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Title: Ways of Wood Folk
Author: Long, William Joseph, 1866-1952
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.

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[Illustration]



WAYS OF WOOD FOLK

BY

WILLIAM J. LONG


_FIRST SERIES_

[Illustration]

BOSTON, U.S.A.
GINN & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
The Athenæum Press
1902



COPYRIGHT, 1899
BY WILLIAM J. LONG

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



TO PLATO, the owl, who looks
over my shoulder as I write, and
who knows all about the woods.



PREFACE.

"All crows are alike," said a wise man, speaking of politicians. That
is quite true--in the dark. By daylight, however, there is as much
difference, within and without, in the first two crows one meets as in
the first two men or women. I asked a little child once, who was
telling me all about her chicken, how she knew her chicken from twenty
others just like him in the flock. "How do I know my chicken? I know
him by his little face," she said. And sure enough, the face, when you
looked at it closely, was different from all other faces.

This is undoubtedly true of all birds and all animals. They recognize
each other instantly amid multitudes of their kind; and one who
watches them patiently sees quite as many odd ways and individualities
among Wood Folk as among other people. No matter, therefore, how well
you know the habits of crows or the habits of caribou in general,
watch the first one that crosses your path as if he were an entire
stranger; open eyes to see and heart to interpret, and you will surely
find some new thing, some curious unrecorded way, to give delight to
your tramp and bring you home with a new interest.

This individuality of the wild creatures will account, perhaps, for
many of these Ways, which can seem no more curious or startling to the
reader than to the writer when he first discovered them. They are,
almost entirely, the records of personal observation in the woods and
fields. Occasionally, when I know my hunter or woodsman well, I have
taken his testimony, but never without weighing it carefully, and
proving it whenever possible by watching the animal in question for
days or weeks till I found for myself that it was all true.

The sketches are taken almost at random from old note-books and summer
journals. About them gather a host of associations, of
living-over-agains, that have made it a delight to write them;
associations of the winter woods, of apple blossoms and nest-building,
of New England uplands and wilderness rivers, of camps and canoes, of
snowshoes and trout rods, of sunrise on the hills, when one climbed
for the eagle's nest, and twilight on the yellow wind-swept beaches,
where the surf sobbed far away, and wings twanged like reeds in the
wind swooping down to decoys,--all thronging about one, eager to be
remembered if not recorded. Among them, most eager, most intense, most
frequent of all associations, there is a boy with nerves all a-tingle
at the vast sweet mystery that rustled in every wood, following the
call of the winds and the birds, or wandering alone where the spirit
moved him, who never studied nature consciously, but only loved it,
and who found out many of these Ways long ago, guided solely by a
boy's instinct.

If they speak to other boys, as to fellow explorers in the always new
world, if they bring back to older children happy memories of a golden
age when nature and man were not quite so far apart, then there will
be another pleasure in having written them.


My thanks are due, and are given heartily, to the editors of _The
Youth's Companion_ for permission to use several sketches that have
already appeared, and to Mr. Charles Copeland, the artist, for his
care and interest in preparing the illustrations.

                                        WM. J. LONG.

    ANDOVER, MASS., June, 1899.



CONTENTS.

                                                PAGE

   I. FOX-WAYS                                    1
  II. MERGANSER                                  27
 III. QUEER WAYS OF BR'ER RABBIT                 41
  IV. A WILD DUCK                                55
   V. AN ORIOLE'S NEST                           69
  VI. THE BUILDERS                               77
 VII. CROW-WAYS                                 101
VIII. ONE TOUCH OF NATURE                       117
  IX. MOOSE CALLING                             121
   X. CH'GEEGEE-LOKH-SIS                        135
  XI. A FELLOW OF EXPEDIENTS                    152
 XII. A TEMPERANCE LESSON FOR THE HORNETS       161
XIII. SNOWY VISITORS                            167
 XIV. A CHRISTMAS CAROL                         181
  XV. MOOWEEN THE BEAR                          187



WAYS OF WOOD FOLK.



I. FOX-WAYS.


[Illustration]

Did you ever meet a fox face to face, surprising him quite as much as
yourself? If so, you were deeply impressed, no doubt, by his perfect
dignity and self-possession. Here is how the meeting generally comes
about.

It is a late winter afternoon. You are swinging rapidly over the
upland pastures, or loitering along the winding old road through the
woods. The color deepens in the west; the pines grow black against it;
the rich brown of the oak leaves seems to glow everywhere in the last
soft light; and the mystery that never sleeps long in the woods begins
to rustle again in the thickets. You are busy with your own thoughts,
seeing nothing, till a flash of yellow passes before your eyes, and a
fox stands in the path before you, one foot uplifted, the fluffy brush
swept aside in graceful curve, the bright eyes looking straight into
yours--nay, looking through them to read the intent which gives the
eyes their expression. That is always the way with a fox; he seems to
be looking at your thoughts.

Surprise, eagerness, a lively curiosity are all in your face on the
instant; but the beautiful creature before you only draws himself
together with quiet self-possession. He lifts his head slightly; a
superior look creeps into his eyes; he seems to be speaking. Listen--

"You are surprised?"--this with an almost imperceptible lift of his
eyebrows, which reminds you somehow that it is really none of your
affair. "O, I frequently use this road in attending to some matters
over in the West Parish. To be sure, we are socially incompatible; we
may even regard each other as enemies, unfortunately. I did take your
chickens last week; but yesterday your unmannerly dogs hunted me. At
least we may meet and pass as gentlemen. You are the older; allow me
to give you the path."

Dropping his head again, he turns to the left, English fashion, and
trots slowly past you. There is no hurry; not the shadow of suspicion
or uneasiness. His eyes are cast down; his brow wrinkled, as if in
deep thought; already he seems to have forgotten your existence. You
watch him curiously as he reenters the path behind you and disappears
over the hill. Somehow a queer feeling, half wonder, half rebuke,
steals over you, as if you had been outdone in courtesy, or had passed
a gentleman without sufficiently recognizing him.

Ah, but you didn't watch sharply enough! You didn't see, as he circled
past, that cunning side gleam of his yellow eyes, which understood
your attitude perfectly. Had you stirred, he would have vanished like
a flash. You didn't run to the top of the hill where he disappeared,
to see that burst of speed the instant he was out of your sight. You
didn't see the capers, the tail-chasing, the high jumps, the quick
turns and plays; and then the straight, nervous gallop, which told
more plainly than words his exultation that he had outwitted you and
shown his superiority.

Reynard, wherever you meet him, whether on the old road at twilight,
or on the runway before the hounds, impresses you as an animal of
dignity and calculation. He never seems surprised, much less
frightened; never loses his head; never does things hurriedly, or on
the spur of the moment, as a scatter-brained rabbit or meddling
squirrel might do. You meet him, perhaps as he leaves the warm rock on
the south slope of the old oak woods, where he has been curled up
asleep all the sunny afternoon. (It is easy to find him there in
winter.) Now he is off on his nightly hunt; he is trotting along,
head down, brows deep-wrinkled, planning it all out.

"Let me see," he is thinking, "last night I hunted the Draper woods.
To-night I'll cross the brook just this side the old bars, and take a
look into that pasture-corner among the junipers. There's a rabbit
which plays round there on moonlight nights; I'll have him presently.
Then I'll go down to the big South meadow after mice. I haven't been
there for a week; and last time I got six. If I don't find mice,
there's that chicken coop of old Jenkins. Only"--He stops, with his
foot up, and listens a minute--"only he locks the coop and leaves the
dog loose ever since I took the big rooster. Anyway I'll take a look
round there. Sometimes Deacon Jones's hens get to roosting in the next
orchard. If I can find them up an apple tree, I'll bring a couple down
with a good trick I know. On the way--Hi, there!"

In the midst of his planning he gives a grasshopper-jump aside, and
brings down both paws hard on a bit of green moss that quivered as he
passed. He spreads his paws apart carefully; thrusts his nose down
between them; drags a young wood-mouse from under the moss; eats him;
licks his chops twice, and goes on planning as if nothing had
happened.

"On the way back, I'll swing round by the Fales place, and take a
sniff under the wall by the old hickory, to see if those sleepy skunks
are still there for the winter. I'll have that whole family before
spring, if I'm hungry and can't find anything else. They come out on
sunny days; all you have to do is just hide behind the hickory and
watch."

So off he goes on his well-planned hunt; and if you follow his track
to-morrow in the snow, you will see how he has gone from one hunting
ground directly to the next. You will find the depression where he lay
in a clump of tall dead grass and watched a while for the rabbit;
reckon the number of mice he caught in the meadow; see his sly tracks
about the chicken coop, and in the orchard; and pause a moment at the
spot where he cast a knowing look behind the hickory by the wall,--all
just as he planned it on his way to the brook.

If, on the other hand, you stand by one of his runways while the dogs
are driving him, expecting, of course, to see him come tearing along
in a desperate hurry, frightened out of half his wits by the savage
uproar behind him, you can only rub your eyes in wonder when a fluffy
yellow ball comes drifting through the woods towards you, as if the
breeze were blowing it along. There he is, trotting down the runway in
the same leisurely, self-possessed way, wrapped in his own thoughts
apparently, the same deep wrinkles over his eyes. He played a trick or
two on a brook, down between the ponds, by jumping about on a lot of
stones from which the snow had melted, without wetting his feet (which
he dislikes), and without leaving a track anywhere. While the dogs are
puzzling that out, he has plenty of time to plan more devices on his
way to the big hill, with its brook, and old walls, and rail fences,
and dry places under the pines, and twenty other helps to an active
brain.

First he will run round the hill half a dozen times, crisscrossing his
trail. That of itself will drive the young dogs crazy. Then along the
top rail of a fence, and a long jump into the junipers, which hold no
scent, and another jump to the wall where there is no snow, and then--

"Oh, plenty of time, no hurry!" he says to himself, turning to listen
a moment. "That dog with the big voice must be old Roby. He thinks he
knows all about foxes, just because he broke his leg last year, trying
to walk a sheep-fence where I'd been. I'll give him another chance;
and oh, yes! I'll creep up the other side of the hill, and curl up on
a warm rock on the tiptop, and watch them all break their heads over
the crisscross, and have a good nap or two, and think of more
tricks."

So he trots past you, still planning; crosses the wall by a certain
stone that he has used ever since he was a cub fox; seems to float
across an old pasture, stopping only to run about a bit among some cow
tracks, to kill the scent; and so on towards his big hill. Before he
gets there he will have a skilful retreat planned, back to the ponds,
in case old Roby untangles his crisscross, or some young fool-hound
blunders too near the rock whereon he sits, watching the game.

If you meet him now, face to face, you will see no quiet assumption of
superiority; unless perchance he is a young fox, that has not learned
what it means to be met on a runway by a man with a gun when the dogs
are driving. With your first slightest movement there is a flash of
yellow fur, and he has vanished into the thickest bit of underbrush at
hand.--Don't run; you will not see him again here. He knows the old
roads and paths far better than you do, and can reach his big hill by
any one of a dozen routes where you would never dream of looking. But
if you want another glimpse of him, take the shortest cut to the hill.
He may take a nap, or sit and listen a while to the dogs, or run round
a swamp before he gets there. Sit on the wall in plain sight; make a
post of yourself; keep still, and keep your eyes open.

Once, in just such a place, I had a rare chance to watch him. It was
on the summit of a great bare hill. Down in the woods by a swamp, five
or six hounds were waking the winter echoes merrily on a fresh trail.
I was hoping for a sight of Reynard when he appeared from nowhere, on
a rock not fifty yards away. There he lay, his nose between his paws,
listening with quiet interest to the uproar below. Occasionally he
raised his head as some young dog scurried near, yelping maledictions
upon a perfect tangle of fox tracks, none of which went anywhere.
Suddenly he sat up straight, twisted his head sideways, as a dog does
when he sees the most interesting thing of his life, dropped his
tongue out a bit, and looked intently. I looked too, and there, just
below, was old Roby, the best foxhound in a dozen counties, creeping
like a cat along the top rail of a sheep-fence, now putting his nose
down to the wood, now throwing his head back for a great howl of
exultation.--It was all immensely entertaining; and nobody seemed to
be enjoying it more than the fox.

One of the most fascinating bits of animal study is to begin at the
very beginning of fox education, _i.e._, to find a fox den, and go
there some afternoon in early June, and hide at a distance, where you
can watch the entrance through your field-glass. Every afternoon the
young foxes come out to play in the sunshine like so many kittens.
Bright little bundles of yellow fur they seem, full of tricks and
whims, with pointed faces that change only from exclamation to
interrogation points, and back again. For hours at a stretch they roll
about, and chase tails, and pounce upon the quiet old mother with
fierce little barks. One climbs laboriously up the rock behind the
den, and sits on his tail, gravely surveying the great landscape with
a comical little air of importance, as if he owned it all. When called
to come down he is afraid, and makes a great to-do about it. Another
has been crouching for five minutes behind a tuft of grass, watching
like a cat at a rat-hole for some one to come by and be pounced upon.
Another is worrying something on the ground, a cricket perhaps, or a
doodle-bug; and the fourth never ceases to worry the patient old
mother, till she moves away and lies down by herself in the shadow of
a ground cedar.

As the afternoon wears away, and long shadows come creeping up the
hillside, the mother rises suddenly and goes back to the den; the
little ones stop their play, and gather about her. You strain your
ears for the slightest sound, but hear nothing; yet there she is,
plainly talking to them; and they are listening. She turns her head,
and the cubs scamper into the den's mouth. A moment she stands
listening, looking; while just within the dark entrance you get
glimpses of four pointed black noses, and a cluster of bright little
eyes, wide open for a last look. Then she trots away, planning her
hunt, till she disappears down by the brook. When she is gone, eyes
and noses draw back; only a dark silent hole in the bank is left. You
will not see them again--not unless you stay to watch by moonlight
till mother-fox comes back, with a fringe of field-mice hanging from
her lips, or a young turkey thrown across her shoulders.

One shrewd thing frequently noticed in the conduct of an old fox with
young is that she never troubles the poultry of the farms nearest her
den. She will forage for miles in every direction; will harass the
chickens of distant farms till scarcely a handful remains of those
that wander into the woods, or sleep in the open yards; yet she will
pass by and through nearer farms without turning aside to hunt, except
for mice and frogs; and, even when hungry, will note a flock of
chickens within sight of her den, and leave them undisturbed. She
seems to know perfectly that a few missing chickens will lead to a
search; that boys' eyes will speedily find her den, and boys' hands
dig eagerly for a litter of young foxes.

Last summer I found a den, beautifully hidden, within a few hundred
yards of an old farmhouse. The farmer assured me he had never missed a
chicken; he had no idea that there was a fox within miles of his large
flock. Three miles away was another farmer who frequently sat up
nights, and set his boys to watching afternoons, to shoot a fox that,
early and late, had taken nearly thirty young chickens. Driven to
exasperation at last, he borrowed a hound from a hunter; and the dog
ran the trail straight to the den I had discovered.

Curiously enough, the cubs, for whose peaceful bringing up the mother
so cunningly provides, do not imitate her caution. They begin their
hunting by lying in ambush about the nearest farm; the first stray
chicken they see is game. Once they begin to plunder in this way, and
feed full on their own hunting, parental authority is gone; the mother
deserts the den immediately, leading the cubs far away. But some of
them go back, contrary to all advice, and pay the penalty. She knows
now that sooner or later some cub will be caught stealing chickens in
broad daylight, and be chased by dogs. The foolish youngster takes to
earth, instead of trusting to his legs; so the long-concealed den is
discovered and dug open at last.

When an old fox, foraging for her young some night, discovers by her
keen nose that a flock of hens has been straying near the woods, she
goes next day and hides herself there, lying motionless for hours at a
stretch in a clump of dead grass or berry bushes, till the flock comes
near enough for a rush. Then she hurls herself among them, and in the
confusion seizes one by the neck, throws it by a quick twist across
her shoulders, and is gone before the stupid hens find out what it is
all about.

But when a fox finds an old hen or turkey straying about with a brood
of chicks, then the tactics are altogether different. Creeping up like
a cat, the fox watches an opportunity to seize a chick out of sight of
the mother bird. That done, he withdraws, silent as a shadow, his grip
on the chick's neck preventing any outcry. Hiding his game at a
distance, he creeps back to capture another in the same way; and so on
till he has enough, or till he is discovered, or some half-strangled
chick finds breath enough for a squawk. A hen or turkey knows the
danger by instinct, and hurries her brood into the open at the first
suspicion that a fox is watching.

A farmer, whom I know well, first told me how a fox manages to carry a
number of chicks at once. He heard a clamor from a hen-turkey and her
brood one day, and ran to a wood path in time to see a vixen make off
with a turkey chick scarcely larger than a robin. Several were
missing from the brood. He hunted about, and presently found five more
just killed. They were beautifully laid out, the bodies at a broad
angle, the necks crossing each other, like the corner of a corn-cob
house, in such a way that, by gripping the necks at the angle, all the
chicks could be carried at once, half hanging at either side of the
fox's mouth. Since then I have seen an old fox with what looked like a
dozen or more field-mice carried in this way; only, of course, the
tails were crossed corn-cob fashion instead of the necks.

The stealthiness with which a fox stalks his game is one of the most
remarkable things about him. Stupid chickens are not the only birds
captured. Once I read in the snow the story of his hunt after a
crow--wary game to be caught napping! The tracks showed that quite a
flock of crows had been walking about an old field, bordered by pine
and birch thickets. From the rock where he was sleeping away the
afternoon the fox saw or heard them, and crept down. How cautious he
was about it! Following the tracks, one could almost see him stealing
along from stone to bush, from bush to grass clump, so low that his
body pushed a deep trail in the snow, till he reached the cover of a
low pine on the very edge of the field. There he crouched with all
four feet close together under him. Then a crow came by within ten
feet of the ambush. The tracks showed that the bird was a bit
suspicious; he stopped often to look and listen. When his head was
turned aside for an instant the fox launched himself; just two jumps,
and he had him. Quick as he was, the wing marks showed that the crow
had started, and was pulled down out of the air. Reynard carried him
into the densest thicket of scrub pines he could find, and ate him
there, doubtless to avoid the attacks of the rest of the flock, which
followed him screaming vengeance.

A strong enmity exists between crows and foxes. Wherever a crow finds
a fox, he sets up a clatter that draws a flock about him in no time,
in great excitement. They chase the fox as long as he is in sight,
cawing vociferously, till he creeps into a thicket of scrub pines,
into which no crow will ever venture, and lies down till he tires out
their patience. In hunting, one may frequently trace the exact course
of a fox which the dogs are driving, by the crows clamoring over him.
Here in the snow was a record that may help explain one side of the
feud.

From the same white page one may read many other stories of Reynard's
ways and doings. Indeed I know of no more interesting winter walk than
an afternoon spent on his last night's trail through the soft snow.
There is always something new, either in the track or the woods
through which it leads; always a fresh hunting story; always a
disappointment or two, a long cold wait for a rabbit that didn't come,
or a miscalculation over the length of the snow tunnel where a
partridge burrowed for the night. Generally, if you follow far enough,
there is also a story of good hunting which leaves you wavering
between congratulation over a successful stalk after nights of hungry,
patient wandering, and pity for the little tragedy told so vividly by
converging trails, a few red drops in the snow, a bit of fur blown
about by the wind, or a feather clinging listlessly to the underbrush.
In such a tramp one learns much of fox-ways and other ways that can
never be learned elsewhere.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fox whose life has been spent on the hillsides surrounding a New
England village seems to have profited by generations of experience.
He is much more cunning every way than the fox of the wilderness. If,
for instance, a fox has been stealing your chickens, your trap must be
very cunningly set if you are to catch him. It will not do to set it
near the chickens; no inducement will be great enough to bring him
within yards of it. It must be set well back in the woods, near one of
his regular hunting grounds. Before that, however, you must bait the
fox with choice bits scattered over a pile of dry leaves or chaff,
sometimes for a week, sometimes for a month, till he comes regularly.
Then smoke your trap, or scent it; handle it only with gloves; set it
in the chaff; scatter bait as usual; and you have one chance of
getting him, while he has still a dozen of getting away. In the
wilderness, on the other hand, he may be caught with half the
precaution. I know a little fellow, whose home is far back from the
settlements, who catches five or six foxes every winter by ordinary
wire snares set in the rabbit paths, where foxes love to hunt.

In the wilderness one often finds tracks in the snow, telling how a
fox tried to catch a partridge and only succeeded in frightening it
into a tree. After watching a while hungrily,--one can almost see him
licking his chops under the tree,--he trots off to other hunting
grounds. If he were an educated fox he would know better than that.

When an old New England fox in some of his nightly prowlings discovers
a flock of chickens roosting in the orchard, he generally gets one or
two. His plan is to come by moonlight, or else just at dusk, and,
running about under the tree, bark sharply to attract the chickens'
attention. If near the house, he does this by jumping, lest the dog or
the farmer hear his barking. Once they have begun to flutter and
cackle, as they always do when disturbed, he begins to circle the tree
slowly, still jumping and clacking his teeth. The chickens crane their
necks down to follow him. Faster and faster he goes, racing in small
circles, till some foolish fowl grows dizzy with twisting her head, or
loses her balance and tumbles down, only to be snapped up and carried
off across his shoulders in a twinkling.

But there is one way in which fox of the wilderness and fox of the
town are alike easily deceived. Both are very fond of mice, and
respond quickly to the squeak, which can be imitated perfectly by
drawing the breath in sharply between closed lips. The next thing,
after that is learned, is to find a spot in which to try the effect.

Two or three miles back from almost all New England towns are certain
old pastures and clearings, long since run wild, in which the young
foxes love to meet and play on moonlight nights, much as rabbits do,
though in a less harum-scarum way. When well fed, and therefore in no
hurry to hunt, the heart of a young fox turns naturally to such a
spot, and to fun and capers. The playground may easily be found by
following the tracks after the first snowfall. (The knowledge will not
profit you probably till next season; but it is worth finding and
remembering.) If one goes to the place on some still, bright night in
autumn, and hides on the edge of the open, he stands a good chance of
seeing two or three foxes playing there. Only he must himself be still
as the night; else, should twenty foxes come that way, he will never
see one.

It is always a pretty scene, the quiet opening in the woods flecked
with soft gray shadows in the moonlight, the dark sentinel evergreens
keeping silent watch about the place, the wild little creatures
playing about among the junipers, flitting through light and shadow,
jumping over each other and tumbling about in mimic warfare, all
unconscious of a spectator as the foxes that played there before the
white man came, and before the Indians. Such scenes do not crowd
themselves upon one. He must wait long, and love the woods, and be
often disappointed; but when they come at last, they are worth all the
love and the watching. And when the foxes are not there, there is
always something else that is beautiful.--

Now squeak like a mouse, in the midst of the play. Instantly the fox
nearest you stands, with one foot up, listening. Another squeak, and
he makes three or four swift bounds in your direction, only to stand
listening again; he hasn't quite located you. Careful now! don't
hurry; the longer you keep him waiting, the more certainly he is
deceived. Another squeak; some more swift jumps that bring him
within ten feet; and now he smells or sees you, sitting motionless on
your boulder in the shadow of the pines.

[Illustration]

He isn't surprised; at least he pretends he isn't; but looks you over
indifferently, as if he were used to finding people sitting on that
particular rock. Then he trots off with an air of having forgotten
something. With all his cunning he never suspects you of being the
mouse. That little creature he believes to be hiding under the rock;
and to-morrow night he will very likely take a look there, or respond
to your squeak in the same way.

It is only early in the season, generally before the snow blows, that
one can see them playing; and it is probably the young foxes that are
so eager for this kind of fun. Later in the season--either because the
cubs have lost their playfulness, or because they must hunt so
diligently for enough to eat that there is no time for play--they
seldom do more than take a gallop together, with a playful jump or
two, before going their separate ways. At all times, however, they
have a strong tendency to fun and mischief-making. More than once, in
winter, I have surprised a fox flying round after his own bushy tail
so rapidly that tail and fox together looked like a great yellow
pin-wheel on the snow.

When a fox meets a toad or frog, and is not hungry, he worries the
poor thing for an hour at a time; and when he finds a turtle he turns
the creature over with his paw, sitting down gravely to watch its
awkward struggle to get back onto its feet. At such times he has a
most humorous expression, brows wrinkled and tongue out, as if he were
enjoying himself hugely.

Later in the season he would be glad enough to make a meal of toad or
turtle. One day last March the sun shone out bright and warm; in the
afternoon the first frogs began to tune up, _cr-r-r-runk,
cr-r-runk-a-runk-runk_, like a flock of brant in the distance. I was
watching them at a marshy spot in the woods, where they had come out
of the mud by dozens into a bit of open water, when the bushes parted
cautiously and the sharp nose of a fox appeared. The hungry fellow had
heard them from the hill above, where he was asleep, and had come down
to see if he could catch a few. He was creeping out onto the ice when
he smelled me, and trotted back into the woods.

Once I saw him catch a frog. He crept down to where Chigwooltz, a fat
green bullfrog, was sunning himself by a lily pad, and very cautiously
stretched out one paw under water. Then with a quick fling he tossed
his game to land, and was after him like a flash before he could
scramble back.

On the seacoast Reynard depends largely on the tides for a living. An
old fisherman assures me that he has seen him catching crabs there in
a very novel way. Finding a quiet bit of water where the crabs are
swimming about, he trails his brush over the surface till one rises
and seizes it with his claw (a most natural thing for a crab to do),
whereupon the fox springs away, jerking the crab to land. Though a fox
ordinarily is careful as a cat about wetting his tail or feet, I shall
not be surprised to find some day for myself that the fisherman was
right. Reynard is very ingenious, and never lets his little prejudices
stand in the way when he is after a dinner.

His way of beguiling a duck is more remarkable than his fishing. Late
one afternoon, while following the shore of a pond, I noticed a
commotion among some tame ducks, and stopped to see what it was about.
They were swimming in circles, quacking and stretching their wings,
evidently in great excitement. A few minutes' watching convinced me
that something on the shore excited them. Their heads were straight up
from the water, looking fixedly at something that I could not see;
every circle brought them nearer the bank. I walked towards them, not
very cautiously, I am sorry to say; for the farmhouse where the ducks
belonged was in plain sight, and I was not expecting anything unusual.
As I glanced over the bank something slipped out of sight into the
tall grass. I followed the waving tops intently, and caught one sure
glimpse of a fox as he disappeared into the woods.

The thing puzzled me for years, though I suspected some foxy trick,
till a duck-hunter explained to me what Reynard was doing. He had seen
it tried successfully once on a flock of wild ducks.--

When a fox finds a flock of ducks feeding near shore, he trots down
and begins to play on the beach in plain sight, watching the birds the
while out of the "tail o' his ee," as a Scotchman would say. Ducks are
full of curiosity, especially about unusual colors and objects too
small to frighten them; so the playing animal speedily excites a
lively interest. They stop feeding, gather close together, spread,
circle, come together again, stretching their necks as straight as
strings to look and listen.

Then the fox really begins his performance. He jumps high to snap at
imaginary flies; he chases his bushy tail; he rolls over and over in
clouds of flying sand; he gallops up the shore, and back like a
whirlwind; he plays peekaboo with every bush. The foolish birds grow
excited; they swim in smaller circles, quacking nervously, drawing
nearer and nearer to get a better look at the strange performance.
They are long in coming, but curiosity always gets the better of them;
those in the rear crowd the front rank forward. All the while the show
goes on, the performer paying not the slightest attention apparently
to his excited audience; only he draws slowly back from the water's
edge, as if to give them room as they crowd nearer.

They are on shore at last; then, while they are lost in the most
astonishing caper of all, the fox dashes among them, throwing them
into the wildest confusion. His first snap never fails to throw a duck
back onto the sand with a broken neck; and he has generally time for a
second, often for a third, before the flock escapes into deep water.
Then he buries all his birds but one, throws that across his
shoulders, and trots off, wagging his head, to some quiet spot where
he can eat his dinner and take a good nap undisturbed.

When with all his cunning Reynard is caught napping, he makes use of
another good trick he knows. One winter morning some years ago, my
friend, the old fox-hunter, rose at daylight for a run with the dogs
over the new-fallen snow. Just before calling his hounds, he went to
his hen-house, some distance away, to throw the chickens some corn for
the day. As he reached the roost, his steps making no sound in the
snow, he noticed the trail of a fox crossing the yard and entering the
coop through a low opening sometimes used by the chickens. No trail
came out; it flashed upon him that the fox must be inside at that
moment.

Hardly had he reached this conclusion when a wild cackle arose that
left no doubt about it. On the instant he whirled an empty box against
the opening, at the same time pounding lustily to frighten the thief
from killing more chickens. Reynard was trapped sure enough. The
fox-hunter listened at the door, but save for an occasional surprised
_cut-aa-cut_, not a sound was heard within.

Very cautiously he opened the door and squeezed through. There lay a
fine pullet stone dead; just beyond lay the fox, dead too.

"Well, of all things," said the fox-hunter, open-mouthed, "if he
hasn't gone and climbed the roost after that pullet, and then tumbled
down and broken his own neck!"

Highly elated with this unusual beginning of his hunt, he picked up
the fox and the pullet and laid them down together on the box outside,
while he fed his chickens.

When he came out, a minute later, there was the box and a feather or
two, but no fox and no pullet. Deep tracks led out of the yard and up
over the hill in flying jumps. Then it dawned upon our hunter that
Reynard had played the possum-game on him, getting away with a whole
skin and a good dinner.

There was no need to look farther for a good fox track. Soon the music
of the hounds went ringing over the hill and down the hollow; but though
the dogs ran true, and the hunter watched the runways all day with
something more than his usual interest, he got no glimpse of the wily
old fox. Late at night the dogs came limping home, weary and footsore,
but with never a long yellow hair clinging to their chops to tell a
story.

The fox saved his pullet, of course. Finding himself pursued, he
buried it hastily, and came back the next night undoubtedly to get it.

Several times since then I have known of his playing possum in the
same way. The little fellow whom I mentioned as living near the
wilderness, and snaring foxes, once caught a black fox--a rare,
beautiful animal with a very valuable skin--in a trap which he had
baited for weeks in a wild pasture. It was the first black fox he had
ever seen, and, boylike, he took it only as a matter of mild wonder to
find the beautiful creature frozen stiff, apparently, on his pile of
chaff with one hind leg fast in the trap.

He carried the prize home, trap and all, over his shoulder. At his
whoop of exultation the whole family came out to admire and
congratulate. At last he took the trap from the fox's leg, and
stretched him out on the doorstep to gloat over the treasure and
stroke the glossy fur to his heart's content. His attention was taken
away for a moment; then he had a dazed vision of a flying black
animal that seemed to perch an instant on the log fence and vanish
among the spruces.

Poor Johnnie! There were tears in his eyes when he told me about it,
three years afterwards.

       *       *       *       *       *

These are but the beginning of fox-ways. I have not spoken of his
occasional tree climbing; nor of his grasshopper hunting; nor of his
planning to catch three quails at once when he finds a whole covey
gathered into a dinner-plate circle, tails in, heads out, asleep on
the ground; nor of some perfectly astonishing things he does when hard
pressed by dogs. But these are enough to begin the study and still
leave plenty of things to find out for one's self. Reynard is rarely
seen, even in places where he abounds; we know almost nothing of his
private life; and there are undoubtedly many of his most interesting
ways yet to be discovered. He has somehow acquired a bad name,
especially among farmers; but, on the whole, there is scarcely a wild
thing in the woods that better repays one for the long hours spent in
catching a glimpse of him.



II. MERGANSER.


[Illustration]

Shelldrake, or shellbird, is the name by which this duck is generally
known, though how he came to be called so would be hard to tell.
Probably the name was given by gunners, who see him only in winter
when hunger drives him to eat mussels--but even then he likes
mud-snails much better.

The name fish-duck, which one hears occasionally, is much more
appropriate. The long slender bill, with its serrated edges fitting
into each other like the teeth of a bear trap, just calculated to
seize and hold a slimy wriggling fish, is quite enough evidence as to
the nature of the bird's food, even if one had not seen him fishing on
the lakes and rivers which are his summer home.

That same bill, by the way, is sometimes a source of danger. Once, on
the coast, I saw a shelldrake tying in vain to fly against the wind,
which flung rudely among some tall reeds near me. The next moment
Don, my old dog, had him. In a hungry moment he had driven his bill
through both shells of a scallop, which slipped or worked its way up
to his nostrils, muzzling the bird perfectly with a hard shell ring.
The poor fellow by desperate trying could open his mouth barely wide
enough to drink or to swallow the tiniest morsel. He must have been in
this condition a long time, for the bill was half worn through, and he
was so light that the wind blew him about like a great feather when he
attempted to fly.

Fortunately Don was a good retriever and had brought the duck in with
scarcely a quill ruffled; so I had the satisfaction of breaking his
bands and letting him go free with a splendid rush. But the wind was
too much for him; he dropped back into the water and went skittering
down the harbor like a lady with too much skirt and too big a hat in
boisterous weather. Meanwhile Don lay on the sand, head up, ears up,
whining eagerly for the word to fetch. Then he dropped his head, and
drew a long breath, and tried to puzzle it out why a man should go out
on a freezing day in February, and tramp, and row, and get wet to find
a bird, only to let him go after he had been fairly caught.

Kwaseekho the shelldrake leads a double life. In winter he may be
found almost anywhere along the Massachusetts coast and southward,
where he leads a dog's life of it, notwithstanding his gay
appearance. An hundred guns are roaring at him wherever he goes. From
daylight to dark he has never a minute to eat his bit of fish, or to
take a wink of sleep in peace. He flies to the ocean, and beds with
his fellows on the broad open shoals for safety. But the east winds
blow; and the shoals are a yeasty mass of tumbling breakers. They
buffet him about; they twist his gay feathers; they dampen his
pinions, spite of his skill in swimming. Then he goes to the creeks
and harbors.

Along the shore a flock of his own kind, apparently, are feeding in
quiet water. Straight in he comes with unsuspecting soul, the morning
light shining full on his white breast and bright red feet as he
steadies himself to take the water. But _bang, bang!_ go the guns; and
_splash, splash!_ fall his companions; and out of a heap of seaweed
come a man and a dog; and away he goes, sadly puzzled at the painted
things in the water, to think it all over in hunger and sorrow.

Then the weather grows cold, and a freeze-up covers all his feeding
grounds. Under his beautiful feathers the bones project to spoil the
contour of his round plump body. He is famished now; he watches the
gulls to see what they eat. When he finds out, he forgets his caution,
and roams about after stray mussels on the beach. In the spring
hunger drives him into the ponds where food is plenty--but such food!
In a week his flesh is so strong that a crow would hardly eat it.
Altogether, it is small wonder that as soon as his instinct tells him
the streams of the North are open and the trout running up, he is off
to a land of happier memories.

In summer he forgets his hardships. His life is peaceful as a meadow
brook. His home is the wilderness--on a lonely lake, it may be,
shimmering under the summer sun, or kissed into a thousand smiling
ripples by the south wind. Or perhaps it is a forest river, winding on
by wooded hills and grassy points and lonely cedar swamps. In secret
shallow bays the young broods are plashing about, learning to swim and
dive and hide in safety. The plunge of the fish-hawk comes up from the
pools. A noisy kingfisher rattles about from tree to stump, like a
restless busy-body. The hum of insects fills the air with a drowsy
murmur. Now a deer steps daintily down the point, and looks, and
listens, and drinks. A great moose wades awkwardly out to plunge his
head under and pull away at the lily roots. But the young brood mind
not these harmless things. Sometimes indeed, as the afternoon wears
away, they turn their little heads apprehensively as the alders crash
and sway on the bank above; a low cluck from the mother bird sends
them all off into the grass to hide. How quickly they have
disappeared, leaving never a trace! But it is only a bear come down
from the ridge where he has been sleeping, to find a dead fish
perchance for his supper; and the little brood seem to laugh as
another low cluck brings them scurrying back from their hiding places.

Once, perhaps, comes a real fright, when all their summer's practice
is put to the test. An unusual noise is heard; and round the bend
glides a bark canoe with sound of human voices. Away go the brood
together, the river behind them foaming like the wake of a tiny
steamer as the swift-moving feet lift them almost out of water.
Visions of ocean, the guns, falling birds, and the hard winter
distract the poor mother. She flutters wildly about the brood, now
leading, now bravely facing the monster; now pushing along some weak
little loiterer, now floundering near the canoe as if wounded, to
attract attention from the young. But they double the point at last,
and hide away under the alders. The canoe glides by and makes no
effort to find them. Silence is again over the forest. The little
brood come back to the shallows, with mother bird fluttering round
them to count again and again lest any be missing. The kingfisher
comes out of his hole in the bank. The river flows on as before, and
peace returns; and over all is the mystic charm of the wilderness and
the quiet of a summer day.

This is the way it all looks and seems to me, sitting over under the
big hemlock, out of sight, and watching the birds through my
field-glass.

Day after day I have attended such little schools unseen and
unsuspected by the mother bird. Sometimes it was the a-b-c class, wee
little downy fellows, learning to hide on a lily pad, and never
getting a reward of merit in the shape of a young trout till they hid
so well that the teacher (somewhat over-critical, I thought) was
satisfied. Sometimes it was the baccalaureates that displayed their
talents to the unbidden visitor, flashing out of sight, cutting
through the water like a ray of light, striking a young trout on the
bottom with the rapidity and certainty almost of the teacher. It was
marvelous, the diving and swimming; and mother bird looked on and
quacked her approval of the young graduates.--That is another
peculiarity: the birds are dumb in winter; they find their voice only
for the young.

While all this careful training is going on at home, the drake is off
on the lakes somewhere with his boon companions, having a good time,
and utterly neglectful of parental responsibility. Sometimes I have
found clubs of five or six, gay fellows all, living by themselves at
one end of a big lake where the fishing was good. All summer long
they roam and gad about, free from care, and happy as summer campers,
leaving mother birds meanwhile to feed and educate their offspring.
Once only have I seen a drake sharing the responsibilities of his
family. I watched three days to find the cause of his devotion; but he
disappeared the third evening, and I never saw him again. Whether the
drakes are lazy and run away, or whether they have the atrocious habit
of many male birds and animals of destroying their young, and so are
driven away by the females, I have not been able to find out.

These birds are very destructive on the trout streams; if a summer
camper spare them, it is because of his interest in the young, and
especially because of the mother bird's devotion. When the recreant
drake is met with, however, he goes promptly onto the bill of fare,
with other good things.

Occasionally one overtakes a brood on a rapid river. Then the poor
birds are distressed indeed. At the first glimpse of the canoe they
are off, churning the water into foam in their flight. Not till they
are out of sight round the bend do they hear the cluck that tells them
to hide. Some are slow in finding a hiding place on the strange
waters. The mother bird hurries them. They are hunting in frantic
haste when round the bend comes the swift-gliding canoe. With a note
of alarm they are all off again, for she will not leave even the
weakest alone. Again they double the bend and try to hide; again the
canoe overtakes them; and so on, mile after mile, till a stream or
bogan flowing into the river offers a road to escape. Then, like a
flash, the little ones run in under shelter of the banks, and glide up
stream noiselessly, while mother bird flutters on down the river just
ahead of the canoe. Having lured it away to a safe distance, as she
thinks, she takes wing and returns to the young.

Their powers of endurance are remarkable. Once, on the Restigouche, we
started a brood of little ones late in the afternoon. We were moving
along in a good current, looking for a camping ground, and had little
thought for the birds, which could never get far enough ahead to hide
securely. For five miles they kept ahead of us, rushing out at each
successive stretch of water, and fairly distancing us in a straight
run. When we camped they were still below us. At dusk I was sitting
motionless near the river when a slight movement over near the
opposite bank attracted me. There was the mother bird, stealing along
up stream under the fringe of bushes. The young followed in single
file. There was no splashing of water now. Shadows were not more
noiseless.

Twice since then I have seen them do the same thing. I have no doubt
they returned that evening all the way up to the feeding grounds where
we first started them; for like the kingfishers every bird seems to
have his own piece of the stream. He never fishes in his neighbor's
pools, nor will he suffer any poaching in his own. On the Restigouche
we found a brood every few miles; on other rivers less plentifully
stocked with trout they are less numerous. On lakes there is often a
brood at either end; but though I have watched them carefully, I have
never seen them cross to each other's fishing grounds.

Once, up on the Big Toledi, I saw a curious bit of their education. I
was paddling across the lake one day, when I saw a shellbird lead her
brood into a little bay where I knew the water was shallow; and
immediately they began dipping, though very awkwardly. They were
evidently taking their first lessons in diving. The next afternoon I
was near the same place. I had done fishing--or rather, frogging--and
had pushed the canoe into some tall grass out of sight, and was
sitting there just doing nothing.

A musquash came by, and rubbed his nose against the canoe, and nibbled
a lily root before he noticed me. A shoal of minnows were playing
among the grasses near by. A dragon-fly stood on his head against a
reed--a most difficult feat, I should think. He was trying some
contortion that I couldn't make out, when a deer stepped down the
bank and never saw me. Doing nothing pays one under such
circumstances, if only by the glimpses it gives of animal life. It is
so rare to see a wild thing unconscious.

Then Kwaseekho came into the shallow bay again with her brood, and
immediately they began dipping as before. I wondered how the mother
made them dive, till I looked through the field-glass and saw that the
little fellows occasionally brought up something to eat. But there
certainly were no fish to be caught in that warm, shallow water. An
idea struck me, and I pushed the canoe out of the grass, sending the
brood across the lake in wild confusion. There on the black bottom
were a dozen young trout, all freshly caught, and all with the
air-bladder punctured by the mother bird's sharp bill. She had
provided their dinner, but she brought it to a good place and made
them dive to get it.

As I paddled back to camp, I thought of the way the Indians taught
their boys to shoot. They hung their dinner from the trees, out of
reach, and made them cut the cord that held it, with an arrow. Did the
Indians originate this, I wonder, in their direct way of looking at
things, almost as simple as the birds'? Or was the idea whispered to
some Indian hunter long ago, as he watched Merganser teach her young
to dive?

Of all the broods I have met in the wilderness, only one, I think,
ever grew to recognize me and my canoe a bit, so as to fear me less
than another. It was on a little lake in the heart of the woods, where
we lingered long on our journey, influenced partly by the beauty of
the place, and partly by the fact that two or three bears roamed about
there, which I sometimes met at twilight on the lake shore. The brood
were as wild as other broods; but I met them often, and they sometimes
found the canoe lying motionless and harmless near them, without quite
knowing how it came there. So after a few days they looked at me with
curiosity and uneasiness only, unless I came too near.

There were six in the brood. Five were hardy little fellows that made
the water boil behind them as they scurried across the lake. But the
sixth was a weakling. He had been hurt, by a hawk perhaps, or a big
trout, or a mink; or he had swallowed a bone; or maybe he was just a
weak little fellow with no accounting for it. Whenever the brood were
startled, he struggled bravely a little while to keep up; then he
always fell behind. The mother would come back, and urge, and help
him; but it was of little use. He was not strong enough; and the last
glimpse I always had of them was a foamy wake disappearing round a
distant point, while far in the rear was a ripple where the little
fellow still paddled away, doing his best pathetically.

[Illustration]

One afternoon the canoe glided round a point and ran almost up to the
brood before they saw it, giving them a terrible fright. Away they
went on the instant, _putter, putter, putter_, lifting themselves
almost out of water with the swift-moving feet and tiny wings. The
mother bird took wing, returned and crossed the bow of the canoe, back
and forth, with loud quackings. The weakling was behind as usual; and
in a sudden spirit of curiosity or perversity--for I really had a good
deal of sympathy for the little fellow--I shot the canoe forward,
almost up to him. He tried to dive; got tangled in a lily stem in his
fright; came up, flashed under again; and I saw him come up ten feet
away in some grass, where he sat motionless and almost invisible amid
the pads and yellow stems.

How frightened he was! Yet how still he sat! Whenever I took my eyes
from him a moment I had to hunt again, sometimes two or three minutes,
before I could see him there.

Meanwhile the brood went almost to the opposite shore before they
stopped, and the mother, satisfied at last by my quietness, flew over
and lit among them. She had not seen the little one. Through the glass
I saw her flutter round and round them, to be quite sure they were all
there. Then she missed him. I could see it all in her movements. She
must have clucked, I think, for the young suddenly disappeared, and
she came swimming rapidly back over the way they had come, looking,
looking everywhere. Round the canoe she went at a safe distance,
searching among the grass and lily pads, calling him softly to come
out. But he was very near the canoe, and very much frightened; the
only effect of her calls was to make him crouch closer against the
grass stems, while the bright little eyes, grown large with fear, were
fastened on me.

Slowly I backed the canoe away till it was out of sight around the
point, though I could still see the mother bird through the bushes.
She swam rapidly about where the canoe had been, calling more loudly;
but the little fellow had lost confidence in her, or was too
frightened, and refused to show himself. At last she discovered him,
and with quacks and flutters that looked to me a bit hysteric pulled
him out of his hiding place. How she fussed over him! How she hurried
and helped and praised and scolded him all the way over; and fluttered
on ahead, and clucked the brood out of their hiding places to meet
him! Then, with all her young about her, she swept round the point
into the quiet bay that was their training school.

And I, drifting slowly up the lake into the sunset over the glassy
water, was thinking how human it all was. "Doth he not leave the
ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost,
until he find it?"



III. QUEER WAYS OF BR'ER RABBIT.


[Illustration]

Br'er Rabbit is a funny fellow. No wonder that Uncle Remus makes him
the hero of so many adventures! Uncle Remus had watched him, no doubt,
on some moonlight night when he gathered his boon companions together
for a frolic. In the heart of the woods it was, in a little opening
where the moonlight came streaming in through the pines, making soft
gray shadows for hide-and-seek, and where no prowling fox ever dreamed
of looking.

With most of us, I fear, the acquaintance with Bunny is too limited
for us to appreciate his frolicsome ways and his happy, fun-loving
disposition. The tame things which we sometimes see about country
yards are often stupid, like a playful kitten spoiled by too much
handling; and the flying glimpse we sometimes get of a bundle of brown
fur, scurrying helter-skelter through and over the huckleberry bushes,
generally leaves us staring in astonishment at the swaying leaves
where it disappeared, and wondering curiously what it was all about.
It was only a brown rabbit that you almost stepped upon in your
autumn walk through the woods.

Look under the crimson sumach yonder, there in the bit of brown grass,
with the purple asters hanging over, and you will find his form, where
he has been sitting all the morning and where he watched you all the
way up the hill. But you need not follow; you will not find him again.
He never runs straight; the swaying leaves there where he disappeared
mark the beginning of his turn, whether to right or left you will
never know. Now he has come around his circle and is near you
again--watching you this minute, out of his bit of brown grass. As you
move slowly away in the direction he took, peering here and there
among the bushes, Bunny behind you sits up straight in his old form
again, with his little paws held very prim, his long ears pointed
after you, and his deep brown eyes shining like the waters of a hidden
spring among the asters. And he chuckles to himself, and thinks how he
fooled you that time, sure.

To see Br'er Rabbit at his best, that is, at his own playful comical
self, one must turn hunter, and learn how to sit still, and be
patient. Only you must not hunt in the usual way; not by day, for then
Bunny is stowed away in his form on the sunny slope of a southern
hillside, where one's eyes will never find him; not with gun and dog,
for then the keen interest and quick sympathy needed to appreciate any
phase of animal life gives place to the coarser excitement of the
hunt; and not by going about after Bunny, for your heavy footsteps and
the rustle of leaves will only send him scurrying away into safer
solitudes. Find where he loves to meet with his fellows, in quiet
little openings in the woods. There is no mistaking his playground
when once you have found it. Go there by moonlight and, sitting still
in the shadow, let your game find you, or pass by without suspicion;
for this is the best way to hunt, whether one is after game or only a
better knowledge of the ways of bird and beast.

The very best spot I ever found for watching Bunny's ways was on the
shore of a lonely lake in the heart of a New Brunswick forest. I
hardly think that he was any different there, for I have seen some of
his pranks repeated within sight of a busy New England town; but he
was certainly more natural. He had never seen a man before, and he was
as curious about it as a blue jay. No dog's voice had ever wakened the
echoes within fifty miles; but every sound of the wilderness he seemed
to know a thousand times better than I. The snapping of the smallest
stick under the stealthy tread of fox or wildcat would send him
scurrying out of sight in wild alarm; yet I watched a dozen of them
at play one night when a frightened moose went crashing through the
underbrush and plunged into the lake near by, and they did not seem to
mind it in the least.

The spot referred to was the only camping ground on the lake; so
Simmo, my Indian guide, assured me; and he knew very well. I
discovered afterward that it was the only cleared bit of land for
miles around; and this the rabbits knew very well. Right in the midst
of their best playground I pitched my tent, while Simmo built his
lean-to near by, in another little opening. We were tired that night,
after a long day's paddle in the sunshine on the river. The
after-supper chat before the camp fire--generally the most delightful
bit of the whole day, and prolonged as far as possible--was short and
sleepy; and we left the lonely woods to the bats and owls and creeping
things, and turned in for the night.

I was just asleep when I was startled by a loud thump twice repeated,
as if a man stamped on the ground, or, as I thought at the time, just
like the thump a bear gives an old log with his paw, to see if it is
hollow and contains any insects. I was wide awake in a moment, sitting
up straight to listen. A few minutes passed by in intense stillness;
then, _thump! thump! thump!_ just outside the tent among the ferns.

I crept slowly out; but beyond a slight rustle as my head appeared
outside the tent I heard nothing, though I waited several minutes and
searched about among the underbrush. But no sooner was I back in the
tent and quiet than there it was again, and repeated three or four
times, now here, now there, within the next ten minutes. I crept out
again, with no better success than before.

This time, however, I would find out about that mysterious noise
before going back. It isn't so pleasant to go to sleep until one knows
what things are prowling about, especially things that make a noise
like that. A new moon was shining down into the little clearing,
giving hardly enough light to make out the outlines of the great
evergreens. Down among the ferns things were all black and uniform.
For ten minutes I stood there in the shadow of a big spruce and
waited. Then the silence was broken by a sudden heavy thump in the
bushes just behind me. I was startled, and wheeled on the instant; as
I did so, some small animal scurried away into the underbrush.

For a moment I was puzzled. Then it flashed upon me that I was camped
upon the rabbits' playground. With the thought came a strong suspicion
that Bunny was fooling me.

Going back to the fire, I raked the coals together and threw on some
fresh fuel. Next I fastened a large piece of birch bark on two split
sticks behind the fireplace; then I sat down on an old log to wait.
The rude reflector did very well as the fire burned up. Out in front
the fern tops were dimly lighted to the edge of the clearing. As I
watched, a dark form shot suddenly above the ferns and dropped back
again. Three heavy thumps followed; then the form shot up and down
once more. This time there was no mistake. In the firelight I saw
plainly the dangle of Br'er Rabbit's long legs, and the flap of his
big ears, and the quick flash of his dark eyes in the reflected
light,--got an instantaneous photograph of him, as it were, at the top
of his comical jump.

I sat there nearly an hour before the why and the how of the little
joker's actions became quite clear. This is what happens in such a
case. Bunny comes down from the ridge for his nightly frolic in the
little clearing. While still in the ferns the big white object,
standing motionless in the middle of his playground, catches his
attention; and very much surprised, and very much frightened, but
still very curious, he crouches down close to wait and listen. But the
strange thing does not move nor see him. To get a better view he leaps
up high above the ferns two or three times. Still the big thing
remains quite still and harmless. "Now," thinks Bunny, "I'll frighten
him, and find out what he is." Leaping high he strikes the ground
sharply two or three times with his padded hind foot; then jumps up
quickly again to see the effect of his scare. Once he succeeded very
well, when he crept up close behind me, so close that he didn't have
to spring up to see the effect. I fancy him chuckling to himself as he
scurried off after my sudden start.

That was the first time that I ever heard Bunny's challenge. It
impressed me at the time as one of his most curious pranks; the sound
was so big and heavy for such a little fellow. Since then I have heard
it frequently; and now sometimes when I stand at night in the forest
and hear a sudden heavy thump in the underbrush, as if a big moose
were striking the ground and shaking his antlers at me, it doesn't
startle me in the least. It is only Br'er Rabbit trying to frighten
me.

The next night Bunny played us another trick. Before Simmo went to
sleep he always took off his blue overalls and put them under his head
for a pillow. That was only one of Simmo's queer ways. While he was
asleep the rabbits came into his little _commoosie_, dragged the
overalls out from under his head, and nibbled them full of holes. Not
content with this, they played with them all night; pulled them around
the clearing, as threads here and there plainly showed; then dragged
them away into the underbrush and left them.

Simmo's wrath when he at last found the precious garments was comical
to behold; when he wore them with their new polka-dot pattern, it was
still more comical. Why the rabbits did it I could never quite make
out. The overalls were very dirty, very much stained with everything
from a clean trout to tobacco crumbs; and, as there was nothing about
them for a rabbit to eat, we concluded that it was just one of Br'er
Rabbit's pranks. That night Simmo, to avenge his overalls, set a
deadfall supported by a piece of cord, which he had soaked in molasses
and salt. Which meant that Bunny would nibble the cord for the salt
that was in it, and bring the log down hard on his own back. So I had
to spring it, while Simmo slept, to save the little fellow's life and
learn more about him.

Up on the ridge above our tent was a third tiny clearing, where some
trappers had once made their winter camp. It was there that I watched
the rabbits one moonlight night from my seat on an old log, just
within the shadow at the edge of the opening. The first arrival came
in with a rush. There was a sudden scurry behind me, and over the log
he came with a flying leap that landed him on the smooth bit of ground
in the middle, where he whirled around and around with grotesque
jumps, like a kitten after its tail. Only Br'er Rabbit's tail was too
short for him ever to catch it; he seemed rather to be trying to get a
good look at it. Then he went off helter-skelter in a headlong rush
through the ferns. Before I knew what had become of him, over the log
he came again in a marvelous jump, and went tearing around the
clearing like a circus horse, varying his performance now by a high
leap, now by two or three awkward hops on his hind legs, like a
dancing bear. It was immensely entertaining.

The third time around he discovered me in the midst of one of his
antics. He was so surprised that he fell down. In a second he was up
again, sitting up very straight on his haunches just in front of me,
paws crossed, ears erect, eyes shining in fear and curiosity. "Who are
you?" he was saying, as plainly as ever rabbit said it. Without moving
a muscle I tried to tell him, and also that he need not be afraid.
Perhaps he began to understand, for he turned his head on one side,
just as a dog does when you talk to him. But he wasn't quite
satisfied. "I'll try my scare on him," he thought; and _thump! thump!
thump!_ sounded his padded hind foot on the soft ground. It almost
made me start again, it sounded so big in the dead stillness. This
last test quite convinced him that I was harmless, and, after a
moment's watching, away he went in some astonishing jumps into the
forest.

A few minutes passed by in quiet waiting before he was back again,
this time with two or three companions. I have no doubt that he had
been watching me all the time, for I heard his challenge in the brush
just behind my log. The fun now began to grow lively. Around and
around they went, here, there, everywhere,--the woods seemed full of
rabbits, they scurried around so. Every few minutes the number
increased, as some new arrival came flying in and gyrated around like
a brown fur pinwheel. They leaped over everything in the clearing;
they leaped over each other as if playing leap-frog; they vied with
each other in the high jump. Sometimes they gathered together in the
middle of the open space and crept about close to the ground, in and
out and roundabout, like a game of fox and geese. Then they rose on
their hind legs and hopped slowly about in all the dignity of a
minuet. Right in the midst of the solemn affair some mischievous
fellow gave a squeak and a big jump; and away they all went
hurry-skurry, for all the world like a lot of boys turned loose for
recess. In a minute they were back again, quiet and sedate, and solemn
as bull-frogs. Were they chasing and chastising the mischief-maker, or
was it only the overflow of abundant spirits as the top of a kettle
blows off when the pressure below becomes resistless?

[Illustration]

Many of the rabbits saw me, I am sure, for they sometimes gave a high
jump over my foot; and one came close up beside it, and sat up
straight with his head on one side, to look me over. Perhaps it was
the first comer, for he did not try his scare again. Like most wild
creatures, they have very little fear of an object that remains
motionless at their first approach and challenge.

Once there was a curious performance over across the clearing. I could
not see it very plainly, but it looked very much like a boxing match.
A queer sound, _put-a-put-a-put-a-put_, first drew my attention to it.
Two rabbits were at the edge of the ferns, standing up on their hind
legs, face to face, and apparently cuffing each other soundly, while
they hopped slowly around and around in a circle. I could not see the
blows but only the boxing attitude, and hear the sounds as they landed
on each other's ribs. The other rabbits did not seem to mind it, as
they would have done had it been a fight, but stopped occasionally to
watch the two, and then went on with their fun-making. Since then I
have read of tame hares that did the same thing, but I have never seen
it.

At another time the rabbits were gathered together in the very midst
of some quiet fun, when they leaped aside suddenly and disappeared
among the ferns as if by magic. The next instant a dark shadow swept
across the opening, almost into my face, and wheeled out of sight
among the evergreens. It was Kookoo-skoos, the big brown owl, coursing
the woods on his nightly hunt after the very rabbits that were
crouched motionless beneath him as he passed. But how did they learn,
all at once, of the coming of an enemy whose march is noiseless as the
sweep of a shadow? And did they all hide so well that he never
suspected that they were about, or did he see the ferns wave as the
last one disappeared, but was afraid to come back after seeing me?
Perhaps Br'er Rabbit was well repaid that time for his confidence.

They soon came back again, as I think they would not have done had it
been a natural opening. Had it been one of Nature's own sunny spots,
the owl would have swept back and forth across it; for he knows the
rabbits' ways as well as they know his. But hawks and owls avoid a
spot like this, that men have cleared. If they cross it once in search
of prey, they seldom return. Wherever man camps, he leaves something
of himself behind; and the fierce birds and beasts of the woods fear
it, and shun it. It is only the innocent things, singing birds, and
fun-loving rabbits, and harmless little wood-mice--shy, defenseless
creatures all--that take possession of man's abandoned quarters, and
enjoy his protection. Bunny knows this, I think; and so there is no
other place in the woods that he loves so well as an old camping
ground.

The play was soon over; for it is only in the early part of the
evening, when Br'er Rabbit first comes out after sitting still in his
form all day, that he gives himself up to fun, like a boy out of
school. If one may judge, however, from the looks of Simmo's overalls,
and from the number of times he woke me by scurrying around my tent, I
suspect that he is never too serious and never too busy for a joke. It
is a way he has of brightening the more sober times of getting his own
living, and keeping a sharp lookout for cats and owls and prowling
foxes.

Gradually the playground was deserted, as the rabbits slipped off one
by one to hunt their supper. Now and then there was a scamper among
the underbrush, and a high jump or two, with which some playful bunny
enlivened his search for tender twigs; and at times one, more curious
than the rest, came hopping along to sit erect a moment before the old
log, and look to see if the strange animal were still there. But soon
the old log was vacant too. Out in the swamp a disappointed owl sat on
his lonely stub that lightning had blasted, and hooted that he was
hungry. The moon looked down into the little clearing with its waving
ferns and soft gray shadows, and saw nothing there to suggest that it
was the rabbits' nursery.

Down at the camp a new surprise was awaiting me. Br'er Rabbit was
under the tent fly, tugging away at the salt bag which I had left
there carelessly after curing a bearskin. While he was absorbed in
getting it out from under the rubber blanket, I crept up on hands and
knees, and stroked him once from ears to tail. He jumped straight up
with a startled squeak, whirled in the air, and came down facing me.
So we remained for a full moment, our faces scarcely two feet apart,
looking into each other's eyes. Then he thumped the earth soundly with
his left hind foot, to show that he was not afraid, and scurried under
the fly and through the brakes in a half circle to a bush at my heels,
where he sat up straight in the shadow to watch me.

But I had seen enough for one night. I left a generous pinch of salt
where he could find it easily, and crept in to sleep, leaving him to
his own ample devices.



IV. A WILD DUCK.


[Illustration]

The title will suggest to most boys a line across the autumn sky at
sunset, with a bit of mystery about it; or else a dark triangle moving
southward, high and swift, at Thanksgiving time. To a few, who know
well the woods and fields about their homes, it may suggest a lonely
little pond, with a dark bird rising swiftly, far out of reach,
leaving the ripples playing among the sedges. To those accustomed to
look sharply it will suggest five or six more birds, downy little
fellows, hiding safe among roots and grasses, so still that one seldom
suspects their presence. But the duck, like most game birds, loves
solitude; the details of his life he keeps very closely to himself;
and boys must be content with occasional glimpses.

This is especially true of the dusky duck, more generally known by the
name black duck among hunters. He is indeed a wild duck, so wild that
one must study him with a gun, and study him long before he knows much
about him. An ordinary tramp with a field-glass and eyes wide open
may give a rare, distant view of him; but only as one follows him as a
sportsman winter after winter, meeting with much less of success than
of discouragement, does he pick up many details of his personal life;
for wildness is born in him, and no experience with man is needed to
develop it. On the lonely lakes in the midst of a Canada forest, where
he meets man perhaps for the first time, he is the same as when he
builds at the head of some mill pond within sight of a busy New
England town. Other ducks may in time be tamed and used as decoys; but
not so he. Several times I have tried it with wing-tipped birds; but
the result was always the same. They worked night and day to escape,
refusing all food and even water till they broke through their pen, or
were dying of hunger, when I let them go.

One spring a farmer, with whom I sometimes go shooting, determined to
try with young birds. He found a black duck's nest in a dense swamp
near a salt creek, and hatched the eggs with some others under a tame
duck. Every time he approached the pen the little things skulked away
and hid; nor could they be induced to show themselves, although their
tame companions were feeding and running about, quite contented. After
two weeks, when he thought them somewhat accustomed to their
surroundings, he let the whole brood go down to the shore just below
his house. The moment they were free the wild birds scurried away into
the water-grass out of sight, and no amount of anxious quacking on the
part of the mother duck could bring them back into captivity. He never
saw them again.

This habit which the young birds have of skulking away out of sight is
a measure of protection that they constantly practise. A brood may be
seen on almost any secluded pond or lake in New England, where the
birds come in the early spring to build their nests. Watching from
some hidden spot on the shore, one sees them diving and swimming
about, hunting for food everywhere in the greatest freedom. The next
moment they scatter and disappear so suddenly that one almost rubs his
eyes to make sure that the birds are really gone. If he is near
enough, which is not likely unless he is very careful, he has heard a
low cluck from the old bird, which now sits with neck standing
straight up out of the water, so still as to be easily mistaken for
one of the old stumps or bogs among which they are feeding. She is
looking about to see if the ducklings are all well hidden. After a
moment there is another cluck, very much like the other, and downy
little fellows come bobbing out of the grass, or from close beside the
stumps where you looked a moment before and saw nothing. This is
repeated at frequent intervals, the object being, apparently, to
accustom the young birds to hide instantly when danger approaches.

So watchful is the old bird, however, that trouble rarely threatens
without her knowledge. When the young are well hidden at the first
sign of the enemy, she takes wing and leaves them, returning when
danger is over to find them still crouching motionless in their hiding
places. When surprised she acts like other game birds,--flutters along
with a great splashing, trailing one wing as if wounded, till she has
led you away from the young, or occupied your attention long enough
for them to be safely hidden; then she takes wing and leaves you.

The habit of hiding becomes so fixed with the young birds that they
trust to it long after the wings have grown and they are able to
escape by flight. Sometimes in the early autumn I have run the bow of
my canoe almost over a full-grown bird, lying hidden in a clump of
grass, before he sprang into the air and away. A month later, in the
same place, the canoe could hardly approach within a quarter of a mile
without his taking alarm.

Once they have learned to trust their wings, they give up hiding for
swift flight. But they never forget their early training, and when
wounded hide with a cunning that is remarkable. Unless one has a good
dog it is almost useless to look for a wounded duck, if there is any
cover to be reached. Hiding under a bank, crawling into a muskrat
hole, worming a way under a bunch of dead grass or pile of leaves,
swimming around and around a clump of bushes just out of sight of his
pursuer, diving and coming up behind a tuft of grass,--these are some
of the ways by which I have known a black duck try to escape. Twice I
have heard from old hunters of their finding a bird clinging to a
bunch of grass under water, though I have never seen it. Once, from a
blind, I saw a black duck swim ashore and disappear into a small clump
of berry bushes. Karl, who was with me, ran over to get him, but after
a half-hour's search gave it up. Then I tried, and gave it up also. An
hour later we saw the bird come out of the very place where we had
been searching, and enter the water. Karl ran out, shouting, and the
bird hid in the bushes again. Again we hunted the clump over and over,
but no duck could be seen. We were turning away a second time when
Karl cried: "Look!"--and there, in plain sight, by the very white
stone where I had seen him disappear, was the duck, or rather the red
leg of a duck, sticking out of a tangle of black roots.

With the first sharp frost that threatens to ice over the ponds in
which they have passed the summer, the inland birds betake themselves
to the seacoast, where there is more or less migration all winter.
The great body of ducks moves slowly southward as the winter grows
severe; but if food is plenty they winter all along the coast. It is
then that they may be studied to the best advantage.

During the daytime they are stowed away in quiet little ponds and
hiding places, or resting in large flocks on the shoals well out of
reach of land and danger. When possible, they choose the former,
because it gives them an abundance of fresh water, which is a daily
necessity; and because, unlike the coots which are often found in
great numbers on the same shoals, they dislike tossing about on the
waves for any length of time. But late in the autumn they desert the
ponds and are seldom seen there again until spring, even though the
ponds are open. They are very shy about being frozen in or getting ice
on their feathers, and prefer to get their fresh water at the mouths
of creeks and springs.

With all their caution,--and they are very good weather prophets,
knowing the times of tides and the approach of storms, as well as the
days when fresh water freezes,--they sometimes get caught. Once I
found a flock of five in great distress, frozen into the thin ice
while sleeping, no doubt, with heads tucked under their wings. At
another time I found a single bird floundering about with a big lump
of ice and mud attached to his tail. He had probably found the
insects plentiful in some bit of soft mud at low tide, and stayed
there too long with the thermometer at zero.

Night is their feeding time; on the seacoast they fly in to the
feeding grounds just at dusk. Fog bewilders them, and no bird likes to
fly in rain, because it makes the feathers heavy; so on foggy or rainy
afternoons they come in early, or not at all. The favorite feeding
ground is a salt marsh, with springs and creeks of brackish water.
Seeds, roots, tender grasses, and snails and insects in the mud left
by the low tide are their usual winter food. When these grow scarce
they betake themselves to the mussel beds with the coots; their flesh
in consequence becomes strong and fishy.

When the first birds come in to the feeding grounds before dark, they
do it with the greatest caution, examining not only the little pond or
creek, but the whole neighborhood before lighting. The birds that
follow trust to the inspection of these first comers, and generally
fly straight in. For this reason it is well for one who attempts to
see them at this time to have live decoys and, if possible, to have
his blind built several days in advance, in order that the birds which
may have been feeding in the place shall see no unusual object when
they come in. If the blind be newly built, only the stranger birds
will fly straight in to his decoys. Those that have been there before
will either turn away in alarm, or else examine the blind very
cautiously on all sides. If you know now how to wait and sit perfectly
still, the birds will at last fly directly over the stand to look in.
That is your only chance; and you must take it quickly if you expect
to eat duck for dinner.

By moonlight one may sit on the bank in plain sight of his decoys, and
watch the wild birds as long as he will. It is necessary only to sit
perfectly still. But this is unsatisfactory; you can never see just
what they are doing. Once I had thirty or forty close about me in this
way. A sudden turn of my head, when a bat struck my cheek, sent them
all off in a panic to the open ocean.

A curious thing frequently noticed about these birds as they come in
at night is their power to make their wings noisy or almost silent at
will. Sometimes the rustle is so slight that, unless the air is
perfectly still, it is scarcely audible; at other times it is a strong
_wish-wish_ that can be heard two hundred yards away. The only theory
I can suggest is that it is done as a kind of signal. In the daytime
and on bright evenings one seldom hears it; on dark nights it is very
frequent, and is always answered by the quacking of birds already on
the feeding grounds, probably to guide the incomers. How they do it
is uncertain; it is probably in some such way as the night-hawk makes
his curious booming sound,--not by means of his open mouth, as is
generally supposed, but by slightly turning the wing quills so that
the air sets them vibrating. One can test this, if he will, by blowing
on any stiff feather.

On stormy days the birds, instead of resting on the shoals, light near
some lonely part of the beach and, after watching carefully for an
hour or two, to be sure that no danger is near, swim ashore and
collect in great bunches in some sheltered spot under a bank. It is
indeed a tempting sight to see perhaps a hundred of the splendid birds
gathered close together on the shore, the greater part with heads
tucked under their wings, fast asleep; but if you are to surprise
them, you must turn snake and crawl, and learn patience. Scattered
along the beach on either side are single birds or small bunches
evidently acting as sentinels. The crows and gulls are flying
continually along the tide line after food; and invariably as they
pass over one of these bunches of ducks they rise in the air to look
around over all the bank. You must be well hidden to escape those
bright eyes. The ducks understand crow and gull talk perfectly, and
trust largely to these friendly sentinels. The gulls scream and the
crows caw all day long, and not a duck takes his head from under his
wing; but the instant either crow or gull utters his danger note every
duck is in the air and headed straight off shore.

The constant watchfulness of black ducks is perhaps the most
remarkable thing about them. When feeding at night in some lonely
marsh, or hidden away by day deep in the heart of the swamps, they
never for a moment seem to lay aside their alertness, nor trust to
their hiding places alone for protection. Even when lying fast asleep
among the grasses with heads tucked under their wings, there is a
nervous vigilance in their very attitudes which suggests a sense of
danger. Generally one has to content himself with studying them
through a glass; but once I had a very good opportunity of watching
them close at hand, of outwitting them, as it were, at their own game
of hide-and-seek. It was in a grassy little pond, shut in by high
hills, on the open moors of Nantucket. The pond was in the middle of a
plain, perhaps a hundred yards from the nearest hill. No tree or rock
or bush offered any concealment to an enemy; the ducks could sleep
there as sure of detecting the approach of danger as if on the open
ocean.

One autumn day I passed the place and, looking cautiously over the top
of a hill, saw a single black duck swim out of the water-grass at the
edge of the pond. The fresh breeze in my face induced me to try to
creep down close to the edge of the pond, to see if it were possible
to surprise birds there, should I find any on my next hunting trip.
Just below me, at the foot of the hill, was a swampy run leading
toward the pond, with grass nearly a foot high growing along its edge.
I must reach that if possible.

After a few minutes of watching, the duck went into the grass again,
and I started to creep down the hill, keeping my eyes intently on the
pond. Halfway down, another duck appeared, and I dropped flat on the
hillside in plain sight. Of course the duck noticed the unusual
object. There was a commotion in the grass; heads came up here and
there. The next moment, to my great astonishment, fully fifty black
ducks were swimming about in the greatest uneasiness.

I lay very still and watched. Five minutes passed; then quite suddenly
all motion ceased in the pond; every duck sat with neck standing
straight up from the water, looking directly at me. So still were they
that one could easily have mistaken them for stumps or peat bogs.
After a few minutes of this kind of watching they seemed satisfied,
and glided back, a few at a time, into the grass.

When all were gone I rolled down the hill and gained the run, getting
soaking wet as I splashed into it. Then it was easier to advance
without being discovered; for whenever a duck came out to look
round--which happened almost every minute at first--I could drop into
the grass and be out of sight.

In half an hour I had gained the edge of a low bank, well covered by
coarse water-grass. Carefully pushing this aside, I looked through,
and almost held my breath, they were so near. Just below me, within
six feet, was a big drake, with head drawn down so close to his body
that I wondered what he had done with his neck. His eyes were closed;
he was fast asleep. In front of him were eight or ten more ducks close
together, all with heads under their wings. Scattered about in the
grass everywhere were small groups, sleeping, or pluming their glossy
dark feathers.

Beside the pleasure of watching them, the first black ducks that I had
ever seen unconscious, there was the satisfaction of thinking how
completely they had been outwitted at their own game of sharp
watching. How they would have jumped had they only known what was
lying there in the grass so near their hiding place! At first, every
time I saw a pair of little black eyes wink, or a head come from under
a wing, I felt myself shrinking close together in the thought that I
was discovered; but that wore off after a time, when I found that the
eyes winked rather sleepily, and the necks were taken out just to
stretch them, much as one would take a comfortable yawn.

[Illustration]

Once I was caught squarely, but the grass and my being so near saved
me. I had raised my head and lay with chin in my hands, deeply
interested in watching a young duck making a most elaborate toilet,
when from the other side an old bird shot suddenly into the open water
and saw me as I dropped out of sight. There was a low, sharp quack
which brought every duck out of his hiding, wide awake on the instant.
At first they all bunched together at the farther side, looking
straight at the bank where I lay. Probably they saw my feet, which
were outside the covert as I lay full length. Then they drew gradually
nearer till they were again within the fringe of water-grass. Some of
them sat quite up on their tails by a vigorous use of their wings, and
stretched their necks to look over the low bank. Just keeping still
saved me. In five minutes they were quiet again; even the young duck
seemed to have forgotten her vanity and gone to sleep with the others.

Two or three hours I lay thus and watched them through the grass,
spying very rudely, no doubt, into the seclusion of their home life.
As the long shadow of the western hill stretched across the pool till
it darkened the eastern bank, the ducks awoke one by one from their
nap, and began to stir about in preparation for departure. Soon they
were collected at the center of the open water, where they sat for a
moment very still, heads up, and ready. If there was any signal given
I did not hear it. At the same moment each pair of wings struck the
water with a sharp splash, and they shot straight up in that
remarkable way of theirs, as if thrown by a strong spring. An instant
they seemed to hang motionless in the air high above the water, then
they turned and disappeared swiftly over the eastern hill toward the
marshes.



V. AN ORIOLE'S NEST.


[Illustration]

How suggestive it is, swinging there through sunlight and shadow from
the long drooping tips of the old elm boughs! And what a delightful
cradle for the young orioles, swayed all day long by every breath of
the summer breeze, peeping through chinks as the world sweeps by,
watching with bright eyes the boy below who looks up in vain, or the
mountain of hay that brushes them in passing, and whistling cheerily,
blow high or low, with never a fear of falling! The mother bird must
feel very comfortable about it as she goes off caterpillar hunting,
for no bird enemy can trouble the little ones while she is gone. The
black snake, that horror of all low-nesting birds, will never climb so
high. The red squirrel--little wretch that he is, to eat young birds
when he has still a bushel of corn and nuts in his old wall--cannot
find a footing on those delicate branches. Neither can the crow find a
resting place from which to steal the young; and the hawk's legs are
not long enough to reach down and grasp them, should he perchance
venture near the house and hover an instant over the nest.

Besides all this, the oriole is a neighborly little body; and that
helps her. Though the young are kept from harm anywhere by the cunning
instinct which builds a hanging nest, she still prefers to build near
the house, where hawks and crows and owls rarely come. She knows her
friends and takes advantage of their protection, returning year after
year to the same old elm, and, like a thrifty little housewife,
carefully saving and sorting the good threads of her storm-wrecked old
house to be used in building the new.

Of late years, however, it has seemed to me that the pretty nests on
the secluded streets of New England towns are growing scarcer. The
orioles are peace-loving birds, and dislike the society of those
noisy, pugnacious little rascals, the English sparrows, which have of
late taken possession of our streets. Often now I find the nests far
away from any house, on lonely roads where a few years ago they were
rarely seen. Sometimes also a solitary farmhouse, too far from the
town to be much visited by sparrows, has two or three nests swinging
about it in its old elms, where formerly there was but one.

It is an interesting evidence of the bird's keen instinct that where
nests are built on lonely roads and away from houses they are
noticeably deeper, and so better protected from bird enemies. The same
thing is sometimes noticed of nests built in maple or apple trees,
which are without the protection of drooping branches, upon which
birds of prey can find no footing. Some wise birds secure the same
protection by simply contracting the neck of the nest, instead of
building a deep one. Young birds building their first nests seem
afraid to trust in the strength of their own weaving. Their nests are
invariably shallow, and so suffer most from birds of prey.

In the choice of building material the birds are very careful. They
know well that no branch supports the nest from beneath; that the
safety of the young orioles depends on good, strong material well
woven together. In some wise way they seem to know at a glance whether
a thread is strong enough to be trusted; but sometimes, in selecting
the first threads that are to bear the whole weight of the nest, they
are unwilling to trust to appearances. At such times a pair of birds
may be seen holding a little tug-of-war, with feet braced, shaking and
pulling the thread like a pair of terriers, till it is well tested.

It is in gathering and testing the materials for a nest that the
orioles display no little ingenuity. One day, a few years ago, I was
lying under some shrubs, watching a pair of the birds that were
building close to the house. It was a typical nest-making day, the
sun pouring his bright rays through delicate green leaves and a glory
of white apple blossoms, the air filled with warmth and fragrance,
birds and bees busy everywhere. Orioles seem always happy; to-day they
quite overflowed in the midst of all the brightness, though materials
were scarce and they must needs be diligent.

The female was very industrious, never returning to the nest without
some contribution, while the male frolicked about the trees in his
brilliant orange and black, whistling his warm rich notes, and seeming
like a dash of southern sunshine amidst the blossoms. Sometimes he
stopped in his frolic to find a bit of string, over which he raised an
impromptu _jubilate_, or to fly with his mate to the nest, uttering
that soft rich twitter of his in a mixture of blarney and
congratulation whenever she found some particularly choice material.
But his chief part seemed to be to furnish the celebration, while she
took care of the nest-making.

Out in front of me, under the lee of the old wall whither some
line-stripping gale had blown it, was a torn fragment of cloth with
loose threads showing everywhere. I was wondering why the birds did
not utilize it, when the male, in one of his lively flights,
discovered it and flew down. First he hopped all around it; next he
tried some threads; but, as the cloth was lying loose on the grass,
the whole piece came whenever he pulled. For a few moments he worked
diligently, trying a pull on each side in succession. Once he tumbled
end over end in a comical scramble, as the fragment caught on a grass
stub but gave way when he had braced himself and was pulling hardest.
Quite abruptly he flew off, and I thought he had given up the attempt.

In a minute he was back with his mate, thinking, no doubt, that she,
as a capable little manager, would know all about such things. If
birds do not talk, they have at least some very ingenious ways of
letting one another know what they think, which amounts to the same
thing.

The two worked together for some minutes, getting an occasional
thread, but not enough to pay for the labor. The trouble was that both
pulled together on the same side; and so they merely dragged the bit
of cloth all over the lawn, instead of pulling out the threads they
wanted. Once they unraveled a long thread by pulling at right angles,
but the next moment they were together on the same side again. The
male seemed to do, not as he was told, but exactly what he saw his
mate do. Whenever she pulled at a thread, he hopped around, as close
to her as he could get, and pulled too.

[Illustration:]

Twice they had given up the attempt, only to return after hunting
diligently elsewhere. Good material was scarce that season. I was
wondering how long their patience would last, when the female suddenly
seized the cloth by a corner and flew along close to the ground,
dragging it after her, chirping loudly the while. She disappeared into
a crab-apple tree in a corner of the garden, whither the male followed
her a moment later.

Curious as to what they were doing, yet fearing to disturb them, I
waited where I was till I saw both birds fly to the nest, each with
some long threads. This was repeated; and then curiosity got the
better of consideration. While the orioles were weaving the last
threads into their nest, I ran round the house, crept a long way
behind the old wall, and so to a safe hiding place near the
crab-apple.

The orioles had solved their problem; the bit of cloth was fastened
there securely among the thorns. Soon the birds came back and, seizing
some threads by the ends, raveled them out without difficulty. It was
the work of but a moment to gather as much material as they could use
at one weaving. For an hour or more I watched them working
industriously between the crab-apple and the old elm, where the nest
was growing rapidly to a beautiful depth. Several times the bit of
cloth slipped from the thorns as the birds pulled upon it; but as
often as it did they carried it back and fastened it more securely,
till at last it grew so snarled that they could get no more long
threads, when they left it for good.

That same day I carried out some bright-colored bits of worsted and
ribbon, and scattered them on the grass. The birds soon found them and
used them in completing their nest. For a while a gayer little
dwelling was never seen in a tree. The bright bits of color in the
soft gray of the walls gave the nest always a holiday appearance, in
good keeping with the high spirits of the orioles. But by the time the
young had chipped the shell, and the joyousness of nest-building had
given place to the constant duties of filling hungry little mouths,
the rains and the sun of summer had bleached the bright colors to a
uniform sober gray.

That was a happy family from beginning to end. No accident ever befell
it; no enemy disturbed its peace. And when the young birds had flown
away to the South, I took down the nest which I had helped to build,
and hung it in my study as a souvenir of my bright little neighbors.



VI. THE BUILDERS.


[Illustration]

A curious bit of wild life came to me at dusk one day in the
wilderness. It was midwinter, and the snow lay deep. I was sitting
alone on a fallen tree, waiting for the moon to rise so that I could
follow the faint snowshoe track across a barren, three miles, then
through a mile of forest to another trail that led to camp. I had
followed a caribou too far that day, and this was the result--feeling
along my own track by moonlight, with the thermometer sinking rapidly
to the twenty-below-zero point.

There is scarcely any twilight in the woods; in ten minutes it would
be quite dark; and I was wishing that I had blankets and an axe, so
that I could camp where I was, when a big gray shadow came stealing
towards me through the trees. It was a Canada lynx. My fingers gripped
the rifle hard, and the right mitten seemed to slip off of itself as I
caught the glare of his fierce yellow eyes.

But the eyes were not looking at me at all. Indeed, he had not noticed
me. He was stealing along, crouched low in the snow, his ears back,
his stub tail twitching nervously, his whole attention fixed tensely
on something beyond me out on the barren. I wanted his beautiful skin;
but I wanted more to find out what he was after; so I kept still and
watched.

At the edge of the barren he crouched under a dwarf spruce, settled
himself deeper in the snow by a wriggle or two till his feet were well
under him and his balance perfect, and the red fire blazed in his eyes
and his big muscles quivered. Then he hurled himself forward--one,
two, a dozen mighty bounds through flying snow, and he landed with a
screech on the dome of a beaver house. There he jumped about, shaking
an imaginary beaver like a fury, and gave another screech that made
one's spine tingle. That over, he stood very still, looking off over
the beaver roofs that dotted the shore of a little pond there. The
blaze died out of his eyes; a different look crept into them. He put
his nose down to a tiny hole in the mound, the beavers' ventilator,
and took a long sniff, while his whole body seemed to distend with the
warm rich odor that poured up into his hungry nostrils. Then he rolled
his head sadly, and went away.

Now all that was pure acting. A lynx likes beaver meat better than
anything else; and this fellow had caught some of the colony, no
doubt, in the well-fed autumn days, as they worked on their dam and
houses. Sharp hunger made him remember them as he came through the
wood on his nightly hunt after hares. He knew well that the beavers
were safe; that months of intense cold had made their two-foot mud
walls like granite. But he came, nevertheless, just to pretend he had
caught one, and to remember how good his last full meal smelled when
he ate it in October.

It was all so boylike, so unexpected there in the heart of the
wilderness, that I quite forgot that I wanted the lynx's skin. I was
hungry too, and went out for a sniff at the ventilator; and it smelled
good. I remembered the time once when I had eaten beaver, and was glad
to get it. I walked about among the houses. On every dome there were
lynx tracks, old and new, and the prints of a blunt nose in the snow.
Evidently he came often to dine on the smell of good dinners. I looked
the way he had gone, and began to be sorry for him. But there were the
beavers, safe and warm and fearless within two feet of me, listening
undoubtedly to the strange steps without. And that was good; for they
are the most interesting creatures in all the wilderness.

Most of us know the beaver chiefly in a simile. "Working like a
beaver," or "busy as a beaver," is one of those proverbial
expressions that people accept without comment or curiosity. It is
about one-third true, which is a generous proportion of truth for a
proverb. In winter, for five long months at least, he does nothing but
sleep and eat and keep warm. "Lazy as a beaver" is then a good figure.
And summer time--ah! that's just one long holiday, and the beavers are
jolly as grigs, with never a thought of work from morning till night.
When the snow is gone, and the streams are clear, and the twitter of
bird songs meets the beaver's ear as he rises from the dark passage
under water that leads to his house, then he forgets all settled
habits and joins in the general heyday of nature. The well built house
that sheltered him from storm and cold, and defied even the wolverine
to dig its owner out, is deserted for any otter's den or chance hole
in the bank where he may sleep away the sunlight in peace. The great
dam, upon which he toiled so many nights, is left to the mercy of the
freshet or the canoeman's axe; and no plash of falling water through a
break--that sound which in autumn or winter brings the beaver like a
flash--will trouble his wise little head for a moment.

All the long summer he belongs to the tribe of Ishmael, wandering
through lakes and streams wherever fancy leads him. It is as if he
were bound to see the world after being cooped up in his narrow
quarters all winter. Even the strong family ties, one of the most
characteristic and interesting things in beaver life, are for the time
loosened. Every family group when it breaks up housekeeping in the
spring represents five generations. First, there are the two old
beavers, heads of the family and absolute rulers, who first engineered
the big dam and houses, and have directed repairs for nobody knows how
long. Next in importance are the baby beavers, no bigger than
musquashes, with fur like silk velvet, and eyes always wide open at
the wonders of the first season out; then the one-and two-year-olds,
frisky as boys let loose from school, always in mischief and having to
be looked after, and occasionally nipped; then the three-year-olds,
who presently leave the group and go their separate happy ways in
search of mates. So the long days go by in a kind of careless summer
excursion; and when one sometimes finds their camping ground in his
own summer roving through the wilderness, he looks upon it with
curious sympathy. Fellow campers are they, pitching their tents by
sunny lakes and alder-fringed, trout-haunted brooks, always close to
Nature's heart, and loving the wild, free life much as he does
himself.

But when the days grow short and chill, and the twitter of warblers
gives place to the _honk_ of passing geese, and wild ducks gather in
the lakes, then the heart of the beaver goes back to his home; and
presently he follows his heart. September finds them gathered about
the old dam again, the older heads filled with plans of repair and new
houses and winter food and many other things. The grown-up males have
brought their mates back to the old home; the females have found their
places in other family groups. It is then that the beaver begins to be
busy.

His first concern is for a stout dam across the stream that will give
him a good-sized pond and plenty of deep water. To understand this,
one must remember that the beaver intends to shut himself in a kind of
prison all winter. He knows well that he is not safe on land a moment
after the snow falls; that some prowling lucivee or wolverine would
find his tracks and follow him, and that his escape to water would be
cut off by thick ice. So he plans a big claw-proof house with no
entrance save a tunnel in the middle, which leads through the bank to
the bottom of his artificial pond. Once this is frozen over, he cannot
get out till the spring sun sets him free. But he likes a big pond,
that he may exercise a bit under water when he comes down for his
dinner; and a deep pond, that he may feel sure the hardest winter will
never freeze down to his doorway and shut him in. Still more
important, the beaver's food is stored on the bottom; and it would
never do to trust it to shallow water, else some severe winter it
would get frozen into the ice, and the beavers starve in their prison.
Ten to fifteen feet usually satisfies their instinct for safety; but
to get that depth of water, especially on shallow streams, requires a
huge dam and an enormous amount of work, to say nothing of planning.

Beaver dams are solid structures always, built up of logs, brush,
stones, and driftwood, well knit together by alder poles. One summer,
in canoeing a wild, unknown stream, I met fourteen dams within a space
of five miles. Through two of these my Indian and I broke a passage
with our axes; the others were so solid that it was easier to unload
our canoe and make a portage than to break through. Dams are found
close together like that when a beaver colony has occupied a stream
for years unmolested. The food-wood above the first dam being cut off,
they move down stream; for the beaver always cuts on the banks above
his dam, and lets the current work for him in transportation.
Sometimes, when the banks are such that a pond cannot be made, three
or four dams will be built close together, the back-water of one
reaching up to the one above, like a series of locks on a canal. This
is to keep the colony together, and yet give room for play and
storage.

There is the greatest difference of opinion as to the intelligence
displayed by the beavers in choosing a site for their dam, one
observer claiming skill, ingenuity, even reason for the beavers;
another claiming a mere instinctive haphazard piling together of
materials anywhere in the stream. I have seen perhaps a hundred
different dams in the wilderness, nearly all of which were well
placed. Occasionally I have found one that looked like a stupid piece
of work--two or three hundred feet of alder brush and gravel across
the widest part of a stream, when, by building just above or below, a
dam one-fourth the length might have given them better water. This
must be said, however, for the builders, that perhaps they found a
better soil for digging their tunnels, or a more convenient spot for
their houses near their own dam; or that they knew what they wanted
better than their critic did. I think undoubtedly the young beavers
often make mistakes, but I think also, from studying a good many dams,
that they profit by disaster, and build better; and that on the whole
their mistakes are not proportionally greater than those of human
builders.

Sometimes a dam proves a very white elephant on their hands. The site
is not well chosen, or the stream difficult, and the restrained water
pours round the ends of their dam, cutting them away. They build the
dam longer at once; but again the water pours round on its work of
destruction. So they keep on building, an interminable structure, till
the frosts come, and they must cut their wood and tumble their houses
together in a desperate hurry to be ready when the ice closes over
them.

But on alder streams, where the current is sluggish and the soil soft,
one sometimes finds a wonderfully ingenious device for remedying the
above difficulty. When the dam is built, and the water deep enough for
safety, the beavers dig a canal around one end of the dam to carry off
the surplus water. I know of nothing in all the woods and fields that
brings one closer in thought and sympathy to the little wild folk than
to come across one of these canals, the water pouring safely through
it past the beaver's handiwork, the dam stretching straight and solid
across the stream, and the domed houses rising beyond.

Once I found where the beavers had utilized man's work. A huge log dam
had been built on a wilderness stream to secure a head of water for
driving logs from the lumber woods. When the pines and fourteen-inch
spruce were all gone, the works were abandoned, and the dam left--with
the gates open, of course. A pair of young beavers, prospecting for a
winter home, found the place and were suited exactly. They rolled a
sunken log across the gates for a foundation, filled them up with
alder bushes and stones, and the work was done. When I found the
place they had a pond a mile wide to play in. Their house was in a
beautiful spot, under a big hemlock; and their doorway slanted off
into twenty feet of water. That site was certainly well chosen.

Another dam that I found one winter when caribou-hunting was
wonderfully well placed. No engineer could have chosen better. It was
made by the same colony the lynx was after, and just below where he
went through his pantomime for my benefit; his tracks were there too.
The barrens of which I spoke are treeless plains in the northern
forest, the beds of ancient shallow lakes. The beavers found one with
a stream running through it; followed the stream down to the foot of
the barren, where two wooded points came out from either side and
almost met. Here was formerly the outlet; and here the beavers built
their dam, and so made the old lake over again. It must be a
wonderfully fine place in summer--two or three thousand acres of
playground, full of cranberries and luscious roots. In winter it is
too shallow to be of much use, save for a few acres about the beavers'
doorways.

There are three ways of dam-building in general use among the beavers.
The first is for use on sluggish, alder-fringed streams, where they
can build up from the bottom. Two or three sunken logs form the
foundation, which is from three to five feet broad. Sticks, driftwood,
and stout poles, which the beavers cut on the banks, are piled on this
and weighted with stones and mud. The stones are rolled in from the
bank or moved considerable distances under water. The mud is carried
in the beaver's paws, which he holds up against his chin so as to
carry a big handful without spilling. Beavers love such streams, with
their alder shade and sweet grasses and fringe of wild meadow, better
than all other places. And, by the way, most of the natural meadows
and half the ponds of New England were made by beavers. If you go to
the foot of any little meadow in the woods and dig at the lower end,
where the stream goes out, you will find, sometimes ten feet under the
surface, the remains of the first dam that formed the meadow when the
water flowed back and killed the trees.

The second kind of dam is for swift streams. Stout, ten-foot brush is
the chief material. The brush is floated down to the spot selected;
the tops are weighted down with stones, and the butts left free,
pointing down stream. Such dams must be built out from the sides, of
course. They are generally arched, the convex side being up stream so
as to make a stronger structure. When the arch closes in the middle,
the lower side of the dam is banked heavily with earth and stones.
That is shrewd policy on the beaver's part; for once the arch is
closed by brush, the current can no longer sweep away the earth and
stones used for the embankment.

The third kind is the strongest and easiest to build. It is for places
where big trees lean out over the stream. Three or four beavers gather
about a tree and begin to cut, sitting up on their broad tails. One
stands above them on the bank, apparently directing the work. In a
short time the tree is nearly cut through from the under side. Then
the beaver above begins to cut down carefully. With the first warning
crack he jumps aside, and the tree falls straight across where it is
wanted. All the beavers then disappear and begin cutting the branches
that rest on the bottom. Slowly the tree settles till its trunk is at
the right height to make the top of the dam. The upper branches are
then trimmed close to the trunk, and are woven with alders among the
long stubs sticking down from the trunk into the river bed. Stones,
mud, and brush are used liberally to fill the chinks, and in a
remarkably short time the dam is complete.

When you meet such a dam on the stream you are canoeing don't attempt
to break through. You will find it shorter by several hours to unload
and make a carry.

All the beaver's cutting is done by chisel-edged front teeth. There
are two of these in each jaw, extending a good inch and a half outside
the gums, and meeting at a sharp bevel. The inner sides of the teeth
are softer and wear away faster than the outer, so that the bevel
remains the same; and the action of the upper and lower teeth over
each other keeps them always sharp. They grow so rapidly that a beaver
must be constantly wood cutting to keep them worn down to comfortable
size.

Often on wild streams you find a stick floating down to meet you
showing a fresh cut. You grab it, of course, and say: "Somebody is
camped above here. That stick has just been cut with a sharp knife."
But look closer; see that faint ridge the whole length of the cut, as
if the knife had a tiny gap in its edge. That is where the beaver's
two upper teeth meet, and the edge is not quite perfect. He cut that
stick, thicker than a man's thumb, at a single bite. To cut an alder
having the diameter of a teacup is the work of a minute for the same
tools; and a towering birch tree falls in a remarkably short time when
attacked by three or four beavers. Around the stump of such a tree you
find a pile of two-inch chips, thick, white, clean cut, and arched to
the curve of the beaver's teeth. Judge the workman by his chips, and
this is a good workman.

When the dam is built the beaver cuts his winter food-wood. A colony
of the creatures will often fell a whole grove of young birch or
poplar on the bank above the dam. The branches with the best bark are
then cut into short lengths, which are rolled down the bank and
floated to the pool at the dam.

Considerable discussion has taken place as to how the beaver sinks his
wood--for of course he must sink it, else it would freeze into the ice
and be useless. One theory is that the beavers suck the air from each
stick. Two witnesses declare to me they have seen them doing it; and
in a natural history book of my childhood there is a picture of a
beaver with the end of a three-foot stick in his mouth, sucking the
air out. Just as if the beavers didn't know better, even if the absurd
thing were possible! The simplest way is to cut the wood early and
leave it in the water a while, when it sinks of itself; for green
birch and poplar are almost as heavy as water. They soon get
waterlogged and go to the bottom. It is almost impossible for
lumbermen to drive spool wood (birch) for this reason. If the nights
grow suddenly cold before the wood sinks, the beavers take it down to
the bottom and press it slightly into the mud; or else they push
sticks under those that float against the dam, and more under these;
and so on till the stream is full to the bottom, the weight of those
above keeping the others down. Much of the wood is lost in this way by
being frozen into the ice; but the beaver knows that, and cuts
plenty.

When a beaver is hungry in winter he comes down under the ice, selects
a stick, carries it up into his house, and eats the bark. Then he
carries the peeled stick back under the ice and puts it aside out of
the way.

Once, in winter, it occurred to me that soaking spoiled the flavor of
bark, and that the beavers might like a fresh bite. So I cut a hole in
the ice on the pool above their dam. Of course the chopping scared the
beavers; it was vain to experiment that day. I spread a blanket and
some thick boughs over the hole to keep it from freezing over too
thickly, and went away.

Next day I pushed the end of a freshly cut birch pole down among the
beavers' store, lay down with my face to the hole after carefully
cutting out the thin ice, drew a big blanket round my head and the
projecting end of the pole to shut out the light, and watched. For a
while it was all dark as a pocket; then I began to see things dimly.
Presently a darker shadow shot along the bottom and grabbed the pole.
It was a beaver, with a twenty dollar coat on. He tugged; I held on
tight--which surprised him so that he went back into his house to
catch breath.

But the taste of fresh bark was in his mouth, and soon he was back
with another beaver. Both took hold this time and pulled together. No
use! They began to swim round, examining the queer pole on every
side. "What kind of a stick are you, anyway?" one was thinking. "You
didn't grow here, because I would have found you long ago." "And
you're not frozen into the ice," said the other, "because you
wriggle." Then they both took hold again, and I began to haul up
carefully. I wanted to see them nearer. That surprised them immensely;
but I think they would have held on only for an accident. The blanket
slipped away; a stream of light shot in; there were two great whirls
in the water; and that was the end of the experiment. They did not
come back, though I waited till I was almost frozen. But I cut some
fresh birch and pushed it under the ice to pay for my share in the
entertainment.

The beaver's house is generally the last thing attended to. He likes
to build this when the nights grow cold enough to freeze his mortar
soon after it is laid. Two or three tunnels are dug from the bottom of
the beaver pond up through the bank, coming to the surface together at
the point where the center of the house is to be. Around this he lays
solid foundations of log and stone in a circle from six to fifteen
feet in diameter, according to the number of beavers to occupy the
house. On these foundations he rears a thick mass of sticks and grass,
which are held together by plenty of mud. The top is roofed by stout
sticks arranged as in an Indian wigwam, and the whole domed over with
grass, stones, sticks, and mud. Once this is solidly frozen, the
beaver sleeps in peace; his house is burglar proof.

If on a lake shore, where the rise of water is never great, the
beaver's house is four or five feet high. On streams subject to
freshets they may be two or three times that height. As in the case of
the musquash (or muskrat), a strange instinct guides the beaver as to
the height of his dwelling. He builds high or low, according to his
expectations of high or low water; and he is rarely drowned out of his
dry nest.

Sometimes two or three families unite to build a single large house,
but always in such cases each family has its separate apartment. When
a house is dug open it is evident from the different impressions that
each member of the family has his own bed, which he always occupies.
Beavers are exemplary in their neatness; the house after five months'
use is as neat as when first made.

All their building is primarily a matter of instinct, for a tame
beaver builds miniature dams and houses on the floor of his cage.
Still it is not an uncontrollable instinct like that of most birds;
nor blind, like that of rats and squirrels at times. I have found
beaver houses on lake shores where no dam was built, simply because
the water was deep enough, and none was needed. In vacation time the
young beavers build for fun, just as boys build a dam wherever they
can find running water. I am persuaded also (and this may explain some
of the dams that seem stupidly placed) that at times the old beavers
set the young to work in summer, in order that they may know how to
build when it becomes necessary. This is a hard theory to prove, for
the beavers work by night, preferably on dark, rainy nights, when they
are safest on land to gather materials. But while building is
instinctive, skilful building is the result of practice and
experience. And some of the beaver dams show wonderful skill.

[Illustration]

There is one beaver that never builds, that never troubles himself
about house, or dam, or winter's store. I am not sure whether we ought
to call him the genius or the lazy man of the family. The bank beaver
is a solitary old bachelor living in a den, like a mink, in the bank
of a stream. He does not build a house, because a den under a cedar's
roots is as safe and warm. He never builds a dam, because there are
deep places in the river where the current is too swift to freeze. He
finds tender twigs much juicier, even in winter, than stale bark
stored under water. As for his telltale tracks in the snow, his wits
must guard him against enemies; and there is the open stretch of river
to flee to.

There are two theories among Indians and trappers to account for the
bank beaver's eccentricities. The first is that he has failed to find
a mate and leaves the colony, or is driven out, to lead a lonely
bachelor life. His conduct during the mating season certainly favors
this theory, for never was anybody more diligent in his search for a
wife than he. Up and down the streams and alder brooks of a whole wild
countryside he wanders without rest, stopping here and there on a
grassy point to gather a little handful of mud, like a child's mud
pie, all patted smooth, in the midst of which is a little strong
smelling musk. When you find that sign, in a circle of carefully
trimmed grass under the alders, you know that there is a young beaver
on that stream looking for a wife. And when the young beaver finds his
pie opened and closed again, he knows that there is a mate there
somewhere waiting for him. But the poor bank beaver never finds his
mate, and the next winter must go back to his solitary den. He is much
more easily caught than other beavers, and the trappers say it is
because he is lonely and tired of life.

The second theory is that generally held by Indians. They say the bank
beaver is lazy and refuses to work with the others; so they drive him
out. When beavers are busy they are very busy, and tolerate no
loafing. Perhaps he even tries to persuade them that all their work is
unnecessary, and so shares the fate of reformers in general.

While examining the den of a bank beaver last summer another theory
suggested itself. Is not this one of the rare animals in which all the
instincts of his kind are lacking? He does not build because he has no
impulse to build; he does not know how. So he represents what the
beaver was, thousands of years ago, before he learned how to construct
his dam and house, reappearing now by some strange freak of heredity,
and finding himself wofully out of place and time. The other beavers
drive him away because all gregarious animals and birds have a strong
fear and dislike of any irregularity in their kind. Even when the
peculiarity is slight--a wound, or a deformity--they drive the poor
victim from their midst remorselessly. It is a cruel instinct, but
part of one of the oldest in creation, the instinct which preserves
the species. This explains why the bank beaver never finds a mate;
none of the beavers will have anything to do with him.

This occasional lack of instinct is not peculiar to the beavers. Now
and then a bird is hatched here in the North that has no impulse to
migrate. He cries after his departing comrades, but never follows. So
he remains and is lost in the storms of winter.

There are few creatures in the wilderness more difficult to observe
than the beavers, both on account of their extreme shyness and because
they work only by night. The best way to get a glimpse of them at work
is to make a break in their dam and pull the top from one of their
houses some autumn afternoon, at the time of full moon. Just before
twilight you must steal back and hide some distance from the dam. Even
then the chances are against you, for the beavers are suspicious, keen
of ear and nose, and generally refuse to show themselves till after
the moon sets or you have gone away. You may have to break their dam
half a dozen times, and freeze as often, before you see it repaired.

It is a most interesting sight when it comes at last, and well repays
the watching. The water is pouring through a five-foot break in the
dam; the roof of a house is in ruins. You have rubbed yourself all
over with fir boughs, to destroy some of the scent in your clothes,
and hidden yourself in the top of a fallen tree. The twilight goes;
the moon wheels over the eastern spruces, flooding the river with
silver light. Still no sign of life. You are beginning to think of
another disappointment; to think your toes cannot stand the cold
another minute without stamping, which would spoil everything, when a
ripple shoots swiftly across the pool, and a big beaver comes out on
the bank. He sits up a moment, looking, listening; then goes to the
broken house and sits up again, looking it all over, estimating
damages, making plans. There is a commotion in the water; three others
join him--you are warm now.

Meanwhile three or four more are swimming about the dam, surveying the
damage there. One dives to the bottom, but comes up in a moment to
report all safe below. Another is tugging at a thick pole just below
you. Slowly he tows it out in front, balances a moment and lets it
go--_good!_--squarely across the break. Two others are cutting alders
above; and here come the bushes floating down. Over at the damaged
house two beavers are up on the walls, raising the rafters into place;
a third appears to be laying on the outer covering and plastering it
with mud. Now and then one sits up straight like a rabbit, listens,
stretches his back to get the kinks out, then drops to his work again.

It is brighter now; moon and stars are glimmering in the pool. At the
dam the sound of falling water grows faint as the break is rapidly
closed. The houses loom larger. Over the dome of the one broken, the
dark outline of a beaver passes triumphantly. Quick work that. You
grow more interested; you stretch your neck to see--_splash_! A beaver
gliding past has seen you. As he dives he gives the water a sharp blow
with his broad tail, the danger signal of the beavers, and a startling
one in the dead stillness. There is a sound as of a stick being
plunged end first into the water; a few eddies go running about the
pool, breaking up the moon's reflection; then silence again, and the
lap of ripples on the shore.

You can go home now; you will see nothing more to-night. There's a
beaver over under the other bank, in the shadow where you cannot see
him, just his eyes and ears above water, watching you. He will not
stir; nor will another beaver come out till you go away. As you find
your canoe and paddle back to camp, a ripple made by a beaver's nose
follows silently in the shadow of the alders. At the bend of the river
where you disappear, the ripple halts a while, like a projecting stub
in the current, then turns and goes swiftly back. There is another
splash; the builders come out again; a dozen ripples are scattering
star reflections all over the pool; while the little wood folk pause a
moment to look at the new works curiously, then go their ways, shy,
silent, industrious, through the wilderness night.



VII. CROW-WAYS.


[Illustration]

The crow is very much of a rascal--that is, if any creature can be
called a rascal for following out natural and rascally inclinations. I
first came to this conclusion one early morning, several years ago, as
I watched an old crow diligently exploring a fringe of bushes that
grew along the wall of a deserted pasture. He had eaten a clutch of
thrush's eggs, and carried off three young sparrows to feed his own
young, before I found out what he was about. Since then I have
surprised him often at the same depredations.

An old farmer has assured me that he has also caught him tormenting
his sheep, lighting on their backs and pulling the wool out by the
roots to get fleece for lining his nest. This is a much more serious
charge than that of pulling up corn, though the latter makes almost
every farmer his enemy.

Yet with all his rascality he has many curious and interesting ways.
In fact, I hardly know another bird that so well repays a season's
study; only one must be very patient, and put up with frequent
disappointments if he would learn much of a crow's peculiarities by
personal observation. How shy he is! How cunning and quick to learn
wisdom! Yet he is very easily fooled; and some experiences that ought
to teach him wisdom he seems to forget within an hour. Almost every
time I went shooting, in the old barbarian days before I learned
better, I used to get one or two crows from a flock that ranged over
my hunting ground by simply hiding among the pines and calling like a
young crow. If the flock was within hearing, it was astonishing to
hear the loud chorus of _haw-haws_, and to see them come rushing over
the same grove where a week before they had been fooled in the same
way. Sometimes, indeed, they seemed to remember; and when the pseudo
young crow began his racket at the bottom of some thick grove they
would collect on a distant pine tree and _haw-haw_ in vigorous answer.
But curiosity always got the better of them, and they generally
compromised by sending over some swift, long-winged old flier, only to
see him go tumbling down at the report of a gun; and away they would
go, screaming at the top of their voices, and never stopping till they
were miles away. Next week they would do exactly the same thing.

Crows, more than any other birds, are fond of excitement and great
crowds; the slightest unusual object furnishes an occasion for an
assembly. A wounded bird will create as much stir in a flock of crows
as a railroad accident does in a village. But when some prowling old
crow discovers an owl sleeping away the sunlight in the top of a great
hemlock, his delight and excitement know no bounds. There is a
suppressed frenzy in his very call that every crow in the neighborhood
understands. _Come! come! everybody come!_ he seems to be screaming as
he circles over the tree-top; and within two minutes there are more
crows gathered about that old hemlock than one would believe existed
within miles of the place. I counted over seventy one day, immediately
about a tree in which one of them had found an owl; and I think there
must have been as many more flying about the outskirts that I could
not count.

At such times one can approach very near with a little caution, and
attend, as it were, a crow caucus. Though I have attended a great
many, I have never been able to find any real cause for the
excitement. Those nearest the owl sit about in the trees cawing
vociferously; not a crow is silent. Those on the outskirts are flying
rapidly about and making, if possible, more noise than the inner ring.
The owl meanwhile sits blinking and staring, out of sight in the green
top. Every moment two or three crows leave the ring to fly up close
and peep in, and then go screaming back again, hopping about on their
perches, cawing at every breath, nodding their heads, striking the
branches, and acting for all the world like excited stump speakers.

The din grows louder and louder; fresh voices are coming in every
minute; and the owl, wondering in some vague way if he is the cause of
it all, flies off to some other tree where he can be quiet and go to
sleep. Then, with a great rush and clatter, the crows follow, some
swift old scout keeping close to the owl and screaming all the way to
guide the whole cawing rabble. When the owl stops they gather round
again and go through the same performance more excitedly than before.
So it continues till the owl finds some hollow tree and goes in out of
sight, leaving them to caw themselves tired; or else he finds some
dense pine grove, and doubles about here and there, with that shadowy
noiseless flight of his, till he has thrown them off the track. Then
he flies into the thickest tree he can find, generally outside the
grove where the crows are looking, and sitting close up against the
trunk blinks his great yellow eyes and listens to the racket that goes
sweeping through the grove, peering curiously into every thick pine,
searching everywhere for the lost excitement.

The crows give him up reluctantly. They circle for a few minutes over
the grove, rising and falling with that beautiful, regular motion
that seems like the practice drill of all gregarious birds, and
generally end by collecting in some tree at a distance and _hawing_
about it for hours, till some new excitement calls them elsewhere.

Just why they grow so excited over an owl is an open question. I have
never seen them molest him, nor show any tendency other than to stare
at him occasionally and make a great noise about it. That they
recognize him as a thief and cannibal I have no doubt. But he thieves
by night when other birds are abed, and as they practise their own
thieving by open daylight, it may be that they are denouncing him as
an impostor. Or it may be that the owl in his nightly prowlings
sometimes snatches a young crow off the roost. The great horned owl
would hardly hesitate to eat an old crow if he could catch him
napping; and so they grow excited, as all birds do in the presence of
their natural enemies. They make much the same kind of a fuss over a
hawk, though the latter easily escapes the annoyance by flying swiftly
away, or by circling slowly upward to a height so dizzy that the crows
dare not follow.

In the early spring I have utilized this habit of the crows in my
search for owls' nests. The crows are much more apt to discover its
whereabouts than the most careful ornithologist, and they gather about
it frequently for a little excitement. Once I utilized the habit for
getting a good look at the crows themselves. I carried out an old
stuffed owl, and set it up on a pole close against a great pine tree
on the edge of a grove. Then I lay down in a thick clump of bushes
near by and _cawed_ excitedly. The first messenger from the flock flew
straight over without making any discoveries. The second one found the
owl, and I had no need for further calling. _Haw! haw!_ he cried deep
down in his throat--_here he is! here's the rascal!_ In a moment he
had the whole flock there; and for nearly ten minutes they kept coming
in from every direction. A more frenzied lot I never saw. The _hawing_
was tremendous, and I hoped to settle at last the real cause and
outcome of the excitement, when an old crow flying close over my
hiding place caught sight of me looking out through the bushes. How he
made himself heard or understood in the din I do not know; but the
crow is never too excited to heed a danger note. The next moment the
whole flock were streaming away across the woods, giving the
scatter-cry at every flap.

There is another way in which the crows' love of variety is manifest,
though in a much more dignified way. Occasionally a flock may be
surprised sitting about in the trees, deeply absorbed in watching a
performance--generally operatic--by one of their number. The crow's
chief note is the hoarse _haw, haw_ with which everybody is familiar,
and which seems capable of expressing everything, from the soft
chatter of going to bed in the pine tops to the loud derision with
which he detects all ordinary attempts to surprise him. Certain crows,
however, have unusual vocal abilities, and at times they seem to use
them for the entertainment of the others. Yet I suspect that these
vocal gifts are seldom used, or even discovered, until lack of
amusement throws them upon their own resources. Certain it is that,
whenever a crow makes any unusual sounds, there are always several
more about, _hawing_ vigorously, yet seeming to listen attentively. I
have caught them at this a score of times.

One September afternoon, while walking quietly through the woods, my
attention was attracted by an unusual sound coming from an oak grove,
a favorite haunt of gray squirrels. The crows were cawing in the same
direction; but every few minutes would come a strange cracking
sound--_c-r-r-rack-a-rack-rack_, as if some one had a giant nutcracker
and were snapping it rapidly. I stole forward through the low woods
till I could see perhaps fifty crows perched about in the oaks, all
very attentive to something going on below them that I could not see.

Not till I had crawled up to the brush fence, on the very edge of the
grove, and peeked through did I see the performer. Out on the end of a
long delicate branch, a few feet above the ground, a small crow was
clinging, swaying up and down like a bobolink on a cardinal flower,
balancing himself gracefully by spreading his wings, and every few
minutes giving the strange cracking sound, accompanied by a flirt of
his wings and tail as the branch swayed upward. At every repetition
the crows _hawed_ in applause. I watched them fully ten minutes before
they saw me and flew away.

Several times since, I have been attracted by unusual sounds, and have
surprised a flock of crows which were evidently watching a performance
by one of their number. Once it was a deep musical whistle, much like
the _too-loo-loo_ of the blue jay (who is the crow's cousin, for all
his bright colors), but deeper and fuller, and without the trill that
always marks the blue jay's whistle. Once, in some big woods in Maine,
it was a hoarse bark, utterly unlike a bird call, which made me slip
heavy shells into my gun and creep forward, expecting some strange
beast that I had never before met.

The same love of variety and excitement leads the crow to investigate
any unusual sight or sound that catches his attention. Hide anywhere
in the woods, and make any queer sound you will--play a jews'-harp,
or pull a devil's fiddle, or just call softly--and first comes a blue
jay, all agog to find out all about it. Next a red squirrel steals
down and barks just over your head, to make you start if possible.
Then, if your eyes are sharp, you will see a crow gliding from thicket
to thicket, keeping out of sight as much as possible, but drawing
nearer and nearer to investigate the unusual sound. And if he is
suspicious or unsatisfied, he will hide and wait patiently for you to
come out and show yourself.

Not only is he curious about you, and watches you as you go about the
woods, but he watches his neighbors as well. When a fox is started you
can often trace his course, far ahead of your dogs, by the crows
circling over him and calling _rascal, rascal_, whenever he shows
himself. He watches the ducks and plover, the deer and bear; he knows
where they are, and what they are doing; and he will go far out of his
way to warn them, as well as his own kind, at the approach of danger.
When birds nest, or foxes den, or beasts fight in the woods, he is
there to see it. When other things fail he will even play jokes, as
upon one occasion when I saw a young crow hide in a hole in a pine
tree, and for two hours keep a whole flock in a frenzy of excitement
by his distressed cawing. He would venture out when they were at a
distance, peek all about cautiously to see that no one saw him, then
set up a heart-rending appeal, only to dodge back out of sight when
the flock came rushing in with a clamor that was deafening.

Only one of two explanations can account for his action in this case;
either he was a young crow who did not appreciate the gravity of
crying _wolf, wolf!_ when there was no wolf, or else it was a plain
game of hide-and-seek. When the crows at length found him they chased
him out of sight, either to chastise him, or, as I am inclined now to
think, each one sought to catch him for the privilege of being the
next to hide.

In fact, whenever one hears a flock of crows _hawing_ away in the
woods, he may be sure that some excitement is afoot that will well
repay his time and patience to investigate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since the above article was written, some more curious crow-ways have
come to light. Here is one which seems to throw light on the question
of their playing games. I found it out one afternoon last September,
when a vigorous cawing over in the woods induced me to leave the
orchard, where I was picking apples, for the more exciting occupation
of spying on my dark neighbors.

The clamor came from an old deserted pasture, bounded on three sides
by pine woods, and on the fourth by half wild fields that straggled
away to the dusty road beyond. Once, long ago, there was a farm there;
but even the cellars have disappeared, and the crows no longer fear
the place.

It was an easy task to creep unobserved through the nearest pine
grove, and gain a safe hiding place under some junipers on the edge of
the old pasture. The cawing meanwhile was intermittent; at times it
broke out in a perfect babel, as if every crow were doing his best to
outcaw all the others; again there was silence save for an occasional
short note, the _all's well_ of the sentinel on guard. The crows are
never so busy or so interested that they neglect this precaution.

When I reached the junipers, the crows--half a hundred of them--were
ranged in the pine tops along one edge of the open. They were quiet
enough, save for an occasional scramble for position, evidently
waiting for something to happen. Down on my right, on the fourth or
open side of the pasture, a solitary old crow was perched in the top
of a tall hickory. I might have taken him for a sentry but for a
bright object which he held in his beak. It was too far to make out
what the object was; but whenever he turned his head it flashed in the
sunlight like a bit of glass.

As I watched him curiously he launched himself into the air and came
speeding down the center of the field, making for the pines at the
opposite end. Instantly every crow was on the wing; they shot out from
both sides, many that I had not seen before, all cawing like mad. They
rushed upon the old fellow from the hickory, and for a few moments it
was impossible to make out anything except a whirling, diving rush of
black wings. The din meanwhile was deafening.

Something bright dropped from the excited flock, and a single crow
swooped after it; but I was too much interested in the rush to note
what became of him. The clamor ceased abruptly. The crows, after a
short practice in rising, falling, and wheeling to command, settled in
the pines on both sides of the field, where they had been before. And
there in the hickory was another crow with the same bright, flashing
thing in his beak.

There was a long wait this time, as if for a breathing spell. Then the
solitary crow came skimming down the field again without warning. The
flock surrounded him on the moment, with the evident intention of
hindering his flight as much as possible. They flapped their wings in
his face; they zig-zagged in front of him; they attempted to light on
his back. In vain he twisted and dodged and dropped like a stone.
Wherever he turned he found fluttering wings to oppose his flight. The
first object of the game was apparent: he was trying to reach the goal
of pines opposite the hickory, and the others were trying to prevent
it. Again and again the leader was lost to sight; but whenever the
sunlight flashed from the bright thing he carried, he was certain to
be found in the very midst of a clamoring crowd. Then the second
object was clear: the crows were trying to confuse him and make him
drop the talisman.

[Illustration]

They circled rapidly down the field and back again, near the watcher.
Suddenly the bright thing dropped, reaching the ground before it was
discovered. Three or four crows swooped upon it, and a lively
scrimmage began for its possession. In the midst of the struggle a
small crow shot under the contestants, and before they knew what was
up he was scurrying away to the hickory with the coveted trinket held
as high as he could carry it, as if in triumph at his sharp trick.

The flock settled slowly into the pines again with much _hawing_.
There was evidently a question whether the play ought to be allowed or
not. Everybody had something to say about it; and there was no end of
objection. At last it was settled good-naturedly, and they took places
to watch till the new leader should give them opportunity for another
chase.

There was no doubt left in the watcher's mind by this time as to what
the crows were doing. They were just playing a game, like so many
schoolboys, enjoying to the full the long bright hours of the
September afternoon. Did they find the bright object as they crossed
the pasture on the way from Farmer B's corn-field, and the game so
suggest itself? Or was the game first suggested, and the talisman
brought afterwards? Every crow has a secret storehouse, where he hides
every bright thing he finds. Sometimes it is a crevice in the rocks
under moss and ferns; sometimes the splintered end of a broken branch;
sometimes a deserted owl's nest in a hollow tree; often a crotch in a
big pine, covered carefully by brown needles; but wherever it is, it
is full of bright things--glass, and china, and beads, and tin, and an
old spoon, and a silvered buckle--and nobody but the crow himself
knows how to find it. Did some crow fetch his best trinket for the
occasion, or was this a special thing for games, and kept by the flock
where any crow could get it?

These were some of the interesting things that were puzzling the
watcher when he noticed that the hickory was empty. A flash over
against the dark green revealed the leader. There he was, stealing
along in the shadow, trying to reach the goal before they saw him. A
derisive _haw_ announced his discovery. Then the fun began again, as
noisy, as confusing, as thoroughly enjoyable as ever.

When the bright object dropped this time, curiosity to get possession
of it was stronger than my interest in the game. Besides, the apples
were waiting. I jumped up, scattering the crows in wild confusion; but
as they streamed away I fancied that there was still more of the
excitement of play than of alarm in their flight and clamor.

The bright object which the leader carried proved to be the handle of
a glass cup or pitcher. A fragment of the vessel itself had broken off
with the handle, so that the ring was complete. Altogether it was just
the thing for the purpose--bright, and not too heavy, and most
convenient for a crow to seize and carry. Once well gripped, it would
take a good deal of worrying to make him drop it.

Who first was "it," as children say in games? Was it a special
privilege of the crow who first found the talisman, or do the crows
have some way of counting out for the first leader? There is a
school-house down that same old dusty road. Sometimes, when at play
there, I used to notice the crows stealing silently from tree to tree
in the woods beyond, watching our play, I have no doubt, as I now had
watched theirs. Only we have grown older, and forgotten how to play;
and they are as much boys as ever. Did they learn their game from
watching us at tag, I wonder? And do they know coram, and
leave-stocks, and prisoners' base, and bull-in-the-ring as well? One
could easily believe their wise little black heads to be capable of
any imitation, especially if one had watched them a few times, at work
and play, when they had no idea they were being spied upon.



VIII. ONE TOUCH OF NATURE.


[Illustration]

The cheery whistle of a quail recalls to most New England people a
vision of breezy upland pastures and a mottled brown bird calling
melodiously from the topmost slanting rail of an old sheep-fence.
Farmers say he foretells the weather, calling,
_More-wet_--_much-more-wet!_ Boys say he only proclaims his name, _Bob
White! I'm Bob White!_ But whether he prognosticates or introduces
himself, his voice is always a welcome one. Those who know the call
listen with pleasure, and speedily come to love the bird that makes
it.

Bob White has another call, more beautiful than his boyish whistle,
which comparatively few have heard. It is a soft liquid yodeling,
which the male bird uses to call the scattered flock together. One who
walks in the woods at sunset sometimes hears it from a tangle of
grapevine and bullbrier. If he has the patience to push his way
carefully through the underbrush, he may see the beautiful Bob on a
rock or stump, uttering the softest and most musical of whistles. He
is telling his flock that here is a nice place he has found, where
they can spend the night and be safe from owls and prowling foxes.

If the visitor be very patient, and lie still, he will presently hear
the pattering of tiny feet on the leaves, and see the brown birds come
running in from every direction. Once in a lifetime, perhaps, he may
see them gather in a close circle--tails together, heads out, like the
spokes of a wheel, and so go to sleep for the night. Their soft
whistlings and chirpings at such times form the most delightful sound
one ever hears in the woods.

This call of the male bird is not difficult to imitate. Hunters who
know the birds will occasionally use it to call a scattered covey
together, or to locate the male birds, which generally answer the
leader's call. I have frequently called a flock of the birds into a
thicket at sunset, and caught running glimpses of them as they hurried
about, looking for the bugler who called taps.

All this occurred to me late one afternoon in the great Zoological
Gardens at Antwerp. I was watching a yard of birds--three or four
hundred representatives of the pheasant family from all over the
earth that were running about among the rocks and artificial copses.
Some were almost as wild as if in their native woods, especially the
smaller birds in the trees; others had grown tame from being
constantly fed by visitors.

[Illustration]

It was rather confusing to a bird lover, familiar only with home
birds, to see all the strange forms and colors in the grass, and to
hear a chorus of unknown notes from trees and underbrush. But suddenly
there was a touch of naturalness. That beautiful brown bird with the
shapely body and the quick, nervous run! No one could mistake him; it
was Bob White. And with him came a flash of the dear New England
landscape three thousand miles away. Another and another showed
himself and was gone. Then I thought of the woods at sunset, and began
to call softly.

The carnivora were being fed not far away; a frightful uproar came
from the cages. The coughing roar of a male lion made the air shiver.
Cockatoos screamed; noisy parrots squawked hideously. Children were
playing and shouting near by. In the yard itself fifty birds were
singing or crying strange notes. Besides all this, the quail I had
seen had been hatched far from home, under a strange mother. So I had
little hope of success.

But as the call grew louder and louder, a liquid yodel came like an
electric shock from a clump of bushes on the left. There he was,
looking, listening. Another call, and he came running toward me.
Others appeared from every direction, and soon a score of quail were
running about, just inside the screen, with soft gurglings like a
hidden brook, doubly delightful to an ear that had longed to hear
them.

City, gardens, beasts, strangers,--all vanished in an instant. I was a
boy in the fields again. The rough New England hillside grew tender
and beautiful in sunset light; the hollows were rich in autumn glory.
The pasture brook sang on its way to the river; a robin called from a
crimson maple; and all around was the dear low, thrilling whistle, and
the patter of welcome feet on leaves, as Bob White came running again
to meet his countryman.



IX. MOOSE CALLING.


[Illustration]

Midnight in the wilderness. The belated moon wheels slowly above the
eastern ridge, where for a few minutes past a mighty pine and hundreds
of pointed spruce tops have been standing out in inky blackness
against the gray and brightening background. The silver light steals
swiftly down the evergreen tops, sending long black shadows creeping
before it, and falls glistening and shimmering across the sleeping
waters of a forest lake. No ripple breaks its polished surface; no
plash of musquash or leaping trout sends its vibrations up into the
still, frosty air; no sound of beast or bird awakens the echoes of the
silent forest. Nature seems dying, her life frozen out of her by the
chill of the October night; and no voice tells of her suffering.

A moment ago the little lake lay all black and uniform, like a great
well among the hills, with only glimmering star-points to reveal its
surface. Now, down in a bay below a grassy point, where the dark
shadows of the eastern shore reach almost across, a dark object is
lying silent and motionless on the lake. Its side seems gray and
uncertain above the water; at either end is a dark mass, that in the
increasing light takes the form of human head and shoulders. A bark
canoe with two occupants is before us; but so still, so lifeless
apparently, that till now we thought it part of the shore beyond.

There is a movement in the stern; the profound stillness is suddenly
broken by a frightful roar: _M-wah-úh! M-waah-úh! M-w-wã-a-ã-ã-a!_ The
echoes rouse themselves swiftly, and rush away confused and broken, to
and fro across the lake. As they die away among the hills there is a
sound from the canoe as if an animal were walking in shallow water,
_splash, splash, splash, klop!_ then silence again, that is not dead,
but listening.

A half-hour passes; but not for an instant does the listening tension
of the lake relax. Then the loud bellow rings out again, startling us
and the echoes, though we were listening for it. This time the tension
increases an hundredfold; every nerve is strained; every muscle ready.
Hardly have the echoes been lost when from far up the ridges comes a
deep, sudden, ugly roar that penetrates the woods like a rifle-shot.
Again it comes, and nearer! Down in the canoe a paddle blade touches
the water noiselessly from the stern; and over the bow there is the
glint of moonlight on a rifle barrel. The roar is now continuous on
the summit of the last low ridge. Twigs crackle, and branches snap.
There is the thrashing of mighty antlers among the underbrush, the
pounding of heavy hoofs upon the earth; and straight down the great
bull rushes like a tempest, nearer, nearer, till he bursts with
tremendous crash through the last fringe of alders out onto the grassy
point.--And then the heavy boom of a rifle rolling across the startled
lake.

Such is moose calling, in one of its phases--the most exciting, the
most disappointing, the most trying way of hunting this noble game.

The call of the cow moose, which the hunter always uses at first, is a
low, sudden bellow, quite impossible to describe accurately. Before
ever hearing it, I had frequently asked Indians and hunters what it
was like. The answers were rather unsatisfactory. "Like a tree
falling," said one. "Like the sudden swell of a cataract or the rapids
at night," said another. "Like a rifle-shot, or a man shouting
hoarsely," said a third; and so on till like a menagerie at feeding
time was my idea of it.

One night as I sat with my friend at the door of our bark tent, eating
our belated supper in tired silence, while the rush of the salmon
pool near and the sigh of the night wind in the spruces were lulling
us to sleep as we ate, a sound suddenly filled the forest, and was
gone. Strangely enough, we pronounced the word _moose_ together,
though neither of us had ever heard the sound before. 'Like a gun in a
fog' would describe the sound to me better than anything else, though
after hearing it many times the simile is not at all accurate. This
first indefinite sound is heard early in the season. Later it is
prolonged and more definite, and often repeated as I have given it.

The answer of the bull varies but little. It is a short, hoarse,
grunting roar, frightfully ugly when close at hand, and leaving no
doubt as to the mood he is in. Sometimes when a bull is shy, and the
hunter thinks he is near and listening, though no sound gives any idea
of his whereabouts, he follows the bellow of the cow by the short roar
of the bull, at the same time snapping the sticks under his feet, and
thrashing the bushes with a club. Then, if the bull answers, look out.
Jealous, and fighting mad, he hurls himself out of his concealment and
rushes straight in to meet his rival. Once aroused in this way he
heeds no danger, and the eye must be clear and the muscles steady to
stop him surely ere he reaches the thicket where the hunter is
concealed. Moonlight is poor stuff to shoot by at best, and an
enraged bull moose is a very big and a very ugly customer. It is a
poor thicket, therefore, that does not have at least one good tree
with conveniently low branches. As a rule, however, you may trust your
Indian, who is an arrant coward, to look out for this very carefully.

The trumpet with which the calling is done is simply a piece of birch
bark, rolled up cone-shaped with the smooth side within. It is fifteen
or sixteen inches long, about four inches in diameter at the larger,
and one inch at the smaller end. The right hand is folded round the
smaller end for a mouthpiece; into this the caller grunts and roars
and bellows, at the same time swinging the trumpet's mouth in sweeping
curves to imitate the peculiar quaver of the cow's call. If the bull
is near and suspicious, the sound is deadened by holding the mouth of
the trumpet close to the ground. This, to me, imitates the real sound
more accurately than any other attempt.

So many conditions must be met at once for successful calling, and so
warily does a bull approach, that the chances are always strongly
against the hunter's seeing his game. The old bulls are shy from much
hunting; the younger ones fear the wrath of an older rival. It is only
once in a lifetime, and far back from civilization, where the moose
have not been hunted, that one's call is swiftly answered by a savage
old bull that knows no fear. Here one is never sure what response his
call will bring; and the spice of excitement, and perhaps danger, is
added to the sport.

In illustration of the uncertainty of calling, the writer recalls with
considerable pride his first attempt, which was somewhat startling in
its success. It was on a lake, far back from the settlements, in
northern New Brunswick. One evening, late in August, while returning
from fishing, I heard the bellow of a cow moose on a hardwood ridge
above me. Along the base of the ridge stretched a bay with grassy
shores, very narrow where it entered the lake, but broadening out to
fifty yards across, and reaching back half a mile to meet a stream
that came down from a smaller lake among the hills. All this I noted
carefully while gliding past; for it struck me as an ideal place for
moose calling, if one were hunting.

The next evening, while fishing alone in the cold stream referred to,
I heard the moose again on the same ridge; and in a sudden spirit of
curiosity determined to try the effect of a roar or two on her, in
imitation of an old bull. I had never heard of a cow answering the
call; and I had no suspicion then that the bull was anywhere near. I
was not an expert caller. Under tuition of my Indian (who was
himself a rather poor hand at it) I had practised two or three times
till he told me, with charming frankness, that possibly a _man_ might
mistake me for a moose, if he hadn't heard one very often. So here was
a chance for more practice and a bit of variety. If it frightened her
it would do no harm, as we were not hunting.

[Illustration]

Running the canoe quietly ashore below where the moose had called, I
peeled the bark from a young birch, rolled it into a trumpet, and,
standing on the grassy bank, uttered the deep grunt of a bull two or
three times in quick succession. The effect was tremendous. From the
summit of the ridge, not two hundred yards above where I stood, the
angry challenge of a bull was hurled down upon me out of the woods.
Then it seemed as if a steam engine were crashing full speed through
the underbrush. In fewer seconds than it takes to write it the canoe
was well out into deep water, lying motionless with the bow inshore. A
moment later a huge bull plunged through the fringe of alders onto the
open bank, gritting his teeth, grunting, stamping the earth savagely,
and thrashing the bushes with his great antlers--as ugly a picture as
one would care to meet in the woods.

He seemed bewildered at not seeing his rival, ran swiftly along the
bank, turned and came swinging back again, all the while uttering his
hoarse challenge. Then the canoe swung in the slight current; in
getting control of it again the movement attracted his attention, and
he saw me for the first time. In a moment he was down the bank into
shallow water, striking with his hoofs and tossing his huge head up
and down like an angry bull. Fortunately the water was deep, and he
did not try to swim out; for there was not a weapon of any kind in the
canoe.

When I started down towards the lake, after baiting the bull's fury
awhile by shaking the paddle and splashing water at him, he followed
me along the bank, keeping up his threatening demonstrations. Down
near the lake he plunged suddenly ahead before I realized the danger,
splashed out into the narrow opening in front of the canoe--and there
I was, trapped.

It was dark when I at last got out of it. To get by the ugly beast in
that narrow opening was out of the question, as I found out after a
half-hour's trying. Just at dusk I turned the canoe and paddled slowly
back; and the moose, leaving his post, followed as before along the
bank. At the upper side of a little bay I paddled close up to shore,
and waited till he ran round, almost up to me, before backing out into
deep water. Splashing seemed to madden the brute, so I splashed him,
till in his fury he waded out deeper and deeper, to strike the
exasperating canoe with his antlers. When he would follow no further,
I swung the canoe suddenly, and headed for the opening at a racing
stroke. I had a fair start before he understood the trick; but I never
turned to see how he made the bank and circled the little bay. The
splash and plunge of hoofs was fearfully close behind me as the canoe
shot through the opening; and as the little bark swung round on the
open waters of the lake, for a final splash and flourish of the
paddle, and a yell or two of derision, there stood the bull in the
inlet, still thrashing his antlers and gritting his teeth; and there I
left him.

The season of calling is a short one, beginning early in September and
lasting till the middle of October. Occasionally a bull will answer as
late as November, but this is unusual. In this season a perfectly
still night is perhaps the first requisite. The bull, when he hears
the call, will often approach to within a hundred yards without making
a sound. It is simply wonderful how still the great brute can be as he
moves slowly through the woods. Then he makes a wide circuit till he
has gone completely round the spot where he heard the call; and if
there is the slightest breeze blowing he scents the danger, and is off
on the instant. On a still night his big trumpet-shaped ears are
marvelously acute. Only absolute silence on the hunter's part can
insure success.

Another condition quite as essential is moonlight. The moose sometimes
calls just before dusk and just before sunrise; but the bull is more
wary at such times, and very loth to show himself in the open. Night
diminishes his extreme caution, and unless he has been hunted he
responds more readily. Only a bright moonlight can give any accuracy
to a rifle-shot. To attempt it by starlight would result simply in
frightening the game, or possibly running into danger.

By far the best place for calling, if one is in a moose country, is
from a canoe on some quiet lake or river. A spot is selected midway
between two open shores, near together if possible. On whichever side
the bull answers, the canoe is backed silently away into the shadow
against the opposite bank; and there the hunters crouch motionless
till their game shows himself clearly in the moonlight on the open
shore.

If there is no water in the immediate vicinity of the hunting ground,
then a thicket in the midst of an open spot is the place to call. Such
spots are found only about the barrens, which are treeless plains
scattered here and there throughout the great northern wilderness.
The scattered thickets on such plains are, without doubt, the islands
of the ancient lakes that once covered them. Here the hunter collects
a thick nest of dry moss and fir tips at sundown, and spreads the
thick blanket that he has brought on his back all the weary way from
camp; for without it the cold of the autumn night would be unendurable
to one who can neither light a fire nor move about to get warm. When a
bull answers a call from such a spot he will generally circle the
barren, just within the edge of the surrounding forest, and unless
enraged by jealousy will seldom venture far out into the open. This
fearfulness of the open characterizes the moose in all places and
seasons. He is a creature of the forest, never at ease unless within
quick reach of its protection.

An exciting incident happened to Mitchell, my Indian guide, one
autumn, while hunting on one of these barrens with a sportsman whom he
was guiding. He was moose calling one night from a thicket near the
middle of a narrow barren. No answer came to his repeated calling,
though for an hour or more he had felt quite sure that a bull was
within hearing, somewhere within the dark fringe of forest. He was
about to try the roar of the bull, when it suddenly burst out of the
woods behind them, in exactly the opposite quarter from that in which
they believed their game was concealed. Mitchell started to creep
across the thicket, but scarcely had the echoes answered when, in
front of them, a second challenge sounded sharp and fierce; and they
saw, directly across the open, the underbrush at the forest's edge
sway violently, as the bull they had long suspected broke out in a
towering rage. He was slow in advancing, however, and Mitchell glided
rapidly across the thicket, where a moment later his excited hiss
called his companion. From the opposite fringe of forest the second
bull had hurled himself out, and was plunging with savage grunts
straight towards them.

Crouching low among the firs they awaited his headlong rush; not
without many a startled glance backward, and a very uncomfortable
sense of being trapped and frightened, as Mitchell confessed to me
afterward. He had left his gun in camp; his employer had insisted upon
it, in his eagerness to kill the moose himself.

The bull came rapidly within rifle-shot. In a minute more he would be
within their hiding place; and the rifle sight was trying to cover a
vital spot, when right behind them--at the thicket's edge, it
seemed--a frightful roar and a furious pounding of hoofs brought them
to their feet with a bound. A second later the rifle was lying among
the bushes, and a panic-stricken hunter was scratching and smashing
in a desperate hurry up among the branches of a low spruce, as if only
the tiptop were half high enough. Mitchell was nowhere to be seen;
unless one had the eyes of an owl to find him down among the roots of
a fallen pine.

But the first moose smashed straight through the thicket without
looking up or down; and out on the open barren a tremendous struggle
began. There was a minute's confused uproar, of savage grunts and
clashing antlers and pounding hoofs and hoarse, labored breathing;
then the excitement of the fight was too strong to be resisted, and a
dark form wriggled out from among the roots, only to stretch itself
flat under a bush and peer cautiously at the struggling brutes not
thirty feet away. Twice Mitchell hissed for his employer to come down;
but that worthy was safe astride the highest branch that would bear
his weight, with no desire evidently for a better view of the fight.
Then Mitchell found the rifle among the bushes and, waiting till the
bulls backed away for one of their furious charges, killed the larger
one in his tracks. The second stood startled an instant, with raised
head and muscles quivering, then dashed away across the barren and
into the forest.

Such encounters are often numbered among the tragedies of the great
wilderness. In tramping through the forest one sometimes comes upon
two sets of huge antlers locked firmly together, and white bones,
picked clean by hungry prowlers. It needs no written record to tell
their story.

Once I saw a duel that resulted differently. I heard a terrific
uproar, and crept through the woods, thinking to have a savage
wilderness spectacle all to myself. Two young bulls were fighting
desperately in an open glade, just because they were strong and proud
of their first big horns.

But I was not alone, as I expected. A great flock of crossbills
swooped down into the spruces, and stopped whistling in their
astonishment. A dozen red squirrels snickered and barked their
approval, as the bulls butted each other. Meeko is always glad when
mischief is afoot. High overhead floated a rare woods' raven, his head
bent sharply downward to see. Moose-birds flitted in restless
excitement from tree to bush. Kagax the weasel postponed his
bloodthirsty errand to the young rabbits. And just beside me, under
the fir tips, Tookhees the wood-mouse forgot his fear of the owl and
the fox and his hundred enemies, and sat by his den in broad daylight,
rubbing his whiskers nervously.

So we watched, till the bull that was getting the worst of it backed
near me, and got my wind, and the fight was over.



X. CH'GEEGEE-LOKH-SIS.


[Illustration]

That is the name which the northern Indians give to the black-capped
tit-mouse, or chickadee. "Little friend Ch'geegee" is what it means;
for the Indians, like everybody else who knows Chickadee, are fond of
this cheery little brightener of the northern woods. The first time I
asked Simmo what his people called the bird, he answered with a smile.
Since then I have asked other Indians, and always a smile, a pleased
look lit up the dark grim faces as they told me. It is another
tribute to the bright little bird's influence.

Chickadee wears well. He is not in the least a creature of moods. You
step out of your door some bright morning, and there he is among the
shrubs, flitting from twig to twig; now hanging head down from the
very tip to look into a terminal bud; now winding upward about a
branch, looking industriously into every bud and crevice. An insect
must hide well to escape those bright eyes. He is helping you raise
your plants. He looks up brightly as you approach, hops fearlessly
down and looks at you with frank, innocent eyes. _Chick a dee dee dee
dee! Tsic a de-e-e?_--this last with a rising inflection, as if he
were asking how you were, after he had said good-morning. Then he
turns to his insect hunting again, for he never wastes more than a
moment talking. But he twitters sociably as he works.

You meet him again in the depths of the wilderness. The smoke of your
camp fire has hardly risen to the spruce tops when close beside you
sounds the same cheerful greeting and inquiry for your health. There
he is on the birch twig, bright and happy and fearless! He comes down
by the fire to see if anything has boiled over which he may dispose
of. He picks up gratefully the crumbs you scatter at your feet. He
trusts you.--See! he rests a moment on the finger you extend, looks
curiously at the nail, and sounds it with his bill to see if it
shelters any harmful insect. Then he goes back to his birch twigs.

On summer days he never overflows with the rollicksomeness of bobolink
and oriole, but takes his abundance in quiet contentment. I suspect it
is because he works harder winters, and his enjoyment is more deep
than theirs. In winter when the snow lies deep, he is the life of the
forest. He calls to you from the edges of the bleak caribou barrens,
and his greeting somehow suggests the May. He comes into your rude
bark camp, and eats of your simple fare, and leaves a bit of sunshine
behind him. He goes with you, as you force your way heavily through
the fir thickets on snowshoes. He is hungry, perhaps, like you, but
his note is none the less cheery and hopeful.

When the sun shines hot in August, he finds you lying under the
alders, with the lake breeze in your face, and he opens his eyes very
wide and says: "_Tsic a dee-e-e?_ I saw you last winter. Those were
hard times. But it's good to be here now." And when the rain pours
down, and the woods are drenched, and camp life seems beastly
altogether, he appears suddenly with greeting cheery as the sunshine.
"_Tsic a de-e-e-e?_ Don't you remember yesterday? It rains, to be
sure, but the insects are plenty, and to-morrow the sun will shine."
His cheerfulness is contagious. Your thoughts are better than before
he came.

Really, he is a wonderful little fellow; there is no end to the good
he does. Again and again I have seen a man grow better tempered or
more cheerful, without knowing why he did so, just because Chickadee
stopped a moment to be cheery and sociable. I remember once when a
party of four made camp after a driving rain-storm. Everybody was wet;
everything soaking. The lazy man had upset a canoe, and all the dry
clothes and blankets had just been fished out of the river. Now the
lazy man stood before the fire, looking after his own comfort. The
other three worked like beavers, making camp. They were in ill humor,
cold, wet, hungry, irritated. They said nothing.

A flock of chickadees came down with sunny greetings, fearless,
trustful, never obtrusive. They looked innocently into human faces and
pretended that they did not see the irritation there. "_Tsic a dee_. I
wish I could help. Perhaps I can. _Tic a dee-e-e?_"--with that gentle,
sweetly insinuating up slide at the end. Somebody spoke, for the first
time in half an hour, and it wasn't a growl. Presently somebody
whistled--a wee little whistle; but the tide had turned. Then somebody
laughed. "'Pon my word," he said, hanging up his wet clothes, "I
believe those chickadees make me feel good-natured. Seem kind of
cheery, you know, and the crowd needed it."

And Chickadee, picking up his cracker crumbs, did not act at all as if
he had done most to make camp comfortable.

There is another way in which he helps, a more material way. Millions
of destructive insects live and multiply in the buds and tender bark
of trees. Other birds never see them, but Chickadee and his relations
leave never a twig unexplored. His bright eyes find the tiny eggs
hidden under the buds; his keen ears hear the larvæ feeding under the
bark, and a blow of his little bill uncovers them in their
mischief-making. His services of this kind are enormous, though rarely
acknowledged.

Chickadee's nest is always neat and comfortable and interesting, just
like himself. It is a rare treat to find it. He selects an old
knot-hole, generally on the sheltered side of a dry limb, and digs out
the rotten wood, making a deep and sometimes winding tunnel downward.
In the dry wood at the bottom he makes a little round pocket and lines
it with the very softest material. When one finds such a nest, with
five or six white eggs delicately touched with pink lying at the
bottom, and a pair of chickadees gliding about, half fearful, half
trustful, it is altogether such a beautiful little spot that I know
hardly a boy who would be mean enough to disturb it.

One thing about the nests has always puzzled me. The soft lining has
generally more or less rabbit fur. Sometimes, indeed, there is nothing
else, and a softer nest one could not wish to see. But where does he
get it? He would not, I am sure, pull it out of Br'er Rabbit, as the
crow sometimes pulls wool from the sheep's backs. Are his eyes bright
enough to find it hair by hair where the wind has blown it, down among
the leaves? If so, it must be slow work; but Chickadee is very
patient. Sometimes in spring you may surprise him on the ground, where
he never goes for food; but at such times he is always shy, and flits
up among the birch twigs, and twitters, and goes through an
astonishing gymnastic performance, as if to distract your attention
from his former unusual one. That is only because you are near his
nest. If he has a bit of rabbit fur in his bill meanwhile, your eyes
are not sharp enough to see it.

Once after such a performance I pretended to go away; but I only hid
in a pine thicket. Chickadee listened awhile, then hopped down to the
ground, picked up something that I could not see, and flew away. I
have no doubt it was the lining for his nest near by. He had dropped
it when I surprised him, so that I should not suspect him of
nest-building.

Such a bright, helpful little fellow should have never an enemy in the
world; and I think he has to contend against fewer than most birds.
The shrike is his worst enemy, the swift swoop of his cruel beak being
always fatal in a flock of chickadees. Fortunately the shrike is rare
with us; one seldom finds his nest, with poor Chickadee impaled on a
sharp thorn near by, surrounded by a varied lot of ugly beetles. I
suspect the owls sometimes hunt him at night; but he sleeps in the
thick pine shrubs, close up against a branch, with the pine needles
all about him, making it very dark; and what with the darkness, and
the needles to stick in his eyes, the owl generally gives up the
search and hunts in more open woods.

Sometimes the hawks try to catch him, but it takes a very quick and a
very small pair of wings to follow Chickadee. Once I was watching him
hanging head down from an oak twig to which the dead leaves were
clinging; for it was winter. Suddenly there was a rush of air, a flash
of mottled wings and fierce yellow eyes and cruel claws. Chickadee
whisked out of sight under a leaf. The hawk passed on, brushing his
pinions. A brown feather floated down among the oak leaves. Then
Chickadee was hanging head down, just where he was before. "_Tsic a
dee?_ Didn't I fool him!" he seemed to say. He had just gone round his
twig, and under a leaf, and back again; and the danger was over. When
a hawk misses like that he never strikes again.

Boys generally have a kind of sympathetic liking for Chickadee. They
may be cruel or thoughtless to other birds, but seldom so to him. He
seems somehow like themselves.

Two barefoot boys with bows and arrows were hunting, one September
day, about the half-grown thickets of an old pasture. The older was
teaching the younger how to shoot. A robin, a chipmunk, and two or
three sparrows were already stowed away in their jacket pockets; a
brown rabbit hung from the older boy's shoulder. Suddenly the younger
raised his bow and drew the arrow back to its head. Just in front a
chickadee hung and twittered among the birch twigs. But the older boy
seized his arm.

"Don't shoot--don't shoot him!" he said.

"But why not?"

"'Cause you mustn't--you must never kill a chickadee."

And the younger, influenced more by a certain mysterious shake of the
head than by the words, slacked his bow cheerfully; and with a last
wide-eyed look at the little gray bird that twittered and swung so
fearlessly near them, the two boys went on with their hunting.

No one ever taught the older boy to discriminate between a chickadee
and other birds; no one else ever instructed the younger. Yet somehow
both felt, and still feel after many years, that there is a
difference. It is always so with boys. They are friends of whatever
trusts them and is fearless. Chickadee's own personality, his cheery
ways and trustful nature had taught them, though they knew it not. And
among all the boys of that neighborhood there is still a law, which no
man gave, of which no man knows the origin, a law as unalterable as
that of the Medes and Persians: _Never kill a chickadee_.

If you ask the boy there who tells you the law, "Why not a chickadee
as well as a sparrow?" he shakes his head as of yore, and answers
dogmatically: "'Cause you mustn't."

       *       *       *       *       *

CHICKADEE'S SECRET.

If you meet Chickadee in May with a bit of rabbit fur in his mouth, or
if he seem preoccupied or absorbed, you may know that he is building a
nest, or has a wife and children near by to take care of. If you know
him well, you may even feel hurt that the little friend, who shared
your camp and fed from your dish last winter, should this spring seem
just as frank, yet never invite you to his camp, or should even lead
you away from it. But the soft little nest in the old knot-hole is the
one secret of Chickadee's life; and the little deceptions by which he
tries to keep it are at times so childlike, so transparent, that they
are even more interesting than his frankness.

One afternoon in May I was hunting, without a gun, about an old
deserted farm among the hills--one of those sunny places that the
birds love, because some sense of the human beings who once lived
there still clings about the half wild fields and gives protection.
The day was bright and warm. The birds were everywhere, flashing out
of the pine thickets into the birches in all the joyfulness of
nest-building, and filling the air with life and melody. It is poor
hunting to move about at such a time. Either the hunter or his game
must be still. Here the birds were moving constantly; one might see
more of them and their ways by just keeping quiet and invisible.

I sat down on the outer edge of a pine thicket, and became as much as
possible a part of the old stump which was my seat. Just in front an
old four-rail fence wandered across the deserted pasture, struggling
against the blackberry vines, which grew profusely about it and seemed
to be tugging at the lower rail to pull the old fence down to ruin. On
either side it disappeared into thickets of birch and oak and pitch
pine, planted, as were the blackberry vines, by birds that stopped to
rest a moment on the old fence or to satisfy their curiosity. Stout
young trees had crowded it aside and broken it. Here and there a
leaning post was overgrown with woodbine. The rails were gray and
moss-grown. Nature was trying hard to make it a bit of the landscape;
it could not much longer retain its individuality. The wild things of
the woods had long accepted it as theirs, though not quite as they
accepted the vines and trees.

As I sat there a robin hurled himself upon it from the top of a young
cedar where he had been, a moment before, practising his mating song.
He did not intend to light, but some idle curiosity, like my own, made
him pause a moment on the old gray rail. Then a woodpecker lit on the
side of a post, and sounded it softly. But he was too near the ground,
too near his enemies to make a noise; so he flew to a higher perch and
beat a tattoo that made the woods ring. He was safe there, and could
make as much noise as he pleased. A wood-mouse stirred the vines and
appeared for an instant on the lower rail, then disappeared as if very
much frightened at having shown himself in the sunlight. He always
does just so at his first appearance.

Presently a red squirrel rushes out of the thicket at the left,
scurries along the rails and up and down the posts. He goes like a
little red whirlwind, though he has nothing whatever to hurry about.
Just opposite my stump he stops his rush with marvelous suddenness;
chatters, barks, scolds, tries to make me move; then goes on and out
of sight at the same breakneck rush. A jay stops a moment in a young
hickory above the fence to whistle his curiosity, just as if he had
not seen it fifty times before. A curiosity to him never grows old. He
does not scream now; it is his nesting time.--And so on through the
afternoon. The old fence is becoming a part of the woods; and every
wild thing that passes by stops to get acquainted.

I was weaving an idle history of the old fence, when a chickadee
twittered in the pine behind me. As I turned, he flew over me and lit
on the fence in front. He had something in his beak; so I watched to
find his nest; for I wanted very much to see him at work. Chickadee
had never seemed afraid of me, and I thought he would trust me now.
But he didn't. He would not go near his nest. Instead he began hopping
about the old rail, and pretended to be very busy hunting for insects.

Presently his mate appeared, and with a sharp note he called her down
beside him. Then both birds hopped and twittered about the rail, with
apparently never a care in the world. The male especially seemed just
in the mood for a frolic. He ran up and down the mossy rail; he
whirled about it till he looked like a little gray pinwheel; he hung
head down by his toes, dropped, and turned like a cat, so as to light
on his feet on the rail below. While watching his performance, I
hardly noticed that his mate had gone till she reappeared suddenly on
the rail beside him. Then he disappeared, while she kept up the
performance on the rail, with more of a twitter, perhaps, and less of
gymnastics. In a few moments both birds were together again and flew
into the pines out of sight.

[Illustration]

I had almost forgotten them in watching other birds, when they
reappeared on the rail, ten or fifteen minutes later, and went through
a very similar performance. This was unusual, certainly; and I sat
very quiet, very much interested, though a bit puzzled, and a bit
disappointed that they had not gone to their nest. They had some
material in their beaks both times when they appeared on the rail, and
were now probably off hunting for more--for rabbit fur, perhaps, in
the old orchard. But what had they done with it? "Perhaps," I thought,
"they dropped it to deceive me." Chickadee does that sometimes. "But
why did one bird stay on the rail? Perhaps"--Well, I would look and
see.

I left my stump as the idea struck me, and began to examine the posts
of the old fence very carefully. Chickadee's nest was there somewhere.
In the second post on the left I found it, a tiny knot-hole, which
Chickadee had hollowed out deep and lined with rabbit fur. It was well
hidden by the vines that almost covered the old post, and gray moss
grew all about the entrance. A prettier nest I never found.

I went back to my stump and sat down where I could just see the dark
little hole that led to the nest. No other birds interested me now
till the chickadees came back. They were soon there, hopping about on
the rail as before, with just a wee note of surprise in their soft
twitter that I had changed my position. This time I was not to be
deceived by a gymnastic performance, however interesting. I kept my
eyes fastened on the nest. The male was undoubtedly going through with
his most difficult feats, and doing his best to engage my attention,
when I saw his mate glide suddenly from behind the post and disappear
into her doorway. I could hardly be sure it was a bird. It seemed
rather as if the wind had stirred a little bundle of gray moss. Had
she moved slowly I might not have seen her, so closely did her soft
gray cloak blend with the weather-beaten wood and the moss.

In a few moments she reappeared, waited a moment with her tiny head
just peeking out of the knot-hole, flashed round the post out of
sight, and when I saw her again it was as she reappeared suddenly
beside the male.

Then I watched him. While his mate whisked about the top rail he
dropped to the middle one, hopped gradually to one side, then dropped
suddenly to the lowest one, half hidden by vines, and disappeared. I
turned my eyes to the nest. In a moment there he was--just a little
gray flash, appearing for an instant from behind the post, only to
disappear into the dark entrance. When he came out again I had but a
glimpse of him till he appeared on the rail near me beside his mate.

Their little ruse was now quite evident. They had come back from
gathering rabbit fur, and found me unexpectedly near their nest.
Instead of making a fuss and betraying it, as other birds might do,
they lit on the rail before me, and were as sociable as only
chickadees know how to be. While one entertained me, and kept my
attention, the other dropped to the bottom rail and stole along behind
it; then up behind the post that held their nest, and back the same
way, after leaving his material. Then he held my attention while his
mate did the same thing.

Simple as their little device was, it deceived me at first, and would
have deceived me permanently had I not known something of chickadees'
ways, and found the nest while they were away. Game birds have the
trick of decoying one away from their nest. I am not sure that all
birds do not have more or less of the same instinct; but certainly
none ever before or since used it so well with me as Ch'geegee.

For two hours or more I sat there beside the pine thicket, while the
chickadees came and went. Sometimes they approached the nest from the
other side, and I did not see them, or perhaps got only a glimpse as
they glided into their doorway. Whenever they approached from my side,
they always stopped on the rail before me and went through with their
little entertainment. Gradually they grew more confident, and were
less careful to conceal their movements than at first. Sometimes only
one came, and after a short performance disappeared. Perhaps they
thought me harmless, or that they had deceived me so well at first
that I did not even suspect them of nest-building. Anyway, I never
pretended I knew.

As the afternoon wore away, and the sun dropped into the pine tops,
the chickadees grew hungry, and left their work until the morrow. They
were calling among the young birch buds as I left them, busy and
sociable together, hunting their supper.



XI. A FELLOW OF EXPEDIENTS.


[Illustration]

Among the birds there is one whose personal appearance is rapidly
changing. He illustrates in his present life a process well known
historically to all naturalists, viz., the modification of form
resulting from changed environment. I refer to the golden-winged
woodpecker, perhaps the most beautifully marked bird of the North,
whose names are as varied as his habits and accomplishments.

Nature intended him to get his living, as do the other woodpeckers, by
boring into old trees and stumps for the insects that live on the
decaying wood. For this purpose she gave him the straight, sharp,
wedge-shaped bill, just calculated for cutting out chips; the very
long horn-tipped tongue for thrusting into the holes he makes; the
peculiar arrangement of toes, two forward and two back; and the stiff,
spiny tail-feathers for supporting himself against the side of a tree
as he works. But getting his living so means hard work, and he has
discovered for himself a much easier way. One now frequently
surprises him on the ground in old pastures and orchards, floundering
about rather awkwardly (for his little feet were never intended for
walking) after the crickets and grasshoppers that abound there. Still
he finds the work of catching them much easier than boring into dry
old trees, and the insects themselves much larger and more
satisfactory.

A single glance will show how much this new way of living has changed
him from the other woodpeckers. The bill is no longer straight, but
has a decided curve, like the thrushes; and instead of the
chisel-shaped edge there is a rounded point. The red tuft on the head,
which marks all the woodpecker family, would be too conspicuous on the
ground. In its place we find a red crescent well down on the neck, and
partially hidden by the short gray feathers about it. The point of the
tongue is less horny, and from the stiff points of the tail-feathers
lamina are beginning to grow, making them more like other birds'. A
future generation will undoubtedly wonder where this peculiar kind of
thrush got his unusual tongue and tail, just as we wonder at the
deformed little feet and strange ways of a cuckoo.

The habits of this bird are a curious compound of his old life in the
woods and his new preference for the open fields and farms. Sometimes
the nest is in the very heart of the woods, where the bird glides in
and out, silent as a crow in nesting time. His feeding place meanwhile
may be an old pasture half a mile away, where he calls loudly, and
frolics about as if he had never a care or a fear in the world. But
the nest is now more frequently in a wild orchard, where the bird
finds an old knot-hole and digs down through the soft wood, making a
deep nest with very little trouble. When the knot-hole is not well
situated, he finds a large decayed limb and drills through the outer
hard shell, then digs down a foot or more through the soft wood, and
makes a nest. In this nest the rain never troubles him, for he very
providently drills the entrance on the under side of the limb.

Like many other birds, he has discovered that the farmer is his
friend. Occasionally, therefore, he neglects to build a deep nest,
simply hollowing out an old knot-hole, and depending on the presence
of man for protection from hawks and owls. At such times the bird very
soon learns to recognize those who belong in the orchard, and loses
the extreme shyness that characterizes him at all other times.

Once a farmer, knowing my interest in birds, invited me to come and
see a golden-winged woodpecker, which in her confidence had built so
shallow a nest that she could be seen sitting on the eggs like a
robin. She was so tame, he said, that in going to his work he
sometimes passed under the tree without disturbing her. The moment we
crossed the wall within sight of the nest, the bird slipped away out
of the orchard. Wishing to test her, we withdrew and waited till she
returned. Then the farmer passed within a few feet without disturbing
her in the least. Ten minutes later I followed him, and the bird flew
away again as I crossed the wall.

The notes of the golden-wing--much more varied and musical than those
of other woodpeckers--are probably the results of his new free life,
and the modified tongue and bill. In the woods one seldom hears from
him anything but the rattling _rat-a-tat-tat_, as he hammers away on a
dry old pine stub. As a rule he seems to do this more for the noise it
makes, and the exercise of his abilities, than because he expects to
find insects inside; except in winter time, when he goes back to his
old ways. But out in the fields he has a variety of notes. Sometimes
it is a loud _kee-uk_, like the scream of a blue jay divided into two
syllables, with the accent on the last. Again it is a loud cheery
whistling call, of very short notes run close together, with accent on
every other one. Again he teeters up and down on the end of an old
fence rail with a rollicking _eekoo, eekoo, eekoo_, that sounds more
like a laugh than anything else among the birds. In most of his
musical efforts the golden-wing, instead of clinging to the side of a
tree, sits across the limb, like other birds.

A curious habit which the bird has adopted with advancing civilization
is that of providing himself with a sheltered sleeping place from the
storms and cold of winter. Late in the fall he finds a deserted
building, and after a great deal of shy inspection, to satisfy himself
that no one is within, drills a hole through the side. He has then a
comfortable place to sleep, and an abundance of decaying wood in which
to hunt insects on stormy days. An ice-house is a favorite location
for him, the warm sawdust furnishing a good burrowing place for a nest
or sleeping room. When a building is used as a nesting place, the bird
very cunningly drills the entrance close up under the eaves, where it
is sheltered from storms, and at the same time out of sight of all
prying eyes.

During the winter several birds often occupy one building together. I
know of one old deserted barn where last year five of the birds lived
very peaceably; though what they were doing there in the daytime I
could never quite make out. At almost any hour of the day, if one
approached very cautiously and thumped the side of the barn, some of
the birds would dash out in great alarm, never stopping to look behind
them. At first there were but three entrances; but after I had
surprised them a few times, two more were added; whether to get out
more quickly when all were inside, or simply for the sake of drilling
the holes, I do not know. Sometimes a pair of birds will have five or
six holes drilled, generally on the same side of the building.

Two things about my family in the old barn aroused my curiosity--what
they were doing there by day, and how they got out so quickly when
alarmed. The only way it seemed possible for them to dash out on the
instant, as they did, was to fly straight through. But the holes were
too small, and no bird but a bank-swallow would have attempted such a
thing.

One day I drove the birds out, then crawled in under a sill on the
opposite side, and hid in a corner of the loft without disturbing
anything inside. It was a long wait in the stuffy old place before one
of the birds came back. I heard him light first on the roof; then his
little head appeared at one of the holes as he sat just below, against
the side of the barn, looking and listening before coming in. Quite
satisfied after a minute or two that nobody was inside, he scrambled
in and flew down to a corner in which was a lot of old hay and
rubbish. Here he began a great rustle and stirring about, like a
squirrel in autumn leaves, probably after insects, though it was too
dark to see just what he was doing. It sounded part of the time as if
he were scratching aside the hay, much as a hen would have done. If
so, his two little front toes must have made sad work of it, with the
two hind ones always getting doubled up in the way. When I thumped
suddenly against the side of the barn, he hurled himself like a shot
at one of the holes, alighting just below it, and stuck there in a way
that reminded me of the chewed-paper balls that boys used to throw
against the blackboard in school. I could hear plainly the thump of
his little feet as he struck. With the same movement, and without
pausing an instant, he dived through headlong, aided by a spring from
his tail, much as a jumping jack goes over the head of his stick, only
much more rapidly. Hardly had he gone before another appeared, to go
through the same program.

Though much shyer than other birds of the farm, he often ventures up
close to the house and doorway in the early morning, before any one is
stirring. One spring morning I was awakened by a strange little
pattering sound, and, opening my eyes, was astonished to see one of
these birds on the sash of the open window within five feet of my
hand. Half closing my eyes, I kept very still and watched. Just in
front of him, on the bureau, was a stuffed golden-wing, with wings and
tail spread to show to best advantage the beautiful plumage. He had
seen it in flying by, and now stood hopping back and forth along
the window sash, uncertain whether to come in or not. Sometimes he
spread his wings as if on the point of flying in; then he would turn
his head to look curiously at me and at the strange surroundings, and,
afraid to venture in, endeavor to attract the attention of the stuffed
bird, whose head was turned away. In the looking-glass he saw his own
movements repeated. Twice he began his love call very softly, but cut
it short, as if frightened. The echo of the small room made it seem so
different from the same call in the open fields that I think he
doubted even his own voice.

[Illustration]

Almost over his head, on a bracket against the wall, was another bird,
a great hawk, pitched forward on his perch, with wings wide spread and
fierce eyes glaring downward, in the intense attitude a hawk takes as
he strikes his prey from some lofty watch tree. The golden-wing by
this time was ready to venture in. He had leaned forward with wings
spread, looking down at me to be quite sure I was harmless, when,
turning his head for a final look round, he caught sight of the hawk
just ready to pounce down on him. With a startled _kee-uk_ he fairly
tumbled back off the window sash, and I caught one glimpse of him as
he dashed round the corner in full flight.

What were his impressions, I wonder, as he sat on a limb of the old
apple tree and thought it all over? Do birds have romances? How much
greater wonders had he seen than those of any romance! And do they
have any means of communicating them, as they sing their love songs?
What a wonderful story he could tell, a real story, of a magic palace
full of strange wonders; of a glittering bit of air that made him see
himself; of a giant, all in white, with only his head visible; of an
enchanted beauty, stretching her wings in mute supplication for some
brave knight to touch her and break the spell, while on high a fierce
dragon-hawk kept watch, ready to eat up any one who should dare enter!

And of course none of the birds would believe him. He would have to
spend the rest of his life explaining; and the others would only
whistle, and call him _Iagoo_, the lying woodpecker. On the whole, it
would be better for a bird with such a very unusual experience to keep
still about it.



XII. A TEMPERANCE LESSON FOR THE HORNETS.


[Illustration]

Last spring a hornet, one of those long brown double chaps that boys
call mud-wasps, crept out of his mud shell at the top of my window
casing, and buzzed in the sunshine till I opened the window and let
him go. Perhaps he remembered his warm quarters, or told a companion;
for when the last sunny days of October were come, there was a hornet,
buzzing persistently at the same window till it opened and let him in.

It was a rather rickety old room, though sunny and very pleasant,
which had been used as a study by generations of theological students.
Moreover, it was considered clean all over, like a boy with his face
washed, when the floor was swept; and no storm of general house
cleaning ever disturbed its peace. So overhead, where the ceiling
sagged from the walls, and in dusty chinks about doors and windows
that no broom ever harried, a family of spiders, some mice, a
daddy-long-legs, two crickets, and a bluebottle fly, besides the
hornet, found snug quarters in their season, and a welcome.

The hornet stayed about, contentedly enough, for a week or more,
crawling over the window panes till they were thoroughly explored, and
occasionally taking a look through the scattered papers on the table.
Once he sauntered up to the end of the penholder I was using, and
stayed there, balancing himself, spreading his wings, and looking
interested while the greater part of a letter was finished. Then he
crawled down over my fingers till he wet his feet in the ink;
whereupon he buzzed off in high dudgeon to dry them in the sun.

At first he was sociable enough, and peaceable as one could wish; but
one night, when it was chilly, he stowed himself away to sleep under
the pillow. When I laid my head upon it, he objected to the extra
weight, and drove me ignominiously from my own bed. Another time he
crawled into a handkerchief. When I picked it up to use it, after the
light was out, he stung me on the nose, not understanding the
situation. In whacking him off I broke one of his legs, and made his
wings all awry. After that he would have nothing more to do with me,
but kept to his own window as long as the fine weather lasted.

When the November storms came, he went up to a big crack in the window
casing, whence he had emerged in the spring, and crept in, and went
to sleep. It was pleasant there, and at noontime, on days when the sun
shone, it streamed brightly into his doorway, waking him out of his
winter sleep. As late as December he would come out occasionally at
midday to walk about and spread his wings in the sun. Then a
snow-storm came, and he disappeared for two weeks.

[Illustration]

One day, when a student was sick, a tumbler of medicine had been
carelessly left on the broad window sill. It contained a few lumps of
sugar, over which a mixture of whiskey and glycerine had been poured.
The sugar melted gradually in the sun, and a strong odor of alcohol
rose from the sticky stuff. That and the sunshine must have roused my
hornet guest, for when I came back to the room, there he lay by the
tumbler, dead drunk.

He was stretched out on his side, one wing doubled under him, a
forward leg curled over his head, a sleepy, boozy, perfectly ludicrous
expression on his pointed face. I poked him a bit with my finger, to
see how the alcohol affected his temper. He rose unsteadily, staggered
about, and knocked his head against the tumbler; at which fancied
insult he raised his wings in a limp kind of dignity and defiance,
buzzing a challenge. But he lost his legs, and fell down; and
presently, in spite of pokings, went off into a drunken sleep again.

All the afternoon he lay there. As it grew cooler he stirred about
uneasily. At dusk he started up for his nest. It was a hard pull to
get there. His head was heavy, and his legs shaky. Half way up, he
stopped on top of the lower sash to lie down awhile. He had a terrible
headache, evidently; he kept rubbing his head with his fore legs as if
to relieve the pain. After a fall or two on the second sash, he
reached the top, and tumbled into his warm nest to sleep off the
effects of his spree.

One such lesson should have been enough; but it wasn't. Perhaps,
also, I should have put temptation out of his way; for I knew that all
hornets, especially yellow-jackets, are hopeless topers when they get
a chance; that when a wasp discovers a fermenting apple, it is all up
with his steady habits; that when a nest of them discover a cider
mill, all work, even the care of the young, is neglected. They take to
drinking, and get utterly demoralized. But in the interest of a new
experiment I forgot true kindness, and left the tumbler where it was.

The next day, at noon, he was stretched out on the sill, drunk again.
For three days he kept up his tippling, coming out when the sun shone
warmly, and going straight to the fatal tumbler. On the fourth day he
paid the penalty of his intemperance.

The morning was very bright, and the janitor had left the hornet's
window slightly open. At noon he was lying on the window sill, drunk
as usual. I was in a hurry to take a train, and neglected to close the
window. Late at night, when I came back to my room, he was gone. He
was not on the sill, nor on the floor, nor under the window cushions.
His nest in the casing, where I had so often watched him asleep, was
empty. Taking a candle, I went out to search under the window. There I
found him in the snow, his legs curled up close to his body, frozen
stiff with the drip of the eaves.

I carried him in and warmed him at the fire, but it was too late. He
had been drunk once too often. When I saw that he was dead, I stowed
him away in the nest he had been seeking when he fell out into the
snow. I tried to read; but the book seemed dull. Every little while I
got up to look at him, lying there with his little pointed face, still
dead. At last I wrapped him up, and pushed him farther in, out of
sight.

All the while the empty tumbler seemed to look at me reproachfully
from the window sill.



XIII. SNOWY VISITORS.


[Illustration]

Over my table, as I write, is a big snowy owl whose yellow eyes seem
to be always watching me, whatever I do. Perhaps he is still wondering
at the curious way in which I shot him.

One stormy afternoon, a few winters ago, I was black-duck shooting at
sundown, by a lonely salt creek that doubled across the marshes from
Maddaket Harbor. In the shadow of a low ridge I had built my blind
among some bushes, near the freshest water. In front of me a solitary
decoy was splashing about in joyous freedom after having been confined
all day, quacking loudly at the loneliness of the place and at being
separated from her mate. Beside me, crouched in the blind, my old dog
Don was trying his best to shiver himself warm without disturbing the
bushes too much. That would have frightened the incoming ducks, as Don
knew very well.

It grew dark and bitterly cold. No birds were flying, and I had stood
up a moment to let the blood down into half-frozen toes, when a shadow
seemed to pass over my head. The next moment there was a splash,
followed by loud quacks of alarm from the decoy. All I could make out,
in the obscurity under the ridge, was a flutter of wings that rose
heavily from the water, taking my duck with them. Only the anchor
string prevented the marauder from getting away with his booty. Not
wishing to shoot, for the decoy was a valuable one, I shouted
vigorously, and sent out the dog. The decoy dropped with a splash, and
in the darkness the thief got away--just vanished, like a shadow,
without a sound.

[Illustration]

Poor ducky died in my hands a few moments later, the marks of sharp
claws telling me plainly that the thief was an owl, though I had no
suspicion then that it was the rare winter visitor from the north. I
supposed, of course, that it was only a great-horned-owl, and so laid
plans to get him.

Next night I was at the same spot with a good duck call, and some
wooden decoys, over which the skins of wild ducks had been carefully
stretched. An hour after dark he came again, attracted, no doubt, by
the continued quacking. I had another swift glimpse of what seemed
only a shadow; saw it poise and shoot downward before I could find it
with my gun sight, striking the decoys with a great splash and
clatter. Before he discovered his mistake or could get started again,
I had him. The next moment Don came ashore, proud as a peacock,
bringing a great snowy owl with him--a rare prize, worth ten times the
trouble we had taken to get it.

Owls are generally very lean and muscular; so much so, in severe
winters, that they are often unable to fly straight when the wind
blows; and a twenty-knot breeze catches their broad wings and tosses
them about helplessly. This one, however, was fat as a plover. When I
stuffed him, I found that he had just eaten a big rat and a
meadow-lark, hair, bones, feathers and all. It would be interesting to
know what he intended to do with the duck. Perhaps, like the crow, he
has snug hiding places here and there, where he keeps things against a
time of need.

Every severe winter a few of these beautiful owls find their way to
the lonely places of the New England coast, driven southward, no
doubt, by lack of food in the frozen north. Here in Massachusetts they
seem to prefer the southern shores of Cape Cod, and especially the
island of Nantucket, where besides the food cast up by the tides,
there are larks and blackbirds and robins, which linger more or less
all winter. At home in the far north, the owls feed largely upon hares
and grouse; here nothing comes amiss, from a stray cat, roving too far
from the house, to stray mussels on the beach that have escaped the
sharp eyes of sea-gulls.

Some of his hunting ways are most curious. One winter day, in prowling
along the beach, I approached the spot where a day or two before I had
been shooting whistlers (golden-eye ducks) over decoys. The blind had
been made by digging a hole in the sand. In the bottom was an armful
of dry seaweed, to keep one's toes warm, and just behind the stand was
the stump of a ship's mainmast, the relic of some old storm and
shipwreck, cast up by the tide.

A commotion of some kind was going on in the blind as I drew near.
Sand and bunches of seaweed were hurled up at intervals to be swept
aside by the wind. Instantly I dropped out of sight into the dead
beach grass to watch and listen. Soon a white head and neck bristled
up from behind the old mast, every feather standing straight out
ferociously. The head was perfectly silent a moment, listening; then
it twisted completely round twice so as to look in every direction. A
moment later it had disappeared, and the seaweed was flying again.

There was a prize in the old blind evidently. But what was he doing
there? Till then I had supposed that the owl always takes his game
from the wing. Farther along the beach was a sand bluff overlooking
the proceedings. I gained it after a careful stalk, crept to the edge,
and looked over. Down in the blind a big snowy owl was digging away
like a Trojan, tearing out sand and seaweed with his great claws,
first one foot, then the other, like a hungry hen, and sending it up
in showers behind him over the old mast. Every few moments he would
stop suddenly, bristle up all his feathers till he looked comically
big and fierce, take a look out over the log and along the beach, then
fall to digging again furiously.

I suppose that the object of this bristling up before each observation
was to strike terror into the heart of any enemy that might be
approaching to surprise him at his unusual work. It is an owl trick.
Wounded birds always use it when approached.

And the object of the digging? That was perfectly evident. A beach rat
had jumped down into the blind, after some fragments of lunch,
undoubtedly, and being unable to climb out, had started to tunnel up
to the surface. The owl heard him at work, and started a stern chase.
He won, too, for right in the midst of a fury of seaweed he shot up
with the rat in his claws--so suddenly that he almost escaped me. Had
it not been for the storm and his underground digging, he surely
would have heard me long before I could get near enough to see what he
was doing; for his eyes and ears are wonderfully keen.

In his southern visits, or perhaps on the ice fields of the Arctic
ocean, he has discovered a more novel way of procuring his food than
digging for it. He has turned fisherman and learned to fish. Once only
have I seen him get his dinner in this way. It was on the north shore
of Nantucket, one day in the winter of 1890-91, when the remarkable
flight of white owls came down from the north. The chord of the bay
was full of floating ice, and swimming about the shoals were thousands
of coots. While watching the latter through my field-glass, I noticed
a snowy owl standing up still and straight on the edge of a big ice
cake. "Now what is that fellow doing there?" I thought.--"I know! He
is trying to drift down close to that flock of coots before they see
him."

That was interesting; so I sat down on a rock to watch. Whenever I
took my eyes from him a moment, it was difficult to find him again, so
perfectly did his plumage blend with the white ice upon which he stood
motionless.

But he was not after the coots. I saw him lean forward suddenly and
plunge a foot into the water. Then, when he hopped back from the edge,
and appeared to be eating something, it dawned upon me that he was
fishing--and fishing like a true sportsman, out on the ice alone, with
only his own skill to depend upon. In a few minutes he struck again,
and this time rose with a fine fish, which he carried to the shore to
devour at leisure.

For a long time that fish was to me the most puzzling thing in the
whole incident; for at that season no fish are to be found, except in
deep water off shore. Some weeks later I learned that, just previous
to the incident, several fishermen's dories, with full fares, had been
upset on the east side of the island when trying to land through a
heavy surf. The dead fish had been carried around by the tides, and
the owl had been deceived into showing his method of fishing.
Undoubtedly, in his northern home, when the ice breaks up and the
salmon are running, he goes fishing from an ice cake as a regular
occupation.

The owl lit upon a knoll, not two hundred yards from where I sat
motionless, and gave me a good opportunity of watching him at his
meal. He treated the fish exactly as he would have treated a rat or
duck: stood on it with one foot, gripped the long claws of the other
through it, and tore it to pieces savagely, as one would a bit of
paper. The beak was not used, except to receive the pieces, which were
conveyed up to it by his foot, as a parrot eats. He devoured
everything--fins, tail, skin, head, and most of the bones, in great
hungry mouthfuls. Then he hopped to the top of the knoll, sat up
straight, puffed out his feathers to look big, and went to sleep. But
with the first slight movement I made to creep nearer, he was wide
awake and flew to a higher point. Such hearing is simply marvelous.

The stomach of an owl is peculiar, there being no intermediate crop,
as in other birds. Every part of his prey small enough (and the mouth
and throat of an owl are large out of all proportion) is greedily
swallowed. Long after the flesh is digested, feathers, fur, and bones
remain in the stomach, softened by acids, till everything is absorbed
that can afford nourishment, even to the quill shafts, and the ends
and marrow of bones. The dry remains are then rolled into large
pellets by the stomach, and disgorged.

This, by the way, suggests the best method of finding an owl's haunts.
It is to search, not overhead, but on the ground under large trees,
till a pile of these little balls, of dry feathers and hair and bones,
reveals the nest or roosting place above.

It seems rather remarkable that my fisherman-owl did not make a try at
the coots that were so plenty about him. Rarely, I think, does he
attempt to strike a bird of any kind in the daytime. His long training
at the north, where the days are several months long, has adapted his
eyes to seeing perfectly, both in sunshine and in darkness; and with
us he spends the greater part of each day hunting along the beaches.
The birds at such times are never molested. He seems to know that he
is not good at dodging; that they are all quicker than he, and are not
to be caught napping. And the birds, even the little birds, have no
fear of him in the sunshine; though they shiver themselves to sleep
when they think of him at night.

I have seen the snowbirds twittering contentedly near him. Once I saw
him fly out to sea in the midst of a score of gulls, which paid no
attention to him. At another time I saw him fly over a large flock of
wild ducks that were preening themselves in the grass. He kept
straight on; and the ducks, so far as I could see, merely stopped
their toilet for an instant, and turned up one eye so as to see him
better. Had it been dusk, the whole flock would have shot up into the
air at the first startled quack--all but one, which would have stayed
with the owl.

His favorite time for hunting is the hour after dusk, or just before
daylight, when the birds are restless on the roost. No bird is safe
from him then. The fierce eyes search through every tree and bush and
bunch of grass. The keen ears detect every faintest chirp, or rustle,
or scratching of tiny claws on the roost. Nothing that can be called a
sound escapes them. The broad, soft wings tell no tale of his
presence, and his swoop is swift and sure. He utters no sound. Like a
good Nimrod he hunts silently.

The flight of an owl, noiseless as the sweep of a cloud shadow, is the
most remarkable thing about him. The wings are remarkably adapted to
the silent movement that is essential to surprising birds at dusk. The
feathers are long and soft. The laminæ extending from the wing quills,
instead of ending in the sharp feather edge of other birds, are all
drawn out to fine hair points, through which the air can make no sound
as it rushes in the swift wing-beats. The _whish_ of a duck's wings
can be heard two or three hundred yards on a still night. The wings of
an eagle rustle like silk in the wind as he mounts upward. A sparrow's
wings flutter or whir as he changes his flight. Every one knows the
startled rush of a quail or grouse. But no ear ever heard the passing
of a great owl, spreading his five-foot wings in rapid flight.

He knows well, however, when to vary his program. Once I saw him
hovering at dusk over some wild land covered with bushes and dead
grass, a favorite winter haunt of meadow-larks. His manner showed that
he knew his game was near. He kept hovering over a certain spot,
swinging off noiselessly to right or left, only to return again.
Suddenly he struck his wings twice over his head with a loud flap, and
swooped instantly. It was a clever trick. The bird beneath had been
waked by the sound, or startled into turning his head. With the first
movement the owl had him.

All owls have the habit of sitting still upon some high point which
harmonizes with the general color of their feathers, and swooping upon
any sound or movement that indicates game. The long-eared, or
eagle-owl invariably selects a dark colored stub, on top of which he
appears as a part of the tree itself, and is seldom noticed; while the
snowy owl, whose general color is soft gray, will search out a birch
or a lightning-blasted stump, and sitting up still and straight, so
hide himself in plain sight that it takes a good eye to find him.

The swooping habit leads them into queer mistakes sometimes. Two or
three times, when sitting or lying still in the woods watching for
birds, my head has been mistaken for a rat or squirrel, or some other
furry quadruped, by owls, which swooped and brushed me with their
wings, and once left the marks of their claws, before discovering
their mistake.

Should any boy reader ever have the good fortune to discover one of
these rare birds some winter day in tramping along the beaches, and
wish to secure him as a specimen, let him not count on the old idea
that an owl cannot see in the daytime. On the contrary, let him
proceed exactly as he would in stalking a deer: get out of sight, and
to leeward, if possible; then take every advantage of bush and rock
and beach-grass to creep within range, taking care to advance only
when his eyes are turned away, and remembering that his ears are keen
enough to detect the passing of a mouse in the grass from an
incredible distance.

Sometimes the crows find one of these snowy visitors on the beach, and
make a great fuss and racket, as they always do when an owl is in
sight. At such times he takes his stand under a bank, or in the lee of
a rock, where the crows cannot trouble him from behind, and sits
watching them fiercely. Woe be to the one that ventures too near. A
plunge, a grip of his claw, a weak _caw_, and it's all over. That
seems to double the crows' frenzy--and that is the one moment when you
can approach rapidly from behind. But you must drop flat when the
crows perceive you; for the owl is sure to take a look around for the
cause of their sudden alarm. If he sees nothing suspicious he will
return to his shelter to eat his crow, or just to rest his sensitive
ears after all the pother. A quarter-mile away the crows sit silent,
watching you and him.

And now a curious thing happens. The crows, that a moment ago were
clamoring angrily about their enemy, watch with a kind of intense
interest as you creep towards him. Half way to the rock behind which
he is hiding, they guess your purpose, and a low rapid chatter begins
among them. One would think that they would exult in seeing him
surprised and killed; but that is not crow nature. They would gladly
worry the owl to death if they could, but they will not stand by and
see him slain by a common enemy. The chatter ceases suddenly. Two or
three swift fliers leave the flock, circle around you, and speed over
the rock, uttering short notes of alarm. With the first sharp note,
which all birds seem to understand, the owl springs into the air,
turns, sees you, and is off up the beach. The crows rush after him
with crazy clamor, and speedily drive him to cover again. But spare
yourself more trouble. It is useless to try stalking any game while
the crows are watching.

Sometimes you can drive or ride quite near to one of these birds, the
horse apparently removing all his suspicion. But if you are on foot,
take plenty of time and care and patience, and shoot your prize on the
first stalk if possible. Once alarmed, he will lead you a long chase,
and most likely escape in the end.

I learned the wisdom of this advice in connection with the first snowy
owl I had ever met outside a museum. I surprised him early one winter
morning eating a brant, which he had caught asleep on the shore. He
saw me, and kept making short flights from point to point in a great
circle--five miles, perhaps, and always in the open--evidently loath
to abandon his feast to the crows; while I followed with growing
wonder and respect, trying every device of the still hunter to creep
within range. That was the same owl which I last saw at dusk, flying
straight out to sea among the gulls.



[Illustration: A CHRISTMAS CAROL]

XIV.


The Christmas carol, sung by a chorus of fresh children's voices, is
perhaps the most perfect expression of the spirit of Christmastide.
Especially is this true of the old English and German carols, which
seem to grow only sweeter, more mellow, more perfectly expressive of
the love and good-will that inspired them, as the years go by. Yet
always at Christmas time there is with me the memory of one carol
sweeter than all, which was sung to me alone by a little minstrel from
the far north, with the wind in the pines humming a soft
accompaniment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Doubtless many readers have sometimes seen in winter flocks of
stranger birds--fluffy gray visitors, almost as large as a
robin--flying about the lawns with soft whistling calls, or feeding on
the ground, so tame and fearless that they barely move aside as you
approach. The beak is short and thick; the back of the head and a
large patch just above the tail are golden brown; and across the wings
are narrow double bars of white. All the rest is soft gray, dark above
and light beneath. If you watch them on the ground, you will see that
they have a curious way of moving about like a golden-winged
woodpecker in the same position. Sometimes they put one foot before
the other, in funny little attempt at a dignified walk, like the
blackbirds; again they hop like a robin, but much more awkwardly, as
if they were not accustomed to walking and did not quite know how to
use their feet--which is quite true.

The birds are pine-grosbeaks, and are somewhat irregular winter
visitors from the far north. Only when the cold is most severe, and
the snow lies deep about Hudson Bay, do they leave their nesting
places to spend a few weeks in bleak New England as a winter resort.
Their stay with us is short and uncertain. Long ere the first bluebird
has whistled to us from the old fence rail that, if we please, spring
is coming, the grosbeaks are whistling of spring, and singing their
love songs in the forests of Labrador.

A curious thing about the flocks we see in winter is that they are
composed almost entirely of females. The male bird is very rare with
us. You can tell him instantly by his brighter color and his
beautiful crimson breast. Sometimes the flocks contain a few young
males, but until the first mating season has tipped their breast
feathers with deep crimson they are almost indistinguishable from
their sober colored companions.

This crimson breast shield, by the way, is the family mark or coat of
arms of the grosbeaks, just as the scarlet crest marks all the
woodpeckers. And if you ask a Micmac, deep in the woods, how the
grosbeak got his shield, he may tell you a story that will interest
you as did the legend of Hiawatha and the woodpecker in your childhood
days.

If the old male, with his proud crimson, be rare with us, his
beautiful song is still more so. Only in the deep forests, by the
lonely rivers of the far north, where no human ear ever hears, does he
greet the sunrise from the top of some lofty spruce. There also he
pours into the ears of his sober little gray wife the sweetest love
song of the birds. It is a flood of soft warbling notes, tinkling like
a brook deep under the ice, tumbling over each other in a quiet
ecstasy of harmony; mellow as the song of the hermit-thrush, but much
softer, as if he feared lest any should hear but her to whom he sang.
Those who know the music of the rose-breasted grosbeak (not his
robin-like song of spring, but the exquisitely soft warble to his
brooding mate) may multiply its sweetness indefinitely, and so form
an idea of what the pine-grosbeak's song is like.

But sometimes he forgets himself in his winter visit, and sings as
other birds do, just because his world is bright; and then, once in a
lifetime, a New England bird lover hears him, and remembers; and
regrets for the rest of his life that the grosbeak's northern country
life has made him so shy a visitor.

       *       *       *       *       *

One Christmas morning, a few years ago, the new-fallen snow lay white
and pure over all the woods and fields. It was soft and clinging as it
fell on Christmas eve. Now every old wall and fence was a carved bench
of gleaming white; every post and stub had a soft white robe and a
tall white hat; and every little bush and thicket was a perfect
fairyland of white arches and glistening columns, and dark grottoes
walled about with delicate frostwork of silver and jewels. And then
the glory, dazzling beyond all words, when the sun rose and shone upon
it!

Before sunrise I was out. Soon the jumping flight and cheery
good-morning of a downy woodpecker led me to an old field with
scattered evergreen clumps. There is no better time for a quiet peep
at the birds than the morning after a snow-storm, and no better place
than the evergreens. If you can find them at all (which is not
certain, for they have mysterious ways of disappearing before a
storm), you will find them unusually quiet, and willing to bear your
scrutiny indifferently, instead of flying off into deeper coverts.

I had scarcely crossed the wall when I stopped at hearing a new bird
song, so amazingly sweet that it could only be a Christmas message,
yet so out of place that the listener stood doubting whether his ears
were playing him false, wondering whether the music or the landscape
would not suddenly vanish as an unreal thing. The song was
continuous--a soft melodious warble, full of sweetness and suggestion;
but suggestion of June meadows and a summer sunrise, rather than of
snow-packed evergreens and Christmastide. To add to the unreality, no
ear could tell where the song came from; its own muffled quality
disguised the source perfectly. I searched the trees in front; there
was no bird there. I looked behind; there was no place for a bird to
sing. I remembered the redstart, how he calls sometimes from among the
rocks, and refuses to show himself, and runs and hides when you look
for him. I searched the wall; but not a bird track marked the snow.
All the while the wonderful carol went on, now in the air, now close
beside me, growing more and more bewildering as I listened. It took me
a good half-hour to locate the sound; then I understood.

Near me was a solitary fir tree with a bushy top. The bird, whoever he
was, had gone to sleep up there, close against the trunk, as birds do,
for protection. During the night the soft snow gathered thicker and
thicker upon the flexible branches. Their tips bent with the weight
till they touched the trunk below, forming a green bower, about which
the snow packed all night long, till it was completely closed in. The
bird was a prisoner inside, and singing as the morning sun shone in
through the walls of his prison-house.

As I listened, delighted with the carol and the minstrel's novel
situation, a mass of snow, loosened by the sun, slid from the snow
bower, and a pine-grosbeak appeared in the doorway. A moment he seemed
to look about curiously over the new, white, beautiful world; then he
hopped to the topmost twig and, turning his crimson breast to the
sunrise, poured out his morning song; no longer muffled, but sweet and
clear as a wood-thrush bell ringing the sunset.

Once, long afterward, I heard his softer love song, and found his nest
in the heart of a New Brunswick forest. Till then it was not known
that he ever built south of Labrador. But even that, and the joy of
discovery, lacked the charm of this rare sweet carol, coming all
unsought and unexpected, as good things do, while our own birds were
spending the Christmas time and singing the sunrise in Florida.



XV. MOOWEEN THE BEAR.


[Illustration]

Ever since nursery times Bruin has been largely a creature of
imagination. He dwells there a ferocious beast, prowling about gloomy
woods, red eyed and dangerous, ready to rush upon the unwary traveler
and eat him on the spot.

Sometimes, indeed, we have seen him out of imagination. There he is a
poor, tired, clumsy creature, footsore and dusty, with a halter round
his neck, and a swarthy foreigner to make his life miserable. At the
word he rises to his hind legs, hunches his shoulders, and lunges
awkwardly round in a circle, while the foreigner sings _Horry, horry,
dum-dum_, and his wife passes the hat.

We children pity the bear, as we watch, and forget the other animal
that frightens us when near the woods at night. But he passes on at
last, with a troop of boys following to the town limits. Next day
Bruin comes back, and lives in imagination as ugly and frightful as
ever.

But Mooween the Bear, as the northern Indians call him, the animal
that lives up in the woods of Maine and Canada, is a very different
kind of creature. He is big and glossy black, with long white teeth
and sharp black claws, like the imagination bear. Unlike him, however,
he is shy and wild, and timid as any rabbit. When you camp in the
wilderness at night, the rabbit will come out of his form in the ferns
to pull at your shoe, or nibble a hole in the salt bag, while you
sleep. He will play twenty pranks under your very eyes. But if you
would see Mooween, you must camp many summers, and tramp many a weary
mile through the big forests before catching a glimpse of him, or
seeing any trace save the deep tracks, like a barefoot boy's, left in
some soft bit of earth in his hurried flight.

Mooween's ears are quick, and his nose very keen. The slightest
warning from either will generally send him off to the densest cover
or the roughest hillside in the neighborhood. Silently as a black
shadow he glides away, if he has detected your approach from a
distance. But if surprised and frightened, he dashes headlong through
the brush with crash of branches, and bump of fallen logs, and volleys
of dirt and dead wood flung out behind him as he digs his toes into
the hillside in his frantic haste to be away.

In the first startled instant of such an encounter, one thinks there
must be twenty bears scrambling up the hill. And if you should
perchance get a glimpse of the game, you will be conscious chiefly of
a funny little pair of wrinkled black feet, turned up at you so
rapidly that they actually seem to twinkle through a cloud of flying
loose stuff.

That was the way in which I first met Mooween. He was feeding
peaceably on blueberries, just stuffing himself with the ripe fruit
that tinged with blue a burned hillside, when I came round the turn of
a deer path. There he was, the mighty, ferocious beast--and my only
weapon a trout-rod!

We discovered each other at the same instant. Words can hardly measure
the mutual consternation. I felt scared; and in a moment it flashed
upon me that he looked so. This last observation was like a breath of
inspiration. It led me to make a demonstration before he should regain
his wits. I jumped forward with a flourish, and threw my hat at him.--

_Boo!_ said I.

_Hoof, woof!_ said Mooween. And away he went up the hill in a
desperate scramble, with loose stones rattling, and the bottoms of his
feet showing constantly through the volley of dirt and chips flung out
behind him.

That killed the fierce imagination bear of childhood days deader than
any bullet could have done, and convinced me that Mooween is at heart
a timid creature. Still, this was a young bear, as was also one other
upon whom I tried the same experiment, with the same result. Had he
been older and bigger, it might have been different. In that case I
have found that a good rule is to go your own way unobtrusively,
leaving Mooween to his devices. All animals, whether wild or domestic,
respect a man who neither fears nor disturbs them.

Mooween's eyes are his weak point. They are close together, and seem
to focus on the ground a few feet in front of his nose. At twenty
yards to leeward he can never tell you from a stump or a caribou,
should you chance to be standing still.

If fortunate enough to find the ridge where he sleeps away the long
summer days, one is almost sure to get a glimpse of him by watching on
the lake below. It is necessary only to sit perfectly still in your
canoe among the water-grasses near shore. When near a lake, a bear
will almost invariably come down about noontime to sniff carefully all
about, and lap the water, and perhaps find a dead fish before going
back for his afternoon sleep.

Four or five times I have sat thus in my canoe while Mooween passed
close by, and never suspected my presence till a chirp drew his
attention. It is curious at such times, when there is no wind to bring
the scent to his keen nose, to see him turn his head to one side, and
wrinkle his forehead in the vain endeavor to make out the curious
object there in the grass. At last he rises on his hind legs, and
stares long and intently. It seems as if he must recognize you, with
his nose pointing straight at you, his eyes looking straight into
yours. But he drops on all fours again, and glides silently into the
thick bushes that fringe the shore.

Don't stir now, nor make the least sound. He is in there, just out of
sight, sitting on his haunches, using nose and ears to catch your
slightest message.

Ten minutes pass by in intense silence. Down on the shore, fifty yards
below, a slight swaying of the bilberry bushes catches your eye. That
surely is not the bear! There has not been a sound since he
disappeared. A squirrel could hardly creep through that underbrush
without noise enough to tell where he was. But the bushes sway again,
and Mooween reappears suddenly for another long look at the suspicious
object. Then he turns and plods his way along shore, rolling his head
from side to side as if completely mystified.

Now swing your canoe well out into the lake, and head him off on the
point, a quarter of a mile below. Hold the canoe quiet just outside
the lily pads by grasping a few tough stems, and sit low. This time
the big object catches Mooween's eye as he rounds the point; and you
have only to sit still to see him go through the same maneuvers with
greater mystification than before.

Once, however, he varied his program, and gave me a terrible start,
letting me know for a moment just how it feels to be hunted, at the
same time showing with what marvelous stillness he can glide through
the thickest cover when he chooses.

It was early evening on a forest lake. The water lay like a great
mirror, with the sunset splendor still upon it. The hush of twilight
was over the wilderness. Only the hermit-thrushes sang wild and sweet
from a hundred dead spruce tops.

I was drifting about, partly in the hope to meet Mooween, whose tracks
were very numerous at the lower end of the lake, when I heard him
walking in the shallow water. Through the glass I made him out against
the shore, as he plodded along in my direction.

I had long been curious to know how near a bear would come to a man
without discovering him. Here was an opportunity. The wind at sunset
had been in my favor; now there was not the faintest breath stirring.

Hiding the canoe, I sat down in the sand on a little point, where
dense bushes grew down to within a few feet of the water's edge. Head
and shoulders were in plain sight above the water-grass. My intentions
were wholly peaceable, notwithstanding the rifle that lay across my
knees. It was near the mating season, when Mooween's temper is often
dangerous; and one felt much more comfortable with the chill of the
cold iron in his hands.

Mooween came rapidly along the shore meanwhile, evidently anxious to
reach the other end of the lake. In the mating season bears use the
margins of lakes and streams as natural highways. As he drew nearer
and nearer I gazed with a kind of fascination at the big unconscious
brute. He carried his head low, and dropped his feet with a heavy
splash into the shallow water.

At twenty yards he stopped as if struck, with head up and one paw
lifted, sniffing suspiciously. Even then he did not see me, though
only the open shore lay between us. He did not use his eyes at all,
but laid his great head back on his shoulders and sniffed in every
direction, rocking his brown muzzle up and down the while, so as to
take in every atom from the tainted air.

A few slow careful steps forward, and he stopped again, looked
straight into my eyes, then beyond me towards the lake, all the while
sniffing. I was still only part of the shore. Yet he was so near that
I caught the gleam of his eyes, and saw the nostrils swell and the
muzzle twitch nervously.

Another step or two, and he planted his fore feet firmly. The long
hairs began to rise along his spine, and under his wrinkled chops was
a flash of white teeth. Still he had no suspicion of the motionless
object there in the grass. He looked rather out on the lake. Then he
glided into the brush and was lost to sight and hearing.

He was so close that I scarcely dared breathe as I waited, expecting
him to come out farther down the shore. Five minutes passed without
the slightest sound to indicate his whereabouts, though I was
listening intently in the dead hush that was on the lake. All the
while I smelled him strongly. One can smell a bear almost as far as he
can a deer, though the scent does not cling so long to the underbrush.

A bush swayed slightly below where he had disappeared. I was watching
it closely when some sudden warning--I know not what, for I did not
hear but only felt it--made me turn my head quickly. There, not six
feet away, a huge head and shoulders were thrust out of the bushes on
the bank, and a pair of gleaming eyes were peering intently down upon
me in the grass. He had been watching me at arm's length probably two
or three minutes. Had a muscle moved in all that time, I have no doubt
that he would have sprung upon me. As it was, who can say what was
passing behind that curious, half-puzzled, half-savage gleam in his
eyes?

[Illustration]

He drew quickly back as a sudden movement on my part threw the rifle
into position. A few minutes later I heard the snap of a rotten twig
some distance away. Not another sound told of his presence till he
broke out onto the shore, fifty yards above, and went steadily on his
way up the lake.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mooween is something of a humorist in his own way. When not hungry he
will go out of his way to frighten a bullfrog away from his sun-bath
on the shore, for no other purpose, evidently, than just to see him
jump. Watching him thus amusing himself one afternoon, I was immensely
entertained by seeing him turn his head to one side, and wrinkle his
eyebrows, as each successive frog said _ke'dunk_, and went splashing
away over the lily pads.

A pair of cubs are playful as young foxes, while their extreme
awkwardness makes them a dozen times more comical. Simmo, my Indian
guide, tells me that the cubs will sometimes run away and hide when
they hear the mother bear returning. No amount of coaxing or of
anxious fear on her part will bring them back, till she searches
diligently to find them.

Once only have I had opportunity to see the young at play. There were
two of them, nearly full-grown, with the mother. The most curious
thing was to see them stand up on their hind legs and cuff each other
soundly, striking and warding like trained boxers. Then they would
lock arms and wrestle desperately till one was thrown, when the other
promptly seized him by throat or paw, and pretended to growl
frightfully.

They were well fed, evidently, and full of good spirits as two boys.
But the mother was cross and out of sorts. She kept moving about
uneasily, as if the rough play irritated her nerves. Occasionally, as
she sat for a moment with hind legs stretched out flat and fore paws
planted between them, one of the cubs would approach and attempt some
monkey play. A sound cuff on the ear invariably sent him whimpering
back to his companion, who looked droll enough the while, sitting with
his tongue out and his head wagging humorously as he watched the
experiment. It was getting toward the time of year when she would mate
again, and send them off into the world to shift for themselves. And
this was perhaps their first hard discipline.

Once also I caught an old bear enjoying himself in a curious way. It
was one intensely hot day, in the heart of a New Brunswick wilderness.
Mooween came out onto the lake shore and lumbered along, twisting
uneasily and rolling his head as if very much distressed by the heat.
I followed silently close behind in my canoe.

Soon he came to a cool spot under the alders, which was probably what
he was looking for. A small brook made an eddy there, and a lot of
driftweed had collected over a bed of soft black mud. The stump of a
huge cedar leaned out over it, some four or five feet above the water.

First he waded in to try the temperature. Then he came out and climbed
the cedar stump, where he sniffed in every direction, as is his wont
before lying down. Satisfied at last, he balanced himself carefully
and gave a big jump--Oh, so awkwardly!--with legs out flat, and paws
up, and mouth open as if he were laughing at himself. Down he came,
_souse_, with a tremendous splash that sent mud and water flying in
every direction. And with a deep _uff-guff_ of pure delight, he
settled himself in his cool bed for a comfortable nap.

In his fondness for fish, Mooween has discovered an interesting way
of catching them. In June and July immense numbers of trout and salmon
run up the wilderness rivers on their way to the spawning grounds.
Here and there, on small streams, are shallow riffles, where large
fish are often half out of water as they struggle up. On one of these
riffles Mooween stations himself during the first bright moonlight
nights of June, when the run of fish is largest on account of the
higher tides at the river mouth. And Mooween knows, as well as any
other fisherman, the kind of night on which to go fishing. He knows
also the virtue of keeping still. As a big salmon struggles by,
Mooween slips a paw under him, tosses him to the shore by a dexterous
flip, and springs after him before he can flounder back.

When hungry, Mooween has as many devices as a fox for getting a meal.
He tries flipping frogs from among the lily pads in the same way that
he catches salmon. That failing, he takes to creeping through the
water-grass, like a mink, and striking his game dead with a blow of
his paw.

Or he finds a porcupine loafing through the woods, and follows him
about to throw dirt and stones at him, carefully refraining from
touching him the while, till the porcupine rolls himself into a ball
of bristling quills,--his usual method of defense. Mooween slips a paw
under him, flips him against a tree to stun him, and bites him in the
belly, where there are no quills. If he spies the porcupine in a tree,
he will climb up, if he is a young bear, and try to shake him off. But
he soon learns better, and saves his strength for more fruitful
exertions.

Mooween goes to the lumber camps regularly after his winter sleep and,
breaking in through door or roof, helps himself to what he finds. If
there happens to be a barrel of pork there, he will roll it into the
open air, if the door is wide enough, before breaking in the head with
a blow of his paw.

Should he find a barrel of molasses among the stores, his joy is
unbounded. The head is broken in on the instant and Mooween eats till
he is surfeited. Then he lies down and rolls in the sticky sweet, to
prolong the pleasure; and stays in the neighborhood till every drop
has been lapped up.

Lumbermen have long since learned of his strength and cunning in
breaking into their strong camps. When valuable stores are left in the
woods, they are put into special camps, called bear camps, where doors
and roofs are fastened with chains and ingenious log locks to keep
Mooween out.

Near the settlements Mooween speedily locates the sweet apple trees
among the orchards. These he climbs by night, and shakes off enough
apples to last him for several visits. Every kind of domestic animal
is game for him. He will lie at the edge of a clearing for hours, with
the patience of a cat, waiting for turkey or sheep or pig to come
within range of his swift rush.

His fondness for honey is well known. When he has discovered a rotten
tree in which wild bees have hidden their store, he will claw at the
bottom till it falls. Curling one paw under the log he sinks the claws
deep into the wood. The other paw grips the log opposite the first,
and a single wrench lays it open. The clouds of angry insects about
his head meanwhile are as little regarded as so many flies. He knows
the thickness of his skin, and they know it. When the honey is at last
exposed, and begins to disappear in great hungry mouthfuls, the bees
also fall upon it, to gorge themselves with the fruit of their hard
labor before Mooween shall have eaten it all.

Everything eatable in the woods ministers at times to Mooween's need.
Nuts and berries are favorite dishes in their season. When these and
other delicacies fail, he knows where to dig for edible roots. A big
caribou, wandering near his hiding place, is pulled down and stunned
by a blow on the head. Then, when the meat has lost its freshness, he
will hunt for an hour after a wood-mouse he has seen run under a
stone, or pull a rotten log to pieces for the ants and larvæ concealed
within.

These last are favorite dishes with him. In a burned district, where
ants and berries abound, one is continually finding charred logs, in
which the ants nest by thousands, split open from end to end. A few
strong claw marks, and the lick of a moist tongue here and there,
explain the matter. It shows the extremes of Mooween's taste. Next to
honey he prefers red ants, which are sour as pickles.

Mooween is even more expert as a boxer than as a fisherman. When the
skin is stripped from his fore arms, they are seen to be of great
size, with muscles as firm to the touch as so much rubber. Long
practice has made him immensely strong, and quick as a flash to ward
and strike. Woe be to the luckless dog, however large, that ventures
in the excitement of the hunt within reach of his paw. A single swift
stroke will generally put the poor brute out of the hunt forever.

Once Simmo caught a bear by the hind leg in a steel trap. It was a
young bear, a two-year-old; and Simmo thought to save his precious
powder by killing it with a club. He cut a heavy maple stick and,
swinging it high above his head, advanced to the trap. Mooween rose to
his hind legs, and looked him steadily in the eye, like the trained
boxer that he is. Down came the club with a sweep to have felled an
ox. There was a flash from Mooween's paw; the club spun away into the
woods; and Simmo just escaped a fearful return blow by dropping to
the ground and rolling out of reach, leaving his cap in Mooween's
claws. A wink later, and his scalp would have hung there instead.

In the mating season, when three or four bears often roam the woods
together in fighting humor, Mooween uses a curious kind of challenge.
Rising on his hind legs against a big fir or spruce, he tears the bark
with his claws as high as he can reach on either side. Then placing
his back against the trunk, he turns his head and bites into the tree
with his long canine teeth, tearing out a mouthful of the wood. That
is to let all rivals know just how big a bear he is.

The next bear that comes along, seeking perhaps to win the mate of his
rival and following her trail, sees the challenge and measures his
height and reach in the same way, against the same tree. If he can
bite as high, or higher, he keeps on, and a terrible fight is sure to
follow. But if, with his best endeavors, his marks fall short of the
deep scars above, he prudently withdraws, and leaves it to a bigger
bear to risk an encounter.

In the wilderness one occasionally finds a tree on which three or four
bears have thus left their challenge. Sometimes all the bears in a
neighborhood seem to have left their records in the same place. I
remember well one such tree, a big fir, by a lonely little beaver
pond, where the separate challenges had become indistinguishable on
the torn bark. The freshest marks here were those of a long-limbed old
ranger--a monster he must have been--with a clear reach of a foot
above his nearest rival. Evidently no other bear had cared to try
after such a record.

Once, in the mating season, I discovered quite by accident that
Mooween can be called, like a hawk or a moose, or indeed any other
wild creature, if one but knows how. It was in New Brunswick, where I
was camped on a wild forest river. At midnight I was back at a little
opening in the woods, watching some hares at play in the bright
moonlight. When they had run away, I called a wood-mouse out from his
den under a stump; and then a big brown owl from across the
river--which almost scared the life out of my poor little wood-mouse.
Suddenly a strange cry sounded far back on the mountain. I listened
curiously, then imitated the cry, in the hope of hearing it again and
of remembering it; for I had never before heard anything like the
sound, and had no idea what creature produced it. There was no
response, however, and I speedily grew interested in the owls; for by
this time two or three more were hooting about me, all called in by
the first comer. When they had gone I tried the strange call again.
Instantly it was answered close at hand. The creature was coming.

I stole out into the middle of the opening, and sat very still on a
fallen log. Ten minutes passed in intense silence. Then a twig snapped
behind me. I turned--and there was Mooween, just coming into the
opening. I shall not soon forget how he looked, standing there big and
black in the moonlight; nor the growl deep down in his throat, that
grew deeper as he watched me. We looked straight into each other's
eyes a brief, uncertain moment. Then he drew back silently into the
dense shadow.

There is another side to Mooween's character, fortunately a rare one,
which is sometimes evident in the mating season, when his temper leads
him to attack instead of running away, as usual; or when wounded, or
cornered, or roused to frenzy in defense of the young. Mooween is then
a beast to be dreaded, a great savage brute, possessed of enormous
strength and of a fiend's cunning. I have followed him wounded through
the wilderness, when his every resting place was scarred with deep
gashes, and where broken saplings testified mutely to the force of his
blow. Yet even here his natural timidity lies close to the surface,
and his ferocity has been greatly exaggerated by hunters.

Altogether, Mooween the Bear is a peaceable fellow, and an interesting
one, well worth studying. His extreme wariness, however, enables him
generally to escape observation; and there are undoubtedly many queer
ways of his yet to be discovered by some one who, instead of trying to
scare the life out of him by a shout or a rifle-shot in the rare
moments when he shows himself, will have the patience to creep near,
and find out just what he is doing. Only in the deepest wilderness is
he natural and unconscious. There he roams about, entirely alone for
the most part, supplying his numerous wants, and performing droll
capers with all the gravity of an owl, when he thinks that not even
Tookhees, the wood-mouse, is looking.





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