Fables of the squirrel and the owl

Finally the temperature has started to come down a bit and since apple season is back I chose for this next round of fables to rework my drawings of squirrels and apple trees. Although it was inspired by a friend of mine, the subject is something I struggle with as well, and I suspect a lot of people too, in one form or another. It's generally about how much we take in versus the room we have or how much we really need. The first fable, which I call the collector, is for the case where perhaps we take in a little more than required. And at the opposite end, the withholder tells the story of someone adept at things like holding back or living sparsely. Sometimes we can even do both!


My friend is a generous type of person, someone that loves to bake batches of cookies and give them out to loved ones wrapped in pretty little packages, or buy several of one item so she can offer them as gifts. Also something that struck me is how much information she's able to take in. I was telling her a story one day and getting lost in multiple tangents and it was amazing how she could follow every little detail without skipping a beat.


From all this choosing an animal to represent who she is came fairly easily. She loves squirrels and I've gotten several gifts from her with either squirrels or something related like this cute nut shaped container shown below. To go with the squirrel I chose the apple tree given that my friend has a sweet tooth, and also since apples can represent information if you think of students taking an apple to their teacher.   

The general concept here was to depict a squirrel busy packing a tree with apples, showing that there is more than needed. Reading about squirrel symbolism I learned that they are also quite sociable so I added another squirrel at the bottom in the first rough sketch you see below.


I got stuck for a while, trying to find the opposite drawing, trying something that could say grounding or filtering. Eventually, several weeks later, I went back to the apple as a symbol of knowledge and got the idea of using the owl as an opposite for the squirrel. They are wise and would help the squirrel not go overboard with the apples!

The first version I did in april 2013 was just the black line carvings over a simple layer of watercolor. Back then I've gone through many revisions for the accompanying words, as I did for every piece of this series, but when trying to find the stories this one has again been especially hard to come up with.

The collector speaks about excess but it can also point to addiction or addictive behavior. For my friend the excess translated as a sudden onset of allergies, but it can be a lot of different things like being a packrat, a workaholic, too much facebook, or even too much thinking. Most times we don't realize we're overdoing it.

Choosing colors for the collector I thought the apples ought to be red, symbol of desire and passion, and also orange for enthusiasm and abundance. And somehow for the opposite I felt they should be a different color, like green or something. An impulse guided me in a random search for apple symbolism and the discovery of a wealth of stories and meanings.

The story of Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit is pretty obvious, but I didn't know there were also many myths attached to the golden apple. Most intriguing to me was the Greek myth of the Apples of the Hesperides.

As a source of immortality, golden apples were the object of one of Hercules’ 12 labors. Hercules was commanded by Eurystheus to bring back golden apples from Hera’s Garden of Hesperides, at the edge of the world where the sun sets. The golden apples were guarded by a hundred-headed dragon, and by the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas, the titan who bore the sky and the earth upon his shoulders. After many trials, Hercules finally reached the garden, where he convinced Atlas to retrieve the apples from his daughters. After taking the burden of the world for a time and some trickery, Hercules ran off and carried the apples back to Eurystheus.

 For several days I searched for the withholder story and tried different ideas but kept coming back to this story of the Hesperides guarding the tree of golden apples. Finally I found an interpretation of the myth that was very helpful and inspiring. Hope it inspires you too!