Mother Nature Knows Best
“As sure as the sun will rise, Peter Rabbit, some day I will catch you,” snarled Reddy Fox, as he poked his black nose in the hole between the roots of the Big Hickory tree which grows close to the Smiling Pool. “It is lucky for you that you were not one jump farther away from this hole.”
Peter, safe inside that hole, didn’t have a word to say, or, if he did, he didn’t have breath enough to say it. It was quite true that if he had been one jump farther from that hole, Reddy Fox would have caught him. As it was, the hairs on Peter’s funny white tail actually had tickled Reddy’s back as Peter plunged frantically through the root-bound entrance to that hole. It had been the narrowest escape Peter had had for a long, long time. You see, Reddy Fox had surprised Peter nibbling sweet clover on the bank of the Smiling Pond, and it had been a lucky thing for Peter that that hole, dug long ago by Johnny Chuck’s grandfather, had
been right where it was. Also, it was a lucky thing that old Mr. Chuck had been wise enough to make the entrance between the roots of that tree in such a way that it could not be dug any larger.
Reddy Fox was too shrewd to waste any time trying to dig it larger. He knew there wasn’t room enough for him to get between those roots. So, Reddy trotted off across the Green Meadows. Peter remained where he was for a long time. When he was quite sure that it was safe to do so, he crept out and hurried, lipperty-lipperty-lip, up to the Old Orchard. He felt that that would be the safest place for him, because there were ever so many hiding places in the old stone wall.
When Peter reached the Old Orchard he was pleasantly surprised to see his friend Jenny Wren. Jenny had arrived that very morning from the Sunny South where she had spent the entire winter. “Tut, tut, tut!” exclaimed Jenny as soon as she saw Peter. “If it isn’t Peter Rabbit himself! How did you manage to keep out of the clutches of Reddy Fox all the long winter?”
Peter chuckled. “I didn’t have much trouble with Reddy during the winter,” he said , “however, this very morning he nearly caught me and it is a wonder that my hair is not snow white from fright.” Then he told Jenny all about his narrow escape. “Had it not been for that handy hole of Grandfather Chuck, I couldn’t possibly have escaped,” Peter concluded.
Jenny Wren cocked her little head to one side and her sharp little eyes snapped. “By the way Peter, why don’t you learn to swim like your cousin down in the Sunny South?” she asked. “If he had been in your place, he would have simply plunged into the Smiling Pool and swam away from Reddy Fox.”
Peter sat bolt upright with his eyes very wide open. In them was a funny look of surprise as he stared up at Jenny Wren. “What are you talking about, Jenny Wren?” he asked. “Don’t you know that none of the Rabbit family swim unless it is to cross the Laughing Brook when there is no other way of getting to the other side, or when actually driven into the water by an enemy from whom there is no other escape? I can swim a little if I have to, although you won’t catch me in the water if I can stay on land. What is more, you won’t find any other members of my family doing such a thing either.”
“Tut, tut, tut, Peter!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “I wonder how much you really know about your own family. How many relatives do you have Peter?”
“One,” replied Peter promptly, “my big cousin, Jumper the Hare.”
“Oh my, well I have to say,” said Jenny Wren, “while I’m way down in the Sunny South where I spend the winters, I’ve met a cousin of yours who is more closely related to you than Jumper the Hare. And what is more, he is almost as fond of the water as Jerry Muskrat. He is called the Marsh Rabbit or Marsh Hare, and many a time I have watched him swimming about by the hour.”
“Truly, it is hard to believe that there is a hare fond of water!” declared Peter. “I belong to the Cottontail branch of the Hare family, and it is a fine family if I do say so. My cousin Jumper is a true Hare, and the only difference between us is that he is bigger, has longer legs and ears, changes the color of his coat in winter, and seldom, if ever, goes into holes in the ground. So the idea of you trying to tell me I have more relatives that I don’t even know is surprising to say the least.”
Jenny Wren suddenly became serious. “Peter,” she said very earnestly, “take my advice and go see Mother Nature and learn what you can from her. What I have told you is true, every word of it. You have a cousin down in the Sunny South who spends half his time in the water. What is more, I suspect that you and Jumper have other relatives of whom you’ve never heard. Truly, go see Mother Nature as she is so wise and always knows best.” With this, Jenny Wren flew away to find Mr. Wren so that they might decide where to make their home for the summer.
Peter wondered. Could it be possible that Jenny Wren was right? Could it be that he really didn’t know what relatives he had or anything about them? Of course Mother Nature could tell him all he wanted to know. And he knew that whatever she might tell him would be true.
Finally with curiosity Peter started for the Green Forest to look for Mother Nature. It didn’t take long to find her. She was very busy, for there is no time in all the year when Mother Nature has quite so much to do as in the spring.
“If you please, Mother Nature,” said Peter in a very polite voice, “I’ve some questions I want to ask you.”
Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled in a kindly way. “All right, Peter,” she replied. “I guess I can talk and work at the same time. What is it you want to know?”
“I want to know if it is true that there are any other members of the Rabbit and the Hare family besides my big cousin, Jumper, who lives here in the Green Forest, and myself.”
Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled more than ever. “Why, of course, Peter,” she replied. “There are several other members. I suppose you don’t know this because you have never have traveled beyond the Green Forest.”
Peter looked very humble. “Is it true that way down in the Sunny South I have a cousin who loves to spend his time in the water?” Peter asked.
“It certainly is,” replied Mother Nature. “He is called the Marsh Rabbit, and he is more nearly your size, and looks more like you, than any of your other cousins.”
Peter gulped as if he were swallowing something that went down hard. “That is what Jenny Wren said, however I found it hard to believe her,” replied Peter. “She said she had often watched him swimming about like Jerry Muskrat.”
Mother Nature nodded. “Quite true,” she said. “He is quite as much at home in the water as on land, if anything a little more so. He is one member the family who takes to the water, and he certainly does love it. Is there anything else you want to know, Peter?”
Peter shifted about uneasily and hesitated. “What is it, Peter?” asked Mother Nature kindly. “There is nothing in this Great World better than asking a question. Ask any question you like.”
Peter took heart. “If you please, Mother Nature, I would like to learn all about my family. May I come to see you every day to learn more?”
Mother Nature smiled. “Certainly you may come to learn with me, Mr. Curiosity,” she said. “It is a good idea; a very good idea. I’m very busy, as you can see, however I’m never too busy to share with those who really want to learn. We’ll have a session here every morning just at sun-up. I can’t do any more today as it is getting late. Run along home to the dear Old Briar-patch and think up some questions to ask me tomorrow morning. And, by the way, Peter, I will ask YOU some questions too. For one thing I shall ask YOU to tell me all you know about your own family. Now scamper along and I’ll see you tomorrow morning right here at sun-up.”
“Mother Nature, may I bring my cousin, Jumper the Hare, if he wants to come along?” asked Peter.
“Yes, bring him and anyone else who wants to learn,” replied Mother Nature kindly.
Peter bade her goodbye in his most polite manner and then scampered as fast as he could go, lipperty-lipperty-lip, to the dear Old Briar-patch. There he spent the remainder of the day thinking up questions and also trying to find out how much he really did know about his own family.
- Do you have cotton-tail rabbits where you live? How do you know?
- What signs have you seen to inform you that rabbits live in your yard, neighborhood, or nearby field and forest area?
- Do you think Peter Rabbit’s cousin, Jumper the Hare, lives nearby you too? Why or why not?
- *Have you discovered rabbit tracks in the snow? Which direction was the rabbit going? Lipperty-lipperty-lip! Were the tracks made at night or during the day? How are the feet of a rabbit protected so they do not freeze in the snow?
- Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for a preview of more to come on the topic of rabbits.
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.