Jimmy Skunk ambled slowly along, chuckling as he thought of what a hurry Mr. Toad had been in, when he had heard that Mr. Hognose the snake had asked after him. It had been funny, very funny indeed, to see Mr. Toad try to hurry.
Suddenly Jimmy stopped chuckling. Then he stopped ambling along the Crooked Little Path. He turned around and looked back, and as he did so he scratched his head thoughtfully. He had just happened to think that Old Mr. Toad had gone up the Crooked Little Path, and it was up the Crooked Little Path that Mr. Hognose had shown himself that morning.
“If he’s still up there,” thought Jimmy, “Old Mr. Toad is hopping right straight into the very worst kind of trouble. How silly of him not to have asked me where Mr. Hognose was! Well, it’s none of my business. I guess I’ll go on.”
And yet he had just gone down the Crooked Little Path only a few steps when he stopped again. You see, Jimmy is really a very kind-hearted little fellow, and somehow he didn’t like to think of what might happen to Old Mr. Toad.
“I don’t like to retrace my steps to go way back there,” he grumbled. “Still, the Green Meadows wouldn’t be quite the same without Old Mr. Toad. I should miss him if anything happened to him. I suppose it would be partly my fault, too, for if I hadn’t pulled over that piece of bark he probably would have stayed there the rest of the day and been safe.”
“Maybe he won’t meet Mr. Hognose,” said a little voice inside of Jimmy.
“And maybe he will,” said Jimmy right out loud. And with that, he started back up the Crooked Little Path, and funny and yet true Jimmy hurried.
He had just reached a turn in the Crooked Little Path when who should run right into him – Old Mr. Toad! He gave a frightened squeal and fell right over on his back, and kicked frightfully as he tried to get on his feet again. He was all out of breath, and so frightened and tired that all he could do was to kick and kick. He hadn’t seen Jimmy at all, for he had been looking behind him, and he didn’t even know who it was he had run into.
Right behind him came Mr. Hognose the snake. Of course he saw Jimmy, and he stopped short and hissed angrily.
“What were you going to do to Mr. Toad?” demanded Jimmy.
“None of your business!” hissed Mr. Hognose. “Get out of my way, or you’ll be sorry.”
Jimmy Skunk stepped in front of Old Mr. Toad. Mr. Hognose coiled himself up in the path and darted his tongue out at Jimmy trying to look very fierce. Then he jumped straight at Jimmy Skunk with his mouth wide open, although he took great care not to jump quite far enough to reach Jimmy. You see, he was just trying to scare Jimmy
Jimmy didn’t scare though. He knows all about Mr. Hognose and that he really likes to bluff. So he suddenly gritted his teeth in a way not at all pleasant to hear and started for Mr. Hognose. Mr. Hognose didn’t wait. He suddenly turned and glided back up the Crooked Little Path, hissing angrily. Jimmy followed him a little way, and then he went back to Old Mr. Toad.
“Oh my,” panted Mr. Toad, “you came just in time! I couldn’t have hopped another hop.”
“I guess I did,” replied Jimmy. “Now you get your breath and come along with me.” And Old Mr. Toad did just that.
They both made their way together, with Jimmy Skunk escorting Old Mr. Toad, back down the Crooked Little Path and connecting to the Lone Little Path that they had met on just a few days earlier.
Then Old Mr. Toad spent his day resting after all the excitement and as jolly, round, Mr. Sun went to bed behind the Purple Hills he gave thanks for the good fortune of his friend with such good timing.
Jimmy Skunk ambled along the Crooked Little Path down the hill. He didn’t hurry because Jimmy doesn’t believe in hurrying. The only time he ever hurries is when he sees a fat beetle trying to get out of sight. Then Jimmy does hurry. And yet just now he didn’t see any fat beetles, although he was looking for them. So he just ambled along as if he had all the time in the world, as indeed he had. He was feeling great. Summer had arrived to stay. On every side he heard glad voices. Bumble the Bee was humming a song. Best of all, Jimmy had found three beetles that very morning, and he knew that there were more if he could find them. All felt right with the world.
Jimmy’s sharp little eyes twinkled as he ambled along, and there wasn’t much that they missed. As he walked he talked, quite to himself of course, because there was nobody near to hear, and this is what he was saying:
“Beetle, beetle, smooth and smug, You are nothing but a bug. Bugs were made for Skunks to eat, So come out from your retreat.”
“Hello! There’s a nice big piece of bark over there that looks as if it ought to have a dozen fat beetles under it. It’s great fun to pull over pieces of bark and see fat beetles run all ways at once. I’ll just have to see what is under that piece.”
Jimmy tiptoed softly over to the big piece of bark, and then as he made ready to turn it over, he began again that little verse.
“Beetle, beetle, smooth and smug, You are nothing but a bug.”
As he said the last word, he suddenly pulled the piece of bark over.
“Who’s a bug?” asked a funny voice, and it sounded rather cross. Jimmy Skunk nearly tumbled over backward in surprise, and for a minute he couldn’t find his tongue. There, instead of the fat beetles he had been so sure of, sat Old Mr. Toad, and he didn’t look at all pleased.
“Who’s a bug?” he repeated.
Instead of answering, Jimmy Skunk began to laugh. “Who’s a bug?” Old Mr. Toad asked again.
“There isn’t any bug, Mr. Toad, and I beg your pardon,” replied Jimmy, remembering his politeness. “I just thought there was. You see, I didn’t know you were under that piece of bark. I hope you will excuse me, Mr. Toad. Have you seen any fat beetles this morning?”
“No,” said Old Mr. Toad a little grumpily, and yawned and rubbed his eyes.
“Why,” exclaimed Jimmy Skunk, “I believe you have just woken up!”
“What if I have?” said Old Mr. Toad.
“Oh, nothing, nothing at all, Mr. Toad,” replied Jimmy Skunk, “only you are the second one I’ve met this morning who has just woken up.
“Who was the other?” asked Old Mr. Toad.
“Mr. Hognose,” replied Jimmy. “He inquired for you.”
Old Mr. Toad turned quite pale. “I–I think I best be moving along,” he said.
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 (Paddy the Beaver, Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mr. Toad, etc.), 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.
Just as Mother Nature asked who they should learn about next, Happy Jack Squirrel spied some one coming down the Lone Little Path. “Look who’s coming!” cried Happy Jack.
Everybody turned to look down the Lone Little Path. There, ambling along in the most matter-of-fact and unconcerned way, came a certain four-legged friend who was dressed all in black and white.
“Hello, Jimmy Skunk,” shouted Chatterer the Red Squirrel. “What are you doing over here in the Green Forest?” Jimmy Skunk looked up and grinned. It was a slow, good-natured grin. “Hello, everybody,” he said. “I thought I would just amble over here and see what you are all up to gathering together. Have any of you seen any fat Beetles around here?”
Just then Jimmy noticed Mother Nature. “Please excuse me, Mother Nature,” he said, “I don’t mean to interrupt.”
Mother Nature smiled. The fact is, Mother Nature is rather fond of Jimmy Skunk. “You aren’t interrupting,” she said. “The fact is, we have just ended the learning session about Flitter the Bat and his relatives, and were trying to decide who to focus our attention on next. I think you came along at just the right time. You belong to a large and rather important order, one that all these little folks here ought to know about. How many cousins have you, Jimmy?”
Jimmy Skunk looked a little surprised at the question. He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Let me see,” he said, “I have several close cousins in the Skunk branch of the family, although I’m guessing you want to know who my cousins are outside of the Skunk branch. They are Shadow the Weasel, Billy Mink, and Little Joe Otter. These are the only ones I can think of now.”
“How about Digger the Badger?” asked Mother Nature.
A look of surprise swept over Jimmy Skunk’s face. “Digger the Badger!” he exclaimed. “Digger the Badger can’t be a cousin of mine!”
“Digger the Badger is just as much a cousin of yours as is Shadow the Weasel,” Mother Nature confirmed. “You are members of the same order and it is a rather large order. It is called the Car-niv-o-ra, which means ‘flesh-eating.’ You are a member of the Marten or Weasel family, and that family is called the ‘Mus-tel-i-dae.’ Digger the Badger is also a member of that family. That means that you two are cousins. You and Digger and the Wolverine all belong to the stout-bodied branch of the family. Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Shadow the Weasel, Pekan the Fisher and Spite the Marten belong to its slim-bodied branch. And all are members of the same family despite the difference in looks, and thus, of course, are cousins. Seeing that you are here, Jimmy, I think we will find out just how much these little folks know about you.”
“Peter Rabbit, could you tell us what you know about Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.
“Well, I do know one thing about him,” declared Peter, “and that is he is the most independent fellow in the world. He isn’t afraid of anybody. I saw Buster Bear actually step out of his way the other day.”
Jimmy Skunk grinned. “Buster always treats me very politely,” said Jimmy.
“I have noticed that everybody does, even Farmer Brown’s boy,” added Happy Jack Squirrel.
“It is easy enough to be independent when everybody is afraid of you,” sputtered Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“And just why is everybody afraid of Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.
“They are afraid of that little scent spray he carries,” spoke up Peter Rabbit. “I wish I had one just like it.”
Mother Nature shook her head. “It wouldn’t do, Peter, to trust you with a scented spray the likes of Jimmy Skunk’s,” she said. “I am afraid there would be trouble in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadow all the time as I suspect that you would drive everybody else away. Jimmy never uses that little scent spray unless he is in real danger or thinks he is. Usually he is pretty sure that he is before he uses it. I’ll venture to say that not one of you has seen Jimmy use his scent spray.”
Peter looked at Jumper the Hare. Jumper looked at Chatterer. Chatterer looked at Happy Jack. Happy Jack looked at Danny Meadow Mouse. Danny looked at Striped Chipmunk. Striped looked at Johnny Chuck. Johnny looked at Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then they all looked at Mother Nature and shook their heads. “I thought as much,” she said. “Jimmy is wonderfully well suited for using the scented spray for defense only as needed. He never misuses it. And since everybody knows he has it, nobody interferes with him. Now, Peter, what more do you know about Jimmy?”
“He is good-natured,” said Peter, and grinned at Jimmy.
Jimmy grinned back. “Thank you, Peter,” he said.
“He is one of the best-natured people I know,” continued Peter. “He also eats Beetles and grubs and Grasshoppers and Crickets and insects of all sorts. I am told that he eats eggs when he can find them.”
Jimmy also noted “I might as well add to the list that a Mouse is rather to my liking, young birds, and I also enjoy a Frog now and then, or a Lizard, or a fish.”
“Is that all you know about Jimmy?” asked Mother Nature of Peter.
“I guess it is,” replied Peter, “excepting that he lives in a hole in the ground, and I seldom see him out in winter. I rather think he sleeps all winter, the same as Johnny Chuck does.”
“I do sleep a lot during the winter,” said Jimmy, “however I don’t go into winter quarters until well after the snow comes, and I don’t sleep the way Johnny Chuck does. Sometimes I go out in winter and hunt around a little.”
“Do you dig your house?” asked Mother Nature.
Jimmy shook his head. “Not when I can help myself,” he said. “It is too much work. If I have to I do, although I would much rather use one of Johnny Chuck’s old houses. His houses suit me first rate.”
“I want you all to look at Jimmy very closely,” said Mother Nature. “You will notice that he is about the size of Black Shadow, the Cat from Farmer Brown’s, and that his coat is black with broad white stripes. However, not all Skunks are marked alike. I dare say that no two of Jimmy’s children would be exactly alike. I suspect that one or more might be all black, with perhaps a little bit of white on the tail. Notice that Jimmy’s front feet have long, sharp claws. He uses these to dig out grubs and insects in the ground, and for pulling over sticks and stones in his search for beetles. Also notice that he places his feet on the ground very much as does Buster Bear. That big, bushy tail of his is for the purpose of warning folks. Jimmy never shoots that scent spray without first giving warning. When that tail of his begins to go up in the air, wise people watch out.”
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Jimmy Skunk and his family do a great deal of harm. The truth is, they do a great deal of good. Once in a while they will make the mistake of stealing Chickens or eggs. They make up for all they take in this way by the pests they destroy. Jimmy and Mrs. Skunk have a large family each year, usually from six to ten. Mrs. Skunk usually is living by herself when the babies are born and when they are big enough to walk their father rejoins the family, and you may see them hunting together for Grasshoppers or Beetles. Often the whole family remains together all winter, not breaking up until spring. Jimmy is very neat and takes the best of care of his handsome coat. He isn’t afraid of water and can swim if it is necessary. He does most of his hunting at night and sleeping during the day.”
“Jimmy has cousins in nearly all parts of this great country. Way down in the Southwest is one called the Hog-nosed Skunk, one of the largest of the family. He gets his name because of the shape of his nose and the fact that he roots in the ground the same as a hog. He is also called the Badger Skunk because of the big claws on his front feet and the fact that he is a great digger. His fur is not so fine as that of Jimmy Skunk, and is rather coarse and harsh. He is even more of an insect eater than is Jimmy.”
“The smallest of Jimmy’s own cousins is the Little Spotted Skunk. He is only about half as big as Jimmy, and his coat, instead of being striped with white like Jimmy’s, is covered with irregular white lines and spots. He lives in the southern half of the country and in his habits is much like Jimmy, although he is much livelier. Occasionally he climbs low trees. Like Jimmy he eats almost anything he can find. And it goes without saying that, like Jimmy, he carries a little scent spray too. By the way, Jimmy, what do you do when you are angry? Can you show us?”
Jimmy began to growl, an odd-sounding little growl, and at the same time stamped the ground with his front feet. Mother Nature laughed. “When you see Jimmy do that,” she said, “it is best to pretend you don’t see him and keep out of his way.”
“Hasn’t Jimmy any predators at all?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“That depends on how hungry some folks get,” replied Mother Nature. “Hooty the Owl doesn’t seem to mind Jimmy’s little scent spray, however this is the only one I can think of who doesn’t. Some of the bigger animals might take him if they were starving, although even then I think they would think twice.”
“Now, who knows where Digger the Badger is living?” asked Mother Nature.
“I do,” replied Peter Rabbit. “He is living out on the Green Meadows over near the Old Pasture.”
“All right, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, “suppose you run over and pay him a visit and tomorrow morning you can tell us all about it.”
Can you think of any other “famous” skunk characters in books or movies? If so, how often is the scent spray brought up as the primary thing to know about skunks? Could you write a story about a skunk and focus on something other than the scent spray? What might you write about?
Why hadn’t any of the four-legged friends seen Jimmy Skunk use his scent spray? Have you ever seen a skunk spray? Or have you ever smelled the spray? Did you know the scent can be detected for half a mile away? Write or draw about your skunk scent experience in your nature journal.
*Have you ever seen skunk tracks? The skunk takes short steps and goes slowly so that it makes a double track with the imprints being very close together. The foot makes a longer track than that of the cat and walks upon both palms and heels as well as toes.
*How big is a skunk? How does a skunk benefit a farmer? Do skunks make any vocal noises?
Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more information and a photo of a skunk.
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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