Gateway to the Classics: The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
The Burgess Animal Book for Children by  Thornton W. Burgess

Spite the Marten and Pekan the Fisher

"T HE two remaining members of the Weasel family none of you have ever seen," began Old Mother Nature, when she opened school at the old meeting place in the Green Forest the morning after their visit to the Smiling Pool. "You have never seen them because they live in the deep forests of the Far North. But were you living up there, you would know them, and the dread of them would seldom be out of your mind. One is called Spite the Marten and the other Pekan the Fisher.

"Spite the Marten is also called the Pine Marten and the American Sable, and he is one of the handsomest members of the Weasel family. Shadow the Weasel can climb, but he spends most of his time on the ground. Jimmy Skunk and Digger the Badger are not climbers at all. Little Joe Otter spends most of his time in the water. But Spite the Marten is a lover of the tree tops, and is quite as much at home there as Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

"When he is moving about in the trees, he looks much like a very large Squirrel, while on the ground he might be mistaken for a young Fox. His coat is a rich, dark, yellowish-brown, becoming almost black on the tail and legs. His throat usually is yellow, though sometimes it is almost white. The sides of his face are grayish, and his good-sized ears are grayish-white on the inside. His tail is about half as long as his body and is covered with long hair, but isn't bushy like a Squirrel's. While his general shape is that of Shadow the Weasel, his body is much heavier in proportion to his size.


He is found only in the great forests of the North.

"Chatterer, you and your Cousin Happy Jack may well be thankful that Spite the Marten doesn't live about here, for he is very fond of Squirrels and delights to hunt them. He can leap from tree to tree quite as easily as either of you, and the only possible means of escape for a Squirrel he is hunting is a hole too small for Spite to get into. No Squirrel is more graceful in the trees than is Spite.

"But he by no means confines himself to the trees. He is quite at home on the ground, and there he moves with much of the quickness of Shadow the Weasel. He delights to hunt Rabbits and he covers great distances, being even more of a traveller than Billy Mink. He doesn't kill for the love of killing, but merely for food. If he kills more than he can eat at a meal he buries it, and when he is hungry again he returns to it. Like all the other members of his family, he is a great hunter of Mice. Also he catches many birds, especially those birds which nest on the ground. Birds, eggs, Frogs, Toads, some insects and fish vary his bill of fare. But unlike his smaller cousins, he eats some other things besides flesh, including certain nuts, berries and honey.

"He isn't in the least social with his own kind but prefers to live alone and is always ready to fight if he meets another Marten. Being so great a traveler he has several dens. Mrs. Spite makes her nest of grass and moss in a hollow tree as a rule, occasionally in a hole in the ground. She has from one to five babies in the spring. Spite is not a good father, for he has nothing to do with his family.

"As I told you in the beginning he is found only in the great forests of the North. The darker and deeper they are, the better it suits him. His own cousin, Pekan the Fisher, and Tufty the Lynx, are probably the only natural enemies he has much cause to fear. His one great enemy is man. His coat is one of the most highly prized of all furs and he is persistently hunted and trapped. In fact, his coat is one of the chief prizes of the fur trappers.

"In this same deep, dark forest clear across the northern part of the country lives Pekan the Fisher, also called the Pennant Marten and Blackcat. He is larger and heavier than Spite the Marten and his coat is a brownish-black, light on the sides, and browner below. His nose, ears, feet and tail are black. He gets his name of Blackcat from his resemblance to a Cat with a bushy tail, though on the ground he looks more like a black Fox. Like his cousin, Spite the Marten, he lives in the pine and spruce forests and prefers to be near swamps. He is a splendid climber but spends quite as much time on the ground. However, he is even livelier in the trees than is Spite the Marten. Spite can catch a Squirrel in the tree tops, but Pekan can catch Spite, and often does. He isn't afraid of leaping to the ground from high up in a tree, and often when coming down a tree he comes down headfirst. He is very fond of hunting the cousins of Jumper the Hare and is so tireless that he can run them down. He is very clever and, like his cousin, Glutton the Wolverine, makes no end of trouble for trappers by stealing the baits from their traps.


One of the valuable fur‑bearing animals.

"You all remember how frightened Prickly Porky was when I merely mentioned Pekan the Fisher. It was because Pekan is almost the only one Prickly Porky has reason to fear. If Pekan is hungry he doesn't hesitate to dine on Porcupine. He has learned how to turn a Porcupine on his back, and, as you have already found out, the under part of the Porcupine is unprotected.

"Just why Pekan should be called Fisher, I don't know. True, he eats fish when he can get them, but he isn't a water animal and doesn't go fishing as do Billy Mink and Little Joe Otter. His food is much the same as that of Spite the Marten. He is especially fond of Rabbit and Hare. He is so strong and savage that he can kill a Fox and often does. Bobby Coon is a good fighter and much bigger and heavier than Pekan, but he is no match for Pekan.

"Probably all of you have guessed that being a true Marten, Pekan's coat is highly prized by the fur trappers. He hates the presence of man and with good cause.

"Now this ends the Weasel family, but that's only one family of the order of Carnivora, or flesh eaters. There is one family you all know so well that I think we will take that up next. It is the family to which Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote belong, and it is called the Dog family.

"To-morrow morning when you get here, I may have a surprise for you."

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