Holiday Meadow  by Edith M. Patch

Star Nose

H OLIDAY MEADOW stretches from its high dry part, where it touches Holiday Hill, to a low swamp where it slopes down to Holiday Stream.

In the bank of the stream there is a round hole, the opening from a long tunnel. The water splashes against the hole and, during rainy weather, rises and covers it. The hole is not large enough for a rat to enter. It is larger than a mouse would need.

Some wild iris plants grow beside the hole and their lovely blue June and July flowers are reflected in the water.


The iris made blue reflections in the water.

Sedges and rushes are near enough so that the tips of some of their long narrow grass-like green leaves touch the iris. Their brown worn-out last year's leaves lie tangled on the ground like a rough mat. Beyond the iris and sedges the fluffy white tops of the cotton grass are stirred by the breezes.


The Fluffy White Tops of the Cotton Grass

And in August the swampy place is bright with yellow golden-rod and soft with rose-purple Joe-Pye Weed.

* * * * *

The hole in the bank of the stream was not always empty. Often a furry little animal poked her head out of it and dipped her queer snout into the water. The end of her nose was shaped somewhat like two star-fishes pressed together, because it was circled with twenty-two slender feelers that pointed outward. This quaint animal was a star-nosed mole.


The Front Part of a Star‑Nosed Mole

Sometimes little Star Nose came out of the hole and swam in the water. Sometimes she ran on top of the ground under the mat of brown sedge leaves. Indeed, she had a path under the sedge leaves. The path was rather smooth and firm where her feet and body had pressed against it. It had an arched roof where her back had pushed up against the brown fibers while she ran along the trail. There were places where the roof had been torn by the hard feet of Daisy, the cow, when she was out of the pasture and came down to the stream to drink.

But, even when Star Nose ran along that part of the path where the roof was gone, it is likely that she never saw the white tips of the cotton grass swaying in the wind or the yellow blossoms of the golden-rod or the rose-purple Joe-Pye flowers.


The Rose‑Purple Blossoms of Joe-Pye Weed

And, when she drank at the hole by the stream, she probably saw neither the blue iris blossoms above her head nor their blue reflections in the water below her funny nose. She may not have known what the experience would be like to see the shape or the color of anything in the world.

You need not feel sorry for Star Nose. You need not pity her because her tiny eyes were so covered by fur that she could, perhaps, sense no more than a difference between the brightness of the sunshine, where it touched the water near her drinking hole, and the darkness of her deepest underground trails. It was enough for her to feel and hear and smell and taste.

Star Nose was a hunter. She had hunted day and night ever since she was old enough to follow the hunting paths. Of course she rested now and then, but her recesses from hunting were short because she was so well and strong that she seemed never to be really tired.

While some of Star Nose's hunting paths were above ground, covered by old brown matted swamp leaves, most of them were underground tunnels that went here and there through the soil. For long distances these trails lay just under the sod of the meadow but in many places they were several feet deep in the ground.

Every time Star Nose passed along one of the paths her feet, pressing against the floor, made it a bit more firm; and her fur, where it touched the sides, brushed them a bit more smooth.

The more Star Nose ran the hungrier she became; and the more she ate the more she felt like running. So her days and nights were busy—hunting and eating. Almost as soon as she had eaten her breakfast she was ready to hunt for a luncheon and by the time one luncheon was over she was in the mood to scurry off for another. That is the sort of lively hunter Star Nose was!

For many of her meals she ate insects. There was a flavor about white-grubs that she relished. White-grubs, as perhaps you know, hatch from the eggs that May-beetles lay. Their bodies are plump and curled and they lie on their backs in the ground while they reach up and chew the roots of grasses or other plants. Some years there were thousands and thousands of white-grubs in the meadow, so many, indeed, that had it not been for Star Nose and the other moles much of the grass would have died for lack of roots.


This kind of mole does not have a star nose.

There was a taste about cutworms that pleased Star Nose. Cutworms, as you may have heard, hatch from the eggs that owlet-moths lay. There are many kinds of these hairless caterpillars that spend their days resting in the ground and their nights nibbling parts of meadow or garden plants. If it were not for moles, cutworms would do much more harm to wild and cultivated plants because then there would be so many more of them.

Star Nose enjoyed many a dinner of wireworms. Wireworms hatch from the eggs of click-beetles (or snapping-beetles). They live in the ground and eat the roots of grasses and certain other plants. If it had not been for Star Nose and others of her kind, the loads of Timothy grass would not have been as large as they were on hay day.

It would take too many pages for the full bill-of-fare of Star Nose. Perhaps enough has been said to suggest that many of the plants of Holiday Meadow were better off because Star Nose lived and hunted there. But at least one more article of the mole's diet should be mentioned. She liked to eat earthworms.

Earthworms, of course, hatch from earthworm eggs and grow only from little earthworms to big earthworms and never change into anything else whatever. They make their homes in the ground although they come out of their holes at night and crawl about in the dark. They need moisture. In rainy weather, when the ground is wet, they stay near the surface; but during drought they go deeper into the soil until they reach damp earth. They need, also, to escape getting too cold so they go below frost for the winter.

It is largely because of earthworms that some of the hunting paths of the moles are deep in the ground. The hunters follow their game—up when the earth is moist and down when the soil is dry or very cold.

Star Nose, herself, did not so much mind the cold. Sometimes, indeed, she swam in the stream even after the surface of the water was covered with ice. Sometimes, on a winter day, she dug up through the snow that lay on the meadow.

Her thick coat was warm. The fine soft hairs were close together and they stood straight on end. She was in no danger of having her fur rubbed the wrong way for it looked the same whether it was stroked up from the tail or down from the head.

During most of the year Star Nose hunted alone and paid little attention to other moles when she chanced to meet them at the crossings of the hunting paths. But in the spring there were four little moles who received her devoted care. They were her baby sons and daughters, so of course she did not neglect them.

She had a comfortable den for them in a dry place under a stump in the hedgerow. The hedge was at one side of the meadow and even when the swampy land near the stream was flooded in spring, the ground about the hedge was well drained and above water level.

Star Nose's den under the stump was about a foot deep in the ground. She had put a ball of fine grass in the den and in this soft round nest the four little moles had their bed.

At first the babies were naked and fat and wrinkled and pink and helpless. They could not hunt and for a while their only food was their mother's milk. This agreed with them so well that they grew rapidly. Before they were many weeks old they were full-sized moles and looked like their mother and father.

Their thick soft velvety fur coats were of a dark color that seemed almost too black to be gray and almost too gray to be black. Their noses were star-shaped. And they had most wonderful hands.

Of course all the underground hunting paths and highways and dens of the moles must first be dug before they can be used. And for this digging moles need no other shovels than their paddle-shaped hands.

* * * * *

Suppose you should try to dig with your hands long tunnels in the ground big enough so that you could crawl through them! Would not your fingers soon become tired and sore? And even if your hands were strong enough for so rough a task, would not the dirt come tumbling into your eyes and your ears? Would you not be more comfortable with undeveloped eyes covered over with fur with no dirt getting into them and making them ache? And, if you had tunnels to dig day after day, would you not prefer to have no big ear-flaps to catch the dirt—even if you could not hear quite so well without them?

* * * * *

The sort of digging that would be impossible for an animal whose body is not fitted for such work is as natural as swimming for a mole. Indeed, when the soil is moist and soft and a mole digs close to the sod, he moves through the dirt as if he were swimming with strong slow strokes. He puts his large powerful hands forward, palms outward, until the tips of his claws touch in front of his nose. Then he thrusts his hands outward and backward, pushing the soil aside and forcing his body ahead. The damp soil close to the sod is loose enough so that he does not need to bring any of it to the surface to get it out of his way. He just pushes it aside and packs it firmly as he "swims" through the ground.

But when a mole digs his deep runways where the soil is not loose enough to be pushed aside in this manner, he brings earth, which he digs from his tunnel, to the surface of the ground and throws it outside in a heap.

After the four young moles were old enough to do their own hunting and digging, each one ran off alone along the hunting trails. If one of the sons met his mother, Star Nose, at some crossing, he did not tease her to bring him a white-grub for dinner. If one of the daughters met her father, Mold‑warp, she did not beg him to show her where the grasshopper eggs were thickest. If one of them met a grandmother or grandfather or uncle or aunt or cousin, the relatives did not spend time in visiting. For a mole is a natural hunter. He would rather hunt than play.

So, even when Holiday Meadow looks very quiet indeed, you may know that quaint little creatures of the underways are scurrying here and there along old hunting paths or busily digging new ones. And if you ever expect to see one of these busy creatures throwing earth in a tiny hill, outside his hole you will need to "tread softly that the blind mole may not hear a foot fall" or feel the ground tremble as you step.