|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 |
THE SQUIRRELS OF THE TREES
 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," retorted Peter. "The Woodchucks
belong to the Squirrel family. Old Mother Nature says so, and if she
says so, it is so. You'd better join our school, 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 Old Mother Nature had said, it must be true that he
 was a member
of the Squirrel family. But it was hard to believe. "What is this
school?" 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 Old Mother Nature had told them about the
Squirrel family, and he ended by again urging Johnny Chuck to
join the school and promised to call for Johnny the next morning.
But Johnny Chuck is lazy and 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 Old Mother
Nature began the morning lesson.
"Happy Jack," said she, "you may tell us all you know about your
"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 but not very broad. Personally, I
don't think it is much of a tail."
The little rollicking
mischief-maker of the Green Forest.
At once Chatterer's quick temper flared up and he began to scold.
But Old Mother Nature silenced him and told Happy Jack to go on.
"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
better 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 steal corn."
Chatterer started to scold again but was silenced once more by Old
Mother Nature. "I have to admit that Chatterer is thrifty,"
continued Happy Jack, quite as if he hadn't been interrupted.
"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 store-houses 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 is a busybody and
 always poking his
nose in where he has no business. He steals my stores whenever he
can find them."
"You do the same thing to me when you have the chance, which isn't
often," sputtered Chatterer.
Happy Jack turned his back to 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 is
the sauciest, most impudent fellow of the Green Forest, and never
so happy as when he is making trouble for others. He sauces and
scolds everybody he meets, and every time he opens his mouth he
jerks his tail. He's quarrelsome. Worse than that, in the spring
when the birds are nesting, he turns robber. He goes hunting
for nests and steals the eggs, and what is even more dreadful, he
kills and eats the baby birds. All the birds hate him, and I
don't blame them."
Chatterer could contain himself no longer. His tongue fairly flew
and he jerked his tail so hard and so fast that Peter Rabbit almost
expected to see him break it right off. He called Happy Jack
names, all the bad names he could think of, and worked himself up
into such a rage that it was some time before Old Mother Nature
could quiet him.
When at last he stopped from sheer lack of
 breath, Old Mother
Nature spoke, and her voice was very severe. "I'm ashamed of you,
Chatterer," said she. "Unfortunately, what Happy Jack has said
about you is true. In many ways you are a disgrace to the Green
Forest. Still I don't know how the Green Forest could get along
without you. Happy Jack forgot to mention that you eat some
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."
For a few minutes Chatterer sulked, but he did not dare disobey Old
Mother Nature. "I don't know much good about him," he mumbled.
"And you don't know much bad about me either," retorted Happy
Old Mother Nature held up a warning hand. "That will do," said
she. "Now, Chatterer, go on."
"Happy Jack is more than twice as big as I, but at that, I'm not
afraid of him," said Chatterer and glared at Happy Jack. "He is
gray all over, except underneath, where he is white. He has a
tremendously big tail and is so proud of it he shows it off
whenever he has a chance. 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
 very much like mine. Sometimes it is in a hollow tree, but
quite as often it is in the branches of a tree. He is a good
traveler in the tree-tops, but he spends a good deal of his time
on the ground. He likes open woodland best, especially where
there are many nut trees. He has a storehouse where he stores up
nuts for winter, but 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. When he comes to stealing
he is not better than I am. I have seen him steal birds' eggs,
and I wouldn't trust him unwatched around one of my storehouses."
It was Happy Jack's turn to become indignant. "I may have taken a
few eggs when I accidentally ran across them," said he, "but I never
go looking for them, and I don't take them unless I am very hungry
and can't find anything else. I don't make a business of robbing
birds the way you do, and you know it. If I find one of your
storehouses and help myself, I am only getting back what you have
stolen from me. Everybody loves me and that is more than you
"That's enough," declared Old Mother Nature, and her voice was very
sharp. "You two cousins never have agreed and I am afraid never will.
 As long as you are neighbors, I suspect you will quarrel. Have you
told us all you know about Happy Jack, Chatterer?"
Chatterer nodded. He was still mumbling to himself angrily and
wasn't polite enough to make a reply. Old Mother Nature took no
notice of this. "What you have told us is good as far as it goes,"
said she. "You said that Happy Jack is all gray excepting
underneath. Usually the Gray Squirrel is just as Chatterer has
described him, but sometimes a Gray Squirrel isn't gray at all,
but all black."
Peter Rabbit's ears stood straight up with astonishment. "How can
a Gray Squirrel be black?" he demanded.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "That is a fair question, Peter," said
she. "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," said she, "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. Just remember that, Chatterer, the next time you are
tempted to quarrel with your cousin, Happy Jack. Very likely Happy
Jack's great-great-ever-so-great grandfather planted the very tree
you get your fattest and best hickory nuts
 from. "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, and he began to feel
something very like respect for Chatterer.
"Are there any other Tree Squirrels?" asked Jumper the Hare.
"Yes," replied Old Mother Nature, "there are two—the handsomest
of all the family. 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
but 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. The Kaibab has brown ears with black
tips, and his tail is mostly white. Both are very lovely, but
their families are small and so they are little known."
With this, Old Mother Nature dismissed school for the day.
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