Holiday Meadow  by Edith M. Patch

Whistling Wejack

Part 1 of 2

O NE of his names was Wejack. One was Woodchuck. One was Ground-hog. One was Marmot. He had other names, too; though four seem enough, especially as he, himself, did not know any of the names people gave him. When he talked he did not speak in words. He spoke in whistles. That is why Anne and Dick called him "Whistling Wejack." He lived in Holiday Meadow.


Whistling Wejack

Holiday Meadow is a long field that reaches from the margin of Holiday Stream to the foot of Holiday Hill.

Whistling Wejack lived at the end of the meadow nearest the hill. His home was a long underground tunnel and it had two doorways. One of these opened into a garden full of clover in the meadow. The other was hidden by rocks.

Dick and Anne and little dog Sandy knew where Wejack's garden hole was; but the hole between the rocks was so placed that no person or dog could get to it.

Sandy's chief interest in Wejack was the fun of sniffing down the opening of the tunnel and trying excitedly to dig the woodchuck out. Wejack did not seem much worried by the dog's activities. His tunnel was long and his private doorway among the rocks at the other end was as well guarded as a strong castle. In fact Wejack sometimes lay quietly on top of the rocks, sunning himself, while he watched Sandy pawing frantically at the hole far away in the clover garden.

Dick and Anne, however, did not care to disturb Wejack's home. They wished to become acquainted with him. So, usually, when they went to call on the woodchuck, they put Sandy in the shed and shut the door.

One day the cousins saw Wejack on top of his favorite rock at the foot of the hill. When they came rather near he slipped out of sight so quickly that they were not sure which way he went.

Now that they knew where he liked to sun himself they often came to visit him. Wejack would see them coming and would lie motionless. Unless they came too near he did not go away to hide. He hid in plain sight—just by keeping still. At such times he seemed like a part of the brown and gray shadows on the rock, and sometimes Dick and Anne used to look right at him without seeing him at all.


He seemed like a part of the rock.

When they told Uncle David how hard it was to see the woodchuck, he explained that many wild creatures have a way of hiding by keeping motionless. "That method of escaping notice is called 'freezing'," he said, "because the animal stays as still as if it were frozen and could not move."


Wejack played the "Freezing Game."

So Dick and Anne learned to "freeze" by watching how the woodchuck did the trick; and they found that birds and squirrels and rabbits and porcupines and other little wild creatures came quite near them when they stayed "frozen" long enough. In that way they saw a great deal more of the animals than they could if they had been walking up the hill and talking.

The easiest way for them to play their "Freezing Game" was to sit down comfortably on the ground with their backs against a rock or a big tree trunk. Then, as long as they kept their hands and feet and heads still and did not fidget or whisper, they were all right. At such times the woodchuck used to come and go among the rocks or run down to feed in the clover as if there were no one near him.

But as soon as they became tired of keeping so quiet and wriggled a little, then Wejack would look at them at once. Next he would stand still and whistle at them. Perhaps he was trying to scare them away but they were never frightened by his music. His whistling sound was clear and rather sweet and they liked it.

The woodchuck had another habit the children liked. When he stood on his hind legs he always dropped his front paws. Dick and Anne giggled the first time they saw him do this. "He looks too silly for words!" said Dick. "Just like a person who is trying hard to be graceful with his hands," remarked Anne, as she mimicked him.

Of course Wejack was not really trying to be graceful. His little paws dropped naturally in a pretty way.

After the grass grew tall in the meadow, Dick and Anne used sometimes to hide where they could see Wejack's front doorway in the clover garden. Beside this was a large mound of dirt that Wejack had piled there when he was digging his tunnel.

Sometimes they crept through the grass so slowly and quietly that Wejack did not know they were there. At least sometimes he did not know until the crow told him.

Of course Corbie, the crow, did not say, "Look out, Wejack, two children are creeping through the grass toward your hole." All Corbie did was to call, "Caw! Caw! Caw!" and the chances are that he was not thinking about Wejack at all.

As a matter of fact it was Corbie's job to watch the meadow and warn the other crows when people went abroad. So when he saw the cousins from Holiday Farm he said, "Caw!" three times and flew to a tall pine on the hill while he looked to see where they were going.

A crow's signal may be intended only for the other crows. But almost all the wild creatures of meadow and hillside and woodland recognize the warning. When a crow caws three times in a certain tone he means what a person would mean if he yelled, "Danger! Look out!"

Wejack, of course, could not see very far through the tall meadow grass. At such times he depended a great deal on Corbie's signals. Whenever he heard the warning voice of the sentinel crow he would stand erect on his hind legs in sudden alarm, gazing and sniffing first this way and then that, as if sure that danger must be near.


Wejack sniffed the air for danger.

It was while Dick and Anne were sitting, one day, close enough to the mound to see Wejack as he stood so before his open doorway, that they saw, too, the woodchuck's wonderful vanishing trick. The children were keeping as quiet as they could, but it was rather hard for them to stay "frozen" long where they had nothing to lean against; and after a while they moved a little,—enough so that Wejack glanced at them. They breathed only short breaths and were so quiet that the woodchuck did not seem frightened. He did not dash quickly into his hole headfirst as he would have done if he were being chased.

Indeed, he did not seem to be moving at all. He sank backward bit by bit so slowly that even while they watched, Dick and Anne could hardly see a motion; only where there had been a woodchuck, erect with drooping paws, there was at last only a hole in the ground.

The children crept, very carefully, to the mound. For a moment near the top of the black hole they saw Wejack's bright eyes gleaming at them. Then even the eyes were gone!