– Chapter 1 –
How Lightfoot the Deer Learned to Jump
Peter Rabbit was filled with awe. It was this way from the very first time he saw Lightfoot the Deer leap over a fallen tree, and forever after, whenever he saw Lightfoot, he had a little of that same feeling stirred in his heart.
You see, Peter has always been very proud of his own powers of jumping. To be sure Jumper the Hare could jump higher and farther than he could, and Jumper is his own cousin, so it was all in the family, so to speak, and Peter didn’t mind. However, to see Lightfoot the Deer go sailing over the tops of the bushes and over the fallen trees as if he had springs in his legs was quite another matter.
“I wish I could jump like that,” said Peter out loud one day, as he stood with his hands on his hips watching Lightfoot leap over a pile of brush.
“Why don’t you learn to?” asked Jimmy Skunk with a mischievous twinkle in his eye which Peter couldn’t see. “Lightfoot couldn’t always jump like that; he had to learn. Why don’t you find out how? Probably Grandfather Frog knows all about it. He knows just about everything. If I were you, I’d ask him.”
“Oh I don’t know,” replied Peter. “I’ve asked him so many questions that I am afraid he’ll think me a nuisance. I tell you what, Jimmy, you ask him!” Peter’s eyes brightened as he said this.
Jimmy chuckled. “If there is anything you want to know from Grandfather Frog, you really need to ask him yourself. That really is the best way to understand. Truthfully, I don’t want to know how Lightfoot learned to jump or if he can jump over the moon, if you please. I have other important matters on my mind. Have you seen any fat beetles this morning, Peter?”
“Actually no,” replied Peter. “I’m not really interested in fat beetles so I’ve not noticed.”
Jimmy laughed. It was a good-natured, chuckling kind of a laugh. “Well, here’s hoping that you learn how to jump like Lightfoot the Deer and that I get a stomach full of fat beetles.”
And with that Jimmy Skunk slowly ambled along down the Crooked Little Path.
Peter watched him out of sight, sighed, and started for the dear Old Briar-patch, stopped, sighed again, and then headed straight for the Smiling Pool. Grandfather Frog was there on his big green lily pad, and Peter wasted no time.
“Grandfather Frog, how did Lightfoot the Deer learn to jump so splendidly?” he blurted out almost before he had stopped running.
Grandfather Frog blinked his great googly eyes. “Chug-a-rum!” he said. “If you’ll join me by jumping across the Laughing Brook over there where it comes into the Smiling Pool, I’ll tell you.”
Peter looked at the Laughing Brook in dismay. It was quite wide at that point. “I don’t think I can,” he said with hesitation.
“Then I won’t be able to tell you how Lightfoot learned to jump unless you join me,” replied Grandfather Frog, quite as if the matter were settled.
“OK, I’ll try!” Peter hastened to blurt out.
“All right. While you are trying, I’ll see if I can remember the story,” replied Grandfather Frog.
Peter went back a little so as to get a good start. Then he ran as hard as he knew how, and when he reached the bank of the Laughing Brook, he jumped with all his might. It was a good jump—a splendid jump—although it wasn’t quite enough of a jump, and Peter landed with a great splash in the water!
Now Peter does not like the water, and though he can swim, he doesn’t feel at all at home in it. He paddled for the shore as fast as he could, and just before his feet touched bottom, he heard the great, deep voice of Grandfather Frog.
“That is just the way Lightfoot the Deer learned to jump—trying to do what he thought he couldn’t do and keeping at it until he could. It all happened a great while ago when the world was young.”
Peter shook himself off and layed down in the sunniest spot he could find to dry out and still be within hearing distance to listen to Grandfather Frog’s story.
“Lightfoot’s great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather was named Lightfoot the Deer too,” continued Grandfather Frog in his best story-telling voice.
“He had slim legs just like Lightfoot has now and just such wonderful, branching antlers. When he was in the season where he had a rack of antlers, he was not much afraid of anybody. Those enemies swift enough of foot to catch him he could successfully fight with his antlers, and those too big and strong for him to fight were not swift enough to catch him. However, there was a season in every year when he had no antlers, as is the case with Lightfoot. Every spring Lightfoot loses his antlers and through the summer a new pair grows. It was so with Old Mr. Deer of that long-ago time, and when he lost those great antlers, he felt very helpless and timid.”
“Old Mr. Deer loved the open meadows and spent most of his time there. When he had to run, he wanted nothing in the way of his slim legs. And how he could run! My, my, my, how he could run! However, there were others who could run swiftly in those days too, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Dog. Mr. Deer always had a feeling that someday one or the other would catch him. When he had his antlers, this thought didn’t worry him much, and yet when he lost his antlers, it worried him a great deal. He felt perfectly helpless then. ‘The thing for me to do is to keep out of sight,’ he said to himself, and so instead of going out on the meadows and in the open places, he hid among the bushes and in the brush on the edge of the Green Forest and behind the fallen trees in the Green Forest.”
“One thing did trouble Old Mr. Deer, who wasn’t old at that time, you know. He couldn’t run fast at all among the bushes and the fallen trees and the old logs. This was a new worry, and it troubled him almost as much as the old worry. He felt that he was in a dreadful fix. You see, hard times had come, and the big and strong were preying on the weak and small in order to live.”
” ‘If I stay out on the meadows, I cannot fight if I am caught; and if I stay here, I cannot run fast if I am found. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What shall I do?’ cried Old Mr. Deer, as he lay hidden among the branches of a fallen hemlock-tree.”
“Just at that very minute along came Mr. Hare, the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of your cousin Jumper. A big log was in his path, and he jumped over it as lightly as a feather. Old Mr. Deer watched him and sighed. If only he could jump like that in proportion to his size, he would just jump over the bushes and the fallen logs and the fallen trees instead of trying to run around them or squeeze between them.”
“And then he had an idea. Why shouldn’t he learn to jump? He could try, anyway. So when he was sure that no one was around to see him, he practiced jumping over little low bushes. At first he couldn’t do much, so he kept trying and trying, and little by little he jumped higher. It was hard work, and he scraped his slim legs many times when he tried to jump over old logs and stumps.”
“Now all this time some one actually had been watching him, though he didn’t know it. It was Old Mother Nature. One day she stopped him as he was trotting along a path. ‘What is this you are doing when you think no one is watching?’ she asked curiously. ‘I’ve given you beauty and speed, what more do you need?’ Old Mr. Deer explained to Mother Nature why he wanted to learn to jump. Mother Nature heard him through. ‘Let me see you jump over that bush,’ she said pointing to a bush almost as high as Old Mr. Deer himself.“
” ‘Oh, I can’t jump nearly as high as that!’ he cried. Then tossing his head proudly, he added, ‘Although I’ll give it a try.’ So just as Peter Rabbit tried to jump the Laughing Brook when he felt sure that he couldn’t, Old Mr. Deer tried to jump the bush. Just imagine how surprised he was when he sailed over it without even touching the top of it with his hooves! Mother Nature had given him in that moment the gift of jumping as a reward for his perseverance and because she saw that he really had need of it.”
“So ever since that long-ago day, the Deer have lived where the brush is thickest and the Green Forest most tangled, because they are such great jumpers that they can travel faster there.”
“Now, Peter, what do you think of that tale?”
“I think I would you like to try to jump over the Laughing Brook again!” said Peter.
And off he went lipperty-lipperty-SPLASH!
- What other animals of the fields and forest come to mind when you think of great jumpers?
- When you go outdoors test your own jumping skills by finding snow or mud and see how far you can leap and measure the distance between your footprints. Or make a mark in the sand or lay down a rope to stand on top of and then jump forward and have a family member measure the distance between. How far did you go? Can you jump further with practice just like Lightfoot and his relatives?
- Visit your favorite local forest and try out your new jumping skills to get across a small stream or to go over a log just like a deer. Perhaps come up with a sing-song rhyme that helps get you over every time! Or say with each footstep and then leap “1-2-3 look at me-e-e-e-e-e-e!”
- Can you capture what this jumping feels like in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal? What colors or shapes or words describe it best? Interview your family and ask what their experience feels like too!
- If you find deer tracks in the snow look for where they sometimes leap and measure it with your own foot steps (one boot toe to heel in front of the other) and then measure your foot in inches/centimeters when you get home to see how far the deer jumped.