Initially buoyed by their friendship and excitement, the journey seemed easy and enjoyable, but as the days passed it began to turn into a slog. The landscape became open and barren with few places to hide. Such exposure left them vulnerable to predators like owls and foxes. This constant risk, a lack of food and shared uncertainty about where they were headed, became tiring.
Milo enjoyed the challenge, but Daisy was really beginning to struggle.
Tired, hungry and scared, her energy had depleted. She became tense and withdrawn, waking in the morning with a churning stomach and a sense of dread. Mostly she dwelt on unhappy thoughts, fretting over things that had happened and worrying about what was yet to come. The world seemed a scary place and Daisy felt trapped, desperately wondering if there was a way out. Each day the burden became a little heavier.
Aware of her distress, Milo felt helpless and at a loss at what to do. Daisy found herself repeatedly reliving the moment when the cat had attacked her brother. Although she managed to hold conversations with Milo and appreciate his company, her introspective gloom would always return.
After hours of travelling out in the open, the land promised shelter; ahead of them a spatter of trees thickened into a wood. This seemed to exacerbate Daisy’s distress. She knew that the woods were a dangerous place for a vole and a mouse. But they also offered shelter. The conflict only served to heighten her confusion.
The wood stood at less than an hour’s journey away. The sun was at its zenith and Daisy felt particularly bad. She’d been struggling for a couple of hours with her feelings, when without warning, a wave of panic swept over her. She stopped in her tracks, paralysed with fear. Her mind was racing, her heartbeat deafening in her small ears. She struggled to breathe. She wanted to run home, but she couldn’t – there was nowhere to run to. She felt petrified and had never been so scared in her life. She took off, found the nearest hole and cowered in it. Huddled there, trembling, she held her head in her paws. Milo found her curled up, muttering to herself.
“I can’t cope. I think I’m going mad.”
She was inconsolable. Milo glanced around desperately. He knew they had to find some proper cover. They were too exposed and Daisy needed help. The wood seemed like the best option. Turning toward Daisy, he tried to reassure her, telling her that they could find help in the wood. He managed to coax her into carrying on. Daisy proved reluctant to move, believing that she couldn’t continue. Yet she discovered that once she started moving she felt slightly better.
By late afternoon these two sorry little creatures reached the edge of the wood, where they found a bridge. Milo decided this would be a good place to stop before they ventured further. Locating a small hideaway near the bridge supports, he comforted and reassured Daisy before explaining that he would go and find someone who could help. He raced off, searching the undergrowth. It wasn’t long before he came across another vole, much the same as himself. He quickly explained their situation.
“You’re lucky. You’re in the right place,” the other vole said, motioning into the woods, “The Doc will be back shortly and he’ll know what to do. Just wait and keep an eye on the bridge.”
There was a certainty in the vole’s voice that reassured Milo. When he returned to Daisy to tell her the good news she looked very scared and sorry for herself, curled up in the hole.
The afternoon passed into late evening and it seemed a long while before Milo heard something on the bridge. He peeked out of the hole and there on the bridge stood an elderly brown rabbit. Milo approached and the rabbit offered a warm smile that reached his large, dark eyes. Hurriedly, Milo explained what had happened and led the rabbit back to see Daisy.
“Hello,” he began in a soft, kindly voice, “I’m Doc. How are you feeling?”
Daisy, despite her trembling, explained her strange feelings, from the panic and terrible thoughts to her fear that she was going mad. As she spoke, she looked directly at Doc. She noticed the white flecks on his face, the serene glow that radiated from him. There was a comforting lilt to his graceful voice.
“My dear Daisy, I know you feel awful at this moment, but it will soon pass. You have been tricked by your nerves. Through a combination of tiredness and fear you’ve been bluffed into producing too much adrenaline.” He nodded encouragingly, “It came upon you suddenly and now you’re scared that it will keep happening. It is a trick. Let it pass. Find the strength in your middle. Do not be bluffed by, and believe the thoughts in your head. You will be fine.”
Sensing her unease he leaned closer, “I’ll let you in on a little secret from many years ago. I came to this bridge feeling just like you do now, but I discovered how to overcome this problem. So I stayed to help others. I call this bridge the ‘It’s all in your head’ bridge. Now get some sleep.”
After offering Daisy some rose syrup to settle her nerves and advising a good night’s rest, Doc took his leave, promising to check up on her in the morning. Once alone, Milo nuzzled up to Daisy. He could already see a change in her. Her face appeared calmer and her breathing slower and deeper. Doc’s arrival was a miracle, he thought. He stayed close to Daisy that night, before drifting into dreams.
When Daisy woke in the morning, her stomach was still churning, but where before there was only fear, now she felt hope. She followed Doc’s instructions and rested for most of the day. Although it was hardly difficult convincing her to stay in the hole; she had no desire to leave just yet. As promised, Doc appeared later that afternoon. With such a serene air about him, Daisy found it difficult to believe that he had once been in such a nervous state as herself. He asked how she was feeling and questioned them both about their journey, listening patiently before admitting that he had once taken a similar route.
He had lived further upstream with his parents and was quite sensitive as a youngster. His real name, Richard, had always been shortened to Dick. A gentle soul, he had been bullied and repeatedly mocked for his abbreviated name, “Dick”.
He used to take things more to heart than the other rabbits and when the time came for him to leave home, he’d found it very difficult. He explained that it was near this very bridge that he had panicked for the first time. After a moment, Doc turned his thoughts away from the past and offered a smile.
“All of that is in the past now, as your troubles will soon be for you too, Daisy. I’m now known as Doc Rabbit and I’m very happy indeed!” Turning to include Milo, he said “Tomorrow evening there is a place that I want you to visit. There’s a burrow by a big oak not far from here. Many creatures gather there for comfort and clarity. You’ll be uplifted in spite of your fears. I’ll visit you again the day after tomorrow.”
The following evening, Milo and Daisy made their way to the oak tree, which, due to its towering size, proved quite easy to find. As they approached, Milo trusted that whatever was to be said would somehow be of great importance to him. Stepping into the entrance of the burrow, they were heartily welcomed by a variety of other small country creatures. As the different mice and rabbits gathered, Milo sensed a gentleness and kindness to their faces, but he also noticed that many were timid.
The meeting opened with an introduction by a vole, who adopted the role of mediator during the following speeches. The vole spoke with a calm authority and then one by one, everyone introduced themselves. Each animal had a chance to speak. Every rabbit, mouse or vole told their stories, spoken without reserve and from the heart. Milo and Daisy sat and listened as the other creatures shared their stories and their innermost fears and troubles. After each animal had spoken, they were given the advice they needed to help solve their problems. Milo and Daisy had never sat in a place like this before. They both felt a light and heart- warming trust fill the burrow.
When the meeting came to a peaceful close everyone departed in the same manner in which they had gathered. Milo and Daisy made their way back to their hole by the bridge. As they walked along, Milo observed a light shining out from Daisy’s previously glassy eyes. She seemed to have been especially touched by the experience and she talked long into the night about how good the evening had been.
Daisy awoke to a brighter morning, her stomach free of any uncomfortable feelings for the first time in many days. She began to think that this wood might be a perfect place to settle; but she didn’t mention this to Milo. Instead, she joined him in exploring the surrounding area before they returned to prepare food for the evening and await Doc’s arrival. When the old rabbit joined them they ate dinner, over which he listened to Daisy regaling tales from the previous evening. Doc could see her newly found spirit. When she finished a particularly animated tale, he let a measured pause settle before speaking.
“In these woods there are lots of creatures who are scared of the next time they might panic or become anxious. They stay inside their homes, don’t venture out much and don’t know what to do. They don’t come to the meetings so they don’t hear what they need to hear to help them get better.” He shook his head sadly, “They spend years being tricked by their nerves. The quicker you face your fears, the quicker you will get your confidence back. These woods are much smaller than they look. Tomorrow, I want you both to cross the bridge on the other side of the woods, travel further on and go through the valley”.