The Shore and the Sea
by James Thurber
A single excited lemming started the exodus, crying, “Fire!” and running toward the sea. He may have seen the sunrise through the trees, or waked from a fiery nightmare, or struck his head against a stone, producing stars. Whatever it was, he ran and ran, and as he ran he was joined by others, a mother lemming and her young, a nightwatchlemming on his way home to bed, and assorted revelers and early risers.
“The world is coming to an end!” they shouted, and as the hurrying hundreds turned into thousands, the reasons for their headlong flight increased by leaps and bounds and hops and skips and jumps.
“The devil has come in a red chariot!” cried an elderly male. “The sun is his torch! The world is on fire!”
“It’s a pleasure jaunt,” squeaked an elderly female.
“A what?” she was asked.
“A treasure hunt!” cried a wild-eyed male who had been up all night. “Full many a gem of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.”
“It’s a bear!” shouted his daughter. “Go it!” And there were those among the fleeing thousands who shouted “Goats!” and “Ghosts!” until there were almost as many different alarms as there were fugitives.
One male lemming who had lived alone for many years refused to be drawn into the stampede that swept past his cave like a flood. He saw no flames in the forest, and no devil, or bear, or goat, or ghost. He had long ago decided, since he was a serious scholar, that the caves of ocean bear no gems, but only soggy glub and great gobs of mucky gump. And so he watched the other lemmings leap into the sea and disappear beneath the waves, some crying “We are saved!” and some crying “We are lost!” The scholarly lemming shook his head sorrowfully, tore up what he had written through the years about his species, and started his studies all over again.
MORAL: All men should strive before they die to learn what they are running from, and to, and why.