Samuel Scoville.

Everyday Adventures





The motto of the next sleeper is, Dont hurry, others will. If you meet in your wanderings a black-and-white animal wearing a pointed nose, a bushy tail, and an air of justified confidence, avoid any altercation with him. The skunk discovered the secret of the gas-attack a million years before the Boche. He is one of the best friends of the farmer and the worst treated. Given a fair chance, every week he will eat several times his weight in mice and insects. Moreover, with the muskrat he contributes divers furs to the market, whose high-sounding names disguise their lowly origin. During the coldest part of the winter he retires to his burrow and sleeps fitfully. He is the last to go to bed and the first to get up; and on any warm day in late winter you may see his close-set, alternate, stitch-like tracks in the snow. The black-and-white banner of skunk-kind is a huge bushy resplendent tail, sometimes as wide as it is long. At the very tip is set a tuft like the white plume of Henry of Navarre. When it stands straight up, the battle is on, and wise wild-folk remove themselves elsewhere with exceeding swiftness. As for the simple they wish they had.

The armament of this Seventh Sleeper is simple but effective. It consists of two scent glands located near the base of the tail, which empty into a movable duct or pipe which can be protruded some distance. Through this duct, by means of large contractile muscles, a stream of liquid musk can be propelled with incredible accuracy, and with a range of from six to ten feet. Moreover the skunks accurate breech-loading and repeating weapon has one device not yet found in any man-made artillery. Each gland, besides the hole for long-range purposes, is pierced with a circle of smaller holes through which the deadly gas can be sprayed in a cloud for work at close quarters. The skunks battery can be operated over the bow or from port or starboard, but rarely astern.


THE SEVENTH SLEEPER THE SKUNK


The liquid musk itself is a clear, golden-yellow fluid full of little bubbles of the devastating gas, and curiously enough is almost identical in appearance with the venom of the rattlesnake. As to its odor, it has been described feelingly as a mixture of perfume-musk, essence of garlic, burning sulphur, and sewer-gas, raised to the thousandth power. Its effect is very much like that produced by the fumes of ammonia, another animal product, or the mustard-gas of modern warfare. It may cause blindness, convulsions, and such constriction and congestion of the breathing passages as even to bring about death. Some individuals and animals, however, seem to be more or less immune to the effects of this secretion. I remember once attending by invitation a possum hunt conducted by a number of noted possumists of color. We were accompanied by a bevy of miscellaneous dogs. The possums were generally found wandering here and there among the thickets, or located in low persimmon trees.

Every now and then one of the dogs would bring to bay a strolling skunk. As the skins had a considerable market value, these skunks were regarded as the special prizes of the chase. The hunters dispatched them by a quick blow across the back which broke the spine. Such a blow paralyzed the muscles and effectually prevented any further artillery practice on the part of the skunk which received it. Before it could be delivered, both the hunter and the dog were usually exposed to an unerring barrage, which however seemed to cause them no especial inconvenience. Before long every hunter, except myself, had one or more skunks tucked away in his pockets.

It was a long, strong night. Before it was over I was in some doubt as to whether I had been attending a possum hunt or had taken part in a skunk chase. My family had no doubt whatever on the subject when I reached home the next morning. I was earnestly invited to tarry in the wilderness until such time as I could obtain a complete change of raiment. Thereafter I tried to give my hunting clothes away to the worthy poor. Said poor, however, would have none of them, and they repose in a lonely grave in a Philadelphia back-yard even unto this day.

I saw him last fall sitting up like a little post in the Half-Moon Lot where the blind blue gentian grows. Every once in a while he would drop down and begin to nibble again, only to stop and sit up stiff and straight on sentry duty. For the gray, grizzled woodchuck is as wary as he is fat. Watchfulness is the price of his life.

Once I spied him far out in a clover-patch, nibbling away at the pink sweet blossoms as I passed along the road. At the bar-way a chipmunk leaped into the wall with a sharp squeak. Without even stopping to raise his head, Mr. Woodchuck scuttled through the clover, and dived into his burrow. It was a bit of animal team-work such as takes place when a

fox or a deer uses a far-away crow or a jay as a picket, and dashes away at its warning of the coming of an enemy.

Soon afterwards I was on my way to a spring down in the pasture. As I passed near a stone wall half hidden in a tangle of chokecherries and bittersweet, there was a piercing whistle, followed by a scrambling and a scuffling as the woodchuck dived down among the stones, and I understood why, below Mason and Dixons Line, he is always called the whistlepig. It is a good name, for he whistles, and he is certainly like a little pig in that he eats and eats and eats until he seems mostly quivering paunch. According to the farmers of Connecticut, he eats to get strength enough to dig, and then digs to get an appetite to eat, and so passes his life in a vicious circle of eating and digging and digging and eating. In spite of his unwieldy weight, the woodchuck is a bitter, brave fighter when fight he must.

I once watched a bull-terrier named Paddy tackle a big chuck near a shallow brook. Round and round the dog circled, trying for the fatal throat-hold. Round and round whirled the brave old chuck, chattering with his great chisel-like teeth, which could bite through dog-hide and dog-flesh and bone just as easily as they gnawed through stolen apples. Every once in a while Paddy would clinch, but the woodchuck saved himself every time by hunching his neck down between his round shoulders and punishing the dog so terribly with his sharp teeth that the latter would at last retreat, yelping with pain. They would whirl in circles, and roll over and over in the clinches; but always the old chuck would be found with his squat figure on its legs at the end of each round. His thick grizzled coat was more of a protection, too, than the thin skin of the short-haired terrier.

At last both of them were tired out. As if by agreement, both drew back and lay down, panting and watching each others every movement like two boxers. Finally, the woodchuck, who was nearer the brook, began to drag himself along until he reached the edge of the water. Then he lowered his head, still watching his opponent, and sucked in deep, cool, satisfying drinks.

It was too much for Paddy. He started for the brook also. The old chuck stopped drinking, and pulled himself together; but Paddy wanted water, not blood. In a moment he had his nose in the brook. There the two lay, not a couple of yards apart, and drank until they could drink no more.

The whistlepig was the first out. Slowly and watchfully he waddled away from the brook and toward the stone wall, that refuge of all hunted little animals. Paddy gave a fierce growl, but the water tasted too good, and he stayed for another long drink. Then he darted out after the woodchuck, barking ferociously all the time, as if he could hardly wait to begin the battle again. The woodchuck watched him steadily, ready to stop and fight at any moment.

Somehow, although Paddy barked and growled and rushed at his retreating opponent with exceeding fierceness, there were always a few yards between them, until Mr. Chuck disappeared at last down between two great stones in the wall. Then indeed Paddy dashed in, and growled, and tore up the turf, and stuck his nose deep down between the stones, and told the world all the terrible things he would do to that woodchuck if he could only catch him. From the bowels of the old wall, between barks, sounded now and then the muffled but defiant whistle of the unconquered whistlepig.

Finally, Paddy, with an air of having done all that could be expected, gave some fierce farewell barks and trotted off toward the farmhouse.

Some people claim to have dug woodchucks out of their holes. Personally I believe that it is about as easy to dig a woodchuck out of its hole as it is to catch a squirrel in its tree. They have a network of holes, and have a habit of starting digging on their own account when molested, and sealing up the new hole after them, so that they leave no trace.

Once, in company with another amateur naturalist, we tried to dig an old chuck out of its burrow. After first stopping up all the spare holes we could find, the naturalist dug and dug and dug and dug. Then we enlisted two other men, and they dug and dug and dug. After a while we came to a mass of great boulders. Then we pressed into service a yoke of oxen, and they tugged and tugged and tugged. Said digging and tugging and tugging and digging lasted the half of a long summer day. All together, it was an exceeding great digging but we never got that woodchuck.


THE WHISTLEPIG


In September and October the woodchuck devotes all of his time to eating. The consequence is that, by the time the first frost comes, he is a big gray bag of fat. Mr. Woodchuck does not believe in storing up food in his burrow, like the chipmunk. He prefers to be the storehouse. Soon after the first frost he disappears in his hole, and far down underground, at the end of a network of intersecting passages, rolls himself up in a round, warm ball, and sleeps until spring.

According to the legend, on Candlemas, or Ground-Hog Day, which comes on February second, he peeps out, and, if he can see his shadow, goes in again for six more weeks of cold weather. So far this day has not yet been made a legal holiday. It probably will be some time, along with Columbus Day, Labor Day, and other equally important days. I will not vouch for the fact that the weather depends on the shadow; but there is no doubt that the woodchuck does come out of his burrow in a February thaw and looks around, as his tracks prove; but he is not interested in his shadow. No indeed! What he comes out for is to look for the future Mrs. Woodchuck, and when he finds her he goes in again.

Sometimes you read in nature-books that the woodchuck is good to eat. Dont believe it. I ought to know. I ate one once. Anyone is welcome to my share of the worlds supply of woodchucks. When I camped out as a boy, we had to eat everything that we shot: and one summer I ate a part of a woodchuck, a crow, a green heron, and a blue jay. The chuck was about in the crows class.

We humans have different feelings toward the different Sleepers. One may respect the bear, and have a certain tempered regard for the coon, or even the skunk. Everyone, however, loves that confiding, gentle little Sleeper, the striped chipmunk Chippy Nipmunk, as certain children of my acquaintance have named him. He is that little squirrel who lives in the ground and has two big pockets in his cheeks. Sometimes in the fall you may think that he has the mumps. Really it is only acorns. He can carry four of them in each cheek. Once I met a greedy chipmunk who had his pockets so full of nuts that he could not enter his own burrow. Although he tried with his head sideways, and even upside-down, he could not get in. When he saw me coming, he rapidly removed two hickory nuts from which he had nibbled the sharp points at each end, and popped into his hole, leaving the nuts high, but not dry, outside. When I carried them off, he stuck his head out of the hole, and shouted, Thief! Thief! after me in chipmunk language, so loudly that, in order not to be arrested, I carried them back again.

Almost the first wild animal of my acquaintance was the chipmunk. During one of my very early summers, probably the fourth or fifth, a wave of chipmunks swept over the old farm where I happened to be. They swarmed everywhere, and every stone wall seemed to be alive with them. It was probably one of the rare chipmunk migrations, which, although denied by some naturalists, actually do occur.

Chippy usually goes to bed in late October, and sleeps until late March. He takes with him a light lunch of nuts and seeds, in case he may wake up and be hungry during the long night. Moreover, these come in very handy along about breakfast-time, for when he gets up there is little to eat. Then, too, he is very busy during those early spring weeks. In the first place, he has to sing his spring song for hours. It is a loud, rolling Chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck, almost like a bird-song, and Chippy is very proud of it. Then, too, he has to find a suitable Miss Chipmunk and persuade her to become Mrs. Chipmunk, all of which takes a great deal of time. So the nuts which he stores up are probably intended rather for an early breakfast than a late supper.

An Indian writer tells how the boys of his tribe used to take advantage of the chipmunks spring serenade. The first warm day in March they would all start out armed with bows and arrows, and at the nearest chipmunk-hole one would imitate the loud chirrup of the chipmunk. Instantly every chipmunk within hearing would pop out of his hole and join the chorus, until sometimes as many as fifty would be singing at the same time, too busily to dodge the blunt arrows of the boy-hunters.

Besides his song the chipmunk has another high-pitched note, and an alarm-squeal which he gives as he dives into his burrow. There are two phases of Eastern chipmunks, the Northern and the Southern, besides the Oregon, the painted, and the magnificent golden chipmunk of the West. All of them have the same dear, gentle ways.

When I was a boy, a chipmunk was a favorite pet. Flying squirrels were too sleepy, red squirrels too restless, and gray squirrels too bitey for petting purposes. Chippy is easily tamed, and moreover does not have to be kept in a cage, which is no place for any wild animal. I knew one once who used to go to school in a boys pocket every day; and he behaved quite as well as the boy, which is not saying much. Sometimes he would come out and sit on the desk beside the boys book, so as to help him over the particularly hard places.

The chipmunk, like most of the Sleepers, has a varied diet. He eats all kinds of nuts and weed-seeds, and also has a pretty taste in mushrooms. It was a chipmunk who once taught me the difference between a good and a bad mushroom. I saw him sitting on a stump, nibbling what seemed to be a red russula, which tastes like red pepper and acts like an emetic if one is foolish enough to swallow much of it. When I came near, he ran away, leaving his lunch behind. On tasting the mushroom I found that, although it was a red russula, it was not the emetica, and I learned to recognize the delicious alutacea.

Sometimes, sad to say, Chippy eats forbidden food. A friend of mine found him once on a low limb, nibbling a tiny, green grass-snake. The chipmunk had eaten about half of the snake, when he suddenly stopped and let the remainder drop, and then sat and reflected for a full minute. At the end of that time he became actively ill, and after losing all of that fresh snake-lunch, scampered away, an emptier, if not a wiser, chipmunk.

In spite of his gentle ways Chippy lives in a world of enemies. Hawks, snakes, cats, boys, and dogs, all are his foes. More than all the rest put together, however, he fears the devilish red weasel, which runs him down relentlessly above and below the ground alike. Only in the water has the chipmunk a chance to escape. Although the weasel can hold him for a few yards, yet in a long swim the chipmunk will draw away so far from his pursuer that he will generally escape. Underground, if given a few seconds time, he also escapes by a method known to a number of the underground folk. Dashing through a series of the main burrows, he runs into a side gallery, and instantly walls himself in so neatly that his pursuer rushes past without suspecting his presence.

For many years one of the out-of-door problems to which I was unable to find the answer was how a chipmunk could dig a burrow and leave no trace of any fresh earth. I examined scores of new chipmunk-holes, but never found the least trace of fresh earth near the entrance. His secret is to start at the other end. This sounds like a joke, but it is exactly what he does. He will run a shaft for many feet, coming up in some convenient thicket or beneath the slope of an overhanging bank. All the earth will be taken out through the first hole, which is then plugged up. This accounts for the heaps of fresh earth which I have frequently seen near chipmunk colonies, but with no burrow anywhere in sight.

The Band was on the march. The evening before, at story-time, Sergeant Henny-Penny and Corporal Alice-Palace had listened spellbound while the Captain told them of the adventures of trustful Chippy-Nipmunk when he tried to get change for a horse-chestnut from Mr. G. Squirrel, who it seems was of a grasping and over-reaching disposition, and how Chippy wrote home about the transaction signing himself Butternutly yours. The story had made such a sensation that the flattered Captain had promised, on the next day, which was a half-holiday, to take the whole Band up to Chipmunk Hill, where old Mr. Prindle had named and tamed a chipmunk colony.

Late afternoon found them plodding up the grass-grown road which led to the lonely little house on top of the hill, where Mr. Prindle had lived since days before which the memory of the Band ran not. They found the old man seated on the porch in a great Boston rocker, and glad enough to see them all. The Captain introduced them in due form, from First Lieutenant Trottie down to Corporal Alice-Palace.

Taint everybody, said Mr. Prindle, pulling Second Lieutenant Honeys ear reflectively, that would climb five miles up-hill to see an old man. How would a few fried cakes and some cider go?

There was an instantaneous vote in favor of this resolution, in which Alice-Palaces good-time noise easily soared like a siren-whistle above all the other expressions of assent.

Be careful and dont swallow the holes, Mr. Prindle warned them a few moments later, as he brought out a big panful of brownish-red, spicy fried cakes cooked in twisted rings.

The Band promised to use every precaution, and there was an adjournment of all other business until the pan and the pitcher were alike empty.

Are your chipmunks still alive? queried the Captain, as they all sat down on the vast, squatty-legged settee next to Mr. Prindles rocker.

Yes, indeed, replied the latter, theyve been with me nigh on to four years now.

Alice-Palaces eyes became very big.

Not Chippy-Nipmunk? she whispered to the Captain.

Exactly, replied that official, and then some.

Thereafter, at Mr. Prindles suggestion, they all sat stony-still and mousy-quiet while he made a funny little hissing, whistling noise. From under the porch there came a scurrying rush, and the two bright eyes of a big striped chipmunk popped up over the edge of the porch-step. A minute later, from two holes in a near-by bank, two other chipmunks dashed out. They all had ashy-gray backs, with five stripes of such dark brown as to look almost like black. Their tails had a black, white-tipped fringe, while the gray color of the back changed into clear orange-brown on their flanks and legs.

This one is James, announced Mr. Prindle, as the first chipmunk hurried across the porch toward his chair. His full name is James William Francis, he explained, after a second-cousin of mine who looked a good deal like him. I generally call him James for short. The other two are Nip and Tuck, he went on. Old Bill will be along in a minute. You see, he continued, hes an old bachelor and lives all by himself quite a ways off.

What about James? inquired Honey.

Hes been a widower, said Mr. Prindle, sadly, ever since his wife stayed out one day to get a good look at a hawk.

As he spoke, another chipmunk came around the end of the porch and hastened to join the other three.

Heres Bill now, announced Mr. Prindle.

Then the old man reached into his pocket and took out a handful of butternuts and gave two to each of the Band.

Hold one in your closed hand and the other between your thumb and finger where they can see it, he advised them.

A moment later there was a chorus of delighted squeals. Each chipmunk had run up and taken the nut which was in sight, and was burrowing and scrabbling with soft little paws and sniffling little noses into four sets of clenched fingers, in an attempt to secure the other hidden nuts. When the last of them had disappeared, looking as if he had an attack of mumps, the Band thanked Mr. Prindle and started for home.





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17