IV. THE RED SQUIRREL
Ah, here are some tracks that look a good deal like those of our chipmunk.
They were made by the chickaree, or red squirrel. He has received the name of chickaree, because he makes such a loud chattering noise as he runs briskly about from tree to tree.
Both his head and his body are quite as large as the chipmunks, but his nose is less pointed. His round, broad ears are covered with short hairs, and he wears thin, black whiskers that are a trifle longer than his head.
His long, flat tail, as well as the upper part of his body, is of a deep, reddish brown; but his throat, his chin, the inside of his legs, and all the under part of his body are white.
This red squirrel lays up large stores for his winter use; and as he has no cheek pouch like the chipmunk, he carries the nuts between his front teeth.
Both he and his mate may be seen in autumn getting nuts, seeds, the bark of trees, and food of
that kind, which they carefully hide away either in hollow stumps or under logs and brush heaps.
They are not very timid animals; and sometimes they will steal into storehouses, where there is plenty of grain, and make a nest there for their winter quarters.
These little squirrels are more brave than the chipmunk family, and they do not hide themselves so closely away in winter time.
But the two animals are very nearly related, as you can see by their form and by their style of dress; in fact, they have been called half-brothers.
V. REYNARD, THE FOX, AND RANGER, THE DOG
Here are the footprints of two cousins; but they are not very much alike either in their dress or in their habits.
One of them is named Reynard, the fox.
He wears a coat of reddish yellow; his nose and his ears are pointed, and he has a bushy tail that he may well be proud of.
His cousin is Ranger, the dog, and these snow tracks show that they have been running a swift race.
The dogs master is not far off; for listen, there is the crack of his rifle, and now poor Reynard
leaps, limping away, with the dog following close upon his heels.
As he speeds on, he leaves a bloody trail all the way behind him; but the dog has the best of it, and Master Reynards handsome fur coat will soon be in the market, and it will fetch a good price, too.
If he can only get back to his den in the rocks, he will be happy; for home is the best place, after all, for anybody that is in trouble.
As for his worthless carcass, the crows will be glad to pick that; for their hungry caw caw is already sounding in the distance.
Ah, Master Reynard, we might feel just a little sorry for you, if you had ever shown any pity for others; but you have not.
You are fond of stealing chickens, and of killing birds and mice; but like all other robbers, you do not like to be hurt yourself.
But then it is your nature to hunt for game; and you have no other way of getting a living. So, when we come to think it all over, we do pity your sad fate, after all.
VI. THE WEASEL
But Reynard is not the only sly thief that leaves his footprints upon the snow; for the nimble-footed weasel has been abroad too. There is no mistaking the marks of those short feet.
And if these tracks were to be followed up, they would no doubt lead to some poultry yard not far away; for he is very fond both of eggs and of young chickens and birds.
He wears a white coat in the winter, with a tip of deep black at the tail; but when summer comes, he will put on a fine suit of reddish brown, with a yellowish-white vest to set it off.
In other words, the white hairs that make up his winter coat fall out; and as fast as they fall, the
reddish-brown hairs grow in to take their places; and when winter comes again, the dark hair falls out, and the white hair grows in.
Animals that shed their coats in this way can easily hide away from their enemies. In winter their white fur can not well be seen among the snowdrifts; and in summer their brown coats are readily hidden by the low brushwood of the forest.
But as I have said before, the weasel is very nimble of foot, and is not easily caught at any season of the year.
He has a very long, slim body, a small head, and
a pointed snout; and when he is peering about, in search of prey, he curves his neck, in a snakelike manner that makes him look very ugly indeed.
This animal has many accomplishments. He is a swift runner and climber, a good swimmer, and I once saw a tame weasel that could dance.
VII. THE NORTHERN HARE
Here are the tracks of the soft-footed creature, the hare, and she also changes her garments to suit the season; for now she is clothed in white.
And this color, like the weasels, often helps her to hide herself away from her enemies; for she can conceal herself in a bank of snow very easily.
Her summer coat of brown hair shields her in the same way; for when she hears an enemy on her track, she leaps into a thicket of low bushes, and then it is not an easy thing to find her.
This timid, innocent creature makes her home in hollow stumps, in brushwood, and in holes in the earth, where she always prepares a nice, warm bed for herself and her babies to lie upon.
Hares are harmless creatures; and as they turn back their long, soft ears, and look at you with their great eyes, it almost seems as if they were trying to ask you to befriend them.
It is true that our garden plants sometimes bear the marks of their sharp, chisel-like teeth; but they will not stray far from the shelter of the forest if they can find any juicy thing to feed upon there.
They wander about at night, in search of food, and their long hind legs, and broad, furry feet enable them to pass very swiftly over the snow-covered earth; sometimes they hunt under the snow, to find the leaves and the berries that are hidden there.
When they hear a noise, they stamp upon the ground with their hind feet, and then leap into a thicket of bushes and hide themselves.
But the hare family have some enemies from which they very seldom escape; these are the hawk, the owl, and the weasel.
So when these poor creatures wander about on a cold winter night in search of a bud or a leaf to keep them from starving, they are likely to be
seized upon at any moment by one of their fierce enemies, and destroyed on the spot. Is it any wonder that they are so timid?
VIII. THE MUSKRAT
The fur-clad builders of those grass-roofed huts along the creek, yonder, have also left the marks of their feet upon this snowy counterpane.
These are the hardy muskrats whose front doors open into the water. They have stout, thickset bodies, and are not quite as large as the hares. They have very small eyes and small ears.
They are homely animals, clad in coats of coarse, dark-brown fur, filled in with shorter, finer hair. Their long, scaly tails are quite flat, and are almost naked.
They are not afraid of the water, for their feet are webbed and well made for swimming. In fact, they are very fond of diving and swimming; and a large number of them will often make a quick plunge at once, and play about together in the water for hours at a time.
When they go to their huts, they swim very near to them, and then dive down under the water and go in at the entrance.
They go about at night in search of food, and
they generally gnaw the roots and stems of plants that grow along the edge of the stream on which their homes are made.
It is plain that they have made more than one visit to that old apple tree that stands on the edge of the forest; for the frozen fruit lying upon the ground bears the marks of their sharp teeth.
But they can not always find what they like best in winter time, and then they must eat such food as falls in their way.
One might suppose that eating so many hard, frozen apples would give them all the toothache; but since there are no juicy roots and grasses for them to feed upon, they must take whatever they can find, or starve.
But these animals are used to hard fare; their
homes are built of sods and coarse grass, and they have no soft, warm beds inside, such as the birds make up in their nests.
And yet, they are wise enough to build their huts so high that should the water of the stream rise above their low, mud floors, they can climb up into the loft and nest there. The mother muskrat often has as many as six babies in one nest, and she and her young family generally sleep upstairs.
IX. THE GRAY SQUIRREL
And now we come upon the tracks of a gray squirrel, and what very long leaps he has taken! But his footprints were all made in the daytime; for he loves his warm nest too well to go forth into the darkness of a cold winters night.
His nut bins are generally not very well filled; but even if he does run short of stores in the winter, he never seems to grow lank and lean like his cousin, the red squirrel.
It may be that his large, bushy tail gives him a well-fed and thrifty appearance; for fine feathers make fine birds, we are told.
There is a large family of animals called rodents. Rodent means a gnawer, that is, an animal that gnaws the food upon which it feeds, such as
the wood and the bark of trees, the hard shells of nuts, and things of that kind.
Now our handsome gray squirrel belongs to this family of rodents; and so do the red squirrel, the chipmunk, the mouse, the hare, and the muskrat.
These rodents are armed with strong teeth; and their four front teeth are very sharp. There are two of these teeth in each jaw; and they are shaped like the edge of a chisel.
The more these chisel-shaped teeth are used, the sharper they become; and they never wear out, for the growth is always being renewed from the roots.
No wonder, then, that these animals are so fond of nuts; for they carry four strong nutcrackers with them wherever they go.
Do you know the gray squirrel when you see him? He wears whiskers that are longer than his head, and his nose is somewhat blunt, like that of the red squirrel.
His cheeks, his nose, and his pretty round ears are of a yellowish-brown color; and there is a stripe of the same shade along his sides. There is also a dull stripe of brown running from the top of his head to his tail. His neck, sides, and hips are of a light gray color, and most of the hairs in his long tail are gray.
In summer weather, these gray squirrels make
nests for themselves in the forks of a tree; their nests are made of small twigs and of leaves, and are lined with moss.
These light, airy nests are their summer homes; but when winter comes on, they seek a more secure shelter in the deep hollow of some decayed tree. Sometimes as many as five or six baby squirrels may be found in these holes in early springtime, and when caught, they are very easily tamed.
If they are put into a cage, having a wheel inside of it that will roll round and round whenever they climb upon it, they will keep it moving an hour at a time.
In fact, they seem to be quite as happy when confined in their wheeled cages as they are when leaping among the leafy branches of the forest trees.
But they never lose the habit of laying up a store of food for winter use; and when food is placed in the cage, they eat a portion of it, and hide the rest of it away under the straw matting of the cage.
Are they not much wiser than some people in thus storing up a morsel for a rainy day?
Now we might go on, and follow these snow tracks for miles and miles, and find in every footprint an interesting story of the little animal that made it.
But since I have guided you so far on the way, I am quite sure that you will be able to pursue the rest of the journey by yourselves.
It will take you a long time to come to the end. In fact, I am afraid that you will never quite reach it. But whether you thread your way through the pathless forest in the long, bright days of summer; whether you wander beside the margin of some small river or pond; or whether you follow the curious tracks that are left upon the newly-fallen snow, I do not believe that you will ever grow weary of the journey. For every day will afford you new sights and fresh scenes that will amply repay you for all your toil and trouble.