Pika and Mountain Beaver
Johnny Chuck had now become as full of curiosity as Peter Rabbit. The discovery that he had a big cousin, Whistler the Marmot, living in the mountains of the Far West, had given Johnny something to think about. It seemed to Johnny such an odd place for a member of his family to live that he wanted to know more about it. So Johnny had a question all ready when Mother Nature began a new session the next morning.
“If you please, Mother Nature,” he said, “does my cousin, Whistler, have any neighbors up among those rocks where he lives?”
“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature, nodding her head. “He has for a near neighbor one of the quaintest and most interesting little members of the big order to which you all belong. And do you all remember what that order is?” she asked.
“The order of Rodents,” Peter Rabbit piped up.
“Right you are, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at Peter. “ Now, this little neighbor of Whistler’s is called a Pika.”
Instantly Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare pricked up their long ears and became more interested. “If you please Mother Nature, who is this Pika? ” asked Jumper.
“He looks much like a small Rabbit, even though he is not, with short hind legs and rounded ears,” said Mother Nature. “Some folks call him Pika, some also call him a Cony or the Crying Hare. This is because he uses his voice a great deal, which is something no member of the Hare family really does. In size he is just about as big as one of your half-grown babies, Peter, so, you see, he really is a very little fellow. His coat is grayish-brown. His ears are of good size, although instead of being long they are round. He has small bright eyes. His legs are short, his hind legs being very little longer than his front ones. He has hair on the soles of his feet just like the members of the hare family.”
“What about his tail?” asked Peter Rabbit. You know Peter is very much interested in tails.
Mother Nature smiled. “Why he has less of one than you Peter,” she said. “That is, he hasn’t any that can be seen easily .”
“He lives way up among the rocks of the great mountains above where the trees grow and often is a very near neighbor to Whistler,” continued Mother Nature.
“I suppose that means that he makes his home down in under rocks, the same as Whistler does,” Johnny Chuck spoke up.
“Right,” replied Mother Nature. “He is such a little fellow that he can get through very narrow places, and he has his home and barns way down in among the rocks.”
“Barns!” exclaimed Happy Jack Squirrel. “Barns! What do you mean by barns?”
Mother Nature laughed. “I just call them barns,” she said, “because they are the places where he stores away his hay, just as Farmer Brown stores away his hay in his barn. I suppose you would call them storehouses.”
At the mention of hay, Peter Rabbit sat bolt upright and his eyes were wide open with astonishment. “Did you say hay?” he exclaimed. “Where under the sun does he get hay way up there, and what does he want of it?”
There was a twinkle in Mother Nature’s eyes as she replied, “He makes that hay just as you see Farmer Brown make hay every summer. It is what he lives on in the winter and in bad weather. Pika knows just as much about the proper way of making hay as Farmer Brown does. Even way up among the rocks there are places where grass and pea-vines and other green things grow. Pika lives on these in summer. And he is as wise and thrifty as any Squirrel, another way in which he differs from the Hare family. He cuts the vines when they are ready for cutting and spreads them out on the rocks to dry in the sun. He knows that if he should take them down into his barns while they are fresh and green they would sour and spoil; so he never stores them away until they are thoroughly dry. Then, of course, they are hay, for hay is nothing other than sun-dried grass cut before it has begun to die. When his hay is just as dry as it should be, he takes it down and stores it away in his barns, which are little caves down in among the rocks. There he has it for use in winter when there is no green food.”
“Pika is so nearly the color of the rocks that it takes sharp eyes to see him when he is sitting still. He has a funny little squeaking voice, and he uses it a great deal. It is a funny voice because it is hard to tell just where it comes from. It seems to come from nowhere in particular. Sometimes he can be heard squeaking way down in his home under the rocks. Like Johnny Chuck, he prefers to sleep at night and be abroad during the day. Because he is so small he must always be on the lookout for predators. At the first hint of danger he scampers to safety in among the rocks, and there he scolds whoever has frightened him. Pika really is the great little haymaker of the mountains of the Great West.”
“That haymaking is a pretty good idea of Pika’s,” remarked Peter Rabbit, scratching a long ear with a long hind foot.
“By the way,” said Mother Nature, “there is another haymaker out in those same great mountains of the Far West.”
“Who?” Peter, Johnny Chuck, and Happy Jack the Squirrel all said in the same breath.
“Stubtail the Mountain Beaver,” declared Mother Nature promptly.
“I know Paddy the Beaver,” Peter Rabbit responded, “and I suppose Stubtail is his cousin.”
Mother Nature shook her head. “No, actually” she said. “Stubtail and Paddy are no more closely related than the rest of you. Stubtail isn’t a Beaver at all. His proper name is Sewellel and sometimes he is called the Boomer, although most folks call him simply the Mountain Beaver.”
“Is it because he looks like Paddy the Beaver?” Striped Chipmunk asked.
“No,” replied Mother Nature. “He looks more like Jerry Muskrat than he does like Paddy. He is about Jerry’s size and looks very much as Jerry would if he had no tail.”
“Hasn’t he any tail at all?” asked Peter.
“Yes, he has a little tail, a little stub of a tail, however it is so small that to look at him you would think he hadn’t any,” replied Mother Nature. “He is found out in the same mountains of the Far West where Whistler and Pika live, although instead of living way up high among the rocks he is at home down in the valleys where the ground is soft and the trees grow thickly. Stubtail has no use for rocks. He wants soft, wet ground where he can tunnel to his heart’s content. In this way Stubtail is very much like Yap Yap the Prairie Dog.”
“What is that?” asked Johnny Chuck quickly, for, you know, Yap Yap is Johnny’s cousin.
“In his social habits,” replied Mother Nature. “Stubtail isn’t fond of living alone. He wants company of his own kind. So wherever you find Stubtail you are likely to find many of his family. They like to go visiting back and forth. They make little paths between their homes and all about through the thick ferns, and they keep these little paths free and clear, so that they may run along them easily. Some of these little paths lead into long tunnels. These are made for safety. Usually the ground is so wet that there will be water running in the bottoms of these little tunnels.”
“What kind of a house does Stubtail have?” inquired Johnny Chuck interestedly.
“A hole in the ground,” replied Mother Nature. “It is dug where the ground is drier than where the runways are made. Mrs. Stubtail makes a nest of dried ferns and close by they build two or three storehouses, for Stubtail and Mrs. Stubtail are thrifty people.”
“I suppose he fills them with hay, for you said he is a haymaker,” remarked Happy Jack Squirrel, who is always interested in storehouses.
“Yes,” replied Mother Nature, “he puts hay in them. He cuts grasses, ferns, pea-vines and other green plants and carries them in little bundles to the entrance to his tunnel. There he piles them on sticks so as to keep them off he damp ground and so that the air can help dry them out. When they are dry, he takes them inside and stores them away. He also stores other things. He likes the roots of ferns. He cuts tender, young twigs from bushes and stores away some of these. He is fond of bark. In winter he is quite as active as in summer and tunnels about under the snow. Then he sometimes has a habit like Peter Rabbit of gnawing tree bark all around as high up as he can reach.”
“Can he climb trees?” asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“Just about as much as Johnny Chuck can,” replied Mother Nature. “Sometimes he climbs up in low bushes or in small, low-branching trees to cut off tender shoots, although he doesn’t do much of this sort of thing. His home is the ground. He is most active at night and also where undisturbed he is out more or less during the day. When he wants to cut off a twig he sits up like a Squirrel and holds the twig in his hands while he bites it off with his sharp teeth.”
“You didn’t tell us what color his coat is,” said Peter Rabbit.
“His coat is brown, much the color of Jerry Muskrat’s, although his fur is not nearly so soft and fine,” Mother Nature noted.
“I suppose he has predators just as the rest of us four-legged folks have,” said Peter.
“Yes, of course,” replied Mother Nature. “All the four-legged folks have predators, and most big ones too, for that matter. King Eagle is one and Yowler the Bob Cat is another. They are always watching for Stubtail. That is why he digs so many tunnels. He can travel under the ground then.”
“My goodness, how time flies! I have much to do and must be on my way. Scamper home, all of you, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!
- What do you know about farmers “making hay”? What is the difference between grass and hay? Do you know any other animals that eat hay besides the Pika and the Mountain Beaver?
- Are there rocky areas near to where you live? If so, what animals do you know of that live in that area? Do they have traits like the Pika and Mountain Beaver? If yes, what are they? If no, how are they different?