|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
AN INDEPENDENT FAMILY
 JUST as Old Mother Nature asked who they should learn about next,
Happy Jack Squirrel spied some one coming down the Lone Little
Path. "See 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 imaginable, came
a certain small person who was dressed wholly in black and white.
The common Skunk is of considerable
economic value as well as a valuable fur-bearer.
"Hello, Jimmy Skunk," cried 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,"
said he. "I thought I would just amble over here and see your school.
I suppose all you fellows are getting so wise that pretty soon you
will think you know all there is to know. Have any of you seen any
fat Beetles around here?"
Just then Jimmy noticed Old Mother Nature
 and hastened to bow his
head in a funny way. "Please excuse me, Mother Nature," he said,
"I thought school was over. I don't want to interrupt."
Old Mother Nature smiled. The fact is, Old Mother Nature is rather
fond of Jimmy Skunk. "You aren't interrupting," said she. "The
fact is, we had just ended the lesson about Flitter the Bat and
his relatives, and were trying to decide who to study about 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," said he, "I have several close
cousins in the Skunk branch of the family, but I presume 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 Old Mother Nature.
A look of surprise swept over Jimmy Skunk's face. "Digger the
Badger!" he exclaimed. "Digger the Badger is no cousin of mine!"
"Tut, tut, tut!" chided Old Mother Nature.
 "Tut, tut, tut, Jimmy
Skunk! It is high time you came to school. Digger the Badger is
just as much a cousin of yours as is Shadow the Weasel. 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
Glutton the Wolverine 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.
But 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, tell us what you know about Jimmy Skunk."
"I know one thing about him," declared Peter, "and that's that 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,"
 "I have noticed that everybody does, even Farmer Brown's boy," spoke
up Happy Jack Squirrel.
"It is easy enough to be independent when everybody is afraid of
you," sputtered Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"Just why is everybody afraid of Jimmy Skunk?" asked Old
"They are afraid of that little scent gun he carries," spoke up Peter
Rabbit. "I wish I had one just like it."
Old Mother Nature shook her head. "It wouldn't do, Peter, to trust
you with a gun like Jimmy Skunk's," said she. "You are altogether
too heedless and careless. If you had a scent gun like Jimmy's, I
am afraid there would be trouble in the Green Forest and on the Green
Meadow all the time. I suspect that you would drive everybody else
away. Jimmy is never heedless or careless. He never uses that little
scent gun 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 that little scent gun."
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 all looked at Old Mother
Nature and shook their heads. "I thought as much," said she. "Jimmy
is wonderfully well armed, but for defense only. He never makes the
mistake of misusing that little scent gun. But everybody knows he
has it, so nobody interferes with him. Now, Peter, what more do you
know about Jimmy?"
"He's lazy," replied Peter.
"I'm not lazy," retorted Jimmy Skunk. "I'm no more lazy than you
are. You call me lazy just because I don't hurry. I don't have
to hurry, and I never can see any good in hurrying when one
doesn't have to."
"That will do," interposed Old Mother Nature. "Go on, Peter, with
what you know about Jimmy." "He is good-natured," said Peter, and
grinned at Jimmy.
Jimmy grinned back. "Thank you, Peter," said he.
"He is one of the best-natured people I know," continued Peter. "I
guess it is a lucky thing for the rest of us that he is. I have
noticed that fat people are usually good-natured, and Jimmy is nearly
always fat. In fact, I don't think I have seen him what you would
call really thin excepting very early in the spring. He eats Beetles
 grubs and Grasshoppers and Crickets and insects of all sorts. I
am told that he steals eggs when he can find them."
"Yes, and he catches members of my family when he can," spoke up Danny
Meadow Mouse. "I never feel safe with Jimmy Skunk very near."
Jimmy didn't look at all put out. "I might as well confess that
tender Mouse is rather to my liking," said he, "and I might add that
I also enjoy a Frog now and then, or a Lizard or a fish."
"Also you might mention that young birds don't come amiss when you
can get them," spoke up Chatterer the Red Squirrel maliciously.
Jimmy looked up at Chatterer. "That's a case of the pot calling
the kettle black," said he and Chatterer made a face at him. But
Chatterer said nothing more, for he knew that all the others knew
that what Jimmy said was true: Chatterer had robbed many a nest
of young birds.
"Is that all you know about Jimmy?" asked Old 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."
"You've got another think coming, Peter," said Jimmy. "I sleep a
lot during the winter,
 but I don't go into winter quarters until
well after 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 Old Mother Nature.
Jimmy shook his head. "Not when I can help myself," said he, "It
is too much work. If I have to I do, but 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 Old Mother
Nature. "You will notice that he is about the size of Black
Pussy, the Cat from Farmer Brown's, and that his coat is black
with broad white stripes. But 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 little scent gun without first giving warning. When
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 to man. Once in a while they will make the mistake
of stealing Chickens or eggs, but it is only once in a while. 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, but when they are big enough to walk their father rejoins
the family, and you may see them almost any pleasant evening
starting out together to hunt for Grasshoppers, Beetles and other
things. Often the whole family remains together the whole winter,
not breaking up until spring. Jimmy is one of the neatest of all
my little people 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, sleeping during the day. He is one
of the few little wild people who haven't been driven away by man,
and often makes his home close to man's home.
"Jimmy has own 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, but 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, making it appear very handsome. He lives
in the southern half of the country and in habits is much like
Jimmy, but 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 gun.
By the way, Jimmy, what do you do when you are angry? Show us."
A small cousin of Jimmy Skunk.
Note the curious pattern of his markings.
Jimmy began to growl, a queer-sounding little growl, and at the
same time to stamp the ground with his front feet. Old Mother
Nature laughed. "When you see Jimmy do that," said she, "it is
best to pretend you don't see him and keep out of his way."
 "Hasn't Jimmy any enemies at all?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"That depends on how hungry some folks get," replied Old Mother
Nature. "Hooty the Owl doesn't seem to mind Jimmy's little scent
gun, but this is the only one I can think of who doesn't. Some of
the bigger animals might take him if they were starving, but even
then I think they would think twice. Who knows where Digger the
Badger is living?"
"I do," replied Peter Rabbit. "He is living out on the Green
Meadows over near the Old Pasture."
"All right, Peter," replied Old Mother Nature, "suppose you run
over and pay him a visit and to-morrow morning you can tell us
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