Squirrels of the Trees
Peter Rabbit found Johnny Chuck sitting on his doorstep, sunning himself. Peter was quite out of breath because he had hurried so. “Do you know that you are a Squirrel, Johnny Chuck?” he panted.
Johnny slowly turned his head and looked at Peter as if he thought Peter had suddenly gone crazy. “What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I’m not a Squirrel; I’m a Woodchuck,” he replied.
“Just the same, you are a Squirrel,” replied Peter. “The Woodchucks belong to the Squirrel family. Mother Nature says so, and if she says so, it is so. You best join us Johnny Chuck and learn a little about your own relatives.”
Johnny Chuck blinked his eyes and for a minute or two couldn’t find a word to say. He knew that if Peter were telling the truth as to what Mother Nature had said, it must be true that he was member of the Squirrel family. However it was hard to believe. “What is this all about, learning with Mother Nature?” he finally asked.
Peter hastened to tell him. He told Johnny all about what he and Jumper the Hare had learned about their family, and all the surprising things Mother Nature had told them about the Squirrel family, and he ended by again urging Johnny Chuck to join them and promised to call for Johnny the next morning.
However, Johnny Chuck does not like to go far from his own doorstep, so when Peter called the next morning Johnny refused to go, despite all Peter could say. Peter didn’t waste much time arguing for he was afraid he would be late and miss something. When he reached the Green Forest he found his cousin, Jumper the Hare, and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, and Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, already there. As soon as Peter arrived Mother Nature began the morning session.
“Happy Jack,” she said, “you may tell us all you know about your cousin, Chatterer.”
“To begin with, he is the smallest of the Tree Squirrels,” said Happy Jack. “He isn’t so very much bigger than Striped Chipmunk, and that means that he is less than half as big as myself. His coat is red and his waistcoat white; his tail is about two-thirds as long as his body and flat and not very broad.”
“He spends more of his time in the trees than I do,” continued Happy Jack, “and is especially fond of pine trees and other cone-bearing trees. He likes the deeper parts of the Green Forest more than I do, though he seems to feel just as much at home on the edge of the Green Forest, especially if it is near a farm where he can get access to corn.”
“I have to admit that Chatterer is thrifty,” continued Happy Jack. “He is very fond of the seeds of cone-bearing trees. He cuts the cones from the trees just before they are ripe. Then they ripen and open on the ground, where he can get at the seeds easily. He often has a number of storehouses and stores up cone seeds, acorns, nuts, and corn when he can get it. He builds a nest of leaves and strips of bark, sometimes in a hollow tree and sometimes high up in the branches of an evergreen tree. He is a good jumper and jumps from tree to tree. He does take some of my stores too.”
“You do the same thing to me when you have the chance, which isn’t often,” sputtered Chatterer.
Happy Jack turned away from Chatterer and continued, “He doesn’t seem to mind cold weather at all, as long as the sun shines. His noisy tongue is to be heard on the coldest days of winter. He sauces and scolds everybody he meets, and every time he opens his mouth he jerks his tail.”
Here Mother Nature spoke up and said, “Happy Jack forgot to mention that you eat s few insects at times. He also forgot to mention that sometimes you have a storehouse down in the ground. Now tell us what you know about your cousin, Happy Jack.”
“Happy Jack is more than twice as big as I,” said Chatterer looking at Happy Jack. “He is gray all over, except underneath, where he is white. He has a tremendously big tail. When he sits up he has a way of folding his hands on his breast. I don’t know what he does it for unless it is to keep them warm in cold weather. He builds a nest very much like mine. Sometimes it is in a hollow tree, although quite as often it is in the branches of a tree. He is a good traveler in the tree tops, and he spends a good deal of his time on the ground as well. He likes open woodland best, especially where there are many nut trees. He has a storehouse where he stores up nuts for winter, and he buries in the ground and under the leaves more than he puts in his storehouse. In winter, when he is hungry, he hunts for those buried nuts, and somehow he manages to find them even when they are covered with snow. ”
“Have you told us all you know about Happy Jack, Chatterer?” asked Mother Nature.
Chatterer nodded. “What you have told us is good as far as it goes,” she said. “You said that Happy Jack is all gray excepting underneath. Usually the Gray Squirrel is just as Chatterer has described him and sometimes a Gray Squirrel isn’t gray at all, rather it can be all black.”
Peter Rabbit’s ears stood straight up with astonishment. “How can a Gray Squirrel be black?” he questioned.
Mother Nature smiled. “That is a fair question, Peter,” she said. “Gray Squirrel is simply the name of Happy Jack’s family. Sometimes some of the babies are born with black coats instead of gray coats. Of course they are just the same kind of Squirrel, only they look different. In some parts of the country there are numbers of these black-coated Squirrels and many think they are a different kind of Squirrel. They are not. They are simply black-coated members of Happy Jack’s family. Just remember this. It is the same way in the family of Rusty the Fox Squirrel. Some members are rusty red, some are a mixture of red and gray, and some are as gray as Happy Jack himself. Way down in the Sunny South Fox Squirrels always have white noses and ears. In the North they never have white noses and ears. Rusty the Fox Squirrel is just a little bigger than Happy Jack and has just such a handsome tail. He is the strongest and heaviest of the Tree Squirrels and not nearly as quick and graceful as Happy Jack. Sometimes Rusty has two nests in the same tree, one in a hollow in a tree for bad weather and the other made of sticks and leaves outside in the branches for use in good weather. Rusty’s habits are very much the same as those of Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, and therefore he likes the same kind of surroundings. Like his cousin, Happy Jack, Rusty is a great help to me.”
Seeing how surprised everybody looked, Mother Nature explained. “Both Happy Jack and Rusty bury a great many more nuts than they ever need,” she said, “and those they do not dig up sprout in the spring and grow. In that way they plant ever so many trees without knowing it. Very likely Happy Jack’s great-great-ever-so-great grandfather planted the very tree you get your fattest and best hickory nuts from Chatterer.”
“Way out in the mountains of the Far West you have a cousin called the Douglas Squirrel, who is really a true Red Squirrel and whose habits are very much like your own. Some folks call him the Pine Squirrel. By the way, Chatterer, Happy Jack forgot to say that you are a good swimmer. Perhaps he didn’t know it.”
By the expression of Happy Jack’s face it was quite clear that he didn’t know it. “Certainly I can swim,” said Chatterer. “I don’t mind the water at all. I can swim a long distance if I have to.”
This was quite as much news to Peter Rabbit as had been the fact that a cousin of his own was a good swimmer.
“Are there any other Tree Squirrels?” asked Jumper the Hare.
“Yes,” replied Mother Nature, “there are two. They live out in the Southwest, in one of the most wonderful places in all this great land, a place called the Grand Canyon. One is called the Abert Squirrel and the other the Kaibab Squirrel. They are about the size of Happy Jack and Rusty and have broader, handsomer tails and their ears have long tufts of hair. The Abert Squirrel has black ears, a brown back, gray sides and white underneath. Kaibab has brown ears with black tips, and his tail is mostly white. Both are very lovely, although their families are small and so they are little known.”
And with this last tidbit Mother Nature moved on with her day.
- Do you have more than one type of squirrel living near to you?
- Do you see squirrels at the local park? At a neighbor’s bird feeder? Or in what other locations?
- Visit this LINK for more information about squirrels from the Mass Audubon Society.
- *Observations and Ponderings: What is the food of the squirrel during each season? Where does it store food? Does it steal food from other wildlife? How does it carry nuts? How much squirrel language (or chatter) can you understand for example: surprise, anger, excitement? How many different sounds does it make?
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.