Mink and Otter
The bank of the Smiling Pool was a lovely place to hold a learning session at just after sun-up. Everybody who could get there was on hand, and there were several who had not been before. One of these was Grandfather Frog, who was sitting on his big, green, lily pad. Another was Jerry Muskrat, whose house was out in the Smiling Pool. Spotty the Turtle was also there and Longlegs the Heron too. You see, they hadn’t come to the learning sessions the learning session came to them, for that is where they live or spend most of their time.
“Good morning, Jerry Muskrat,” said Mother Nature pleasantly, as Jerry’s brown head appeared in the Smiling Pool. “Have you seen anything of Billy Mink or Little Joe Otter?”
“Little Joe went down to the Big River last night,” replied Jerry Muskrat. “I don’t know when he is coming back, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him any minute. Billy Mink was here last evening and said he was going up the Laughing Brook fishing. He is likely to be back any time. One never can tell when that fellow will appear. He comes and goes continually. I don’t believe he can keep still five minutes.”
“Who can’t keep still for five minutes?” a new voice jumped in and there was Billy Mink himself just climbing out on the Big Rock.
“Jerry was speaking of you,” replied Mother Nature. “This will be a good chance for you to show him that he is mistaken. I want you to stay here for a while and to stay right on the Big Rock. I may want to ask you a few questions.”
Just then Billy Mink dove into the Smiling Pool, and a second later his brown head popped out of the water and in his mouth was a fat fish. He scrambled back on the Big Rock and looked at Mother Nature as he laid the fish down.
“I couldn’t help myself,” he mumbled. “I saw that fish and dove for him. I hope you will forgive me, Mother Nature. I just can’t sit still for long.”
As Billy Mink sat there on the Big Rock for a moment eating his fish everyone had a good look at him. One glance would tell anyone that he was a cousin of Shadow the Weasel. He was much larger than Shadow and of the same general shape being long and slender. His coat was a beautiful dark brown, darkest on the back. His chin was white. His tail was round, covered with fairly long hair which was so dark as to be almost black. His face was like that of Shadow the Weasel. His legs were rather short. As he sat eating that fish, his back was arched.
Mother Nature waited until he had finished his feast. “Now then, Billy,” she said, “Which do you like best, night or day?”
“It doesn’t make any particular difference to me,” replied Billy. “I just sleep when I feel like it, whether it be night or day, and then when I wake up I can hunt. It all depends on how I feel.”
“When you go hunting, what do you hunt?” asked Mother Nature.
Billy grinned. “Anything that promises a good meal,” he said. “I’m not very particular. A fat Mouse, a tender young Rabbit, a Chipmunk, a Frog, Tadpoles, Chickens, eggs, birds, fish; whatever happens to be easiest to get suits me. I am rather fond of fish, and that’s one reason that I live along the Laughing Brook and around the Smiling Pool. I do like a change, and so often I go hunting in the Green Forest. Sometimes I go up to Farmer Brown’s for a Chicken. In the spring I hunt for nests of birds on the ground. In winter, if Peter Rabbit should happen along here when I was hungry, I might be tempted to sample Peter.” Billy blinked his bright eyes as Peter shivered.
“And if Jerry Muskrat were not my friend, I am afraid I might be tempted to sample him too,” continued Billy Mink.
“Oh Pooh!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “You wouldn’t dare tackle Jerry Muskrat.”
“Wouldn’t I?” replied Billy. “Just ask Jerry how he feels about it.”
One look at Jerry’s face showed everybody that Jerry, big as he was, was afraid of Billy Mink. “And how do you hunt when you are on land?” asked Mother Nature.
“I hunt with my eyes, nose and ears,” replied Billy. “There may be folks with better ears than I’ve got, although I don’t know who they are. I wouldn’t swap noses with anybody. As for my eyes, well, they are plenty good enough for me.”
“In other words, you hunt very much as does your cousin, Shadow the Weasel,” said Mother Nature.
Billy nodded. “I suppose we are similar at that,” he said.
“You all saw how Billy catches fish,” said Mother Nature. “Now, Billy, if you would swim over to the farther bank and show us how you run.”
Billy slipped into the water and swam for a distance and then popped just his head out. When he reached the edge of the pond he climbed up on the bank and started along it. He went by a series of bounds, his back arched sharply between each leap. Then he disappeared before their very eyes, only to reappear as suddenly as he had gone. So quick were his movements that it was impossible for them to keep their eyes on him. It seemed sometimes as though he must have vanished into the air. Of course he didn’t. He was simply showing them his wonderful ability to take advantage of every little stick, stone and bush.
“Billy is a great traveler,” said Mother Nature. “He really loves to travel up and down the Laughing Brook, even for long distances. Being so slender he can slip under all kinds of places and into all sorts of holes. Quick as he is on land, he is not so quick as his Cousin Shadow the Weasel; and good swimmer as he is, he isn’t so good as his bigger cousin, Little Joe Otter. However, being equally at home on land and in water, he has an advantage over his cousins. Mrs. Mink makes her home nest in a hole in the bank or under an old stump or under a pile of driftwood, and you may be sure it is well hidden. There the babies are born, and they stay with their mother all summer. Incidentally, Billy can climb too.”
“Now, I wish Little Joe Otter were here. I had hoped he would be,” said Mother Nature looking all around.
“Here he comes now,” cried Jerry Muskrat. “I rather expected he would be back.” Jerry pointed towards where the Laughing Brook left the Smiling Pool on its way to the Big River. A brown head was moving rapidly towards them. There was no mistaking that head. It could belong to no one other than Little Joe Otter. Straight on to the Big Rock he came, and climbed up. He was big, being one of the largest members of his family. He was more than three feet long. No one looking at him could mistake him for anyone other than a member of the Weasel family. His legs were short, very short for the length of his body. His tail was fairly long and broad. His coat was a rich brown all over, and a little lighter underneath than on the back.”
“What’s going on over here?” asked Little Joe Otter, his eyes bright with interest.
“We are holding a learning session here today,” explained Mother Nature. “And we were just hoping that you would appear. Would you hold up one of your feet and spread the toes, Little Joe for all to see?”
Little Joe Otter did with a puzzled look on his face. “Well I’ll be!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “His toes are webbed like those of Paddy the Beaver!”
“Ah yes,” said Little Joe, “I never could swim the way I do if they weren’t webbed.”
“Can you swim better than Paddy the Beaver?” asked Peter.
“I should say I can. If I didn’t, I guess I would go hungry most of the time,” replied Little Joe.
“Why should you go hungry? Paddy doesn’t,” replied Peter.
“Paddy doesn’t live on fish,” replied Little Joe. “I do and that’s the difference.”
“Might you show us how you can swim?” suggested Mother Nature.
Little Joe slipped into the water. The Smiling Pool was very still and the four-legged folks sitting on the bank could look right down and see nearly to the bottom. They saw Little Joe as he entered the water and then saw little more than a brown streak. A second later his head popped out on the other side of the Smiling Pool.
“Phew, I’m glad I’m not a fish!” exclaimed Peter and everybody laughed.
“ Like Billy Mink, Little Joe is a great traveler,” Mother Nature continued, “especially up and down the Laughing Brook and the Big River. Sometimes he travels over land, although he is so heavy and his legs are so short that traveling on land is slow work. When he does cross from one stream or pond to another, he always picks out the smoothest going. Sometimes in winter he travels quite a bit. Then when he comes to a smooth hill, he slides down it on his stomach. By the way, Little Joe, haven’t you a slippery slide somewhere around here?”
Little Joe nodded. “I’ve got one down the Laughing Brook where the bank is steep,” said he. “Mrs. Otter and I and our children slide every day!”
“What do you mean by a slippery slide?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel, who was sitting in the Big Hickory-tree which grew on the bank of the Smiling Pool.
Mother Nature smiled. “Little Joe Otter and his family are quite fond of play,” she said. “One of their ways of playing is to make a slippery slide where the bank is steep and the water deep. In winter it is made of snow and in summer it is made of mud. There they slide down, splash into the water, then climb up the bank and do it all over again. In winter they make their slippery slide where the water doesn’t freeze.”
“I suppose that means that Little Joe doesn’t sleep in winter as Johnny Chuck does,” said Peter.
“Oh no, I should say not,” exclaimed Little Joe. “I like the winter, too. I have such a warm coat that I never get cold. There are always places where the water doesn’t freeze. I can swim for long distances under ice and so I can always get plenty of food.”
“Do you eat anything other than fish?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“Oh, sometimes,” replied Little Joe. “Once in a while I like a little fresh meat for a change, and sometimes when fish are scarce I eat Frogs, but I prefer fish, especially Salmon and Trout.”
“How many babies do you have at a time?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel.
“Usually one to three,” replied Little Joe, “and only one family a year. They are born in my comfortable house, which is a burrow in the bank. There Mrs. Otter makes a large, soft nest of leaves and grass. And now I think I will go on up the Laughing Brook as Mrs. Otter is waiting for me there.”
- Perhaps you live in a climate where there is snow to make a winter slippery slide just like Little Joe Otter. Have you ever thought to make a mud slide in the summer like him too? Try a little research with your family to see what otter slippery slides look like and then see if you can recreate your own version for some summer P.L.A.Y.!
- Have you seen a mink walk on land? Can you arch your back “between leaps” like Billy Mink? Or how about leap AND hide as he does? Where are you best suited for travel – on land or in the water?