Saturday, December 1, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1948

The Stories

January 1 to January 12. Snowflake the Snow Bunting tells a story about Snow-King the Polar Bear and Spitzy the Arctic Fox.

January 13 to January 26. After Mrs. Reddy is wounded in a henhouse raid, Reddy must find food for both of them. Farmer Brown's boy helps out.

January 27 to February 2. Butcher the Shrike terrorizes the Old Orchard but gains respect when he chases away pesky starlings.

February 3 to February 9. Which young meadow mouse will be killed by Butcher, "Little Mr. Caution" or "Mr. Know-it-all?" 

February 10 to February 17. Sammy Jay uses his hawk call for mischief and good.

February 18 to February 21. Blacky the Crow despairs when he gets tangled in a piece of string. Farmer Brown's boy finds him before Reddy Fox gets him.

February 23 to February 25. Peter Rabbit learns about two three-toed woodpeckers, Cousin Ladderback and Cousin Three-toes [they are apparent accidental vagrants to Massachusetts].

February 26 to March 5. Timmy the Flying Squirrel and Spooky the Screech Owl move into the Old Orchard. Tommy Tit is not unhappy.

March 6 to March 12. The sap is running and Farmer Brown's boy pays tribute to an old maple that's served his family for generations. He reads the story of a bear and a pail from tracks in the snow.

March 13 to March 16. Whiskey Jack the Canada Jay accepts a dare from Sammy Jay.

March 17 to March 18. Prickly Porky chews on an axe handle.

March 19 to March 23. Peter Rabbit encounters two drummers--grouse and woodpecker. 

March 24 to March 25. Peter Rabbit is surprised to find Cousin Flitwing and Mourning Cloak in an old stump.

March 26 to April 6. Mouser the Short-eared owl and Harrier the Marsh Hawk help Farmer Brown.

April 7 to April 9. Mrs. Peter Rabbit moves her babies after seeing Jimmy Skunk in the Green Meadow. 

April 10 to April 13. Farmer Brown's boy argues with his neighbor about the nature of "vermin." 

April 14 to April 17. Longlegs the Heron hunts meadow mice in the field.

April 19 to May 3. Peter learns about a variety of marsh birds, including coots, common gallinules, sora and rails. 

May 4 to May 13. Blacky the Crow schemes to get coot babies but gets tricked in the end.

May 14 to June 2. Mrs. Lightfoot must protect her twins from outlaw dogs, Buster Bear, and foxes.  Lightfoot and Farmer Brown's boy help out.

June 3 to June 11. Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher gets his snake skin.

June 12 to June 15. Peter Rabbit is stunned when Wooly Bear turns into Isabella Tiger Moth.

June 16 to June 21. Jimmy Skunk does a handstand. (Thornton Burgess had a pet that did this.) Then he flees from Hooty.

June 22 to June 29. Bobby Coon shows Reddy Fox how to fish in the mud for frogs.

June 30 to July 10. Sally Sly the Cowbird is back, this time victimizing Little Friend the Song Sparrow.

July 12 to July 31. Old Mr. Toad eats his old suit and tries to mentor younger toads. Jimmy Skunk is about to eat him when Flip interrupts. 

 August 2 to August 5. Bubbling Bob the Bobolink cheerfully sings. Black Pussy can't find the nest.

August 6 to August 28. Reddy Junior learns which animals to avoid. Then his father teaches him how to evade a chasing dog. Later he is shot, but not badly wounded, when he raids a henhouse. And he is surprised to learn woodchucks can climb trees.

August 30 to September 7. Peter Rabbit learns about dobson flies.

September 8 to September 11. Peter Rabbit is shocked when a garter snake ties itself into a knot and avoids being swallowed by a king snake. [A "true" story]

September 13 to September 14. Blacky the Crow catches Reddy Fox napping.

September 15 to September 18. Flying squirrels and hares frolic in the moonlight, until Hooty comes and breaks up the party. 

September 20 to September 21. A boastful young mink needs to learn that sometimes it is good to be afraid.

September 22 to October 2. A forest fire (caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette) brings animals that are normally enemies together. 

October 4 to October 28. Paddy and Mrs. Paddy the Beaver leave their home and return to the Green Forest because of the fire. They build a new dam and a new home in the bank, while dodging Tufty the Lynx and dealing with pesky bear cubs who make holes in the dam. 

October 29 to October 30. It is hunting season again and all the animals are frightened, especially a wounded young bob white. 

November 1 to November 8. Happy Jack and Chatterer disagree how to store nuts over the winter. After Buster Bear finds Chatterer's storehouse, Happy Jack is convinced it is better to scatter nuts. 

November 9 to November 13. Blacky the Crow is too smart to be taken in by a decoy owl but a doomed young companion falls for it. 

November 15 to November 25. The Quacks do their best to survive during hunting season. Then they find a perfect place to winter--the city park. 

November 26 to December 6. Blacky the Crow determines that winter is harder on predators than prey. 

December 7 to December 24. Timid Miss Mouse survives in the great world (unlike her siblings, careless and bold), effectively hiding from Terror the Goshawk, and eventually finding a mate. 

December 25. "Something in the air" [Unread Christmas story]

December 27 to December 31. Bobby Coon gets caught in a steel trap but luckily Farmer Brown's boy comes to the rescue. Even though he "doesn't know Farmer Brown's boy" he allows the boy to approach and pull the jaws of the trap apart. [A "true" story]


There a few things to note about 1948, in other respects a rather "familiar" year for Burgess stories. In April and May Burgess wrote about a group of related birds--this time aquatic marsh dwellers such as sora and rails. This repeated a pattern shown the previous year in which Burgess explored the differences and similarities of swallow species. 

More "true life" tales were turned into 1948 stories, including an account of a garter snake that knotted itself and thus avoided being swallowed by a king snake. (This seems to be "nature fakery" on the face of it, but Burgess avoided claiming the knot was intentional and garter snakes are known to tie themselves in knots so the story is believable). In another "true story" Farmer Brown's boy rescued a raccoon from a steel trap without getting bitten. Burgess named the raccoon, "Bobby Coon," but in a blow to series continuity, Bobby "didn't know" Farmer Brown's boy (who had saved him many times previously). This was a case in which Burgess once again displayed the convention that all animals of a species could be called the same name; at the same time, it ran against the nearly 28-year history of the character named "Bobby Coon." The two different modes of "truth"--"True life" and the fictional but fact-driven world of the Green Forest--could be at odds sometimes.

Finally it is worth noting at length Burgess's beautiful tribute to an old sugar maple (March 11):
There was one tree, biggest of all the Maple trees, that stood off at some little distance from the other maple trees. It was so big that it was a three-pail tree. That is, the big trunk was tapped at three places and a pail was hung at each. Of course, it takes many years for a tree to grow as big as was that maple. Once it had been just a one-pail tree, then a two-pail tree, and for longer than Farmer Brown's boy could remember it had been a three-pail tree. It was his favorite tree. 
"It must be the sweetest tree in all the world," he had once said, thinking of all the syrup and sugar that had been made from its sap down through the years.
"Perhaps not the sweetest in all the world, but it certainly is the sweetest in this particular part of the world. It was being tapped every spring when your grandfather was a little boy. I guess that if all the sap that has been taken from that tree could be  put in a pool there would be enough for you to take quite a swim in it," said Farmer Brown."...Some trees have given, and are giving, more to make the lives of others better and more worth living than have some folks I know. And they ask nothing in return, or very little. They give all their lives long, shade in summer, some of them fruit in season, beauty at all times, homes for the feathered folks and some furry ones. And when they are cut down they still give wood for building, heat and countless other uses. No axe will ever touch that big maple while I am alive." 
"Nor while I live," said Farmer Brown's boy. His father smiled, knowing that he meant it.
Thornton Burgess loved trees, even empathized with them, and deplored casual unthinking violence against them. 

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