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Title: A world of green hills : Observations of nature and human nature in the Blue Ridge
Author: Torrey, Bradford
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A world of green hills : Observations of nature and human nature in the Blue Ridge" ***

Books by Mr. Torrey.

 BIRDS IN THE BUSH. 16mo, $1.25.

 A RAMBLER’S LEASE. 16mo, $1.25.

 THE FOOT-PATH WAY. 16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

 A FLORIDA SKETCH-BOOK. 16mo, $1.25.


 A WORLD OF GREEN HILLS. 16mo, $1.25.






  He joyes in groves, and makes himselfe full blythe
  With sundrie flowers, in wilde fieldes gatherèd.



  The Riverside Press, Cambridge






  IN QUEST OF RAVENS                34

  A MOUNTAIN POND                   71




  AT NATURAL BRIDGE                208

  INDEX                            283




In a day and a night I had come from early May to middle June; from a
world of bare boughs to a forest clad in all the verdure of summer.
Such a shine as the big, lusty leaves of the black-jack oaks had put
on! I could have raised a shout. In the day when “all the trees of the
field shall clap their hands,” may I be somewhere in the black-jack’s
neighborhood. Hour after hour we sped along, out of North Carolina
into South Carolina: now through miles and miles of forest; now past a
lonely cabin, with roses before the door, white honeysuckle covering
the fence, and acres of sunny ploughed land on either side. Here a
river ran between close green hills, and there the hills parted and
disclosed the revolving horizon set with blue mountains. Then, at a
little past noon, the porter appeared with his brush. “Seneca is next,”
he said. I alighted in lonely state, was escorted to the hotel, did my
best with a luncheon,--gleaned bit by bit out of an outlying wilderness
of small dishes,--and at the earliest moment took my seat in a “buggy”
beside a colored boy who was to drive me to Walhalla, nine miles away.
At that point I was to be met, the next morning, by the carriage that
should convey me into the mountains.

Seneca is a smallish place, but my colored driver was no countryman.
“Boston?” Yes, yes; he had lived there once himself. He had been a
Pullman porter. “But you don’t get to learn anything in that way,”
he added, a little disdainfully; “just running back and forth.” He
had “waited” in Florida, and had been to Jamaica and I forget where
else, though he was only twenty-three years old. He liked to go round
and see the world. “Married?” No; a man who didn’t live anywhere had
no business with a wife and children. Still he was not oblivious to
feminine charms, as became evident when we passed a pair of dusky
beauties. “Oh, I will _look_ at ’em,” he said, with the tone of a man
who had broken his full share of hearts. He was one of the fortunates
who are born with their eyes open. I quizzed him about birds. Yes,
he had noticed them; he had been hunting a good deal. This and the
other were named,--partridges, pheasants, doves, meadow larks,
chewinks, chats, night-hawks. Yes, he knew them; if not by the names I
called them by, then from my descriptions, to which in most cases he
proceeded to add some convincing touches of his own. The chat he did
not recognize under that title, but when I tried to hit off some of
the bird’s odd characteristics he began to laugh. “Oh yes, sir, I know
_that_ fellow.” As for whippoorwills, the whole country was full of
them. “You can’t hear your ears for ’em at night,” he declared. “No,
sir, you can’t hear your ears.” With all the rest he was a “silverite.”
At the end of the drive I handed him a dollar bill, one of Uncle
Sam’s handsomest, as it happened, fresh from the bank. He looked at
it dubiously, fumbled it a moment, and passed it back. “Say, boss,”
he said, “can’t you give me a silver dollar? It might rain.” In a
land of thunder-showers and thin clothing, he meant to say, what we
need is an insoluble currency. That, as such things go, was a pretty
substantial argument for “free silver,” or so it seemed to me; and
I spoke of it, accordingly, a week or two afterward, to an advocate
of the “white metal.” He was impressed by it just as I had been, and
begged me to make use of the argument when I got back to Boston; as
I now do, with all cheerfulness, feeling that, whatever a man’s own
opinions may be, he is bound to keep an ear open for the best that can
be put forward against them. At the same time, I am constrained to add
that I have never been quite sure whether my driver’s plea was anything
better than a polite subterfuge. It would have been nothing wonderful,
surely, if he had questioned the genuineness of a kind of money to
which he was so little accustomed. Small bills--“ones and twos,” as we
familiarly call them--have but a limited circulation at the South, as
all travelers must have noticed. On my present trip, for instance, I
bought a railway ticket at a rural station, and proffered the agent a
two-dollar bill. He gave it a glance of surprise, looked at me,--“Ah,
a Northern man,” so I read his thoughts,--and incontinently slipped the
bill into his pocket. A rarity like that was not for the cash drawer
and the daily course of business. I might almost as well have given him
a two-dollar gold coin; like the pious heroine of a Sunday-school story
I was reading the other day, who dropped into the contribution-box a
“fifty-dollar gold piece”!

The rain, concerning whose destructive power my colored boy had been
so apprehensive, very soon set in, and left me nothing to do but to
make the best of an afternoon upon the hotel piazza, with its outlook
up and down the village street, and its gossip and politics. As to the
latter I played the part of listener, in spite of sundry courteous
attempts to draw me out. Tillman and the silver question were discussed
with a welcome coolness of spirit, while I looked at an occasional
passing horseman (it is the one advantage of poor roads that they
keep an entire community in the saddle), or admired the evolutions
of the chimney swifts and the martins. Roses and honeysuckles would
have made the dooryards beautiful, had that result fallen within the
bounds of possibility, and a chinaberry-tree, full of purple blossoms,
was not only a thing of beauty in itself, but to me was also a sweet
remembrancer of Florida.

My only other recollection of the afternoon seems almost too trivial
for record. Yet who knows? What has interested one man may perchance
do as much for another. In the midst of the talk, a man with an axe
came along, and said to the proprietor of the hotel, “Have you got a
grinding-rock here?” “Yes, round behind the house,” was the answer.
“Grinding-rock”!--that was a new name for my old back-breaking
acquaintance of the haying season, and good as it was new. I adopted
it on the instant. With its rasping, gritty sound, it seemed a plain
case of onomatopoetic justice. No more “grindstone” for me, if I live a
thousand years.

I mentioned the subject some days afterward to a citizen of
Highlands. “Oh yes,” he answered, “they always say ‘rock;’ not only
‘grinding-rock,’ but ‘whet-rock.’” Then he added something that pleased
me still more. He had just been to the county seat as a member of
the grand jury, and among the cases before him and his colleagues
was one of alleged assault by “rocking,” that word being used in the
legal document, whatever its name, in which the complaint was set
forth. This point was of special interest to me, I say. In my boyhood,
which, so far as I know, was not exceptionally belligerent, it was
an every-day occurrence to “fire rocks” at an enemy, or “rock him;”
whereas an editorial brother, himself of New England birth, with whom
it is often my privilege to compare notes, affirms that he never heard
such expressions, though he has sometimes met with them--and presumably
corrected them--in manuscript stories. It was no small satisfaction
to find this bit of my own Massachusetts--Old Colony--dialect still
surviving, and in common use, in the Carolinas.

Walhalla itself, with an elevation of a thousand feet, and mountains
visible not far off, lays some not unnatural claims to a “climate,” and
in a small way is a health resort, I believe, in spite of its rather
sinister name, both summer and winter. To me, indeed, it seemed a place
to stop at rather than to stay in; but, as the reader knows, I saw it
only from the main street on a muddy afternoon, and was likely to do
it but foul-weather justice. Even its merits as a necessary lodging
station were lightly appreciated, till on my return I made my exit from
the mountains on the other side of them, and put up for the night in
another village, and especially at another hotel. Compared with that,
Walhalla was, in deed as in name, a kind of heavenly place. Is it well,
or not, that what is worse makes us half contented with what is simply
bad? I was more than ready, at any rate, when a Walhalla boy brought me
word the next morning, “Your carriage has done come.”[1]

The sky was fair, and shortly after seven o’clock we were on the road,
the driver and his one passenger, in a heavy three-seated mountain
wagon, locally known as a “hack,” drawn by two horses. Our destination
was said to be thirty-two miles distant,--so much I knew; but the
figures had given me little idea of the length of the journey. It was
an agreeable surprise, also, when the driver informed me that we were
not only going from South Carolina to North Carolina, but on the way
were to spend some hours in Georgia, the mountainous northeastern
corner of that State being wedged in between the two Carolinas. In
short, to accomplish our ascent of twenty-eight hundred feet we were
out for a day’s ride in three States and over four mountains,--an
exhilarating prospect in that perfect May weather.

My recollections of the day run together, as it were, till the route,
as memory tries to picture it forth, turns all to one hopeless blur: an
interminable alternation of ups and downs, largely over shaded forest
roads, but with occasional sunny stretches, especially, as it seemed,
whenever I essayed to take the cramp out of my legs by a half-hour’s
climb on foot. A turn or two in the road, and we had left the village
behind us, and then, almost before I knew it, we were among the hills:
now aloft on the shoulder of one of them, with innumerable mountains
crowding the horizon; now shut in some narrow, winding valley, our
“distance and horizon gone,” with a bird singing from the bushes,
and likely enough a stream playing hide-and-seek behind a tangle of
rhododendron and laurel. Wild as the country was, we never traveled
many miles without coming in sight of a building of some kind: a rude
mill, it might be, or more probably a cabin. Once at least, in a very
wilderness of a place, we passed a schoolhouse; as to which it puzzled
me to guess, first where the pupils came from, and then how they got
light to read by, unless, happy children, they took their books out of
doors and studied their lessons under the trees, and so went to school
with the birds.

Little by little--very little--we continued to ascend, gaining
something more than we lost as the road seesawed from valley to hill,
and from hill to valley. So it finally appeared, I mean to say; the
changes in the vegetation serving eventually to establish a point
which for hours together had been mainly an article of faith. As to
another point, the four mountains over which our course was supposed
to run, that remains a question of faith to this day. There might have
been two, or thrice two, for aught I could tell. The road avoided
summits, as a matter of course, and, if I can make myself understood,
we were so lost in the hills that we could not see them. When we had
left one and had come to another, I knew it only as the driver told me.
So far as any sense of upward progress was concerned, we might almost
as well have been marking time.

“What mountain are we on now?” This was a stock question with me.


“And why is it called Stumphouse?”

“Because a good many years ago a man lived here in a hollow stump.”

“And in what State are we?”

“South Car’lina.”

“But aren’t we near the North Carolina line?”

“No, sir; we have to go through Georgy first.”

Till now I had been quite unaware of what I may call the interstate
character of our day’s ride.

“Indeed! And how soon shall we get into Georgia?”

“When we cross the Chattoogy River.”

“The Chattooga? What is that? A branch of the Savannah?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How do you spell it?”

“I do not know, sir.”

My driver had certain verbal niceties of his own; he never said
“don’t.” As for his inability to spell “Chattooga,” or “Chatuga,” he
was little to be blamed for that. The atlas-makers are no better off.

By and by we forded a sizeable stream.

“Now, then, we are crossing into Georgia?” I began again.

“No, sir; this is not the Chattoogy, but one of its prongs.”

Finally, at high noon, we dropped into a hot and breezeless valley,
with the Chattooga running through it in the sun. Here was a farm.
Mr. ---- lived here, and kept a kind of half-way house for travelers.
But we would not stop at it, the driver said, if it was all the same
to me. There was another house just across the river. He had given
the people notice of our coming, on his way down the day before, and
the woman would have dinner ready for me. Both houses were very nice
places to eat at, he added for my encouragement. So it happened that I
breakfasted in South Carolina, dined in Georgia, and supped in North
Carolina. The dinner, to which I sat down alone, was bountiful after
its kind. If the table did not “groan,” it must have been because it
was ignorant of a table’s duty; and if I did not make a feast, let
the failure be laid to the idiosyncrasy of a man who once cut short
his stay at one of the most inviting places in all Virginia because
he was pampered monotonously for five consecutive meals with nothing
but fried ham, fried eggs, and soda biscuits. “It is never too late
to give up our prejudices,” says Thoreau, in one of his lofty moods.
Wisdom uttered in that tone is not to be disputed; but if it is never
“too late,” I for one have sometimes found it too early. My bill of
fare here in Georgia was by no means confined to the three Southern
staples just now enumerated (let so much be said in simple justice),
but they held the place of honor, as a matter of course, and for the
rest--well, there is a kind of variety that is only another kind of
sameness. “An excellent dinner,” said a facetious fellow-traveler of
mine on a similar occasion, as, knife and fork in hand, he hovered
doubtfully over the table, and, like Emerson’s snowflake, “seemed
nowhere to alight,”--“a most excellent dinner; but then, you see, it
is nothing but ham and eggs with variations.” If this sounds like
grumbling, it is only against a “system,” as we say in these days, not
against a person. My generous hostess had spared no pains, and from any
point of view had given me far more than my money’s worth; stinting
herself only when it came to setting a price upon her bounty. That
unavoidable business she approached, in response to the usual overtures
on my part, with all manner of delicate indirections, holding back the
decisive word till the very last moment, as if her tongue could not
bring itself to utter a figure so extortionate. The truth was, she
said, she had made nothing by giving dinners the year previous, and so
felt obliged to charge five cents more the present season![2]

The noon hour brought a sudden change in the day’s programme. All the
forenoon I had been asking questions, presuming upon my double right as
a traveler and a Yankee; now I was to take my turn in the witness-box.
My landlady’s brother sat on the veranda mending a fishing-tackle,
and we had hardly passed the time of day before it became apparent
that he possessed one of nature’s best intellectual gifts, an appetite
for knowledge. With admirable civility, yet with no waste of time or
breath, he went about his work, and long before dinner was announced
I had given him my name, my residence (my age, perhaps, but here
recollection becomes hazy), my occupation, the object of my present
journey and its probable duration, some account of my previous visits
South, my notion of New England weather, my impressions of Washington,
especially of the height of the Washington monument as compared with
other similar structures (a question of peculiar moment to him, for
some reason now past recall), and Heaven knows what else; while on
a thousand or two of other topics I had confessed ignorance. I had
never been to Chautauqua; that was perhaps my examiner’s most serious
disappointment. He was at present engaged on a Chautauquan course of
reading, as it appeared,--the best course of reading that he had ever
seen, he was inclined to think. Here again he had me playing second
fiddle, or rather no fiddle at all.

His was a wholesome catholicity of mind, but it pleased me to notice
that he too had felt the touch of the modern spirit, and was something
of a specialist. Geography, or perhaps I should say climatology, seemed
to lie uppermost in his thoughts. Once, I remember, he brought out a
ponderous atlas of the world, a book of really astonishing proportions
when the size of the house was taken into account, though it may not
have been absolutely necessary for him to bring it out of doors in
order to open it. On the subject of comparative climatology, be it said
without reserve, it did not take him long to come to the end of my
resources. It is possible, of course, that his own concern about it was
but temporary,--the result of his before-mentioned course of reading.
There is no better--nor better understood--rule for conversation than
to choose the subject of the book you happen to have had last in hand.
Two to one the other man will know less about it than you do. Then you
are in clover. But should it turn out that he is at home where you have
but recently peeped in at the window, and so is bound to have you at a
disadvantage, you have only to be beforehand with him by acknowledging
with becoming modesty that you really know nothing about the matter,
but happen to have just been looking over with some interest Mr.
So-and-So’s recent book. In other words, you may pass for a special
student or a discursive reader, honorable characters both of them,
according as the way opens.

I am not saying that my noonday acquaintance had practiced any such
stratagem. His attitude throughout was that of a learner; nor did he
set himself to shine even in that humble capacity, as one may easily
do (and there are few safer methods) in this day of multifarious
discovery, when the ability to ask intelligent questions has become
of itself a badge of scholarship. His inquiries followed one another
with perfect naturalness and simplicity; he simply wanted to know.
As for the more strictly personal among them, they were only such as
the most conventional of us instinctively feel like asking. “As soon
as a stranger is introduced into any company,” says Emerson, “one of
the first questions which all wish to have answered is, ‘How does
that man get his living?’” There was no thought of taking offense.
On the contrary, it was a pleasure to be angled for by so true an
artist. If any newspaper should be in want of an “interviewer,”--a
remote contingency so far as any newspaper that I know anything about
is concerned,--I could recommend a likely hand. A candidate for the
presidency might balk him, but nobody else. My own conversation with
him is still an agreeable memory; a man’s mind is like a well, all the
better for being once in a while pumped dry. And yet, while I speak of
him in this tone of sincere appreciation, it must be acknowledged that
in one respect he did me an ill turn. He robbed me of an illusion. The
Yankee is second where I had supposed him an undisputed first.

Though we were at the half-way house, and in fact had made more than
half of our day’s journey, the valley of the Chattooga at this point
lay so warmly in the sun that the aspect of things remained decidedly
southern. Roses and snowballs were in bloom in the dooryard, and as I
came out from dinner a blue-gray gnatcatcher, the only one seen on my
entire trip, was complaining from a persimmon-tree beside the gate. My
attention to it, and to sundry other birds of the smaller sorts,--a
blue golden-winged warbler, for example,--was matter of surprise to the
men of the house, both of whom were now on the veranda. My seeker after
knowledge, indeed, asked me plainly, but not without a word of apology,
what object I had in view in such studies; in short,--when I stumbled a
bit in my explanation,--whether there was “any money in them.” In that
form the question presented less difficulty, and in my turn I asked
him and his brother-in-law how often they were accustomed to see ravens
thereabout. Their reply was little to the comfort of an enthusiast
who had come a thousand miles, more or less, with ravens in his eye.
Neither of them had seen one in the last five years. Something had
happened to the birds, they could not say what. Formerly it was nothing
uncommon to notice one or two flying over. Alas, this was not the first
time it had been borne in upon me that, ornithologically, my portion
was among the belated.

I have said nothing about it hitherto, but I had not driven five or
six hours through strange woods and into the midst of strange hills
without an ear open for bird notes. Even the rumbling of the heavy
wagon and the uneasy creaking of the harness could not drown such music
altogether, and once in a while, as I have said, I spelled myself on
foot. At short intervals, too, when we came to some promising spot,--a
swampy thicket, perhaps, or a patch of evergreens,--I called a halt to
listen; the driver making no objection, and the horses less than none.
The voices, to my regret rather than to my surprise, were every one
familiar, and the single unexpected thing about it all was the dearth
of northern species. The date was May 6, and the woods might properly
enough have been alive with homeward-bound migrants; but the only bird
that I could positively rank under that head was a Swainson thrush,--a
free-hearted singer, whose cheery White Mountain tune I never hear at
the South without an inward refreshment. From the evergreens, none too
common, and mostly too far from the road, came the voices of a pine
warbler and one or two black-throated greens; and once, as we skirted a
bushy hillside, I caught the sliding ditty of a prairie warbler. Here,
too, I think it was that I heard the distinctive, loquacious call of a
summer tanager,--four happy chances, as but for them, and the single
gnatcatcher by the half-way house gate, my vacation bird list would
have been shorter by five species.

After all, the principal ornithological event of the forenoon was,
not the singing of the Swainson thrush, but the discovery of a
humming-bird’s nest. This happened on the side of Stumphouse Mountain.
I had taken a short cut by myself, and had come out of the woods into
the road again some distance ahead of the wagon, when suddenly I heard
the buzz and squeak of a hummer, and, glancing upward, put my eye
instantly upon the nest, which might have been two thirds done from its
appearance, and then upon its owner, whose reiterated squeakings, I
have no doubt, expressed her annoyance at my intrusion. In truth, both
owners were present, and in that lay the exceptional interest of the

Some years ago I had proved, as I thought, that the male ruby-throat
habitually takes no part in the hatching and rearing of its young,
and, for that matter, is never to be seen about the nest in the five
or six weeks during which that most laborious and nerve-trying work
is going on. As to why this should be I could only confess ignorance;
and subsequent observations, both by myself and by others,[3] while
confirming the fact of the male’s absence, had done nothing to bring
to light the reason for it. Is the female herself responsible for
such a state of things? I should hate to believe, as I have heard it
maintained, that female birds in general cherish little or no real
affection for their mates, regarding them simply as necessities of
the hour; but it is certain that widows among them waste no time in
mourning, and it appears to me likely enough, if I am to say what I
think, that the lady hummer, a fussy and capable body (we all know the
human type), having her nest done and the eggs laid, prefers her mate’s
room to his company, and gives him his walking ticket.

So much for a bit of half-serious speculation. The interest of the nest
found here on Stumphouse Mountain lay, as I have said, in the fact that
it was unfinished, and the male owner of it--if he is to be called an
owner--was still present. Whether he was actually assisting in the
construction of the family house, I am unable to tell. For the few
minutes that I remained the female alone entered it, doing something or
other to the wall or rim, and then flying away. With so long a journey
before us there was no tarrying for further investigations, glad as I
should have been to see the ruby-throat for once conducting himself
with something like Christian propriety. For to-day, at all events, he
was neither a deserter nor an exile.

We rested for an hour or more at the half-way house, and then resumed
our journey: the morning story over again,--upward and downward and
roundabout, with woods and hills everywhere, and two mountains still
to put behind us. We should be in Highlands before dark, the driver
said; but one contingency had been left out of his calculation. When
we had been under way an hour, or some such matter, he began to worry
about one of the horses. My own eyes had been occupied elsewhere, but
now it was plain enough, my attention having been called to it, that
“Doc” was leaving his mate to do the work. And Doc was never known to
play the shirk, the driver said, with a jealousy for his favorite’s
reputation pleasant to see and honorable to both parties. The poor
fellow must be sick. “Didn’t he eat his dinner?” I asked. “Yes; there
was no sign of anything wrong at that time.” Then it could be no very
killing matter, I said to myself; a touch of laziness, probably; who
could blame him?--and I continued to enjoy the sights and sounds of
the forest. But my seatmate, better experienced and more charitable,
was not to be misled. Little by little his anxiety increased, till he
could do nothing but talk about it (so it happened that we crossed the
North Carolina line, and I was none the wiser); and before long it
became evident, even to me, that whatever ailed the horse, sickness,
laziness, discouragement, or exhaustion, he must be carefully humored,
or we should find ourselves stranded for the night on a lonesome
mountain road. Slower and slower we went,--both men on foot, of course,
up all the ascents,--and worse and worse grew Doc’s behavior. I was
sorry for him, and sorrier still for the driver, who was thinking
not only of his horse and his passenger, but of himself and his own
standing with the owner of the team. He was sure it was none of his
fault, he kept protesting; nothing of the kind had ever happened to
him before. Finally, seeing him so miserably depressed (for the time
being every misfortune is as bad as it looks), so quite at the end of
his wit, and almost at the end of his courage, I said, “Why not take
advice at the next house we come to? Two heads are better than one.”
That was a word in season. To take advice would be a kind of division
of responsibility. It is what doctors do when the patient is dying on
their hands. The man brightened at once.

A mile or two more of halting and painful progress, then, and we
approached a clearing, on the farther side of which two men were busy
with a plough. The driver hailed one of them by name, and made known
our difficulty. Wouldn’t he please come to the road and see if he could
make out what was the matter? He responded in the most neighborly
spirit (he would have been a queer farmer, neighborly or not, not to
feel interested in a question about a horse); but after looking into
the animal’s mouth, and disclaiming any special right to speak in such
a case, he could only say that he saw no sign of anything worse than
fatigue. Hadn’t the horse been worked hard lately? Yes, the driver
answered, he had been in the harness pretty steadily for some time
past. At this I put in my oar. Couldn’t another horse be borrowed
somewhere, and the tired one left to rest?--a suggestion, I need
hardly say, that squinted hard toward the horse in sight before us
across the field. The farmer approved of the idea; only where was the
horse to come from? Mountain farmers, as I was to learn afterward,--and
a strange state of things it seemed to a pilgrim from Yankee land,--are
mostly too poor to support a horse, or even a mule. The man would
let us have his, of course, but it was a young thing that had never
been hitched up. “But I tell you,” he broke out, after a minute’s
reflection. “You know So-and-So, don’t you? He has a pair of mules.
Perhaps you could get one of them.” “Good!” said I, and we drove on
a mile or two farther,--and by this time it _was_ driving,--till we
came to a cross-road, the only one that I recall on the whole day’s
route, though there must have been others, I suppose. The owner of
the mules--whose exceptional opulence should have kept his name
remembered--lived down that road a piece, the driver said. If I would
stay by the wagon, he would go down there, and be back as quickly as

He was gone half an hour or more, while the horses browsed upon
the bushes (if a good appetite signified anything, Doc was not yet
on his way to the buzzards), and I, after listening awhile to the
masterly improvisations of a brown thrasher, went spying about to
see what birds might be hiding in the underbrush. The hobbyist, say
what you please about him, is a lucky fellow. All sorts of untoward
accidents bring grist to his mill; and so it was this time. I
heard a sparrow’s _tseep_, and soon called into sight two or three
white-throats,--ordinary birds enough, but of value here as being
the only ones found on the whole journey. I should have missed them
infallibly but for Doc’s misadventure.

The driver returned at last, and with him came a mountain
farmer,--another good neighbor, I was glad to see,--leading a mule,
which was quickly put into Doc’s harness. But what to do with Doc?
“Leave him,” said I. “Lead him at the tail of the wagon,” said the
farmer; and the latter advice prevailed. And very good advice it seemed
till we came to the first steepish piece of road. Then the horse began
to hold back. “Look at him!” exclaimed the driver in despairing tones;
and all our tribulations were begun over again.

From this point there was only one way of getting on, and that at a
snail’s pace and with continual interruptions. The passenger took
the reins, and the driver walked behind with his whip, and so, using
as much kindness as might be, forced the unwilling horse to follow.
Even that cruel resource threatened before long to fail us; for it
began to look as if the unsteady creature would drop in his tracks.
There it was, as I now suspect, that he played his best card. “You
must leave him at the next house, if there is another,” I said. “Yes,
there is another,” the driver answered, “and only one.” We came to it
presently,--a cabin far below us in a deep, wood-encircled valley,
out of which rose pleasant evening sounds of a banjo and singing. The
driver lifted his voice, and a woman appeared upon the piazza. The man
of the house was not at home, she said; but the driver took down the
Virginia fence, and with much patient coaxing and pulling got the horse
down the long, steep slope and into a shed. Then, leaving word for him
to be fed and cared for, he climbed back to the road, and, freed at
last from our incumbrance, we quickened our pace.

By this time it was growing dark. Bird songs had ceased, and flowers
had long been invisible. But indeed, for the greater part of the
afternoon, we had been so taken up with working our passage that I had
found small opportunity for natural history comment. I recall a lovely
rose-acacia shrub, an endless display of pink azalea,--set off here and
there with the flat snowy clusters of the dogwood,--thickets fringed
with drooping, white, sickly sweet Leucothoë racemes (which at the
time I mistook for some kind of Andromeda), the shouts of two pileated
woodpeckers,--always rememberable,--a hooded warbler’s song out of
a rhododendron thicket, and the sight of two or three rough-winged
swallows. These last are worth mentioning, because in connection
with them there came out the astonishing fact that the driver did
not know what I meant by swallows. Apparently he had never heard the
word,--which may help readers to understand what a scarcity of these
airy birds there is in all that Alleghanian country. I should almost as
soon have expected to find a man who had never heard of sparrows!

It was after eight o’clock when we turned a sharp corner in the road
and saw the lights of the village shining through the forest ahead of
us. In fifteen minutes more I was at supper. I had come a long way by
faith,--faith in a guidebook star; and my faith had not been vain.


 “Every pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardor of the

While M. Sylvestre Bonnard, Member of the Institute, was in Sicily
prosecuting his memorable search for the Alexandrian manuscript of the
Golden Legend, he fell in unexpectedly with his old acquaintances, M.
and Mme. Trépof, collectors of match-boxes. Their specialty, as may be
supposed, was not exactly to M. Bonnard’s liking. Being a scholar and
an antiquary, he would rather have seen their affections bestowed upon
something more strictly in the line of the fine arts,--upon antique
marbles, perhaps, or painted vases; but after all, he said to himself,
it made no very great difference. A collector is a collector; and,
besides, Mme. Trépof always spoke of their pursuit (she and her husband
were traveling round the world in furtherance of it) with a mixture of
enthusiasm and irony that made the whole business truly delightful.

There we have the shrewd collector’s secret. Whatever the objects
of his choice,--postage-stamps, first editions, butterflies, or
match-boxes,--they become for the time being the only objects worthy
of a man’s desire; but in talking about them, as of course he cannot
altogether avoid doing, he keeps in mind the old caution about the
pearls and the swine, and veils his seriousness under a happy lightness
of speech. This is the better course for all concerned; and something
like this is the course I mean to adopt in narrating my raven-hunt amid
the North Carolina mountains, in May, 1896. The work was absorbing
enough in the doing, but at this distance, and out of consideration
for the scholarly reader,--who may feel about ravens as M. Bonnard
felt about match-boxes,--I hope to be able to treat it with a becoming
degree of disinterestedness.

My collecting, be it said in parenthesis, was in one respect quite
unlike M. Bonnard’s and Mme. Trépof’s. It was concerned, not with the
objects themselves, but with the sight of them. I wanted, not cured
bird-skins in a cabinet, but bits of first-hand knowledge in the memory
and the notebook. Here at Highlands, this little hamlet perched far up
in a mountain wilderness, ravens were common,--so I had read; and as
I purposed remaining in the place for two or three weeks, I should no
doubt see much of them, and so be able not only to “check the name,”
thus adding the species to my set of the _Corvidæ_, but to acquire some
real familiarity with the bird’s voice and ways. Such was my dream; but
certainty began to fade into uncertainty from the day I drove into the

One of my first village calls, after a day’s ramble in the country
round about, was upon the apothecary, who sat sunning himself on the
stoop in front of his shop,--a cheerful example of how idyllic a life
“tending store” may become under favorable conditions. To begin with,
as was natural, not to say obligatory, between a newcomer and an old
resident, the altitude and climate of the place were discussed. Then,
as soon as I could do so with politeness, I asked about ravens.

“Ravens?” said the doctor. “Ravens?” Surely the inflection was not
encouraging. There _were_ no ravens, so far as he knew.

“But the books say they are common here.”

“Well, I am perfectly acquainted with the bird, and I have never seen
one in Highlands in all my twelve years.”

This might have seemed to end the matter, once for all; but as I walked
away I remembered how often birds had proved to be common where old
residents had never seen them, and I said to myself that the present
would be only another repetition of the familiar story. There _must_ be
ravens here. Mr. ---- and Mr. ---- could not have been mistaken.

Let that be as it might, this was my third day in the mountains,--the
long ride from Walhalla counting for one,--and when I returned to
the village, at noon, my first glimpse of a raven was yet to be had.
However, a wide-awake farmer assured me that, as he expressed it,
something must be the matter with Dr. ----’s eyes. _He_ had seen ravens
many a time; in fact he had seen one within two days. Of course he
had. The affair was turning out just as I had foreseen. It is a poor
naturalist who has not learned to beware of negative testimony. The
apothecary might sit on his stoop and shake his head; before many days
I would shake a black wing in his face.

That afternoon I took another road, and though I found no ravens I
brought back a lively expectation. I had stopped beside a pond, and
was pulling down a small halesia-tree to break off a branch of its
snowy bells, when a horseman rode up. We spoke to each other (it is
one advantage of out-of-the-way places that they encourage human
intercourse, as poverty helps people to be generous), and in answer
to my inquiry he told me that the tree I was holding down was a “box
elder.” The road was the Hamburg road, or the Shortoff road,--one name
being for a town, the other for a mountain,--and the body of water was
Stewart’s Pond. Then I came to the point. Did he often see ravens in
this country? He answered promptly in the affirmative; and when I told
him of my want of success and of Dr. ----’s twelve-year failure, he
assured me that if I would come out to Turtlepond, where he lived, I
could see them easily enough. He saw them often, and just now they were
particularly noisy; he thought they must be teaching their young to fly.

How far was it to Turtlepond? I asked. “Seven or eight miles.” And
the road? Could he tell me how to get there? Oh, yes; and he began.
But I was soon quite lost. He knew the way too well, and I gave over
trying to follow him, saying to myself that I would procure directions,
when the time came, from some one in the village. The man was very
neighborly and kind, invited me to get up behind him and ride, gave me
his name, answered all my questions, and rode away. Here, then, were
ravens with something like certainty and well within reach (“ra-vĕns,”
my new acquaintance had been careful to say, with no slurring of the
second vowel), and, Dr. ---- to the contrary notwithstanding, I would
yet see them.

The next morning, with a luncheon in my pocket and a minute itinerary
in my notebook, I set out for Turtlepond. Important things must be
attended to promptly. “You will be lucky if you find it,” said the man
who had laid out my route, by way of a godspeed; and I half believed
him. He did not add, what I knew was on his tongue, “You will be
luckier still if you find a raven;” as to that, also, he was welcome to
his opinion. Ravens or no ravens, I meant to enjoy myself. What could a
man want better than a long, unhurried day in those romantic mountain
roads, with a bird singing from every bush, and new and lovely flowers
inviting his hand at every turn? With fair weather and in a fair
country, walking is its own reward.

To put the town behind me was the work of a few minutes. After that my
way ran through the woods, although for the first half of the distance,
at least, there was never more than a mile or two without a clearing
and a house. This part of the road grew familiar to me afterward, I
traveled it so often; and now, as I take it once more in my mind, I can
see it in all its windings. Here, as the land begins to decline from
the plateau, or mountain shoulder, on which the village nestles, stands
a line of towering conical hemlocks,--a hundred and fifty feet tall,
at a moderate guess. Out of them came the nasal, high-pitched, highly
characteristic _ank, ank, ank_ of my first Canadian nuthatch,--my
first one in North Carolina, I mean. That, by the bye, was on this
very trip to Turtlepond. I had been on the watch for him, and put him
into my bird list with peculiar satisfaction. He was like a fellow
Yankee, as was also the brown creeper that dwelt near by. This same
row of hemlocks--beside a brook, as Southern hemlocks always are,
with a thicket of laurel and rhododendron underneath--was also one
of the haunts of the olive-sided flycatcher, another Northerner, who
chooses the loftiest perch he can find from which to deliver his wild
_quit-quequeeo_. Should this Carolinian representative of a boreal
species ever be promoted to the dignity of subspecific rank, as has
happened to some of his neighbors, I should bid for the honor of naming
him,--the hemlock flycatcher.

By the time I reached this point, on a sultry morning, I was commonly
ready for a breathing-spell, and by good luck here was a most
convenient log, on which I used to sit, listening to the bird chorus,
and waylaying any socially disposed mountaineer who might chance
to come along on his way to the town; for Highlands, whatever an
outsider may think of it, is in its own measure and degree a veritable
metropolis.[4] The only man who ever failed to halt in response to my
greeting was a very canonical-looking parson. He was traveling up to
Zion in a “buggy,” and not unlikely was meditating his next Sunday’s

If the religious condition of a community is to be estimated by the
number of its meeting-houses, let me say in passing, then Highlands
ought to be a very suburb of the New Jerusalem. Its population cannot
be more than three or four hundred, but its churches are legion.
“Yes,” said a sprightly young lady, to whom the subject was mentioned,
“if there were only one or two more, we might all have one apiece.”
Baptists, Methodists (of different sorts,--species and subspecies),
Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Adventists, Unitarians,--all the sects
seemed to be provided for, though I am not sure about the Catholics
and the Swedenborgians. It is queer how conscientiously particular,
and almost private, the worship of God is made. The Almighty must be a
great lover of mint, anise, and cummin, one would say. I was reminded
again and again of that sweet old Scripture: “Behold how good and how
pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

This digression, though suggested by the recollection of my
serious-faced clergyman, is not to be taken as reflecting in any wise
upon him or upon his calling. He was trying to do his duty, I have no
question. If he felt obliged to have a pulpit and a uniform of his own,
it was not that he differed from other people, but that other people
differed from him. May his work prosper, and his days be long! He was
traveling in a buggy, as I have said. Had he been on foot, no doubt he
might have been readier to stop a minute to chat with an inquisitive
stranger,--as ready, perhaps, as a more venerable pilgrim who happened
along a few minutes later, and who not only stopped, but sat down, and,
so to speak, paid me a visit: a little man, bent with his seventy-three
years (he told me his age almost at once), who had come ten miles on
foot that morning. In one hand he carried a live turkey,--with its
legs tied, of course,--and in the other a chicken. Poor things, they
were making their last journey. It was a “very hot day,” the old man
thought. His cotton shirt was flung wide open for coolness, and as he
mopped his face, having put down his burdens and taken off his hat, he
talked in a cheerful, honest voice, most agreeable to listen to. Life
was still a pleasant experience to him, as it seemed. I doubt whether
he had ever tired of it for a day. He would sell the turkey and the
chicken, buy a little tobacco and perhaps one or two other necessaries,
and then trudge the ten miles home again. It is a great thing to have
a market for one’s produce, and a greater thing to be contented with
one’s lot.

Not far beyond this favorite resting-place--tempting even in the
retrospect, as the reader perceives--is a house with a good-sized
clearing, through which meanders a trout-stream, to the endless comfort
of one of the younger boys of the family. I saw him angling there,
one day, with shining success. What a good time he was having! He
could hardly bait the hook fast enough. I leaned over the fence and
watched him out of pure sympathy (he did not see me, I think, though
there was nothing in the world between us--except the fish), and
afterward I mentioned the circumstance to his father. “Oh, he is a
great fisherman,” was the proud response. For a boy that _is_ a boy a
trout-brook is better than all the toy-shops. The good man and his wife
(New York State people, who had moved here twelve years before) treated
me most hospitably when I came to know them, but on this first morning,
having far to go, I went by without calling, pausing only to note the
_chebec_ of a least flycatcher, which seemed to be at home in their
orchard trees. Its name is still Number 60 in my North Carolina list.

Another bend in the road, and I came within sight of the first of
two mills. These had figured at considerable length in my chart
of directions, and near them, as I now remember, I fell into some
uncertainty as to how this chart was to be interpreted. I turned aside,
therefore, to inquire of the second miller; but before I could reach
him a blue yellow-backed warbler began singing from a treetop; and
as he was my first specimen here, I must out with my opera-glass and
find him. The miller surveyed my proceedings with unashamed curiosity,
but he answered my questions, none the less, and for still another
stage I kept on with the comfortable assurance that I was headed for

If I failed to arrive there, it should not be for want of using my
tongue. From the time I left Highlands I had inquired my way of every
man I met. For one thing, I relish natural country talk; and if there
is to be conversation, it must somehow be opened. I kept in mind, too,
the skepticism of my Highlands informant, and by unhappy experience I
had learned how easy it is, in cases of this kind, to go astray through
some misunderstanding of question or answer.

So I sauntered along, with frequent interruptions, of course (that was
part of the game),--here for a bird, there for a flower, a tree, or a
bit of landscape. I recall especially great numbers of the tiny yellow
lady’s-slipper and beds of the white-flowered clintonia--the latter a
novelty to me--just coming into bloom. Then, by and by, the road began
a long, sidelong ascent of a mountain; but at the last moment, when I
seemed to have left human habitations behind me for good, I saw across
the narrow valley through the forest--the branches at this height being
still in the bud--two men at work in a ploughed field. Here was one
more opportunity to assure myself against contingencies, and with a
loud “hullo” I gained their attention. Was this the road to Turtlepond?
I shouted. Yes, they shouted back (a man who could not lift up his
voice would be poorly off in that country); I was to keep on and on as
far as the schoolhouse, just beyond which I must be sure to turn to the
right. Very good, said I to myself, here is something definite; and
again I faced the mountain road.

That was a master stroke of precaution. But for it I might have walked
till night, and should never have found myself at Turtlepond. I passed
one more house, it is true, but there was no one visible about it, and
when at last I reached the log schoolhouse, standing all by itself deep
in the woods, it was locked and empty, and the “road to the right”
was so obscure, so utterly unlike a road, that only for my last man’s
emphatic warning (how I blessed him for his good sense!) I should
have passed it without a suspicion that it was or ever had been a
thoroughfare. As it was, I looked at it and wondered. Could that be my
course? There was no sign that horse or wheel had turned that corner
for an indefinite period. Still, my instructions were explicit. This
was certainly the schoolhouse, and at the schoolhouse I was to turn to
the right. Lest I should be interpreting a preposition too strictly,
nevertheless, I kept on for a piece in the way I had been traveling.
No, there was no other cross-road, and I came back to the schoolhouse,
rested awhile under a big tree, and then took the blind trail. Happily,
it very soon became more distinct, more evidently a road in use; and
being now on a downward grade, I jogged along in good spirits.

It was drawing near noon, and unless my jaunt was to measure more than
eight miles I must be somewhere near the end of it. The mountain forest
was especially inviting here, with a brook now and then and a profusion
of ground flowers, beside the laurel and the azaleas; but I must not
linger, I said to myself, as I might be obliged to spend an hour or
two at Turtlepond. It was hardly to be assumed that the ravens would
be waiting for me, to greet me on the instant. Meanwhile, a pileated
woodpecker set up a lusty shout just in advance, and in another moment
went dashing off among the trees, still shouting as he flew. He
was no rarity in these parts, but it did me good to see his flaming
crest and the flash of his white wing-spots. Then, when I had gone a
little farther and could already discern the open valley, a kingfisher
rattled and showed himself. He was the first of his kind, and went down
straightway as Number 62. Perhaps Number 63 would be the raven!

Well, I emerged from the forest, the road turning rather sharply at
the last and making down the valley with a brook on its left hand; and
here I pretty soon approached a house. The two opposite doors were open
(mosquitoes are unknown in this happy country), and inside, looking out
of the back door in the direction of the brook, stood a woman and a
brood of children. They were talking pretty loudly, as people may who
live so far from human neighbors, and a hound stood silent behind them.
I drew near, but they did not hear me. Then, rather than startle them
rudely with a strange voice, I touched the fence-rail with my umbrella.
Instantly the hound turned and began baying, and the woman, bidding
him be quiet, came to the front door and answered my good-morning.
Could she tell me where Zeb McKinney lived? I inquired. Yes, it was
the next house down the road, “about a quarter.” Hereabouts, as I
knew, a “quarter” means a quarter of a mile. In Yankee land it means
twenty-five cents. The character of a people may be judged in part by
the ellipses of their daily speech,--the things that are taken for
granted by every one as present in the minds of others.

I believe I did not raise the question of ravens at this first house.
For the instant it was enough to know that I had arrived at Turtlepond.
But my eye was open and my ear alert. And surely this was a place for
ravens and every wild thing: a narrow valley, tightly shut in, with
nothing in sight but the crowding walls and a patch of sky. Aloft in
the distance, in the direction of Hickory Gap (so I heard it called
afterward, and wished that all place-names were equally euphonious),
some large bird, hawk or eagle, was sailing out of sight. What a
groveling creature is man, in the comparison! Along the brookside
grew splendid halesia-trees, full of white bells, and a more splendid
crab-apple tree,--one of the glories of America,--just now a perfect
cloud of pink buds and blooms and tender green leaves. Here sang
catbirds, thrashers, wood thrushes, robins, rose-breasted grosbeaks, a
blue golden-winged warbler, and I forget what else. I had not traveled
so far, half disabled as I was, to listen to birds of their quality.
And the ravens? Well, at that moment they must have an engagement
elsewhere. Perhaps they were still instructing their young in the art
of volitation.

And now, having walked “about a quarter,” I was at Zeb McKinney’s.
There was no need to inquire if he were at home. Through the open door
I could see that the only occupants of the house were two women: one
young, one very old and stiff. The latter, as was meet, came to speak
to the stranger. No, Mr. McKinney was not at home; he had gone down to
the sawmill. Ravens? Yes, they saw them once in a while, but she did
not remember noticing any for some time back. The spring was just below
the house; I should find a gourd to drink from.

I drank from the spring, pondered the woman’s “once in a while,”
took a look about me, and then retraced my steps, having in mind a
comfortable nooning-place, out of sight of the houses, where I would
eat my luncheon, and observe the ravens at my leisure as they crossed
from one mountain to another above my head. For all the unexpectedness
of the old woman’s dubious phrase, I was not discouraged. Why should I
be? Mr. Burroughs did not find the English nightingale all at once, nor
did M. Tartarin kill a lion on his first day in the Algerian desert;
and if these men had exercised patience, so could I.

At the right spot, therefore, where the shade fell upon a handy stump,
I took my seat. First a line or two in my notebook, and then I would
dispose of my luncheon. At that instant, however, two boys came down
the road; and when I spoke to them, they waited for no more explicit
invitation, but planted themselves on the ground, one on each side of
me. If I asked them a question, they answered it; if I kept silence,
they sat and looked at me. For aught that appeared, they meant to
spend the afternoon thus engaged. Pleasant as popularity is, its
manifestations were just now a trouble. The ravens might fly over at
any moment, and it was important that I should be undisturbed,--to say
nothing of my dinner. I remembered the saying of Poor Richard,--“Love
your neighbor, but don’t pull down your hedge;” and at last, seeing
that something must be done, I rose, moved a few rods, and then,
dropping suddenly upon the grass, said, “Good-by.” The boys took the
hint, and ten minutes later I saw them beside the brook, trying their
luck with the fish. The quality of selfishness had proved itself
twice blest, as happens oftener than we think, it may be, in this
“unintelligible world.”

This part of the story need not be prolonged. The reader has already
foreseen that my luncheon was finished without interruption. No
raven’s wing darkened the air. I lingered till the case began to seem
hopeless. Then I loitered as slowly as possible up the valley, and
at last took the ascending road through the mountain woods toward
the log schoolhouse. By this time there were signs of rain, but with
a three-hour jaunt before me it was useless to hurry. So at the
schoolhouse corner I rested again,--partly to enjoy the sight of Rabun
Bald, a noble Georgia peak, which showed grandly from this point,--and
then, all at once, thinking of nothing but the landscape, I heard a
far-away cry, hoarse, loud, utterly strange, utterly unlike a crow’s,
and yet unmistakably coracious! That surely was a raven’s voice. It
could be nothing else. If I were out of the woods, where I could look
about me! The bird, whatever it was, was evidently on the wing; the
sound was now here, now there; but alas, it was receding. Fainter and
fainter it became at each repetition, and then all was silent, till a
heavy clap of thunder and a sudden blackness recalled me to myself,
and I resumed the march homeward. Soon it rained. Then came a general
pother of the elements,--wind, hail, lightning and thunder. Not far
beyond me, as I now called to mind, there was a house, the only one
I had seen on the mountain. I hastened forward, therefore, and took
shelter on the piazza. A dog was cowering inside, too badly frightened
to resent my intrusion or to bid me welcome. And there we stayed till
the clouds broke. Then, refreshing myself with big hailstones, which
lay white in the grass, I took the road again for the long diagonal
descent to the valley.

I was well fagged by the time I reached Highlands; but I had been to
Turtlepond, and in my memory were some confused recollections of a
few distant notes, probably a bird’s, and possibly a raven’s. To that
complexion had the matter already come. It is marvelous how quickly
certainty loses its color when once the breath of doubt touches it.

Two days afterward, finding myself not yet acclimated, I joined a
company who were making a day’s wagon-trip to Whiteside, the highest
peak in the immediate vicinity of Highlands; a real mountain, said to
be five thousand feet in height, but looking considerably lower to my
eye, its surroundings being all so elevated, and the southern latitude,
as I suppose, giving to it a more richly wooded, and consequently less
rugged and alpine appearance than belongs to New England mountains
of a corresponding rank. On the southerly side it breaks off into a
huge perpendicular light-colored cliff, said to be eighteen hundred
feet in depth, from which it derives its name and much of its local
distinction. Above this cliff rises its knob of a summit, with the
sight of which I had grown familiar as one of the principal points in
the landscape from the hotel veranda.

The wagon carried us by a roundabout course to the base of this rocky
knob, and there the majority of the party remained, while two ladies
and myself clambered up a steep pitch to the summit, to take the
prospect and to feel that we had been there,--and perhaps to see a
raven; for Whiteside had from the beginning been held up to me as one
of that bird’s particular resorts. “Wait till you go to Whiteside,” I
had been told again and again.

What had looked like a pyramidal rock turned out to be the end of a
long ridge, over which we marched in Indian file for a mile or more,
picking flowers (the nodding _Trillium stylosum_, especially, of
which each new specimen seemed pinker and prettier than the last) and
admiring the landscape,--a boundless woodland panorama, with clearings
and houses in Whiteside valley, and innumerable hazy mountains rising
one beyond another in every direction. The world of new leafage
below us, now darkened by cloud shadows, now shining in the sun, was
beautiful far beyond any skill of mine to picture it.

We were still walking and quietly enjoying--my fellow tourists being,
fortunately, of the non-exclamatory type--when the silence was broken
by loud screams. “Ravens!” I thought,--for when the mind is full it is
liable to spill over at any sudden jar,--and, dropping my umbrella,
I sprang to the edge of the cliff. The bird was only a hawk, soaring
and screaming, too far away to be made out; a duck-hawk, perhaps, but
certainly not a raven. “How you frightened me!” said one of the ladies.
“I thought you were going to throw yourself over the precipice.” My
hobby-horse amused her,--as it did me also,--but she was herself
too sound an enthusiast to be really unsympathetic. A New Jersey
grandmother, she made nothing of a thirteen-mile tramp, a thorough
drenching, and a pedestrian’s blister, when rare flowers were in
question, and the next morning would be off again before breakfast,
scouring the country for new trophies. Like Mme. Trépof, she would
have gone to Sweden in search of a match-box, had the notion taken
her. As for ravens, she had already seen one, only a few days before
my arrival. It flew directly over the hotel, and she recognized it at
once, not as a raven, to be sure, but as “the blackest crow she had
ever seen.” A man who happened to be doing some carpenter’s work about
the house heard her exclamation, and told her what it was, and by good
luck he was to-day our driver. It was wonderful how much encouragement
I received in my amusing pursuit. If only there were fewer stories and
more ravens! I was ready to say.

Yet if I said so, it was only in a fit of impatience. In point of
fact, I received with thankfulness every such bit of evidence that Dr.
----’s gloomy prognostications were ill founded. On the very morning
after this expedition to Whiteside, for example, I was on my way to the
summit of Satulah,--an easy jaunt, and a capital observatory,--when
I met a young man carrying a gun, and proposed to him the inevitable
inquiry. Oh yes, he saw ravens pretty often; he had seen some within a
month, he thought. They never flew over without calling out; which, as
I interpreted it, might mean only that when they kept silence he failed
to notice them. Here was more proof of the birds’ presence; but the
words “within a month” kept down any tendency to undue exhilaration.

That noon, at the hotel, I had an interesting ornithological conference
with two residents of the town, both of them already well informed as
to the nature of my crotchet. For a beginning, one of them told me that
he had seen a raven that very forenoon,--and as usual it was “flying
over.” Then the talk somehow turned upon the whippoorwill, of which
I had thus far found no trace hereabout, and they agreed that it was
not uncommon at certain seasons. It was often called the bullbat, they
added. They had seen it, both of them, I think, flying far up in the
air in broad daylight, and crying _whippoorwill_! “Good!” said I. “I
would rather have seen that than all the ravens in North Carolina.”
Here was a really novel addition to the familiar legend about the
identity of the whippoorwill and the night-hawk,--a legend whose
distribution is perhaps almost as wide as that of the birds themselves.

But wonders were not to stop here. One of the men, the one who had that
forenoon seen a raven, proceeded to inform me that catbirds passed the
winter in the mud, in a state of hibernation. William ---- had dug them
up, and they had come to and flown away. He himself had never seen
this, but he knew, as everybody else did, that catbirds disappeared
in the autumn, there was no telling how or when, and reappeared in
the spring in a manner equally mysterious. I hinted some incredulity,
to his great surprise, intimating for one thing that it was well
known that catbirds migrated farther south; whereupon he appealed to
his companion. “Wouldn’t you believe it, if William ---- told you he
had seen it?” he asked; and there was a shout of laughter from the
bystanders when the second man, after a minute’s reflection, answered
bluntly, “No.”

It would be too long a story to set down all the answers I received
from the many persons whom I questioned here and there in my daily
peregrinations. One man was sorry he had not heard of me sooner. A cow
had been killed by lightning somewhere on the mountains, a week or two
before. That would have been my opportunity. Ravens are sure to be on
hand at such a time. But it was too late now, as they never touch flesh
after it has begun to spoil. Another man, a German, living some miles
out of the village, said, “Well, in my country we call them ravens, but
here they call them crows.” They were a nuisance; he had to kill them.
He knew smaller black birds, in flocks, but no larger ones. He and the
apothecary--who now and then laughed good-humoredly at my continued
failure, as I stopped to pass the time of day with him, or to ask him
about the way to some waterfall--were, as well as I remember, the only
witnesses for the negative; so that the question was no longer as to
the presence of the birds, but as to the degree of their commonness
and the probability of my seeing them. It would be too much to say
that the whole town was excited over the matter, but at least my few
fellow boarders at the hotel either felt or simulated a pretty constant
interest. “Well,” one or another of them would say, as I dragged my
weary steps up the hill to the door, at the end of a day’s outing,
“well, have you seen any ravĕns yet?”

One day there appeared at the dinner-table a bright, rosy-faced,
clear-eyed, wholesome-looking boy of nine or ten years, and the
gentleman who had brought him in as his guest presently introduced him
to me, with the remark that perhaps “Bob” could give me information
upon my favorite topic. Bob smiled bashfully, and I began my
examination. Yes, he said, he had seen ravens. How often, should he
say? Why, almost every day. When did he see them last? Yesterday. How
many were there? One. It was flying over. Did it call? Yes, they always
did. How much bigger than a crow was it? Not much, but the voice was
very different. This last was a model answer,--not at all the answer of
a dishonest witness, or of an honest witness ambitious to make out a
story. It was impossible to doubt him (his father and his older brother
confirmed his testimony afterward), and yet I had been out of doors
almost constantly for more than two weeks, and so far had not obtained
the first glimpse of a large, wide-ranging, high-flying bird which
this boy--who lived a few miles out of the village, it is true--saw
nearly every day. Verily, as the unsuccessful man’s text has it (and
a comfortable text it is), “the race is not to the swift, ... nor yet
favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

I speak unadvisedly. I _had_ seen ravens; I had seen them here at
Highlands. But it was in a dream of the night. There were two, and
they were “flying over,”--yes, and calling as they flew. One of them
was partly white, an albinistic peculiarity at which I do not remember
to have felt the least surprise. But indeed, if I may trust my own
experience, nothing surprises us in dreamland. There, as in fairyland,
everything is natural. Perhaps the same will be true in a world after

Meantime, if my eyes were holden from some things, I saw many others as
I traveled hither and thither, now to a mountain top, now down one of
the roads into the warm lower country, now to some far-away woodland
waterfall. The days were all too short and all too few. Like a sensible
man, to whom years had brought the philosophic mind, I had more than
one string to my bow, and toward the end of my three weeks the very
thought of ravens had mostly ceased to trouble me. Then, on my last day
in the village, I met a barefooted boy near the hotel. “Howdy?” said
I. “Howdy?” he answered; and then he asked, “Did you git to see your
ravĕns?” Who is this, I thought, and how does he know me? For I am not
used to being famous. But I answered No, I had seen no ravens. How did
he know I wanted to see any? “I saw you at Turtlepond,” he said. He
was out there with his cousin, Cling Cabe. With that it all came back
to me. He was one of the boys who had paid me such flattering noonday
attentions, and of whom I had taken so shabby a leave. I was glad to
see him again. But he was not yet done with his story. Probably he
had carried the burden of it for the last fortnight. “Two ravens flew
over just after you left,” he said. Was he sure they were ravens? Yes,
his uncle Zeb[5] saw them, and said they were. Well, it was plainer
and plainer that I had mistaken my game. I must leave it for younger
eyes to see ravens,--in the flesh, at least. “Your old men shall dream
dreams,” said the prophet.

It was May 27 when, after an early breakfast, I left Highlands in a big
mountain wagon, bound for Boston by the way of Dillsboro and Asheville.
I had come into the mountains from the south, and was going out in a
northerly direction. The road was not highly recommended; it would be
a rough, all-day drive, but it would take me through a new piece of
country; and as for the jolting, I fancied that by this time I had
become hardened to all that the steepest and stoniest of roads could
inflict upon a passenger. On that point, I may as well confess, though
it does not concern the present story, I was insufficiently informed.

It had been agreed that I should take my own time, making the trip
as natural-historical as I pleased. “It fares better with sentiments
not to be in a hurry with them,” says Sterne, and the same is true of
sciences and other pleasures. Again and again I ordered the horses
stopped as we came to some likely piece of cover, but little or nothing
resulted. There were singers in plenty, but no new voices. After
all, I said to myself, one does not study ornithology to any great
advantage from a wagon-seat. Yet I remember one lesson--an old one
rehearsed--that the morning brought me.

Soon after getting out of the village we passed Stewart’s Pond. This
had been one of my most frequent resorts. A considerable part of
several half-days had been idled away beside it, and more than once I
had commented upon the singular fact that its shores, birdy as they
were, harbored no water thrushes, while in several similar places I
had heard them singing for more than a fortnight. There was something
really mysterious about it, I was inclined to think. The place seemed
made for them, unless, perhaps, the damming of the stream had rendered
the current too sluggish to suit their taste. Now, however, as we
drove past, and just as I was bidding the place good-by, a water thrush
struck up his simple, lazily emphatic tune. “Here I am, stranger,” he
might have been saying. Had he been there all the time? I did not know.
One’s investigations are never complete, even in the most limited area.

We had not gone many miles farther before we took what was for me a
new road, which turned out presently to be like all the others: a road
running mostly through the forest, uphill and downhill by turns, with
here and there, at long distances, a solitary cabin, unpainted, perhaps
unwindowed, yet pretty certainly with a patch of sweet-william and
other old-fashioned flowers in the “front yard.” The rudest one of all,
in the very lonesomest of clearings, had before the door a magnificent
eglantine bush that would have made the fortune of any Northern
gardener. The mountain side might be all aflame with azalea and laurel,
but the woman’s heart must have a bit of garden, something planted and
tended, to make the cabin more like a home.

For some hours we had been traveling thus, and were now come to an
open place in the town of Hamburg, so the driver told me. Here, all
at once, I nudged him with a quick command to stop. “There it is!” I
cried, as I whipped out my opera-glass. “There’s a raven!” “Yes,” said
the driver, “that’s the bird.” He was flying from us in a diagonal
course, making toward a hill or mountain,--at a comfortable distance,
in the best of lights, and most admirably disposed to show us his
dimensions; but he was silent and in tremendous haste.

 “Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he.”

If you would only _say_ something! I thought. But he did not “call
out,” perhaps because he was not “flying over.” I held the glass on him
till he passed out of sight,--a really good look, as time counts under
such circumstances. Yes, at the last moment I had seen a raven! Would
the driver, when he got back to Highlands to-morrow evening, have the
goodness so to inform Dr. ---- for his comfort?

Another thing I had accomplished: I had supplied three male Hamburgers
with abundant material for a week’s gossip; for even in my excitement
I had been aware that we had halted almost directly in front of a
house,--the only one for some miles, I think,--in the yard of which
three men were lounging. I looked at the bird, and the men looked at
me. It gave me pleasure afterward to think what a story it must have
made. “Yes, sir, it’s gospel truth: he pulled out a spy-glass and sat
there looking at a raven. I reckon he never see one before.”

I speak of excitement, but it was a wonder to me how temperate my
emotions were, and how quickly they subsided. Within a half-mile our
progress was blocked by a large oak-tree, which the wind had twisted
partly off and thrown squarely across the road. The driver had brought
no axe along, and was obliged to go back to the house for help,
leaving me to care for the team. Straight before me loomed the Balsam
Mountains, a dozen peaks, gloriously high and mountainous; not too far
away, yet far enough to be blue, with white clouds veiling their lower
slopes and so lifting the tops skyward. I looked at them and looked at
them, and between the looks I put the raven into my notebook.

For the day it kept its place unquestioned. Then, long before I reached
Massachusetts, I punctuated the entry with a question mark. The bird
had been silent; its apparent size might have been an illusion; and my
assurance of the moment, absolute though it was, would not bear the
test of time and cold blood.

Here ended my raven-hunt. I had enjoyed it, and would gladly have
made it longer,--in that respect it had been successful; but the
“collection” I was to have made, my little store of “first-hand
knowledge,” had fared but poorly. As far as ravens were concerned, I
was bringing home a lean bag,--a brace of interrogation points.


Stewart’s Pond, on the Hamburg road a mile or so from the village of
Highlands, served me, a visiting bird-gazer, more than one good turn:
selfishly considered, it was something to be thankful for; but I never
passed it, for all that, without feeling that it was a defacement of
the landscape. The Cullasajah River is here only four or five miles
from its source, near the summit of Whiteside Mountain; and already a
land-owner, taking advantage of a level space and what passes among
men as a legal title, has dammed it (the reader may spell the word as
he chooses--“dammed” or “damned,” it is all one to a mountain stream)
for uses of his own. The water backs up between a wooded hill on one
side and a rounded grassy knoll on the other, narrows where the road
crosses it by a rude bridge, and immediately broadens again, as best it
can, against the base of a steeper, forest-covered hill just beyond.
The shapelessness of the pond and its romantic surroundings will in
the course of years give it beauty, but for the present everything
is unpleasantly new. The tall old trees and the ancient rhododendron
bushes, which have been drowned by the brook they meant only to drink
from, are too recently dead. Nature must have time to trim the ragged
edges of man’s work and fit it into her own plan. And she will do it,
though it may take her longer than to absorb the man himself.

When I came in sight of the pond for the first time, in the midst of
my second day’s explorations, my first thought, it must be confessed,
was not of its beauty or want of beauty, but of sandpipers, and in a
minute more I was leaning over the fence to sweep the water-line with
my opera-glass. Yes, there they were, five or six in number, one here,
another there; solitary sandpipers, so called with only a moderate
degree of appropriateness, breaking their long northward journey beside
this mountain lake, which might have been made for their express
convenience. I was glad to see them. Without being rare, they make
themselves uncommon enough to be always interesting; and they have,
besides, one really famous trait,--the extraordinary secrecy of their
breeding operations. Well known as they are, and wide as is their
distribution, their eggs, so far as I am aware, are still unrepresented
in scientific collections except by a single specimen found almost
twenty years ago in Vermont; a “record,” as we say in these days, of
which _Totanus solitarius_ may rightfully be proud.

About another part of the pond, on this same afternoon (May 8), were
two sandpipers of a more ordinary sort: spotted sandpipers, familiar
objects, we may fairly say, the whole country over. Few American
schoolboys but have laughed at their absurd teetering motions. In
this respect the solitary sandpiper is better behaved. It does not
teeter--it _bobs_; standing still, as if in deep thought, and then
dipping forward quickly (a fanciful observer might take the movement
for an affirmative gesticulation, an involuntary “Yes, yes, now I
have it!”) and instantly recovering itself, exactly in the manner of
a plover. This is partly what Mr. Chapman means, I suppose, when he
speaks of the solitary sandpiper’s superior quietness and dignity;
two fine attributes, which may have much to do with their possessor’s
almost unparalleled success in eluding the researches of oölogical
collectors. Nervousness and loquacity are poor hands at preserving a

Although my first brief visit to Stewart’s Pond made three additions
to my local bird list (the third being a pair of brown creepers), I
did not go that way again for almost a fortnight. Then (May 21) my
feet were barely on the bridge before a barn swallow skimmed past
me. Swallows of any kind in the mountains of North Carolina are like
hen-hawks in Massachusetts,--rare enough to be worth following out of
sight. As for barn swallows, I had not expected to see them here at
all. I kept my eye upon this fellow, therefore, with the more jealousy,
and happily for me he seemed to have found the spot very much to
his mind. If he was a straggler, as I judged likely in spite of the
lateness of the season, he was perhaps all the readier to stay for an
hour or two on so favorable a hunting-ground. With him were half a
dozen rough-wings,--probably not stragglers,--hawking over the water;
feeding, bathing, and now and then, by way of variety, engaging in some
pretty spirited lovers’ quarrels. In one such encounter, I remember,
one of the contestants received so heavy a blow that she quite lost her
balance (the sex was matter of guesswork) and dropped plump into the
water; and more than once the fun was interrupted by an irate phœbe,
who dashed out upon the makers of it with an ugly snap of his beak, as
much as to say, “Come, now, this is my bridge.” Mr. Stewart himself
could hardly have held stricter notions about the rights of property.
The rough-wings frequently perched in the dead trees, and once, at
least, the barn swallow did likewise; something which I never saw a
bird of his kind do before, to the best of my recollection. For to-day
he was in Rome, and had fallen in with the Roman customs.

As I have said already, his presence was unexpected. His name is not
included in Mr. Brewster’s North Carolina list, and I saw no other bird
like him till I was approaching Asheville, a week later, in a railway
train. Then I was struck almost at the same moment by two things--a
brick chimney and a barn swallow. My start at the sight of red bricks
made me freshly aware with what quickness the mind puts away the past
and accustoms itself to new and strange surroundings. Man is the
slave of habit, we say; but how many of us, even in middle age, have
altered our modes of living, our controlling opinions, or our daily
occupations, and in the shortest while have forgotten the old order
of things, till it has become all like a dream,--a story heard long
ago and now dimly remembered. Was it indeed we who lived there, and
believed thus, and spent our days so? This capacity for change augurs
well for the future of the race, and not less for the future of the
individual, whether in this world or in another.

In a previous chapter I have mentioned as provocative of astonishment
the ignorance of a North Carolina man, my driver from Walhalla, who
had no idea of what I meant by “swallows.” His case turned out to
be less singular than I thought, however, for when I spoke of it to
an exceptionally bright, well-informed farmer in the vicinity of
Highlands, he answered that he saw nothing surprising about it; _he_
didn’t know what swallows were, neither. Martins he knew,--purple
martins,--though there were none hereabout, so far as I could discover,
but “swallow,” as a bird’s name, was a novelty he had never heard of.
Here on Stewart’s bridge I might have tested the condition of another
resident’s mind upon the same point, but unfortunately the experiment
did not occur to me. He came along on horseback, and I called his
attention to the swallows shooting to and fro over the water, a pretty
spectacle anywhere, but doubly so in this swallow-poor country. He
manifested no very lively interest in the subject; but he made me a
civil answer,--which is perhaps more than a hobby-horsical catechist,
who travels up and down the world cross-examining his busy fellow
mortals, has any good reason for counting upon in such a case. With
so many things to be seen and done in this short life, it is obvious
that all men’s tastes cannot run to ornithology. “Yes,” the stranger
said, glancing at the swallows, “I expect they have their nests under
the bridge.” A civil answer I called it, but it was better than that;
indicating, as it did, some acquaintance with the rough-wing’s habits,
or a shrewd knack at guessing. But the man knew nothing about a bird
that nested in barns.

A short distance beyond the bridge, in a clearing over which lay
scattered the remains of a house that had formerly stood in it (for
even this new country is not destitute of ruins), a pair of snowbirds
were chipping nervously, and near the same spot my ear caught the
lisping call of my first North Carolina brown creeper. No doubt it was
breeding somewhere close by, and my imagination at once fastened upon
a loose clump of water-killed trees, from the trunks of which the dry
bark was peeling in big sun-warped flakes, as the site of its probable
habitation. This was on my first jaunt over the road, and during the
busy days that followed I planned more than once to spend an hour here
in spying upon the birds. A brown creeper’s nest would be something new
for me. Now, therefore, on this bright morning, when I was done with
the swallows, I walked on to the right point and waited. A long time
passed, or what seemed a long time. With so many invitations pressing
upon one from all sides in a vacation country, it is hard sometimes to
be leisurely enough for the best naturalistic results. Then, suddenly,
I heard the expected _tseep_, and soon the bird made its appearance.
Sure enough, it flew against one of the very trees that my imagination
had settled upon, ducked under a strip of dead bark, between it and
the bole, remained within for half a minute, and came out again. By
this time the second bird had appeared, and was waiting its turn for
admission. They were feeding their young; and so long as I remained
they continued their work, going and coming at longer or shorter
intervals. I made no attempt to inspect their operations more nearly;
the tree stood in rather deep water, and the nest was situated at an
altitude of perhaps twenty feet; but I was glad to see for myself, even
at arm’s length, as it were, this curious and highly characteristic
abode of a bird which in general I meet with only in its idle season. I
was surprised to notice that the pair had chosen a strip of bark which
was fastened to the trunk at the upper end and hung loose below. The
nest was the better protected from the weather, of course, but it must
have been wedged pretty tightly into place, it seemed to me, unless it
had some means of support not to be guessed at from the ground. The
owners entered invariably at the same point,--in the upper corner. The
brown creeper has been flattening itself against the bark of trees
for so many thousand years that a very narrow slit suffices it for a

While I was occupied with this interesting bit of household economy, I
heard a clatter of wheels mingled with youthful shouts. Two boys were
coming round a bend in the road and bearing down upon me, seated upon
an axle-tree between a pair of wheels drawn by a single steer, which
was headed for the town at a lively trot, urged on by the cries of the
boys, one of whom held the single driving-rope and the other a whip.
“How fast can he go?” I asked, as they drew near. I hoped to detain
them for a few minutes of talk, but they had no notion of stopping.
They had never timed him, the older one--not the driver--answered,
with the merriest of grins. I expressed wonder that they could manage
him with a single rein. “Oh, I can drive him without any line at all.”
“But how do you steer him?” said I. “I yank him and I pull him,” was
the laconic reply, which by this time had to be shouted over the boy’s
shoulder; and away the crazy trap went, the wobbling wheels describing
all manner of eccentric and nameless curves with every revolution; and
the next minute I heard it rattling over the bridge. Undoubtedly the
young fellows thought me a green one, not to know that a yank and a
steady pull are equivalent to a gee and a haw. “Live and learn,” said I
to myself. It was a jolly mode of traveling, at all events, as good as
a circus, both for the boys and for me.

On my way through the village, at noon, I passed the steer turned out
to grass by the roadside, and had a better look at the harness, a
simple, home-made affair, including a pair of hames. The driving-rope,
which in its original estate might have been part of a clothes-line
or a bed-cord, was attached to a chain which went round or over the
creature’s head at the base of the horns. The lads themselves were
farther down the street, and the younger one nudged the other’s elbow
with a nod in my direction as I passed on the opposite sidewalk. They
seemed to have sobered down at a wonderful rate since their arrival in
the “city.” I should hardly have known them for the same boys; but no
doubt they would wake the echoes again on the road homeward. I hoped
so, surely, for I liked them best as I saw them first.

As far as the pleasure of life goes, boys brought up in this primitive
mountain country have little to complain of. They may lack certain
advantages; in this imperfect world, where two bodies cannot occupy
the same space at once, the presence of some things necessitates the
absence of others; but most certainly they have their full quota of
what in youthful phrase are known as “good times.” The very prettiest
sight that I saw in North Carolina, not excepting any landscape or
flower,--and I saw floral displays of a splendor to bankrupt all
description,--was a boy whom I met one Sunday morning in a steep,
disused road outside of the town. I was descending the hill, picking
my steps, and he was coming up. Eleven or twelve years old he might
have been, cleanly dressed, fit for any company, but bare-legged to
the knee. I wished him good-morning, and he responded with the easiest
grace imaginable. “You are going to church?” said I. “Yes, sir,” and on
he went up the hill, “progressing by his own brave steps;” a boy, as
Thoreau says, who was “never drawn in a willow wagon;” straight as an
arrow, and with motions so elastic, so full of the very spirit of youth
and health, that I stood still and gazed after him for pure delight.
His face, his speech, his manner, his carriage, all were in keeping. If
he does not make a good and happy man, it will be an awful tragedy.

This boy was not a “cracker’s” child, I think. Probably he belonged
to one of the Northern families, that make up the village for the
most part, and have settled the country sparsely for a few miles
round about. The lot of the native mountaineers is hard and pinched,
and although flocks of children were playing happily enough about
the cabin doors, it was impossible not to look upon them as born to
a narrow and cheerless existence. Possibly the fault was partly in
myself, since I have no very easy gift with strangers, but I found
them, young and old alike, rather uncommunicative.

I recall a family group that I overtook toward the end of an afternoon;
a father and mother, both surprisingly young-looking, hardly out of
their teens, it seemed to me, with a boy of perhaps six years. They
were resting by the roadside as I came up, the father poring over
some written document. “You must have been to the city,” said I; but
all the man could answer was “Howdy.” The woman smiled and murmured
something, it was impossible to tell what. They started on again at
that moment, the grown people each with a heavy bag, which looked as
if it might contain meal or flour, and the little fellow with a big
bundle. They had four miles still to go, they said; and the road, as I
could see for myself, was of the very worst, steep and rugged to the
last degree. Partly to see if I could conquer the man, and partly to
please myself, I beckoned the youngster to my side and put a coin into
his hand. The shot took effect at once. Father and mother found their
voices, and said in the same breath, “Say thank you!” How natural that
sounded! It is part of the universal language. Every parent will have
his child polite. But the boy, poor thing, was utterly tongue-tied, and
could only smile; which, after all, was about the best thing he could
have done. The father, too, was still inclined to silence, finding
nothing in particular to say, though I did my best to encourage him;
but he took pains to keep along with me, halting whenever I did so,
and making it manifest that he meant to be with me at the turn in the
road, about which I had inquired (needlessly, there is no harm in my
now confessing), so that I should by no possibility go astray. Nothing
could have been more friendly, and at the corner both he and his wife
bade me good-by with simple heartiness. “Good-by, little boy,” said
I. “Tell him good-by,” called both father and mother; but the boy
couldn’t, and there was an end of it. “He’s just as I was at his age;
bashful, that’s all.” This little speech set matters right. The parents
smiled, the boy did likewise, and we went our different ways, I still
pitying the woman, with that heavy bag under her arm, having to make a
packhorse of herself on that tiresome mountain road.

However, it is the mountain woman’s way to do her full share of the
hard work, as I was soon to see farther exemplified; for within half a
mile I heard in front of me the grating of a saw, and presently came
upon another family group, in the woods on the mountain side,--a woman,
three children, and a dog. The woman, no longer young, as we say in
the language of compliment, was at one end of a cross-cut saw, and
the largest boy, ten or eleven years old, was at the other. They were
getting to pieces a huge fallen trunk. “Wood ought to be cheap in this
country,” said I; and the woman, as she and the boy changed hands to
rest themselves, answered that it was. In my heart I thought she was
paying dearly for it; but her voice was cheerful, and the whole company
was almost a merry one, the younger children laughing at their play,
and the dog capering about them in high spirits. The mountain family
may be poor, but not with the degrading, squalid poverty of dwellers
in a city slum; and at the very worst the children have a royal

Mountain boys, certainly, I could never much pity; for the girls it
was impossible not to wish easier and more generous conditions. Here
at Stewart’s Pond I detained two of them for a minute’s talk: sisters,
I judged, the taller one ten years old, or thereabout. I asked them if
there were many fish in the pond. The older one thought there were. “I
know my daddy ketched five hundred and put in there for Mr. Stewart,”
she said. Just then the younger girl pulled her sister’s sleeve and
pointed toward two snakes which lay sunning themselves on the edge
of the water, where a much larger one had shortly before slipped off
a log into the pond at my approach. “They do no harm?” said I. “No,
sir, I don’t guess they do,” was the answer; a strange-sounding form
of speech, though it is exactly like the “I don’t think so” of which
we all continue to make hourly use, no matter how often some crotchety
amateur grammarian--for whom logic is logic, and who hates idiom as
a mad dog hates water--may write to the newspapers warning us of its
impropriety. Then the girls, barefooted, both of them, turned into a
bushy trail so narrow that it had escaped my notice, and disappeared
in the woods. I thought of the villainous-looking rattlesnake that I
had seen the day before, freshly killed and tossed upon the side of
the road, within a hundred rods of this point, and of the surprise
expressed by a resident of the town at my wandering about the country
without leggins.

As to the question of snakes and the danger from them, the people here,
as is true everywhere in a rattlesnake country, held widely different
opinions. Everybody recognized the presence of the pest, and most
persons, whatever their own practice might be, advised a measure of
caution on the part of strangers. One thing was agreed to on all hands:
whoever saw a “rattler” was in duty bound to make an end of it; and one
man told me a little story by way of illustrating the spirit of the
community upon this point. A woman (not a mountain woman) was riding
into town, when her horse suddenly stopped and shied. In the road,
directly before her, a snake was coiled, rattling defiance. The woman
dismounted, hitched the frightened horse to a sapling, cut a switch,
killed the snake, threw it out of the road, remounted, and went on
about her business. It is one advantage of life in wild surroundings
that it encourages self-reliance.

In all places, nevertheless, and under all conditions, human nature
remains a paradoxical compound. A mountain woman, while ploughing, came
into close quarters with a rattlesnake. To save herself she sprang
backward, fell against a stone, and in the fall broke her wrist. No
doctor being within call, she set the bone herself, made and adjusted a
rude splint, and now, as the lady who told me the story expressed it,
“has a pretty good arm.” That was plucky. But the same woman suffered
from an aching tooth some time afterward, and was advised to have it
extracted. She would do no such thing. She couldn’t. She had a tooth
pulled once, and it hurt her so that she would never do it again.

Anthropology and ornithology were very agreeably mingled for me on
the Hamburg road,--though it seems impossible for me to stay there,
the reader may say,--where passers-by were frequent enough to keep
me from feeling lonesome, and yet not so numerous as to disturb the
quiet of the place or interfere unduly with my natural historical
researches. The human interview to which I look back with most pleasure
was with a pair of elderly people who appeared one morning in an open
buggy. They were driving from the town, seated side by side in the
shadow of a big umbrella, and as they overtook me, on the bridge, the
man said “Good-morning,” of course, and then, to my surprise, pulled
up his horse and inquired particularly after my health. He hoped I
was recovering from my indisposition, though I am not sure that he
used that rather superfine word. I gave him a favorable account of
myself,--wondering all the while how he knew I had been ill,--whereupon
he expressed the greatest satisfaction, and his good wife smiled in
sympathy. Then, after a word or two about the beauty of the morning,
and while I was still trying to guess who the couple could be, the
man gathered up the reins with the remark, “I’m going after some
_Ilex monticola_ for Charley.” “Yes, I know where it is,” he added,
in response to a question. Then I knew him. I had been at his house
a few evenings before to see his son, who had come home from Biltmore
to collect certain rare local plants--the mountain holly being one of
them--for the Vanderbilt herbarium. The mystery was cleared, but it may
be imagined how taken aback I was when this venerable rustic stranger
threw a Latin name at me.

In truth, however, botany and Latin names might almost be said to be
in the air at Highlands. A villager met me in the street, one day, and
almost before I knew it, we were discussing the specific identity of
the small yellow lady’s-slippers,--whether there were two species, or,
as my new acquaintance believed, only one, in the woods round about. At
another time, having called at a very pretty unpainted cottage,--all
the prettier for the natural color of the weathered shingles,--I
remarked to the lady of the house upon the beauty of _Azalea Vaseyi_,
which I had noticed in several dooryards, and which was said to have
been transplanted from the woods. I did not understand why it was, I
told her, but I couldn’t find it described in my Chapman’s Flora. “Oh,
it is there, I am sure it is,” she answered; and going into the next
room she brought out a copy of the manual, turned to the page, and
showed me the name. It was in the supplement, where in my haste I had
overlooked it. I wondered how often, in a New England country village,
a stranger could happen into a house, painted or unpainted, and by any
chance find the mistress of it prepared to set him right on a question
of local botany.

On a later occasion--for thus encouraged I called more than once
afterward at the same house--the lady handed me an orchid. I might be
interested in it; it was not very common, she believed. I looked at
it, thinking at first that I had never seen it before. Then I seemed
to remember something. “Is it _Pogonia verticillata_?” I asked. She
smiled, and said it was; and when I told her that to the best of my
recollection I had never seen more than one specimen before, and that
upwards of twenty years ago (a specimen from Blue Hill, Massachusetts),
she insisted upon believing that I must have an extraordinary botanical
memory, though of course she did not put the compliment thus baldly,
but dressed it in some graceful, unanswerable, feminine phrase which I,
for all my imaginary mnemonic powers, have long ago forgotten.

The same lady had the rare _Shortia galacifolia_
growing--transplanted--in her grounds, and her husband volunteered to
show me one of the few places in the neighborhood of Highlands (this,
too, on his own land) where the true lily-of-the-valley--identical with
the European plant of our gardens--grows wild. It was something I had
greatly desired to see, and was now in bloom. Still another man--but
he was only a summer cottager--took me to look at a specimen of the
Carolina hemlock (_Tsuga Caroliniana_), a tree of the very existence of
which I had before been ignorant. The truth is that the region is most
exceptionally rich in its flora, and the people, to their honor be it
recorded, are equally exceptional in that they appreciate the fact.

A small magnolia-tree (_M. Fraseri_), in bloom everywhere along the
brooksides, did not attract me to any special degree till one day, in
an idle hour at Stewart’s Pond, I plucked a half-open bud. I thought
I had never known so rare a fragrance; delicate and wholesome beyond
comparison, and yet most deliciously rich and fruity, a perfume for
the gods. The leaf, too, now that I came really to look at it, was
of an elegant shape and texture, untoothed, but with a beautiful
“auriculated” base, as Latin-loving botanists say, from which the plant
derives its vernacular name,--the ear-leaved umbrella-tree. The waxy
blossoms seemed to be quite scentless, but I wished that Thoreau, whose
nose was as good as his eyes and his ears, could have smelled of the

The best thing that I found at the pond, however, by long odds the
most interesting and unexpected thing that I found anywhere in North
Carolina (I speak as a hobbyist), was neither a tree nor a human being,
but a bird. I had been loitering along the river-bank just above the
pond itself, admiring the magnolias, the silver-bell trees, the lofty
hemlocks,--out of the depths of which a “mountain boomer,” known to
simple Northern folk as a red squirrel, now and then emitted his
saucy chatter,--and the Indian’s paint-brush (scarlet painted-cup),
the brightest and among the most characteristic and memorable of the
woodland flowers; listening to the shouts of an olive-sided flycatcher
and the music of the frogs, one of them a regular Karl Formes for
profundity; and in general waiting to see what would happen. Nothing
of special importance seemed likely to reward my diligent idleness,
and I turned back toward the town. On the way I halted at the bridge,
as I always did, and presently a carriage drove over it. Inside sat a
woman under an enormous black sunbonnet. She did me, without knowing
it, a kindness, and I should be glad to thank her. As the wheels of the
carriage struck the plank bridge, a bird started into sight from under
it or close beside it. A sandpiper, I thought; but the next moment it
dropped into the water and began swimming. Then I knew it for a bird I
had never seen before, and, better still, a bird belonging to a family
of which I had never seen any representative, a bird which had never
for an instant entered into my North Carolina calculations. It was a
phalarope, a wanderer from afar, blown out of its course, perhaps, and
lying by for a day in this little mountain pond, almost four thousand
feet above sea level.

My first concern, as I recovered myself, was to set down in black and
white a complete account of the stranger’s plumage; for though I knew
it for a phalarope, I must wait to consult a book before naming it
more specifically. It would have contributed unspeakably to my peace
of mind, just then, had I been better informed about the distinctive
peculiarities of the three species which compose the phalarope family;
as I certainly would have been, had I received any premonition of what
was in store for me. As it was, I must make sure of every possible
detail, lest in my ignorance I should overlook some apparently trivial
item that might prove, too late, to be all important. So I fell to
work, noting the white lower cheek (or should I call it the side of
the upper neck?), the black stripe through and behind the eye, the
white line just over the eye, the light-colored crown, the rich reddish
brown of the nape and the sides of the neck, the white or gray-white
under parts, the plain (unbarred) wings, and so on. The particulars
need not be rehearsed here. I was possessed by a recollection, or half
recollection, that the marginal membrane of the toes was a prime mark
of distinction (as indeed it is, though the only manual I had brought
with me turned out not to mention the point); but while for much of the
time the bird’s feet were visible, it never for so much as a second
held them still, and as the water was none too clear and the bottom
muddy, it was impossible for me to see how the toes were webbed, or
even to be certain that they were webbed at all. Once, as the bird
was close to the shore, and almost at my feet, I crouched upon a log,
thinking to pick the creature up and examine it; but it moved quietly
away for a yard or so, just out of reach, and though I could probably
have killed it with a stick,--as a friend of mine killed one some years
ago on a mountain lake in New Hampshire,[6]--it was happily too late
when the possibility of such a step occurred to me. By that time I was
not on collecting terms with the bird. It was “not born for death,” I
thought, or, if it was, I was not born to play the executioner.

Its activity was amazing. If I had not known this to be natural to the
phalarope family, I might have thought the poor thing on the verge of
starvation, eating for dear life. It moved its head from side to side
incessantly, dabbing the water with its bill picking something,--minute
insects, I supposed,--from the surface, or swimming among the loose
grass, and running its bill down the green blades one after another.
Several times, in its eagerness to capture a passing insect, it almost
flew over the water, and once it actually took wing for a stroke or
two, with some quick, breathless notes, like _cut, cut, cut_. One thing
was certain, it did not care for polliwogs, shoals of which darted
about its feet unmolested.

Once a horseman frightened it as he rode over the bridge, but even then
it barely rose from the water with a startled _yip_. The man glanced
at it (I was just then looking carelessly in another direction),
and passed on--to my relief. At that moment the most interesting
mountaineer in North Carolina would have found me unresponsive. As for
my own presence, the phalarope seemed hardly to notice it, though I
stood much of the time within a distance of ten feet, and now and then
considerably nearer than that,--without so much as a grass-blade for
cover,--holding my glass upon it steadily till a stitch in my side made
the attitude all but intolerable. The lovely bird rode the water in the
lightest possible manner, and was easily put about by slight puffs of
wind; but it could turn upon an insect with lightning quickness. It was
never still for an instant except on two occasions, when it came close
to the shore and sat motionless in the lee of a log. There it crouched
upon its feet, which were still under water, and seemed to be resting.
It preened its feathers, also, and once it rubbed its bill down with
its claw, but the motion was too quick for my eye to follow, though I
was near enough to see the nostril with perfect distinctness.

I was in love with the bird from the first minute. Its tameness, the
elegance of its shape and plumage, the grace and vivacity of its
movements, these of themselves were enough to drive a bird-lover wild.
Add to them its novelty and unexpectedness, and the reader may judge
for himself of my state of mind. It was the dearest and tamest creature
I had ever seen, I kept saying to myself, forgetful for the moment of
two blue-headed vireos which at different times had allowed me to
stroke and feed them as they sat brooding on their eggs.

Another thing I must mention, as adding not a little to the pleasure
of the hour. The moment I set eyes upon the phalarope, before I had
taken even a mental note of its plumage, I thought of my friend and
correspondent, Celia Thaxter, and of her eager inquiries about the
“bay bird,” which she had then seen for the first time at the Isles of
Shoals--“just like a sandpiper, only smaller, and swimming on the water
like a duck.” And as the bird before me darted hither and thither,
so amazingly agile, I remembered her pretty description of this very
trait, a description which I here copy from her letter:--

“He was swimming about the wharf near the landing, a pretty, dainty
creature, in soft shades of gray and white, with the ‘needle-like
beak,’ and a rapidity of motion that I have never seen equaled in any
living thing except a darting dragon-fly or some restless insect. He
was never for one instant still, darting after his food on the surface
of the water. He seemed perfectly tame, wasn’t the least afraid of
anything or anybody, merely moving aside to avoid an oar-blade, and
swaying almost on to the rocks with the swirl of the water. I watched
him till I was tired, and went away and left him there still cheerfully
frisking. I am so glad to tell you of something you haven’t seen!”

A year afterward (May 29, 1892), she wrote again, with equal
enthusiasm: “If I only had a house of my own here I should make a
business of trying desperately hard to bring you here, if only for one
of your spare Sundays, to see the ‘bay birds’ that have been round
here literally by the _thousands_ for the last month, the swimming
sandpipers--_so beautiful!_ In great flocks that wheel and turn, and,
flying in long masses over the water, show now dark, now dazzling
silver as they careen and show the white lining of their wings, like a
long, brilliant, fluttering ribbon. I never heard of so many before,
about here.”

The birds seen at the Isles of Shoals were doubtless either red
phalaropes or northern phalaropes,--or, not unlikely, both,--“sea
snipe,” they are often called; two pelagic, circumpolar species,
the presence of which in unusual numbers off our Atlantic coast was
recorded by other observers in the spring of 1892. My bird here in
North Carolina, if I read its characters correctly, was of the third
species of the family, Wilson’s phalarope, larger and handsomer than
the others; an inland bird, peculiar to the American continent,
breeding in the upper Mississippi Valley and farther north, and
occurring in our Eastern country only as a straggler.

That was a lucky hour, an hour worth a long journey, and worthy of
long remembrance. It brought me, as I began by saying, a new bird
and a new family; a family distinguished not more for its grace and
beauty than for the strangeness--the “newness,” as to-day’s word is--of
its domestic relations; for the female phalarope not only dresses
more handsomely than the male, but is larger, and in a general way
assumes the rights of superiority. She does the courting--openly and
ostensibly, I mean--and, if the books are to be trusted, leaves to her
mate the homely, plumage-dulling labor of sitting upon the eggs. And
why not? Nature has made her a queen, and dowered her with queenly
prerogatives, one of which, by universal consent, is the right to
choose for herself the father of her royal children.

Like Mrs. Thaxter, I stayed with my bird till I was tired with watching
such preternatural activity; and the next day I returned to the place,
hoping to tire myself again in the same delightful manner. But the
phalarope was no longer there. Up and down the road I went, scanning
the edges of the pond, but the bird had flown. I wished her safely
over the mountains, and a mate to her heart’s liking at the end of the


“I’d rather do anything than to pack,” said a North Carolina mountain
man. His tone bespoke a fullness of experience; as if a farm-bred
Yankee were to say, “I’d rather do anything than to pick stones in cold
weather.” He had found me talking with a third man by the wayside on a
sultry forenoon. The third man carried a bag of corn on his back, and
was on his way from Horse Cove to Highlands (valleys are coves in that
part of the South), up the long steep mountain side down which, with
frequent stops for admiration of the world below, I had been lazily
traveling. He was sick, he told me; and as his appearance corroborated
his words, I had been trying to persuade him to leave his load where it
was, trust its safety to Providence, and go home. Just then it happened
that mountaineer number two came along and delivered himself as above

_He_ was going to Highlands, also. He had been “putting in a week”
trying to buy a cow to replace one that had mired herself and broken
her neck. “I would rather have paid down twenty-five dollars in gold,”
he declared. (The air was full of political silver talk; but gold
is the standard, after all, when men come to business.) He knew the
invalid, it appeared, for presently he turned into a trail, a short
cut through the woods, which till now had escaped my notice, and
remarked, “Well, John, I guess I’ll take the narrow way;” and off he
went up the slope, while the other man and I continued our dialogue,--I
still playing the part of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and Christian still
unconvinced, but not indisposed to parley.

He wished to know where I had come from; and when I told him, he said,
“Massachusetts! Well, I reckon it’s right hot down there now.” He
held the common belief of the mountain people that the rest of the
earth’s surface is mostly uninhabitable in summer-time. One morning, I
remember, I said something to an idler on the village sidewalk about
the cool night we had just passed. I meant my little speech as a kind
of local compliment, but he took me up at once. It was “pretty hot,” he
thought,--about as hot a night as he ever knew. He didn’t see how folks
_lived_ down in Charleston; and I partly agreed with him. He had been
“borned right here,” and had never been farther away than to Seneca;
and from his manner of expressing himself I inferred that he hoped
never to find himself so far from home again. This was in the midst of
a “heated term,” when the mercury, at four o’clock in the afternoon,
registered 74° on the hotel piazza.

However, it was many degrees warmer than that in Horse Cove (at a
considerably lower level) on the day of which I am writing, and a sick
man with a bag of corn on his back had good reason to rest halfway up
the climb. He had killed “a pretty rattlesnake” a little way back, he
told me. “Very dangerous they are,” he added, with an evident kindly
desire to put a stranger on his guard. As we separated, a man on
horseback turned a corner in the road above us, and on looking round,
a few minutes later, I was relieved to see that he had lent the
pack-bearer his horse, and was pursuing his own way on foot. And now I
thought, not of Bunyan’s parable, but of an older and better one.

Though the primary interest of my trip to the North Carolina mountains
was rather with the fauna and flora than with the population (as we
call it, in our lofty human way of speaking, having no doubt that we
are the people), I found, first and last, no small pleasure in the
men, women, and children, as I fell in with them out of doors here and
there, in the course of my daily perambulations. Poverty-cursed as they
looked (the universal “packing” by both sexes over those up-and-down
roads, and the shiftless, comfortless appearance of the cabins,
were proof enough of a pinched estate), they seemed to be laudably
industrious, and, as the world goes, enjoyers of life. If they said
little, it was perhaps rather my fault than theirs (the key must fit
the lock), and certainly they treated me with nothing but kindness.

More than a fortnight after my interview with the invalid, just
described, I was returning to the hotel from an early morning jaunt
down the Walhalla road, when I met a man driving a pair of dwarfish
steers hitched to a pair of wheels, on the axle-tree of which was
fastened a rude, widely ventilated, home-made box, with an odd-shaped,
home-made basket hung on one side of it,--the driver, literally, on the
box. I greeted him, and he pulled up. “Well, I see you are still here,”
he said, after a good-morning. “You have seen me before?” I replied. He
was sallow and thin,--the usual mountaineer’s condition,--but wore the
pleasantest of smiles. “Yes; I saw you down in the Cove with the sick
man.” He was the pilgrim who took the “narrow way,” and was hunting
for a cow, though I should not have remembered him. And now, peeping
through one of the holes in the box, I saw that he had a calf inside.
“A Jersey?” said I. “Part Jersey,” he answered. Mr. S---- (one of the
villagers, whom by this time I counted as a friend, a white-haired,
youngish veteran of the civil war, on the Union side, a neighbor I
had “taken to” from the moment I saw him), Mr. S---- had given the
calf to the man’s father-in-law, and he, the son-in-law, had driven
up to the village to fetch it home. He lived about six miles out, on
a side-road. I inquired about the two or three houses in sight in the
valley clearing below us. It was the “Webb settlement,” he said; “so
we always call it.” I remarked that all hands seemed to have plenty of
children. “Yes, plenty of children,” he responded, with a laugh; and
away he drove.

It was only a few minutes before another man appeared, a foot-passenger
this time, walking at a smart pace, with an umbrella on his shoulder,
and a new pair of boots slung across it. “You travel faster than I do,”
said I. “Yes, sir,” he answered, smiling (all men like the name of
being active), “I go pretty peert when I go.” He, too, had six miles
before him, and believed it would “begin to rain after a bit.” It would
have been an imposition upon good nature to detain him. There was a
bend in the road just below, and in another minute I heard him spanking
round it at a lively trot.

Five minutes more, and a second pedestrian hove in sight. He, likewise,
was in haste. “You are all in a hurry to-day,” I said to him. I
was in pursuit of acquaintance, and in such places it is the part
of wisdom, and of good manners as well, to make the most of chance
opportunities. “Yes, sir,” he made answer, slackening his pace; “I
want to get my road done. I’ve got till Saturday, and I want to get
it done;” and he put on steam again, and was gone. His countenance
was familiar, but I could not tell where I had seen him,--one of the
fathers of the Webb settlement, perhaps. The mountaineers, all thin,
all light-complexioned, and all wearing the same drab homespun, look
confusingly alike to a newcomer. Whoever the stranger was, he had
evidently undertaken to build some part of the new road, and was
returning from the village with supplies. In one hand he carried two
heavy drills, and under the other arm a strip of pork, a piece of brown
paper wrapped about the middle of it, and the long ends dangling. It
did my vacationer’s heart good to see men so cheerfully industrious;
but I thought it a reproach to the order of the world that so much hard
work should yield so little of comfort. But then, who knows which was
the more comfortable,--the idle, criticising tourist or the sweating
laborer? For the time being, at all events, the laborer had the air of
a person inwardly well off. A mountain man with a “contract” was not
likely to be envious even of a boarder at “Mrs. Davis’s,” as the hotel
is locally, and very properly, called.

As I went on, passing the height of land and beginning my descent
homeward, I met two other foot-passengers,--two women: one old
and fat,--the only fat mountaineer of either sex seen in North
Carolina,--with a red face and a staff; the other young, slightly built
and pale, carrying an old-fashioned shotgun (the ramrod projecting)
over her right shoulder. Both wore sunbonnets, and the younger had
a braid of hair hanging down her back. With her slender figure, her
colorless face, her serious look, and the long musket, she would have
made a subject for a painter. This pair I could think of no excuse
for accosting, much as I should have enjoyed hearing them talk.[7]
Shortly after they had gone, I stopped to speak with a small boy who
was climbing the hill, with a mewing kitten hugged tightly to his
breast. He was taking it home to his cat, he said. She brought in mice
and things, and wanted something to give them to. The little fellow was
still young enough to understand the mother instinct.

That was a truly social walk. I had never before found one of the
mountain roads half so populous. Once, indeed, I drove all day without
seeing a passenger of any sort, until, near the end of the afternoon
and within a mile or two of the town, I met a solitary horseman.

The _new_ road, of which I have spoken, and concerning which I heard
so much said on all hands, was really not quite that, but rather a new
laying out--with loops here and there to avoid the steeper pitches--of
the road from Walhalla, over which I had driven on my entrance into
the mountains. My friend Mr. S---- had made the surveys for the work,
and the whole town was looking forward eagerly to its completion.
Toward sunset, on a Sunday afternoon, I had been out of the village in
an opposite direction, and was sitting by the wayside in the Stewart
woods, full of flowers and music, where I loved often to linger, when
three men approached on foot. “How far have you come?” I inquired.
“From Franklin,”--about twenty miles distant,--they answered. They were
going to work “on the new road up at Stooly” (Satulah Mountain), or so
I understood the oldest of the trio, who acted throughout as spokesman.
(In my part of the country it is only the professionally idle who walk
twenty miles at a stretch.) “Well,” said I, none too politely, being
nothing but an outsider, “I hope you’ll make it better than it was when
I came up.” He replied, quite good-humoredly, that they were making a
good road of it this time. And so they were, comparatively speaking,
for I went over the mountain one day on purpose to see it, after I knew
who had laid it out, and had begun to feel a personal interest in its
success. One of the men carried a hoe, and one a small tin clock. They
had no other baggage, I think. When a man works on the road, he needs
a hoe to work with, and a timepiece to tell him when to begin and when
to leave off. So I thought to myself; but I am bound to add that these
workmen seemed to be going to their task as if it were a privilege.
It eases labor to feel that one is doing a good job. That makes the
difference, so we used to be told, by Carlyle or some one else, between
an artist and an artisan; and I see no reason why such encouraging
distinctions should not apply to road-menders as well as to menders of
philosophy. There is no such thing as drudgery, even for a man with a
hoe, so long as quality is the end in view.

Whatever else was to be said of the roads hereabout,--and the question
is of paramount importance in such a country, where mails and supplies
must be transported thirty miles (a two days’ journey for loaded
wagons),--they were almost ideally perfect from a walking naturalist’s
point of view; neither sandy nor muddy, the two evils of Southern roads
in general, and conducting the traveler at once into wild and shady
places. The village is closely built, and no matter in which direction
I turned, the houses were quickly behind me, and I was as truly in the
woods as if I had made a day’s march from civilization. A straggling
town, with miles of outlying farms and pasturelands, through the sunny
stretches of which a man must make his way forenoon and afternoon, is
a state of things at once so usual and so disheartening that the point
may well be among the earliest to be considered in planning a Southern

In a new country an ornithologist thinks first of all of the birds
peculiar to it, if any such there are; and I was no sooner off the
hotel piazza for my first ante-breakfast stroll at Highlands, than I
was on the watch for Carolina snowbirds and mountain solitary vireos,
two varieties (“subspecies” is the more modern word) originally
described a few years ago, by Mr. Brewster,[8] from specimens taken
at this very place. I had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile over the
road by which I had driven into the town, after dark, on the evening
before, when I was conscious that a bird had flown out from under the
overhanging bank just behind me. I turned hastily, and on the instant
put my eye upon the nest. My ear, as it happened, had marked the spot
precisely. “Here it is,” I thought, and in a fraction of a minute
more the anxious mother showed herself,--a snowbird. The nest looked
somewhat larger than those I had seen in New Hampshire, but that may
have been a fault of memory.[9] It contained young birds and a single
egg. I was in great luck, I said to myself; but in truth, as a longer
experience showed, the birds were so numerous all about me that it
would have been no very difficult undertaking to find a nest or two
almost any day.

Birds which had been isolated (separated from the parent stock) long
enough to have taken on some constant physical peculiarity--without
which they could not be entitled to a distinctive name, though it were
only a third one--might be presumed to have acquired at the same time
some slight but real idiosyncrasy of voice and language. But if this is
true of the Carolina junco, I failed to satisfy myself of the fact. On
the first day, indeed, I wrote with perfect confidence: “The song is
clearly distinguishable from that of the northern bird,--less musical,
more woodeny and chippery;” more like the chipping sparrow’s, I meant
to say. If I had come away then, with one bird’s trill to go upon, that
would have been my verdict, to be printed, when the time came, without
misgiving. But further observation brought further light, or, if the
reader will, further obscurity. Some individuals were better singers
than others,--so much was to be expected; but taking them together,
their music was that of ordinary snowbirds such as I had always
listened to. For aught my ears told me, I might have been in Franconia.
This is not to assert that the Alleghanian junco has not developed a
voice in some measure its own; I believe it has; probability has more
authority than personal experience with me in matters of this kind; but
the change is as yet too inconsiderable for my senses to appreciate on
a short acquaintance, with no opportunity for a direct comparison. In
such cases, it is perhaps true that one needs to trust the first lively
impression,--which has, undeniably, its own peculiar value,--or to
wait the result of absolute familiarity. My stay of three weeks gave
me neither one thing nor another; it was long enough to dissipate my
first feeling of certainty, but not long enough to yield a revised and
settled judgment.

The mountain vireo (_Vireo solitarius alticola_), like the Carolina
snowbird, may properly be called a native of Highlands; and, like the
snowbird, it proved to be common. My first sight of it was in the hotel
yard, but I found it--single pairs--everywhere. A look at the feathers
of the back through an opera-glass showed at once the principal
distinction--apart from a superiority in size, not perceptible at a
distance--on which its subspecific identity is based; but though to its
original describer its song sounded very much finer than the northern
bird’s, I could not bring myself to the same conclusion. I should never
have remarked in it anything out of the common. Once, to be sure, I
heard notes which led me to say, “There! that voice is more like a
yellow-throat’s,--fuller and rounder than a typical solitary’s;” but
that might have happened anywhere, and at all other times; although
I had the point continually in mind, I could only pronounce the song
to be exactly what my ear was accustomed to,--sweet and everything
that was beautiful, but a solitary vireo’s song, and nothing else. And
this, to my thinking, is praise enough. There is no bird-song within
my acquaintance that excels the solitary’s in a certain intimate
expressiveness, affectionateness, home-felt happiness, and purity. Not
that it has all imaginable excellencies,--the unearthly, spiritual
quality of the best of our woodland thrush music, for example; but such
as it is, an utterance of love and love’s felicity, it leaves nothing
to ask for. What a contrast between it and the red-eye’s comparatively
meaningless and feelingless music! And yet, so far as mere form is
concerned, the two songs may be considered as built upon the same
model, if not variations of the same theme. There must be a world-wide
difference between the two species, one would say, in the matter of
character and temperament.

My arrival at Highlands seemed to have been coincident with that of
an extraordinary throng of rose-breasted grosbeaks. For the first few
days, especially, the whole countryside was alive with them, till
I felt as if I had never seen grosbeaks before. Their warbling was
incessant; so incessant, and at the same time so exceedingly smooth
and sweet,--“mellifluous” is precisely the word,--that I welcomed it
almost as a relief when the greater part of the chorus moved on. After
such a surfeit of honeyed fluency, I was prepared better than ever to
appreciate certain of our humbler musicians,--with a touch of roughness
in the voice and something of brokenness in the tune; birds, for
instance, like the black-throated green warbler, the yellow-throated
vireo, and the scarlet tanager. But if I was glad the crowd had gone,
I was glad also that a goodly sprinkling of the birds had remained;
so that there was never a day when I did not see and hear them. The
rose-breast is a lovely singer. In my criticism of him I am to be
understood as meaning no more than this: that he, like every other
artist, has the defects of his good qualities. Smoothness is a virtue
in music as in writing; but it is not the only virtue, nor the one that
wears longest.

After the grosbeaks, whose great abundance was but transitory, two
of the most numerous birds were the Canadian flycatching warbler and
the black-throated blue,--two Northerners, as I had always thought
of them. Every mountain stream was overhung, mile after mile, by a
tangle of rhododendron and laurel, and out of every such tangle came
the hoarse drawling _kree, kree, kree_ of the black-throated blue, and
the sharp, vivacious, half-wrennish song of the Canadian flycatcher. I
had never seen either species in anything near such numbers; and I may
include the Blackburnian warbler in the same statement. Concerning the
black-throated blue, it is to be said that within a year or two the
Alleghanian bird has been discriminated by Dr. Coues as a local race,
with a designation of its own,--_Dendroica cærulescens cairnsi_,--the
points of distinction being its smaller size and the color of the
middle back, black instead of blue. I cannot recollect that I perceived
anything peculiar about its notes, nor, so far as appears, did Mr.
Brewster do so; yet it would not surprise me if such peculiarities were
found to exist. The best of ears (and there can be very few to surpass
Mr. Brewster’s, I am sure) cannot take heed of everything, especially
in a strange piece of country, with a voice out of every bush calling
for attention.

A few birds, too familiar to have attracted any particular notice
on their own account, became interesting because of the fact that
they were not included among those found here by Mr. Brewster. One
of these was the Maryland yellow-throat, of which Mr. Brewster saw
no signs above a level of 2100 feet. (The elevation of Highlands, I
may remind the reader, is 3800 feet.) At the time of my visit, the
song, _witchery, witchery, witchery_, or _fidgety, fidgety, fidgety_
(every listener will transliterate the dactyls for himself), was to
be heard daily from the hotel piazza, though so far away that, with
Mr. Brewster’s negative experience in mind, I deferred listing the
name till, after two or three days, I found leisure to go down to the
swamp out of which the notes, whatever they were, evidently proceeded.
Then it transpired that at least five males were in song, in four
different places. And later (May 25) I happened upon one in still
another and more distant spot. Probably the species had come in since
Mr. Brewster’s day (eleven years before), with some change of local
conditions,--the cutting down of a piece of forest, perhaps, and the
formation of a bushy swamp in its place. A villager closely observant
of such things, and well acquainted with the bird, assured me from his
own recollection of the matter (and he remembered Mr. Brewster’s visit
well) that such was pretty certainly the case.

Another bird seen almost daily, though in limited numbers, was the
red-winged blackbird, which Mr. Brewster noticed only in a few places
in the lower valleys. It seemed well within the range of probability
that the same changes which had brought in one lover of sedgy tussocks
and button-bushes should have attracted also another. I made no search
for nests, but the fact that the birds were seen constantly from May 7
to May 27 may be taken as reasonably conclusive evidence that they were
on their breeding-grounds.

Two or more pairs of phœbes had settled in the neighborhood, and two
or more pairs of parula warblers. The former were not found by Mr.
Brewster above a level of 3000 feet, and the latter he missed at
Highlands, although, as he says, the presence of trees hung with usnea
lichens made their absence a surprise.

Hardly less rememberable than these differences of experience was one
striking coincidence. On the 25th of May, when I had been at Highlands
more than a fortnight, I was sitting on the veranda waiting for the
dinner-bell, and reading the praises of “free silver” in a Georgia
newspaper, when I jumped to my feet at the whistle of a Baltimore
oriole. I started at once in pursuit, and presently came up with the
fellow, a resplendent old male, in a patch of shrubbery bordering the
hotel grounds. I kept as near him as I could (in Massachusetts he would
scarcely have drawn a second look), and even followed him across the
street into a neighbor’s yard. He was the only one I had seen (he was
piping again the next morning, the last of my stay), and on referring
to Mr. Brewster’s paper I found that he too met with one bird here,[10]
and in exactly the same spot. The keeper of the hotel remembered the
circumstance and the pleasure of Mr. Brewster over it. In my case, at
any rate, the lateness and unexpectedness of the bird’s appearance,
together with what a certain scholarly friend of mine would have called
his “uniquity,” made him the bringer of a most agreeable noonday
excitement. Where he had come from, and whether he had brought a mate
with him, were questions I had no means of answering. He reminded me of
my one Georgia oriole, on the field of Chickamauga.

The road to Horse Cove, of which I have already spoken, offered easy
access to a lower and more summery level, the land at this point
dropping almost perpendicularly for about a thousand feet. In half an
hour the pedestrian was in a new climate, with something like a new
fauna about him. Here were such birds as the Kentucky warbler, the
hooded warbler, the cardinal grosbeak, and the Acadian flycatcher, none
of them to be discovered on the plateau above. Here, also,--but this
may have been nothing more than an accident,--were the only bluebirds
(a single family) that I saw anywhere until, on my journey out of the
mountains, I descended into the beautiful Cullowhee Valley.

At Highlands the birds were a mixed lot, Southerners and Northerners
delightfully jumbled: a few Carolina wrens (one was heard whistling
from the summit of Whiteside!); a single Bewick wren, singing and
dodging along a fence in the heart of the village; tufted titmice;
Carolina chickadees; Louisiana water thrushes and turkey buzzards:
and on the other side of the account, brown creepers, red-bellied
nuthatches, black-throated blues, Canada warblers, Blackburnians,
snowbirds, and olive-sided flycatchers.

An unexpected thing was the commonness of blue golden-winged warblers,
chats, and brown thrashers (the chats less common than the other two)
at an elevation of 3800 feet. Still more numerous, in song continually,
even on the summit of Satulah, were the chestnut-sided warblers,
although Mr. Brewster, in his tour through the region, “rarely saw more
than one or two in any single day:” a third instance, as seemed likely,
of a species that had taken advantage of new local conditions--an
increase of shrubby clearings, in the present case--within the last ten
years. Here, as everywhere, the presence of some birds and the absence
of others were provocative of questions. Why should the Kentucky
warbler sing from rhododendron thickets halfway up the slope at the
head of Horse Cove, and never be tempted into other thickets, in all
respects like them, just over the brow of the cliff, 500 feet higher?
Why should the summer yellow-bird, which pushes its hardy spring flight
beyond the Arctic circle, restrict itself here in the Carolinas to the
low valley lands (I saw it at Walhalla and in the Cullowhee Valley),
and never once choose a nesting-site in appropriate surroundings at
a little higher level? Why should the chat and the blue golden-wing
find life agreeable at Highlands, and their regular neighbors, the
prairie warbler and the white-eyed vireo, so persistently refuse to
follow them? And why, in the first half of May, was there so strange a
dearth of migrants in these attractive mountain woods?--a few blackpoll
warblers (last seen on the 18th), a single myrtle-bird (on the 7th),
and a crowd of rose-breasted grosbeaks and Blackburnian warblers (on
the 8th and 9th, especially) being almost the only ones to fall under
my notice. After all, one of the best birds I saw, not forgetting the
Wilson’s phalarope,--my adventure with which has been detailed in a
previous chapter,--was a song sparrow singing from a dense swampy
thicket on the 25th of May. So far as I am aware, no bird of his kind
has ever before been reported in summer from a point so far south. He
looked natural, but not in the least commonplace, as, after a long wait
on my part,--for absolute certainty’s sake,--he hopped out into sight.
I was proud to have made one discovery!

In such a place, so limited in the range of its physical conditions,--a
village surrounded by forest,--the birds, however numerous they might
be, counted as individuals, were sure to be of comparatively few
species. Omitting such as were certainly, or almost certainly, migrants
or strays,--the blackpoll, the myrtle-bird, the barn swallow, the
kingbird, the solitary sandpiper, and the phalarope,--and such as were
found only at a lower level, in Horse Cove and elsewhere; omitting,
too, all birds of prey,--few, and for the most part but imperfectly
identified; restricting myself to birds fully made out and believed to
be summering in the immediate neighborhood of Highlands; omitting the
raven, of course,--I counted but fifty-nine species.

All things considered, I was not inconsolable at finding my
ornithological activities in some measure abridged. I had the more
time, though still much too little, for other pursuits. It would have
been good to spend the whole of it upon the plants, or in admiring the
beauties of the country itself. As it was, I plucked a blossom here
and there, stored up a few of the more striking of them in the memory,
and enjoyed many an hour in gazing upon the new wild world, where, no
matter how far I climbed, there was nothing to be seen on all sides but
a sea of hills, wave rising beyond wave to the horizon’s rim.

The horizon was never far off. I was twice on Satulah and twice on
Whiteside, from which latter point, by all accounts, I should have
had one of the most extensive and beautiful prospects to be obtained
in North Carolina; but I had fallen upon one of those “spells of
weather,” common in mountainous places, which make a visitor feel as
if nothing were so rare as a transparent atmosphere. For ordinary
lowland purposes the days were no doubt favorable enough: a pleasing,
wholesome alternation of rain and shine, wind and calm, with no lack of
thunder and lightning, and once, at least, a lively hailstorm. “Weather
like this I have never seen elsewhere. Such air!” So I wrote in my
enthusiasm, thinking of physical comfort,--a man who wished to walk and
sit still by turns, and be neither sunstruck nor chilled; but withal,
there was never an hour of clear distance till the morning I came away,
when mountain ascents were no longer to be thought of. The world was
all in a cover of mist, and the outlying hills, one beyond another,
with the haze settling into the valleys between them, were, as I say,
like the billows of the sea. Nothing could have been more beautiful,
perhaps; but a curtain is a curtain, and I longed to see it rise. A
change of wind, a puff from the northwest, and creation would indeed
have “widened in man’s view.” That was not to be, and all those lofty
North Carolina peaks--of which, to a New Englander, there seem to be so
many[11]--were seen by me only from railway trains and from the hotel
veranda at Asheville, on my journey homeward. On Satulah and Whiteside
I was forced to please myself with the glory of the foreground. What
lay beyond the mist was matter for dreams.

But even as things were, I was not so badly used. There was more
beauty in sight than I could begin to see, and, notwithstanding the
comparative narrowness of the outlook,--partly because of it,--one of
my most enjoyable forenoons was spent on the broad, open, slightly
rounded summit of Satulah. Here and there (“more here than there,” my
pencil says) a solitary cabin was visible, or a bit of road, a ribbon
of brown amidst the green of the forest, but no village, nor so much as
a hamlet. The only other signs of human existence were a light smoke,
barely distinguishable, rising from Horse Cove as I guessed, and,
for a few minutes, a man whom my eye fell upon most unexpectedly, a
motionless speck, though he was walking, far down the Walhalla road. I
turned my glass that way, and behold, he had the usual bag of grain on
his back.

The date was May 12. I had been in Highlands less than a week, and my
thoughts still ran upon ravens, the birds which, more even than the
southern snowbird and the mountain vireo, I had come hither to seek.
They were said often to fly over, and this surely should be a place to
see them. They could not escape me, if they passed within a mile. But
though I kept an eye out, as we say, and an ear open, it was a vigil
thrown away. Buzzards, swifts, and a bunch of twittering goldfinches
were all the birds that “flew over.” A chestnut-sided warbler sang so
persistently from the mountain side just below that his sharp voice
became almost a trouble. From the same quarter rose the songs of an
oven-bird, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and a scarlet tanager. On the
summit itself were snowbirds and chewinks; and once, to my delight, a
field sparrow gave out a measure or two. After all, go where you will,
you will hear few voices that wear better than his,--clear, smooth,
most agreeably modulated, and temperately sweet.

The only trees I remember at the very top of the mountain were a few
dwarfed and distorted pines and white oaks,--enough to remind a Yankee
that he was not in New Hampshire. On the other hand, here grew our
Massachusetts huckleberry (_Gaylussacia resinosa_), which I had seen
nowhere below, where a great abundance of the buckberry--so I think
I heard it called (_G. ursina_),--taller bushes, more comfortable
to pick from, with larger blossoms--seemed to have taken its place.
I should have been glad to try the fruit, which was described as of
excellent quality. On that point, with no thought of boasting, I could
have spoken as an expert. With the huckleberry was chokeberry, another
New England acquaintance, fair to look upon, but a hypocrite,--“by
their fruits ye shall know them;” and underneath, among the stones,
were common yellow five-fingers, birdfoot violets, and leaves of
trailing arbutus, three-toothed potentilla (a true mountain-lover),
checker-berry, and galax. With them, but deserving a sentence by
themselves, were the exquisite vernal iris and the scarlet painted-cup,
otherwise known as the Indian’s paint-brush and prairie fire, splendid
for color, and in these parts, to my astonishment, a frequenter of
the forest. I should have looked for it only in grassy meadows. Here
and there grew close patches of the pretty, alpine-looking sand
myrtle (_Leiophyllum buxifolium_), thickly covered with small white
flowers,--a plant which I had seen for the first time the day before
on the summit of Whiteside. Mountain heather I called it, finding no
English name in Chapman’s Flora. Stunted laurel bushes in small bud
were scattered over the summit. A little later they would make the
place a flower garden. A single rose-acacia tree had already done
its best in that direction, with a full crop of gorgeous rose-purple
clusters. The winds had twisted it and kept it down, but could not
hinder its fruitfulness.

These things, and others like them, I noticed between times. For
the most part, my eyes were upon the grand panorama, a wilderness
of hazy, forest-covered mountains, as far as the eye could go;
nameless to me, all of them, with the exception of the two most
conspicuous,--Whiteside on the one hand, and Rabun Bald on the other.
For my comfort a delicious light breeze was stirring, and the sky,
as it should be when one climbs for distant prospects, was sprinkled
with small cumulus clouds, which in turn dappled the hills with moving
shadows. One thing brought home to me a truth which in our dullness we
ordinarily forget: that the earth itself is but a shadow, a something
that appeareth, changeth, and passeth away. The rocks at my feet were
full of pot-holes, such as I had seen a day or two before, the water
still swirling in them, at Cullasajah Falls. As universal time is
reckoned,--if it is reckoned,--old Satulah and all that forest-covered
world which I saw, or thought I saw, from it, were but of yesterday, a
“divine improvisation,” and would be gone to-morrow.

More beautiful than the round prospect from Satulah, though perhaps
less stimulating to the imagination, was the view from the edge of
the mountain wall at the head of Horse Cove. Here, under a chestnut
tree, I spent the greater part of a half day, the valley with its road
and its four or five houses straight at my feet. A dark precipice of
bare rock bounded it on the right, a green mountain on the left, and
in the distance southward were ridges and peaks without number. A few
of the nearer hills I knew the names of by this time: Fodderstack,
Bearpen, Hogback, Chimneytop, Terrapin, Shortoff, Scaly, and Whiteside.
Satulah was the only _fine_ name in the lot; and that, for a guess, is
aboriginal. The North American Indians had a genius for names, as the
Greeks had for sculpture and poetry, and will be remembered for it.

I had come to the brow of the cliffs, at a place called Lover’s Leap,
in search of a particular kind of rhododendron. It bore a small flower,
my informant had said, and grew hereabout only in this one spot. It
proved to be _R. punctatum_, new to me, and now (May 23) in early
blossom. Four days afterward, in the Cullowhee and Tuckaseegee valleys,
I saw riverbanks and roadsides lined with it; very pretty, of course,
being a rhododendron, but not to be compared in that respect with the
purple rhododendron or mountain rose-bay (_R. Catawbiense_). That,
also, was to be found here, but very sparingly, as far as I could
discover. I felicitated myself on having seen it in its glory on the
mountains of southeastern Tennessee. The common large rhododendron (_R.
maximum_) stood in thickets along all the brooks. I must have walked
and driven past a hundred miles of it, on the present trip, it seemed
to me; but I have never been at the South late enough to see it in

What I shall remember longest about the flora of Highlands--and there
is no part of eastern North America that is botanically richer, I
suppose--is the azaleas. When I drove up from Walhalla, on the 6th
of May, the woods were bright, mile after mile, with the common pink
species (_A. nudiflora_); and at Highlands, in some of the dooryards,
I found in full bloom a much lovelier kind,--also pink, and also
leafless,--_A. Vaseyi_, as it turned out: a rare and lately discovered
plant, of which the village people are justly proud. I could not
visit its wild habitat without a guide, they told me. Within a week
or so after my arrival the real glory of the spring was upon us: the
woods were lighted up everywhere with the flame-colored azalea; and
before it was gone,--while it was still at its height, indeed,--the
familiar sweet-scented white azalea (_A. viscosa_), the “swamp pink”
of my boyhood, came forward to keep it company and lend it contrast.
By that time I had seen all the rhododendrons and azaleas mentioned in
Chapman’s Flora, including _A. arborescens_, a tardy bloomer, which
a botanical collector, with whom I was favored to spend a day on the
road, pointed out to me in the bud.

The splendor of _A. calendulacea_, as displayed here, is never to be
forgotten; nor is it to be in the least imagined by those who have seen
a few stunted specimens of the plant in northern gardens. The color
ranges from light straw-color to the brightest and deepest orange, and
the bushes, thousands on thousands, no two of them alike, stand, not in
rows or clusters, but broadly spaced, each by itself, throughout the
hillside woods.

They were never out of sight, and I never could have enough of them.
Wherever I went, I was always stopping short before one bush and
another; admiring this one for the brilliancy or delicacy of its floral
tints, and that one for its bold and pleasing habit. For as the plants
do not grow in close ranks, so they do not put forth their flowers in
a mass. They know a trick better than that. Thousands of shrubs, but
every one in its own place, to be separately looked at; and on every
shrub a few sprays of bloom, each well apart from all the others; one
twig bearing nothing but leaves, another full of blossoms; a short
branch here, a longer one there; and again, a smooth straight stem
shooting far aloft, holding at the tip a bunch of leaves and flowers;
everything free, unstudied, and most irregularly graceful, as if the
bushes had each an individuality as well as a tint of its own. Often
it was not a bush that I stood still to take my fill of, but a single
branch,--as beautiful, I thought, as if it had been the only one in the

One walk on Satulah--not to the summit, but by a roundabout course
through the woods to a bold cliff on the southern side (all the
mountains, as a rule, are rounded on the north, and break off sharply
on the south)--was literally a walk through an azalea show; first the
flame-colored, bushes beyond count and variety beyond description; and
then, a little higher, a plentiful display of the white viscosa, more
familiar and less showy, but hardly less attractive.

Better even than this wild Satulah garden was a smaller one nearer
home: a triangular hillside, broad at the base and pointed at the top,
as if it were one face of a pyramid; covered loosely with grand old
trees,--oaks, chestnuts, and maples; the ground densely matted with
freshly grown ferns, largely the cinnamon osmunda, clusters of lively
green and warm brown intermixed; and everywhere, under the trees and
above the ferns, mountain laurel and flame-colored azalea,--the laurel
blooms pale pink, almost white, and the azalea clusters yellow of every
conceivable degree of depth and brightness. A zigzag fence bounded
the wood below, and the land rose at a steep angle, so that the whole
was held aloft, as it were, for the beholder’s convenience. It was a
wonder of beauty, with nothing in the least to mar its perfection,--the
fairest piece of earth my eye ever rested upon. The human owner of it,
Mr. Selleck (why should I not please myself by naming him, a land-owner
who knew the worth of his possession!), had asked me to go and see
it; and for his sake and its own, as well as for my own sake and the
reader’s, I wish I could show it as it was. It rises before me at this
moment, like the rhododendron cliffs on Walden’s Ridge, and will do so,
I hope, to my dying day.




I left Boston at nine o’clock on the morning of April 23, and reached
Pulaski, in southwestern Virginia, at ten o’clock the next forenoon,
exactly on schedule time,--or within five minutes of it, to give
the railroad no more than its due. It was a journey to meet the
spring,--which for a Massachusetts man is always a month tardy,--and
as such it was speedily rewarded. Even in Connecticut there were
vernal signs, a dash of greenness here and there in the meadows, and
generous sproutings of skunk cabbage about the edges of the swamps;
and once out of Jersey City we were almost in a green world. At Bound
Brook, I think it was, the train stopped where a Norway maple opposite
my window stood all in a yellow mist of blossoms, and chimney swifts
were shooting hither and thither athwart the bright afternoon sky. By
the time Philadelphia was reached, or by the time we were done with
running in and out of its several stations, the night had commenced
falling, and I saw nothing more of the world, with all that famous
valley of the Shenandoah, till I left my berth at Roanoke. There the
orchards--apple-trees and peach-trees together--were in full bloom,
and on the slopes of the hills, as we pushed in among them, rounding
curve after curve, shone gorgeous red patches of the Judas-tree, with
sprinklings of columbines, violets, marsh-marigolds, and dandelions,
and splashes of deep orange-yellow,--clusters of some flower then
unknown to me, but pretty certainly the Indian puccoon; not the
daintiest of blossoms, perhaps, but among the most effective under such
fugitive, arm’s-length conditions. A plaguing kind of pleasure it is
to ride past such things at a speed which makes a good look at them
impossible, as once, for the better part of a long forenoon, in the
flatwoods of Florida and southern Georgia, I rode through swampy places
bright with splendid pitcher-plants, of a species I had never seen and
knew nothing about; straining my eyes to make out the yellow blossoms,
deploring the speed of the train,--which, nevertheless, brought me into
Macon several hours after I should have been in Atlanta,--wishing for
my Chapman’s Flora (packed away in my trunk, of course), and bewailing
the certainty that I was losing the only opportunity I should ever have
to see so interesting a novelty. And still,--I can say it now,--half a
look is better than no vision.

For fifty miles beyond Roanoke we traveled southward; but an ascent of
a thousand feet offset, and more than offset, the change of latitude,
so that at Pulaski we found the apple-trees not yet in flower, but
showing the pink of the buds. The venerable, pleasingly unsymmetrical
sugar maples in the yard of the inn (the reputed, and real, comforts
of which had drawn me to this particular spot) were hung full of pale
yellow tassels, and vocal with honey-bees. Spring was here, and I felt
myself welcome.

Till luncheon should be ready, I strayed into the border of the wood
behind the town, and, wandering quite at a venture, came by good
luck upon a path which followed the tortuous, deeply worn bed of a
brook through a narrow pass between steep, sparsely wooded, rocky
hills. Along the bank grew plenty of the common rhododendron, now in
early bud, and on either side of the path were trailing arbutus and
other early flowers. Yes, I had found the spring, not summer. And the
birds bore the same testimony: thrashers, chippers, field sparrows,
black-and-white creepers, and a Carolina chickadee. Summer birds, like
summer flowers, were yet to come. A brief song, repeated at intervals
from the ragged, half-cleared hillside near a house, as I returned to
the village, puzzled me agreeably. It should be the voice of a Bewick’s
wren, I thought, but the notes seemed not to tally exactly with my
recollections of a year ago, on Missionary Ridge. However, I made
only a half-hearted attempt to decide the point. There would be time
enough for such investigations by and by. Meanwhile, it would be a poor
beginning to take a first walk in a new country without bringing back
at least one uncertainty for expectation to feed upon. It is always
part of to-day’s wisdom to leave something for to-morrow’s search. So
I seem to remember reasoning with myself; but perhaps a thought of the
noonday luncheon had something to do with my temporizing mood.

In any case no harm came of it. The singer was at home for the season,
and the very next morning I went up the hill and made sure of him: a
Bewick’s wren, as I had guessed. I heard him there on sundry occasions
afterward. Sometimes he sang one tune, sometimes another. The song
heard on the first day, and most frequently, perhaps, at other times,
consisted of a prolonged indrawn whistle, followed by a trill or
jumble of notes (not many birds trill, I suppose, in the technical
sense of that word), as if the fellow had picked up his music from
two masters,--a Bachman finch and a song sparrow. It soon transpired,
greatly to my satisfaction, that this was one of the characteristic
songsters of the town. One bird sang daily not far from my window
(the first time I heard him I ran out in haste, looking for some new
sparrow, and only came to my senses when halfway across the lawn),
and I never walked far in the town (the city, I ought in civility
to say) without passing at least two or three. Sometimes as many
as that would be within hearing at once. They preferred the town to
the woods and fields, it was evident, and for a singing-perch chose
indifferently a fence picket, the roof of a hen-coop, a chimney-top, or
the ridgepole of one of the churches,--which latter, by the bye, were
most unchristianly numerous. The people are to be congratulated upon
having so jolly and pretty a singer playing hide-and-seek--the wren’s
game always--in their house-yards and caroling under their windows. As
a musician he far outshines the more widely known house wren, though
that bird, too, is excellent company, with his pert ways, at once
furtive and familiar, and his merry gurgle of a tune. If he would only
come back to our sparrow-cursed Massachusetts gardens and orchards, as
I still hope he will some time do, I for one would never twit him upon
his inferiority to his Bewickian cousin or to anybody else.

The city itself would have repaid study, if only for its unlikeness
to cities in general. It had not “descended out of heaven,” so much
was plain, though this is not what I mean by its unlikeness to other
places; neither did it seem to have grown up after the old-fashioned
method, a “slow result of time,”--first a hamlet, then a village, then
a town, and last of all a city. On the contrary, it bore all the marks
of something built to order; in the strictest sense, a city made with
hands. And so, in fact, it is; one of the more fortunate survivals of
what the people of southwestern Virginia are accustomed to speak of
significantly as “the boom,”--a grand attempt, now a thing of the past,
but still bitterly remembered, to make everybody rich by a concerted
and enthusiastic multiplication of nothing by nothing.

Such a community, I repeat, would have been an interesting and very
“proper study;” but I had not come southward in a studious mood. I
meant to be idle, having a gift in that direction which I am seldom
able to cultivate as it deserves. It is one of the best of gifts. I
could never fall in with what the poet Gray says of it in one of his
letters. “Take my word and experience upon it,” he writes, “doing
nothing is a most amusing business, and yet neither something nor
nothing gives me any pleasure.” He begins bravely, although the
trivial word “amusing” wakens a distrust of his sincerity; but what a
pitiful conclusion! How quickly the boom collapses! It is to be said
for him, however, that he was only twenty years old at the time, and
a relish for sentiment and reverie--that is to say, for the pleasures
of idleness--is apt to be little developed at that immature age. I had
passed that point by some years; I was sure I could enjoy a week of
dreaming; and, unlike Bewick’s wren, I took to the woods.

To that end I returned again and again to the brookside path, on which
I had so fortunately stumbled. A man on my errand could have asked
nothing better, unless, perchance, there had been a mile or two more of
it. Following it past two or three tumble-down cabins, the stroller was
at once out of the world; a single bend in the course of the brook, and
the hills closed in behind him, and the town might have been a thousand
miles away. Life itself is such a path as this, I reflected. The forest
shuts behind us, and is open only at our feet, with here and there a
flower or a butterfly or a strain of music to take up our thoughts, as
we travel on toward the clearing at the end.

For the first day or two the deciduous woods still showed no signs
of leafage, but tall, tree-like shadbushes were in flower,--fair
brides, veiled as no princess ever was,--and a solitary red maple
stood blushing at its own premature fruitfulness. Here a man walked
between acres of hepatica and trailing arbutus,--the brook dividing
them,--while the path was strewn with violets, anemones, buttercups,
bloodroot, and houstonia. In one place was a patch of some new yellow
flowers, like five-fingers, but more upright, and growing on bracted
scapes; barren strawberries (_Waldsteinia_) Dr. Gray told me they
were called, and one more Latin name had blossomed into a picture. A
manual of botany, annotated with place-names and dates, gets after
a time to be truly excellent reading, a refreshment to the soul, in
winter especially, as name after name calls up the living plant and
all the wild beauty that goes with it. And with the thought of the
barren strawberry I can see, what I had all but forgotten, though it
was one of the first things I noticed, the sloping ground covered with
large, round, shiny, purplish-green (evergreen) leaves, all exquisitely
crinkled and toothed. With nothing but the leaves to depend upon, I
could only conjecture the plant to be galax, a name which caught my eye
by the sheerest accident, as I turned the pages of the Manual looking
for something else; but the conjecture turned out to be a sound one, as
the sagacious reader will have already inferred from the fact of its

In such a place there was no taking many steps without a halt. My gait
was rather a progressive standing still than an actual progress; so
that it mattered little whither or how far the path might carry me. I
was not going somewhere,--I was already there; or rather, I was both at
once. Every stroller will know what I mean. Fruition and expectation
were on my tongue together; to risk an unscriptural paradox, what I saw
I yet hoped for. The brook, tumbling noisily downward,--in some places
over almost regular flights of stone steps,--now in broad sunshine, now
in the shade of pines and hemlocks and rhododendrons, was of itself a
cheerful companionship, its inarticulate speech chiming in well with
thoughts that were not so much thoughts as dumb sensations.

Here and there my footsteps disturbed a tiny blue butterfly, a
bumblebee, or an emerald beetle,--lovers of the sun all of them, and
therefore haunters of the path. Once a grouse sprang up just before me,
and at another time I stopped to gain sight of a winter wren, whose
querulous little song-sparrow-like note betrayed his presence under
the overhanging sod of the bank, where he dodged in and out, pausing
between whiles upon a projecting root, to emphasize his displeasure
by nervous gesticulatory bobbings. He meant I should know what he
thought of me; and I would gladly have returned the compliment, but
saw no way of doing so. It is a fault in the constitution of the world
that we receive so much pleasure from innocent wild creatures, and can
never thank them in return. Black-and-white creepers were singing at
short intervals, and several pairs of hooded warblers seemed already
to have made themselves at home among the rhododendron bushes. Just
a year before I had taken my fill of their music on Walden’s Ridge,
in Tennessee. Then it became almost an old story; now, if the truth
must be told, I mistook the voice for a stranger’s. It was much better
than I remembered it; fuller, sweeter, less wiry. Perhaps the birds
sang better here in Virginia, I tried to think; but that comfortable
explanation had nothing else in its favor. It was more probable, I was
bound to conclude, that the superior quality of the Kentucky warbler’s
music, which was all the time in my ears on Walden’s Ridge, had put
me unjustly out of conceit with the performance of its less taking
neighbor. At all events, I now voted the latter a singer of decided
merit, and was ready to unsay pretty much all that I had formerly
said against it. I went so far, indeed, as to grow sarcastic at my
own expense, for in my field memoranda I find this entry: “The hooded
warbler’s song is very little like the redstart’s, in spite of what
Torrey has written.” Verily the pencil is mightier than the pen, and a
note in the field is worth two in the study. Yet that, after all, is an
unfair way of putting the matter, since the Tennessee note also was
made in the field. Let one note correct the other; or, better still,
let each stand for whatever of truth it expresses. Happily, there is no
final judgment on such themes. One thing I remarked with equal surprise
and pleasure: the song reminded me again and again of the singing of
Swainson’s thrush; not by any resemblance between the two voices, it
need hardly be said, but by a similarity in form. Oven-birds were here,
speaking their pieces in earnest schoolroom fashion; a few chippering
snowbirds excited my curiosity (common _Junco hyemalis_, for aught I
could discover, but I profess no certainty on so nice a point); and
here and there a flock of migrating white-throated sparrows bestirred
themselves lazily, as I brushed too near their browsing-places.

So I dallied along, accompanied by a staid, good-natured,
woodchuck-loving collie (he had joined me on the hotel piazza, with a
friendly look in his face, as much as to say, “The top of the morning
to you, stranger. If you are out for a walk, I’m your dog”), till
presently I came to a clearing. Here the path all at once disappeared,
and I made no serious effort to pick it up again. Why should I go
farther? I could never be farther from the world, nor was I likely
to find anywhere a more inviting spot; and so, climbing the stony
hillside, over beds of trailing arbutus bloom and past bunches of
birdfoot violets, I sat down in the sun, on a cushion of long, dry

The gentlest of zephyrs was stirring, the very breath of spring, soft
and of a delicious temperature. My New England cheeks, winter-crusted
and still half benumbed, felt it only in intermittent puffs, but the
pine leaves, more sensitive, kept up a continuous murmur. Close about
me--close enough, but not too close--stood the hills. At my back,
filling the horizon in that direction, stretched an unbroken ridge,
some hundreds of feet loftier than my own position, and several miles
in length, up the almost perpendicular slope of which, a very rampart
for steepness, ranks of evergreen trees were pushing in narrow file.
Elsewhere the land rose in separate elevations; some of them, pale with
distance, showing through a gap, or peeping over the shoulder of a less
remote neighbor. Nothing else was in sight; and there I sat alone,
under the blue sky,--alone, yet with no lack of unobtrusive society.

At brief intervals a field sparrow somewhere down the hillside gave
out a sweet and artless strain, clear as running water and soft as the
breath of springtime. How gently it caressed the ear! The place and
the day had found a voice. Once a grouse drummed,--one of the most
restful of all natural sounds, to me at least, “drumming” though it be,
speaking always of fair weather and woodsy quietness and peace; and
once, to my surprise, I heard a clatter of crossbill notes, though I
saw nothing of the birds,--restless souls, wanderers up and down the
earth, and, after the habit of restless souls in general, gregarious
to the last. A buzzard drifted across the sky. Like the swan on
still St. Mary’s Lake, he floated double, bird and shadow. A flicker
shouted, and a chewink, under the sweet-fern and laurel bushes, stopped
his scratching once in a while to address by name a mate or fellow
traveler. A Canadian nuthatch, calling softly, hung back downward
from a pine cone; and, nearer by, a solitary vireo sat preening his
feathers, with sweet soliloquistic chattering, “the very sound of happy
thoughts.” I was with him in feeling, though no match for him in the
expression of it.

Again and again I took the brookside path, and spent an hour of dreams
in this sunny clearing among the hills. Day by day the sun’s heat did
its work, melting the snow of the shadbushes and the bloodroot, and
bringing out the first scattered flushes of yellowish-green on the
lofty tulip-trees, while splashes of lively purple soon made me aware
that the ground in some places was as thick with fringed polygala as
it was in other places with hepatica and arbutus. No doubt, the fair
procession, beauty following beauty, would last the season through.
A white violet, new to me (_Viola striata_), was sprinkled along the
path, and on the second day, as I went up the hill to my usual seat, I
dropped upon my knees before a perfect vision of loveliness,--a dwarf
iris, only two or three inches above the ground, of an exquisite, truly
heavenly shade, bluish-purple or violet-blue, standing alone in the
midst of the brown last year’s grass. Unless it may have been by the
cloudberry on Mount Clinton, I was never so taken captive by a blossom.
I worshiped it in silence,--the grass a natural prayer-rug,--feeling
all the while as if I were looking upon a flower just created. It would
not be found in Gray, I told myself. But it was; and before many days,
almost to my sorrow, it grew to be fairly common. Once I happened upon
a white specimen, as to which, likewise, the Manual had been before me.
New flowers are almost as rare as new thoughts.

It was amid the dead grass and rust-colored stones of this same
hillside that I found, also, the velvety, pansy-like variety of the
birdfoot violet, here and there a plant surrounded by its relatives of
the more every-day sort. This was my first sight of it; but I saw it
afterward at Natural Bridge, and again at Afton, from which I infer
that it must be rather common in the mountain region of Virginia,
notwithstanding Dr. Gray, who, as I now notice, speaks as if Maryland
were its southern limit. Indeed, to judge from my hasty experience,
Alleghanian Virginia is a thriving-place of the violet family in
general. In my very brief visit, I was too busy (or too idle, but my
idleness was really of a busy complexion) to give the point as much
attention as I now wish I had given to it, else I am sure I could
furnish the particulars to bear out my statement. At Pulaski, without
any thought of making a list, I remarked abundance of _Viola pedata_,
_V. palmata_, and _V. sagittata_, with _V. pubescens_, _V. canina
Muhlenbergii_, and four forms new to my eyes,--_V. pedata bicolor_
and _V. striata_, just mentioned, _V. hastata_ and _V. pubescens
scabriuscula_. If to these be added _V. Canadensis_ and _V. rostrata_,
both of them common at Natural Bridge, we have at least a pretty
good assortment to be picked up by a transient visitor, whose eyes,
moreover, were oftener in the trees than on the ground.

My single white novelty, _V. striata_, grew in numbers under the maples
in the grounds of the inn. The two yellow ones were found farther
away, and were the means of more excitement. I had gone down the
creek, one afternoon, to the neighborhood of the second furnace (two
smelting-furnaces being, as far as a stranger could judge, the main
reason of the town’s existence), and thence had taken a side-road that
runs among the hills in the direction of Peak Knob, the highest point
near Pulaski. A lucky misdirection, or misunderstanding, sent me too
far to the right, and there my eye rested suddenly upon a bank covered
with strange-looking yellow violets; like _pubescens_ in their manner
of growth, but noticeably different in the shape of the leaves, and
noticeably not pubescent. A reference to the Manual, on my return to
the hotel, showed them to be _V. hastata_,--“rare;” and that magic
word, so inspiriting to all collectors, made it indispensable that I
should visit the place again, with a view to additional specimens. The
next morning it rained heavily, and the road, true to its Virginian
character, was a discouragement to travel, a diabolical misconjunction
of slipperiness and supreme adhesiveness; but I had come prepared
for such difficulties, and anyhow, in vacation time and in a strange
country, there was no staying all day within doors. I had gathered my
specimens, of which, happily, there was no lack, and was wandering
about under an umbrella among the dripping bushes, seeing what I could
see, thinking more of birds than of blossoms, when behold! I stumbled
upon a second novelty, still another yellow violet, suggestive neither
of _V. pubescens_ nor of anything else that I had ever seen. It went
into the box (I could find but two or three plants), and then I felt
that it might rain never so hard, the day was saved.

A hurried reference to the Manual brought me no satisfaction, and I
dispatched one of the plants forthwith to a friendly authority, for
whom a comparison with herbarium specimens would supply any conceivable
gaps in his own knowledge. “Here is something not described in Gray’s
Manual,” I wrote to him, “unless,” I added (not to be caught napping,
if I could help it), “it be _V. pubescens scabriuscula_.” And I made
bold to say further, in my unscientific enthusiasm, that whatever the
plant might or might not turn out to be, I did not believe it was
properly to be considered as a variety of _V. pubescens_. In appearance
and habit it was too unlike that familiar Massachusetts species. If he
could see it growing, I was persuaded he would be of the same opinion,
though I was well enough aware of my entire unfitness for meddling with
such high questions.

He replied at once, knowing the symptoms of collector’s fever, it is
to be presumed, and the value of a prompt treatment. The violet was
_V. pubescens scabriuscula_, he said,--at least, it was the plant so
designated by the Manual; but he went on to tell me, for my comfort,
that some botanists accepted it as of specific rank, and that my own
impression about it would very likely prove to be correct. Since then I
have been glad to find this view of the question supported by Messrs.
Britton and Brown in their new Illustrated Flora, where the plant is
listed as _V. scabriuscula_. As to all of which it may be subjoined
that the less a man knows, the prouder he feels at having made a good
guess. It would be too bad if so common an evil as ignorance were not
attended by some slight compensations.

These novelties in violets, so interesting to the finder, if to nobody
else (though since the time here spoken of he has seen the “rare”
_hastata_ growing broadcast, literally by the acre, in the woodlands
of southwestern North Carolina), were gathered, as before said, not far
from the foot of Peak Knob. From the moment of my arrival in Pulaski
I had had my eye upon that eminence, the highest of the hills round
about, looking to be, as I was told it was, a thousand feet above
the valley level, or some three thousand feet above tide-water. I
call it Peak Knob, but that was not the name I first heard for it. On
the second afternoon of my stay I had gone through the town and over
some shadeless fields beyond, following a crooked, hard-baked, deeply
rutted road, till I found myself in a fine piece of old woods,--oaks,
tulip-trees (poplars, the Southern people call them), black walnuts,
and the like; leafless now, all of them, and silent as the grave, but
certain a few days hence to be alive with wings and vocal with spring
music. In imagination I was already beholding them populous with chats,
indigo-birds, wood pewees, wood thrushes, and warblers (it is one of
our ornithological pleasures to make such anticipatory catalogues in
unfamiliar places), when my prophetic vision was interrupted by the
approach of a cart, in which sat a man driving a pair of oxen by
means of a single rope line. He stopped at once on being accosted,
and we talked of this and that; the inquisitive traveler asking
such questions as came into his head, and the wood-carter answering
them one by one in a neighborly, unhurried spirit. Along with the
rest of my interrogatories I inquired the name of the high mountain
yonder, beyond the valley. “That is Peach Knob,” he replied,--or so
I understood him. “Peach Knob?” said I. “Why is that? Because of the
peaches raised there?” “No, they just _call_ it that,” he answered; but
he added, as an afterthought, that there _were_ some peach orchards,
he believed, on the southern slope. Perhaps he had said “Peak Knob,”
and was too polite to correct a stranger’s hardness of hearing. At
all events, the mountain appeared to be generally known by that more
reasonable-sounding if somewhat tautological appellation.

By whatever name it should be called, I was on my way to scale it when
I found the roadside bright with hastate-leaved violets, as before
described. My mistaken course, and some ill-considered attempts I made
to correct the same by striking across lots, took me so far out of the
way, and so much increased the labor of the ascent, that the afternoon
was already growing short when I reached the crest of the ridge below
the actual peak, or knob; and as my mood was not of the most ambitious,
and the clouds had begun threatening rain, I gave over the climb at
that point, and sat down on the edge of the ridge, having the wood
behind me, to regain my breath and enjoy the landscape.

A little below, on the knolls halfway up the mountain, was a settlement
of colored mountaineers, a dozen or so of scattered houses, each
surrounded by a garden and orchard patch,--apple-trees, cherry-trees,
and a few peach-trees, with currant and gooseberry bushes; a really
thrifty-seeming alpine hamlet, with a maze of winding bypaths and
half-worn carriage-roads making down from it to the highway below. With
or without reason, it struck me as a thing to be surprised at, this
colony of black highlanders.

The distance was all a grand confusion of mountains, one crowding
another on the horizon; some nearer, some farther away, with one lofty
and massive peak in the northeast lording it over the rest. Close at
hand in the valley, at my left, lay the city of Pulaski, with its
furnaces,--a mile or two apart, having a stretch of open country
between,--its lazy creek, and its multitudinous churches. A Pulaskian
would find it hard to miss of heaven, it seemed to me. Everywhere else
the foreground was a grassy, pastoral country, broken by occasional
patches of leafless woods, and showing here and there a solitary
house,--a scene widely unlike that from any Massachusetts mountain of
anything near the same altitude. Hereabout (and one reads the same
story in traveling over the State) men do not huddle together in towns,
and get their bread by making things in factories, but are still
mostly tillers of the soil, planters and graziers, with elbow-room and
breathing-space. The more cities and villages, the more woods,--such
appears to be the law. In Massachusetts there are six or seven times
as many inhabitants to the square mile as there are in Virginia; yet
Massachusetts seen from its hilltops is all a forest, and Virginia a
cleared country.

Rain began falling by the time the valley was reached, on my return,
and coming to a store in the vicinity of the lower furnace,--the one
store of that suburb, so far as I could discover,--I stepped inside,
partly for shelter, partly to see the people at their Saturday
shopping. A glance at the walls and the show-cases made it plain
that one store was enough. You had only to ask for what you wanted:
a shotgun, a revolver, a violin case, a shovel, a plug of tobacco, a
pound of sugar, a coffee-pot, a dress pattern, a ribbon, a necktie, a
pair of trousers, or what not. The merchant might have written over
his door, “Humani nihil alienum;” if he had been a city shopkeeper,
he might even have called his establishment a department store, and
filled the Sunday newspapers with the wonders of it. Then it would have
been but a step to the governor’s chair, or possibly to a seat in the
national council.

The place was like a beehive; customers of both sexes and both colors
going and coming with a ceaseless buzz of gossip and bargaining, while
the proprietor and his clerks--two of them smoking cigarettes--bustled
to and fro behind the counters, improving the shining hour. One
strapping young colored man standing near me inquired for suspenders,
and, on having an assortment placed before him, selected without
hesitation (it is a good customer who knows his own mind) a brilliant
yellow pair embroidered or edged with equally brilliant red. Having
bought them, at an outlay of twelve cents, he proceeded to the piazza,
where he took off his coat and put them on. That was what he had bought
them for. His taste was impressionistic, I thought. He believed in
the primary colors. And why quarrel with him? “Dear child of Nature,
let them rail,” I was ready to say. It is not Mother Nature, but Dame
Fashion, another person altogether, and a most ridiculous old body,
who prescribes that masculine humanity shall never consider itself
“dressed” except in funereal black and white.

What Nature herself thinks of colors, and what freedom she uses in
mixing them, was to be newly impressed upon me this very afternoon, on
my walk homeward. In a wet place near the edge of the woods, at some
distance from the road,--so sticky after the rain that I was thankful
to keep away from it,--I came suddenly upon a truly magnificent display
of Virginia lungwort, a flower that I half remembered to have seen at
one time and another in gardens, but here growing in a garden of its
own, and after a manner to put cultivation to the blush. The homely
place, nothing but the muddy border of a pool, was glorified by it;
the flowers a vivid blue or bluish-purple, and the buds bright pink.
The plants are of a weedy sort, little to my fancy, and the blossoms,
taken by themselves, are not to be compared for an instant with such
modest woodland beauties as were spoken of a few pages back, trailing
arbutus, fringed polygala, and the vernal fleur-de-lis; but the color,
seen thus in the mass, and come upon thus unexpectedly, was a memorable
piece of splendor. Such pictures, humble as they may seem, and little
as they may be regarded at the time, are often among the best rewards
of travel. Memory has ways of her own, and treasures what trifles she

And with another of her trifles let me be done with this part of my
story. There was still the end of the afternoon to spare, and, the rain
being over, I skirted the woods, walking and standing still by turns,
till all at once out of a thicket just before me came the voice of a
bird,--a brown thrasher, I took it to be,--running over his song in the
very smallest of undertones; phrase after phrase, each with its natural
emphasis and cadence, but all barely audible, though the singer could
be only a few feet away. It was wonderful, the beauty of the muted
voice and the fluency and perfection of the tune. The music ceased; and
then, after a moment, I heard, several times repeated, still only a
breath of sound, the mew of a catbird. With that I drew a step or two
nearer, and there the bird sat, motionless and demure, as if music and
a listener were things equally remote from his consciousness. What was
in his thoughts I know not. He may have been tuning up, simply, making
sure of his technique, rehearsing upon a dumb keyboard. Possibly, as
men and women do, he had sung without knowing it,--dreaming of a last
year’s mate or of summer days coming,--or out of mere comfortable
vacancy of mind. Catbirds are not among my dearest favorites; a little
too fussy, somewhat too well aware of themselves, I generally think;
more than a little too fragmentary in their effusions, beginning and
beginning, and never getting under way, like an improviser who cannot
find his theme; but this bird in the Alleghanies sang as bewitching a
song as my ears ever listened to.


My spring campaign in Virginia was planned in the spirit of the old
war-time bulletin, “All quiet on the Potomac;” happiness was to be
its end, and idleness its means; and so far, at least, as my stay at
Pulaski was concerned, this peaceful design was well carried out.
There was nothing there to induce excessive activity: no glorious
mountain summit whose daily beckoning must sooner or later be heeded;
no long forest roads of the kind that will not let a man’s imagination
alone till he has seen the end of them. The town itself is small and
compact, so that it was no great jaunt to get away from it, and such
woods as especially invited exploration lay close at hand. In short, it
was a place where even a walking naturalist found it easy to go slowly,
and to spend a due share of every day in sitting still, which latter
occupation, so it be engaged in neither upon a piazza nor on a lawn, is
one of the best uses of those fullest parts of a busy man’s life, his
so-called vacations.

The measure of my indolence may be estimated from the fact that the
one really picturesque road in the neighborhood was left undiscovered
till nearly the last day of my sojourn. It takes its departure from
the village[12] within a quarter of a mile of the hotel, and the
friendly manager of the house, who seemed himself to have some idea of
such pleasures as I was in quest of, commended its charms to me very
shortly after my arrival. So I recollected afterward, but for the time
I somehow allowed the significance of his words to escape me, else I
should, no doubt, have traveled the road again and again. As things
were, I spent but a single forenoon upon it, and went only as far as
the “height of land.”

The mountain road, as the townspeople call it, runs over the long ridge
which fills the horizon east of Pulaski, and down into the valley on
the other side. It has its beginning, at least, in a gap similar in all
respects to the one, some half a mile to the northward, into which I
had so many times followed a footpath, as already fully set forth. The
traveler has first to pass half a dozen or more of cabins, where, if he
is a stranger, he will probably find himself watched out of sight with
flattering unanimity by the curious inmates. In my time, at all events,
a solitary foot-passenger seemed to be regarded as nothing short of a
phenomenon. What was more agreeable, I met here a little procession
of happy-looking black children returning to the town loaded with big
branches of flowering apple-trees; a sight which for some reason put
me in mind of a child, a tiny thing,--a veritable pickaninny,--whom
I had passed, some years before, near Tallahassee, and who pleased me
by exclaiming to a companion, as a dove cooed in the distance, “Listen
dat mournin’ dove!” I wondered whether such children, living nearer to
nature than some of us, might not be peculiarly susceptible to natural
sights and sounds.

Before one of the last cabins stood three white children, and as they
gazed at me fixedly I wished them “Good-morning;” but they stared and
answered nothing. Then, when I had passed, a woman’s sharp voice called
from within, “Why don’t you speak when anybody speaks to you? I’d have
some manners, if I was you.” And I perceived that if the boys and
girls were growing up in rustic diffidence (not the most ill-mannered
condition in the world, by any means), it was not for lack of careful
maternal instruction.

This gap, like its fellow, had its own brook, which after a time the
road left on one side and began climbing the mountain by a steeper
and more direct course than the water had followed. Here were more
of the rare hastate-leaved violets, and another bunch of the barren
strawberry, with hepatica, fringed polygala, mitrewort, bloodroot, and
a pretty show of a remarkably large and handsome chickweed, of which
I had seen much also in other places,--_Stellaria pubera_, or “great
chickweed,” as I made it out.

I was admiring these lowly beauties as I idled along (there was little
else to admire just then, the wood being scrubby and the ground lately
burned over), when I came to a standstill at the sound of a strange
song from the bushy hillside a few paces behind me. The bird, whatever
it was, had let me go by,--as birds so often do,--and then had broken
out into music. I turned back at once, and made short work of the
mystery,--a worm-eating warbler. Thanks to the fire, there was no cover
for it, had it desired any. I had seen a bird of the same species a
few days previously on the opposite side of the town,--looking like
a red-eyed vireo rigged out with a fanciful striped head-dress,--and
sixteen years before I had fallen in with a few specimens in the
District of Columbia, but this was my first hearing of the song. The
queer little creature was picking about the ground, feeding, but every
minute or two mounted some low perch,--a few inches seemed to satisfy
its ambition,--and delivered itself of a simple, short trill, similar
to the pine warbler’s for length and form, but in a guttural voice
decidedly unlike the pine warbler’s clear, musical whistle. It was
not a very pleasing song, in itself considered, but I was very much
pleased to hear it; for let the worldly-minded say what they will, a
new bird-song is an event. With a single exception, it was the only new
one, I believe, of my Virginia trip.

The worm-eating warbler, it may be worth while to add, is one of the
less widely known members of its numerous family; plainness itself in
its appearance, save for its showy cap, and very lowly and sedate in
its habits. The few that I have ever had sight of, perhaps a dozen in
all, have been on the ground or close to it, though one, I remember,
was traveling about the lower part of a tree-trunk after the manner
of a black-and-white creeper; and all observers, so far as I know,
agree in pronouncing the song an exceptionally meagre and dry affair.
Ordinarily it has been likened to that of the chipper, but my bird had
nothing like the chipper’s gift of continuance.

This worm-eater’s song must count as the best ornithological incident
of the forenoon, since nothing else is quite so good as absolute
novelty; but I was glad also to see for the first time hereabouts
four commoner birds,--the pileated woodpecker, the sap-sucker
(yellow-bellied woodpecker), the rose-breasted grosbeak, and the
black-throated blue warbler. I had undertaken a local list, of
course,--a lazier kind of collecting,--and so was thankful for
small favors. In the way of putting a shine upon common things the
collecting spirit is second only to genius. I was glad to see them,
I say; but, to be exact, I saw only three out of the four. The big
woodpecker was heard, not seen. And while I stood still, hoping that
he would repeat himself, and possibly show himself, I heard a chorus
of crossbill notes,--like the cries of barnyard chickens a few weeks
old,--and, looking up, descried the authors of them, a flock of
ten birds flying across the valley. They were not new, even to my
Pulaski notebook, but they gave me, for all that, an exhilarating
sensation of unexpectedness. Crossbills are associated in my mind
with Massachusetts winters and New Hampshire summers and autumns. On
the 30th of April, and in southwestern Virginia,--a long way from New
Hampshire to the mind of a creature whose handiest mode of locomotion
is by rail,--they seemed out of place and out of season; the more so
because, to the best of my knowledge, there were no very high mountains
or extensive coniferous forests anywhere in the neighborhood. However,
my sensation of surprise, agreeable though it was, and therefore not
to be regretted, had, on reflection, no very good reason to give for
itself. Crossbills are a kind of gypsies among birds, and one ought
not to be astonished, I suppose, at meeting them almost anywhere. Some
days after this (May 12), in the national cemetery at Arlington (across
the Potomac from Washington), I glanced up into a low spruce-tree in
response to the call of an orchard oriole, and there, at work upon the
cones, hung a flock of five crossbills, three of them in red plumage.
They were feeding, and had no thought of doing anything else. For
the half-hour that I stayed by them--some other interesting birds, a
true migratory wave, in fact, being near at hand--they remained in
that treetop without uttering a syllable; and two hours later, when
I came down the same path again, they had moved but two trees away,
and were still eating in silence, paying absolutely no heed to me as
I walked under them. Many kinds of northward-bound migrants were in
the cemetery woods. Perhaps these ravenous crossbills[13] were of the
party. I took them for stragglers, at any rate, not remembering at the
time that birds of their sort are believed to have bred, at least in
one instance, within the District of Columbia. Probably they _were_
stragglers, but whether from the forests of the North or from the peaks
of the southern Alleghanies is of course a point beyond my ken.

So far as our present knowledge of them goes, crossbills seem in a
peculiar sense to be a law unto themselves. In northern New England
they are said to lay their eggs in late winter or early spring, when
the temperature is liable, or even certain, to run many degrees below
zero. Yet, if the notion takes them, a pair will raise a brood in
Massachusetts or in Maryland in the middle of May; which strikes
me, I am bound to say, as a far more reasonable and Christian-like
proceeding. And the same erratic quality pertains to their ordinary,
every-day behavior. Even their simplest flight from one hill to
another, as I witnessed it here in Virginia, for example, has an air of
being all a matter of chance. Now they tack to the right, now to the
left, now in close order, now every one for himself; no member of the
flock appearing to know just how the course lies, and all hands calling
incessantly, as the only means of coming into port together.

When I spoke just now of the worm-eating warbler’s song as almost
the only new one heard in Virginia, I ought perhaps to have guarded
my words. I meant to say that the worm-eater was almost the only
species that I there heard sing for the first time,--a somewhat
different matter; for new songs, happily,--songs new to the individual
listener,--are by no means so infrequent as the songs of new birds. On
the very forenoon of which I am now writing, I heard another strain
that was every whit as novel to my ear as the worm-eater’s,--as novel,
indeed, as if it had been the work of some bird from the other side of
the planet. Again and again it was given out, at tantalizing intervals,
and I could not so much as guess at the identity of the singer; partly,
it may be, because of the feverish anxiety I was in lest he should get
away from me in that endless mountain-side forest. Every repetition
I thought would be the last, and the bird gone forever. Finally,
as I edged nearer and nearer, half a step at once, with infinite
precaution, I caught a glimpse of a chickadee. A chickadee! Could he
be doing that? Yes; for I watched him, and saw it done. And these
were the notes, or the best that my pencil could make of them: _twee,
twee, twee_ (very quick), _twitty, twitty_,--the first measure in a
thin, wire-drawn tone, the second a full, clear whistle. Sometimes the
three _twees_ were slurred almost into one. Altogether, the effect
was most singular. I had never heard anything in the least resembling
it, familiar as I had thought myself for some years with the normal
four-syllabled song of _Parus carolinensis_. For the moment I was half
disposed to be angry,--so much excitement, and so absurd an outcome;
but on the whole it is very good fun to be fooled in this way by a bird
who happens to have invented a tune of his own. Besides, we are all
believers in originality,--are we not?--whatever our own practice.

Human travelers were infrequent enough to be little more than a welcome
diversion: two young men on horseback; a solitary foot-passenger, who
kindly pointed out a trail by which a long elbow in the road could be
saved on the descent; and, near the top of the mountain, a four-horse
cart, the driver of which was riding one of the wheel-horses. At the
summit I chose a seat (not the first one of the jaunt, by any means)
and surveyed the valley beyond. It lay directly at my feet, the
mountain dropping to it almost at a bound, and the stunted budding
trees offered the least possible obstruction to the view. Narrow as
the valley was, there was nothing else to be seen in that direction.
Immediately behind it dense clouds hung so low that from my altitude
there was no looking under them. In one respect it was better so, as
sometimes, for the undistracted enjoyment of it, a single painting is
better than a gallery.

There was nothing peculiar or striking in the scene, nothing in the
slightest degree romantic or extraordinary: a common patch of earth,
without so much as the play of sunlight and shadow to set it off;
a pretty valley, closely shut in between a mountain and a cloud; a
quiet, grassy place, fenced into small farms, the few scattered houses,
perhaps half a dozen, each with its cluster of outbuildings and its
orchard of blossoming fruit-trees. Here and there cattle were grazing,
guinea fowls were calling _potrack_ in tones which not even the magic
of distance could render musical, and once the loud baa of a sheep came
all the way up the mountain side. If the best reward of climbing be to
look afar off, the next best is to look down thus into a tiny valley of
a world. In either case, the gazer must take time enough, and be free
enough in his spirit, to become a part of what he sees. Then he may
hope to carry something of it home with him.

It was soon after quitting the summit, on my return,--for I left the
valley a picture (I can see it yet), and turned back by the way I
had come,--that I fell in with the grosbeaks before alluded to: a
single taciturn female with two handsome males in devoted and tuneful
attendance upon her. Happy creature! Among birds, so far as I have ever
been able to gather, the gentler and more backward sex have never to
wait for admirers. Their only anxiety lies in choosing one rather than
another. That, no doubt, must be sometimes a trouble, since, as this
imperfect world is constituted, choice includes rejection.

The law is general. Even in the modern pastime which we dignify as the
“observation of nature” there is no evading it. If we see one thing,
we for that reason are blind to another. I had ascended this mountain
road at a snail’s pace, never walking many rods together without a
halt,--whatever was to be seen, I meant to see it; yet now, on my way
down, my eyes fell all at once upon a bank thickly set with plants
quite unknown to me. There they stood, in all the charms of novelty,
waiting to be discovered: low shrubs, perhaps two feet in height,
of a very odd appearance,--not conspicuous, exactly, but decidedly
noticeable,--covered with drooping racemes of small chocolate-colored
flowers. They were directly upon the roadside. With half an eye, a
man would have found it hard work to miss them. “The observation of
nature”! Verily it is a great study, and its devotees acquire an
amazing sharpness of vision. How many other things, equally strange
and interesting, had I left unseen, both going and coming? I ought
perhaps to have been surprised and humiliated by such an experience;
but I cannot say that either emotion was what could be called poignant.
I have been living with myself for a good many years; and besides,
as was remarked just now, all our doings are under the universal law
of selection and exclusion. On the whole, I am glad of it. Life will
relish the longer for our not finding everything at once.

The identity of the shrub was quickly made out, the vivid yellow of
the inner bark furnishing a clue which spared me the labor of a formal
“analysis.” It was _Xanthorrhiza apiifolia_, shrub yellow-root,--a name
long familiar to my eye from having been read so many times in turning
the leaves of the Manual, on one hunt and another. With a new song and
a new flowering plant, the mountain road had used me pretty well, after
all my neglect of it.

My one new bird at Pulaski--and the only one seen in Virginia--was
stumbled upon in a grassy field on the farther border of the town.
I had set out to spend an hour or two in a small wood beyond the
brickyard, and was cutting the corner of a field by a footpath, still
feeling myself in the city, and not yet on the alert, when a bird
flew up before me, crossed the street, and dropped on the other side
of the wall. Half seen as it was, its appearance suggested nothing in
particular; but it seemed not to be an English sparrow,--too common
here, as it is getting to be everywhere,--and of course it might be
worth attention. It is one capital advantage of being away from home
that we take additional encouragement to investigate whatever falls in
our way. Before I could get to the wall, however, the bird rose, along
with two or three Britishers, and perched before me in a thorn-bush.
Then I saw at a glance that it must be a lark sparrow (_Chondestes_).
With those magnificent headstripes it could hardly be anything else.
What a prince it looked!--a prince in most ignoble company. It would
have held its rank even among white-crowns, of which it made me think
not only by its head-markings, but by its general color and--what was
perhaps only the same thing--a certain cleanness of aspect. Presently
it flew back to the field out of which I had frightened it; and there
in the short grass it continued feeding for a long half-hour, while
I stood, glass in hand, ogling it, and making penciled notes of its
plumage, point by point, for comparison with Dr. Coues’s description
after I should return to the inn. I was almost directly under the
windows of a house,--of a Sunday afternoon,--but that did not matter.
Two or three carriages passed along the street, but I let them go.
A new bird is a new bird. And it must be admitted that neither the
occupants of the house nor the people in the carriages betrayed the
slightest curiosity as to my unconventional behavior. The bird, for
its part, minded me little more. It was engrossed with its dinner,
and uttered no sound beyond two or three _tseeps_, in which I could
recognize nothing distinctive. Its silence was a disappointment; and
since I could not waste the afternoon in watching a bird, no matter
how new and handsome, that would do nothing but eat grass seed (or
something else), I finally took the road again and passed on. I did not
see it afterward, though, under fresh accessions of curiosity, and for
the chance of hearing it sing, I went in search of it twice.

From a reference to Dr. Rives’s Catalogue of the Birds of the
Virginias, which I had brought with me, I learned, what I thought I
knew already, that the lark sparrow, abundantly at home in the interior
of North America, is merely an accidental visitor in Virginia. The only
records cited by Dr. Rives are those of two specimens, one captured,
the other seen, in and near Washington. It seemed like a perversity of
fate that I, hardly more than an accidental visitor myself, should be
shown a bird which Dr. Rives--the ornithologist of the state, we may
fairly call him--had never seen within the state limits. But it was not
for me to complain; and for that matter, it is nothing new to say that
it takes a green hand to make discoveries. I knew a man, only a few
years ago, who, one season, was so uninstructed that he called me out
to see a Henslow’s bunting, which proved to be a song sparrow; but the
very next year he found a snowbird summering a few miles from Boston
(there was no mistake this time),--a thing utterly without precedent.
In the same way, I knew of one lad who discovered a brown thrasher
wintering in Massachusetts, the only recorded instance; and of another
who went to an ornithologist of experience begging him to come into the
woods and see a most wonderful many-colored bird, which turned out,
to the experienced man’s astonishment, to be nothing less rare than a
non-pareil bunting! Providence favors the beginner, or so it seems; and
the beginner, on his part, is prepared to be favored, because to him
everything is worth looking at.

Dr. Rives’s catalogue helped me to a somewhat lively interest in
another bird, one so much an old story to me for many years that of
itself its presence or absence here would scarcely have received a
second thought. I speak of the blue golden-winged warbler. It is
common in Massachusetts,--in that part of it, at least, where I
happen to live,--and I have found it abundant in eastern Tennessee.
That it should be at home here in southwestern Virginia, so near the
Tennessee line and in a country so well adapted to its tastes, would
have appeared to me the most natural thing in the world. But when I had
noted my first specimens--on this same Sunday afternoon--and was back
at the hotel, I took up the catalogue to check the name; and there I
found the bird entered as a rare migrant, with only one record of its
capture in Virginia proper, and that near Washington. Dr. Rives had
never met with it!

This was on the 28th of April. Two days later I noticed one or two
more,--probably two, but there was no certainty that I had not run
upon the same bird twice; and on the morning of May 1, in a last
hurried visit to the woods, I saw two together. All were males in full
plumage, and one of the last two was singing. The warbler migration
was just coming on, and I could not help believing that with a little
time blue golden-wings would grow to be fairly numerous. That, of
course, was matter of conjecture. I found no sign of the species at
Natural Bridge, which is about a hundred miles from Pulaski in a
northeasterly direction. In Massachusetts this beautiful warbler’s
distribution is decidedly local, and its commonness is believed to have
increased greatly in the last twenty years. Possibly the same may be
true in Virginia. Possibly, too, my seeing of five or six specimens,
on opposite sides of the city, was nothing but a happy chance, and my
inference from it a pure delusion.

I have implied that the warbler migration was approaching its height
on the 1st of May. In point of fact, however, the brevity of my
visit--and perhaps also its date, neither quite early enough nor quite
late enough--rendered it impossible for me to gather much as to the
course of this always interesting movement, or even to understand the
significance of the little of it that came under my eye. My first
day’s walks--very short and altogether at haphazard, and that of the
afternoon as good as thrown away--showed but three species of warblers;
an anomalous state of things, especially as two of the birds were the
oven-bird and the golden warbler, neither of them to be reckoned among
the early comers of the family. The next day I saw six other species,
including such prompt ones as the pine-creeper and the myrtle-bird, and
such a comparatively tardy one as the Blackburnian. On the 26th three
additional names were listed,--the blue yellow-back, the chestnut-side,
and the worm-eater. Not until the fourth day was anything seen or heard
of the black-throated green. This fact of itself would establish the
worthlessness of any conclusions that might be drawn from the progress
of events as I had noted them.

On the 28th, when my first blue golden-wings made their appearance,
there were present also in the same place three palm warblers,--my
only meeting with them in Virginia, where Dr. Rives marks them “not
common.” With them, or in the same small wood, were a group of silent
red-eyed vireos, several yellow-throated vireos, also silent,
myrtle-birds, one or two Blackburnians, one or two chestnut-sides, two
or three redstarts, and one oven-bird, with black-and-white creepers,
and something like a flock (a rare sight for me) of white-breasted
nuthatches,--a typical body of migrants, to which may be added, though
less clearly members of the same party, tufted titmice, Carolina
chickadees, white-throated sparrows, Carolina doves, flickers, downy
woodpeckers, and brown thrashers.

It is a curious circumstance, universally observed, that warblers,
with a few partial exceptions,--blackpolls and myrtle-birds
especially,--travel thus in mixed companies; so that a flock of
twenty birds may be found to contain representatives of six, eight,
or ten species. Whatever its explanation, the habit is one to be
thankful for from the field student’s point of view. The pleasurable
excitement which the semi-annual warbler movement affords him is at
least several times greater than it could be if each species made the
journey by itself. Every observer must have realized, for example, how
comparatively uninteresting the blackpoll migration is, particularly
in the autumn. Comparatively uninteresting, I say; for even with the
birch-trees swarming with blackpolls, each exactly like its fellow, the
hope, slight as it may be, of lighting upon a stray baybreast among
them may encourage a man to keep up his scrutiny, leveling his glass
upon bird after bird, looking for a dash of telltale color along the
flanks, till at last he says, “Nothing but blackpolls,” and turns away
in search of more stirring adventures.

Students of natural history, like less favored people, should cultivate
philosophy; and the primary lesson of philosophy is to make the best of
things as they are. If an expected bird fails us, we are not therefore
without resources and compensations; we may be interested in the fact
of its absence; and so long as we are interested, though it be only
in the endurance of privation, life has still something left for us.
Herein, in part, lies the value to the traveling student of a local
list of the things in his own line. It enables him to keep in view
what he is missing, and so to increase the sum of his sensations. One
of my surprises at Pulaski (and a surprise is better than nothing,
even if it be on the wrong side of the account) was the absence of the
phœbe,--“almost everywhere a common summer resident,” says Dr. Rives.
Another unexpected thing was the absence of the white-eyed vireo,--also
a “common summer resident,”--for which portions of the surrounding
country seemed to be admirably suited. I should have thought, too,
that Carolina wrens would have been here,--a pair or two, at least. As
it was, Bewick seemed to have the field mostly to himself, although
a house wren was singing on the morning of May 1, and I have already
mentioned a winter wren which was seen on three or four occasions.
He, however, may be assumed to have taken his departure northward
(or southward) very soon after my final sight of him. Thrashers and
catbirds are wrens, I know,--though I doubt whether _they_ know
it,--but it has not yet become natural for me to speak of them under
that designation. The mockingbird, another big wren, I did not find
here, nor had I supposed myself likely to do so. Robins were common,
I was glad to see,--one pair were building a nest in the vines of the
hotel veranda,--and several pairs of song sparrows appeared to have
established themselves along the banks of the creek north of the city.
I saw them nowhere else. One need not go much beyond Virginia to find
these omnipresent New Englanders endowed with all the attractions of

Two or three spotted sandpipers about the stony bed of the creek
(a dribbling stream at present, though within a month or so it had
carried away bridges and set houses adrift), and a few killdeer plovers
there and in the dry fields beyond, were the only water birds seen
at Pulaski. One of the killdeers gave me a pretty display of what I
took to be his antics as a wooer. I was returning over the grassy
hills, where on the way out a colored boy’s dog in advance of me had
stirred up several killdeers, when suddenly I heard a strange humming
noise,--a sort of double-tonguing, I called it to myself,--and very
soon recognized in it, as I thought, something of the killdeer’s
vocal quality. Sure enough, as I drew near the place I found the
fellow in the midst of a real lover’s ecstasy; his tail straight in
the air, fully spread (the value of the bright cinnamon-colored rump
and tail feathers being at once apparent), and he spinning round
like a dervish, almost as if standing on his head (it was a wonder
how he did it), all the while emitting that quick throbbing whistle.
His mate (that was, or was to be) maintained an air of perfect
indifference,--maidenly reserve it might have been called, for aught
I know, by a spectator possessed of a charitable imagination,--as
female birds generally do in such cases; unless, as often happens,
they repel their adorers with beak and claw. I have seen courtships
that looked more ridiculous, because more human-like,--the flicker’s,
for example,--but never a crazier one, or one less describable. In the
language of the boards, it was a star performance.

The same birds amused me at another time by their senseless conduct
in the stony margins of the creek, where they had taken refuge when I
pressed them too nearly. There they squatted close among the pebbles,
as other plovers do, till it was all but impossible to tell feather
from stone, though I had watched the whole proceeding; yet while they
stood thus motionless and practically invisible (no cinnamon color
in sight, now!), they could not for their lives keep their tongues
still, but every little while uttered loud, characteristic cries. Their
behavior was a mixture of shrewdness and stupidity such as even human
beings would have been hard put to it to surpass.

Swallows were scarce, almost of course. A few pairs of rough-wings were
most likely at home in the city or near it, and more than once two or
three barn swallows were noticed hawking up and down the creek. There
was small prospect of their settling hereabout, from any indications
that I could discover. Chimney swifts, happily, were better provided
for; pretty good substitutes for swallows,--so good, indeed, that
people in general do not know the difference. And even an ornithologist
may be glad to confess that the rarity of swallows throughout the
Alleghanies is not an unmitigated misfortune, if it be connected
in any way with the immunity of the same region from the plague of
mosquitoes. It would be difficult to exaggerate the luxury to a
dreaming naturalist, used to New England forests, of woods in which he
can lounge at his ease, in warm weather, with no mosquito, black fly,
or midge--“more formidable than wolves,” as Thoreau says--to disturb
his meditations.

By far the most characteristic birds of the city were the Bewick wrens,
of whose town-loving habits I have already spoken. Constantly as I
heard them, I could never become accustomed to the unwrennish character
of their music. Again and again, when the bird happened to be a little
way off, so that only the concluding measure of his tune reached me,
I caught myself thinking of him as a song sparrow. If I had been in
Massachusetts, I should certainly have passed on without a suspicion of
the truth.

The tall old rock maples in the hotel yard--decaying at the tops--were
occupied by a colony of bronzed grackles, busy and noisy from morning
till night; excellent company, as they stalked about the lawn under my
windows. In the same trees a gorgeous Baltimore oriole whistled for
three or four days, and once I heard there a warbling vireo. Neither
oriole nor vireo was detected elsewhere.

Of my seventy-five Pulaski species (April 24-May 1), eighteen were
warblers and fifteen belonged to the sparrow-finch family. Six of
the seventy-five names were added in a bunch at the very last moment,
making me think with lively regret how much more respectable my list
would be if I could remain a week or two longer. With my trunk packed
and everything ready for my departure, I ran out once more to the
border of the woods, at the point where I had first entered them a
week before; and there, in the trees and shrubbery along the brookside
path, I found myself all at once surrounded by a most interesting bevy
of fresh arrivals, among which a hurried investigation disclosed a
scarlet tanager, a humming-bird, a house wren, a chat, a wood pewee,
and a Louisiana water thrush. The pewee was calling and the house wren
singing (an unspeakable convenience when a man has but ten minutes in
which to take the census of a thicket full of birds), and the water
thrush, as he flew up the stream, keeping just ahead of me among the
rhododendrons, stopped every few minutes to sing his prettiest, as if
he were overjoyed to be once more at home after a winter’s absence. I
did not wonder at his happiness. The spot had been made for him. I was
as sorry to leave it, perhaps, as he was glad to get back to it.

And while I followed the water thrush, Bruce, the hotel collie, my
true friend of a week, whose frequent companionship on the mountain
road and elsewhere has been too much ignored, was having a livelier
chase on his own account,--a chase which I found time to enjoy, for
the minute that it lasted, in spite of my preoccupation. He had
stolen out of the house by a back door, and followed me to the woods
without an invitation,--though he might have had one, since, being
non-ornithological in his pursuits, he was never in the way,--and
now was thrown into a sudden frenzy by the starting up before him
of a rabbit. Hearing his bark, I turned about in season to see the
two creatures going at lightning speed up the hillside, the rabbit’s
“cotton tail” (a fine “mark of direction,” as naturalists say)
immediately in front of the collie’s nose. Once the rabbit ran plump
into a log, and for an instant was fairly off its legs. I trembled for
its safety; but it recovered itself, and in a moment more disappeared
from view. Then after a few minutes Bruce came back, panting. It had
been a great morning for him as well as for me,--a morning to haunt
his after-dinner dreams, and set his legs twitching, for a week to
come. I hope he has found many another walking guest and “fellow
woodlander” since then, with whom to enjoy the pleasures of the road
and the excitement of the chase.

For myself, there was no leisure for sentiment. I posted back to the
inn on the run, and only after boarding the train was able to make a
minute of the good things which the rim of the forest had shown me.

It was quite as well so. With prudent forethought, my farewell to
the brook path and the clearing at the head of it had been taken the
afternoon before. Here, again, Fortune smiled upon me. After three days
of cloudiness and rain the sun was once more shining, and I took my
usual seat on the dry grassy knoll among the rusty boulders for a last
look at the world about me,--this peaceful, sequestered nook in the
Alleghanies, into which by so happy a chance I had wandered on my first
morning in Virginia. (How well I remembered the years when Virginia was
anything but an abode of quietness!) The arbutus was still in plentiful
bloom, and the dwarf fleur-delis also. On my way up the slope I had
stopped to admire a close bunch of a dozen blossoms. The same soft
breeze was blowing, and the same field sparrow chanting. Yes, and the
same buzzard floated overhead and dropped the same moving shadow upon
the hillside. Now a prairie warbler sang or a hyla peeped, but mostly
the air was silent, except for the murmur of pine needles and the faint
rustling of dry oak leaves. And all around me stood the hills, the
nearest of them, to-day, blue with haze.

For a while I went farther up the slope, to a spot where I could look
through a break in the circle and out upon the world. In one direction
were green fields and blossoming apple-trees, and beyond them, of
course, a wilderness of mountains. But I returned soon to my lower
seat. It was pleasanter there, where I was quite shut in. The ground
about me was sprinkled with low azalea bushes, unnoticed a week ago,
now brightening with clustered pink buds. What a picture the hill would
make a few days hence, and again, later still, when the laurel should
come into its glory!

Parting is sweet pain. It must be a mark of inferiority, I suppose,
to be fonder of places than of persons,--as cats are inferior to dogs.
But then, on a vacation one _goes_ to see places. And right or wrong,
so it was. Kindly as the hotel people had treated me,--and none could
have been kinder or more efficient,--there was nothing in Pulaski that
I left with half so much regret, or have remembered half so often, as
this hollow among the hills, wherein a man could look and listen and be
quiet, with no thought of anything new or strange, contented for the
time with the old thoughts and the old dreams.



With the exception of a tedious delay at East Radford it was a very
enjoyable forenoon’s ride from Pulaski to Natural Bridge, through a
country everywhere interesting, and for much of the distance gloriously
wild and beautiful. Splendid hillside patches of mingled Judas-tree and
flowering dogwood--one of a bright peach-bloom color, the other royal
masses of pure white--brightened parts of the way south of Roanoke.
There, also, hovering over a grassy field, were the first bobolinks of
the season. From Buchanan northward (new ground to me by daylight) we
had the company of mountains and the James River, the road following
the windings of a narrow bank between the base of the ridge and the
water. It surprised me to see the James so large and full at such a
distance from its mouth,--almost as wide, I thought, as the Tennessee
at Chattanooga. Shortly before reaching the Natural Bridge station the
train stopped for water, and on getting off the steps of the car I
heard a Maryland yellow-throat singing just below me at the foot of the
bank, and in a minute more a kingfisher flew across the stream,--two
additional names for my vacation catalogue. Then, while I waited at the
station for a carriage from the hotel,--two miles and a half away,--I
added still another. In the cloudy sky, between me and the sun, was a
bird which in that blinding light might have passed for a buzzard, only
that a swallow was pursuing it. Seeing that sign, I raised my glass and
found the bird a fish-hawk. Trifles these things were, perhaps, with
mountains and a river in sight; but that depends upon one’s scale of
values. To me it is not so clear that a pile of earth is more an object
of wonder than a swallow that soars above it; and for better or worse,
mountains or no mountains, I kept an ornithological eye open.

On the way to the Bridge (myself the only passenger) the colored driver
of the wagon picked up a brother of his own race, who happened to be
traveling in the same direction and was thankful for a lift. And a
real amusement and pleasure it was to listen to the two men’s palaver,
especially to their “Mistering” of each other at every turn of the
dialogue. I never saw two schoolmasters, even, who could do more in
half an hour for the maintenance and increase of their mutual dignity.
It was “Mr. Brown” and “Mr. Smith” with every other breath, until the
second man was set down at his own gate. From their appearance they
must have been of an age to remember the days “before the war,” and
I did not think it surprising that men who had once been pieces of
property should be disposed to make the most of their present condition
of manhood, and so to give and take, between themselves, as many
reminders and tokens of it as the brevity of their remaining time would

Once at the hotel, installed (literally) in my little room, the only
window of which was in the door,--opening upon the piazza, for all the
world as a prison cell opens upon its corridor,--once domiciled, I say,
and a bite taken, I bought a season ticket of admission to the “glen,”
and went down the path and a flight of steps, amid a flock of trilling
goldfinches and past a row of lordly arbor-vitæ trees, to the brook,
and up the bank of the brook to the famous bridge. Of this, considered
by itself, I shall attempt no description. The material facts are, in
the language of the guidebook, that it is “a huge monolithic arch, 215
feet high, 100 feet wide, and 90 feet in span, crossing the ravine of
Cedar Brook.” Magnificent as it is, there is, for me at least, not much
to say concerning it, or concerning my sensations in the presence of
it. Not that it disappointed me. On the contrary, it was from the first
more imposing than I had expected to find it. I loved to look at it,
from one side and from the other, from beneath and from above. I walked
under it and over it (on the public highway, for it is a bridge not
only in name, but in fact) many times, by sunlight and by moonlight,
and should be glad to do the same many times more; but perhaps my taste
is peculiar; at all events, such “wonders of nature” do not charm me
or wear with me like a beautiful landscape. It was so, I remember, at
Ausable Chasm; interesting, grand, impressive, but a place in which I
had no passion for staying, no sense of exquisite delight or solemnity.
In Burlington, just across Lake Champlain, I could sit by the hour,
even on the flat roof of the hotel, and gaze upon the blue water and
the blue Adirondacks beyond,--the sight was a feast of beauty; but
this cleft in the rocks,--well, I was glad to walk through it and to
shoot the rapids; there was nothing to be said in disparagement of the
place, but it put me under no spell. I fear it would be the same with
those marvelous Colorado cañons and “gardens of the gods.” A wooded
mountain side, a green valley, running water, a lake with islands, best
of all, perhaps (for me, that is, and taking the years together), a New
England hill pasture, with boulders and red cedars, berry bushes and
fern patches, the whole bounded by stone walls and bordered with gray
birches and pitch-pines,--for sights to live with, let me have these
and things like them in preference to any of nature’s more freakish
work, which appeals rather to curiosity than to the imagination and the

Having gone under the arch (and looked in vain for Washington’s
initials on the wall), the visitor to Natural Bridge finds himself
following up the brook--a lively stream--between lofty precipitous
cliffs, that turn to steep wooded slopes as he proceeds. If he is
like me, he pursues the path to the end, stopping here and there,--at
the saltpetre cave, at Hemlock Island, and at Lost River, if nowhere
else,--till he comes to the end at the falls, a distance of a mile,
more or less. That is my way always. I must go straight through the
place once; then, the edge of my curiosity dulled, I am in a condition
to see and enjoy.

The ravine is a botanist’s paradise: that, I should say, must be the
first thought of every appreciative tourist. The elevation (fifteen
hundred feet), the latitude, and the limestone rocks work together
to that end. In a stay of a week I could see, of course, but one set
of flowers; and in my preoccupation I passed many herbs and shrubs,
mostly out of bloom, the names of which I neither knew nor attempted to
discover. One of the things that struck my admiration on the instant
was the beauty of the columbine as here displayed; a favorite with
me always, for more reasons than one, but never beheld in all its
loveliness till now. If the election could be held here, and on the
1st of May, there would be no great difficulty in securing a unanimous
vote for _Aquilegia Canadensis_ as the “national flower.” It was in
its glory at the time of my earlier visits, brightening the face of
the cliffs, not in a mass, but in scattered sprays, as high as the
eyesight could follow it; looking, even under the opera-glass, as if
it grew out of the rock itself. With it were sedges, ferns, and much
of a tufted white flower, which at first I made no question must be
the common early saxifrage. When I came upon it within reach, however,
I saw at once that it was a plant of quite another sort, some member
of the troublesome mustard family,--_Draba ramosissima_, as afterward
turned out. It was wonderful how closely it simulated the appearance of
_Saxifraga Virginiensis_, though the illusion was helped, no doubt, by
the habit I am in of seeing columbine and saxifrage together.

The ground in many places was almost a mat of violets, three kinds
of which were in special profusion: the tall, fragrant white
_Canadensis_, the long-spurred _rostrata_,--of a very pale blue, with
darker streaks and a darker centre (like our blue meadow violets in
that respect),--and the common _palmata_. The long-spurred violet
was new to me, and both for that reason and for itself peculiarly
attractive. As I passed up the glen on the right of the brook beyond
Hemlock Island, so called, carpeted with partridge-berry vines bearing
a wondrous crop (“See the berries!” my notebook says), I began to find
here and there the large trillium (_T. grandiflorum_), some of the
blossoms clear white, others of a delicate rosy tint. The rosy ones had
been open longer than the others, it appeared; for the flowers blush
with age,--a very modest and graceful habit. Like the spurred violet,
the trillium is a plant also of northern New England, but happily for
my present enjoyment I had never seen it there. And the same is to
be said of the large yellow bellwort, which was here the trillium’s
neighbor, and looked only a little less distinguished than the trillium

If I were to name all the plants I saw, or even all that attracted
my particular notice, the non-botanical reader would quit me for
a tiresome chronicler. Hepatica and bloodroot had dropped their
last petals; but anemone and rue anemone were still in bloom, with
cranesbill, spring beauty, ragwort, mitrewort, robin’s plantain,
Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger (two thick handsome leaves hiding
a dark-purplish three-horned urn of an occult and almost sinister
aspect), two or more showy chickweeds, two kinds of white stone-crop
(_Sedum ternatum_ and _S. Nevii_, the latter a novelty), mandrake
(sheltering its precious round bud under an umbrella, though to-day it
neither rained nor shone), pepper-root, gill-over-the-ground (where
did _it_ come from, I wondered), Dutchman’s breeches (the leaves
only), _Orchis spectabilis_ (which I did not know till after a few
days it blossomed), and many more. A new shrub--almost a tree--was the
bladder-nut, with drooping clusters of small whitish flowers, like
bunches of currant blossoms in their manner of growth and general
appearance; especially dear to humble-bees, which would not be done
with a branch even while I carried it in my hand. In one place, as
I stooped to examine a boulder covered thickly with the tiny walking
fern, of which the ravine contains a great abundance,--faded, ill
conditioned, and homely, but curious, and, better still, a stranger,--I
found the ground littered with bright yellowish magnolia petals; and
if I looked into the sky for a passing bird, it was almost as likely
as not that I should find myself looking through the branches of a
soaring tulip-tree,--a piece of magnificence that is one of the most
constant of my Alleghanian admirations. All the upper part of the glen
is pervaded by a dull rumbling or moaning sound,--the voice of Lost
River, out of which the tourist is supposed to have drunk at the only
point where it shows itself (and there only to those who look for it),
a quarter of a mile back. Another all-pervasive thing is the wholesome
fragrance of arbor-vitæ. It is fitting, surely, that the tree of life
should be growing in this floral paradise. There are few places, I
imagine, where it flourishes better.

On my way back toward the bridge I discovered, as was to be expected,
many things that had been overlooked on my way out; and every
successive visit was similarly rewarded. A pleasing sight at the
bridge itself was the continual fluttering of butterflies--Turnus and
his smaller and paler brother Ajax, especially--against the face of
the cliffs, sipping from the deep honey-jars of the columbines. Here,
too, I often stopped awhile to enjoy the doings of several pairs of
rough-winged swallows that had their nests in a row of holes in the
rock, between two of the strata. Most romantic homes they looked, under
the overhanging ledge,--a narrow platform below, ferns and sedges
nodding overhead, with tall arbor-vitæ trees a little higher on the
cliff, and water dropping continually before the doors. One of the
nests, I noticed, had directly in front of it a patch of low green
moss, the neatest of door-mats. The holes were only a few feet above
the level of the stream, but there was no approach to them without
wading; for which reason, perhaps, the owners paid little attention
to me, even when I got as near them as I could. In and out they went,
quite at their ease, resting now and then upon a jutting shelf, or
perching in the branches of some tree near at hand. Once three of them
sat side by side before one of the openings, which after all may have
admitted to some sizable cavern wherein different pairs were living
together. They are the least beautiful of swallows, but for this time,
at all events, they had displayed a remarkably pretty taste in the
choice of a nesting-site.

_The_ birds of Cedar Creek, however, were not the rough-wings, but the
Louisiana water thrushes. On my first jaunt through the ravine (May
1) I counted seven of them, here one and there another, the greater
part in free song; and while I never found so many again at any one
visit, I was never there without seeing and hearing at least two or
three. It was exactly such a spot as the water thrush loves,--a quick
stream, with boulders and abundant vegetation. The song, I am sorry
to be obliged to confess, as I have confessed before, is not to me
all that it appears to be to other listeners; probably not all that a
longer acquaintance and a more intimate association would make it. It
is loud and ringing,--for a warbler’s song, I mean; in that respect
well adapted to the bird’s ordinary surroundings, being easily heard
above the noise of a pretty lively brook. It is heard the better, too,
because of its remarkably disconnected, staccato character. Every note
is by itself. Though the bird haunts the vicinity of running water,
there is no trace of fluidity in its utterance. No bird-song could
be less flowing. It neither gurgles nor runs smoothly, note merging
into note. It would be too much to call it declamatory, perhaps, but
it goes some way in that direction. At least we may call it emphatic.
At different times I wrote it down in different words, none of which
could be expected to do more than assist, first the writer’s memory,
and then the reader’s imagination, to recall and divine the rhythm and
general form of the melody. For that--I speak for myself--a verbal
transcription, imperfect as it must be, in the nature of the case, is
likely to prove more intelligible, and therefore more useful, than any
attempt to reproduce the music itself by a resort to musical notation.
As most frequently heard here, the song consisted of eight notes, like
“Come--come--come--come,--you’re a beauty,” delivered rather slowly.
“Lazily” was the word I sometimes employed, but “slowly” is perhaps
better, though it is true that the song is cool and, so to speak, very
unpassionate. Dynamically I marked it [Illustration: <>] while the variations in pitch
may be indicated roughly thus: - - - - _ _ _ -. Two of the lower notes,
the fifth and sixth, were shorter than the others,--half as long, if
my ear and memory are to be trusted. Sometimes a bird would break out
into a bit of flourish at the end, but to my thinking such improvised
cadenzas, as they had every appearance of being, only detracted from
the simplicity of the strain without adding anything appreciable to its
beauty or its effectiveness.

This song, which the reader will perhaps blame me for trying thus
to analyze (I shall not blame _him_), very soon grew to be almost a
part of the glen; so that I never recall the brook and the cliffs
without seeming to hear it rising clear and sweet above the brawling
of the current; and when I hear it, I can see the birds flitting up
or down the creek, just in advance of me, with sharp _chips_ of alarm
or displeasure; now balancing uneasily on a boulder in mid-stream
(a posterior bodily fluctuation, half graceful, half comical,
slanderously spoken of as teetering) and singing a measure or two, now
taking to an overhanging branch, sometimes at a considerable height,
for the same tuneful purpose. One acrobatic fellow, I remember, walked
for some distance along the seemingly perpendicular face of the cliff,
slipping now and then on the wet surface and having to “wing it” for
a space, yet still pausing at short intervals to let out a song. In
truth, the happy creatures were just then brimming over with music;
and if I seem to praise their efforts but grudgingly, it is to be
said, on the other hand, in justice to the song and to myself, that my
appreciation of it grew as the days passed. Whatever else might be true
of it, it was the voice of the place.

Of birds beside the rough-wings and the water thrushes there were
surprisingly few in the glen, though, to be sure, there may well have
been many more than I found trace of. The splashing of a mountain brook
is very pleasing music,--more pleasing, in itself considered, than the
great majority of bird-songs, perhaps,--but an ornithological hobbyist
may easily have too much of it. I call to mind how increasingly
vexatious, and at last all but intolerable, a turbulent Vermont
stream (a branch of Wait’s River) became to me, some years ago, as it
followed my road persistently mile after mile in the course of a May
vacation. One gets on the track of the smaller birds through hearing
their faint calls in the bushes and treetops; and how was I to catch
such indispensable signals with this everlasting uproar in my ears? So
it was here in Cedar Creek ravine; it would have to be a pretty loud
voice to be heard above the din of the hurrying water. And the birds,
on their side, had something of the same difficulty; or so I judged
from the unconventional behavior of a blue yellow-backed warbler that
flitted through the hanging branches of a tree within a few inches of
my hat, having plainly no suspicion of a human being’s proximity. The
tufted titmouse could be heard, of course. He would make a first-rate
auctioneer, it seemed to me, with his penetrating, indefatigable voice
and his genius for repetition. Now and then, too, I caught the sharp,
sermonizing tones of a red-eyed vireo. Once an oven-bird near me
mounted a tree hastily, branch by branch, and threw himself from the
top for a burst of his afternoon medley; and at the bridge a phœbe sat
calling. These, with a pair of cardinal grosbeaks, were all the birds I
saw in the glen during my first day’s visit.

In fact, I had the place pretty nearly to myself, not only on this
first day, but for the entire week. Once in a great while a human
visitor was encountered, but for the most part I went up and down the
path with no disturbance to my meditations. Happily for me, the Bridge
was now in its dull season. Many tourists had been here. The trunks
of the older trees, the beeches especially, were scarred thickly with
inglorious initials, some of them so far from the ground that the
authors of them must have stood on one another’s shoulders in their
determination to get above the crowd. (In work of this kind an inch or
two makes all the difference between renown and obscurity.) The fact
was emblematic, I thought. So do men hoist and boost themselves into
fame, not only in Cedar Creek ravine, but in the “great world,” as we
call it, outside. Who so lowly-minded as not to believe that he could
make a name for himself if only he had a step-ladder? At the arch,
likewise, such autographers had been busy ever since Washington’s day.
I peeped into a crevice to obtain a closer view of a tiny fern, and
there before me was a penciled name, invisible till I came thus near to
it. One of the meek the writer must have been; a lead pencil, and so
fine a hand! Dumphy of New Orleans. Why should I not second his modest
bid for immortality? A good name is rather to be chosen than great
riches. By all means let Dumphy of New Orleans be remembered.

As for Washington’s “G. W.,” the letters are said to be still
decipherable by those who know exactly where to look and exactly what
to look for; but I can testify to nothing of myself. I was told where
the initials were; one was much plainer than the other, my informant
said,--which seemed to imply that one of them, at least, was more or
less a matter of faith; he would go down with me some day and point
them out; but the hour convenient to both of us never came, and so,
although I almost always spent a minute or two in the search as I
passed under the arch, I never detected them or anything that I could
even imagine to stand for them. I have had experience enough of such
things, however, to be aware that my failure proves nothing as against
the witness of other men’s eyesight. Certainly I know of no ground for
doubting that Washington cut his initials on the cliff; and if he did,
it seems reasonable to believe that tradition would have preserved a
knowledge of the place, and so have made it possible to find them now
in all their inevitable indistinctness after so long an exposure to the
wear of the elements. Neither do I esteem it anything but a natural and
worthy curiosity for the visitor to wish to see them; and I may add
my hope that all young men who are destined to achieve Washington’s
measure of distinction will cut their names large and deep in every
such wall, for the benefit of future generations. As for the rest of
us, if we must scratch our names in stone or carve them on the bark
of trees, let us seek some sequestered nook, where the sight of our
doings will neither be an offense to others nor make of ourselves a

I have said that I discovered Dumphy of New Orleans while leaning
against the cliff to peer into a crevice in search of a diminutive
fern. This fern was of much interest to me, being nothing less than
the wall-rue spleenwort (_Asplenium Ruta-muraria_), for which I had
looked without success in years past on the limestone cliffs of
northern Vermont, at Willoughby and elsewhere. The fronds, stipe and
all, last-year plants in full fruit, were less than three inches in
length. Another fern, one size larger, but equally new and interesting,
was the purple-stemmed cliff-brake (_Pellæa atropurpurea_), which also
had eluded my search in its New England habitat. Both these rarities
(plants which will grow only on limestone cannot easily be degraded
into commonness) I could have gathered here in moderate numbers, but of
course collecting is not permitted; in the nature of the case it cannot
be, in a spot so frequented by curiosity-seekers. It was pleasure
enough for me, at any rate, to see them.

Along the bottom of the ravine I had remarked a profusion of a
strikingly beautiful larger fern (but still “smallish,” as my pencil
says), with showy red stems and a most graceful curving or drooping
habit. This I could not make out for a time; but it proved to be, as
I soon began to suspect, _Cystopteris bulbifera_, to my thinking one
of the loveliest of all things that grow. I had seen it abundant at
Willoughby, Vermont, and at Owl’s Head, Canada, ten years before; but
either my memory was playing me a trick, or there was here a very
considerable diminution in the length of the fronds, accompanied by a
decided heightening in the color of the stalk and rhachis. Before long,
however, I found a specimen already beginning to show its bulblets, and
these, with a study of Dr. Eaton’s description, left me in no doubt as
to the plant’s identity.

What other ferns may have been growing in the ravine I cannot now
pretend to say. I remember the Christmas fern, a goodly supply of the
dainty little _Asplenium trichomanes_, and tufts of what I took with
reasonable certainty for _Cystopteris fragilis_ in its early spring
stage, than which few things can be more graceful. On the upper edge of
the ravine, when I left the place one day by following a maze of zigzag
cattle-paths up the steep slope, and found myself, to my surprise,
directly in the rear of the hotel, I came upon a dense patch of a
smallish, very narrow, dark-stemmed fern, new to my eyes,--the hairy
lip-fern, so called (_Cheilanthes vestita_). These fronds, too, like
those of the cliff-brake and the wall-rue spleenwort, were of last
year’s growth, thickly covered on the back with brown “fruit-dots,”
and altogether having much the appearance of dry herbarium specimens;
but they were good to look at, nevertheless. Here, as in the case of
_Pellæa atropurpurea_, it was a question not only of a new species, but
of a new genus.

From my account of the scarcity of birds in Cedar Creek ravine the
reader will have already inferred, perhaps, that I did not spend my
days there, great as were its botanical attractions. My last morning’s
experience at Pulaski, the evidence there seen that the vernal
migration was at full tide, or near it, had brought on a pretty acute
attack of ornithological fever,--a spring disease which I am happy
to believe has become almost an epidemic in some parts of the United
States within recent years,--and not even the sight of new ferns and
new flowers could allay its symptoms. I had counted upon finding a
similar state of things here,--all the woods astir with wings. Instead
of that, I found the fields alive with chipping sparrows, the air full
of chimney swifts, the shade trees in front of the hotel vocal with
goldfinch notes, and, comparatively speaking, nothing else. By the end
of the second day I was fast becoming disconsolate. “No birds here,”
I wrote in my journal. “I have tried woods of all sorts. A very few
parula warblers, two or three red-eyed vireos, one yellow-throated
vireo, seven Louisiana water thrushes in the glen, one prairie warbler,
and a few oven-birds! No Bewick wrens. Two purple finches and one or
two phœbes have been the only additions to my Virginia list.” A pitiful
tale. Vacations are short and precious, and it goes hard with us to see
them running to waste.

The next evening (May 3) it was the same story continued. “It is
marvelous, the difference between this beautiful place, diversified
with fields and woods,--hardwood, cedar, pine,--it is marvelous, the
difference between this heavenly spot and Pulaski in the matter of
birds. There I registered six new arrivals in half an hour Wednesday
morning; here I have made but six additions to my list in two full
days. There is scarcely a sign of warbler migration. Was it that in
Pulaski the woods were comparatively small, and the birds had to
congregate in them? Or does Pulaski lie in a route of migration?” Wild
surmises, both of them; but wisdom is not to be looked for in a fever

“Six additions in two full days,” I wrote; but the second day was
not yet full. As evening came on I went out to stand awhile upon the
bridge; and while I listened to the brawling of the creek and admired
the beautiful scene below me, the moon shining straight down upon it,
a night-hawk called from the sky, and afterward--not from the sky--a
whippoorwill. Here, then, were two more names for my catalogue; but
even so,--six or eight,--it was a beggarly rate of increase in such a
favored spot and in the very nick of the season. The “six additions,”
it may ease the reader’s curiosity to know, were the Carolina wren, the
summer tanager, the purple finch, the indigo bunting, the blue-gray
gnatcatcher, and the phœbe.

One compensation there was for the ornithological barrenness of these
first few days: I had the more leisure for botany. And the hours were
not thrown away, although at the time I was almost ready to think they
were, with so many of them devoted to ransacking the Manual; for a man
who does not collect specimens to carry home with him must, as it were,
drive his field work and his closet work abreast; he must study out
his findings as he goes along. On the evening of the second day, for
example, I wrote in my journal thus,--the final entry under that date,
as the reader may guess: “In bed. Strange how we flatter ourselves
with a knowledge of names. I have spent much time to-day looking up
the names of flowers and ferns, and somehow feel as if I had learned
something in so doing. Really, however, I have learned only that some
one else has seen the things before me, and called them so and so.
At best that is _nearly_ all I have learned.” But after setting down
the results of my investigations, especially of those having to do
with the pretty draba and the bulbiferous fern, I concluded in a less
positive strain: “Well, the hunt for names does quicken observation
and help to relate and classify things.” That was a qualification well
put in. The whole truth was never written on one side of the leaf. If
_all_ our botany were Latin names, as Emerson says, we should have
little to boast of; yet even that would be one degree better than
nothing, as Emerson himself felt when he visited a museum and saw the
cases of shells. “I was hungry for names,” he remarks; and so have
all men of intelligence been since the day of the first systematic,
name-conferring naturalist, the man who dwelt in Eden. Let us be
thankful for manuals, I say, that offer on easy terms a speaking
acquaintance, if nothing more, with the world of beauty about us.
Things take their value from comparison, and my own ignorance was but a
little while ago so absolute that now I am proud to know so much as a

Meanwhile, to come back to Natural Bridge, I had found the country of a
most engaging sort. In truth, while the bridge itself is the “feature”
of the place, as we speak in these days, it is by no means its only,
or, as I should say, its principal attraction, so far, at least, as
a leisurely visit is concerned. A man may see it and go,--as most
tourists do; but if he stays, he will find that the region round about
not only has charms of its own, but is one of the prettiest he has ever
set eyes on; and that, I should think, though he be neither a botanist,
nor an ornithologist, nor any other kind of natural historian.
For myself, at all events, I had already come to that conclusion,
notwithstanding I had yet to see some of the most beautiful parts of
the country, and was, besides, far too much concerned about the birds
(the absentees in particular) and the flowers to have quieted down
to any adequate appreciation of the general landscape. I have never
yet learned to see a prospect on the first day, or while in the eager
expectation of new things, although, like every one else, I can exclaim
with a measure of shallow sincerity, “Beautiful! beautiful!” even at
the first moment.

As my mood now was, at any rate, fine scenery did not satisfy me;
and on the morning of May 4, after two days and a half of botanical
surfeit and ornithological starvation, I packed my trunk preparatory
to going elsewhere. First, however, I would try the woods once more,
if perchance something might have happened overnight. Otherwise, so I
informed the landlord, I would return in season for an early luncheon,
and should expect to be driven to the station for the noon train

I went to a promising-looking hill covered with hardwood forest, a
spot already visited more than once,--Buck Hill I heard it called
afterward,--and was no sooner well in the woods than it became evident
that something _had_ happened. The treetops were swarming with birds,
and I had my hands full with trying to see and name them. Old trees are
grand creations,--among the noblest works of God, I often think; but
for a bird-gazer they have one disheartening drawback, especially when,
as now, the birds not only take to the topmost boughs (even the hummer
and the magnolia warbler, so my notes say, went with the multitude
to do evil), but, to make matters worse, are on the move northward
or southward, or flitting in simple restlessness from hill to hill.
However, I did my best with them while the fun lasted. Then all in a
moment they were gone, though I did not see them go; and nothing was
left but the wearisome iterations of oven-birds and red-eyes where just
now were so many singers and talkers, among which, for aught I could
tell, there might have been some that it would have been worth the
price of a long vacation to scrape even a treetop acquaintance with.

Indeed, it was certain that one member of the flock was a rarity, if
not an absolute novelty. That was the most exciting and by all odds the
most deplorable incident of the whole affair. I had obtained several
glimpses of him, but had been unable to determine his identity; a
warbler, past all reasonable doubt, with pure white under parts (the
upper parts quite invisible) except for a black or blackish line,
barely made out, across the lower throat or the upper breast. He, of
course, had vanished with the rest, the more was the pity. I had made
a guess at him, to be sure; it is a poor naturalist who cannot do as
much as that (but a really good naturalist would “form a hypothesis,” I
suppose) under almost any circumstances. I had called him a cerulean
warbler. Once in my life I had seen a bird of that species, but only
for a minute. If he wore a black breast-band, I did not see it, or else
had forgotten it. If I could only have had a look at this fellow’s
back and wings! As it was, I was not likely ever to _know_ him, though
the printed description would either demolish or add a degree of
plausibility to my offhand conjecture.

The better course, after losing a bevy of wanderers in this way,
is perhaps to remain where one is and await the arrival of another
detachment of the migratory host. This advice, or something like it, I
seem to remember having read, at all events; but I have never schooled
myself to such a pitch of quietism. For a time, indeed, I could not
believe that the birds _were_ lost, and must hunt the hilltop over
in the hope of another chance at them. An empty hope. So I did what
I always do: the game having flown, I took my own departure also. I
should not find the same flock again, but with good luck--which now it
was easy to expect--I might find another; and except for the single
mysterious stranger, that would be better still. One thing I was sure
of,--Natural Bridge was not to be left out of the warbler migration;
and one thing I forgot entirely,--that I had planned to leave it by the
noonday train.

My useless chase over the broad hilltop had brought me to the side
opposite the one by which I had ascended, and to save time, as I
persuaded myself, I plunged down, as best I could, without a trail,--a
piece of expensive economy, almost of course. In the first place, this
haphazardous descent took me longer than it would have done to retrace
my steps; and in the second place, I was compelled for much of the
distance to force my way through troublesome underbrush, in doing which
I made of necessity--being a white man--no little noise, and so was the
less likely to hear the note of any small bird, or to come close upon
him without putting him to flight. In general, let the bird-gazer keep
to the path, except in open woods, or as some specific errand may lead
him away from it. In one way and another, nevertheless, I got down at
last, and after beating over a piece of pine wood, with little or no
result, I crossed a field and a road, and entered a second tract of
hardwood forest.

The trees were comfortably low, with much convenient shrubbery, and
after a little, seeing myself at the centre of things, as it were, I
dropped into a seat and allowed the birds to gather about me. At my
back was a bunch of white-throated sparrows. From the same quarter
a chat whistled now and then, and white-breasted nuthatches and a
Carolina chickadee did likewise, the last with a noticeable variation
in his tune, which had dwindled to three notes. Here, as on the
hill I had just left, wood pewees and Acadian flycatchers announced
themselves, in tones so dissimilar as to suggest no hint of blood
relationship. The wood pewee is surely the gentleman of the family,
so far as the voice may serve as an indication of character. In dress
and personal appearance he is a flycatcher of the flycatchers; but
what a contrast between his soft, plaintive, exquisitely modulated
whistle, the very expression of refinement, and the wild, rasping,
over-emphatic vociferations that characterize the family in general!
The more praise to him. The Acadians seemed to have come northward in
a body. Nothing had been seen or heard of them before, but from this
morning they abounded in all directions. In a single night they had
taken possession of the woods. Here was the first Canadian warbler of
the season, singing from a perch so uncommonly elevated (he is a lover
of bushy thickets rather than of trees) that for a time it did not come
to me who he was,--so exceedingly earnest and voluble. A black-throated
blue warbler almost brushed my elbow. Redstarts were never so splendid,
I thought, the white of the dogwood blossoms, now in their prime,
setting off the black and orange of the birds in a most brilliant
manner, as was true also of the deep vermilion of the summer tanager. A
Blackburnian warbler, whose flame-colored throat needs no setting but
its own, had fallen into a lyrical mood very unusual for him, and sang
almost continuously for at least half an hour,--a poor little song in a
thin little voice, but full of pleasant suggestions in every note. The
first Swainson thrush was present, with no companion of his own kind,
so far as appeared. I prolonged my stay on purpose to hear him sing,
but was obliged to content myself with the sight of him and the sound
of his sweet, quick whistle.

All the while, as I watched one favorite another would come between
us. Once it was a humming-bird, a bit of animate beauty that must
always be attended to; and once, when the place had of a sudden fallen
silent, and I had taken out a book, I was startled by a flash of white
among the branches,--a red-headed woodpecker, in superb color, new
for the year, and on all accounts welcome. He remained for a time in
silence, and then in silence departed (he had been almost too near me
before he knew it); but having gone, he began a little way off to play
the tree-frog for my amusement. After him a hairy woodpecker made his
appearance, with sharp, peremptory signals, highly characteristic; and
then, from some point near by, a rose-breasted grosbeak’s _hic_ was

It was high noon before I was done with “receiving” (one of the
prettiest “functions” of the year, though none of the newspapers got
wind of it), and returned to the hotel, where the landlord smiled when
I told him that some friends of mine had arrived, and I should stay a
few days longer.


My enjoyment of the country about the Bridge may be said to have begun
with my settling down for a more leisurely stay. Hurry and discontent
are poor helps to appreciation. That afternoon, the morning having
been devoted to ornithological excitements, I strolled over to Mount
Jefferson, and spent an hour in the observatory, where a delicious
breeze was blowing. The “mountain” proved to be nothing more than a
round grassy hilltop,--the highest point in a sheep-pasture,--but it
offered, nevertheless, a wide and charming prospect: mountains near and
far, a world of green hills, with here and there a level stretch, most
restful to the eye, of the James River valley, in the great Valley of
Virginia. Up from the surrounding field came the tinkle of sheep-bells,
and down in one corner of it young men were slowly gathering, some
in wagons, some on horseback, for a game of ball. There was to be a
“match” that “evening,” I had been told, between the Bridge nine (I am
sorry not to remember its name) and the Buena Vistas. It turned out,
however, so I learned the next day, that a supposed case of smallpox
at Buena Vista had made such an interchange of athletic courtesies
inexpedient for the time being, and the Bridge men were obliged to be
content with a trial of skill among themselves, for which they chose up
(“picked off”) after the usual fashion, the two leaders deciding which
should have the first choice by the old Yankee test of grasping a bat
alternately hand over hand, till one of them should be able to cover
the end of it with his thumb. Such things were pleasant to hear of. I
accepted them as of patriotic significance, tokens of national unity.
My informant, by the way, was the same man, a young West Virginian, who
had told me where to look for Washington’s initials on the wall of the
bridge. My specialties appealed to him in a measure, and he confessed
that he wished he were a botanist. He was always very fond of flowers.
His side had been victorious in the ball game, he said, in answer to
my inquiry. Some of the players must have come from a considerable
distance, it seemed, as there was no sign of a village or even of a
hamlet, so far as I had discovered, anywhere in the neighborhood.
The Bridge is not in any township, but simply in Rockbridge County,
after a Virginia custom quite foreign to a New Englander’s notions of
geographical propriety.

The prospect from Mount Jefferson was beautiful, as I have said, but
on my return I happened upon one that pleased me better. I had been
down through Cedar Creek ravine, and had taken my own way out, up the
right-hand slope through the woods, noting the flowers as I walked,
especially the blue-eyed grass and the scarlet catchfly (battlefield
pink), a marvelous bit of color, and was following the edge of the
cliff toward the hotel, when, finding myself still with time to spare,
I sat down to rest and be quiet. By accident I chose a spot where
between ragged, homely cedars I looked straight down the glen--over a
stretch of the brook far below--to the bridge, through which could be
seen wooded hills backed by Thunder Mountain, long and massive, just
now mostly in shadow, like the rest of the world, but having its lower
slopes touched with an exquisite half-light, which produced a kind of
prismatic effect upon the freshly green foliage. It was an enchanting
spectacle and a delightful hour. Now my eye settled upon the ravine
and the brook, now upon the arch of the bridge, now upon the hills
beyond. And now, as I continued to look, the particulars fell into
place,--dropping in a sense out of sight,--and the scene became one.
By and by the light increased upon the broad precipitous face of the
mountain, softness and beauty inexpressible, while the remainder of the
landscape lay in deep shadow.

I fell to wondering, at last, what it is that constitutes the peculiar
attractiveness of a limited view--limited in breadth, not in depth--as
compared with a panorama of half the horizon. The only answer I gave
myself was that, for the supreme enjoyment of beauty, the eye must
be at rest, satisfied, with no temptation to wander. We are finite
creatures with infinite desires. The sight must go far,--to the rim of
the world, or to some grand interposing object so remote as to be of
itself a natural and satisfying limit of vision; and the eye must be
held to that point, not by a distracting exercise of the will, but by
the quieting constraint of circumstances.

Let my theorizing be true or false, I greatly enjoyed the picture;
the deep, dark, wooded ravine, with the line of water running through
it lengthwise, the magnificent stone arch, the low hills in the
middle distance, and Thunder Mountain a background for the whole. The
mountain, as has been said, was a long ridge, not a peak; and sharp
as it looked from this point of view, it was very likely flat at the
top. Like Lookout Mountain and Walden’s Ridge, it might, for anything
I knew, be roomy enough to hold one or two Massachusetts counties upon
its summit. While I sat gazing at it the sun went down and left it of
a deep sombre blue. Then, of a sudden, a small heron flew past, and a
pileated woodpecker somewhere behind me set up a prolonged and lusty
shout; and a few minutes later I was startled to see between me and
the sunset sky a flock of six big herons flying slowly in single file,
like so many pelicans. From their size they should have been _Ardea
herodias_, but in that light there was no telling of colors. It was a
ghostly procession, so silent and unexpected, worthy of the place and
of the hour. I was beginning to feel at home. A wood thrush sang for
me as I continued my course to the hotel, and my spirit sang with him.
“I’m glad I am alive,” my pencil wrote of its own accord at the end of
the day’s jottings.

I woke the next morning to the lively music of a whippoorwill,--the
same, I suppose, that had sung me to sleep the evening before. He
performed that service faithfully as long as I remained at the Bridge,
and always to my unmixed satisfaction. Whippoorwills are among my best
birds, and of recent years I have had too little of them. Immediately
after breakfast I must go again to the roadside wood, and then to Buck
Hill, as a dog must go again to bark under a tree up which he has once
driven a cat or a squirrel. But there is no duplicating of experiences.
The birds--the flocks of travelers--were not there. Chats were calling
_ceow, ceow_, with the true countryman’s twang; and what was much
better, a Swainson thrush was singing. Better still, a pair of blue
yellow-backed warblers (the most abundant representatives of the family
thus far) had begun the construction of a nest in a black-walnut-tree,
suspending it from a rather large branch (“as big as my thumb”) at
a height of perhaps twenty feet. It was little more than a frame as
yet, the light shining through it everywhere; and the bird, perhaps
because of my presence, seemed in no haste about its completion. I saw
her bring what looked like a piece of lichen and adjust it into place
(though she carried it elsewhere first--with wonderful slyness!), but
my patience gave out before she came back with a second one.

On Buck Hill, in the comparative absence of birds, I amused myself with
a “dry land tarrapin,” as my West Virginia acquaintance had called it
(otherwise known as a box turtle), a creature which I had seen several
times in my wanderings, and had asked him about; a new species to me,
of a peculiarly humpbacked appearance, and curious for its habit of
shutting itself up in its case when disturbed, the anterior third of
the lower shell being jointed for that purpose. A phlegmatic customer,
it seemed to be; looking at me with dull, unspeculative eyes, and
sometimes responding to a pretty violent nudge with only a partial
closing of its lid. It is very fond of may apples (mandrake), I was
told, and is really one of the “features” of the dry hill woods. I ran
upon it continually.

A lazy afternoon jaunt over a lonely wood road, untried before, yielded
little of mentionable interest except the sight of a blue grosbeak
budding the upper branches of a tree in the manner of a purple finch or
a rose-breast. I call him a blue grosbeak, as I called him at the time;
but he went into my book that evening with a damnatory question mark
attached to his name. He had been rather far away and pretty high; and
the possibilities of error magnified themselves on second thought, till
I said to myself, “Well, he may have been an indigo-bird, after all.”
Second thought is the mother of uncertainty; and uncertainties are poor
things for a man’s comfort. The seasons were met here; for even while I
busied myself with the blue grosbeak (as he pretty surely was, for all
my want of assurance) a crossbill flew over with loud calls.

In the same place I heard a tremendous hammering a little on one side
of me, so vigorous a piece of work that I was persuaded the workman
could be nobody but a pileated woodpecker. A long time I stood with my
gaze fastened upon the tree from which the noise seemed to come. Would
the fellow never show himself? Yes, he put his head out from behind
a limb at last (what a fiery crest!), saw me on the instant, and was
gone like a flash. Then from a little distance he set up a resounding
halloo. This was only the second time that birds of his kind had been
seen hereabout, but the voice had been heard daily, and more than once
I had noticed what I could have no doubt were nest-holes of their
making. One of these, on Buck Hill,--freshly cut, if appearances went
for anything,--I undertook to play the spy upon; but if the nest was
indeed in use the birds were too wary for me, or I was very unfortunate
in my choice of hours. Time was precious, and the secret seemed likely
to cost more than it would bring, with so many other matters inviting
my attention. Nest or no nest, I was glad to be within the frequent
sound of that wild, ringing, long-drawn shout, a true voice of the
wilderness; as if the Hebrew prophecy were fulfilled, and the mountains
and the hills had found a tongue.

It was not until the sixth day that I went to Lincoln Heights, a place
worth all the rest of the countryside, I soon came to think, with the
single exception of Cedar Creek ravine. A winding wood road carried me
thither (the distance may be two miles; but I have little idea what it
is, though I covered it once or twice a day for the next four days),
and might have been made--half made, just to my liking--for my private
convenience. I believe I never met any one upon it, going or coming.

The glory of the spot is its trees; but with me, as things fell out,
these took in the order of time a second place. My first admiration
was not for them, admirable as they were, but for a few birds in the
tops of them. In short, at my first approach to the Heights (there
is no thought of climbing, but only the most gradual of ascents) I
began to hear from the branches overhead, now here, now there, an
occasional weak warbler’s song that set my curiosity on edge. It was
not the parula’s (blue yellow-back’s), but like it. What should it
be, then, except the cerulean’s? By and by I caught a glimpse of a
bird, clear white below, with a dark line across the breast; and yes,
I saw what I was looking for,--though the bird flew to another branch
the next moment,--black streaks along the sides of the body. There
were at least eight or ten others like him in the treetops; and it was
a neck-breaking half-hour that I passed in watching them, determined
as I was to gain a view not only of the under parts, but of the back
and wings. The labor and difficulty of the search were increased
indefinitely by the confusing presence of numerous other warblers of
various kinds in the same lofty branches, making it inevitable that
many opera-glass shots should be wasted. It is no help to a man’s
equanimity at such a time to spend a priceless three minutes--any one
of which may be the last--in getting the glass upon a tiny thing that
flits incessantly from one leafy twig to another, only to find in the
end that it is nothing but a myrtle warbler; a pretty creature, no
doubt, but of no more consequence just now than an English sparrow.
To-day, however, the birds favored me; no untimely whim hurried them
away to another wood, and patience had its reward. Little by little my
purpose was accomplished and my mind cleared of all uncertainty. Then
I took out my pencil to characterize the song while it was still in my
ears, and still new. “Greatly like one of the more broken forms of the
parula’s,” I wrote, a bird repeating it at that very instant by way of
confirmation. “I can imagine a fairly sharp ear being deceived by it,
especially in a place like this, where parulas have been singing from
morning till night, until the listener has tired of them and become
listless.” This sentence the reader may keep in mind, if he will,
to glance back upon for his amusement in the light of a subsequent
experience which it will be my duty to relate before I have done with
my story.

Between the migratory “transients” and the birds already at home, the
place was pretty full of wings. A Swainson thrush sang, and from a
bushy slope came a nasal thrush voice that should have been a veery’s.
I took chase at once, and caught a glimpse of a reddish-brown bird
darting out of sight before me. Do my best, I could find nothing more
of it. If it was a veery, as I suppose, it was the only one I saw in
Virginia, where the species, from Dr. Rives’s account of the matter,
seems to be a rather uncommon migrant. Unhappily, I could not bring my
scientific conscience to list it on so hurried a sight, even with the
note as corroborative testimony. That, for aught I could positively
assert, might have been a gray-cheek’s, while the reddish color might
with equal possibility have belonged to a wood thrush, clear as it had
seemed at the moment that what I was looking at was the back of the
bird itself, and not the back of its head. Doubt is credulous. All
kinds of negatives are plausible to it, and once it has adopted one it
will maintain it in the face of the five senses.

On the opposite side of the path, in the bushy angles of a Virginia
fence, a hooded warbler showed himself, furtive and silent,--my
only Bridge specimen, to my great surprise; and near him was a
female black-throated blue, a queer-looking body, like nothing
in particular, yet labeled past mistake, which I can never see
without a kind of wonder. Among the treetop birds were Blackburnian
warblers, black-throated greens and blues, chestnut-sides, redstarts,
myrtle-birds, red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos, and indigo-birds.
Many white-throated sparrows still lingered; singing flat, as
usual,--the only birds I know of that find it impossible to hold the
pitch. The defect has its favorable side; it makes their concerts
amusing. I remember seeing a quiet gentleman thrown into fits of
uncontrollable laughter by the rehearsal of a spring flock, bird after
bird starting the tune, and not one in ten of them keeping its whistle
true to the conclusion of the measure. All these things,--though they
may seem not many,--with the long rests and numerous side excursions
that went with them, consumed the morning hours before I knew it, so
that I was hardly at the end of the way before it was time to return
for dinner.

For the afternoon nothing was to be thought of but another visit to the
same place,--“the finest place I have seen yet, and the finest walk.”
So I had put down the morning’s discovery. The cerulean warbler I
found spoken of by Dr. Rives as “accidental or very rare;” in the light
of which entry the dozen or so of specimens seen and heard during the
forenoon acquired a fresh interest.

The second jaunt, because it _was_ a second one, could be taken more
at leisure; and as the birds gave me less employment, my eyes were
more upon the trees. These, as I had felt before, were a wonder and
a comfort; it was a benediction to walk under them, as if one were
within the precincts of a holy place: oaks for the most part (of
several kinds), with black walnut, shagbark, tulip, chestnut, and other
species, set irregularly, or rather left standing irregularly, two or
three deep, beside the road on either hand; a royal uphill avenue,
which near the top became an open grove. Except in Florida, I had never
seen a more magnificent growth. Some of the trees had grapevines and
Virginia creeper clinging about them. Up one huge oak, with strange
flaky bark, like a shagbark-tree’s (a white oak, nevertheless, to judge
from its half-grown leaves), a grapevine had mounted for a height of
forty feet, as I estimated the distance, not making use of the bole,
but of the limbs, seeming to leap from one to another, even when they
were ten feet apart. It must have been of the tree’s age, I suppose,
and had grown with its growth. In the shadow of these giants, yet not
overshadowed by them, were flowering dogwoods and redbuds. It is a
pretty habit these two have of growing side by side, as if they knew
the value of contrasted colors.

At a point on the edge of the grove I turned to enjoy the prospect
southward: mountains everywhere, with the more pointed of the twin
Peaks of Otter showing between two oaks that barely gave it room; all
the mountains radiantly beautiful, with cloud shadows flecking their
wooded slopes. Not a house was in sight; but in one place beyond the
middle-distance hills a thin blue smoke was rising. There, doubtless,
lay the valley of the James. Just before me, on the left of the open
field, stood a peculiarly graceful dogwood, all in a glory of white,
one fan-shaped branch above another,--a miracle of loveliness. The
eye that saw it was satisfied with seeing. Beyond it a chat played
the clown (knowing no better, even to-day), and a rose-breast began
warbling. It seemed a tender story,--sweetness beyond words, and
happiness without a shadow. From a second point, a little farther on,
the entire southern horizon came into view, with both the Peaks of
Otter visible; a truly enchanting picture, the sky full of sunlight and
floating white clouds.

In a treetop behind me a cerulean warbler had been singing, but flew
away as I turned about. My only sight of him was on the wing, a mere
speck in the air. Afterward a parula gave out his tune, running the
notes straight upward and snapping them off at the end in whiplash
fashion, as much as to say, “Now see if you can tell the difference.”
And then, just as I was ready to leave the grove, stepping along a
footpath through a bramble patch, I descried almost at my feet a
warbler,--a female by her look and demeanor, and a stranger; blue and
white, with dark streakings along the sides. I lost her soon; but she
had seemed to be looking for nest materials, and of course I waited for
her to return. This she presently did, and now I saw her strip bits
of bark from plant stems till she had her bill full of short pieces.
Carrying these, she disappeared in a bramble and grapevine thicket. I
waited, but she did not come back. Then I stole into the place after
her, and in a moment there she was before me; but without complaint or
any symptom of perturbation she passed quietly along, and again I lost
her. I kept my position till I was tired, and then went back to the
wood and sat down; and in a few minutes--how it happened I could not
tell--there she stood once more, wearing the same innocent, preoccupied
air. This time I saw her fly down the slope and disappear in a clump
of undergrowth. I followed, took a seat, waited, and continued to
wait. All was in vain. That was the last of her. She had played her
cards well, or perhaps I had played mine poorly; and finally I turned
my steps homeward, where a comparison of my notes with Dr. Coues’s
description proved the bird to be, as I had believed, a female cerulean
warbler. Her nest would probably be the first one of its kind ever
found in Virginia.

On the way a male sang and showed himself. Now, too, I discovered
for the first time that there were tupelo-trees among the large
oaks and walnuts; much smaller than they, and for that reason, it
is to be supposed, not noticed in my three previous passages along
the avenue. They are particular favorites of mine, and I made them
sincere apologies. In another place was a patch of what I knew must
be the fragrant sumach, something I had wished to see for many years:
low, upright shrubs, yet resembling poison ivy so closely that for
a minute I shrank from gathering a specimen, although I was certain
beyond a peradventure that the plant was not poison ivy and could not
be noxious to the touch; just as people in general, through force of
early instruction and example (miscalled instinct), shiver at the
thought of handling a snake, though it be of some kind which they know
to be as harmless as a kitten. While in chase of the cerulean, also, I
had stumbled on several bunches of cancer-root (_Conopholis_), rising
out of the dead leaves, a dozen or more of stems in each close bunch;
queer, unwholesome-looking, yellowish things, reminding me of ears of
rice-corn, so called. I had never seen the plant till the day before.

The next morning my course was beyond discussion or argument. I must
go again to Lincoln Heights. The thought of the female cerulean warbler
and her nest would not suffer me to do anything else. But for that
matter, I should probably have taken the same path had I never seen
her. The trees, the prospects, and the general birdiness of the place
were of themselves an irresistible attraction. On the way I skirted a
grove of small pines, standing between the road and the edge of Cedar
Creek ravine: dull, scrubby trees, like pitch-pines, but less bright
in color; of the same kind as those amid which, on Cameron Hill and
Lookout Mountain, in Tennessee, there had been so notable a gathering
of warblers the year before. _Pinus pungens_, Table Mountain pine, I
suppose they were, though it must be acknowledged that I was never
at the pains to settle the point. Here at Natural Bridge I had found
all such woods deserted day after day, till I had ceased to think
them worth looking into. Now, however, as I idled past, I caught the
faint sibilant notes of a bird-song, and stopped to listen. Not a
blackpoll’s, I said to myself, but wonderfully near it. And then it
flashed into my mind what a friend had told me a few years before.
“When you hear a song that is like the blackpoll’s, but different,” he
had said, “look the bird up. It will most likely be a Cape May.” He
was one of the lucky men (almost the only one of my acquaintance) who
had heard that rare warbler’s voice. I turned aside, of course, and
made a cautious entry among the pines. The bird continued its singing.
Yes, it was like the blackpoll’s, but with a _zip_ rather than a _zee_.
Nearer and nearer I crept, inch by inch. If the fellow _were_ a Cape
May, it would be carelessness inexcusable not to make sure of the
fact. And soon I had my glass upon him,--in high plumage, red cheeks
and all. He had not been disturbed in the least, and kept up his music
till I had had my fill and could stay no longer,--all the while in low
branches and in clear view. Few songs could be less interesting in
themselves, but few could have been more welcome,--for the better part
of twenty years I had been listening for it: about five notes, a little
louder and more emphatic than the blackpoll’s, it seemed to me, but
still faint and, as I expressed it to myself, “next to nothing.” The
handsome creature--olive and bright yellow, boldly marked with black
and white--remained the whole time in one tree, traveling over the
limbs in a rather listless fashion, and singing almost incessantly. He
was my hundredth Virginia bird,--as my list then stood, question marks
included,--and the second one whose song I had heard for the first time
on this vacation trip. The day had begun prosperously.

After such a stirring up, a man’s ears are apt to be abnormally
sensitive, not to say imaginative; then, if ever, he will hear wonders:
for which reason, it may be, I had turned but a corner or two before I
was stopped by another set of notes, a strain that I knew, or felt that
I ought to know, but could not place a name upon at the moment. This
bird, too, was run down without difficulty, and proved to be a magnolia
warbler,--another yellow-rump, like the Cape May and the myrtle-bird.
The song, unlike its owner, is but slightly marked, and to make matters
worse, is heard by me only in the season of the bird’s spring passage;
but I laughed at myself for not recognizing it. I was still in a mood
for discoveries, however, and within half an hour was again in eager
chase, this time over a crazy zigzag fence into a dense thicket, all
for a black-and-white creeper (my fiftieth specimen, perhaps, in the
last fortnight), whose notes, as they came to me from a distance,
sounded like a creeper’s, to be sure, but with such a measure of
difference as kept me on nettles till the author of them was in sight.
I felt like a fool, as the common expression is, but was having “a good
time,” notwithstanding.

Here were the first trailing blackberry blossoms. The season was making
haste. “Come, children, it is the 7th of May,” I seemed to hear the
“bud-crowned spring” saying. The woods had burst into almost full leaf
within a week. This morning, also, I found the first flowers of the
_Dodecatheon_; three plants, each with only one bloom as yet; white,
odd-looking, pointed,--like a stylographic pen, my profane clerical
fancy suggested. American cowslip and shooting star the flower is
called in the Manual. American cyclamen would hit it pretty well, I
thought, its most striking peculiarity being the reflexed, cyclamenic
carriage of the petals. I had been wondering what those broad
root-leaves were, as I passed them here and there in the woods. The
present was only my second sight of the blossom in a wild state, the
first one having been on the battlefield of Chickamauga. It is matter
for thankfulness, an enrichment of the memory, when a pretty flower is
thus associated with a famous place.

Among the old trees on the Heights a cerulean warbler and a blue
yellow-back were singing nearly in the same breath. If I did not become
lastingly familiar with the distinction between the two songs, it was
not to be the birds’ fault. A second cerulean (or possibly the same
one; it was impossible to be certain on that point, nor did it matter)
was near the grapevine tangle, and at the moment of my approach was
holding a controversy with a creeper. He had reserved the spot, as it
appeared, and was insisting upon his claim. My spirits rose. It was
this clump of shrubbery that I had come to sit beside, on the chance
of seeing again, and tracking to her nest, the female whose behavior
had so excited my hopes the afternoon before. “Nest small and neat, in
fork of a bough 20-50 feet from the ground:” so I had read in the Key,
and henceforth knew what I was to look for. For a full hour I remained
on guard. Twice the male cerulean chased some other bird about in a
manner extremely suspicious; but he kept her (or him) so constantly on
the move that I had no fair sight of her plumage. Beyond that my vigil
went for nothing. I must try again. If a man cannot waste an hour once
in a while, he had better not undertake the finding of birds’ nests.

For the walk homeward I took a course of my own down the open face of
the hill, climbing a fence or two (I could tell far in advance the
safest places at which to get over--the soundest spots--by seeing
the lumps of dry red clay left on the rails by the boots of previous
travelers across lots), past prairie warblers and my first Natural
Bridge bluebird, to the bottom of the valley. Then, finding myself
ahead of time, I turned aside to see what might be in the woods of Buck
Hill. There was little to mention: a blossom of the exquisite vernal
fleur-de-lis, not before noticed here, and at the top two cerulean
warblers in full song. I had begun by this time to believe that this
rare Virginia species would turn out to be pretty common hereabout in
appropriate places.

Partly to test the truth of this opinion I planned an afternoon trip
to a more distant eminence, which, like Buck Hill and Lincoln Heights,
was covered with a deciduous forest. In the valley woods a grouse
was drumming--a pretty frequent sound here--and Swainson thrushes
were singing. These “New Hampshire thrushes,” by the bye, are singers
of the most generous sort, not only at home, but on their travels,
all statements to the contrary notwithstanding. From May 5 to May
12--including the latter half of my stay at Natural Bridge, two days
at Afton, and one day in the cemetery woods at Arlington--I have them
marked as singing daily, and one day at the Bridge they were heard in
four widely separate places.

The hill for which I had set out lay on the left of the road, and
between me and it stood a row of negro cabins. As I came opposite
them I suddenly caught from the hillsides the notes of a Nashville
warbler,--or so I believed. This was a bird not yet included in my
Virginia list. I had puzzled over its absence--the country seeming in
all respects adapted to it--till I consulted Dr. Rives, by whom it
is set down as “rare.” Even then, emboldened by more than one happy
experience, I told myself that I ought to find it. It is common enough
in New England; why should it skip Virginia? And here it was; only
I must go through the formality of a visual inspection, especially
as just now the song came from rather far away. I entered one of the
house-yards,--nobody objecting except a dog,--climbed the rear fence,
and posted up the steep, rocky hill, past a humming-bird sipping at
a violet, and by and by lifted my glass upon the singer, which had
been in voice all the while. By this time I was practically sure of
its identity. In imagination I could already see its bright yellow
breast. The name was as good as down in my book,--_Helminthophila
ruficapilla_. But the glass, having no imagination, showed me a white
breast with a dark line across it,--a cerulean warbler! Verily, an ear
is a vain thing for safety. See your bird, I say, and take a second
look; and then go back and look again. In another tree a parula warbler
was singing. About him, by good luck, I made no mistake. As for the
other bird, even after I had seen his white breast, his tune--with
which he was literally spilling over--continued to sound amazingly
Nashvillian; though there are few warbler songs with which I should
have supposed myself more thoroughly acquainted than with this same
clearly characterized Nashville ditty,--a hurried measure followed by a
still more hurried trill. Perhaps this particular cerulean had a note
peculiarly his own. I should be glad to think so. Perhaps, on the other
hand, the fault was all with the man who heard it; in which case the
less said the better. In either event, my theory as to the cerulean’s
commonness was in a fair way to be verified. It was well I had that

Before I could get down the hill again I must stop to listen to a
gnatcatcher’s squeaky voice, and the next moment I saw the bird,
and another with him. The second one proceeded immediately to a
nest,--conspicuously displayed on an oak branch,--while her mate
hovered about, squeaking in the most affectionate manner. Then away
they flew in company, and after a long absence were back again for
another turn at building. They were making a joy of their labor, the
male especially; but it is true he made little else of it. With him
I was at once taken captive,--so happy, so proud, and so devoted. A
paragon of amorous behavior, I called him; having the French idea of
“assistance,” no doubt, but a lover in every movement. Never was the
good old-fashioned phrase “waiting upon her” more prettily illustrated.
Birds are imaginative creatures, says Richard Jefferies, and I believe
it; and this fellow, I am sure, had endowed his spouse with all the
graces of all the birds that ever were or ever will be. In other words,
he was truly in love. The nest was already shingled throughout with
bits of gray lichen, laid on so skillfully that Father Time himself
might have done it. That is the right way. Let the house look as if it
were a growth, a something native to the spot, only less old than the
ground it rests on. The gnatcatcher’s nest is always a work of art.
Gnatcatcher eggs could hardly be counted upon to hatch in any other.

As I passed up the road, on my way homeward, a flock of eight
night-hawks were swimming overhead. Their genius runs, not to
architecture, but to grace of aerial motion. They do not shoot like the
swifts, nor skim and dart like the swallows, nor circle on level wings
like the hawks, but have an easy, slow-seeming, wavering, gracefully
“limping” flight, which is strictly their own. At the same time two
buzzards met in midair, one going with the breeze, the other against
it. I could have told the fact, without other knowledge of the wind’s
course, by the different carriage of the two pairs of wings. So “the
bird trims her to the gale.”

Having the cerulean warbler question still upon my mind, and seeing
another hardwood hill within easy reach, I turned my steps thither.
Yes, I was hardly there before I heard a bird singing; but the reader
may be sure I did not take my ear’s word for it. This was the fourth
hilltop I had visited to-day, and on every one the “rare” warbler (but
it is well known to be abundant in West Virginia) had been found
without so much as a five-minute search.

The next thing, of course, was to find the nest, and so establish the
fact of the birds’ breeding. For that I had one day left; and it may
be said at once that I spent the greater share of the next forenoon in
the vicinity of the grapevine thicket, before mentioned, on Lincoln
Heights. A male cerulean was there,--I both heard and saw him,--but no
female showed herself; and when at last my patience ran out, I gave up
the point for good. She had been seen in the diligent collection of
building materials, and that, considered as evidence, was nearly the
same as a discovery of the nest itself. With that I must be content.
The comfortable way of finding birds’ nests is to happen upon them. A
regular hunt--a “dead set,” as we call it--is apt to be a discouraging

My present attempt, it is true, was a quiet, inactive piece of work,
little more than an idle waiting for the lady of the nest to “give
herself away;” and even that was relieved by much looking at mountain
prospects and frequent turns in the surrounding woods. Once a
crossbill called and a cardinal whistled almost in the same breath,--a
kind of northern and southern duet. Then a cuckoo and a dove fell
to cooing on opposite sides of me; very different sounds, though in
our poverty we designate them by the same word. The dove’s voice is
a thousand times more plaintive than the cuckoo’s, and to hear it,
no matter how near, might come from a mile away; as I have known the
little ground dove to be “mourning” from a fig-tree at my elbow while I
was endeavoring to sight it far down the field. The dove’s note is the
voice of the future or of the past, I am not certain which. A few rods
from the spot where I had taken my station, a single deerberry bush
(_Vaccinium stamineum_) was in profuse bloom, and made a really pretty
show; loose sprays of white flaring blossoms all hanging downward, each
with its cluster of long protruding stamens, till the bush, I thought,
was like a miniature candelabrum of electric lights. As Thoreau might
have said, for so homely a plant the deerberry is very handsome. Either
from association or for some other reason, it wears always a certain
common look. When we see an azalea shrub or even an apple-tree in
bloom, we seem to see the very object of its being. The flower calls
for no ulterior result, though it may have one; its fruit is in itself.
But a blossoming blueberry bush, no matter of what kind, looks like a
plant that was made to bear something edible, a plant whose end is use
rather than beauty.

If the forenoon had been indolent, the noonday hour was more so. I
descended the hill by a way different from any I had yet taken, and
found myself at the foot in a public road running through a cultivated
valley. The day was peculiarly comfortable, with a bright sun and a
temperate breeze,--ideal weather for such inactivities as I was engaged
in. Coming to an old cherry-tree, I rested awhile in its shadow. A
farmhouse was not far off, with apple-trees before it, a barn across
the way, and two or three men at work in the sloping ploughed field
beyond. To one as lazy as I then was, it is almost a luxury to see
other men hoeing or ploughing, so they be far enough off to become a
part of the landscape. Near the barn stood a venerable weeping willow,
huge of girth, a very patriarch, yet still green as youth itself. Here
were good farm-loving birds, a pleasant society. A pair of house wrens
came at once to look at the stranger, and one of them interested me by
dusting itself in the road.

Two kingbirds were about the apple-trees (apple-tree flycatchers would
be my name for them, if a name were in order), now sitting quiet
for a brief space, now scaling the heavens, as if to see how nearly
perpendicular a bird’s flight could be made, and then tumbling about
ecstatically with rapid vociferations, after the half-crazy manner of
their kind. The kingbird is plentifully endowed not only with spirit,
but with spirits. A goldfinch sang and twittered in the softest voice,
and a catbird mewed. From a quince bush, a little farther off, a wild
bobolinkian strain was repeated again and again,--an orchard oriole, I
thought most likely. I went nearer (to the shade of a low cedar), and
soon had him in sight,--a young male in yellow plumage, with a black
throat-patch. The song was extremely taking, and the more I heard it,
the more it seemed to have the true bobolink ring. The quince bushes
were in pale pink bloom, and the branches of a tall snowball-tree in
the unfenced front yard of the house fairly drooped under their load
of white globular clusters. Just opposite was a sweet-brier bush, “the
pastoral eglantine,” half dead like others that I had noticed here,
and like the whole tribe of its New England brothers and sisters. Here
as in Massachusetts a blight was upon them; they were living with
difficulty. It would be good, I thought, to see the sweet-brier once
where it flourishes; where the beauty of the plant matches the beauty
and sweetness of the rose it bears. Can it be that it is not quite
hardy even in Virginia?

My seat under the snowball-tree (to the coolness of which I had moved
from under the cedar) had presently to be given up. The women of the
house became aware of me, and out of a bashful regard for my own
comfort I took the road again. Soon I passed a double house, with
painted doors and two-sash windows! And in one of the windows were lace
curtains! It was wonderful,--I was obliged to confess it, in spite of a
deep-seated masculine prejudice against all such contrivances,--it was
wonderful what an air of elegance they conferred, though the paint of
the doors was to be considered, of course, in the same connection.

By this time the road was approaching the slope of Buck Hill, and high
noon as it was, I must run up for another half-hour among the old
trees at the top,--with no special result except to disturb a summer
tanager, who fired off volley after volley of objurgatory expletives,
and altogether seemed to be in a terrible state of mind. His excitement
was all for nothing; unless--what was likely enough--it served to give
him favor in the eyes of his mate, who may be presumed to have been
somewhere within hearing. Lovers, I believe, are supposed to welcome an
opportunity to play the hero.

My last afternoon at the Bridge was devoted to a longish tramp into
a new piece of country, where for an hour I had hopes of adding at
least a name or two to my Virginia bird list, which for twenty-four
hours had been at a standstill. I came unexpectedly upon a mill, and
what was of greater account, a millpond,--“a long, dirty pond,” as my
uncivil pencil describes it. Here were swallows, as might have been
foreseen, but the most careful scrutiny revealed nothing beyond the two
species already catalogued,--the barn swallow and the rough-wing. Here,
too, in an apple orchard, were a Baltimore oriole gathering straws, a
phœbe, a golden warbler, and several warbling vireos, the only ones
so far noticed with the exception of a single bird at Pulaski. About
the border of the pond were spotted sandpipers (no solitaries, to my
disappointment) and two male song sparrows. This last species I saw but
twice in Virginia,--along the bushy shore of the creek at Pulaski, and
here beside this millpond. Wherever the song sparrow is scarce, it is
likely to be restricted to the immediate neighborhood of water. Even
in Massachusetts it is pretty evident that such places are its first
choice. As I sometimes say, the song sparrow likes a swamp as well as
the swamp sparrow; but the species being so exceedingly abundant, there
are not swampy spots enough to go round, and the majority of the birds
have to shift as they can, along bushy fence-rows and in pastures and

The building interested me almost as much as the sandpipers and the
sparrows. It was painted red, and served not only as a mill, but as
a post-office (“Red Mills”) and a “department store,” with its sign,
“Dry Goods, Groceries, &c.” A tablet informed the passer-by that the
mill had been “established” in 1798, destroyed in 1881, and reopened in
1891; and on the same tablet, or another, was the motto, “Laborare est
orare.” I regretted not to meet the proprietor, but he was nowhere in
sight, and I felt a scruple about intruding upon the time of a man who
was at once postmaster, miller, farmer, storekeeper, and scholar. With
that motto before me,--“Apologia pro vita sua,” he might have called
it,--such an intrusion would have seemed a sacrilege.

What I remember best about the whole establishment is the song of
a blue-gray gnatcatcher, to which I stopped to listen under a low
savin-tree on a bluff above the mill. He was directly over my head,
singing somewhat in the manner of a catbird, but I had almost to hold
my breath to hear him. It was amazing that a bird’s voice could be spun
so fine. A mere shadow of a sound, I was ready to say. It was only by
the happiest accident that I did not miss it altogether. Then, when the
fellow had finished his music, he began squeaking in that peculiarly
teasing manner of his, and kept it up till I was weary. The gnatcatcher
is a creature by himself, a miniature bird, wonderfully slender, with a
strangely long tail, which he carries jauntily and makes the most of on
all occasions. But if he only knew it, his chief claim to distinction
is his singing voice. If the humming-bird’s is attenuated in the same
proportion (and who can assert the contrary?), he may be the finest
vocalist in the world, and we none the wiser.

I was to start northward by the next noonday train, and had already
laid out my forenoon’s work. Before breakfast I took my last look at
the famous bridge, and my last stroll through Cedar Creek ravine. I had
been there every day, I think, and had always found something new. This
time it was a slippery-elm-tree by the saltpetre cave. I had brought
away a twig, and was sitting in my door putting a lens upon it and upon
a sedum specimen, when the veranda was suddenly taken possession of
by a dozen or more of young men. They were just up from the railway
station, and were deep in a discussion of ways and means,--tickets,
luncheons, and time-tables. Then, in a momentary lull in the talk, I
heard a quiet voice say, “Sedum.” They were a company of Johns Hopkins
men out upon a geological trip. So I learned at noon when we met at the
railway station; and a pleasant botanical hour I had with one or two
of them as we rode northward. Now, on the piazza, they did not tarry
long; time was precious to them also; and as soon as they had gone down
to the bridge I set off in the opposite direction. My final ramble was
to be to Lincoln Heights, to see once more that magnificent avenue of
trees and that beautiful mountain prospect. The cerulean warbler was
singing as usual, but there was no sign of his mate, though I could
not do less than to wait a little while by the grapevine thicket in a
vain hope of her appearance. Here, as in the ravine, I had not yet seen
everything. Straight before me stood a locust tree, every branch hung
with long, fragrant white clusters. I had overlooked it completely till
now. If I learned nothing else in Virginia, I ought to have learned
something about my limitations as an “observer.” But I need not have
traveled so far for such a purpose. Wisdom so common as that may be
picked up any day in a man’s own dooryard.


  Anemone, 153, 216.

  Arbor-vitæ, 217.

  Arbutus, trailing, 133, 148, 153, 158, 205.

  Asplenium Ruta-muraria, 227.

    arborescens, 138.
    calendulacea, 138.
    nudiflora, 137, 206.
    vaseyi, 137.
    viscosa, 138.

  Barren strawberry, 153, 178.

    crow, 202.
    red-winged, 123.

  Bladder-nut, 216.

  Bloodroot, 153, 160, 178, 216.

  Bluebird, 125, 266.

  Blue-eyed grass, 244.

  Bobolink, 208.

  Box turtle, 248.

  Butterflies, 218.

  Buzzard, turkey, 126, 132, 159, 271.

  Cancer-root, 260.

  Carolina hemlock, 93.

  Catbird, 51, 173, 198, 275.

  Catchfly, scarlet, 244.

  Chat, 5, 126, 203, 239, 247, 257.

  Checkerberry, 133.

  Cheilanthes vestita, 229.

  Chewink, 132, 159.

  Chickadee, Carolina, 126, 148, 184, 196, 239.

  Chinaberry-tree, 8.

  Chokeberry, 132.

  Clintonia, white-flowered, 46.

  Columbine, 214, 218.

  Cowslip, 264.

  Crab-apple tree, 50.

  Cranesbill, 216.

    black-and-white, 148, 155, 196, 264.
    brown, 41, 74, 78, 126.

  Crossbill, red, 159, 180, 249, 272.

  Cuckoo, 273.

  Cystopteris bulbifera, 228.

  Deerberry, 273.

  Dogwood, flowering, 208, 257.

    Carolina, 196, 273.
    ground, 273.

  Draba, ramosissima, 214.

  Finch, purple, 230.

  Fish-hawk, 209.

    Acadian, 125, 239.
    least, 45.
    olive-sided, 41, 94, 126.

  Fringed polygala, 160.

  Galax, 134, 154.

  Gaylussacia ursina, 133.

  Ginger, wild, 216.

  Gnatcatcher, blue-gray, 21, 23, 231, 269, 279.

  Goldfinch, 132, 211, 230, 275.

  Grackle, bronzed, 202.

    blue, 249.
    cardinal, 125, 224, 272.
    rose-breasted, 51, 119, 128, 132, 180, 187, 258.

  Grouse, ruffed, 155, 159, 267.

  Halesia-tree, 38, 50.

  Hepatica, 153, 160, 178, 216.

  Houstonia, 153.

  Huckleberry, 132.

  Humming-bird, 23, 203, 235, 241, 268, 280.

  Indigo-bird, 231, 255.

  Iris, vernal, 134, 160, 205, 266.

  Judas-tree, 146, 208, 257.

  Killdeer, 199.

  Kingbird, 275.

  Kingfisher, 49, 208.

  Lady’s-slipper, yellow, 46.

  Laurel, mountain, 140.

  Lungwort, 172.

  Magnolia Fraseri, 93.

  Mandrake, 216.

  Maryland yellow-throat, 122, 209.

  Mitrewort, 178, 216.

  Night-hawk, 231, 271.

    red-breasted (Canadian), 40, 126, 159.
    white-breasted, 196, 239.

  Orchis spectabilis, 216.

    Baltimore, 124, 202, 278.
    orchard, 275.

  Osprey, 209.

  Oven-bird, 132, 157, 195, 196, 223, 230.

  Painted-cup, 94, 134.

  Pellæa atropurpurea, 227.

  Pewee, wood, 203, 239.

  Phalarope, Wilson’s, 95.

  Phœbe, 75, 123, 224, 230, 278.

  Potentilla tridentata, 133.

  Ragwort, 216.

  Raven, 22, 68.

  Redstart, 240.

    Catawbiense, 137, 141.
    maximum, 137.
    punctatum, 136.

  Robin, 51, 198.

  Rose acacia, 134.

  Sand myrtle, 134.

    solitary, 72.
    spotted, 73, 199, 278.

  Shadbush, 153, 160.

  Shortia galacifolia, 93.

  Snowbird, Carolina, 78, 115, 126, 132.

    chipping, 148, 230.
    field, 132, 148, 159, 205.
    lark, 190.
    song, 128, 199, 278.
    white-throated, 30, 157, 196, 239, 255.

  Spring beauty, 216.

  Stone-crop, 216.

  Sumach, fragrant, 260.

    barn, 74, 75, 201, 278.
    rough-winged, 32, 75, 201, 218, 278.

  Sweetbrier (Eglantine), 67, 276.

  Swift, chimney, 132, 145, 201, 230.

    scarlet, 132, 203.
    summer, 23, 231, 240, 277.

  Thrasher, brown, 30, 51, 126, 148, 196, 198.

    Louisiana water, 66, 126, 203, 219, 230.
    olive-backed (Swainson), 23, 240, 247, 253, 267.
    wood, 51, 247.

    grandiflorum, 215.
    stylosum, 56.

  Tufted titmouse, 126, 196, 223.

  Tulip-tree, 160, 166, 217.

  Violets, 133, 160, 161, 162, 166, 177, 214.

    mountain solitary, 118.
    red-eyed, 119, 195, 223, 230, 255.
    warbling, 202, 278.
    white-eyed, 127.
    yellow-throated, 196, 230, 255.

  Walking fern, 217.

    Blackburnian, 126, 128, 195, 240, 255.
    blackpoll, 127, 196.
    black-throated blue, 121, 126, 180, 240, 254, 255.
    black-throated green, 23, 195, 255.
    blue yellow-backed (parula), 45, 123, 195, 223, 230, 248, 258, 265.
    Canadian, 121, 126, 240.
    Cape May, 261.
    cerulean, 236, 251, 255, 258, 265, 267, 268, 271, 281.
    chestnut-sided, 126, 132, 195, 196, 255.
    golden-winged, 21, 51, 126, 193, 195.
    hooded, 125, 155, 254.
    Kentucky, 125, 127, 156.
    magnolia, 235, 263.
    myrtle, 127, 195, 196, 255.
    Nashville, 269.
    pine, 23, 195.
    prairie, 23, 127, 206, 230, 266.
    redpoll, 195.
    summer yellow (golden), 127, 195, 278.
    worm-eating, 178, 195.

  Whippoorwill, 5, 59, 231, 247.

    downy, 196.
    hairy, 241.
    golden-winged, 159, 196.
    pileated, 32, 48, 180, 246, 250.
    red-headed, 241.
    yellow-bellied, 180.

    Bewick, 126, 148, 198, 202.
    Carolina, 126, 231.
    house, 150, 198, 203, 275.
    winter, 155, 198.

  Xanthorrhiza, 189.


[1] “Do come” and “did come” are proper enough; why not “done come”?
And in point of fact, this common Southern use of “done” with the past
participle has its warrant in at least two lines of Chaucer: in _The
Knightes Tale_ (1055):--

  “Hath Theseus doon wrought in noble wise,”

and in _The Tale of the Man of Lawe_ (171):--

  “Thise marchants han doon fraught her shippes newe.”

If a ship is “done loaded,” why may not a carriage have “done come”?
Idiom is long-lived. As Lowell said of the Yankee vernacular, so
doubtless may we say of the Carolinian, that it “often has antiquity
and very respectable literary authority on its side.”

[2] If I seem to have said too much about the vulgar question of
something to eat, let it be my apology that for a Northern traveler
in the rural South the food question is nothing less than the health
question. A few years ago, two Boston ornithologists, who had
undertaken an extensive tour among the North Carolina mountains,
returned before the time. Sickness had driven them home, it turned out;
and when they came to publish the result of their investigations, they
finished their narrative by saying, “Few Northern digestions could
accomplish the feat of properly nourishing a man on native fare.”
On my present trip, a resident physician assured me that the native
mountaineers, living mostly out of doors and in one of the best of
climates, are almost without exception dyspeptics.

[3] See especially an article by Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller in _The
Atlantic Monthly_ for June, 1896.

[4] All things go by comparison. “I always lived in the country till I
came here,” said my driver to me one day.

[5] The great “war governor” and senator of North Carolina was born
among the mountains of the State; and from what I heard, he seems to
have left his name

“to be found, like a wild flower, All over his dear country,”

as truly as Wallace ever did in Scotland.

[6] The case is recorded in _The Auk_, vol. vi. page 68.

[7] On a different road, and on a Sunday morning, I met a young colored
woman,--an unusual sight, colored people being _personæ non gratæ_ in
the mountains. _We_ bade each other good-morning, as Christians should.
My notebook, I see, records her as dressed in her best clothes,--a blue
gown, I think,--with a handsome light-colored silk parasol in one hand,
and a tin pail in the other.

[8] _The Auk_, vol. iii. pp. 108 and 111.

[9] My first impression was correct. Mr. Brewster, as I now notice,
says of the nest that it is “larger and composed of coarser material”
than that of _Junco hyemalis_.

[10] “At Highlands I saw a single male,--an unusually brilliant
one,--which I was told was the only bird of the kind in the vicinity.”

[11] According to a publication of the State Board of Agriculture,
North Carolina contains forty-three peaks more than 6000 feet high,
eighty-two others more than 5000 feet high, and an “innumerable”
multitude the altitude of which is between 4000 and 5000 feet.

[12] Pulaski, or Pulaski City (the place goes by both names,--the
second a reminiscence of its “booming” days, I should suppose), is so
intermediate in size and appearance that I find myself speaking of it
by turns as village, town, and city, with no thought of inconsistency
or special inappropriateness.

[13] Mr. H. W. Henshaw once told me about a flock that appeared in
winter in the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution, so exhausted that
they could be picked off the trees like apples.

  The Riverside Press


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or variant spelling has been retained.

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