|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 |
PRICKLY PORKY AND GRUBBY GOPHER
 ALL the way to school the next morning Peter Rabbit wondered who
they would learn about that day. He was so busy wondering that he
was heedless. Peter is apt to be heedless at times. The result
was that as he hopped out of a bramble-tangle just within the edge
of the Green Forest, he all but landed in something worse than the
worst brambles that ever grew. It was only by a wild side jump
that he saved himself. Peter had almost landed among the thousand
little spears of Prickly Porky the Porcupine.
An independent fellow with a thousand
little spears in his coat.
"Gracious!" exclaimed Peter.
"Why don't you look where you are going," grunted Prickly Porky.
Plainly he was rather peevish. "It wouldn't be my fault if you had
a few of my little spears sticking in you this very minute, and it
would serve you right." He waddled along a few steps, then began
talking again. "I don't see why Old Mother Nature sent for me this
morning," he grumbled. "I hate a long walk."
 Peter pricked up his long ears. "I know!" he cried. "You're going
to school, Prickly Porky. You're a Rodent, and we are going to
learn all about you this morning."
"I'm not a Rodent; I'm a Porcupine," grunted Prickly Porky indignantly.
"You're a Rodent just the same. You've got big gnawing teeth, and
any one with that kind of teeth is a Rodent," retorted Peter. Then
at a sudden thought a funny look passed over his face. "Why, that
means that you and I are related in a way," he added.
"Don't believe it," grunted Prickly Porky, still shuffling along.
"Don't believe it. Don't want to be related to anybody as
heedless as you. What is this school, anyway? Don't want to go to
school. Know all I want to know. Know how to get all I want to eat
and how to make everybody get out of my way and leave me alone, and
that's enough to know." He rattled the thousand little spears
hidden in his coat, and Peter shivered at the sound. It was a most
"Well, some folks do like to be stupid," snapped Peter and hurried
on, lipperty-lipperty-lip, while Prickly Porky slowly shuffled and
rattled along behind.
All the others were there when Peter arrived. Prickly Porky wasn't
even in sight. Old Mother
 Nature wasted no time. She has too much
to do to ever waste time. She called the school to order at once.
"Yesterday," she began, "I told you about two little haymakers of
the high mountains of the Far West. Who were they, Peter Rabbit?"
"Little Chief Hare, called the Pika or Cony, and Stubtail the
Mountain Beaver or Sewellel," replied Peter with great promptness.
"Right," said Old Mother Nature. "Now I am going to tell you of
one of my little plowmen who also lives in the Far West but prefers
the great plains to the high mountains, though he is sometimes
found in the latter. He is Grubby the Gopher, a member of the
same order the rest of you belong to, but of a family quite his
own. He is properly called the Pocket Gopher, and way down in
the Southeast, where he is also found, he is called a Salamander,
though what for I haven't the least idea."
"Does he have pockets in his cheeks like mine?" asked Striped
"He has pockets in his cheeks, and that is why he is called Pocket
Gopher," replied Old Mother Nature; "but they are not at all like
yours, Striped Chipmunk. Yours are on the inside of your cheeks,
but his are on the outside."
"How funny!" exclaimed Striped Chipmunk.
 "Your pockets are small compared with those of Grubby," continued
Old Mother Nature. "One of his covers almost the whole side of
his head back to his short neck, and it is lined with fur, and
remember he has two of them. Grubby uses these for carrying food
and never for carrying out earth when he is digging a tunnel, as
some folks think he does. He stuffs them full with his front feet
and empties them by pressing them from the back with his feet.
The Gopher family is quite large and the members range in size
from the size of Danny Meadow Mouse to that of Robber the Rat,
only these bigger members are stouter and heavier than Robber.
Some are reddish-brown and some are gray. But whatever his size
and wherever he is found, Grubby's habits are the same."
The true Gopher and a great pest
All this time Peter Rabbit had been fidgeting about. It was quite
clear that Peter had something on his mind. Now as Old Mother
Nature paused, Peter found the chance he had been waiting for.
"If you please, why did you call him a plowman?" he asked eagerly.
"I'm coming to that all in due time," replied Old Mother Nature,
smiling at Peter's eagerness. "Grubby Gopher spends most of his
life underground, very much like Miner the Mole, whom you all
know. He can dig tunnels just about as
 fast. His legs are short,
and his front legs and feet are very stout and strong. They are
armed with very long, strong claws and it is with these and the
help of his big cutting teeth that Grubby digs. He throws the
earth under him and then kicks it behind him with his hind feet.
When he has quite a pile behind him he turns around, and with his
front feet and head pushes it along to a little side tunnel and
then up to the surface of the ground. As soon as he has it all
out he plugs up the opening and goes back to digging. The loose
earth he has pushed out makes little mounds, and he makes one of
these mounds every few feet.
"Grubby is a great worker. He is very industrious. Since he is
underground, it doesn't make much difference to him whether it be
night or day. In summer, during the hottest part of the day, he
rests. His eyes are small and weak because he has little use for
them, coming out on the surface very seldom and then usually in
the dusk. He has a funny little tail without any hair on it; this
is very sensitive and serves him as a sort of guide when he runs
backward along his tunnel, which he can do quite fast. A funny
thing about those long claws on his front feet is that he folds
them under when he is walking or running. Do any of you know why
Farmer Brown plows his garden?"
 As she asked this, Old Mother Nature looked from one to another,
and each in turn shook his head. "It is to mix the dead vegetable
matter thoroughly with the earth so that the roots of the plants
may get it easily," explained Old Mother Nature. "By making those
tunnels in every direction and bringing up the earth below to the
surface, Grubby Gopher does the same thing. That is why I call
him my little plowman. He loosens up the hard, packed earth and
mixes the vegetable matter with it and so makes it easy for seeds
to sprout and plants to grow."
"Then he must be one of the farmer's best friends," spoke up
Happy Jack Squirrel.
Old Mother Nature shook her head. "He has been in the past," said
she. "He has done a wonderful work in helping make the land fit
for farming. But where land is being farmed he is a dreadful
pest, I am sorry to say. You see he eats the crops the farmer
tries to raise, and the new mounds he is all the time throwing up
bury a lot of the young plants, and in the meadows make it very
hard to use a mowing machine for cutting hay. Then Grubby gets
into young orchards and cuts off all the tender roots of young
trees. This kills them. You see he is fond of tender roots,
seeds, stems of grass and grain, and is never happier than when
he can find a field of potatoes.
 "Being such a worker, he has to have a great deal to eat. Then,
too, he stores away a great deal for winter, for he doesn't sleep
in winter as Johnny Chuck does. He even tunnels about under the
snow. Sometimes he fills these little snow tunnels with the earth
he brings up from below, and when the snow melts it leaves queer
little earth ridges to show where the tunnels were.
"Grubby is very neat in his habits and keeps his home and himself
very clean. During the day he leaves one of his mounds open for
a little while to let in fresh air. But it is only for a little
while. Then he closes it again. He doesn't dare leave it open
very long, for fear Shadow the Weasel or a certain big Snake called
the Gopher Snake will find it and come in after him. Digger the
Badger is the only one of his enemies who can dig fast enough to
dig him out, but at night, when he likes to come out for a little
air or to cut grain and grass, he must always watch for Hooty the
Owl. Old Man Coyote and members of the Hawk family are always
looking for him by day, so you see he has plenty of enemies, like
the rest of you.
"He got the name Gopher because that comes from a word meaning
honeycomb, and Grubby's tunnels go in every direction until the
ground is like honeycomb. He isn't a bit social and has rather
a mean disposition. He is always ready
 to fight. On the plains
he has done a great deal to make the soil fine and rich, as I have
already told you, but on hillsides he does a great deal of harm.
The water runs down his tunnels and washes away the soil. Because
of this and the damage he does to crops, man is his greatest
enemy. But man has furnished him with new and splendid foods easy
to get, and so Grubby's family increases faster than it used to,
in spite of traps and poison. Hello! See who's here! It is
There was a shuffling and rattling and grunting, and Prickly
Porky climbed up on an old stump, looking very peevish and much
out of sorts. He had come to school much against his will.
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