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Sunlight streamed into the burrow, landed on the floor, worked its way slowly up the wall, and came to rest on Bubber's face. As it touched him Bubber woke with a start. He sat up, full of anticipation and ready to go. There was something important he had to do on this day, but what it was he couldn't remember. Nothing came to him. Bubber's sister, Sarah, was in the far corner of the room, sorting piles of clothing, and stacking the notes that she was forever taking.
"What's today?" Bubber asked urgently, blinking in the bright light. "What's going on today?"
Sarah stopped what she was doing and sighed a deep theatrical sigh, letting her brother know what a burden he was to her.
"Come on, for God's sake," said Bubber.
"Just tell me. Don't make a scene out of everything."
Sarah smiled at him as if he were an idiot and slowly made a long arc with her arm.
"Oh yes," said Bubber. He slapped his forehead with his paw.
"Have you got it?" asked Sarah.
"I've got it," said Bubber, and jumped out of bed.
"You won't forget now," said Sarah sarcastically.
"I won't forget," said Bubber.
He shook himself awake and went into the living room, ready for action. His parents, up for an hour, were radiating excitement: tidying things and making preparations. There was great random purpose to their activity. His father was stacking things in order, stepping back to get his bearings; his mother cleaning and, dusting,setting things down, then dusting the same items over again. They were talking softly and intensely to each other.
"Ah! Bubber! Bubber! said his father, raising I'll an arm in greeting. He kept his arm raised as if he wanted to continue, but long practice at having nothing to say to his son, left him paralyzed in salute.
"Can I help get things organized?" Bubber asked, wondering how long his father's arm would stay up.
"No, no, we've just about hrenhh..." he driftedoff, unable to find the word, and moved a pile of magazines to where they had been five minutes before.
Bubber's mother was now talking quietly to herself, a longtime habit. She was telling herself exactly what she was about to do next. Bubber hated to interrupt her; her orders to herself seemed so terribly urgent. So he made himself a quick burrow breakfast and started to leave the with a long sack in his paw.
"Where you going with the long sack?" his father asked warmly.
There was only one place Bubber ever went with a sack, but he answered patiently. "I'm going up Kite Hill one last time," he said.
"What goes on up there?" asked Bubber's father. "What are you always going up there for?
"A lot of things," said Bubber. "Clover. It's the only clover around anymore. There's nothing to eat down here."
"That's all it is?" asked Bubber's father.
"Just the clover?"
"Just the clover," said Bubber.
"Well, why don't you get a big batch of it this time and we'll spread it around a little. Get Uncle Claude over, and the whole gang."
Bubber mumbled agreement and left the burrow, dragging his sack behind him.
The stretch of plain on the way to Kite Hill was usually teeming with activity: lemmings bustling for food, gossiping, fighting, or bartering seed for straw. But this morning the plain was quiet and empty. Bubber took note of the silence, and it filled him with foreboding. It wasn't the smooth silence of Kite Hill, but felt thick and green. It was the atmosphere that comes before a violent storm. What was happen in Bubber's home was no doubt taking place everywhere in burrow after burrow, deep under the ground. Bubber could almost feel the tense humming in the earth as he walked along.
He climbed Kite Hill, sack in hand. The hill was a favorite place of his. Clover was still plentiful on top, but since it was an exposed area, few lemmings ever ventured up there. Large birds frequented the hill on occasion, and they kept the lemmings away. Bubber didn't consider himself particularly brave, but he needed the hill, for some reason besides clover, and the birds didn't frighten him. He had even gotten on friendly terms with a few of the crows, whom, in spite of their occasional hysteria, he found to be a thoughtful and interesting group. He even had one close friend among them, whom he called Crow. When Bubber arrived at the top of the hill, he found his friend sitting there, silently watching the empty plain below.
"Lemming," said Crow, by way of a greeting.
"Crow," said Bubber.
Crow was having some difficulty in looking at Bubber. His eye darted toward him for a second, and then went back to the plain below. "Quiet down there," he said cautiously.
"Mmmm," Bubber murmured. He randomly picked a bit of clover and began chewing on it.
"What's going on down there?" Crow asked. "What do you mean?" said Bubber.
"There's no one around," said Crow. "Where is everyone?"
"Getting ready," said Bubber, easily.
"Getting ready?" asked Crow.
"Mmmm," said Bubber.
"Ready for what?" asked Crow.
"Well, it's our time," Bubber answered with a bit of a chuckle. "We're heading west."
"Heading west?" Crow asked.
"That's right," said Bubber.
Crow thought about heading west. He was up on most of the activities that took place on the plain, but this bit of information was news to him.
"Heading west are you?" he repeated.
"Heading west," said Bubber.
West of the plain by about half a mile were the Moorfield Cliffs, and beyond them the sea. Four thousand miles of open sea.
"Going to the cliffs are you?" Crow asked.
"Yes," Bubber answered.
"What is it, a picnic? Some sort of festival?" asked Crow.
I don't know what to call it, Bubber answered. "It is just our time."
Crow found the answer a bit evasive. Something smelled fishy to him. What will you do, spend the day out there?" he asked.
"No, we just pass right on through," said Bubber.
"Ah, I see," said Crow. He waited for some clarification, but none came. "You just continue on west.
"Right," said Bubber.
"Just keep right on going past the cliffs at Moorfield."
"Right," said Bubber again.
"Just keep going west into the ocean," said Crow.
"Something like that," said Bubber.
"Hmmmm..." said Crow. He thoughtabout that for a moment, chuckled, shook his,head, and scratched the ground.
Bubber opened his sack and started off, but Crow stopped him with a claw. "Hold on," he said.
"What's wrong?" said Bubber, shocked at Crow's abrupt action.
"Let's get this thing ironed out here," said Crow.Lemming Condition. Copyright © by Alan Arkin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.