Elgin Fox’s family had lived in Browns Burrow for over ten generations. His warm den was cozy and well-loved. After years of digging, all rocks and sharp edges had been carefully removed. What remained was the fresh smell of earthworms and the feel of earth gently molded into soft, round spaces.
Although Elgin had fallen back to sleep, Twitch had not gone away. In fact, it had become more restless as the night progressed.
“I can’t sleep through this anymore,” Elgin groaned as he crawled out of bed. “I have to find out why this is happening.”
Elgin threw his tattered green robe over his shoulders and tiptoed from room to room. As he moved, he counted every nose and tail. All family members were peacefully resting. Elgin breathed in deeply and loosed a sigh of relief. At least everyone is safe, he said to himself. Now, I’m going to take care of this twitch once and for all!
Silently, Elgin marched to the laundry room and found an oversized clothespin. He secured his right ear to his left. That will stop the twitching, he thought. It didn’t. Next, he found a jar of pine sap to glue the dancing ear to his forehead. That should stop it now! he silently proclaimed. That didn’t work, either. Next, Elgin threw himself on his bed. He grabbed a pillow and pressed it hard against his ear, hoping to stop its movement. But nothing worked. Lastly, feeling completely defeated, Elgin burst into tears.
Although he moved as silently as he could, Elgin’s steps had not gone unnoticed. Very few things in life could escape his mother’s keen hearing. Her soft lavender scent drifted down the hallway as she quietly entered Elgin’s room. The wetness around his eyes forced him to turn away. Mama reached for her son and held him. Slowly, she rocked back and forth, humming a familiar song her sister, Pristina, used to sing. As she sang, Twitch brushed gently against her cheek.
“Oh…I see,” Mama whispered, now understanding her son’s distress. A sadness suddenly covered her face as if she was reliving the night Twitch first appeared.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered, “once the foxes begin their day, we will go see the elders. They will know what to do.”
Elgin, his family, and the elders all lived in a village called Council Square. This was a small territory in the center of Browns Burrow and the seat of burrow government. It was the Council of Elders that had organized search parties for Tully.
Three years had passed. Now, Elgin and his parents again stood nervously before the fifteen Elders who formed the Council. These were the oldest and wisest members of the fox community. Some of them were legends with fantastic stories of courage and wit. Elgin’s very presence among these giants meant that something was terribly wrong.
All Browns Burrow foxes had heard of Twitch. However, they did not all agree about what it was. Some believed it was a medical problem, like an eye that blinked too quickly. While others remembered how Twitch had sparked the search to find Tully. These elders believed that Twitch should be taken seriously. The problem they all faced, though, was that Twitch just twitched. It identified neither a danger nor a threat. It did just enough to make Elgin feel weird and his parents anxious. Even now, it had the elders arguing about the purpose of a wiggling ear. Twitch had everyone confused. So, why had it started twitching when all burrow families were doing well?
This was the major question for Gambian Fox, the Council leader. While others argued over Elgin’s ear, Gambian and his wife Sophia listened. For them, Elgin’s twitch had earned the right to be taken seriously. Its source didn’t matter. They were foxes who lived by their keen senses and wit. Therefore, a scientific investigation was needed.
“The problem we have is Elgin’s twitch,” Gambian said. “Its first appearance warned us about Tully’s absence. We need to know if its return suggests some other kind of threat.” The elders nodded in agreement.
“To investigate this,” Gambian continued, “we will send Elgin and his parents on an eight-day journey. Their purpose is to explore each of the four sections of Browns Burrow to see if there is danger and what it might be. Two volunteers, Elders Foxwood and Merta, will join the family as they travel. Their job will be to record Twitch’s responses to Elgin’s experiences. At the end of eight days, we’ll evaluate the elders’ data. We will then repeat the process for another eight days and compare the datasets.”
“This plan is perfect,” said Elder Flinn. “This is the scientific method. We can use it to see why Twitch has returned.”
“Yes!” Foxwood exclaimed. “Its seven steps will guide us through this mystery.”
The elders explained their plan to a greatly relieved fox community. Now, it could relax its concerns about Twitch and proceed with business as usual.
Gambian finished his announcements and dismissed the satisfied crowd. Meanwhile, Elgin, armed with his notepad, pursued Marta and Foxwood.
“Elders!” he called out. “I need to talk with you. Would you please explain to me this scientific method?”
Elgin’s mind had been racing while he listened to Gambian’s speech. He was amazed that there was a well-known process for solving problems and keenly desired to learn more. This is so much better, he thought, than gluing my ear to my forehead! Maybe some good can come out of this Twitch thing after all.
Elgin, his parents, and the elders sought the shade of a sycamore tree. There, they sat to discuss the science behind their upcoming travels. Elgin eagerly took notes.
“The scientific method refers to the steps we take to figure out a problem,” Marta began. “The first step is to identify the problem, as we just did. Elgin, would you restate it for us?”
“We need to find out if Twitch’s return means we’re in some kind of danger,” he replied.
“Great,” said Foxwood. “And the second step is to review whatever research or current information we have about the problem.”
“So, what do we already know about Twitch?” he asked Elgin.
“Well, it first appeared when my brother, Tully, was in trouble. I mean, he was missing.”
Foxwood briefly interrupted, “And we all know that when a young fox is missing danger is around.”
“Yes,” Elgin said. “But the twitching stopped the moment we discovered Tully wasn’t home.”
“Once we realized something was wrong, we were able to do something about it. That’s when we formed search parties,” Mama added.
“So, let’s use this information to create a hypothesis. This is the third step in the scientific method,” Marta said. “A hypothesis states an idea we have about a problem we are trying to solve. We start with an idea. We change it into a statement. Then, we create ways of proving whether or not this statement is true.”
“How do you do that?” Elgin asked.
“We conduct experiments,” Foxwood explained, “or, in our case, fact-finding missions. This would be step four. During these missions, we’ll take notes based on Elgin’s experiences and Twitch’s responses. This is called collecting data. We will then take that data back to the Council. The Council will analyze it and decide whether the Burrow is in danger. After that, it will share its ideas about what to do.”
Elgin was writing as fast as he could but was clearly struggling to keep up. Poppy noticed and provided an assist. “Analyzing data is step five,” he whispered, “Drawing conclusions is step six, and sharing conclusions is step seven.”
Marta added, “The data we get back will tell us about the hypothesis. It will tell us whether it’s correct, incorrect, or inconclusive. If it’s inconclusive, it means we’ll need more information.”
Elgin stopped writing to consider her words. “But, Elders,” he asked, “if our data doesn’t agree with the hypothesis, what happens then?
“Marta smiled and replied, “That’s an excellent question, Elgin. We base our hypothesis on an idea we have before we begin our investigation. However, our ideas might change once we start gathering data. The new facts we uncover may help us see things differently. If this happens, we’ll change our initial hypothesis. The scientific method always requires us to follow the facts.”
“Based on what we know right now,” Foxwood said, “our hypothesis is this. ‘Twitch becomes active when danger is present and stops once we realize what that danger is.’ So, let’s see what our investigations reveal.”
That night, Elgin’s sleep was so good even Twitch could not disturb it.
Day one of the journey arrived, and Elgin bounced out of bed. He was excited to start his first scientific adventure. To celebrate, he wore his favorite blue hoodie vest. This vest was given to him by his Aunt Pristina on his ninth birthday.
Out of hundreds of aunts, uncles, and cousins, Aunt Pristina was the one he loved most. It was she who had taken care of him after his mother tripped a snare. While her sister recovered, Pristina stepped in. She nurtured the family with her famous field mouse stew. What Elgin loved most, though, were the nonsense songs she used to sing. These silly homemade songs scattered his worries about Mama’s health and made him laugh. Wearing this vest stirred up sweet memories. It made him feel closer to Aunt Pristina as if she were still there.
“Elgin Baby,” Mama’s soft voice floated down the hallway. It was quickly followed by the smell of delicious rabbit toast.
“Elgin Baby,” he grumbled to himself. “I’m twelve years old. I’m almost grown.” For Elgin, being a grownup suddenly meant knowing how to solve problems. Yesterday’s meeting with the elders had prompted a craving to know more. How long have they known about the scientific method? he thought. There is so much else out there to learn!
“Elgin Baby!” Mama called again, interrupting his thoughts. Although he pretended to be grown up, Elgin could never resist his mother’s tenderness. Okay, so I don’t mind her calling me that—just don’t do it in front of my friends!
So, Elgin Baby and Twitch scampered down the hallway, wolfed down the rabbit toast, and went off to start their first adventure.
Much to Elgin’s surprise, hundreds of eager foxes lined the streets like humans at a parade. All were waiting to greet him and his parents at Council Square.
“What’s this?” Mama said in disbelief. “Why are they all up so early?”
“Everyone wants to know about Twitch,” Poppy guessed as he noticed
strangers pointing at Elgin’s ear.
Foxwood and Marta arrived next. The explorers were now ready for their journey to Burrow North. As they walked, Twitch’s movements kept rhythm with every step, flinching and jiggling along the way. I can’t wait to find out why you’re doing this, Elgin thought.