Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 11 – Porcupine


Chapter 11

Porcupine


“There,” said Mother Nature, pointing to Prickly Porky the Porcupine, “is the next to largest member of your order, which is?”

“Order of Rodents,” piped up Striped Chipmunk.

“He is the next to largest and very good at escaping predators,” continued Mother Nature.

“Actually, escaping his predators is no real credit to him. They are only too glad to keep out of his way; he doesn’t have to fear anybody,” said Chatterer the Red Squirrel to his cousin, Happy Jack.

His remark didn’t escape the keen ears of Mother Nature. “Are you sure about that?” she asked. “Well there is Pekan the Fisher”

She was interrupted by a great rattling on the old stump. Everybody turned to look. There was Prickly Porky backing down as fast as he could, which wasn’t fast at all, and rattling his thousand little spears as he did so. It was really very funny. Everybody had to laugh, even Mother Nature. You see, it was plain that he was in a great hurry, yet every movement was slow and clackety.

“Well, Prickly Porky, what does this mean? Where are you going?” asked Mother Nature.

Prickly Porky turned his eyes towards her, and in them was a troubled, worried look. “Where’s Pekan the Fisher?” he asked, and his voice shook a little with something very much like fear.

Mother Nature understood instantly. When she had said, “Well there is Pekan the Fisher,” Prickly Porky had waited to hear no more. He had instantly thought that she meant that Pekan was right there somewhere. “It’s all right, Prickly Porky,” she said. “Pekan isn’t anywhere around here, so climb back on that stump and no need to worry. Chatterer had just said that you didn’t have to fear anybody and I was starting to explain that actually you do, that despite your thousand little spears you have reason to fear Pekan the Fisher.”

Prickly Porky shivered and this made the thousand little spears in his coat rattle. It was such a surprising thing to see Prickly Porky actually afraid that the other little folks almost doubted their own eyes. “Are you quite sure that Pekan isn’t anywhere around?” asked Prickly Porky, and his voice still shook.

“Quite sure,” replied Mother Nature. “If he were I wouldn’t allow him to hurt you. You ought to know that. Now sit up so that every one can get a good look at you.”

Prickly Porky sat up, and the others gathered around the foot of the stump to look at him.

Porcupine illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

He was a little bigger than Bobby Coon and his body was thick and heavy-looking. His back humped up like an arch. His head was rather small for the size of his body, short and rather round. His neck was even shorter. His eyes were small and it was plain that he couldn’t see far, or clearly unless what he was looking at was close at hand. His ears were small and nearly hidden in hair. His front teeth, the gnawing teeth which showed him to be a Rodent, were very large and bright orange. His legs were short and stout. He had four toes on each front foot and five on each hind foot, and these were armed with quite long, stout claws.

The oddest thing and the most interesting thing about Prickly Porky was his coat. Not one among the other four-legged folk of the Green Forest has a coat anything like his. Most of them have soft, short under fur protected and more or less hidden by longer, coarser hair. Prickly Porky had the long coarse hair and on his back it was very long and coarse, brownish-black in color up to the tips, which were white. Under this long hair was some soft woolly fur, and what long hair he had hid chiefly was an array of little spears called quills. They were white to the tips, which were dark and very, very sharply pointed. All down the sides were tiny barbs, so small as hardly to be seen. On his head the quills were about an inch long and on his back they were four inches long, becoming shorter towards the tail. His tail was rather short, stout, and covered with short quills.

As he sat there on that old stump some of Prickly Porky’s little spears could be seen peeping out from the long hair on his back, although they didn’t look particularly dangerous. Peter Rabbit suddenly made a discovery. “Why!” he exclaimed. “He hasn’t any little spears on the under side of him!”

“I wondered who would be the first to notice that,” said Mother Nature. “No, Prickly Porky hasn’t any little spears underneath, and Pekan the Fisher has found that out. He knows that if he can turn Prickly Porky on his back he can attack him without much danger from those little spears, and he has learned how to do that very thing. That is why Prickly Porky is afraid of him. Now, Prickly Porky, climb down off that stump and show these little four-legged folks what you do when a predator comes near.”

Fisher illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Grumbling and growling, Prickly Porky climbed down to the ground. Then he tucked his head down between his front paws and suddenly the thousand little spears appeared all over him, pointing in every direction until he looked like a giant chestnut burr. Then he began to thrash his tail from side to side.

“What is he doing that for?” asked Johnny Chuck, looking rather puzzled.

“Go near enough to be hit by it, and you’ll understand,” said Mother Nature. “That is his one weapon. Whoever is hit by that tail will find himself full of those little spears and will take care never to go near Prickly Porky again. Once those little spears have entered the skin, they keep working in deeper and deeper, and more than one of his predators has been killed by them. On account of those tiny barbs they are hard to pull out, and pulling them out hurts dreadfully. Just try one and see.”

No one was anxious to try, so Mother Nature paused only a moment. “You will notice that he moves that tail quickly,” she continued. “It is the only thing about him which is quick. When he has a chance, in time of danger, he likes to get his head under a log or rock, instead of putting it between his paws as he is doing now. Then he plants his feet firmly and waits for a chance to use that tail.”

“Is it true that he can throw those little spears at folks?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature shook her head. “There isn’t a word of truth in it,” she declared. “That story probably was started by some one who was hit by his tail, and it was done so quickly that the victim didn’t see the tail move and so thought the little spears were thrown at him.”

“How does he make all those little spears stand up that way?” asked Jumper the Hare.

“He has a special set of muscles for just that purpose,” explained Mother Nature.

“When those quills stick into someone they must pull out of Prickly Porky’s own skin; I should think that would hurt him,” spoke up Striped Chipmunk.

“Not at all,” replied Mother Nature. “They are very loosely fastened in his skin and come out at the least little pull. New ones grow to take the place of those he loses.”

“Also notice that he puts his whole foot flat on the ground just as Buster Bear and Bobby Coon do. Very few animals do this, and those that do are said to be plantigrade. Now, Prickly Porky, tell us what you eat and where you make your home, and that will end today’s session.”

“I eat bark, twigs and leaves mostly,” said Prickly Porky. “I like hemlock best of all, and also eat poplar, pine and other trees for a change. Sometimes I stay in a tree for days until I have stripped it of all its bark and leaves. I don’t see any sense in moving about any more than is necessary.”

“Does that kill the tree?” exclaimed Peter Rabbit.

“Well, maybe, what of it?” replied Prickly Porky. “There are plenty of trees. In summer I like lily pads and always get them when I can.”

“Can you swim?” asked Peter eagerly.

“Of course,” grunted Prickly Porky.

“I never see you out on the Green Meadows,” said Peter.

“And you never will,” replied Prickly Porky. “The Green Forest is for me every time. Summer or winter, I’m at home there.”

“Don’t you sleep through the cold weather the way Buster Bear and I do?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“No, cold weather doesn’t bother me. I like it, ” said Prickly Porky. “I have the Green Forest pretty much to myself then. I like to be alone. And as long as there are trees, there is plenty to eat. I sleep a great deal in the daytime because I like night best.”

“What about your home?” asked Happy Jack.

“Home is wherever I happen to be, most of the time, and Mrs. Porky has a home in a hollow log or a cave or under the roots of a tree where the babies are born.”

“You might add that those babies are big for the size of their mother and have a full supply of quills when they are born,” said Mother Nature. “And you might like to mention how fond of salt you are. Your fear of Pekan the Fisher we all saw. I might add that Puma the Panther is to be feared at times, and when he is very hungry Buster Bear will take a chance on turning you on your back. By the way, don’t any of you call Prickly Porky a Hedgehog. He isn’t anything of the kind. He is sometimes called a Quill Pig, although his real name, Porcupine, is best. He has no near relatives.”

“Tomorrow morning, instead of meeting here, we’ll hold our session on the shore of the pond that Paddy the Beaver has made.”

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. What do people actually mean when they say ” that person was as prickly as a porcupine”?
  2. What other animals eat bark, twigs, and leaves just like a porcupine? I’ll get you started by naming goats(!) as fantastic eaters of bark and leaves. How many more animals can you list?
  3. *Start “branching out” into other topics mentioned by Prickly Porky such as the hemlock tree as his favorite food. What does a hemlock tree look like? What size cones does it have and who eats the seeds within them? How are the branches arranged to shed the snow or shelter birds? What is the color of the foliage? Does this change with the seasons?
  4. Visit this LINK to the Mass Audubon Society for more information and photos of porcupines.

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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 10 – Pocket Gopher


Chapter 10

Pocket Gopher


On the way to see Mother Nature the next morning Peter Rabbit wondered who they would learn about that day. He was so busy wondering that Peter wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going. The result was that as he hopped out of a bramble-tangle just within the edge of the Green Forest, he nearly landed in something worse than the worst brambles that ever grew. It was only by a wild side jump that he saved himself. Peter had almost landed among the thousand little spears of Prickly Porky the Porcupine.

“Gracious!” exclaimed Peter.

“Hey,” shouted Prickly Porky. “You almost had a few of my little spears sticking in you this very minute.” He waddled along a few steps, then began talking again. “I don’t see why Mother Nature sent for me this morning,” he said. “I’m not much for long walks.”

Peter pricked up his long ears. “Oh, I know!” he cried. “ You’re a Rodent, and we are going to learn all about you this morning.”

“I’m not a Rodent; I’m a Porcupine,” Prickly Porky said matter-of-factly.

“You’re a Rodent just the same. You’ve got big gnawing teeth, and any one with that kind of teeth is a Rodent,” reported Peter. Then at a sudden thought a funny look passed over his face. “Why, that means that you and I are related in a way,” he added.

“Oh, I don’t believe it,” Prickly Porky said still shuffling along. “ What is this learning session about anyway? I already know how to get all I want to eat and how to make everybody get out of my way and leave me alone, and that’s enough to know when you are a porcupine.” He rattled the thousand little spears hidden in his coat, and Peter shivered at the sound.

Prickly Porky the Porcupine illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

At that Peter hurried on ahead, lipperty-lipperty-lip, while Prickly Porky slowly shuffled and rattled along behind.

All the other four-legged folks were there when Peter arrived. Prickly Porky wasn’t even in sight. Mother Nature wasted no time and began at once.

“Yesterday,” she began, “I told you about two little haymakers of the high mountains of the Far West. Who were they, Peter Rabbit?”

“Pika and Stubtail the Mountain Beaver,” replied Peter with great promptness.

“Right,” said Mother Nature. “Now I am going to tell you of one of my little plowmen who also lives in the Far West and prefers the great plains to the high mountains, though he is sometimes found in the latter. He is Grubby the Gopher, a member of the same order the rest of you belong to, and yet of a family quite his own. He is properly called the Pocket Gopher.”

“Does he have pockets in his cheeks like mine?” asked Striped Chipmunk eagerly.

“He has pockets in his cheeks, and that is why he is called Pocket Gopher,” replied Mother Nature; “however they are not at all like yours, Striped Chipmunk. Yours are on the inside of your cheeks, and his are on the outside.”

“How funny!” exclaimed Striped Chipmunk.

“Your pockets are small compared with those of Grubby,” continued Mother Nature. “One of his covers almost the whole side of his head back to his short neck, and it is lined with fur, and remember he has two of them. Grubby uses these for carrying food and never for carrying out earth when he is digging a tunnel, as some folks think he does. He stuffs them full with his front feet and empties them by pressing them from the back with his feet. The Gopher family is quite large and the members range in size from the size of Danny the Meadow Mouse to that of the Rat, only these bigger members are stouter and heavier than the Rat. Some are reddish-brown and some are gray. Whatever his size and wherever he is found, Grubby’s habits are the same.”

All this time Peter Rabbit had been fidgeting about. It was quite clear that Peter had something on his mind. Now as Old Mother Nature paused, Peter found the chance he had been waiting for. “If you please, why did you call him a plowman?” he asked eagerly.

“I’m coming to that,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at Peter’s eagerness. “Grubby Gopher spends most of his life underground, very much like Miner the Mole, whom you all know. He can dig tunnels just about as fast. His legs are short, and his front legs and feet are very stout and strong. They are armed with very long, strong claws and it is with these and the help of his big cutting teeth that Grubby digs. He throws the earth under him and then kicks it behind him with his hind feet. When he has quite a pile behind him he turns around, and with his front feet and head pushes it along to a little side tunnel and then up to the surface of the ground. As soon as he has it all out he plugs up the opening and goes back to digging. The loose earth he has pushed out makes little mounds, and he makes one of these mounds every few feet.”

“Grubby is a great worker. He is very industrious. Since he is underground, it doesn’t make much difference to him whether it be night or day. In summer, during the hottest part of the day, he rests. His eyes are small and he doesn’t see well because he has little use for them, coming out on the surface very seldom and then usually in the dusk. He has a funny little tail without any hair on it; this is very sensitive and serves him as a sort of guide when he runs backward along his tunnel, which he can do quite fast. A funny thing about those long claws on his front feet is that he folds them under when he is walking or running. Do any of you know why Farmer Brown plows his garden?”

As she asked this, Mother Nature looked from one to another, and each in turn shook his head. “It is to mix the dead vegetable matter thoroughly with the earth so that the roots of the plants may get it easily,” explained Mother Nature. “By making those tunnels in every direction and bringing up the earth below to the surface, Grubby Gopher does the same thing. That is why I call him my little plowman. He loosens up the hard, packed earth and mixes the vegetable matter with it and so makes it easy for seeds to sprout and plants to grow.”

Pocket Gopher illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Then he must be one of the farmer’s best friends,” spoke up Happy Jack Squirrel.

Mother Nature shook her head. “He has been in the past,” she said. “He has done wonderful work in helping make the land fit for farming. However where land is being farmed he can be a bit of a challenge. You see he eats the crops the farmer tries to raise, and the new mounds he is all the time throwing up bury a lot of the young plants, and in the meadows make it very hard to use a mowing machine for cutting hay. Then Grubby gets into young orchards and cuts off all the tender roots of young trees. This kills them. You see he is fond of tender roots, seeds, stems of grass and grain, and is never happier than when he can find a field of potatoes.”

“Being such a worker, he has to have a great deal to eat. Then, too, he stores away a great deal for winter, for he doesn’t sleep in winter as Johnny Chuck does. He even tunnels about under the snow. Sometimes he fills these little snow tunnels with the earth he brings up from below, and when the snow melts it leaves odd little earth ridges to show where the tunnels were.”

“Grubby is very neat in his habits and keeps his home and himself very clean. During the day he leaves one of his mounds open for a little while to let in fresh air. Then he closes it again. He doesn’t dare leave it open very long, for fear Shadow the Weasel or a certain big Snake called the Gopher Snake will find it and come in after him. Digger the Badger is the only one of his predators who can dig fast enough to dig him out, and at night, when he likes to come out for a little air or to cut grain and grass, he must always watch for Hooty the Owl. Old Man Coyote and members of the Hawk family are always looking for him by day, so you see he has plenty of predators, just like the rest of you.”

“He got the name Gopher because that comes from a word meaning honeycomb, and Grubby’s tunnels go in every direction until the ground is like honeycomb. He isn’t very social social and he is always ready to fight. On the plains he has done a great deal to make the soil fine and rich, as I have already told you, however on hillsides he does a great deal of harm. The water runs down his tunnels and washes away the soil.”

“Hello!” Mother Nature said with a start, ” Look who’s here! ”

There was a shuffling and rattling and Prickly Porky climbed up on an old stump. He was looking much out of sorts after his long walk.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. How many animals can you think of that have “pockets”? Can you compare how humans use pockets to how animals use “pockets”? What is the same and what is different?
  2. What would it be like to spend most of your days underground like the Pocket Gopher? Can you imagine spending your days digging and tunneling and never seeing the sun or the moon? What would it feel like to not be impacted by the weather, seeing neither rain nor snow or experiencing the wind on your face?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 9 – Pika and Mountain Beaver


Chapter 9

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?”

Pika illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

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.

Mountain Beaver illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“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, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 8 – The Marmot Family


Chapter 8

The Marmot Family


Johnny Chuck was the first one on hand the next morning. The fact is, Johnny was quite excited over the discovery that he had some near relatives. He always had supposed that the Woodchucks were a family by themselves. Now that he knew that he had some close relatives, he was filled with quite as much curiosity as ever, just like his friend Peter Rabbit. Just as soon as Mother Nature was ready to begin, Johnny Chuck was ready with a question. “If you please,” he said, “who are my nearest relatives?”

“The Marmots of the Far West,” replied Mother Nature. “You know, you are a Marmot, and these cousins of yours out there are a great deal like you in a general way. The biggest is Whistler, who lives in the mountains of the Northwest. The fact is, he is the biggest of all the Marmot family.”

“Is he much bigger than Johnny Chuck?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Considerably bigger,” replied Mother Nature, nodding her head. “ I should think he would weight twice as much as Johnny.”

Johnny’s eyes opened very wide. “Oh my!” he exclaimed, “I sure would like to see him. Does he look like me?”

Hoary Marmot illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“In his shape he does,” said Mother Nature, “although his coat is different. His coat is a mixture of dark brown and white hairs which give him a grayish color. The upper part of his head, his feet and nails are black, and so are his ears. A black band runs from behind each ear down to his neck. His chin is pure white and there is white on his nose. Underneath he is a light, rusty color. His fur is thicker and softer than yours, Johnny; this is because he lives where it is colder. His tail is larger, somewhat bushier, and is a blackish-brown.”

“If you please, why is he called Whistler?” asked Johnny Chuck eagerly.

“Because he has a sharp, clear whistle which can be heard a very long distance,” replied Mother Nature. “He sits up just as you do. If he sees danger approaching he whistles, as a warning to all his relatives within hearing.”

“Does he live in a hole in the ground just like Johnny Chuck does?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“He does,” replied Mother Nature. “All Marmots live in holes in the ground, Whistler lives up on the sides of the mountains, often so high that no trees grow there and the ground is rocky. He digs his hole down in between the rocks.”

“It must be a nice, safe hole,” said Peter. “I guess he doesn’t have to worry about being dug out by Reddy Fox.”

“You guessed quite right,” laughed Mother Nature. “Nevertheless, he has reason to fear being dug out. You see, out where he lives, Grizzly, the big cousin of Buster Bear, also lives, and Grizzly is very fond of a Marmot dinner when he can get one. He is so big and strong and has such great claws that he can pull the rocks apart and dig Whistler out. By the way, I forgot to tell you that Whistler is also called the Gray Marmot or the Hoary Marmot. He lives on grass and other green things and, like Johnny Chuck, gets very fat in the fall and then sleeps all winter. There are one or two other Marmots in the Far West who live farther south than does Whistler and their habits are much the same as those of Whistler and Johnny Chuck. None of them are social. I mean by that you never find two Marmot homes very close together. In this they differ from Johnny’s smaller cousin, Yap Yap the Prairie Dog. Yap Yap wouldn’t be happy if he didn’t have close neighbors of his own kind. He has one of the most social natures of all the four-legged folk.”

“Please do tell us about him,” begged Happy Jack Squirrel.

“Yap Yap is the smallest of the Marmot family,” said Mother Nature. “In a way he is about as closely related to the Ground Squirrels as he is to the Marmots. Johnny Chuck has only four claws on each front foot and Yap Yap has five, just as the Ground Squirrels have. He looks very much like a small Chuck dressed in light yellow-brown. His tail for the most part is the same color as his coat and the end is black, though there is one member of the family whose tail has a white tip. In each cheek is a small pouch, that is, a small pocket, and this is one of the things that shows how closely related to the Spermophiles he is.”

Prairie Dog illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“As I said before, Yap Yap is very social by nature. He lives on the great open plains of the West and Southwest, frequently where it is very dry and rain seldom falls. When you find his home you are sure to find the homes of many more Prairie Dogs very close at hand. Sometimes there are hundreds and hundreds of homes, making a regular town. This is because the Prairie Dogs dearly love the company of their own kind.”

“Does Yap Yap dig the same kind of a hole that I do?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“In a way it is like yours,” replied Mother Nature, “and at the same time it is different. In the first place, it goes almost straight down for a long distance. In the second place there is no mound of sand in front of Yap Yap’s doorway. Instead of that the doorway is right in the very middle of the mound of sand. One reason for this is that when it does rain out where Yap Yap lives it rains very hard indeed, so that the water stands on the ground for a short time. The ground being flat, a lot of water would run down into Yap Yap’s home and make him most uncomfortable if he did not do something to keep it out. So he brings the sand out and piles it all the way around his doorway and presses it down with his nose. In that way he builds up a firm mound which he uses for two purposes; one is to keep the water from running down the hole, and the other is as a sort of watch tower. He sits on the top of his mound to watch for his enemies. His cousins with the white tail digs a hole more like yours.”

“Yap Yap loves to visit his neighbors and to have them visit him. They are lively little people and do a great deal of talking among themselves. The instant one of them sees an enemy he gives a signal. Then every Prairie Dog scampers for his own hole and dives in head first. Almost at once he pops his head out again to see what the danger may be.”

“How can he do that without going clear to the bottom to turn around?” demanded Peter.

“I wondered if any of you would think of that question,” chuckled Mother Nature. “Just a little way down from the entrance Yap Yap digs a little room at one side of his tunnel. All he has to do is to scramble into that, turn around and then pop his head out. As I said before, his tunnel goes down very deep; then it turns and goes almost equally far underground. Down there he has a nice little bedroom. Sometimes he has more than one.”

“If it is so dry out where he lives, how does he get water to drink?” asked Happy Jack.

“He doesn’t have to drink,” replied Mother Nature. “Some folks think that he digs down until he finds water way down underneath, however this isn’t so. He doesn’t have to have water. He gets all the moisture he needs from the green things he eats.”

“I suppose, like the rest of us, he has lots of predators?” said Peter.

Mother Nature nodded. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Old Man Coyote and Reddy Fox are very fond of Prairie Dog. So are members of the Hawk family. Then in some places there is a cousin of Shadow the Weasel called the Black-footed Ferret. He is to be feared most of all because he can follow Yap Yap down into his hole. There is a cousin of Hooty the Owl called the Burrowing Owl because it builds its home in a hole in the ground. You are likely to find many Burrowing Owls living in Prairie Dog villages. Also you are apt to find Buzztail the Rattlesnake there too.”

“A lot of people believe that Yap Yap, Buzztail and the little Burrowing Owl are the best of friends and often live together in the same hole. This isn’t so at all. Buzztail is very fond of young Prairie Dog and so is the Burrowing Owl. Rather than dig a hole for himself the Owl will sometimes take possession of one of Yap Yap’s deserted holes. If he should make a mistake and enter a hole in which Yap Yap was at home, the chances are that Yap Yap would kill the Owl for he knows that the Owl is a predator. Buzztail the Rattlesnake also makes use of Prairie Dog holes and odds are that if there are any Prairie Dog babies down there they never live to see what the outside world is like.”

“Why is he called a Dog?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature laughed right out. “Goodness knows,” she said. “He doesn’t look like a Dog and he doesn’t act like a Dog, so why people should call him a Dog I don’t know, unless it is because of his habit of barking, and even his bark isn’t at all like a Dog’s–not nearly so much so as the bark of Reddy Fox.”

“Now I guess this will do for today. Have you four-legged folks had enough of these sessions?”

“No,” cried Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare and Happy Jack and Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Striped Chipmunk and Johnny Chuck. “We want to know about the rest of the members of the order of Rodents or Gnawers,” added Peter. “Of course in a way they are sort of related to us and we want to know about them.”

Mother Nature laughed good-naturedly. “All right,” she said, “come again tomorrow morning and we’ll see what more we can learn.”

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Make a drawing of Yap Yap the Prairie Dog’s tunneled home using the description in the story. Compare this to your drawing of Johnny Woodchuck’s tunneled home. Now “dig a little” further in resource books or online to see how these two related folks have both similar and different homes. Be sure to look for “cross-section” drawings that show all the details of how things look underground.
  2. How can an owl, a rattlesnake, and a prairie dog all use the same tunnels without bumping into one another? How do they know which hole to go into and not find someone else at home? What do you think this looks like underground when all of them are resting – separately?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 7 – Woodchucks


Chapter 7

The Woodchuck Family


Peter Rabbit delivered Mother Nature’s message to Johnny Chuck requesting he join them for a learning session. Johnny didn’t seem at all pleased. He grumbled to himself. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to learn anything about his relatives. He was perfectly satisfied with things as they were. As a rule he can find plenty to eat very near his home, so he seldom goes far from his own doorstep. Peter left him grumbling and chuckled to himself all the way back to the dear Old Briar-patch. He knew that Johnny Chuck would honor Mother Nature’s request.

Sure enough, the next morning Johnny Chuck came waddling through the Green Forest just as Mother Nature was about to begin. He didn’t look at all happy, and he didn’t reply at all to the greetings of the others. However, when Mother Nature spoke to him he was very polite.

“Good morning, Johnny Chuck,” she said.

Johnny bobbed his head and said, “Good morning.”

“I understand,” continued Mother Nature, “That you are not at all interested in learning about your relatives. Did you know that the more one knows the better fitted he is to take care of himself and do his part in the work of the Great World? However, it wasn’t for your benefit that I sent word for you to be here this morning. It was for the benefit of your friends and neighbors. Now if you would kindly sit up so that all can get a good look at you.”

Johnny Chuck sat up, and of course all the others looked at him. It made him feel a bit uneasy. “You remember,” said Mother Nature, “how surprised you little folks were when I told you that Johnny Chuck is a member of the Squirrel family. Happy Jack, you go sit beside Johnny Chuck, and the rest of you look hard at Happy Jack and Johnny and see if you can discover the family resemblance.”

Seeing Happy Jack the squirrel and Johnny Chuck sitting up side by side, Peter Rabbit caught the resemblance at once. There was sort of family look about them. “Why! Johnny Chuck does look like a Squirrel,” he exclaimed.

Woodchuck illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Ah yes, he does look like a Squirrel, because he is one,” said Mother Nature. “And Johnny Chuck is very much bigger and so stout in the body that he is not as nimble as the true Squirrels. You will also notice that the shape of his head is much the same as that of Happy Jack and he does have a Squirrel face when you come to look at him closely. The Woodchucks, sometimes called Ground Hogs, belong to the Marmot branch of the Squirrel family, and wherever they are found they look much alike.”

“As you will notice, Johnny Chuck’s coat is brownish-yellow, his feet are very dark brown, almost black. His head is dark brown with light gray on his cheeks. Beneath he is reddish-orange, including his throat. His tail is short for a member of the Squirrel family, and although it is bushy, it is not very big. He has a number of whiskers and they are black. Some Woodchucks are quite gray, and occasionally there is one who is almost all black, just as there are black Gray Squirrels.”

“Johnny, here, is not fond of the Green Forest, and instead loves the Old Orchard and the Green Meadows. In some parts of the country there are members of his family who prefer to live just on the edge of the Green Forest. You will notice that Johnny has stout claws. Those are to help him dig, for all the Marmot family are great diggers. What other use do you have for those claws, Johnny?”

Green Meadow & Old Orchard, seen here in the spring, where woodchucks like to live.

“They help me to climb,” replied Johnny promptly.

“Climb!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “Who ever heard of a Woodchuck climbing?”

“I can climb if I have to,” replied Johnny Chuck. “I’ve climbed up bushes and low trees lots of times, and if I can get a good run first, I can climb up the straight trunk of a tree with rough bark to the first branches–if they are not too far above ground. You just ask Reddy Fox, he knows.”

“That’s quite true, Johnny,” said Mother Nature. “You can climb a little, however you are better as a digger.”

“He certainly is a great digger,” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “My, how he can make the sand fly! Johnny Chuck certainly is right at home when it comes to digging.”

“You ought to be thankful that he is,” said Mother Nature, “for the holes he has dug have saved your life more than once. By the way, Peter, since you are so well acquainted with those holes, suppose you tell us what kind of a home Johnny Chuck has.”

Peter was delighted to share. “The last one I was in,” he said, “was a long tunnel slanting down for quite a distance and then straightening out. The entrance was quite large with a big heap of sand out in front of it. Down a little way the tunnel grew smaller and then remained the same size all the rest of the way. Way down at the farther end was a nice little bedroom with some grass in it. There were one or two other little rooms, and there were two branch tunnels leading up to the surface of the ground, making side or back doorways. There was no sand around either of these, and they were quite hidden by the long grass hanging over them. I don’t understand how Johnny made those doorways without leaving any sand on the doorsteps.”

“Oh!” inserted Johnny Chuck. “That was easy enough. I pushed all the sand out of the main doorway so that there would be nothing to attract the attention of any one passing near those back doorways. Those back doorways are very handy in time of danger.”

“Do you always have three doorways?” asked Happy Jack.

“No,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Sometimes I have only two and once in a while only one and that isn’t really safe, so I mean always to have at least two.”

“Do you use the same house year after year?” piped up Striped Chipmunk.

Johnny shook his head. “No,” he said. “I dig a new hole each spring. Mrs. Chuck and I like a change of scene. Usually my new home isn’t very far from my old one, because I am not fond of traveling. Sometimes, however, if we cannot find a place that just suits us, we go quite a distance.”

“Are your babies born down in that little bedroom in the ground?” asked Jumper the Hare.

“Yes,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Where else might they be born?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I thought Mrs. Chuck might make a nest on the ground the way Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Jumper do,” replied Jumper.

“No, siree!” replied Johnny. “Our babies are born in that little underground bedroom, and they stay down in the ground until they are big enough to hunt for food for themselves.”

“How many do you usually have?” inquired Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“Six or eight,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Mrs. Chuck and I have large families.”

“Do you eat nuts like the rest of our family?” inquired Striped Chipmunk.

“No,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Give me green food every time. There is nothing so good as tender sweet clover and young grass, unless it be some of those fine vegetables Farmer Brown grows in his garden.”

Sweet Clover in the spring is a tasty treat for many.

Peter Rabbit nodded his head very emphatically as if he quite agreed.

“I suppose you are what is called a vegetarian, then,” said Happy Jack, to which Johnny Chuck replied that he supposed he was. “And I suppose that is why you sleep all winter,” added Happy Jack.

“If I didn’t I would starve,” responded Johnny Chuck promptly. “When it gets near time for Jack Frost to arrive, I eat and eat and eat the last of the good green things until I’m so fat I can hardly waddle. Then I go down to my bedroom, curl up and go to sleep. Cold weather, snow and ice don’t worry me a bit. I simply stay tucked inside.”

“Me too,” spoke up Striped Chipmunk. “I sleep most of the winter myself. Of course I have a lot of food stored away down in my house, and once in a while I wake up and eat a little. Do you ever wake up in the winter, Johnny Chuck?”

“No,” replied Johnny. “I sleep right through, thank goodness. Sometimes I wake up very early in the spring before the snow is all gone, earlier than I wish I did. That is where my fat comes in handy. It keeps me warm and keeps me alive until I can find the first green plants. Perhaps you have noticed that early in the spring I am as thin as I was fat in the fall. This is because I have used up the fat, waiting for the first green things to appear.”

“Do you have many predators?” asked Peter Rabbit, who has so many himself that he is constantly thinking of them.

“Not many, enough though,” Johnny Chuck said with a frown. “Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote, humans, and Dogs are the worst. Of course, when I was small I always had to be watching out for Hawks, and of course, like all the rest of us little folks, I am afraid of Shadow the Weasel. Reddy Fox has tried to dig me out more than once, however I can dig faster than he can. If he ever gets me cornered, he’ll find that I can fight. A small Dog surprised me once before I could get to my hole and I guess that Dog never will tackle another Woodchuck.”

“Thank you Johnny Chuck,” Mother Nature said with a smile. “ And I’d like to tell you all more about Johnny Chuck’s family including his big cousin out in the mountains of the Great West named Whistler, and on the prairies of the Great West he has a smaller cousin named Yap Yap. They are quite important members of the Marmot family. Johnny Chuck, I’d love for you to join us too,” she added.

“Yes, if you please, Mother Nature,” he said, “I think I’ll come. I didn’t know I had any close relatives, and I want to know more about them.”

So it was agreed that all would gather again at sun-up the next morning. Then everybody started for home to think over the things they had learned.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Since it is not likely to see a woodchuck sitting directly next to a squirrel, how else might you observe and compare a woodchuck to a squirrel? Make a list of similar features and differences or draw them if you like.
  2. When you read Johnny Chuck’s description of his tunneled home what images come to mind? Can you draw or paint and label his home underground with the details provided?
  3. Visit this LINK for photos and more information about woodchucks from the Mass Audubon Society.
  4. *How is the woodchuck burrow and tunnels made so that he doesn’t drown in heavy rains? How is the bedding carried into the burrow? If observing a woodchuck in the meadow, where is it likely to station itself to sit upright and look for intruders? What is the shape of a woodchuck’s ear? Does a woodchuck have good hearing? When do woodchucks know to reappear in the spring? When are young woodchucks born?

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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 6 – Striped Chipmunk and His Cousins


Chapter 6

Striped Chipmunk and His Cousins


News travels quickly through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows, so it was not surprising that Striped Chipmunk heard all about the learning adventures Mother Nature was providing. The next morning, just as the daily session was beginning, Striped Chipmunk came hurrying up, quite out of breath.

“Well, well! See who’s here!” exclaimed Mother Nature. “What have you come for, Striped Chipmunk?”

“I’ve come to try to learn. Will you let me stay, Mother Nature?” replied Striped Chipmunk.

“Of course you may stay,” Mother Nature said heartily. “I am ever so glad you have come to join us, especially today, because this session is to be about you and your cousins. Now, Peter Rabbit, what are the differences between Striped Chipmunk and his cousins, the Tree Squirrels?”

Peter looked very hard at Striped Chipmunk as if he had never really seen him before. “He is smaller than they are,” began Peter. “In fact, he is the smallest Squirrel I know.” Peter paused.

Mother Nature nodded encouragingly. “Go on,” she said.

“He wears a striped coat,” continued Peter. “The stripes are black and yellowish-white and run along his sides and there is a black stripe running down the middle of his back. The rest of his coat is reddish-brown above and light underneath. His tail is rather thin and flat. I never see him in the trees, so I guess he can’t climb.”

“Oh, yes, actually I can,” interjected Striped Chipmunk. “I can climb if I want to, and I do sometimes, however I really prefer to be on the ground.”

“Thank you,” said Mother Nature, “go on Peter.”

“He seems to like old stone walls and rock piles,” continued Peter, “and he is one of the brightest, liveliest, merriest of four legged folks in the Green Forest.”

“Thank you, Peter,” said Striped Chipmunk softly.

Striped Chipmunk illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“I never have been able to find his home though,” continued Peter. “That is one of his secrets. I do know it is in the ground. I guess this is all I know about him. I should say the chief difference between Striped Chipmunk and the Tree Squirrels is that he spends most all his time on the ground while the others live largely in the trees.”

“Nicely done, Peter,” said Mother Nature. “There are two very important differences which you have not mentioned. Striped Chipmunk has a big pocket on the inside of each cheek, while his cousins of the trees have no pockets at all.”

“Oh, of course,” Peter nodded in agreement. “I don’t see how I forget that. I’ve laughed so many times at Striped Chipmunk with those pockets stuffed with nuts or seeds until his head looked three times bigger than it does now. Those pockets must be very handy.”

“They are,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “I couldn’t get along without them. They save me a lot of running back and forth.”

“And the other great difference,” said Mother Nature, “is that Striped Chipmunk sleeps nearly all winter, just waking up occasionally to pop his head out on a bright day to see how the weather is. A great many folks call Striped Chipmunk a Ground Squirrel, when he is more properly called a Rock Squirrel because he likes stony places best. Supposing, Striped Chipmunk, you tell us where and how you make your home.”

“Sure, I make my home down in the ground,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “I dig a tunnel just big enough to run along comfortably. Down deep enough to be out of reach of Jack Frost I make a nice little bedroom with a bed of grass and leaves, and I make another little room for a storeroom in which to keep my supply of seeds and nuts. Sometimes I have more than one storeroom. Also I have some little side tunnels.”

“So why is it I never have been able to find the entrance to your tunnel?” asked Peter, as full of curiosity as ever.

“Because I have it hidden underneath the stone wall on the edge of the Old Orchard,” replied Striped Chipmunk.

“Even so, I would think that all the sand you must have taken out would give your secret away,” Peter said with great curiosity.

Striped Chipmunk chuckled happily. It was a throaty little chuckle, pleasant to hear. “I looked out for that,” he said. “There isn’t a grain of that sand around my doorway. I took it all out through another hole some distance away, a sort of back door, and then closed it up solidly. If you please, Mother Nature, if I am not a Ground Squirrel, who is?”

Spermophile or Ground Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Your cousin, Seek Seek the Spermophile, sometimes called Gopher Squirrel, who lives on the open plains of the West where there are no rocks or stones,” said Mother Nature. “He likes the flat, open country best. He is called Spermophile because that means seed eater, and he lives largely on seeds, especially on grain. Because of this he does a great deal of damage to crops and is often disliked by the farmers.

“Seek Seek’s family are the true Ground Squirrels. Please remember that they never should be called Gophers, for they are not Gophers. One of the smallest members of the family is just about your size, Striped Chipmunk, and he also wears stripes, only he has more of them than you have, and they are broken up into little dots. He is called the Thirteen-lined Spermophile. He has pockets in his cheeks just as you have, and he makes a home down in the ground very similar to yours. All the family do this, and all of them sleep through the winter. While they are great seed eaters they also eat a great many insects and worms.”

“Some members of the family are almost as big as Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and have gray coats. They are called Gray Ground Squirrels and sometimes Gray Gophers. One of the largest of these is the California Ground Squirrel. He has a big, bushy tail, very like Happy Jack’s. He gets into so much mischief in the grain fields and in the orchards that he is quite as much disliked as is Jack Rabbit. This particular member of the family is quite as much at home among rocks and tree roots as in open ground. He climbs low trees for fruit and nuts and also prefers to stay on the ground. Now just remember that the Chipmunks are Rock Squirrels and their cousins the Spermophiles are Ground Squirrels.

California Ground Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Now who of you has seen Timmy the Flying Squirrel lately?” asked Mother Nature with a twinkle in her eye.

“Not me,” said Peter Rabbit.

“I haven’t,” said Striped Chipmunk.

“Not me,” said Happy Jack.

“Me neither,” said Chatterer.

“I have,” spoke up Jumper the Hare. “I saw him last evening just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun went to bed behind the Purple Hills and the Black Shadows came creeping through the Green Forest. My, I wish I could fly the way he can!”

Mother Nature shook her head. “Jumper,” she said, “when did you ever see Timmy actually fly?”

“Last night,” insisted Jumper.

“Actually, you didn’t,” Mother Nature said good naturedly. “You didn’t see him fly, for the very good reason that he cannot fly any more than you can. You saw him simply jump. Just remember that the only animals, or mammals, in this great land who can fly are the Bats. Timmy the Flying Squirrel simply jumps from the top of a tree and slides down on the air to the foot of another tree. When he is in the air he never moves his legs or arms, and he is always coming down, never going up, excepting for a little at the end of his jump, as would be the case if he could really fly. He hasn’t any wings.”

“When he’s flying, I mean jumping, he does look as if he had wings,” insisted Jumper.

“That is simply because I have given him a fold of skin between the front and hind leg on each side,” explained Mother Nature. “When he jumps he stretches his legs out flat, and that stretches out those two folds of skin until they look almost like wings. This is the reason he can sail so far when he jumps from a high place. You’ve seen a bird, after flapping its wings to get going, sail along with them outstretched and motionless. Timmy does the same thing, only he gets going by jumping. You may have noticed that he usually goes to the top of a tree before jumping; then he can sail down a wonderfully long distance. His tail helps him to keep his balance. If there is anything in the way, he can steer himself around it. When he reaches the tree he is jumping for he shoots up a little way and lands on the trunk not far above the ground. Then he scampers up that tree to do it all over again.”

“Then why don’t we ever see him?” inquired Striped Chipmunk.

“Because, when the rest of you squirrels are out and about, he is curled up in a little ball in his nest, fast asleep. Timmy likes the night, especially the early evening, and doesn’t like the light of day,” said Mother Nature.

“How big is he?” inquired Happy Jack.

Flying Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“He is, if anything, a little smaller than Striped Chipmunk,” replied Mother Nature. “Way out in the Far West he grows a little bigger. His coat is a soft yellowish-brown above; beneath he is all white. His fur is wonderfully soft. He has very large, dark, soft eyes, especially suited for seeing at night. Then, he is very lively and dearly loves to play.”

“Does he eat nuts like his cousins?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature. “Also he eats grubs and insects. He dearly loves a fat beetle. He likes meat when he can get it.”

“Where does he make his home?” Peter inquired.

“Usually in a hole in a tree,” said Mother Nature. “He is very fond of an old home of a Woodpecker. He makes a comfortable nest of bark lining, grass, and moss, or any other soft material he can find. Occasionally he builds an outside nest high up in a fork in the branches of a tree. He likes to get into old buildings.”

“Does he have many predators?” asked Happy Jack.

“The same predators the rest of you have,” replied Mother Nature. “The one he has most reason to fear is Hooty the Owl, and that is the one you have least reason to fear, because Hooty seldom hunts by day.”

“Does he sleep all winter?” piped up Striped Chipmunk.

“Not as you do,” said Mother Nature. “In very cold weather he sleeps and if he happens to be living where the weather does not get very cold, he is active all the year around. And so I guess this is enough about the Squirrel family.”

“Oh wait, you’ve forgotten Johnny Chuck,” Peter exclaimed.

Mother Nature laughed. “So I have,” she said. “That will never do. Johnny and his relatives, the Marmots, certainly cannot be overlooked. We will take them for our session tomorrow. Peter, you tell Johnny Chuck to come over here tomorrow morning to join us.”

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. If you have chipmunks in your area take a moment to listen to their chatter and the varying tones. What messages are they sending? Are they content? Angry? Can you decipher their way of communicating?
  2. Look for the varying behaviors of chipmunks that may live in parks near city streets vs. chipmunks along the edge of forests. How are their behaviors the same? Are there any differences?
  3. Have you seen a “flying” squirrel? What time of day was it? Did you mistake it for a bat?
  4. Visit this LINK to see a photo and learn more about chipmunks from the Mass Audubon Society.
  5. *Have you seen a chipmunk on the ground or in a tree? If in a tree, how high up? Do you think the stripes and colors of a chipmunk hide this animal when amongst the grasses and bushes? How many entrances does a chipmunk have to their home? Do they live there year round?

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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 5 – Squirrels of the Trees


Chapter 5

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.

Woodchuck illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

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.”

Red Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“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. ”

Grey Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“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.”

Fox Squirrel by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

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.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Do you have more than one type of squirrel living near to you?
  2. Do you see squirrels at the local park? At a neighbor’s bird feeder? Or in what other locations?
  3. Visit this LINK for more information about squirrels from the Mass Audubon Society.
  4. *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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 4 – Red Squirrel + Gray Squirrel


Chapter 4

Red Squirrel and Gray Squirrel


Peter Rabbit, on his way to learn more from Mother Nature, was trying to make up his mind about which of his neighbors he would ask to join him. He had learned so many surprising things about his own family that he shrewdly suspected many equally surprising things were to be learned about his neighbors. However, there were so many neighbors he couldn’t decide which one to ask first.

Alas, that matter was settled for him, and in a funny way. Hardly had he reached the edge of the Green Forest when he was hailed by a voice. “Hello, Peter Rabbit!” said this voice. “Where are you bound at this hour of the morning? Usually you are heading for home in the dear Old Briar-patch.”

Peter knew that voice the instant he heard it. It was the voice of Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel. Happy Jack was seated on the top of an old stump, eating a nut. “I’m going to learn,” replied Peter with a great excitement.

“Going to learn, you say?” Happy Jack. “Oh please do tell me who you are going to learn with and what you will be learning.”

“I’m going to learn with Mother Nature,” replied Peter. “I’ve been going for several days, and so has my cousin, Jumper the Hare. We’ve learned a lot about our own family and now we are going to learn about the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows.”

“Really?!” exclaimed Happy Jack. “I do think I know allot about my own family although I guess I never really considered knowing about my neighbors too.”

“Is that so?” asked Peter. “I’m curious to know if you actually do know all your own cousins. I thought I knew all of mine and discovered I didn’t.”

Gray Squirrel illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“What are you fellows talking about?” asked another voice. Chatterer the Red Squirrel jumped from one tree to another just above Peter’s head.

“Peter is getting me curious about how much I may not know about our own family” said Happy Jack in a pondering sort of way. “He is on his way to learn with Mother Nature and has advised me to join him.”

“I think it would be fun to go learn for a while , especially about the Squirrel family” Chatterer the Red Squirrel eagerly chimed in. “What do you say, Peter, may I go along with you?”

Peter said that he thought it would be a very fine thing and that Chatterer would not regret it. Chatterer winked at his cousin, Happy Jack, and followed Peter. Chatterer kept up in the trees while Peter was hopping lipperty-lipperty-lip on the ground. Happy Jack hesitated a minute and then, curiosity becoming too much for him, hastened to join the others too.

“Hello!” exclaimed Old Mother Nature, as Happy Jack and Chatterer appeared with Peter Rabbit. “What are you frisky folks doing over here?”

Happy Jack and Chatterer appeared to have lost their tongues, something very unusual for them, especially for Chatterer. The fact is, in the presence of Mother Nature they felt bashful. Peter replied for them. “They’ve decided to come learn too,” he said. “Happy Jack says he feels like knows all about his own family and he has come along to find out if he really does.”

“It won’t take us long to find out,” said Mother Nature softly and her eyes twinkled with amusement. “How many cousins have you, Happy Jack?”

Happy Jack thought for a moment. “Three,” he replied in an unsure way. Peter chuckled to himself as he knew that doubt was already beginning to grow in Happy Jack’s mind.

“Can you name them?” Mother Nature promptly asked.

“Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Timmy the Flying Squirrel, and Striped Chipmunk,” replied Happy Jack.

“He’s forgotten Rusty the Fox Squirrel,” Chatterer inserted, dancing about gleefully.

Happy Jack looked crestfallen and gave Chatterer an angry look.

“That’s right, Chatterer,” said Mother Nature. “Rusty is a very important member of the Squirrel family. Now suppose you name the others.”

“Wha–wha–what others?” stammered Chatterer. “I don’t know of any others.”

Peter Rabbit hugged himself with glee as he watched the faces of Happy Jack and Chatterer. “They don’t know any more about their family than we did about ours,” he whispered in one of the long ears of Jumper the Hare.

As for Mother Nature, she simply smiled. “Put on your thinking caps, you two,” she said. “You have only named half of them. For sure you are not to blame for that, for some of them you have never seen. There is one member of the Squirrel family whom both of you do know very well and yet neither of you named them.”

Red Squirrel Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Chatterer looked at Happy Jack, and Happy Jack looked at Chatterer, and each scratched his head. Each wanted to be the first to think of that other cousin. For although they scratched and scratched their heads, they couldn’t think who that other cousin could be. Mother Nature waited a few minutes before she told them. Then, seeing that either they couldn’t remember or didn’t know, she said, “You didn’t mention Johnny Chuck.”

“Johnny Chuck!” exclaimed Chatterer and Happy Jack together, and the look of surprise on their faces was truly a funny sight to see. For that matter, the looks on the faces of Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare were equally as funny.

Mother Nature nodded. “Johnny Chuck,” she repeated. “He is a member of the Squirrel family. He belongs to the Marmot branch and he is a Squirrel just the same. He is one of your cousins.”

“He’s a mighty funny looking Squirrel,” said Chatterer, jerking his tail as only he can.

Mother Nature looked first at Chatterer and then at Happy Jack. “I think it would be helpful if you both came to learn with me for a while along with Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare. Would that be alright? Now which of you can tell me what order do you all belong to?”

Happy Jack looked at Chatterer, Chatterer looked at Peter Rabbit, and Peter looked at Jumper the Hare. On the face of each was such a funny, puzzled expression that Mother Nature almost laughed right out. Finally Peter Rabbit found his tongue. “If you please,” he said, “I guess we don’t know what you mean by an order.”

“Oh yes, right you are, let me explain.” said Mother Nature. “First, the animals of the Great World are divided into big groups or divisions, and then these groups are divided into smaller groups, and these in turn into still smaller groups. Happy Jack and Chatterer belong to a group called the Squirrel family, and Peter and Jumper to a group called the Hare family. Both of these families and several other families belong to a bigger group called an order, and this order is the order of Gnawers, or Rodents.”

Peter Rabbit fairly jumped up in the air with excitement. “Then Jumper and I must be related to Happy Jack and Chatterer,” he cried.

“In a way you are,” replied Mother Nature. “It isn’t a very close relationship, still you are related. All of you are Rodents. So are all the members of the Rat and Mouse family, the Beaver family, the Porcupine family, the Pocket Gopher family, the Pika family, and the Sewellel family.”


Mother Nature shares classifications: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

By this time Peter’s eyes looked as if they would pop right out of his head. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of some of those families,” he said. “My, what a lot we have to learn! Is it because all the members of all those families have teeth for gnawing that they are all sort of related?”

Mother Nature looked pleased. “Peter,” she said, “that is exactly why. All the members of all the families I have named belong to the same order, the order of Rodents. All the members have big, cutting, front teeth. Animals without such teeth cannot gnaw. Now, as you and Jumper have learned about your family, it is the turn of Happy Jack and Chatterer to learn about their family. Theirs is rather a large family, and it is divided into three groups, the first of which consists of the true Squirrels, to which group both Happy Jack and Chatterer belong. The second group consists of the Marmots, and Johnny Chuck belongs to this. The third group Timmy the Flying Squirrel has all to himself.”

“Where does Striped Chipmunk come in?” asked Chatterer.

“I’m coming to that,” replied Mother Nature. “The true Squirrels are divided into the Tree Squirrels, Rock Squirrels, and Ground Squirrels. Of course Chatterer and Happy Jack are Tree Squirrels.”

“And Striped Chipmunk is a Ground Squirrel,” Peter inserted.

Mother Nature shook her head. “Actually, no Peter, this is not the case,” she said. “Striped Chipmunk is a Rock Squirrel. Seek Seek the Spermophile who lives on the plains of the West and is often called Gopher Squirrel, is the true Ground Squirrel.”

“And now I must run along,” said Mother Nature. “You little folks enjoy your day and I’ll meet with you all again here tomorrow morning where I shall expect Chatterer to tell me all about Happy Jack, and Happy Jack to tell me all about Chatterer.”

So Peter, Jumper, Chatterer, and Happy Jack thanked Mother Nature for all she had told them and scampered away. Peter headed straight for the far corner of the Orchard where he was sure he would find Johnny Chuck. He couldn’t get there fast enough, for he wanted to be the first to tell Johnny Chuck that he was a Squirrel. You see he didn’t believe that Johnny knew any of this.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Can you make a long list of what Rodents, or Gnawers, live in your “neck-of-the-woods” or neighborhood?
  2. Do you have squirrels? Do you know which kind? Where they live or rest? What do they eat?
  3. Visit this LINK to see photos and learn more about squirrels from the Mass Audubon Society.
  4. *Observe and Ponder: Does the squirrel trot along or leap when running on the ground? Run straight ahead or stop and look about to see if the “coast is clear”? Does the squirrel have long or short legs? Does it have paws with claws? When climbing a tree, does it go straight up, or move around the trunk? Does it hide using the tree trunk? Is it able to go head first down the tree? Can it travel on the smallest of branches? Does it follow the same route to and from the tree? How does it hold its leg and tail when in the air jumping from branch to branch? What colors are on a red squirrel? Does it change with the seasons? Is the tail as long as the body? Does it express emotion? What is it used for in regards to jumping or in their nest?

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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 3 – Rabbits and Hares


Chapter 3

More about Rabbits and Hares


At sun-up the next morning Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare were on hand promptly for their next learning session. Mother Nature smiled as she saw the eager curiosity shining in their eyes. She didn’t wait for them to ask questions. “Yesterday,” she said, “I told you about your water-loving cousin, the Marsh Rabbit. You have another relative down there in the Sunny South who is almost as fond of the water. Some folks call him the Swamp Rabbit. Others call him the Swamp Hare. The latter is really the best name for him, because he is a true Hare. He lives in swamps instead of marshes, but he is a splendid swimmer and fond of the water. When he is chased by an enemy he makes for the nearest point or stream.”

“How big is he?” asked Jumper.

“Just about your size, Jumper, and perhaps a little bit heavier” replied Mother Nature. Because his hair lies much smoother than yours, you probably would look a little bit bigger if you were sitting beside him. As with his cousin, the Marsh Rabbit, the hair on his feet is thin. His toes are rather long and he can spread them widely, which is a great help in swimming. He doesn’t have to take to the water as his little cousin does, for he is a very good runner. However, he does take to it as the easiest way of getting rid of those who are chasing him. The Marsh Rabbit and the Swamp Hare are the only members of your family in all the Great World who are fond of the water and who are at home in it. Now, who shall I tell you about next?”

“Our biggest cousins,” cried Peter and Jumper together. “The ones you told us yesterday are bigger than Jumper,” added Peter. “It is hard to believe that there can be any much bigger than he.”

Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled. “It is often hard to believe things you can not see,” she said. “Compared with these other relatives, Jumper really isn’t big at all. He seems big to you, Peter, however if he should meet his cousin, Snow White the Arctic Hare, who lives way up in the Frozen North, I am quite sure Jumper would feel small. Snow White looks very much like Jumper in his winter coat, for he is all white save the tips of his ears, which are black.”

“Does he wear a white coat all year round?” asked Peter eagerly.

Arctic Hares illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“When he lives so far north that there is snow and ice for most of the year, he does,” replied Mother Nature. “And when he lives far enough south for the snow to disappear for a little while in the summer, he changes his white coat for one of gray.”

“How can he live so far north that the snow and ice seldom melt?” asked Peter, looking very much puzzled. “What can he find to eat?

“Even way up there there is moss growing under the snow. And in the short summer other plants grow. During the long winter Snow White digs down through the snow to get these. He also eats the bark and twigs of little stunted trees. And yet as big as he is, you have a cousin who is still bigger, the biggest of all the family.”

“Who is he?” Jumper and Peter cried together.

“He is called White-tailed Jack,” replied Mother Nature. “And he lives chiefly on the great plains of the Northwest, though sometimes he is found in the mountains and forests. He is sometimes called the Prairie Hare. In winter his coat is white and in the summer it is a light brown. Summer or winter his tail is white, much like you Peter. It is because of this that he is called White-tailed Jack.”

“Is his tail as short as mine?” asked Peter eagerly.

Peter Rabbit and his very short tail- illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Mother Nature laughed right out. “No, Peter,” she replied. “It wouldn’t be called a long tail by any other animal, however for a member of your family it really is long, and when White-tailed Jack is running he switches it from side to side. His hind legs are very long and powerful, and he can make a single jump of twenty feet without half trying. Not even Old Man Coyote can catch him in a straightaway race. You may think Jumper’s ears are long, Peter, and yet they are short in comparison to the ears of White-tailed Jack. Not only are his ears long they are also very big. When he squats in his form and lays his ears back they reach way over his shoulders. Like the other members of the Hare family he doesn’t use holes in the ground or hollow logs. He trusts to his long legs and to his wonderful speed to escape from his predators. Among them are Howler the Wolf, Old Man Coyote, Eagles, Hawks and Owls. He is so big that he would make five or six of you, Peter.”

Peter drew a long breath. “It is dreadfully hard to believe that I can have a cousin as big as that,” he exclaimed. “Have I any other cousins anywhere near as big?”

Mother Nature nodded. “There are some others very like White-tailed Jack, only not quite as big,” she said. “They have long hind legs, and great ears, although their coats are different, and they live on the great plains farther south. Some of them live so far south that it is warm all the year round. One of these is Antelope Jack, whose home is in the Southwest.”

“Oh please tell us about him,” begged Peter.

“To begin with,” replied Mother Nature, “he is a member of the big Jack Rabbit or Jack Hare branch of your family. None of this branch should be called a Rabbit. All the members are first cousins to Jumper and are true Hares. All have big ears, long, rather thin necks, and long legs. Even their front legs are comparatively long. Antelope Jack is probably next in size to White-tailed Jack. Strange to say, although he lives where it is warm for most of the year, his coat is very largely white. His back is a yellowish-brown and so is his throat. His sides are white. The surprising thing about him is that he has the power of making himself seem almost all white. He can make the white hair spread out at will by means of some special little muscles which I have given him, so that the white of his sides at times almost seems to meet on his back. When he does this in the sun it makes flashes of white which can be seen a long way. By means of this Antelope Jack and his friends can keep track of each other when they are a long distance apart. There is only one other animal who can flash signals in this way, and that is the Antelope of whom I will tell you some other time. It is because Jack flashes signals in this way that he is called Antelope Jack. In his habits he is otherwise much like the other members of his family. He trusts to his long legs and his wonderful powers of jumping to keep him out of danger. He is not as well known as his commoner cousin, plain Jack Rabbit. Everybody knows Jack Rabbit.”

Jack Rabbit illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Peter shook his head. “I don’t,” he said very quietly.

“Then it is time you did,” replied Mother Nature. “If you had ever been in the Far West you would know him. Everybody out there knows him. He isn’t quite as big as Antelope Jack although he is still a big fellow. He wears a brownish coat much like Jumper’s, and the tips of his long ears are black. His tail is longer than Jumper’s, and when he runs he carries it down.”

“I don’t carry mine down,” Peter piped up.

Mother Nature laughed right out. “True enough, Peter, true enough,” she said. “You couldn’t if you wanted to. It isn’t long enough to carry any way other than up. Jack has more of a tail than you have, just as he has longer legs. My, how he can run! He goes with great bounds and about every tenth bound he jumps very high. This is so that he can get a good look around to watch out for predators.”

“Who are his natural predators?” asked Peter.

“Foxes, Coyotes, Hawks, Eagles, Owls, and Weasels,” replied Mother Nature. “In fact, he has about as many predators as you have.”

“I know I ought to keep away from that garden,” said Peter very meekly, “but you have no idea what a temptation it is. The things in that garden do taste so good.”

Now I guess you have learned sufficient about your long-legged cousins. I’ve a great deal to do, so skip along home, both of you,” said Mother Nature.

“If you please, Mother Nature, may we come again tomorrow?” asked Peter.

“And whatever for?” inquired Mother Nature. “Haven’t you learned enough about your family?”

“Yes,” replied Peter, “however there are lots and lots of things I would like to know about other animals. If you please, I would like to come to you every day. You see, the more I learn about my neighbors, the better able I will be to take care of myself and understand them as well.”

“All right, Mr. Curiosity,” replied Mother Nature good-naturedly, “come again tomorrow morning as I’m happy to share what I know.”

So Peter and Jumper politely bade her goodbye and started for their homes. Lipperty-lipperity-lip!

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. What do you think of rabbits swimming (Chapter 2) and rabbits playing in the snow? What do you see in your minds-eye when you try to picture them in the water or in the fluffy white crystals? Was this news to you and hard to picture?
  2. *Chapters 1-3 talk about various rabbits and the size of their ears. Of what use are large ears? How are the ears held when the rabbit is resting? running? Or when the rabbit is startled vs. checking for danger? Can you mime or act this out with your hands or draw it on a page?
  3. *Describe the eyes of a rabbit. Where are they positioned? Do you think a rabbit sleeps with their eyes open or closed? Does a rabbit wink?
  4. * What do most rabbits eat? What are they drawn to eat in warm summer like conditions vs. cold winter conditions?

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.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 2 – Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare


Chapter 2

Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare


Hardly had jolly, round, red Mr. Sun thrown off his rosy blankets and begun his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky when Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Jumper the Hare, arrived at the place in the Green Forest where Peter had found Mother Nature the day before. She was waiting for them, ready to answer questions.

“I am so glad you are here,” she said. “Now before either of you ask any questions, I am going to ask some myself. Peter, what do you look like? Where do you live? What do you eat? I want to find out just how much you really know about yourself.”

Peter scratched one ear with a long hind foot and hesitated as if he didn’t know just how to begin. Mother Nature waited patiently. Finally Peter began rather timidly.

“Well,” he said, “the only way I know how I look is by the way the other members of my family look, for I’ve never seen myself. I suppose in a way I look like all the rest of the Rabbit family. I have long hind legs and short front ones. I suppose this is so I can make long jumps when I am in a hurry.”

Peter Rabbit – original art by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Mother Nature nodded, and Peter, taking this encouragement, continued. “My hind legs are stout and strong, and my front ones are lesser so. I guess this is because I do not have a great deal of use for them, except for running. My coat is a sort of mixture of brown and gray, more brown in summer and more gray in winter. My ears are longer for my size than are those of most animals, and really not very long after all, or not nearly as long for my size as my cousin Jumper’s are for his size. My tail is fluffy and short. It is so short that I carry it straight up. It is white like a little bunch of cotton, and I suppose that that is why I am called a Cottontail Rabbit, though I have heard that some folks call me a Gray Rabbit and others a Bush Rabbit.”

“I live in the dear Old Briar-patch and just love it. It is a mass of bushes and bramble-tangles and is the safest place I know of. I have cut little paths all through it just big enough for Mrs. Peter and myself. None of our predators can get at us there, excepting Shadow the Weasel or Billy Mink. I have a sort of nest there where I spend my time when I am not running about. It is called a form and I sit in it a great deal.”

Peter Rabbit’s home in the bramble-tangles in the meadow as seen in the snowy winter.

“In summer I eat clover, grass and other green things, and I just love to get over into Farmer Brown’s garden. In winter I have to take what I can get, and this is mostly bark from young trees, buds and tender twigs of bushes, and any green plants I can find under the snow. I can run fast for a short distance, however only for a short distance. That is why I like thick brush and bramble-tangles. There I can dodge. I don’t know any one who can dodge better! If Reddy Fox or Bowser the Hound surprises me away from the dear Old Briar-patch I run for the nearest hollow log or hole in the ground. Sometimes in summer I dig a hole for myself, although not often. It is much easier to use a hole somebody else has dug. When I want to signal my friends I thump the ground with my hind feet. Jumper does the same thing. And I almost forgot to say I don’t like water.”

Mother Nature smiled. “You are thinking of that cousin of yours, the Marsh Rabbit who lives way down in the Sunny South,” she said.

Peter admitted that he was. Jumper the Hare was interested all at once. You see, he had never heard of this cousin.

“That was a very good account of yourself, Peter,” said Mother Nature. “Now take a look at your cousin, Jumper the Hare, and tell me how he differs from you.”

Jumper the Hare, also known as the Northern or Varying Hare, in both his winter (right) and summer (left) coat. Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Peter took a long look at Jumper, and then, as before, scratched one ear with a long hind foot. “In the first place,” he said, “Jumper is considerably bigger than I. He has very long hind legs and his ears are very long. In summer he wears a brown coat and in the winter he is all white except for just the tips of his ears which are black. Because his coat changes so, he is called the varying Hare. He likes the Green Forest where the trees grow close together, especially those places where there are a great many young trees. He’s the biggest member of our family. I guess that’s all I know about Cousin Jumper.”

“That is very good, Peter, as far as it goes,” said Mother Nature. “I just have one correction to make. Jumper is not the biggest of his family.”

Both Peter and Jumper opened their eyes very wide with surprise. “Also,” continued Mother Nature, “you forgot to mention the fact that Jumper never hides in hollow logs and holes in the ground as you do. Can you explain why you don’t Jumper?”

“I wouldn’t feel safe there,” replied Jumper. “I depend on my long legs for safety, and the way I can dodge around trees and bushes. I suppose Reddy Fox may be fast enough to catch me in the open, and yet he can’t do it where I can dodge around trees and bushes. That is why I stick to the Green Forest. If you please, Mother Nature, what is this about a cousin who likes to swim?”

Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled. “We’ll get to that later on,” she said. “Now, each of you hold up a hind foot and tell me what difference you see.”

Peter and Jumper each held up a hind foot and each looked first at his own and then at the other’s. “They look to me very much alike, only Jumper’s is a lot longer and bigger than mine,” said Peter. Jumper nodded as if he agreed.

“Look a bit closer,” encouraged Mother Nature. “Do you see that Jumper’s foot is a great deal broader than yours, Peter, and that his toes are spread apart, while yours are close together?”

Peter and Jumper were surprised, for it was just as Mother Nature had said. Jumper’s foot really was quite different from that of Peter. Peter’s was narrow and slim.

“That is a very important difference,” Mother Nature noted. “Can you guess why I gave you those big feet, Jumper?”

Jumper slowly shook his head. “Not unless it was to simply make me different,” he said.

“Well,” said Mother Nature, “What happens to those big feet of yours in the winter, Jumper?”

“Nothing that I know of, excepting that the hair grows out long between my toes,” Jumper replied.

“Exactly,” agreed Mother Nature. “And when the hair does this you can travel over light snow without sinking in. It is just as if you had snowshoes. That is why you are often called a Snowshoe Rabbit. I gave you those big feet and make the hair grow out every winter because I know that you depend on your legs to get away from your predators. You can run over the deep snow where your predators break through. Peter, though he is small and lighter than you are, cannot go where you can. Although Peter doesn’t need to depend always on his legs to save his life. There is one thing more that I want you both to notice, and that is that you both have quite a lot of short hairs on the soles of you feet. That is where you differ from that cousin of yours down in the Sunny South. He has only a very few hairs on his feet. That is so he can swim better.”

“If you please, Mother Nature, why is that cousin of ours so fond of the water?” piped up Peter.

Marsh Rabbit (or Marsh Hare) that lives down south and likes to swim.
Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Because,” replied Mother Nature, “he lives in marshy country where there is a great deal of water. He is very nearly the same size as you, Peter, and looks very much like you. But his legs are not quite so long, his ears are a little smaller, and his tail is brownish instead of white. He is a poor runner and so in time of danger he takes to the water. For that matter, he goes swimming for pleasure. The water is warm down there, and he dearly loves to paddle about in it. If a Fox chases him he simply plunges into the water and hides among the water plants with only his eyes and his nose out of water.”

“Does he make his home in the water like Jerry Muskrat?” asked Peter innocently.

Mother Nature smiled and shook her head. “Certainly not,” she replied. “His home is on the ground. His babies are born in a nest made just as Mrs. Peter Rabbit makes her nest for your babies, and Mrs. Jumper Hare makes a nest for Jumper’s babies. It is made of grass and lined with soft fur which Mrs. Rabbit pulls from her own breast, and it is very carefully hidden. By the way, Peter how do your babies differ from the babies of your Cousin Jumper?”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I do know my babies don’t have their eyes open when they are born and they haven’t any hair.”

Jumper pricked up his long ears and said “Truly? Why, my babies have their eyes open and have the dearest little fur coats!”

Mother Nature chuckled. “That is the difference,” she said. “I guess both of you have learned something.”

“You said a little while ago that Jumper isn’t the biggest of our family,” said Peter. “If you please, who is?”

“There are several bigger than Jumper,” replied Mother Nature, and smiled as she saw the funny look of surprise on the faces of Peter and Jumper. “There is one way up in the Frozen North and there are two cousins way out in the Great West. They are as much bigger than Jumper as Jumper is bigger than you, Peter. I haven’t time to tell you about them right now. However, if you really want to learn about them please be here promptly at sun-up tomorrow morning. Well Hello! Here comes Reddy Fox, and he looks to me as if he is searching for a good breakfast . Let me see what you have learned about taking care of yourselves.”

Peter and Jumper gave one startled look in the direction Mother Nature was pointing. Sure enough, there was Reddy Fox. Not far away was a hollow log. Peter wasted no time in getting to it. In fact, he left in such a hurry that he forgot to say goodbye to Mother Nature. She didn’t mind, for she quite understood Peter’s urgency, and she laughed when she saw his funny little white tail disappear inside the hollow log. As for Jumper, he promptly took to his long legs and disappeared with great bounds and Reddy Fox racing right after him.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Is there a “mirror” in the field or forest that Peter Rabbit could use to see how he looks? What might this be?
  2. Draw two very large circles that overlap and fill up your page. Where the two circles overlap in the middle write the things both Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare have in common. Then separately in each remaining half of each circle write the special traits they each have that the other one does not. Note: The two overlapping circles template is called a Venn Diagram and is used to compare and contrast two things.
  3. What is the purpose of Peter Rabbit’s long legs and short tail?
  4. What specific location does Peter Rabbit like to call home in or near the Green Meadows and on the edge of the Green Forest? Why is this his favorite spot? Have you ever ventured in to one and been snagged in it?
  5. Does Jumper the Hare prefer the meadow or the forest? Why?
  6. How do their feet differ? What are there uses?
  7. Visit this LINK to see photos of rabbits and to learn more about their habits from the Mass Audubon Society.
  8. *Have you observed a rabbit? How does the nose move in relation to the mouth? Focus on the upper lip, what purpose does it serve? How does the rabbit eat in the summer vs. the winter and how would this special upper lip help? What are the teeth used for specifically? What are the whiskers for?

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.


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These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.