|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 |
A LUMBERMAN AND ENGINEER
 JOHNNY CHUCK and Striped Chipmunk were the only ones who were not
on hand at the pond of Paddy the Beaver deep in the Green Forest
at sun-up the next morning. Johnny and Striped Chipmunk were
afraid to go so far from home. To the surprise of everybody,
Prickly Porky was there.
"He must have traveled all night to get here he is such a slow-poke,"
said Peter Rabbit to his cousin, Jumper the Hare.
Peter wasn't far from the truth. But however he got there, there
he was, reaching for lily pads from an old log which lay half in
the water, and appearing very well satisfied with life. You know
there is nothing like a good meal of things you like, to make
everything seem just as it should.
Old Mother Nature seated herself on one end of Paddy's dam and
called the school to order. Just as she did so a brown head
popped out of
 the water close by and a pair of anxious eyes looked
up at Old Mother Nature.
"It is quite all right, Paddy," said she softly. "These little
folks are trying to gain a little knowledge of themselves and
other folks, and we are going to have this morning's lesson right
here because it is to be about you."
Paddy the Beaver no longer looked anxious. There was a sparkle in
his eyes. "May I stay?" he asked eagerly. "If there is a chance
to learn anything I don't want to miss it."
Before Old Mother Nature could reply Peter Rabbit spoke up. "But
the lesson is to be about you and your family. Do you expect to
learn anything about yourself?" he demanded, and chuckled as if he
thought that a great joke.
"It seems to me that some one named Peter learned a great deal about
his own family when he first came to school to me," said Old Mother
Nature. Peter had grace enough to hang his head and look ashamed.
"Of course you may stay, Paddy. In fact, I want you to. There are
some things I shall want you to explain. That is why we are holding
school over here this morning. Just come up here on your dam where
we can all get a good look at you."
Paddy the Beaver climbed out on his dam. It was the first time
Happy Jack Squirrel ever had
 seen him out of water, and Happy Jack
gave a little gasp of surprise. "I had no idea he is so big!"
"He is the biggest of all the Rodents in this country, and one of
the biggest in all the Great World. Also he is the smartest
member of the whole order," said Old Mother Nature.
"He doesn't look it," said Chatterer the Squirrel with a saucy
jerk of his tail.
"Which means, I suppose, that you haven't the least doubt that you
are quite as smart as he," said Old Mother Nature quietly, and
Chatterer looked both guilty and a little bit ashamed. "I'll admit
that you are smart, Chatterer, but often it is in a wrong way.
Paddy is smart in the very best way. He is a lumberman, builder
and engineer. A lot of my little people are workers, but they are
destructive workers. The busier they are, the more they destroy.
Paddy the Beaver is a constructive worker. That means that he is a
builder instead of a destroyer."
"How about all those trees he cuts down? If that isn't destroying,
I don't know what is!" said Chatterer, and with each word jerked
his tail as if somehow his tongue and tail were connected.
"So it is," replied Old Mother Nature good-naturedly. "But just
think of the number of trees you destroy."
 "I never have destroyed a tree in my life!" declared
"Yes, you have," retorted Old Mother Nature.
"I never have!" contradicted Chatterer, quite forgetting to whom
he was speaking.
But Old Mother Nature overlooked this. "I don't suppose you ever
ate a chestnut or a fat hickory nut or a sweet beechnut," said
"Of course," retorted Chatterer sharply. "I've eaten ever and
ever and ever so many of them. What of it?"
"In the heart of each one was a little tree," explained Old Mother
Nature. "But for you very many of those little trees would have
sprung up and some day would have made big trees. So you see for
every tree Paddy has destroyed you probably have destroyed a
hundred. You eat the nuts that you may live. Paddy cuts down the
trees that he may live, for the bark of those trees is his food.
Like Prickly Porky he lives chiefly on bark. But, unlike Prickly
Porky, he doesn't destroy a tree for the bark alone. He wastes
nothing. He makes use of every bit of that tree. He does something
for the Green Forest in return for the trees he takes."
Chatterer looked at Happy Jack and blinked in a puzzled way.
Happy Jack looked at Peter Rabbit and blinked. Peter looked at
 Hare and blinked. Jumper looked at Prickly Porky and
blinked. Then all looked at Paddy the Beaver and finally at Old
Mother Nature, and all blinked. Old Mother Nature chuckled.
"Don't you think the Green Forest is more beautiful because of
this little pond?" she asked. Everybody nodded. "Of course," she
continued. "But there wouldn't be any little pond here were it
not for Paddy and the trees he has cut. He destroyed the trees in
order to make the pond. That is what I meant when I called him a
constructive worker. Now I want you all to take a good look at
Paddy. Then he will show us just how as a lumberman he cuts
trees, as a builder he constructs houses and dams, and as an
engineer he digs canals."
This shows his wonderful dam and his house.
As Paddy sat there on his dam, he looked rather like a giant member
of the Rat family, though his head was more like that of a Squirrel
than a Rat. His body was very thick and heavy, and in color he
was dark brown, lighter underneath than above. Squatting there
on the dam his back was rounded. All together, he was a very
Peter Rabbit appeared to be interested in just one thing, Paddy's
tail. He couldn't keep his eyes off it.
Old Mother Nature noticed this. "Well, Peter," said she, "what
have you on your mind now?"
 "That tail," replied Peter. "That's the queerest tail I've ever
seen. I should think it would be heavy and dreadfully in the way."
Old Mother Nature laughed. "If you ask him Paddy will tell you
that that tail is the handiest tail in the Green Forest," said she.
"There isn't another like it in all the Great World, and if you'll
be patient you will see just how handy it is."
It was a queer-looking tail. It was broad and thick and flat, oval
in shape, and covered with scales instead of hair. Just then Jumper
the Hare made a discovery. "Why!" he exclaimed, "Paddy has feet
like Honker the Goose!"
"Only my hind feet," said Paddy. "They have webs between the toes
just as Honker's have. That is for swimming. But there are no
webs between my fingers." He held up a hand for all to see. Sure
enough, the fingers were free.
"Now that everybody has had a good look at you, Paddy," said Old
Mother Nature, "suppose you swim over to where you have been
cutting trees. We will join you there, and then you can show us
just how you work."
Paddy slipped into the water, where for a second or two he floated
with just his head above the surface. Then he quickly raised his
 tail and brought it down on the water with a slap that
sounded like the crack of a terrible gun. It was so loud and
unexpected that every one save Old Mother Nature and Prickly Porky
jumped with fright. Peter Rabbit happened to be right on the edge
of the dam and, because he jumped before he had time to think, he
jumped right into the water with a splash. Now Peter doesn't like
the water, as you know, and he scrambled out just as fast as ever
he could. How the others did laugh at him.
"What did he do that for?" demanded Peter indignantly. "To show
you one use he has for that handy tail," replied Old Mother Nature.
"That is the way he gives warning to his friends whenever he
discovers danger. Did you notice how he used his tail to aid him
in swimming? He turns it almost on edge and uses it as a rudder.
Those big, webbed hind feet are the paddles which drive him through
the water. He can stay under water a long time—as much as five
minutes. See, he has just come up now."
Sure enough, Paddy's head had just appeared clear across the pond
almost to the opposite shore, and he was now swimming on the surface.
Old Mother Nature at once led the way around the pond to a small
grove of poplar trees which stood
 a little way back from the water.
Paddy was already there. "Now," said Old Mother Nature, "show us what
kind of a lumberman you are."
Paddy picked out a small tree, sat up much as Happy Jack Squirrel
does, but with his big flat tail on the ground to brace him,
seized the trunk of the tree in both hands, and went to work with
his great orange-colored cutting teeth. He bit out a big chip.
Then another and another. Gradually he worked around the tree.
After a while the tree began to sway and crack. Paddy bit out two
or three more chips, then suddenly slapped the ground with his
tail as a warning and scampered back to a safe distance. He was
taking no chances of being caught under that falling tree.
The tree fell, and at once Paddy returned to work. The smaller
branches he cut off with a single bite at the base of each.
The larger ones required a number of bites. Then he set to work
to cut the trunk up in short logs. At this point Old Mother
"Now show us," said she, "what you do with the logs."
Paddy at once got behind a log, and by pushing, rolled it ahead
of him until at last it fell with a splash in the water of a ditch
or canal which led from near that grove of trees to the pond.
 followed into the water and began to push it ahead of him
towards the pond.
"That will do," spoke up Old Mother Nature. "Come out and show us
how you take the branches."
Obediently Paddy climbed out and returned to the fallen tree. There
he picked up one of the long branches in his mouth, grasping it near
the butt, twisted it over his shoulder and started to drag it to
the canal. When he reached the latter he entered the water and began
swimming, still dragging the branch in the same way. Once more Old
Mother Nature stopped him. "You've shown us how you cut trees and
move them, so now I want you to answer a few questions," said she.
Paddy climbed out and squatted on the bank.
"How did this canal happen to be here handy?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Why, I dug it, of course," replied Paddy looking surprised. "You
see, I'm rather slow and clumsy on land, and don't like to be far
from water. Those trees are pretty well back from the pond, so I
dug this canal, which brings the water almost to them. It makes
it safer for me in case Old Man Coyote or Buster Bear or Yowler the
Bobcat happens to be looking for a Beaver dinner. Also it makes
it very much easier to get my logs and branches to the pond."
 Old Mother Nature nodded. "Just so," said she. "I want the rest
of you to notice how well this canal has been dug. At the other
end it is carried along the bottom of the pond where the water is
shallow so as to give greater depth. Now you will understand why
I called Paddy an engineer. What do you do with your logs and
"Put them in my food-pile, out there where the water is deep near
my house," replied Paddy promptly. "The bark I eat, and the bare
sticks I use to keep my house and dam in repair. In the late fall
I cut enough trees to keep me in food all winter. When my pond is
covered with ice I have nothing to worry about; my food supply
is below the ice. When I am hungry I swim out under the ice, get
a stick, take it back into my house and eat the bark. Then I take
the bare stick outside to use when needed on my dam or house."
"How did you come to make this fine pond? " asked Old Mother Nature.
"Oh, I just happened to come exploring up the Laughing Brook and
found there was plenty of food here and a good place for a pond,"
replied Paddy. "I thought I would like to live here. Down where
my dam is, the Laughing Brook was shallow—just the place for
 "Tell us why you wanted a pond and how you built that dam,"
commanded Old Mother Nature.
"Why, I had to have a pond, if I was to stay here," replied Paddy,
as if every one must understand that. "The Laughing Brook wasn't
deep or big enough for me to live here safely. If it had been, I
would have made my home in the bank and not bothered with a house
or dam. But it wasn't, so I had to make a pond. It required a
lot of hard work, but it is worth all it cost.
"First, I cut a lot of brush and young trees and placed them in
the Laughing Brook in that shallow place, with the butts pointing
up-stream. I kept them in place by piling mud and stones on them.
Then I kept piling on more sticks and brush and mud. The water
brought down leaves and floating stuff, and this caught in the
dam and helped fill it in. I dug a lot of mud in front of it and
used this to fill in the spaces between the sticks. This made the
water deeper in front of the dam and at the same time kept it from
getting through. As the water backed up, of course it made a pond.
I kept making my dam longer and higher, and the longer and higher
it became the bigger the pond grew. When it was big enough and
deep enough to suit me, I stopped work on the dam and built my
house out there."
Everybody turned to look at Paddy's house,
 the roof of which stood
high out of water a little way from the dam. "Tell us how you
built that," said Old Mother Nature quietly.
"Oh, I just made a big platform of sticks and mud out there where
it was deep enough for me to be sure that the water could not
freeze clear to the bottom, even in the coldest weather," replied
Paddy, in a matter-of-fact tone. "I built it up until it was
above water. Then I built the walls and roof of sticks and mud,
just as you see them there. Inside I have a fine big room with a
comfortable bed of shredded wood. I have two openings in the
floor with a long passage leading from each down through the
foundations and opening at the bottom of the pond. Of course,
these are filled with water. Some houses have only one passage,
but I like two. These are the only entrances to my house.
"Every fall I repair my walls and roof, adding sticks and mud and
turf, so that now they are very thick. Late in the fall I
sometimes plaster the outside with mud. This freezes hard, and
no enemy who may reach my house on the ice can tear it open. I
guess that's all."
Peter Rabbit drew a long breath. "What a dreadful lot of work," said
he. "Do you work all the time?"
Paddy chuckled. "No, Peter," said he. "In
 the spring and summer
I like to play and go on exploring trips. But when it is time to
work, I work every minute. I believe in working with all my might
when it is time to work, and playing the same way in play-time."
Old Mother Nature nodded
in approval. "Quite right," said she. "Quite right. Are there
any more questions?"
"Do you eat nothing but bark?" It was Happy Jack Squirrel who spoke.
"Oh, no," replied Paddy. "In summer I eat berries, mushrooms, grass
and the leaves and stems of a number of plants. In winter I vary my
fare with lily roots and the roots of alder and willow. But bark is
my principal food."
Old Mother Nature waited a few minutes, but as there were no more
questions she added a few words. "Now I hope you understand why I
am so proud of Paddy the Beaver, and why I told you that he is a
lumberman, builder and engineer," said she. "For the next lesson
we will take up the Rat family."
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