Old Mother West Wind had just come down from the Purple Hills and turned loose her children, the Merry Little Breezes, from the big bag in which she had been carrying them. They were very lively and very merry as they danced and raced across the Green Meadows in all directions, for it was good to be back there once more. Old Mother West Wind almost sighed as she watched them for a few minutes. She felt that she would like to join them. Always the springtime made her feel this way, young, carefree, and happy. However, she had work to do. She had to turn the windmill to pump water for Farmer Brown’s cows, and this was only one of many mills standing idle as they waited for her. So she puffed her cheeks out and started about her business.
Jimmy Skunk sat at the top of the hill that overlooks the Green Meadows and watched her out of sight. Then he started to amble down the Lone Little Path to look for some beetles. He was ambling along, never in a hurry, when he heard someone huffing and puffing behind him. Of course he turned to see who it was, and he was greatly surprised when he discovered Old Mr. Toad. He was quite out of breath, and yet he was hopping along in the most determined way as if he were in a great hurry to get somewhere.
Now it is a very unusual thing for Mr. Toad to hurry, very unusual indeed. As a rule he hops a few steps and then sits down to think it over. Jimmy had never before seen him hop more than a few steps unless he was trying to get away from danger, from Mr. Hognose the snake for instance. Of course the first thing Jimmy thought of was Mr. Hognose as he is very fond of toads for his dinner. And so he looked for him and yet there was no sign of Mr. Hognose nor of any other danger. Then he looked very hard at Old Mr. Toad, and he saw right away that Old Mr. Toad didn’t seem to be frightened at all, only very determined, as if he had something important on his mind.
“Well, well,” exclaimed Jimmy Skunk, “whatever has got into those long hind legs of yours to make them work so fast?”
Old Mr. Toad didn’t say a word, he simply tried to get past Jimmy and keep on his way. Jimmy stayed put in the path as he was so curious to know what was the rush.
“I–I beg your pardon. I don’t have any breath to spare,” panted Old Mr. Toad. “You see I’m in a great hurry.”
“Yes, I see,” replied Jimmy. “Now, what could you possibly be in such a hurry for? I don’t see anything to run away from.”
“I’m not running away, I’m running towards something” said Old Mr. Toad. “I’ve business to attend to at the Smiling Pool, and I’m late as it is.”
“Business!” exclaimed Jimmy as if he could hardly believe his ears. “What business have you at the Smiling Pool?”
“Why, I have a very important part in the spring chorus, and I’m going down there to sing and share my beautiful voice” Old Mr. Toad said with a smile.
This surprised Jimmy Skunk as he had never thought of Old Mr. Toad as a singer or as being a member in a chorus. This gave him a little chuckle realizing there is so much he still doesn’t know about his neighbors in the Green Forest and Green Meadows. He sat looking to the sky for a moment pondering this a bit.
“How is it that you are a singer and I’ve never even heard you?” Jimmy Skunk asked Old Mr. Toad with great curiosity.
However he was too late, Old Mr. Toad was already on his way again hop, hop, hipperty-hop, hop, hop, hipperty-hop down the Lone Little Path.
And so Jimmy Skunk sat alone with a puzzled look on his face trying to figure out what he had just learned.
Why do toads sing? Do other amphibians sing? What other animals in general sing? Why do they sing? What is the difference between a bird singing vs. calling?
Does Jimmy Skunk have a singing voice too? Does a skunk make sounds? If so, what are they?
Have you ever seen a Hognose snake? If not, what do you think it looks like based on the name?
The Burgess Animal Story for Children, The Burgess Bird Story for Children, and The Adventures of __________ series, are all originally authored by Thornton Burgess and are now available to you through P.L.A.Y.
P.L.A.Y.has provided new online versions of these updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classics to:
be suitable for the 21st century family by having the Thornton Burgess woodland characters evolve to model mindfulness and loving kindness
highlight and bring awareness to the New England nature settings and offer an opportunity to learn more about the fields and forests through these animal story adventures
create story extension moments through P.L.A.Y.suggested activities and investigations for making new nature connections generated by the reader’s own curiosity
encourage families to keep their own nature notebooks for drawing, writing, painting, and recording their own local daily outdoor P.L.A.Y.adventures.
Peter Rabbit found Johnny Chuck sitting on his doorstep, sunning himself. Peter was quite out of breath because he had hurried so. “Do you know that you are a Squirrel, Johnny Chuck?” he panted.
Johnny slowly turned his head and looked at Peter as if he thought Peter had suddenly gone crazy. “What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I’m not a Squirrel; I’m a Woodchuck,” he replied.
“Just the same, you are a Squirrel,” replied Peter. “The Woodchucks belong to the Squirrel family. Mother Nature says so, and if she says so, it is so. You best join us Johnny Chuck and learn a little about your own relatives.”
Johnny Chuck blinked his eyes and for a minute or two couldn’t find a word to say. He knew that if Peter were telling the truth as to what Mother Nature had said, it must be true that he was member of the Squirrel family. However it was hard to believe. “What is this all about, learning with Mother Nature?” he finally asked.
Peter hastened to tell him. He told Johnny all about what he and Jumper the Hare had learned about their family, and all the surprising things Mother Nature had told them about the Squirrel family, and he ended by again urging Johnny Chuck to join them and promised to call for Johnny the next morning.
However, Johnny Chuck does not like to go far from his own doorstep, so when Peter called the next morning Johnny refused to go, despite all Peter could say. Peter didn’t waste much time arguing for he was afraid he would be late and miss something. When he reached the Green Forest he found his cousin, Jumper the Hare, and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, and Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, already there. As soon as Peter arrived Mother Nature began the morning session.
“Happy Jack,” she said, “you may tell us all you know about your cousin, Chatterer.”
“To begin with, he is the smallest of the Tree Squirrels,” said Happy Jack. “He isn’t so very much bigger than Striped Chipmunk, and that means that he is less than half as big as myself. His coat is red and his waistcoat white; his tail is about two-thirds as long as his body and flat and not very broad.”
“He spends more of his time in the trees than I do,” continued Happy Jack, “and is especially fond of pine trees and other cone-bearing trees. He likes the deeper parts of the Green Forest more than I do, though he seems to feel just as much at home on the edge of the Green Forest, especially if it is near a farm where he can get access to corn.”
“I have to admit that Chatterer is thrifty,” continued Happy Jack. “He is very fond of the seeds of cone-bearing trees. He cuts the cones from the trees just before they are ripe. Then they ripen and open on the ground, where he can get at the seeds easily. He often has a number of storehouses and stores up cone seeds, acorns, nuts, and corn when he can get it. He builds a nest of leaves and strips of bark, sometimes in a hollow tree and sometimes high up in the branches of an evergreen tree. He is a good jumper and jumps from tree to tree. He does take some of my stores too.”
“You do the same thing to me when you have the chance, which isn’t often,” sputtered Chatterer.
Happy Jack turned away from Chatterer and continued, “He doesn’t seem to mind cold weather at all, as long as the sun shines. His noisy tongue is to be heard on the coldest days of winter. He sauces and scolds everybody he meets, and every time he opens his mouth he jerks his tail.”
Here Mother Nature spoke up and said, “Happy Jack forgot to mention that you eat s few insects at times. He also forgot to mention that sometimes you have a storehouse down in the ground. Now tell us what you know about your cousin, Happy Jack.”
“Happy Jack is more than twice as big as I,” said Chatterer looking at Happy Jack. “He is gray all over, except underneath, where he is white. He has a tremendously big tail. When he sits up he has a way of folding his hands on his breast. I don’t know what he does it for unless it is to keep them warm in cold weather. He builds a nest very much like mine. Sometimes it is in a hollow tree, although quite as often it is in the branches of a tree. He is a good traveler in the tree tops, and he spends a good deal of his time on the ground as well. He likes open woodland best, especially where there are many nut trees. He has a storehouse where he stores up nuts for winter, and he buries in the ground and under the leaves more than he puts in his storehouse. In winter, when he is hungry, he hunts for those buried nuts, and somehow he manages to find them even when they are covered with snow. ”
“Have you told us all you know about Happy Jack, Chatterer?” asked Mother Nature.
Chatterer nodded. “What you have told us is good as far as it goes,” she said. “You said that Happy Jack is all gray excepting underneath. Usually the Gray Squirrel is just as Chatterer has described him and sometimes a Gray Squirrel isn’t gray at all, rather it can be all black.”
Peter Rabbit’s ears stood straight up with astonishment. “How can a Gray Squirrel be black?” he questioned.
Mother Nature smiled. “That is a fair question, Peter,” she said. “Gray Squirrel is simply the name of Happy Jack’s family. Sometimes some of the babies are born with black coats instead of gray coats. Of course they are just the same kind of Squirrel, only they look different. In some parts of the country there are numbers of these black-coated Squirrels and many think they are a different kind of Squirrel. They are not. They are simply black-coated members of Happy Jack’s family. Just remember this. It is the same way in the family of Rusty the Fox Squirrel. Some members are rusty red, some are a mixture of red and gray, and some are as gray as Happy Jack himself. Way down in the Sunny South Fox Squirrels always have white noses and ears. In the North they never have white noses and ears. Rusty the Fox Squirrel is just a little bigger than Happy Jack and has just such a handsome tail. He is the strongest and heaviest of the Tree Squirrels and not nearly as quick and graceful as Happy Jack. Sometimes Rusty has two nests in the same tree, one in a hollow in a tree for bad weather and the other made of sticks and leaves outside in the branches for use in good weather. Rusty’s habits are very much the same as those of Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, and therefore he likes the same kind of surroundings. Like his cousin, Happy Jack, Rusty is a great help to me.”
Seeing how surprised everybody looked, Mother Nature explained. “Both Happy Jack and Rusty bury a great many more nuts than they ever need,” she said, “and those they do not dig up sprout in the spring and grow. In that way they plant ever so many trees without knowing it. Very likely Happy Jack’s great-great-ever-so-great grandfather planted the very tree you get your fattest and best hickory nuts from Chatterer.”
“Way out in the mountains of the Far West you have a cousin called the Douglas Squirrel, who is really a true Red Squirrel and whose habits are very much like your own. Some folks call him the Pine Squirrel. By the way, Chatterer, Happy Jack forgot to say that you are a good swimmer. Perhaps he didn’t know it.”
By the expression of Happy Jack’s face it was quite clear that he didn’t know it. “Certainly I can swim,” said Chatterer. “I don’t mind the water at all. I can swim a long distance if I have to.”
This was quite as much news to Peter Rabbit as had been the fact that a cousin of his own was a good swimmer.
“Are there any other Tree Squirrels?” asked Jumper the Hare.
“Yes,” replied Mother Nature, “there are two. They live out in the Southwest, in one of the most wonderful places in all this great land, a place called the Grand Canyon. One is called the Abert Squirrel and the other the Kaibab Squirrel. They are about the size of Happy Jack and Rusty and have broader, handsomer tails and their ears have long tufts of hair. The Abert Squirrel has black ears, a brown back, gray sides and white underneath. Kaibab has brown ears with black tips, and his tail is mostly white. Both are very lovely, although their families are small and so they are little known.”
And with this last tidbit Mother Nature moved on with her day.
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!
Do you have more than one type of squirrel living near to you?
Do you see squirrels at the local park? At a neighbor’s bird feeder? Or in what other locations?
Visit this LINK for more information about squirrels from the Mass Audubon Society.
*Observations and Ponderings: What is the food of the squirrel during each season? Where does it store food? Does it steal food from other wildlife? How does it carry nuts? How much squirrel language (or chatter) can you understand for example: surprise, anger, excitement? How many different sounds does it make?
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.
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.
Down from the top of the ridge back of the pond of Paddy the Beaver plunged Lightfoot the Deer, his eyes focused on the newcomer. He had understood the call of Sammy Jay. He knew that somewhere down there was the big newcomer he had been looking for.
The newcomer had understood Sammy’s call quite as well as Lightfoot. He knew he could not run away now so he bounded out into a little open place by the pond of Paddy the Beaver and there he waited.
Meanwhile Sammy Jay was flying about in the greatest excitement, calling out at the top of his lungs. Clever the Crow, over in another part of the Green Forest, heard him and took up the cry and at once hurried over to Paddy’s pond. Everybody who was near enough hurried there. Bobby Coon and Billy Possum climbed trees from which they could see and at the same time be safe. Billy Mink hurried to a safe place on the dam of Paddy the Beaver. Paddy himself climbed up on the roof of his house out in the pond. Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare, who happened to be not far away, hurried over where they could peep out from under some young hemlock trees.
For what seemed like the longest time, which was really only for a minute, Lightfoot and the big newcomer stood still, staring at each other. Then with a snort they lowered their heads and plunged together. Their antlers clashed with a noise that rang through the Green Forest, and both fell to their knees. There they pushed and struggled. Then they separated and backed away, to repeat the movement over again. If they had not known before, everybody knew now what those great antlers were for. Once the big newcomer managed to reach Lightfoot’s right shoulder with one of the sharp points of his antlers and made a long tear in Lightfoot’s gray coat. It only made Lightfoot push harder.
Sometimes they would rear up and strike with their sharp hoofs. Back and forth they plunged, and the ground was torn up by their hooves. Both were getting out of breath, and from time to time they had to stop for a moment’s rest. Then they would come together again to challenge one another.
As Lightfoot the Deer and the big newcomer from the Great Mountain were challenging one another in the little opening near the pond of Paddy the Beaver, neither knew who saw them. Each was determined to drive the other from the Green Forest. Each was trying for the to win over Miss Daintyfoot the Doe.
Neither of them knew that Miss Daintyfoot the Doe herself was watching them. She had heard the clash of their great antlers as they had come together the first time, and she had known exactly what it meant. Quietly she had stolen forward to a thicket where, safely hidden, she could watch. She knew that they were all tangled up over her.
After a while Lightfoot’s greater size and strength began to show and little by little the big newcomer was forced back towards the edge of the open place. Eventually the newcomer tired and he turned tail and plunged for the shelter of the Green Forest. With a snort of triumph, Lightfoot ran after him.
The newcomer’s one thought was to get away. Straight back towards the Great Mountain from which he had come. Lightfoot followed for only a short distance. He knew that the big newcomer was going for good and would not come back. Then Lightfoot turned back to the open place where they had fought. There he threw up his beautiful head, crowned by its great antlers, and signaled a challenge to all the Green Forest. As she looked at him, Miss Daintyfoot the Doe knew that she wanted to stay with him here in the Green Forest.
And so it was, that these white-tailed deer roamed the fields and forest throughout the winter leaving their tracks in the glistening white snow wherever they went.
And every so often if you take a walk in the woods, especially in the late autumn, you might come across a magical moment where you see another sign that they were here too.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
What do deer do in the winter? What foods do they eat? How do they survive?
How do deer stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer?
When male and female deer mate how many babies do they have? What time of year are they born?
What questions do you still have about Lightfoot the Deer and Daintyfoot the Doe? Write them down and seek out answers that lead you to more questions!
In his search for the latest newcomer who had come to the Green Forest, Lightfoot the Deer no longer stole like a gray shadow from thicket to thicket as he had done when searching for the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. Now he bounded along, not caring how much noise he made. From time to time he would stop to whistle a challenge and to clash his antlers against the trees and stamp the ground with his feet.
Now and then he found the larger newcomer’s tracks, and from them he knew that this newcomer was doing just what he had been doing, which was seeking to find the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. Each time he found these signs Lightfoot became more frustrated.
Of course it didn’t take Sammy Jay long to discover what was going on. There is little that escapes those sharp eyes of Sammy Jay. As you know, he had early discovered the game of hide-and-seek that Lightfoot had been playing with the beautiful young visitor who had come down to the Green Forest from the Great Mountain. Then, by chance, Sammy had visited the Laughing Brook just as the larger newcomer had come down there to drink. For once Sammy had kept his tongue still. “There is going to be excitement here when Lightfoot discovers this fellow,” thought Sammy. “If they ever meet, and I have a feeling that they will, there is going to be a challenge.”
Of course, Lightfoot knew nothing about all this. His one thought was to find that big newcomer and drive him from the Green Forest, and so he continued his search tirelessly.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
Have you ever heard the phrase “A bird’s eye view”? What does it mean?
With Sammy Jay’s use of his “bird’s eye view” what advantages does he have in seeing stories unfold in the Green Forest?
Are there any disadvantages to Sammy Jay’s use of his “bird’s eye view”?
Why does Sammy Jay think there is going to be a challenge when Lightfoot the Deer meets this newcomer? What does he know? or not know?
Why does Lightfoot the Deer say he wants to drive the newcomer from the forest vs. welcoming them? What natural behavior is playing out for this deer?
The game of hide-and-seek between Lightfoot the Deer and the beautiful newcomer whose dainty hoofprints had first started Lightfoot to seeking her had been going on for several days and nights when Lightfoot found something which gave him a shock. He had gone very softly down to the Laughing Brook, hoping to surprise the beautiful newcomer drinking there. She wasn’t to be seen. Lightfoot wondered if she had been there, so he looked in the mud at the edge of the Laughing Brook to see if there were any fresh prints of those dainty feet. Almost at once he discovered fresh hoofprints. However, they were not the prints he was looking for. They were not the dainty prints he had learned to know so well. They were prints very near the size of his own big ones and they had been made only a short time before.
The finding of those prints was a dreadful shock to Lightfoot. He understood instantly what they meant. They meant that a second newcomer had come into the Green Forest, one who had antlers just like his own.
“He has come here to seek that beautiful newcomer I have been searching for,” thought Lightfoot. “He has come here to take her away from me. He has come from the Great Mountain where that beautiful newcomer must have come from, too. I want her to stay here in the Green Forest with me and I must drive this fellow out.”
Lightfoot stamped his feet and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He threw his head high in the air and whistled angrily. Then he leaped over the Laughing Brook and once more began to search through the Green Forest. However, this time it was not for the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. He had no time to think of her now. He must first find this other newcomer and he meant to waste no time in doing so.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
What time of day do deer move about the most?
Where do the deer sleep? Do the sleep standing up or laying down?
Do the males and the females form a herd together? or separate?
Do deer walk over the same paths or form new paths throughout the forest?
What are you curious about having read 7 chapters about Lightfoot the Deer? Capture your questions in your nature journal!
Deer tracks and scat (aka poop!) and so much more can be found in this handy guide book, Scats and Tracks of the Northeast by James C. Halfpenny, that fits easily in your backpack to take on your next P.L.A.Y.adventure in a field or forest near you!
Little did he know that he, Lightfoot the Deer, was playing hide-and-seek in the Green Forest. He was “it”, and some one else was doing the hiding. He was now filled with longing to find and make friends with the beautiful newcomer of whom he had just once caught a glimpse, and of whom every day he found tracks.
At times Lightfoot would get frustrated. He would stamp his feet angrily and thrash the bushes with his great spreading antlers as if they were an enemy with whom he was fighting. More than once when he did this a pair of great, soft, gentle eyes were watching him, though he didn’t know it. If he could have seen them and the look of admiration in them, he would have been more eager than ever to find that beautiful newcomer.
At other times Lightfoot would steal about through the Green Forest as noiselessly as a shadow. He would peer into thickets and behind tangles of fallen trees and brush piles, hoping to surprise the one he sought. He would be very, very patient. He had thought himself very clever until this newcomer proved herself more clever.
Of course it wasn’t long before all the critters in the Green Forest knew what was going on. They knew all about that game of hide-and-seek. And instead of trying to help Lightfoot they gave him no help at all. The fact is, they were enjoying this game. Mischievous Sammy Jay even went so far as to warn the newcomer several times when Lightfoot was approaching. Of course Lightfoot knew when Sammy did this, and each time he got very frustrated.
Once Lightfoot almost ran smack into Buster Bear who just grinned good naturedly and allowed Lightfoot to continue on his search and go bounding away.
Then there were times when Lightfoot would sulk and would declare over and over to himself, “I don’t care anything about that newcomer and I won’t spend another minute looking for her,” and then within five minutes he would be watching, listening, and seeking some sign that she was still in the Green Forest.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
When you feel out-of-sorts or you are frustrated have you ever gone outdoors and spent time in nature to regroup? If not, give it a try! ❤
How does the sound of the wind or songs of the birds, rays of sunshine or sprinkling of rain, scent of fresh flowers or the grass between your toes feel? Does it shift your mood?
Does taking a moment outdoors help you feel grounded and centered and connected to the Great World and all that Mother Nature has created?
Bring your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal outdoors and find a spot to simply sit and soak in all that nature has in store for you in the present moment and then try to capture it in your journal through writing, coloring, drawing, or painting. Ahhh . . . peace-filled P.L.A.Y.!
It was a beautiful late autumn in the Green Forest as Lightfoot the Deer had returned after spending his spring and summer across the Big River.
Lightfoot roamed about and it seemed to him that he could not be happier. There was plenty to eat and he began to grow sleek and fat and handsomer than ever. The days were growing colder and the frosty air made him feel good.
Just at dusk one evening he went down to his favorite drinking place at the Laughing Brook. As he put down his head to drink he saw something which so surprised him that he quite forgot he was thirsty. It was a hoofprint in the soft mud.
For a long time Lightfoot stood staring at that hoofprint. In his great, soft eyes was a look of wonder and surprise. You see, that hoofprint was exactly like one of his own, only smaller. To Lightfoot it was a very wonderful hoofprint. He was quite sure that never had he seen such a dainty hoofprint. He forgot to drink. Instead, he began to search for other hoofprints, and presently he found them. Each was as dainty as that first one.
Who could have made them? That is what Lightfoot wanted to know and what he meant to find out. It was clear to him that there was someone new in the Green Forest, and somehow he was glad. He didn’t know why, however it was true.
Lightfoot put his nose to the hoofprints and sniffed them and knew for sure he had not met this newcomer before in the forest. A great longing to find the maker of those hoofprints took hold of him. He lifted his handsome head and listened for some slight sound which might show that the newcomer was near. With his delicate nostrils he tested the wandering little Night Breezes for a stray whiff of scent to tell him which way to go. However, there was no sound and the wandering little Night Breezes told him nothing. Lightfoot followed the dainty hoofprints up the bank. There they disappeared, for the ground was hard. Lightfoot paused, undecided which way to go.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
Have you ever made tracks in the mud? How long do they last? How do they change?
Have you ever seen animal tracks in the mud?
How do you know who the tracks belong to?
Below are two favorite books for looking up animal tracks and discovering which four-legged friends have been making trails in your neck-of-the-woods!
WILD TRACKS: A Guide to Nature’s Footprints by Jim Arnosky
This book features GIANT fold-out pages of LIFE-SIZE animal foot prints!
From deer to bear, canines to felines, small rodents to birds, this book has all the key local animal tracks covered.
Scats and Tracks of the Northeast: A Field Guide to the Signs of Seventy Wildlife Species
by James C. Halfpenny and Jim Bruchac illustrated by Todd Telander
This book fits easily in your backpack and helps you identify tracks through illustrations, a handy ruler on the back flap for measuring, and written descriptions.
This is a must have outdoor guide for folks living or visiting: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
It was evening and dear jolly, round, red Mr. Sun had gone to bed behind the Purple Hills, and the Black Shadows had crept out across the Big River. Mr. and Mrs. Quack were getting their evening meal among the brown stalks of the wild rice along the edge of the Big River. They took turns in searching for the rice grains in the mud. While Mrs. Quack tipped up and seemed to stand on her head as she searched in the mud for rice, Mr. Quack kept watch for possible danger. Then Mrs. Quack took her turn at keeping watch, while Mr. Quack stood on his head and hunted for rice.
It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful. There was not even a ripple on the Big River. It was so quiet that they could hear the barking of a dog at a farmhouse a mile away. They were far enough out from the bank to have nothing to fear from Reddy Fox or Old Man Coyote. So they had nothing to fear from any one other than Hooty the Owl. It was for Hooty that they took turns in watching. It was just the hour when Hooty likes best to hunt.
By and by they heard Hooty’s hunting call. It was far away in the Green Forest. Then Mr. and Mrs. Quack felt easier, and they talked in low, contented voices. They felt that for a while at least there was nothing to fear.
Suddenly a little splash out in the Big River caught Mr. Quack’s quick ear. As Mrs. Quack brought her head up out of the water, Mr. Quack warned her to keep quiet. Noiselessly they swam among the brown stalks until they could see out across the Big River. There was another little splash out there in the middle. It wasn’t the splash made by a fish; it was a splash made by something much bigger than any fish. Presently they made out a silver line moving towards them from the Black Shadows. They knew exactly what it meant. It meant that someone was out there in the Big River moving towards them.
With their necks stretched high, Mr. and Mrs. Quack watched. They were ready to take to their strong wings the instant they discovered danger. However, they did not want to fly until they were sure that it was danger approaching. They were very much on alert.
Presently they made out what looked like the branch of a tree moving over the water towards them. That was odd, very odd indeed. Both Mr. & Mrs. Quack said so. And they were both growing more and more suspicious. Mr. and Mrs. Quack half lifted their wings to fly.
It certainly was very mysterious. There, out in the Big River, in the midst of the Black Shadows, was something which looked like the branch of a tree. However, instead of moving down the river, as the branch of a tree would if it were floating, this was coming straight across the river as if it were swimming. How could the branch of a tree swim? This continued to puzzle Mr. & Mrs. Quack.
So they sat perfectly still among the brown stalks of the wild rice along the edge of the Big River, and not for a second did they take their eyes from that strange thing moving towards them. They were ready to spring into the air and trust to their swift wings the instant they should detect danger. They did not want to fly unless they had to as they were very curious to find out what that mysterious thing moving through the water towards them was.
So Mr. & Mrs. Quack watched that thing that looked like a swimming branch draw closer and closer, and the closer it drew the more they were puzzled, and the more curious they felt. If it had been the pond of Paddy the Beaver instead of the Big River, they would have thought it was Paddy swimming with a branch for his winter food pile. And yet Paddy the Beaver was way back in his own pond, deep in the Green Forest, and they knew it. So this thing became more and more of a mystery. The nearer it came, the more nervous and anxious they grew, and at the same time the more curious they became.
At last Mr. Quack felt that it wasn’t safe to wait longer. He prepared to spring into the air, knowing that Mrs. Quack would follow him. It was just then that a funny little sound reached him. It was a half snort, half cough, as if some one had sniffed some water up their nose. There was something familiar about that sound.
“I’ll wait,” thought Mr. Quack, “until that thing, whatever it is, comes out of those Black Shadows into the moonlight. Somehow I have a feeling that we are in no danger.”
So Mr. and Mrs. Quack waited and watched. In a few minutes the thing that looked like the branch of a tree came out of the Black Shadows into the moonlight, and then the mystery was solved. They saw that they had mistaken the antlers of Lightfoot the Deer for the branch of a tree. He was swimming across the Big River on his way back to his home in the Green Forest.
At once Mr. and Mrs. Quack gladly swam out to meet Lightfoot and to tell him how happy they were to see him and his wonderful set of antlers.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
Have you ever seen things in the dark shadows outdoors and mistaken it for an animal?
Have you ever seen tree branch shadows sprawling across white snow lit up by moonlight? What did it look like to you?
Have you ever sat outdoors when the sun has gone down and the stars are out and simply listened and watched the night sky? Time to P.L.A.Y. and give it a try!
When you come back in try to capture what you experienced in the dark of night by writing and drawing or even recreating and recording a batch of sounds that you heard. A great time to try this is nearer to the Winter Solstice in December as there is shorter hours of daylight so you can be outdoors early around 5PM in the dark!
What senses did Mr. & Mrs. Quack rely on the most to figure out that it was only Lightfoot the Deer?
Peter Rabbit was puzzled and curious again. He stared at Lightfoot the Deer a wee bit suspiciously. “Have you been tearing somebody’s coat?” he asked.
He didn’t like to think this of Lightfoot, whom he always had believed was quite gentle, harmless, and as timid as himself. However, what else could he think as he looked upon those rags hanging from his antlers?
Lightfoot slowly shook his head. “No,” he said, “I haven’t torn anybody’s coat.”
“Then what are those rags hanging on your antlers?” inquired Peter.
Lightfoot chuckled. “They are what is left of the coverings of my new antlers,” he explained.
“What’s that? What do you mean by new antlers?” Peter was sitting up very straight, with his eyes fixed on Lightfoot’s antlers as though he never had seen them before.
“Just what I said,” repeated Lightfoot. “What do you think of them? I think they are the finest antlers I’ve ever had. When I get the rest of those rags off, they will be as handsome a set as ever was grown in the Green Forest.”
Lightfoot rubbed his antlers against the trunk of a tree until some of the rags hanging on them dropped off.
Peter blinked very hard. He was trying to understand the meaning of this and he couldn’t. Finally he said so.
“I do not understand. Do you mean to tell me that those are not the antlers that you have had as long as I’ve known you? How can anything hard like those antlers grow? This sounds impossible! And if those are new ones, where are the old ones? The idea of trying to make me believe that antlers grow just like plants! I’ve seen Bossy the Cow all summer and I know she has got the same horns she had last summer. New antlers indeed!”
“You are quite right, Peter, quite right about Bossy the Cow. She never has new horns, and yet that isn’t any reason why I shouldn’t have new antlers, is it?” replied Lightfoot patiently. “Her horns are quite different from my antlers. I have a new pair every year. You haven’t seen me all summer, have you, Peter?”
“No, I don’t remember that I have,” replied Peter, trying very hard to remember when he had last seen Lightfoot.
“I know you haven’t,” said Lightfoot. “I know it because I have been hiding in a place you never visit.”
“What have you been hiding for?” Peter asked with great curiosity.
“For my new antlers to grow,” replied Lightfoot. “When my new antlers are growing, I want to be away by myself. I don’t like to be seen without them or with half grown ones. Besides, I am very uncomfortable while the new antlers are growing and I want to be alone.”
Lightfoot spoke as if he really meant every word he said, and still Peter couldn’t believe that those wonderful great antlers had grown out of Lightfoot’s head in a single summer. “Where did you leave your old ones and when did they come off?” he asked.
“They dropped off last spring and I don’t remember just where,” replied Lightfoot. “I was too glad to be rid of them to notice where they dropped. You see they were loose and uncomfortable, and I hadn’t any more use for them because I knew that my new ones would be bigger and better. I’ve got one more point on each than I had last year.” Lightfoot began once more to rub his antlers against the tree to get off the odd rags hanging to them and to polish the points. Peter watched in silence for a few minutes. Then, with his curiosity returning, he said: “You still haven’t told me everything about those rags hanging on your antlers.”
It is hard to believe what seems impossible. And yet what seems impossible to you may be a very commonplace matter to some one else. Peter Rabbit wanted to believe what Lightfoot the Deer had just told him, and yet somehow he found it confusing. If he had seen those antlers growing, it would have been another matter. However, he had only seen Lightfoot in the winter, and then Lightfoot had worn just such handsome antlers as he now had. So Peter really couldn’t be blamed for not being able to believe that those old ones had been lost and in their place new ones had grown in just the few months of spring and summer.
“I’m trying to believe you,” Peter said, quite humbly.
“It’s all true,” broke in another voice.
Peter jumped and turned to find his big cousin, Jumper the Hare. Unseen and unheard, he had come up behind them and had overheard what Peter and Lightfoot had said.
“How do you know it is true?” Peter asked for confirmation.
“Because I saw Lightfoot’s old antlers after they had fallen off, and I often saw Lightfoot while his new ones were growing,” Jumper replied.
“All right! I’ll believe anything that Lightfoot tells me if you say it is true,” declared Peter, who greatly admires his cousin, Jumper. “Now Lightfoot, please tell me about those rags.”
Lightfoot couldn’t resist the “please.”
“Those rags are what is left of a kind of covering which protected the antlers while they were growing” he said. “Very soon after my old ones dropped off the new ones began to grow. They were not hard, not at all like they are now. They were soft and very tender, and the blood ran through them just as it does through our bodies. They were covered with a sort of skin with hairs on it like thin fur. The ends were not sharply pointed as they are now, rather they were big and rounded, like knobs. They were not like antlers at all, and they made my head hot and were very uncomfortable. That is why I hid away. They grew very fast, so fast that every day I could see by looking at my reflection in water that they were a little longer. It seemed to me sometimes as if all my strength went into those new antlers. And I had to be very careful not to hit them against anything. In the first place it would have hurt, and in the second place it might have spoiled the shape of them.“
“When they had grown to the length you now see, they began to shrink and grow hard. The knobs on the ends shrank until they became pointed. As soon as they stopped growing the blood stopped flowing up in them, and as they became hard they were no longer tender. The skin which had covered them grew dry and split, and I rubbed it off on trees and bushes. The little rags you see are what is left, and I will soon be rid of those too. Then I shall be ready to defend myself if need be.”
Lightfoot tossed his head proudly and rattled his wonderful antlers against the nearest tree. “Isn’t he a sight to see,” whispered Peter to Jumper the Hare; “and did you ever hear of anything so wonderful as the growing of those new antlers in such a short time? Amazing.”
“It is,” replied Jumper, “and I tell you, Peter, I wouldn’t want to have Lightfoot try those antlers on me, beautiful as they are.”
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
What is the difference between antlers and horns?
Who has horns? Who has antlers?
Have you seen deer near your home? Where are they often seen? What time of day is it?
Have you seen a buck with antlers? How many points?
What other signs could you look for to know a deer was nearby? Hint: What is scat?
Try using a book like Scats and Tracks of the Northeast to clearly identify what you’ve discovered in the fields or forest!
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.