One morning Field Mouse woke up in her nest, which was tucked in a hollow between the roots of a big, old maple tree. She had been sleeping for a long time, on and off, through the cold and ice and snow. But something had changed. Something was out there, calling to her. Not in a voice, not loudly, but there all the same. Field Mouse pushed aside the feathers and brown leaves that blocked her doorway and went out.
She cocked her ears and listened. There was definitely Something. Something calling from the Hill—the Hill, which rose up from the dark woods into the sunlight. She would go there. But first she needed something to eat.
Scrambling through the brambles and brush and thorny bare branches, Field Mouse went to scout for dry berries. She spotted Gray Squirrel taking the last of his acorns from a small hole in the trunk of a tree.
“Gray Squirrel!” she called. Gray Squirrel looked down from his perch.
“Hi, hi, Field Mousie!”
“Gray Squirrel,” she said, “Something is out on the Hill. I can hear it, but I can’t see it.”
“Yes, yes, the Hill!” cried Gray Squirrel. “Something is surely up at the Hill. I can smell it!”
“Come to the Hill with me,” said Field Mouse. “Help me find the Something.”
“Sure, sure!” Gray Squirrel agreed and skittered to the ground.
On the way to the Hill, a dark shadow passed over Field Mouse and Gray Squirrel. They froze, then relaxed. It was Doe, coming silently through the woods just behind them.
“Hello there,” said Doe, in her soft voice. “And where are you going, so quickly, today?”
“We’re going to the Hill,” said Field Mouse. “To see what’s there. We can hear Something.”
“And smell Something,” added Gray Squirrel.
“I too am going to the Hill,” said Doe. “That is the place to be today.”
Then Stag emerged from the trees. “She’s waking up,” he said.
“She?” asked Field Mouse.
“She?” asked Gray Squirrel.
“The Hill,” explained Doe.
Field Mouse had not known that the Hill was a “she.”
Together Field Mouse, Gray Squirrel, Doe, and Stag made their way toward the Hill. They passed a brook, where the water was rushing over the rocks. The ice had gone. Turtle sat on a log that had fallen into the water.
“Going to the Hill,” he observed, raising his eyes to the small group passing by.
“You know about the Hill, too?” asked Field Mouse.
“Oh yes. It goes like this each year. And I have been in these woods many years.”
“Come with us!” called Gray Squirrel.
“I suppose I may as well.” Turtle sighed and plopped from his log to the bank of the brook. Then he lumbered up the slope to join the group.
Now they slowed to keep pace with Turtle. The brook fed into a little pond. In the center of the pond white ice still lay, like a dinner plate, but at the edges, the water lapped and rippled. The Mallard Ducks, He and She, swam near the brown grasses at the pond’s edge, turning their beaks to the sun. They both saw the group of animals ambling by their pond.
“Something is afoot,” said Mallard He and nodded his green head.
“Something at the Hill,” agreed Mallard She.
And without asking questions, they waddled up from the water and joined the parade.
Possum and Raccoon, though they were not usually up when the sun was high, heard the animals chatting and rustling through the trees. They poked their heads from their dens and blinked the sleep from their eyes. And as the line of animals passed their homes, they hopped out and followed, curious.
The group passed the entrance to a cave, set in a rocky cliff.
“We should wake the Bears,” Field Mouse whispered. The animals looked at one another and then at Field Mouse.
Field Mouse straightened her back and held herself tall. She tiptoed into the cave and said in a small but clear voice, “Wake up Bears! Something is waiting for us at the Hill!”
Mother Bear opened one eye, and the two Bear Cubs yawned. Then they all stared at Field Mouse.
“Will you please come with us?” requested Field Mouse politely, her whiskers quivering just a little.
“Come children,” said Mother Bear in her deep rumbling voice. “Time to get up and go with Field Mouse.” Field Mouse let out a tiny sigh, smiled, and hurried back outside.
The Bears rose and stretched and squinted in the light as they stepped out of their cave.
The expedition had grown large. Finally the animals emerged from the trees, and there, in front of them, was the Hill, awash in sunlight.
They climbed the Hill. Overhead a flock of Sparrows circled, and a Red Robin sat watching them, from a high tree branch.
Something was certainly here—
Something trembling like a Mouse,
Something quick like a Squirrel,
Something gentle and quiet as a Deer,
Something old and slow like a Turtle,
Something warm and wet as a Duck,
Something blinking in the sun like a Raccoon,
Something stretching like a Bear waking after a long sleep, fierce and rumbling.
The animals waited, holding their breath.
And then, all of a sudden, it was there, poking from the earth, tiny and green.
Spring had come.
A lovely story that would make a great read-aloud and which leaves room for accompanying illustrations.
—Holly Black, 2010 Katherine Paterson Prize Judge