pertain to my situation. My feet hurt greatly today and I only wish to know where to find a cobbler,” he said.
The owl opened and closed his wings, tilted his head, and said, “Once upon a time, a scorpion…”
“No, no, no, don’t tell me another story. I just want a straight answer where I might find a cobbler. Do you know where one lives or not?” the kangaroo interrupted angrily.
“Once upon a time, a scorpion…” the owl said.
At this point, a string of profanities were spewed forth from the kangaroo’s mouth not worthy of repeating. He kicked a root in anger, injuring his toe. Slumping to the ground in pain, he had no choice but to listen.
“Once upon a time, a scorpion desired to cross a river but could find no bridge. Seeing a frog, she called him over and begged for a ride. The frog refused, claiming the scorpion would sting him. The scorpion denied the charge, professing good will. The frog rebutted, claiming it was in the nature of scorpions to sting and that she would sting him while crossing the river and he would drown. The scorpion countered, claiming that if she stung him while crossing the river, she would drown too. At this, the frog agreed. While halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. ‘Hey,’ the frog said as the poison took hold, ‘Why did you do that? You’ll drown too.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ the scorpion said, ‘but as you said before, it’s in the nature of scorpions to sting.’” The owl said.
The kangaroo hopped off, his mind swirling with thoughts. Did the owl see him as a scorpion because he was also seeking something? Did the owl not help because he thought he might get stung? Was the owl actually the scorpion, answering all questions as stupid stories because it was his nature? His feet hurt. All he wanted was some shoes. Suddenly, one of the roots in front of him moved. The kangaroo jumped.
“Hello, friend. You seem to be upset,” the root said, which turned out to actually be a very large snake that had moved to the great forest from South America not long before.
“Yes, I didn’t see you there sir. I’m sorry,” the kangaroo said.
“It is no problem. I do tend to blend in,” the snake said.
“Well, I have to be off,” the kangaroo said.
“And where might you be going in such a hurry? We just met,” the snake asked.
“I must find a cobbler to make me some shoes. My feet hurt dreadfully,” the kangaroo answered.
“A cobbler you say? Well, I’m a cobbler,” the snake informed the kangaroo.
“Really?” the kangaroo said.
“Indeed. Come into my den and I’ll take your measurements,” the snake invited.
“Okay,” the kangaroo said. He followed the snake into his dark hole. Once inside, the snake suddenly wrapped himself around the kangaroo, constricting him. “Hey,” the kangaroo gasped, fighting for air, “You’re not taking measurements.”
“Oh, I am, but not for shoes – for my baking pan; I haven’t eaten in six weekssss,” the snake explained.