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Title: A Florida Sketch-Book
Author: Torrey, Bradford
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Florida Sketch-Book" ***

and the Internet Archive; University of Florida

[Transcriber's Note: The original scan for text page 142 is missing
This is noted where it occurs in the text.]




Books by Mr. Torrey.
















In approaching Jacksonville by rail, the traveler rides hour after
hour through seemingly endless pine barrens, otherwise known as low
pine-woods and flat-woods, till he wearies of the sight. It would be
hard, he thinks, to imagine a region more unwholesome looking and
uninteresting, more poverty-stricken and God-forsaken, in its entire
aspect. Surely, men who would risk life in behalf of such a country
deserved to win their cause.

Monotonous as the flat-woods were, however, and malarious as they
looked,--arid wastes and stretches of stagnant water flying past the car
window in perpetual alternation, I was impatient to get into them. They
were a world the like of which I had never seen; and wherever I went in
eastern Florida, I made it one of my earliest concerns to seek them out.

My first impression was one of disappointment, or perhaps I should
rather say, of bewilderment. In fact, I returned from my first visit to
the flat-woods under the delusion that I had not been into them at all.
This was at St. Augustine, whither I had gone after a night only in
Jacksonville. I looked about the quaint little city, of course, and went
to the South Beach, on St. Anastasia Island; then I wished to see the
pine lands. They were to be found, I was told, on the other side of the
San Sebastian. The sun was hot (or so it seemed to a man fresh from the
rigors of a New England winter), and the sand was deep; but I sauntered
through New Augustine, and pushed on up the road toward Moultrie (I
believe it was), till the last houses were passed and I came to the edge
of the pine-woods. Here, presently, the roads began to fork in a very
confusing manner. The first man I met--a kindly cracker--cautioned me
against getting lost; but I had no thought of taking the slightest risk
of that kind. I was not going to _explore_ the woods, but only to enter
them, sit down, look about me, and listen. The difficulty was to get
into them. As I advanced, they receded. It was still only the beginning
of a wood; the trees far apart and comparatively small, the ground
covered thickly with saw palmetto, interspersed here and there with
patches of brown grass or sedge.

In many places the roads were under water, and as I seemed to be making
little progress, I pretty soon sat down in a pleasantly shaded spot.
Wagons came along at intervals, all going toward the city, most of them
with loads of wood; ridiculously small loads, such as a Yankee boy would
put upon a wheelbarrow. "A fine day," said I to the driver of such a
cart. "Yes, sir," he answered, "it's a _pretty_ day." He spoke with an
emphasis which seemed to imply that he accepted my remark as well meant,
but hardly adequate to the occasion. Perhaps, if the day had been a few
shades brighter, he would have called it "handsome," or even "good
looking." Expressions of this kind, however, are matters of local or
individual taste, and as such are not to be disputed about. Thus, a man
stopped me in Tallahassee to inquire what time it was. I told him, and
he said, "Ah, a little sooner than I thought." And why not "sooner" as
well as "earlier"? But when, on the same road, two white girls in an
ox-cart hailed me with the question, "What time 't is?" I thought the
interrogative idiom a little queer; almost as queer, shall we say, as
"How do you do?" may have sounded to the first man who heard it,--if the
reader is able to imagine such a person.

Meanwhile, let the morning be "fine" or "pretty," it was all one to the
birds. The woods were vocal with the cackling of robins, the warble of
bluebirds, and the trills of pine warblers. Flickers were shouting--or
laughing, if one pleased to hear it so--with true flickerish prolixity,
and a single downy woodpecker called sharply again and again. A
mocking-bird near me (there is _always_ a mocking-bird near you, in
Florida) added his voice for a time, but soon relapsed into silence. The
fact was characteristic; for, wherever I went, I found it true that the
mocker grew less musical as the place grew wilder. By instinct he is a
public performer, he demands an audience; and it is only in cities, like
St. Augustine and Tallahassee, that he is heard at his freest and best.
A loggerhead shrike--now close at my elbow, now farther away--was
practicing his extensive vocabulary with perseverance, if not with
enthusiasm. Like his relative the "great northern," though perhaps in a
less degree, the loggerhead is commonly at an extreme, either loquacious
or dumb; as if he could not let his moderation be known unto any man.
Sometimes I fancied him possessed with an insane ambition to match the
mocking-bird in song as well as in personal appearance. If so, it is not
surprising that he should be subject to fits of discouragement and
silence. Aiming at the sun, though a good and virtuous exercise, as we
have all heard, is apt to prove dispiriting to sensible marksmen. Crows
(fish crows, in all probability, but at the time I did not know it)
uttered strange, hoarse, flat-sounding caws. Everv bird of them must
have been born without a palate, it seemed to me. White-eyed chewinks
were at home in the dense palmetto scrub, whence they announced
themselves unmistakably by sharp whistles. Now and then one of them
mounted a leaf, and allowed me to see his pale yellow iris. Except for
this mark, recognizable almost as far as the bird could be distinguished
at all, he looked exactly like our common New England towhee. Somewhere
behind me was a kingfisher's rattle, and from a savanna in the same
direction came the songs of meadow larks; familiar, but with something
unfamiliar about them at the same time, unless my ears deceived me.

More interesting than any of the birds yet named, because more strictly
characteristic of the place, as well as more strictly new to me, were
the brown-headed nuthatches. I was on the watch for them: they were one
of the three novelties which I knew were to be found in the pine lands,
and nowhere else,--the other two being the red-cockaded woodpecker and
the pine-wood sparrow; and being thus on the lookout, I did not expect
to be taken by surprise, if such a paradox (it is nothing worse) maybe
allowed to pass. But when I heard them twittering in the distance, as I
did almost immediately, I had no suspicion of what they were. The voice
had nothing of that nasal quality, that Yankee twang, as some people
would call it, which I had always associated with the nuthatch family.
On the contrary, it was decidedly finchlike,--so much so that some of
the notes, taken by themselves, would have been ascribed without
hesitation to the goldfinch or the pine finch, had I heard them in New
England; and even as things were, I was more than once deceived for the
moment. As for the birds themselves, they were evidently a cheerful and
thrifty race, much more numerous than the red-cockaded woodpeckers, and
much less easily overlooked than the pine-wood sparrows. I seldom
entered the flat-woods anywhere without finding them. They seek their
food largely about the leafy ends of the pine branches, resembling the
Canadian nuthatches in this respect, so that it is only on rare
occasions that one sees them creeping about the trunks or larger limbs.
Unlike their two Northern relatives, they are eminently social, often
traveling in small flocks, even in the breeding season, and keeping up
an almost incessant chorus of shrill twitters as they flit hither and
thither through the woods. The first one to come near me was full of
inquisitiveness; he flew back and forth past my head, exactly as
chickadees do in a similar mood, and once seemed almost ready to alight
on my hat. "Let us have a look at this stranger," he appeared to be
saying. Possibly his nest was not far off, but I made no search for it.
Afterwards I found two nests, one in a low stump, and one in the trunk
of a pine, fifteen or twenty feet from the ground. Both of them
contained young ones (March 31 and April 2), as I knew by the continual
goings-in-and-out of the fathers and mothers. In dress the brown-head is
dingy, with little or nothing of the neat and attractive appearance of
our New England nuthatches.

In this pine-wood on the road to Moultrie I found no sign of the new
woodpecker or the new sparrow. Nor was I greatly disappointed. The place
itself was a sufficient novelty,--the place and the summer weather. The
pines murmured overhead, and the palmettos rustled all about. Now a
butterfly fluttered past me, and now a dragonfly. More than one little
flock of tree swallows went over the wood, and once a pair of phoebes
amused me by an uncommonly pretty lover's quarrel. Truly it was a
pleasant hour. In the midst of it there came along a man in a cart, with
a load of wood. We exchanged the time of day, and I remarked upon the
smallness of his load. Yes, he said; but it was a pretty heavy load to
drag seven or eight miles over such roads. Possibly he understood me as
implying that he seemed to be in rather small business, although I had
no such purpose, for he went on to say: "In 1861, when this beautiful
war broke out between our countries, my father owned niggers. We didn't
have to do _this_. But I don't complain. If I hadn't got a bullet in me,
I should do pretty well."

"Then you were in the war?" I said.

"Oh, yes, yes, sir! I was in the Confederate service. Yes, sir, I'm a
Southerner to the backbone. My grandfather was a ----" (I missed the
patronymic), "and commanded St. Augustine."

The name had a foreign sound, and the man's complexion was swarthy, and
in all simplicity I asked if he was a Minorcan. I might as well have
touched a lighted match to powder. His eyes flashed, and he came round
the tail of the cart, gesticulating with his stick.

"Minorcan!" he broke out. "Spain and the island of Minorca are two
places, ain't they?" I admitted meekly that they were.

"You are English, ain't you?" he went on. "You are English,--Yankee
born,--ain't you?"

I owned it.

"Well, I'm Spanish. That ain't Minorcan. My grandfather was a ----, and
commanded St. Augustine. He couldn't have done that if he had been

By this time he was quieting down a bit. His father remembered the
Indian war. The son had heard him tell about it.

"Those were dangerous times," he remarked. "You couldn't have been
standing out here in the woods then."

"There is no danger here now, is there?" said I.

"No, no, not now." But as he drove along he turned to say that _he_
wasn't afraid of _any_ thing; he wasn't that kind of a man. Then, with a
final turn, he added, what I could not dispute, "A man's life is always
in danger."

After he was gone, I regretted that I had offered no apology for my
unintentionally offensive question; but I was so taken by surprise, and
so much interested in the man as a specimen, that I quite forgot my
manners till it was too late. One thing I learned: that it is not
prudent, in these days, to judge a Southern man's blood, in either sense
of the word, by his dress or occupation. This man had brought seven or
eight miles a load of wood that might possibly be worth seventy-five
cents (I questioned the owner of what looked like just such a load
afterward, and found his asking price half a dollar), and for clothing
had on a pair of trousers and a blue cotton shirt, the latter full of
holes, through which the skin was visible; yet his father was a ---- and
had "owned niggers."

A still more picturesque figure in this procession of wood-carters was a
boy of perhaps ten or eleven. He rode his horse, and was barefooted and
barelegged; but he had a cigarette in his mouth, and to each brown heel
was fastened an enormous spur. Who was it that infected the world with
the foolish and disastrous notion that work and play are two different
things? And was it Emerson, or some other wise man, who said that a boy
was the true philosopher?

When it came time to think of returning to St. Augustine, for dinner, I
appreciated my cracker's friendly warning against losing my way; for
though I had hardly so much as entered the woods, and had taken, as I
thought, good heed to my steps, I was almost at once in a quandary as to
my road. There was no occasion for worry,--with the sun out, and my
general course perfectly plain; but here was a fork in the road, and
whether to bear to the left or to the right was a simple matter of
guess-work. I made the best guess I could, and guessed wrong, as was
apparent after a while, when I found the road under deep water for
several rods. I objected to wading, and there was no ready way of going
round, since the oak and palmetto scrub crowded close up to the
roadside, and just here was all but impenetrable. What was still more
conclusive, the road was the wrong one, as the inundation proved, and,
for aught I could tell, might carry me far out of my course. I turned
back, therefore, under the midday sun, and by good luck a second attempt
brought me out of the woods very near where I had entered them.

I visited this particular piece of country but once afterward, having in
the mean time discovered a better place of the same sort along the
railroad, in the direction of Palatka. There, on a Sunday morning, I
heard my first pine-wood sparrow. Time and tune could hardly have been
in truer accord. The hour was of the quietest, the strain was of the
simplest, and the bird sang as if he were dreaming. For a long time I
let him go on without attempting to make certain who he was. He seemed
to be rather far off: if I waited his pleasure, he would perhaps move
toward me; if I disturbed him, he would probably become silent. So I sat
on the end of a sleeper and listened. It was not great music. It made me
think of the swamp sparrow; and the swamp sparrow is far from being a
great singer. A single prolonged, drawling note (in that respect unlike
the swamp sparrow, of course), followed by a succession of softer and
sweeter ones,--that was all, when I came to analyze it; but that is no
fair description of what I heard. The quality of the song is not there;
and it was the quality, the feeling, the soul of it, if I may say what I
mean, that made it, in the true sense of a much-abused word, charming.

There could be little doubt that the bird was a pine-wood sparrow; but
such things are not to be taken for granted. Once or twice, indeed, the
thought of some unfamiliar warbler had crossed my mind. At last,
therefore, as the singer still kept out of sight, I leaped the ditch and
pushed into the scrub. Happily I had not far to go; he had been much
nearer than I thought. A small bird flew up before me, and dropped
almost immediately into a clump of palmetto. I edged toward the spot and
waited. Then the song began again, this time directly in front of me,
but still far-away-sounding and dreamy. I find that last word in my
hasty note penciled at the time, and can think of no other that
expresses the effect half so well. I looked and looked, and all at once
there sat the bird on a palmetto leaf. Once again he sang, putting up
his head. Then he dropped out of sight, and I heard nothing more. I had
seen only his head and neck,--enough to show him a sparrow, and almost
of necessity the pine-wood sparrow. No other strange member of the finch
family was to be looked for in such a place.

On further acquaintance, let me say at once, _Pucaea aestivalis_ proved
to be a more versatile singer than the performances of my first bird
would have led me to suppose. He varies his tune freely, but always
within a pretty narrow compass; as is true, also, of the field sparrow,
with whom, as I soon came to feel, he has not a little in common. It is
in musical form only that he suggests the swamp sparrow. In tone and
spirit, in the qualities of sweetness and expressiveness, he is nearly
akin to _Spizella pusilla_. One does for the Southern pine barren what
the other does for the Northern berry pasture. And this is high praise;
for though in New England we have many singers more brilliant than the
field sparrow, we have none that are sweeter, and few that in the long
run give more pleasure to sensitive hearers.

I found the pine-wood sparrow afterward in New Smyrna, Port Orange,
Sanford, and Tallahassee. So far as I could tell, it was always the same
bird; but I shot no specimens, and speak with no authority.[1] Living
always in the pine lands, and haunting the dense undergrowth, it is
heard a hundred times where it is seen once,--a point greatly in favor
of its effectiveness as a musician. Mr. Brewster speaks of it as singing
always from an elevated perch, while the birds that I saw in the act of
song, a very limited number, were invariably perched low. One that I
watched in New Smyrna (one of a small chorus, the others being
invisible) sang for a quarter of an hour from a stake or stump which
rose perhaps a foot above the dwarf palmetto. It was the same song that
I had heard in St. Augustine; only the birds here were in a livelier
mood, and sang _out_ instead of _sotto voce_. The long introductory note
sounded sometimes as if it were indrawn, and often, if not always, had a
considerable burr in it. Once in a while the strain was caught up at the
end and sung over again, after the manner of the field sparrow,--one of
that bird's prettiest tricks. At other times the song was delivered with
full voice, and then repeated almost under the singer's breath. This was
done beautifully in the Port Orange flat-woods, the bird being almost at
my feet. I had seen him a moment before, and saw him again half a minute
later, but at that instant he was out of sight in the scrub, and
seemingly on the ground. This feature of the song, one of its chief
merits and its most striking peculiarity, is well described by Mr.
Brewster. "Now," he says, "it has a full, bell-like ring that seems to
fill the air around; next it is soft and low and inexpressibly tender;
now it is clear again, but so modulated that the sound seems to come
from a great distance."[2]

[Footnote 1: Two races of the pine-wood sparrow are recognized by
ornithologists, _Pucaea aestivalis_ and _P. aestivalis bachmanii_, and
both of them have been found in Florida; but, if I understand the matter
right, _Pucaea aestivalis_ is the common and typical Florida bird.]

[Footnote 2: _Bulletin on the Nuttall Ornithological Club_, vol. vii. p.

Not many other birds, I think (I cannot recall any), habitually vary
their song in this manner. Other birds sing almost inaudibly at times,
especially in the autumnal season. Even the brown thrasher, whose
ordinary performance, is so full-voiced, not to say boisterous, will
sometimes soliloquize, or seem to soliloquize, in the faintest of
undertones. The formless autumnal warble of the song sparrow is familiar
to every one. And in this connection I remember, and am not likely ever
to forget, a winter wren who favored me with what I thought the most
bewitching bit of vocalism to which I had ever listened. He was in the
bushes close at my side, in the Franconia Notch, and delivered his whole
song, with all its customary length, intricacy, and speed, in a tone--a
whisper, I may almost say--that ran along the very edge of silence. The
unexpected proximity of a stranger may have had something to do with his
conduct, as it often appears to have with the thrasher's; but, however
that may be, the cases are not parallel with that of the pine-wood
sparrow, inasmuch as the latter bird not merely sings under his breath
on special occasions, whether on account of the nearness of a listener
or for any other reason, but in his ordinary singing uses louder and
softer tones interchangeably, almost exactly as human singers and
players do; as if, in the practice of his art, he had learned to
appreciate, consciously or unconsciously (and practice naturally goes
before theory), the expressive value of what I believe is called musical

I spent many half-days in the pine lands (how gladly now would I spend
another!), but never got far into them. ("Into their depths," my pen was
on the point of making me say; but that would have been a false note.
The flat-woods have no "depths.") Whether I followed the railway,--in
many respects a pretty satisfactory method,--or some roundabout, aimless
carriage road, a mile or two was generally enough. The country offers no
temptation to pedestrian feats, nor does the imagination find its
account in going farther and farther. For the reader is not to think of
the flat-woods as in the least resembling a Northern forest, which at
every turn opens before the visitor and beckons him forward. Beyond and
behind, and on either side, the pine-woods are ever the same. It is this
monotony, by the bye, this utter absence of landmarks, that makes it so
unsafe for the stranger to wander far from the beaten track. The sand is
deep, the sun is hot; one place is as good as another. What use, then,
to tire yourself? And so, unless the traveler is going somewhere, as I
seldom was, he is continually stopping by the way. Now a shady spot
entices him to put down his umbrella,--for there _is_ a shady spot, here
and there, even in a Florida pine-wood; or blossoms are to be plucked;
or a butterfly, some gorgeous and nameless creature, brightens the wood
as it passes; or a bird is singing; or an eagle is soaring far overhead,
and must be watched out of sight; or a buzzard, with upturned wings,
floats suspiciously near the wanderer, as if with sinister intent
(buzzard shadows are a regular feature of the flat-wood landscape, just
as cloud shadows are in a mountainous country); or a snake lies
stretched out in the sun,--a "whip snake," perhaps, that frightens the
unwary stroller by the amazing swiftness with which it runs away from
him; or some strange invisible insect is making uncanny noises in the
underbrush. One of my recollections of the railway woods at St.
Augustine is of a cricket, or locust, or something else,--I never saw
it,--that amused me often with a formless rattling or drumming sound. I
could think of nothing but a boy's first lesson upon the bones, the
rhythm of the beats was so comically mistimed and bungled.

One fine morning,--it was the 18th of February,--I had gone down the
railroad a little farther than usual, attracted by the encouraging
appearance of a swampy patch of rather large deciduous trees. Some of
them, I remember, were red maples, already full of handsome,
high-colored fruit. As I drew near, I heard indistinctly from among them
what might have been the song of a black-throated green warbler, a bird
that would have made a valued addition to my Florida list, especially at
that early date.[1] No sooner was the song repeated, however, than I saw
that I had been deceived; it was something I had never heard before. But
it certainly had much of the black-throated green's quality, and without
question was the note of a warbler of some kind. What a shame if the
bird should give me the slip! Meanwhile, it kept on singing at brief
intervals, and was not so far away but that, with my glass, I should be
well able to make it out, if only I could once get my eyes on it. That
was the difficulty. Something stirred among the branches. Yes, a
yellow-throated warbler (_Dendroica dominica_), a bird of which I had
seen my first specimens, all of them silent, during the last eight days.
Probably he was the singer. I hoped so, at any rate. That would be an
ideal case of a beautiful bird with a song to match. I kept him under my
glass, and presently the strain was repeated, but not by him. Then it
ceased, and I was none the wiser. Perhaps I never should be. It was
indeed a shame. Such a _taking_ song; so simple, and yet so pretty, and
so thoroughly distinctive. I wrote it down thus: _tee-koi,
tee-koo_,--two couplets, the first syllable of each a little emphasized
and dwelt upon, not drawled, and a little higher in pitch than its
fellow. Perhaps it might be expressed thus:--


I cannot profess to be sure of that, however, nor have I unqualified
confidence in the adequacy of musical notation, no matter how skillfully
employed, to convey a truthful idea of any bird song.

[Footnote 1: As it was, I did not find _Dendroica virens_ in Florida. On
my way home, in Atlanta, April 20, I saw one bird in a dooryard

The affair remained a mystery till, in Daytona, nine days afterward, the
same notes were heard again, this time in lower trees that did not stand
in deep water. Then it transpired that my mysterious warbler was not a
warbler at all, but the Carolina chickadee. That was an outcome quite
unexpected, although I now remembered that chickadees were in or near
the St. Augustine swamp; and what was more to the purpose, I could now
discern some relationship between the _tee-koi, tee-koo_ (or, as I now
wrote it, _see-toi, see-too_), and the familiar so-called phoebe whistle
of the black-capped titmouse. The Southern bird, I am bound to
acknowledge, is much the more accomplished singer of the two. Sometimes
he repeats the second dissyllable, making six notes in all. At other
times he breaks out with a characteristic volley of fine chickadee
notes, and runs without a break into the _see-toi, see-too_, with a
highly pleasing effect. Then if, on the top of this, he doubles the
_see-too_, we have a really prolonged and elaborate musical effort,
quite putting into the shade our New England bird's _hear, hear me_,
sweet and welcome as that always is.

The Southern chickadee, it should be said, is not to be distinguished
from its Northern relative--in the bush, I mean--except by its notes. It
is slightly smaller, like Southern birds in general, but is practically
identical in plumage. Apart from its song, what most impressed me was
its scarcity. It was found, sooner or later, wherever I went, I believe,
but always in surprisingly small numbers, and I saw only one nest. That
was built in a roadside china-tree in Tallahassee, and contained young
ones (April 17), as was clear from the conduct of its owners.

It must not be supposed that I left St. Augustine without another search
for my unknown "warbler." The very next morning found me again at the
swamp, where for at least an hour I sat and listened. I heard no
_tee-koi, tee-koo_, but was rewarded twice over for my walk. In the
first place, before reaching the swamp, I found the third of my
flat-wood novelties, the red-cockaded woodpecker. As had happened with
the nuthatch and the sparrow, I heard him before seeing him: first some
notes, which by themselves would hardly have suggested a woodpecker
origin, and then a noise of hammering. Taken together, the two sounds,
left little doubt as to their author; and presently I saw him,--or
rather them, for there were two birds. I learned nothing about them,
either then or afterwards (I saw perhaps eight individuals during my ten
weeks' visit), but it was worth something barely to see and hear them.
Henceforth _Dryobates borealis_ is a bird, and not merely a name. This,
as I have said, was among the pines, before reaching the swamp. In the
swamp itself, there suddenly appeared from somewhere, as if by magic (a
dramatic entrance is not without its value, even out-of-doors), a less
novel but far more impressive figure, a pileated woodpecker; a truly
splendid fellow, with the scarlet cheek-patches. When I caught sight of
him, he stood on one of the upper branches of a tall pine, looking
wonderfully alert and wide-awake; now stretching out his scrawny neck,
and now drawing it in again, his long crest all the while erect and
flaming. After a little he dropped into the underbrush, out of which
came at intervals a succession of raps. I would have given something to
have had him under my glass just then, for I had long felt curious to
see him in the act of chiseling out those big, oblong, clean-cut,
sharp-angled "peck-holes" which, close to the base of the tree, make so
common and notable a feature of Vermont and New Hampshire forests; but,
though I did my best, I could not find him, till all at once he came up
again and took to a tall pine,--the tallest in the wood,--where he
pranced about for a while, striking sundry picturesque but seemingly
aimless attitudes, and then made off for good. All in all, he was a
wild-looking bird, if ever I saw one.

I was no sooner in St. Augustine, of course, than my eyes were open for
wild flowers. Perhaps I felt a little disappointed. Certainly the land
was not ablaze with color. In the grass about the old fort fhere was
plenty of the yellow oxalis and the creeping white houstonia; and from a
crevice in the wall, out of reach, leaned a stalk of goldenrod in full
bloom. The reader may smile, if he will, but this last flower was a
surprise and a stumbling-block. A vernal goldenrod! Dr. Chapman's Flora
made no mention of such an anomaly. Sow thistles, too, looked strangely
anachronistic. I had never thought of them as harbingers of springtime.
The truth did not break upon me till a week or so afterward. Then, on
the way to the beach at Daytona, where the pleasant peninsula road
traverses a thick forest of short-leaved pines, every tree of which
leans heavily inland at the same angle ("the leaning pines of Daytona,"
I always said to myself, as I passed), I came upon some white
beggar's-ticks,--like daisies; and as I stopped to see what they were,
I noticed the presence of ripe seeds. The plant had been in flower a
long time. And then I laughed at my own dullness. It fairly deserved a
medal. As if, even in Massachusetts, autumnal flowers--the groundsel,
at least--did not sometimes persist in blossoming far into the winter! A
day or two after this, I saw a mullein stalk still presenting arms, as
it were (the mullein, always looks the soldier to me), with one bright
flower. If I had found _that_ in St. Augustine, I flatter myself I
should have been less easily fooled.

There were no such last-year relics in the flat-woods, so far as I
remember, but spring blossoms were beginning to make their appearance
there by the middle of February, particularly along the
railroad,--violets in abundance (_Viola cucullata_), dwarf
orange-colored dandelions (_Krigia_), the Judas-tree, or redbud, St.
Peter's-wort, blackberry, the yellow star-flower (_Hypoxis juncea_), and
butterworts. I recall, too, in a swampy spot, a fine fresh tuft of the
golden club, with its gorgeous yellow spadix,--a plant that I had never
seen in bloom before, although I had once admired a Cape Cod "hollow"
full of the rank tropical leaves. St. Peter's-wort, a low shrub, thrives
everywhere in the pine barrens, and, without being especially
attractive, its rather sparse yellow flowers--not unlike the St.
John's-wort--do something to enliven the general waste. The butterworts
are beauties, and true children of the spring. I picked my first ones,
which by chance were of the smaller purple species (_Pinguicula
pumila_), on my way down from the woods, on a moist bank. At that moment
a white man came up the road. "What do you call this flower?" said I.
"Valentine's flower," he answered at once. "Ah," said I, "because it is
in bloom on St. Valentine's Day, I suppose?" "No, sir," he said. "Do you
speak Spanish?" I had to shake my head. "Because I could explain it
better in Spanish," he continued, as if by way of apology; but he went
on in perfectly good English: "If you put one of them under your pillow,
and think of some one you would like very much to see,--some one who has
been dead a long time,--you will be likely to dream of him. It is a very
pretty flower," he added. And so it is; hardly prettier, however, to my
thinking, than the blossoms of the early creeping blackberry (_Rubus
trivialis_). With them I fairly fell in love: true white roses, I called
them, each with its central ring of dark purplish stamens; as beautiful
as the cloudberry, which once, ten years before, I had found, on the
summit of Mount Clinton, in New Hampshire, and refused to believe a
_Rubus_, though Dr. Gray's key led me to that genus again and again.
There _is_ something in a name, say what you will.

Some weeks later, and a little farther south,--in the flat-woods behind
New Smyrna,--I saw other flowers, but never anything of that tropical
exuberance at which the average Northern tourist expects to find himself
staring. Boggy places were full of blue iris (the common _Iris
versicolor_ of New England, but of ranker growth), and here and there a
pool was yellow with bladderwort. I was taken also with the larger and
taller (yellow) butterwort, which I used never to see as I went through
the woods in the morning, but was sure to find standing in the tall dry
grass along the border of the sandy road, here one and there one, on my
return at noon. In similar places grew a "yellow daisy" (_Leptopoda_), a
single big head, of a deep color, at the top of a leafless stem. It
seemed to be one of the most abundant of Florida spring flowers, but I
could not learn that it went by any distinctive vernacular name. Beside
the railway track were blue-eyed grass and pipewort, and a dainty blue
lobelia (_L. Feayana_), with once in a while an extremely pretty
coreopsis, having a purple centre, and scarcely to be distinguished from
one that is common in gardens. No doubt the advancing season brings an
increasing wealth of such beauty to the flat-woods. No doubt, too, I
missed the larger half of what might have been found even at the time of
my visit; for I made no pretense of doing any real botanical work,
having neither the time nor the equipment. The birds kept me busy, for
the most part, when the country itself did not absorb my attention.

More interesting, and a thousand times more memorable, than any flower
or bird was the pine barren itself. I have given no true idea of it, I
am perfectly aware: open, parklike, flooded with sunshine, level as a
floor. "What heartache," Lanier breaks out, poor exile, dying of
consumption,--"what heartache! Ne'er a hill!" A dreary country to ride
through, hour after hour; an impossible country to live in, but most
pleasant for a half-day winter stroll. Notwithstanding I never went far
into it, as I have already said, I had always a profound sensation of
remoteness; as if I might go on forever, and be no farther away.

Yet even here I had more than one reminder that the world is a small
place. I met a burly negro in a cart, and fell into talk with him about
the Florida climate, an endless topic, out of which a cynical traveler
may easily extract almost endless amusement. How abput the summers here?
I inquired. Were they really as paradisaical (I did not use that word)
as some reports would lead one to suppose? The man smiled, as if he had
heard something like that before. He did not think the Florida summer a
dream of delight, even on the east coast. "I'm tellin' you the truth,
sah; the mosquiters an' sandflies is awful." Was he born here? I asked.
No; he came from B----, Alabama. Everybody in eastern Florida came from
somewhere, as well as I could make out.

"Oh, from B----," said I. "Did you know Mr. W----, of the ---- Iron

He smiled again. "Yes, sah; I used to work for him. He's a nice man." He
spoke the truth that time beyond a peradventure. He was healthier here
than in the other place, he thought, and wages were higher; but he liked
the other place better "for pleasure." It was an odd coincidence, was it
not, that I should meet in this solitude a man who knew the only citizen
of Alabama with whom I was ever acquainted.

At another time I fell in with an oldish colored man, who, like myself,
had taken to the woods for a quiet Sunday stroll. _He_ was from
Mississippi, he told me. Oh, yes, he remembered the war; he was a slave,
twenty-one years old, when it broke out. To his mind, the present
generation of "niggers" were a pretty poor lot, for all their
"edication." He had seen them crowding folks off the sidewalk, and
puffing smoke in their faces. All of which was nothing new; I had found
that story more or less common among negroes of his age. He didn't
believe much in "edication;" but when I asked if he thought the blacks
were better off in slavery times, he answered quickly, "I'd rather be a
free man, _I_ had." He wasn't married; he had plenty to do to take care
of himself. We separated, he going one way and I the other; but he
turned to ask, with much seriousness (the reader must remember that this
was only three months after a national election), "Do you think they'll
get free trade?" "Truly," said I to myself, "'the world is too much with
us.' Even in the flat-woods there is no escaping the tariff question."
But I answered, in what was meant to be a reassuring tone, "Not yet
awhile. Some time." "I hope not," he said,--as if liberty to buy and
sell would be a dreadful blow to a man living in a shanty in a Florida
pine barren! He was taking the matter rather too much to heart, perhaps;
but surely it was encouraging to see such a man interested in broad
economical questions, and I realized as never before the truth of what
the newspapers so continually tell us, that political campaigns are


I am sitting upon the upland bank of a narrow winding creek. Before me
is a sea of grass, brown and green of many shades. To the north the
marsh is bounded by live-oak woods,--a line with numberless
indentations,--beyond which runs the Matanzas River, as I know by the
passing and repassing of sails behind the trees. Eastward are
sand-hills, dazzling white in the sun, with a ragged green fringe along
their tops. Then comes a stretch of the open sea, and then, more to the
south, St. Anastasia Island, with its tall black-and-white lighthouse
and the cluster of lower buildings at its base. Small sailboats, and now
and then a tiny steamer, pass up and down the river to and from St.

A delicious south wind is blowing (it is the 15th of February), and I
sit in the shade of a cedar-tree and enjoy the air and the scene. A
contrast, this, to the frozen world I was living in, less than a week

As I approached the creek, a single spotted sandpiper was teetering
along the edge of the water, and the next moment a big blue heron rose
just beyond him and went flapping away to the middle of the marsh. Now,
an hour afterward, he is still standing there, towering above the tall
grass. Once when I turned that way I saw, as I thought, a stake, and
then something moved upon it,--a bird of some kind. And what an enormous
beak! I raised my field-glass. It was the heron. His body was the post,
and his head was the bird. Meanwhile, the sandpiper has stolen away, I
know not when or where. He must have omitted the _tweet, tweet_, with
which ordinarily he signalizes his flight. He is the first of his kind
that I have seen during my brief stay in these parts.

Now a multitude of crows pass over; fish crows, I think they must be,
from their small size and their strange, ridiculous voices. And now a
second great blue heron comes in sight, and keeps on over the marsh and
over the live-oak wood, on his way to the San Sebastian marshes, or some
point still more remote. A fine show he makes, with his wide expanse of
wing, and his feet drawn up and standing out behind him. Next a marsh
hawk in brown plumage comes skimming over the grass. This way and that
he swerves in ever graceful lines. For one to whom ease and grace come
by nature, even the chase of meadow mice is an act of beauty, while
another goes awkwardly though in pursuit of a goddess.

Several times I have noticed a kingfisher hovering above the grass (so
it looks, but no doubt he is over an arm of the creek), striking the air
with quick strokes, and keeping his head pointed downward, after the
manner of a tern. Then he disappeared while I was looking at something
else. Now I remark him sitting motionless upon the top of a post in the
midst of the marsh.

A third blue heron appears, and he too flies over without stopping.
Number One still keeps his place; through the glass I can see him
dressing his feathers with his clumsy beak. The lively strain of a
white-eyed vireo, pertest of songsters, comes to me from somewhere on my
right, and the soft chipping of myrtle warblers is all but incessant. I
look up from my paper to see a turkey buzzard sailing majestically
northward. I watch him till he fades in the distance. Not once does he
flap his wings, but sails and sails, going with the wind, yet turning
again and again to rise against it,--helping himself thus to its
adverse, uplifting pressure in the place of wing-strokes, perhaps,--and
passing onward all the while in beautiful circles. He, too, scavenger
though he is, has a genius for being graceful. One might almost be
willing to be a buzzard, to fly like that!

The kingfisher and the heron are still at their posts. An exquisite
yellow butterfly, of a sort strange to my Yankee eyes, flits past,
followed by a red admiral. The marsh hawk is on the wing again, and
while looking at him I descry a second hawk, too far away to be made
out. Now the air behind me is dark with crows,--a hundred or two, at
least, circling over the low cedars. Some motive they have for all their
clamor, but it passes my owlish wisdom to guess what it can be. A fourth
blue heron appears, and drops into the grass out of sight.

Between my feet is a single blossom of the yellow oxalis, the only
flower to be seen; and very pretty it is, each petal with an orange spot
at the base.

Another buzzard, another marsh hawk, another yellow butterfly, and then
a smaller one, darker, almost orange. It passes too quickly over the
creek and away. The marsh hawk comes nearer, and I see the strong yellow
tinge of his plumage, especially underneath. He will grow handsomer as
he grows older. A pity the same could not be true of men. Behind me are
sharp cries of titlarks. From the direction of the river come frequent
reports of guns. Somebody is doing his best to be happy! All at once I
prick up my ears. From the grass just across the creek rises the brief,
hurried song of a long-billed marsh wren. So _he_ is in Florida, is he?
Already I have heard confused noises which I feel sure are the work of
rails of some kind. No doubt there is abundant life concealed in those
acres on acres of close grass.

The heron and the kingfisher are still quiet. Their morning hunt was
successful, and for to-day Fate cannot harm them. A buzzard, with
nervous, rustling beats, goes directly above the low cedar under which I
am resting.

At last, after a siesta of two hours, the heron has changed his place. I
looked up just in season to see him sweeping over the grass, into which
he dropped the next instant. The tide is falling. The distant sand-hills
are winking in the heat, but the breeze is deliciously cool, the very
perfection of temperature, if a man is to sit still in the shade. It is
eleven o'clock. I have a mile to go in the hot sun, and turn away. But
first I sweep the line once more with my glass. Yonder to the south are
two more blue herons standing in the grass. Perhaps there are more
still. I sweep the line. Yes, far, far away I can see four heads in a
row. Heads and necks rise above the grass. But so far away! Are they
birds, or only posts made alive by my imagination? I look again. I
believe I was deceived. They are nothing but stakes. See how in a row
they stand. I smile at myself. Just then one of them moves, and another
is pulled down suddenly into the grass. I smile again. "Ten great blue
herons," I say to myself.

All this has detained me, and meantime the kingfisher has taken wing and
gone noisily up the creek. The marsh hawk appears once more. A
killdeer's sharp, rasping note--a familiar sound in St. Augustine--comes
from I know not where. A procession of more than twenty black vultures
passes over my head. I can see their feet drawn up under them. My own I
must use in plodding homeward.


The first eight days of my stay in Daytona were so delightful that I
felt as if I had never before seen fine weather, even in my dreams. My
east window looked across the Halifax River to the peninsula woods.
Beyond them was the ocean. Immediately after breakfast, therefore, I
made toward the north bridge, and in half an hour or less was on the
beach. Beaches are much the same the world over, and there is no need to
describe this one--Silver Beach, I think I heard it called--except to
say that it is broad, hard, and, for a pleasure-seeker's purpose,
endless. It is backed by low sand-hills covered with impenetrable
scrub,--oak and palmetto,--beyond which is a dense growth of
short-leaved pines. Perfect weather, a perfect beach, and no throng of
people: here were the conditions of happiness; and here for eight days I
found it. The ocean itself was a solitude. Day after day not a sail was
in sight. Looking up and down the beach, I could usually see somewhere
in the distance a carriage or two, and as many foot passengers; but I
often walked a mile, or sat for half an hour, without being within hail
of any one. Never were airs more gentle or colors more exquisite.

As for birds, they were surprisingly scarce, but never wanting
altogether. If everything else failed, a few fish-hawks were sure to be
in sight. I watched them at first with eager interest. Up and down the
beach they went, each by himself, with heads pointed downward, scanning
the shallow water. Often they stopped in their course, and by means of
laborious flappings held themselves poised over a certain spot. Then,
perhaps, they set their wings and shot downward clean under water. If
the plunge was unsuccessful, they shook their feathers dry and were
ready to begin again. They had the fisherman's gift. The second, and
even the third attempt might fail, but no matter; it was simply a
question of time and patience. If the fish was caught, their first
concern seemed to be to shift their hold upon it, till its head pointed
to the front. That done, they shook themselves vigorously and started
landward, the shining white victim wriggling vainly in the clutch of the
talons. I took it for granted that they retired with their quarry to
some secluded spot on the peninsula, till one day I happened to be
standing upon a sand-hill as one passed overhead. Then I perceived that
he kept on straight across the peninsula and the river. More than once,
however, I saw one of them in no haste to go inland. On my second visit,
a hawk came circling about my head, carrying a fish. I was surprised at
the action, but gave it no second thought, nor once imagined that he was
making me his protector, till suddenly a large bird dropped rather
awkwardly upon the sand, not far before me. He stood for an instant on
his long, ungainly legs, and then, showing a white head and a white
tail, rose with a fish in his talons, and swept away landward out of
sight. Here was the osprey's parasite, the bald eagle, for which I had
been on the watch. Meantime, the hawk too had disappeared. Whether it
was his fish which the eagle had picked up (having missed it in the air)
I cannot say. I did not see it fall, and knew nothing of the eagle's
presence until he fluttered to the beach.

Some days later, I saw the big thief--emblem of American liberty--play
his sharp game to the finish. I was crossing the bridge, and by accident
turned and looked upward. (By accident, I say, but I was always doing
it.) High in the air were two birds, one chasing the other,--a fish-hawk
and a young eagle with dark head and tail. The hawk meant to save his
dinner if he could. Round and round he went, ascending at every turn,
his pursuer after him hotly. For aught I could see, he stood a good
chance of escape, till all at once another pair of wings swept into the
field of my glass.

    "A third is in the race! Who is the third,
    Speeding away swift as the eagle bird?"

It _was_ an eagle, an adult, with head and tail white. Only once more
the osprey circled. The odds were against him, and he let go the fish.
As it fell, the old eagle swooped after it, missed it, swooped again,
and this time, long before it could reach the water, had it fast in his
claws. Then off he went, the younger one in pursuit. They passed out of
sight behind the trees of an island, one close upon the other, and I do
not know how the controversy ended; but I would have wagered a trifle on
the old white-head, the bird of Washington.

The scene reminded me of one I had witnessed in Georgia a fortnight
before, on my way south. The train stopped at a backwoods station; some
of the passengers gathered upon the steps of the car, and the usual bevy
of young negroes came alongside. "Stand on my head for a nickel?" said
one. A passenger put his hand into his pocket; the boy did as he had
promised,--in no very professional style, be it said,--and with a grin
stretched out his hand. The nickel glistened in the sun, and on the
instant a second boy sprang forward, snatched it out of the sand, and
made off in triumph amid the hilarious applause of his fellows. The
acrobat's countenance indicated a sense of injustice, and I had no doubt
that my younger eagle was similarly affected. "Where is our boasted
honor among thieves?" I imagined him asking. The bird of freedom is a
great bird, and the land of the free is a great country. Here, let us
hope, the parallel ends. Whether on the banks of Newfoundland or
elsewhere, it cannot be that the great republic would ever snatch a fish
that did not belong to it.

I admired the address of the fish-hawks until I saw the gannets. Then I
perceived that the hawks, with all their practice, were no better than
landlubbers. The gannets kept farther out at sea. Sometimes a scattered
flock remained in sight for the greater part of a forenoon. With their
long, sharp wings and their outstretched necks,--like loons, but with a
different flight,--they were rakish-looking customers. Sometimes from a
great height, sometimes from a lower, sometimes at an incline, and
sometimes vertically, they plunged into the water, and after an absence
of some seconds, as it seemed, came up and rested upon the surface. They
were too far away to be closely observed, and for a time I did not feel
certain what they were. The larger number were in dark plumage, and it
was not till a white one appeared that I said with assurance, "Gannets!"
With the bright sun on him, he was indeed a splendid bird, snowy white,
with the tips of his wings jet black. If he would have come inshore like
the ospreys, I think I should never have tired of his evolutions.

The gannets showed themselves only now and then, but the brown pelicans
were an every-day sight. I had found them first on the beach at St.
Augustine. Here at Daytona they never alighted on the sand, and seldom
in the water. They were always flying up or down the beach, and, unless
turned from their course by the presence of some suspicious object, they
kept straight on just above the breakers, rising and falling with the
waves; now appearing above them, and now out of sight in the trough of
the sea. Sometimes a single bird passed, but commonly they were in small
flocks. Once I saw seventeen together,--a pretty long procession; for,
whatever their number, they went always in Indian file. Evidently some
dreadful thing would happen if two pelicans should ever travel abreast.
It was partly this unusual order of march, I suspect, which gave such an
air of preternatural gravity to their movements. It was impossible to
see even two of them go by without feeling almost as if I were in
church. First, both birds flew a rod or two with slow and stately
flappings; then, as if at some preconcerted signal, both set their wings
and scaled for about the same distance; then they resumed their wing
strokes; and so on, till they passed out of sight. I never heard them
utter a sound, or saw them make a movement of any sort (I speak of what
I saw at Daytona) except to fly straight on, one behind another. If
church ceremonials are still open to amendment, I would suggest, in no
spirit of irreverence, that a study of pelican processionals would be
certain to yield edifying results. Nothing done in any cathedral could
be more solemn. Indeed, their solemnity was so great that I came at last
to find it almost ridiculous; but that, of course, was only from a want
of faith on the part of the beholder. The birds, as I say, were _brown_
pelicans. Had they been of the other species, in churchly white and
black, the ecclesiastical effect would perhaps have been heightened,
though such a thing is hardly conceivable.

Some beautiful little gulls, peculiarly dainty in their appearance
("Bonaparte's gulls," they are called in books, but "surf gulls" would
be a prettier and apter name), were also given to flying along the
breakers, but in a manner very different from the pelicans'; as
different, I may say, as the birds themselves. They, too, moved steadily
onward, north or south as the case might be, but fed as they went,
dropping into the shallow water between the incoming waves, and rising
again to escape the next breaker. The action was characteristic and
graceful, though often somewhat nervous and hurried. I noticed that the
birds commonly went by twos, but that may have been nothing more than a
coincidence. Beside these small surf gulls, never at all numerous, I
usually saw a few terns, and now and then one or two rather large gulls,
which, as well as I could make out, must have been the ring-billed. It
was a strange beach, I thought, where fish-hawks invariably outnumbered
both gulls and terns.

Of beach birds, properly so called, I saw none but sanderlings. They
were no novelty, but I always stopped to look at them; busy as ants,
running in a body down the beach after a receding wave, and the next
moment scampering back again with all speed before an incoming one. They
tolerated no near approach, but were at once on the wing for a long
flight up or down the coast, looking like a flock of snow-white birds as
they turned their under parts to the sun in rising above the breakers.
Their manner of feeding, with the head pitched forward, and a quick,
eager movement, as if they had eaten nothing for days, and were fearful
that their present bit of good fortune would not last, is strongly
characteristic, so that they can be recognized a long way off. As I have
said, they were the only true beach birds; but I rarely failed to see
one or two great blue herons playing that rôle. The first one filled me
with surprise. I had never thought of finding him in such a place; but
there he stood, and before I was done with Florida beaches I had come to
look upon him as one of their most constant _habitués_. In truth, this
largest of the herons is well-nigh omnipresent in Florida. Wherever
there is water, fresh or salt, he is certain to be met with sooner or
later; and even in the driest place, if you stay there long enough, you
will be likely to see him passing overhead, on his way to the water,
which is nowhere far off. On the beach, as everywhere else, he is a
model of patience. To the best of my recollection, I never saw him catch
a fish there; and I really came to think it pathetic, the persistency
with which he would stand, with the water half way to his knees, leaning
forward expectantly toward the breakers, as if he felt that this great
and generous ocean, which had so many fish to spare, could not fail to
send him, at last, the morsel for which he was waiting.

But indeed I was not long in perceiving that the Southern climate made
patience a comparatively easy virtue, and fishing, by a natural
consequence, a favorite avocation. Day after day, as I crossed the
bridges on my way to and from the beach, the same men stood against the
rail, holding their poles over the river. They had an air of having been
there all winter. I came to recognize them, though I knew none of their
names. One was peculiarly happy looking, almost radiant, with an
educated face, and only one hand. His disability hindered him, no doubt.
I never saw so much as a sheep-head or a drum lying at his feet. But
inwardly, I felt sure, his luck was good. Another was older, fifty at
least, sleek and well dressed. He spoke pleasantly enough, if I
addressed him; otherwise he attended strictly to business. Every day he
was there, morning and afternoon. He, I think, had better fortune than
any of the others. Once I saw him land a large and handsome "speckled
trout," to the unmistakable envy of his brother anglers. Still a third
was a younger man, with a broad-brimmed straw hat and a taciturn habit;
no less persevering than Number Two, perhaps, but far less successful. I
marveled a little at their enthusiasm (there were many beside these),
and they, in their turn, did not altogether conceal their amusement at
the foibles of a man, still out of Bedlam, who walked and walked and
walked, always with a field-glass protruding from his side pocket, which
now and then he pulled out suddenly and leveled at nothing. It is one of
the merciful ameliorations of this present evil world that men are thus
mutually entertaining.

These anglers were to be congratulated. Ordered South by their
physicians,--as most of them undoubtedly were,--compelled to spend the
winter away from friends and business, amid all the discomforts of
Southern hotels, they were happy in having at least one thing which they
loved to do. Blessed is the invalid who has an outdoor hobby. One man,
whom I met more than once in my beach rambles, seemed to devote himself
to bathing, running, and walking. He looked like an athlete; I heard him
tell how far he could run without getting "winded;" and as he sprinted
up and down the sand in his scanty bathing costume, I always found him a
pleasing spectacle. Another runner there gave me a half-hour of
amusement that turned at the last to a feeling of almost painful
sympathy. He was not in bathing costume, nor did he look particularly
athletic. He was teaching his young lady to ride a bicycle, and his
pupil was at that most interesting stage of a learner's career when the
machine is beginning to steady itself. With a very little assistance she
went bravely, while at the same time the young man felt it necessary not
to let go his hold upon her for more than a few moments at once. At all
events, he must be with her at the turn. She plied the pedals with
vigor, and he ran alongside or behind, as best he could; she excited,
and he out of breath. Back and forth they went, and it was a relief to
me when finally he took off his coat. I left him still panting in his
fair one's wake, and hoped it would not turn out a case of "love's
labor's lost." Let us hope, too, that he was not an invalid.

While speaking of these my companions in idleness, I may as well mention
an older man,--a rural philosopher, he seemed,--whom I met again and
again, always in search of shells. He was from Indiana, he told me with
agreeable garrulity. His grandchildren would like the shells. He had
perhaps made a mistake in coming so far south. It was pretty warm, he
thought, and he feared the change would be too great when he went home
again. If a man's lungs were bad, he ought to go to a warm place, of
course. _He_ came for his stomach, which was now pretty well,--a capital
proof of the superior value of fresh air over "proper" food in dyspeptic
troubles; for if there is anywhere in the world a place in which a
delicate stomach would fare worse than in a Southern hotel,--of the
second or third class,--may none but my enemies ever find it. Seashell
collecting is not a panacea. For a disease like old age, for instance,
it might prove to be an alleviation rather than a cure; but taken long
enough, and with a sufficient mixture of enthusiasm,--a true _sine qua
non_,--it will be found efficacious, I believe, in all ordinary cases of

My Indiana man was far from being alone in his cheerful pursuit. If
strangers, men or women, met me on the beach and wished to say something
more than good-morning, they were sure to ask, "Have you found any
pretty shells?" One woman was a collector of a more businesslike turn.
She had brought a camp-stool, and when I first saw her in the distance
was removing her shoes, and putting on rubber boots. Then she moved her
stool into the surf, sat upon it with a tin pail beside her, and,
leaning forward over the water, fell to doing something,--I could not
tell what. She was so industrious that I did not venture to disturb her,
as I passed; but an hour or two afterward I overtook her going homeward
across the peninsula with her invalid husband, and she showed me her
pail full of the tiny coquina clams, which she said were very nice for
soup, as indeed I knew. Some days later, I found a man collecting them
for the market, with the help of a horse and a cylindrical wire roller.
With his trousers rolled to his knees, he waded in the surf, and
shoveled the incoming water and sand into the wire roller through an
aperture left for that purpose. Then he closed the aperture, and drove
the horse back and forth through the breakers till the clams were washed
clear of the sand, after which he poured them out into a shallow tray
like a long bread-pan, and transferred them from that to a big bag. I
came up just in time to see them in the tray, bright with all the colors
of the rainbow. "Will you hold the bag open?" he said. I was glad to
help (it was perhaps the only useful ten minutes that I passed in
Florida); and so, counting quart by quart, he dished them into it. There
were thirty odd quarts, but he wanted a bushel and a quarter, and again
took up the shovel. The clams themselves were not, canned and shipped,
he said, but only the "juice."

Many rudely built cottages stood on the sand-hills just behind the
beach, especially at the points, a mile or so apart, where the two
Daytona bridge roads come out of the scrub; and one day, while walking
up the beach to Ormond, I saw before me a much more elaborate Queen Anne
house. Fancifully but rather neatly painted, and with a stable to match,
it looked like an exotic. As I drew near, its venerable owner was at
work in front of it, shoveling a path through the sand,--just as, at
that moment (February 24), thousands of Yankee householders were
shoveling paths through the snow, which then was reported by the
newspapers to be seventeen inches deep in the streets of Boston. His
reverend air and his long black coat proclaimed him a clergyman past all
possibility of doubt. He seemed to have got to heaven before death, the
place was so attractive; but being still in a body terrestrial, he may
have found the meat market rather distant, and mosquitoes and sand-flies
sometimes a plague. As I walked up the beach, he drove by me in an open
wagon with a hired man. They kept on till they came to a log which had
been cast up by the sea, and evidently had been sighted from the house.
The hired man lifted it into the wagon, and they drove back,--quite a
stirring adventure, I imagined; an event to date from, at the very

The smaller cottages were nearly all empty at that season. At different
times I made use of many of them, when the sun was hot, or I had been
long afoot. Once I was resting thus on a flight of front steps, when a
three-seated carriage came down the beach and pulled up opposite. The
driver wished to ask me a question, I thought; no doubt I looked very
much at home. From the day I had entered Florida, every one I met had
seemed to know me intuitively for a New Englander, and most of them--I
could not imagine how--had divined that I came from Boston. It gratified
me to believe that I was losing a little of my provincial manner, under
the influence of more extended travel. But my pride had a sudden fall.
The carriage stopped, as I said; but instead of inquiring the way, the
driver alighted, and all the occupants of the carriage proceeded to do
the same,--eight women, with baskets and sundries. It was time for me to
be starting. I descended the steps, and pulled off my hat to the first
comer, who turned out to be the proprietor of the establishment. With a
gracious smile, she hoped they were "not frightening me away." She and
her friends had come for a day's picnic at the cottage. Things being as
they were (eight women), she could hardly invite me to share the
festivities, and, with my best apology for the intrusion, I withdrew.

Of one building on the sand-hills I have peculiarly pleasant
recollections. It was not a cottage, but had evidently been put up as a
public resort; especially, as I inferred, for Sunday-school or parish
picnics. It was furnished with a platform for speech-making (is there
any foolishness that men will not commit on sea beaches and mountain
tops?), and, what was more to my purpose, was open on three sides. I
passed a good deal of time there, first and last, and once it sheltered
me from a drenching shower of an hour or two. The lightning was vivid,
and the rain fell in sheets. In the midst of the blackness and
commotion, a single tern, ghostly white, flew past, and toward the close
a bunch of sanderlings came down the edge of the breakers, still looking
for something to eat. The only other living things in sight were two
young fellows, who had improved the opportunity to try a dip in the
surf. Their color indicated that they were not yet hardened to open-air
bathing, and from their actions it was evident that they found the ocean
cool. They were wet enough before they were done, but it was mostly with
fresh water. Probably they took no harm; but I am moved to remark, in
passing, that I sometimes wondered how generally physicians who order
patients to Florida for the winter caution them against imprudent
exposure. To me, who am no doctor, it seemed none too safe for young
women with consumptive tendencies to be out sailing in open boats on
winter evenings, no matter how warm the afternoon had been, while I saw
one case where a surf bath taken by such an invalid was followed by a
day of prostration and fever. "We who live here," said a resident,
"don't think the water is warm enough yet; but for these Northern folks
it is a great thing to go into the surf in February, and you can't keep
them out."

The rows of cottages of which I have spoken were in one sense a
detriment to the beach; but on the whole, and in their present deserted
condition, I found them an advantage. It was easy enough to walk away
from them, if a man wanted the feeling of utter solitude (the beach
extends from Matanzas Inlet to Mosquito Inlet, thirty-five miles, more
or less); while at other times they not only furnished shadow and a
seat, but, with the paths and little clearings behind them, were an
attraction to many birds. Here I found my first Florida jays. They sat
on the chimney-tops and ridgepoles, and I was rejoiced to discover that
these unique and interesting creatures, one of the special objects of my
journey South, were not only common, but to an extraordinary degree
approachable. Their extreme confidence in man is one of their oddest
characteristics. I heard from more than one person how easily and "in
almost no time" they could be tamed, if indeed they needed taming. A
resident of Hawks Park told me that they used to come into his house and
stand upon the corners of the dinner table waiting for their share of
the meal. When he was hoeing in the garden, they would perch on his hat,
and stay there by the hour, unless he drove them off. He never did
anything to tame them except to treat them kindly. When a brood was old
enough to leave the nest, the parents brought the youngsters up to the
doorstep as a matter of course.

The Florida jay, a bird of the scrub, is not to be confounded with the
Florida _blue_ jay (a smaller and less conspicuously crested duplicate
of our common Northern bird), to which it bears little resemblance
either in personal appearance or in voice. Seen from behind, its aspect
is peculiarly striking; the head, wings, rump, and tail being dark blue,
with an almost rectangular patch of gray set in the midst. Its beak is
very stout, and its tail very long; and though it would attract
attention anywhere, it is hardly to be called handsome or graceful. Its
notes--such of them as I heard, that is--are mostly guttural, with
little or nothing of the screaming quality which distinguishes the blue
jay's voice. To my ear they were often suggestive of the Northern

On the 23d of February I was standing on the rear piazza of one of the
cottages, when a jay flew into the oak and palmetto scrub close by. A
second glance, and I saw that she was busy upon a nest. When she had
gone, I moved nearer, and waited. She did not return, and I descended
the steps and went to the edge of the thicket to inspect her work: a
bulky affair,--nearly done, I thought,--loosely constructed of pretty
large twigs. I had barely returned to the veranda before the bird
appeared again. This time I was in a position to look squarely in upon
her. She had some difficulty in edging her way through the dense bushes
with a long, branching stick in her bill; but she accomplished the feat,
fitted the new material into its place, readjusted the other twigs a bit
here and there, and then, as she rose to depart, she looked me suddenly
in the face and stopped, as much as to say, "Well, well! here's a pretty
go! A man spying upon me!" I wondered whether she would throw up the
work, but in another minute she was back again with another twig. The
nest, I should have said, was about four feet from the ground, and
perhaps twenty feet from the cottage. Four days later, I found her
sitting upon it. She flew off as I came up, and I pushed into the scrub
far enough to thrust my hand into the nest, which, to my disappointment,
was empty. In fact, it was still far from completed; for on the 3d of
March, when I paid it a farewell visit, its owner was still at work
lining it with fine grass. At that time it was a comfortable-looking and
really elaborate structure. Both the birds came to look at me as I stood
on the piazza. They perched together on the top of a stake so narrow
that there was scarcely room for their feet; and as they stood thus,
side by side, one of them struck its beak several times against the beak
of the other, as if in play. I wished them joy of their expected
progeny, and was the more ready to believe they would have it for this
little display of sportive sentimentality.

It was a distinguished company that frequented that row of narrow back
yards on the edge of the sand-hills. As a new-comer, I found the jays
(sometimes there were ten under my eye at once) the most entertaining
members of it, but if I had been a dweller there for the summer, I
should perhaps have altered my opinion; for the group contained four of
the finest of Floridian songsters,--the mocking-bird, the brown
thrasher, the cardinal grosbeak, and the Carolina wren. Rare morning and
evening concerts those cottagers must have. And besides these there were
catbirds, ground doves, red-eyed chewinks, white-eyed chewinks, a song
sparrow (one of the few that I saw in Florida), savanna sparrows, myrtle
birds, redpoll warblers, a phoebe, and two flickers. The last-named
birds, by the way, are never backward about displaying their tender
feelings. A treetop flirtation is their special delight (I hope my
readers have all seen one; few things of the sort are better worth
looking at), and here, in the absence of trees, they had taken to the
ridgepole of a house.

More than once I remarked white-breasted swallows straggling northward
along the line of sand-hills. They were in loose order, but the movement
was plainly concerted, with all the look of a vernal migration. This
swallow, the first of its family to arrive in New England, remains in
Florida throughout the winter, but is known also to go as far south as
Central America. The purple martins--which, so far as I am aware, do not
winter in Florida--had already begun to make their appearance. While
crossing the bridge, February 22, I was surprised to notice two of them
sitting upon a bird-box over the draw, which just then stood open for
the passage of a tug-boat. The toll-gatherer told me they had come "from
some place" eight or ten days before. His attention had been called to
them by his cat, who was trying to get up to the box to bid them
welcome. He believed that she discovered them within three minutes of
their arrival. It seemed not unlikely. In its own way a cat is a pretty
sharp ornithologist.

One or two cormorants were almost always about the river. Sometimes they
sat upon stakes in a patriotic, spread-eagle (American eagle) attitude,
as if drying their wings,--a curious sight till one became accustomed to
it. Snakebirds and buzzards resort to the same device, but I cannot
recall ever seeing any Northern bird thus engaged. From the south bridge
I one morning saw, to my great satisfaction, a couple of white pelicans,
the only ones that I found in Florida, though I was assured that within
twenty years they had been common along the Halifax and Hillsborough
rivers. My birds were flying up the river at a good height. The brown
pelicans, on the other hand, made their daily pilgrimages just above the
level of the water, as has been already described, and were never over
the river, but off the beach.

All in all, there are few pleasanter walks in Florida, I believe, than
the beach-round at Daytona, out by one bridge and back by the other. An
old hotel-keeper--a rural Yankee, if one could tell anything by his look
and speech--said to me in a burst of confidence, "Yes, we've got a
climate, and that's about all we have got,--climate and sand." I could
not entirely agree with him. For myself, I found not only fine days, but
fine prospects. But there was no denying the sand.


Wherever a walker lives, he finds sooner or later one favorite road. So
it was with me at New Smyrna, where I lived for three weeks. I had gone
there for the sake of the river, and my first impulse was to take the
road that runs southerly along its bank. At the time I thought it the
most beautiful road I had found in Florida, nor have I seen any great
cause since to alter that opinion. With many pleasant windings
(beautiful roads are never straight, nor unnecessarily wide, which is
perhaps the reason why our rural authorities devote themselves so madly
to the work of straightening and widening),--with many pleasant
windings, I say,

    "The grace of God made manifest in curves,"

it follows the edge of the hammock, having the river on one side, and
the forest on the other. It was afternoon when I first saw it. Then it
is shaded from the sun, while the river and its opposite bank have on
them a light more beautiful than can be described or imagined; a
light--with reverence for the poet of nature be it spoken--a light that
never was _except_ on sea or land. The poet's dream was never equal to

In a flat country stretches of water are doubly welcome. They take the
place of hills, and give the eye what it craves,--distance; which
softens angles, conceals details, and heightens colors,--in short,
transfigures the world with its romancer's touch, and blesses us with
illusion. So, as I loitered along the south road, I never tired of
looking across the river to the long, wooded island, and over that to
the line of sand-hills that marked the eastern rim of the East
Peninsula, beyond which was the Atlantic. The white crests of the hills
made the sharper points of the horizon line. Elsewhere clumps of nearer
pine-trees intervened, while here and there a tall palmetto stood, or
seemed to stand, on the highest and farthest ridge looking seaward. But
particulars mattered little. The blue water, the pale, changeable
grayish-green of the low island woods, the deeper green of the pines,
the unnamable hues of the sky, the sunshine that flooded it all, these
were beauty enough;--beauty all the more keenly enjoyed because for much
of the way it was seen only by glimpses, through vistas of palmetto and
live-oak. Sometimes the road came quite out of the woods, as it rounded
a turn of the hammock. Then I stopped to gaze long at the scene.
Elsewhere I pushed through the hedge at favorable points, and sat, or
stood, looking up and down the river. A favorite seat was the prow of an
old row-boat, which lay, falling to pieces, high and dry upon the sand.
It had made its last cruise, but I found it still useful.

The river is shallow. At low tide sandbars and oyster-beds occupy much
of its breadth; and even when it looked full, a great blue heron would
very likely be wading in the middle of it. That was a sight to which I
had grown accustomed in Florida, where this bird, familiarly known as
"the major," is apparently ubiquitous. Too big to be easily hidden, it
is also, as a general thing, too wary to be approached within gunshot. I
am not sure that I ever came within sight of one, no matter how suddenly
or how far away, that it did not give evidence of having seen me first.
Long legs, long wings, a long bill--and long sight and long patience:
such is the tall bird's dowry. Good and useful qualities, all of them.
Long may they avail to put off the day of their owner's extermination.

The major is scarcely a bird of which you can make a pet in your mind,
as you may of the chickadee, for instance, or the bluebird, or the
hermit thrush. He does not lend himself naturally to such imaginary
endearments. But it is pleasant to have him on one's daily beat. I
should count it one compensation for having to live in Florida instead
of in Massachusetts (but I might require a good many others) that I
should see him a hundred times as often. In walking down the river road
I seldom saw less than half a dozen; not together (the major, like
fishermen in general, is of an unsocial turn), but here one and there
one,--on a sand-bar far out in the river, or in some shallow bay, or on
the submerged edge of an oyster-flat. Wherever he was, he always looked
as if he might be going to do something presently; even now, perhaps,
the matter was on his mind; but at this moment--well, there are times
when a heron's strength is to stand still. Certainly he seemed in no
danger of overeating. A cracker told me that the major made an excellent
dish if killed on the full of the moon. I wondered at that
qualification, but my informant explained himself. The bird, he said,
feeds mostly at night, and fares best with the moon to help him. If the
reader would dine off roast blue heron, therefore, as I hope I never
shall, let him mind the lunar phases. But think of the gastronomic ups
and downs of a bird that is fat and lean by turns twelve times a year!
Possibly my informant overstated the case; but in any event I would
trust the major to bear himself like a philosopher. If there is any one
of God's creatures that can wait for what he wants, it must be the great
blue heron.

I have spoken of his caution. If he was patrolling a shallow on one side
of an oyster-bar,--at the rate, let us say, of two steps a minute,--and
took it into his head (an inappropriate phrase, as conveying an idea of
something like suddenness) to try the water on the other side, he did
not spread his wings, as a matter of course, and fly over. First he put
up his head--an operation that makes another bird of him--and looked in
all directions. How could he tell what enemy might be lying in wait? And
having alighted on the other side (his manner of alighting is one of his
prettiest characteristics), he did not at once draw in his neck till his
bill protruded on a level with his body, and resume his labors, but
first he looked once more all about him. It was a good _habit_ to do
that, anyhow, and he meant to run no risks. If "the race of birds was
created out of innocent, light-minded men, whose thoughts were directed
toward heaven," according to the word of Plato, then _Ardea herodias_
must long ago have fallen from grace. I imagine his state of mind to be
always like that of our pilgrim fathers in times of Indian massacres.
When they went after the cows or to hoe the corn, they took their guns
with them, and turned no corner without a sharp lookout against ambush.
No doubt such a condition of affairs has this advantage, that it makes
ennui impossible. There is always something to live for, if it be only
to avoid getting killed.

After this manner did the Hillsborough River majors all behave
themselves until my very last walk beside it. Then I found the
exception,--the exception that is as good as inevitable in the case of
any bird, if the observation be carried far enough. He (or she; there
was no telling which it was) stood on the sandy beach, a splendid
creature in full nuptial garb, two black plumes nodding jauntily from
its crown, and masses of soft elongated feathers draping its back and
lower neck. Nearer and nearer I approached, till I must have been within
a hundred feet; but it stood as if on dress parade, exulting to be
looked at. Let us hope it never carried itself thus gayly when the wrong
man came along.

Near the major--not keeping him company, but feeding in the same
shallows and along the same oyster-bars--were constantly to be seen two
smaller relatives of his, the little blue heron and the Louisiana. The
former is what is called a dichromatic species; some of the birds are
blue, and others white. On the Hillsborough, it seemed to me that white
specimens predominated; but possibly that was because they were so much
more conspicuous. Sunlight favors the white feather; no other color
shows so quickly or so far. If you are on the beach and catch sight of a
bird far out at sea,--a gull or a tern, a gannet or a loon,--it is
invariably the white parts that are seen first. And so the little white
heron might stand never so closely against the grass or the bushes on
the further shore of the river, and the eye could not miss him. If he
had been a blue one, at that distance, ten to one he would have escaped
me. Besides, I was more on the alert for white ones, because I was
always hoping to find one of them with black legs. In other words, I was
looking for the little white egret, a bird concerning which, thanks to
the murderous work of plume-hunters,--thanks, also, to those good women
who pay for having the work done,--I must confess that I went to Florida
and came home again without certainly seeing it.

The heron with which I found myself especially taken was the Louisiana;
a bird of about the same size as the little blue, but with an air of
daintiness and lightness that is quite its own, and quite indescribable.
When it rose upon the wing, indeed, it seemed almost _too_ light, almost
unsteady, as if it lacked ballast, like a butterfly. It was the most
numerous bird of its tribe along the river, I think, and, with one
exception, the most approachable. That exception was the green heron,
which frequented the flats along the village front, and might well have
been mistaken for a domesticated bird; letting you walk across a plank
directly over its head while it squatted upon the mud, and when
disturbed flying into a fig-tree before the hotel piazza, just as the
dear little ground doves were in the habit of doing. To me, who had
hitherto seen the green heron in the wildest of places, this tameness
was an astonishing sight. It would be hard to say which surprised me
more, the New Smyrna green herons or the St. Augustine sparrow-hawks,
--which latter treated me very much as I am accustomed to being treated
by village-bred robins in Massachusetts.

The Louisiana heron was my favorite, as I say, but incomparably the
handsomest member of the family (I speak of such as I saw) was the great
white egret. In truth, the epithet "handsome" seems almost a vulgarism
as applied to a creature so superb, so utterly and transcendently
splendid. I saw it--in a way to be sure of it--only once. Then, on an
island in the Hillsborough, two birds stood in the dead tops of low
shrubby trees, fully exposed in the most favorable of lights, their long
dorsal trains drooping behind them and swaying gently in the wind. I had
never seen anything so magnificent. And when I returned, two or three
hours afterward, from a jaunt up the beach to Mosquito Inlet, there they
still were, as if they had not stirred in all that time. The reader
should understand that this egret is between four and five feet in
length, and measures nearly five feet from wing tip to wing tip, and
that its plumage throughout is of spotless white. It is pitiful to think
how constantly a bird of that size and color must be in danger of its

Happily, the lawmakers of the State have done something of recent years
for the protection of such defenseless beauties. Happily, too, shooting
from the river boats is no longer permitted,--on the regular lines, that
is. I myself saw a young gentleman stand on the deck of an excursion
steamer, with a rifle, and do his worst to kill or maim every living
thing that came in sight, from a spotted sandpiper to a turkey buzzard!
I call him a "gentleman;" he was in gentle company, and the fact that he
chewed gum industriously would, I fear, hardly invalidate his claim to
that title. The narrow river wound in and out between low, densely
wooded banks, and the beauty of the shifting scene was enough almost to
take one's breath away; but the crack of the rifle was not the less
frequent on that account. Perhaps the sportsman was a Southerner, to
whom river scenery of that enchanting kind was an old story. More likely
he was a Northerner, one of the men who thank Heaven they are "not

In my rambles up and down the river road I saw few water birds beside
the herons. Two or three solitary cormorants would be shooting back and
forth at a furious rate, or swimming in midstream; and sometimes a few
spotted sandpipers and killdeer plovers were feeding along the shore.
Once in a great while a single gull or tern made its appearance,--just
often enough to keep me wondering why they were not there oftener,--and
one day a water turkey went suddenly over my head and dropped into the
river on the farther side of the island. I was glad to see this
interesting creature for once in salt water; for the Hillsborough, like
the Halifax and the Indian rivers, is a river in name only,--a river by
brevet,--being, in fact, a salt-water lagoon or sound between the
mainland and the eastern peninsula.

Fish-hawks were always in sight, and bald eagles were seldom absent
altogether. Sometimes an eagle stood perched on a dead tree on an
island. Oftener I heard a scream, and looked up to see one sailing far
overhead, or chasing an osprey. On one such occasion, when the hawk
seemed to be making a losing fight, a third bird suddenly intervened,
and the eagle, as I thought, was driven away. "Good for the brotherhood
of fish-hawks!" I exclaimed. But at that moment I put my glass on the
new-comer; and behold, he was not a hawk, but another eagle. Meanwhile
the hawk had disappeared with his fish, and I was left to ponder the

As for the wood, the edge of the hammock, through which the road passes,
there were no birds in it. It was one of those places (I fancy every
bird-gazer must have had experience of such) where it is a waste of time
to seek them. I could walk down the road for two miles and back again,
and then sit in my room at the hotel for fifteen minutes, and see more
wood birds, and more kinds of them, in one small live-oak before the
window than I had seen in the whole four miles; and that not once and by
accident, but again and again. In affairs of this kind it is useless to
contend. The spot looks favorable, you say, and nobody can deny it;
there must be birds there, plenty of them; your missing them to-day was
a matter of chance; you will try again. And you try again--and
again--and yet again. But in the end you have to acknowledge that, for
some reason unknown to you, the birds have agreed to give that place the

One bird, it is true, I found in this hammock, and not elsewhere: a
single oven-bird, which, with one Northern water thrush and one
Louisiana water thrush, completed my set of Florida _Seiuri_. Besides
him I recall one hermit thrush, a few cedar-birds, a house wren,
chattering at a great rate among the "bootjacks" (leaf-stalks) of an
overturned palmetto-tree, with an occasional mocking-bird, cardinal
grosbeak, prairie warbler, yellow redpoll, myrtle bird, ruby-crowned
kinglet, phoebe, and flicker. In short, there were no birds at all,
except now and then an accidental straggler of a kind that could be
found almost anywhere else in indefinite numbers.

And as it was not the presence of birds that made the river road
attractive, so neither was it any unwonted display of blossoms. Beside a
similar road along the bank of the Halifax, in Daytona, grew multitudes
of violets, and goodly patches of purple verbena (garden plants gone
wild, perhaps), and a fine profusion of spiderwort,--a pretty flower,
the bluest of the blue, thrice welcome to me as having been one of the
treasures of the very first garden of which I have any remembrance.
"Indigo plant," we called it then. Here, however, on the way from New
Smyrna to Hawks Park, I recall no violets, nor any verbena or
spiderwort. Yellow wood-sorrel (oxalis) was here, of course, as it was
everywhere. It dotted the grass in Florida very much as five-fingers do
in Massachusetts, I sometimes thought. And the creeping, round-leaved
houstonia was here, with a superfluity of a weedy blue sage (_Salvia
lyrata_). Here, also, as in Daytona, I found a strikingly handsome
tufted plant, a highly varnished evergreen, which I persisted in taking
for a fern--the sterile fronds--in spite of repeated failures to find it
described by Dr. Chapman under that head, until at last an excellent
woman came to my help with the information that it was "coontie" (_Zamia
integrifolia_), famous as a plant out of which the Southern people made
bread in war time. This confession of botanical amateurishness and
incompetency will be taken, I hope, as rather to my credit than
otherwise; but it would be morally worthless if I did not add the story
of another plant, which, in this same New Smyrna hammock, I frequently
noticed hanging in loose bunches, like blades of flaccid deep green
grass, from the trunks of cabbage palmettos. The tufts were always out
of reach, and I gave them no particular thought; and it was not until I
got home to Massachusetts, and then almost by accident, that I learned
what they were. They, it turned out, _were_ ferns (_Vittaria
lineata_--grass fern), and my discomfiture was complete.

This comparative dearth of birds and flowers was not in all respects a
disadvantage. On the contrary, to a naturalist blessed now and then with
a supernaturalistic mood, it made the place, on occasion, a welcome
retreat. Thus, one afternoon, as I remember, I had been reading Keats,
the only book I had brought with me,--not counting manuals, of course,
which come under another head,--and by and by started once more for the
pine lands by the way of the cotton-shed hammock, "to see what I could
see." But poetry had spoiled me just then for anything like scientific
research, and as I waded through the ankle-deep sand I said to myself
all at once, "No, no! What do I care for another new bird? I want to see
the beauty of the world." With that I faced about, and, taking a side
track, made as directly as possible for the river road. There I should
have a mind at ease, with no unfamiliar, tantalizing bird note to set my
curiosity on edge, nor any sand through which to be picking my steps.

The river road is paved with oyster-shells. If any reader thinks that
statement prosaic or unimportant, then he has never lived in southern
Florida. In that part of the world all new-comers have to take
walking-lessons; unless, indeed, they have already served an
apprenticeship on Cape Cod, or in some other place equally arenarious.
My own lesson I got at second hand, and on a Sunday. It was at New
Smyrna, in the village. Two women were behind me, on their way home from
church, and one of them was complaining of the sand, to which she was
not yet used. "Yes," said the other, "I found it pretty hard walking at
first, but I learned after a while that the best way is to set the heel
down hard, as hard as you can; then the sand doesn't give under you so
much, and you get along more comfortably." I wonder whether she noticed,
just in front of her, a man who began forthwith to bury his boot heel at
every step?

In such a country (the soil is said to be good for orange-trees, but
they do not have to walk) roads of powdered shell are veritable
luxuries, and land agents are quite right in laying all stress upon them
as inducements to possible settlers. If the author of the Apocalypse had
been raised in Florida, we should never have had the streets of the New
Jerusalem paved with gold. His idea of heaven, would have been different
from that; more personal and home-felt, we may be certain.

The river road, then, as I have said, and am glad to say again, was
shell-paved. And well it might be; for the hammock, along the edge of
which it meandered, seemed, in some places at least, to be little more
than a pile of oyster-shells, on which soil had somehow been deposited,
and over which a forest was growing. Florida Indians have left an evil
memory. I heard a philanthropic visitor lamenting that she had talked
with many of the people about them, and had yet to hear a single word
said in their favor. Somebody might have been good enough to say that,
with all their faults, they had given to eastern Florida a few hills,
such as they are, and at present are supplying it, indirectly, with
comfortable highways. How they must have feasted, to leave such heaps of
shells behind them! They came to the coast on purpose, we may suppose.
Well, the red-men are gone, but the oyster-beds remain; and if winter
refugees continue to pour in this direction, as doubtless they will,
they too will eat a "heap" of oysters (it is easy to see how the vulgar
Southern use of that word may have originated), and in the course of
time, probably, the shores of the Halifax and the Hillsborough will be a
fine mountainous country! And then, if this ancient, nineteenth-century
prediction is remembered, the highest peak of the range will perhaps be
named in a way which the innate modesty of the prophet restrains him
from specifying with greater particularity.

Meanwhile it is long to wait, and tourists and residents alike must find
what comfort they can in the lesser hills which, thanks to the good
appetite of their predecessors, are already theirs. For my own part,
there is one such eminence of which I cherish the most grateful
recollections. It stands (or stood; the road-makers had begun carting it
away) at a bend in the road just south of one of the Turnbull canals. I
climbed it often (it can hardly be less than fifteen or twenty feet
above the level of the sea), and spent more than one pleasant hour upon
its grassy summit. Northward was New Smyrna, a village in the woods, and
farther away towered the lighthouse of Mosquito Inlet. Along the eastern
sky stretched the long line of the peninsula sand-hills, between the
white crests of which could be seen the rude cottages of Coronado beach.
To the south and west was the forest, and in front, at my feet, lay the
river with its woody islands. Many times have I climbed a mountain and
felt myself abundantly repaid by an off-look less beautiful. This was
the spot to which I turned when I had been reading Keats, and wanted to
see the beauty of the world. Here were a grassy seat, the shadow of
orange-trees, and a wide prospect. In Florida, I found no better place
in which a man who wished to be both a naturalist and a nature-lover,
who felt himself heir to a double inheritance,

    "The clear eye's moiety and the dear heart's part,"

could for the time sit still and be happy.

The orange-trees yielded other things beside shadow, though perhaps
nothing better than that. They were resplendent with fruit, and on my
earlier visits were also in bloom. One did not need to climb the hill to
learn the fact. For an out-of-door sweetness it would be hard, I think,
to improve upon the scent of orange blossoms. As for the oranges
themselves, they seemed to be in little demand, large and handsome as
they were. Southern people in general, I fancy, look upon wild fruit of
this kind as not exactly edible. I remember asking two colored men in
Tallahassee whether the oranges still hanging conspicuously from a tree
just over the wall (a sight not so very common in that part of the
State) were sweet or sour. I have forgotten just what they said, but I
remember how they _looked_. I meant the inquiry as a mild bit of humor,
but to them it was a thousandfold better than that: it was wit
ineffable. What Shakespeare said about the prosperity of a jest was
never more strikingly exemplified. In New Smyrna, with orange groves on
every hand, the wild fruit went begging with natives and tourists alike;
so that I feel a little hesitancy about confessing my own relish for it,
lest I should be accused of affectation. Not that I devoured wild
oranges by the dozen, or in place of sweet ones; one sour orange goes a
good way, as the common saying is; but I ate them, nevertheless, or
rather drank them, and found them, in a thirsty hour, decidedly

The unusual coldness of the past season (Florida winters, from what I
heard about them, must have fallen of late into a queer habit of being
regularly exceptional) had made it difficult to buy sweet oranges that
were not dry and "punky"[1] toward the stem; but the hardier wild fruit
had weathered the frost, and was so juicy that, as I say, you did not so
much eat one as drink it. As for the taste, it was a wholesome
bitter-sour, as if a lemon had been flavored with quinine; not quite so
sour as a lemon, perhaps, nor _quite_ so bitter as Peruvian bark, but,
as it were, an agreeable compromise between the two. When I drank one, I
not only quenched my thirst, but felt that I had taken an infallible
prophylactic against the malarial fever. Better still, I had surprised
myself. For one who had felt a lifelong distaste, unsocial and almost
unmanly, for the bitter drinks which humanity in general esteems so
essential to its health and comfort, I was developing new and unexpected
capabilities; than which few things can be more encouraging as years
increase upon a man's head, and the world seems to be closing in about

[Footnote 1: I have heard this useful word all my life, and now am
surprised to find it wanting in the dictionaries.]

Later in the season, on this same shell mound, I might have regaled
myself with fresh figs. Here, at any rate, was a thrifty-looking
fig-tree, though its crop, if it bore one, would perhaps not have waited
my coming so patiently as the oranges had done. Here, too, was a red
cedar; and to me, who, in my ignorance, had always thought of this tough
little evergreen as especially at home on my own bleak and stony
hillsides, it seemed an incongruous trio,--fig-tree, orange-tree, and
savin. In truth, the cedars of Florida were one of my liveliest
surprises. At first I refused to believe that they were red cedars, so
strangely exuberant were they, so disdainful of the set, cone-shaped,
toy-tree pattern on which I had been used to seeing red cedars built.
And when at last a study of the flora compelled me to admit their
identity,[1] I turned about and protested that I had never seen red
cedars before. One, in St. Augustine, near San Marco Avenue, I had the
curiosity to measure. The girth of the trunk at the smallest place was
six feet five inches, and the spread of the branches was not less than
fifty feet.

[Footnote 1: I speak as if I had accepted my own study of the manual as
conclusive. I did for the time being, but while writing this paragraph I
bethought myself that I might be in error, after all. I referred the
question, therefore, to a friend, a botanist of authority. "No wonder
the red cedars of Florida puzzled you," he replied. "No one would
suppose at first that they were of the same species as our New England
savins. The habit is entirely different; but botanists have found no
characters by which to separate them, and you are safe in considering
them as _Juniperus Virginiana_."]

The stroller in this road suffered few distractions. The houses, two or
three to the mile, stood well back in the woods, with little or no
cleared land about them. Picnic establishments they seemed to a Northern
eye, rather than permanent dwellings. At one point, in the hammock, a
rude camp was occupied by a group of rough-looking men and several small
children, who seemed to be getting on as best they could--none too well,
to judge from appearances--without feminine ministrations. What they
were there for I never made out. They fished, I think, but whether by
way of amusement or as a serious occupation I did not learn. Perhaps,
like the Indians of old, they had come to the river for the oyster
season. They might have done worse. They never paid the slightest
attention to me, nor once gave me any decent excuse for engaging them in
talk. The best thing I remember about them was a tableau caught in
passing. A "norther" had descended upon us unexpectedly (Florida is not
a whit behind the rest of the world in sudden changes of temperature),
and while hastening homeward, toward nightfall, hugging myself to keep
warm, I saw, in the woods, this group of campers disposed about a lively

Let us be thankful, say I, that memory is so little the servant of the
will. Chance impressions of this kind, unforeseen, involuntary, and
inexplicable, make one of the chief delights of traveling, or rather of
having traveled. In the present case, indeed, the permanence of the
impression is perhaps not altogether beyond the reach of a plausible
conjecture. We have not always lived in houses; and if we love the sight
of a fire out-of-doors,--a camp-fire, that is to say,--as we all do, so
that the, burning of a brush-heap in a neighbor's yard will draw us to
the window, the feeling is but part of an ancestral inheritance. We have
come by it honestly, as the phrase is. And so I need not scruple to set
down another reminiscence of the same kind,--an early morning street
scene, of no importance in itself, in the village of New Smyrna. It may
have been on the morning next after the "norther" just mentioned. I
cannot say. We had two or three such touches of winter in early March;
none of them at all distressing, be it understood, to persons in
ordinary health. One night water froze,--"as thick as a silver
dollar,"--and orange growers were alarmed for the next season's crop,
the trees being just ready to blossom. Some men kept fires burning in
their orchards overnight; a pretty spectacle, I should think, especially
where the fruit was still ungathered. On one of these frosty mornings,
then, I saw a solitary horseman, not "wending his way," but warming his
hands over a fire that he had built for that purpose in the village
street. One might live and die in a New England village without seeing
such a sight. A Yankee would have betaken himself to the corner grocery.
But here, though that "adjunct of civilization" was directly across the
way, most likely it had never had a stove in it. The sun would give
warmth enough in an hour,--by nine o'clock one would probably be glad of
a sunshade; but the man was chilly after his ride; it was still a bit
early to go about the business that had brought him into town: what more
natural than to hitch his horse, get together a few sticks, and kindle a
blaze? What an insane idea it would have seemed to him that a passing
stranger might remember him and his fire three months afterward, and
think them worth talking about in print! But then, as was long ago said,
it is the fate of some men to have greatness thrust upon them.

This main street of the village, by the way, with its hotels and shops,
was no other than my river road itself, in its more civilized estate, as
I now remember with a sense of surprise. In my mind the two had never
any connection. It was in this thoroughfare that one saw now and then a
group of cavaliers strolling about under broad-brimmed hats, with big
spurs at their heels, accosting passers-by with hearty familiarity,
first names and hand-shakes, while their horses stood hitched to the
branches of roadside trees,--a typical Southern picture. Here, on a
Sunday afternoon, were two young fellows who had brought to town a
mother coon and three young ones, hoping to find a purchaser. The guests
at the hotels manifested no eagerness for such pets, but the colored
bell-boys and waiters gathered about, and after a little good-humored
dickering bought the entire lot, box and all, for a dollar and a half;
first having pulled the little ones out between the slats--not without
some risk to both parties--to look at them and pass them round. The
venders walked off with grins of ill-concealed triumph. The Fates had
been kind to them, and they had three silver half-dollars in their
pockets. I heard one of them say something about giving part of the
money to a third man who had told them where the nest was; but his
companion would listen to no such folly. "He wouldn't come with us," he
said, "and we won't tell him a damned thing." I fear there was nothing
distinctively Southern about _that_.

Here, too, in the heart of the town, was a magnificent cluster of
live-oaks, worth coming to Florida to see; far-spreading, full of ferns
and air plants, and heavy with hanging moss. Day after day I went out to
admire them. Under them was a neglected orange grove, and in one of the
orange-trees, amid the glossy foliage, appeared my first summer tanager.
It was a royal setting, and the splendid vermilion-red bird was worthy
of it. Among the oaks I walked in the evening, listening to the strange
low chant of the chuck-will's-widow,--a name which the owner himself
pronounces with a rest after the first syllable. Once, for two or three
days, the trees were amazingly full of blue yellow-backed warblers.
Numbers of them, a dozen at least, could be heard singing at once
directly over one's head, running up the scale not one after another,
but literally in unison. Here the tufted titmouse, the very soul of
monotony, piped and piped and piped, as if his diapason stop were pulled
out and stuck, and could not be pushed in again. He is an odd genius.
With plenty of notes, he wearies you almost to distraction, harping on
one string for half an hour together. He is the one Southern bird that I
should perhaps be sorry to see common in Massachusetts; but that
"perhaps" is a large word. Many yellow-throated warblers, silent as yet,
were commonly in the live-oaks, and innumerable myrtle birds, also
silent, with prairie warblers, black-and-white creepers, solitary
vireos, an occasional chickadee, and many more. It was a birdy spot; and
just across the way, on the shrubby island, were red-winged blackbirds,
who piqued my curiosity by adding to the familiar _conkaree_ a final
syllable,--the Florida termination, I called it,--which made me wonder
whether, as has been the case with so many other Florida birds, they
might not turn out to be a distinct race, worthy of a name (_Agelaius
phoeniceus something-or-other_), as well as of a local habitation. I
suggest the question to those whose business it is to be learned in such

[Footnote 1: My suggestion, I now discover,--since this paper was first
printed,--was some years too late. Mr. Ridgway, in his _Manual of North
American Birds_ (1887), had already described a subspecies of Florida
redwings under the name of _Agelaius phoeniceus bryanti_. Whether my New
Smyrna birds should come under that title cannot be told, of course, in
the absence of specimens; but on the strength of the song I venture to
think it highly probable.]

The tall grass about the borders of the island was alive with clapper
rails. Before I rose in the morning I heard them crying in full chorus;
and now and then during the day something would happen, and all at once
they would break out with one sharp volley, and then instantly all would
be silent again. Theirs is an apt name,--_Rallus crepitans._ Once I
watched two of them in the act of crepitating, and ever after that, when
the sudden uproar burst forth, I seemed to see the reeds full of birds,
each with his bill pointing skyward, bearing his part in the salvo. So,
far as I could perceive, they had nothing to fear from human enemies.
They ran about the mud on the edge of the grass, especially in the
morning, looking like half-grown pullets. Their specialty was
crab-fishing, at which they were highly expert, plunging into the water
up to the depth of their legs, and handling and swallowing pretty large
specimens with surprising dexterity. I was greatly pleased with them, as
well as with their local name, "everybody's chickens."

Once I feared we had heard the last of them. On a day following a sudden
fall of the mercury, a gale from the north set in at noon, with thunder
and lightning, hail, and torrents of rain. The river was quickly lashed
into foam, and the gale drove the ocean into it through the inlet, till
the shrubbery of the rails' island barely showed above the breakers. The
street was deep under water, and fears were entertained for the new
bridge and the road to the beach. All night the gale continued, and all
the next day till late in the afternoon; and when the river should have
been at low tide, the island was still flooded. Gravitation was
overmatched for the time being. And where were the rails, I asked
myself. They could swim, no doubt, when put to it, but it seemed
impossible that they could survive so fierce an inundation. Well, the
wind ceased, the tide went out at last; and behold, the rails were in
full cry, not a voice missing! How they had managed it was beyond my

Another island, farther out than that of the rails (but the rails, like
the long-billed marsh wrens, appeared to be present in force all up and
down the river, in suitable places), was occupied nightly as a
crow-roost. Judged by the morning clamor, which, like that of the rails,
I heard from my bed, its population must have been enormous. One evening
I happened to come up the street just in time to see the hinder part of
the procession--some hundreds of birds--flying across the river. They
came from the direction of the pine lands in larger and smaller squads,
and with but a moderate amount of noise moved straight to their
destination. All but one of them so moved, that is to say. The
performance of that one exception was a mystery. He rose high in the
air, over the river, and remained soaring all by himself, acting
sometimes as if he were catching insects, till the flight had passed,
even to the last scattering detachments. What could be the meaning of
his eccentric behavior? Some momentary caprice had taken him, perhaps.
Or was he, as I could not help asking, some duly appointed officer of
the day,--grand marshal, if you please,--with a commission to see all
hands in before retiring himself? He waited, at any rate, till the final
stragglers had passed; then he came down out of the air and followed
them. I meant to watch the ingathering a second time, to see whether
this feature of it would be repeated, but I was never there at the right
moment. One cannot do everything.

Now, alas, Florida seems very far off. I am never likely to walk again
under those New Smyrna live-oaks, nor to see again all that beauty of
the Hillsborough. And yet, in a truer and better sense of the word, I do
see it, and shall. What a heavenly light falls at this moment on the
river and the island woods! Perhaps we must come back to Wordsworth,
after all,--

    "The light that never was, on sea or land."


[Footnote 1: I have called the ruin here spoken of a "sugar mill" for no
better reason than because that is the name commonly applied to it by
the residents of the town. When this sketch was written, I had never
heard of a theory since broached in some of our Northern newspapers,--I
know not by whom,--that the edifice in question was built as a chapel,
perhaps by Columbus himself! I should be glad to believe it, and can
only add my hope that he will be shown to have built also the so-called
sugar mill a few miles north of New Smyrna, in the Dunlawton hammock
behind Port Orange. In that, to be sure, there is still much old
machinery, but perhaps its presence would prove no insuperable objection
to a theory so pleasing. In matters of this kind, much depends upon
subjective considerations; in one sense, at least, "all things are
possible to him that believeth." For my own part, I profess no opinion.
I am neither an archaeologist nor an ecclesiastic, and speak simply as a
chance observer.]

On the third or fourth day of my sojourn at the Live Oak Inn, the lady
of the house, noticing my peripatetic habits, I suppose, asked whether I
had been to the old sugar mill. The ruin is mentioned in the guide-books
as one of the historic features of the ancient settlement of New Smyrna,
but I had forgotten the fact, and was thankful to receive a description
of the place, as well as of the road thither,--a rather blind road, my
informant said, with no houses at which to inquire the way.

Two or three mornings afterward, I set out in the direction indicated.
If the route proved to be half as vague as my good lady's account of it
had sounded, I should probably never find the mill; but the walk would
be pleasant, and that, after all, was the principal consideration,
especially to a man who just then cared more, or thought he did, for a
new bird or a new song than for an indefinite number of
eighteenth-century relics.

For the first half-mile the road follows one of the old Turnbull canals
dug through the coquina stone which underlies the soil hereabout; then,
after crossing the railway, it strikes to the left through a piece of
truly magnificent wood, known as the cotton-shed hammock, because,
during the war, cotton was stored here in readiness for the blockade
runners of Mosquito Inlet. Better than anything I had yet seen, this
wood answered to my idea of a semi-tropical forest: live-oaks,
magnolias, palmettos, sweet gums, maples, and hickories, with here and
there a long-leaved pine overtopping all the rest. The palmettos, most
distinctively Southern of them all, had been badly used by their hardier
neighbors; they looked stunted, and almost without exception had been
forced out of their normal perpendicular attitude. The live-oaks, on the
other hand, were noble specimens; lofty and wide-spreading, elm-like in
habit, it seemed to me, though not without the sturdiness which belongs
as by right to all oaks, and seldom or never to the American elm.

What gave its peculiar tropical character to the wood, however, was not
so much the trees as the profusion of plants that covered them and
depended from them: air-plants (_Tillandsia_), large and small,--like
pineapples, with which they claim a family relationship,--the exuberant
hanging moss, itself another air-plant, ferns, and vines. The ferns, a
species of polypody ("resurrection ferns," I heard them called),
completely covered the upper surface of many of the larger branches,
while the huge vines twisted about the trunks, or, quite as often,
dropped straight from the treetops to the ground.

In the very heart of this dense, dark forest (a forest primeval, I
should have said, but I was assured that the ground had been under
cultivation so recently that, to a practiced eye, the cotton-rows were
still visible) stood a grove of wild orange-trees, the handsome fruit
glowing like lamps amid the deep green foliage. There was little other
brightness. Here and there in the undergrowth were yellow jessamine
vines, but already--March 11--they were past flowering. Almost or quite
the only blossom just now in sight was the faithful round-leaved
houstonia, growing in small flat patches in the sand on the edge of the
road, with budding partridge-berry--a Yankee in Florida--to keep it
company. Warblers and titmice twittered in the leafy treetops, and
butterflies of several kinds, notably one gorgeous creature in yellow
and black, like a larger and more resplendent Turnus, went fluttering
through the underwoods. I could have believed myself in the heart of a
limitless forest; but Florida hammocks, so far as I have seen, are
seldom of great extent, and the road presently crossed another railway
track, and then, in a few rods more, came out into the sunny pine-woods,
as one might emerge from a cathedral into the open day. Two men were
approaching in a wagon (except on Sunday, I am not certain that I ever
met a foot passenger in the flat-woods), and I improved the opportunity
to make sure of my course. "Go about fifty yards," said one of them,
"and turn to the right; then about fifty yards more, and turn to the
left. _That_ road will take you to the mill." Here was a man who had
traveled in the pine lands,--where, of all places, it is easy to get
lost and hard to find yourself,--and not only appreciated the value of
explicit instructions, but, being a Southerner, had leisure enough and
politeness enough to give them. I thanked him, and sauntered on. The day
was before me, and the place was lively with birds. Pine-wood sparrows,
pine warblers, and red-winged blackbirds were in song; two
red-shouldered hawks were screaming, a flicker was shouting, a
red-bellied woodpecker cried _kur-r-r-r_, brown-headed nuthatches were
gossiping in the distance, and suddenly I heard, what I never thought to
hear in a pinery, the croak of a green heron. I turned quickly and saw
him. It was indeed he. What a friend is ignorance, mother of all those
happy surprises which brighten existence as they pass, like the
butterflies of the wood. The heron was at home, and I was the stranger.
For there was water near, as there is everywhere in Florida; and
subsequently, in this very place, I met not only the green heron, but
three of his relatives,--the great blue, the little blue, and the dainty
Louisiana, more poetically known (and worthy to wear the name) as the
"Lady of the Waters."

On this first occasion, however, the green heron was speedily forgotten;
for just then I heard another note, unlike anything I had ever heard
before,--as if a great Northern shrike had been struck with
preternatural hoarseness, and, like so many other victims of the
Northern winter, had betaken himself to a sunnier clime. I looked up. In
the leafy top of a pine sat a boat-tailed grackle, splendidly
iridescent, engaged in a musical performance which afterward became
almost too familiar to me, but which now, as a novelty, was as
interesting as it was grotesque. This, as well as I can describe it, is
what the bird was doing. He opened his bill,--_set_ it, as it were, wide
apart,--and holding it thus, emitted four or five rather long and very
loud grating, shrikish notes; then instantly shook his wings with an
extraordinary flapping noise, and followed that with several highly
curious and startling cries, the concluding one of which sometimes
suggested the cackle of a robin. All this he repeated again and again
with the utmost fervor. He could not have been more enthusiastic if he
had been making the sweetest music in the world. And I confess that I
thought he had reason to be proud of his work. The introduction of
wing-made sounds in the middle of a vocal performance was of itself a
stroke of something like genius. It put me in mind of the firing of
cannons as an accompaniment to the Anvil Chorus. Why should a creature
of such gifts be named for his bodily dimensions, or the shape of his
tail? Why not _Quiscalus gilmorius_, Gilmore's grackle?

That the sounds _were_ wing-made I had no thought of questioning. I had
seen the thing done,--seen it and heard it; and what shall a man trust,
if not his own eyes and ears, especially when each confirms the other?
Two days afterward, nevertheless, I began to doubt. I heard a grackle
"sing" in the manner just described, wing-beats and all, while flying
from one tree to another; and later still, in a country where
boat-tailed grackles were an every-day sight near the heart of the
village, I more than once saw them produce the sounds in question
without any perceptible movement of the wings, and furthermore, their
mandibles could be seen moving in time with the beats. So hard is it to
be sure of a thing, even when you see it and hear it.

"Oh yes," some sharp-witted reader will say, "you saw the wings
flapping,--beating time,--and so you imagined that the sounds were like
wing-beats." But for once the sharp-witted reader is in the wrong. The
resemblance is not imaginary. Mr. F.M. Chapman, in A List of Birds
Observed at Gainesville, Florida,[1] says of the boat-tailed grackle
(_Quiscalus major_): "A singular note of this species greatly resembles
the flapping of wings, as of a coot tripping over the water; this sound
was very familiar to me, but so excellent is the imitation that for a
long time I attributed it to one of the numerous coots which abound in
most places favored by _Q. major_."

[Footnote 1: _The Auk_, vol. v. p. 273.]

If the sounds are not produced by the wings, the question returns, of
course, why the wings are shaken just at the right instant. To that I
must respond with the time-honored formula, "Not prepared." The reader
may believe, if he will, that the bird is aware of the imitative quality
of the notes, and amuses itself by heightening the delusion of the
looker-on. My own more commonplace conjecture is that the sounds are
produced by snappings and gratings of the big mandibles ("He is gritting
his teeth," said a shrewd unornithological Yankee, whose opinion I had
solicited), and that the wing movements may be nothing but involuntary
accompaniments of this almost convulsive action of the beak. But perhaps
the sounds _are_ wing-made, after all.

On the day of which I am writing, at any rate, I was troubled by no
misgivings. I had seen something new, and was only desirous to see more
of it. Who does not love an original character? For at least half an
hour the old mill was forgotten, while I chased the grackle about, as he
flew hither and thither, sometimes with a loggerhead shrike in furious
pursuit. Once I had gone a few rods into the palmetto scrub, partly to
be nearer the bird, but still more to enjoy the shadow of a pine, and
was standing under the tree, motionless, when a man came along the road
in a gig. "Surveying?" he asked, reining in his horse. "No, sir; I am
looking at a bird in the tree yonder." I wished him to go on, and
thought it best to gratify his curiosity at once. He was silent a
moment; then he said, "Looking at the old sugar house from there?" That
was too preposterous, and I answered with more voice, and perhaps with a
touch of impatience, "No, no; I am trying to see a bird in that
pine-tree." He was silent again. Then he gathered up the reins. "I'm so
deaf I can't hear you," he said, and drove on. "Good-by," I remarked, in
a needless undertone; "you're a good man, I've no doubt, but deaf people
shouldn't be inquisitive at long range."

The advice was sound enough, in itself considered; properly understood,
it might be held to contain, or at least to suggest, one of the
profoundest, and at the same time one of the most practical, truths of
all devout philosophy; but the testiness of its tone was little to my
credit. He _was_ a good man,--and the village doctor,--and more than
once afterward put me under obligation. One of his best appreciated
favors was unintended and indirect. I was driving with him through the
hammock, and we passed a bit of swamp. "There are some pretty flowers,"
he exclaimed; "I think I must get them." At the word he jumped out of
the gig, bade me do the same, hitched his horse, a half-broken stallion,
to a sapling, and plunged into the thicket. I strolled elsewhere; and by
and by he came back, a bunch of common blue iris in one hand, and his
shoes and stockings in the other. "They are very pretty," he explained
(he spoke of the flowers), "and it is early for them." After that I had
no doubt of his goodness, and in case of need would certainly have
called him rather than his younger rival at the opposite end of the

When I tired of chasing the grackle, or the shrike had driven him away
(I do not remember now how the matter ended), I started again toward the
old sugar mill. Presently a lone cabin came into sight. The grass-grown
road led straight to it, and stopped at the gate. Two women and a brood
of children stood in the door, and in answer to my inquiry one of the
women (the children had already scampered out of sight) invited me to
enter the yard. "Go round the house," she said, "and you will find a
road that runs right down to the mill."

The mill, as it stands, is not much to look at: some fragments of wall
built of coquina stone, with two or three arched windows and an arched
door, the whole surrounded by a modern plantation of orange-trees, now
almost as much a ruin as the mill itself. But the mill was built more
than a hundred years ago, and serves well enough the principal use of
abandoned and decaying things,--to touch the imagination. For myself, I
am bound to say, it was a precious two hours that I passed beside it,
seated on a crumbling stone in the shade of a dying orange-tree.

Behind me a redbird was whistling (cardinal grosbeak, I have been
accustomed to call him, but I like the Southern name better, in spite of
its ambiguity), now in eager, rapid tones, now slowly and with a dying
fall. Now his voice fell almost to a whisper, now it rang out again; but
always it was sweet and golden, and always the bird was out of sight in
the shrubbery. The orange-trees were in bloom; the air was full of their
fragrance, full also of the murmur of bees. All at once a deeper note
struck in, and I turned to look. A humming-bird was hovering amid the
white blossoms and glossy leaves. I saw his flaming throat, and the next
instant he was gone, like a flash of light,--the first hummer of the
year. I was far from home, and expectant of new things. That, I dare
say, was the reason why I took the sound at first for the boom of a
bumble-bee; some strange Floridian bee, with a deeper and more melodious
bass than any Northern insect is master of.

It is good to be here, I say to myself, and we need no tabernacle. All
things are in harmony. A crow in the distance says _caw, caw_ in a
meditative voice, as if he, too, were thinking of days past; and not
even the scream of a hen-hawk, off in the pine-woods, breaks the spell
that is upon us. A quail whistles,--a true Yankee Bob White, to judge
him by his voice,--and the white-eyed chewink (he is _not_ a Yankee)
whistles and sings by turns. The bluebird's warble and the pine
warbler's trill could never be disturbing to the quietest mood. Only one
voice seems out of tune: the white-eyed vireo, even to-day, cannot
forget his saucy accent. But he soon falls silent. Perhaps, after all,
he feels himself an intruder.

The morning is cloudless and warm, till suddenly, as if a door had been
opened eastward, the sea breeze strikes me. Henceforth the temperature
is perfect as I sit in the shadow. I think neither of heat nor of cold.
I catch a glimpse of a beautiful leaf-green lizard on the gray trunk of
an orange-tree, but it is gone (I wonder where) almost before I can say
I saw it. Presently a brown one, with light-colored stripes and a bluish
tail, is seen traveling over the crumbling wall, running into crannies
and out again. Now it stops to look at me with its jewel of an eye. And
there, on the rustic arbor, is a third one, matching the unpainted wood
in hue. Its throat is white, but when it is inflated, as happens every
few seconds, it turns to the loveliest rose color. This inflated
membrane should be a vocal sac, I think, but I hear no sound. Perhaps
the chameleon's voice is too fine for dull human sense.

On two sides of me, beyond the orange-trees, is a thicket of small oaks
and cabbage palmettos,--hammock, I suppose it is called. In all other
directions are the pine-woods, with their undergrowth of saw palmetto.
The cardinal sings from the hammock, and so does the Carolina wren. The
chewinks, the blackbirds (a grackle just now flies over, and a
fish-hawk, also), with the bluebirds and the pine warblers, are in the
pinery. From the same place comes the song of a Maryland yellow-throat.
There, too, the hen-hawks are screaming.

At my feet are blue violets and white houstonia. Vines, thinly covered
with fresh leaves, straggle over the walls,--Virginia creeper, poison
ivy, grapevine, and at least one other, the name of which I do not know.
A clump of tall blackberry vines is full of white blossoms, "bramble
roses faint and pale," and in one corner is a tuft of scarlet
blooms,--sage, perhaps, or something akin to it. For the moment I feel
no curiosity. But withal the place is unkempt, as becomes a ruin.
"Winter's ragged hand" has been rather heavy upon it. Withered palmetto
leaves and leaf-stalks litter the ground, and of course, being in
Florida, there is no lack of orange-peel lying about. Ever since I
entered the State a new Scrip-ture text has been running in my head: In
the place where the orange-peel falleth, there shall it lie.

The mill, as I said, is now the centre of an orange grove. There must be
hundreds of trees. All of them are small, but the greater part are
already dead, and the rest are dying. Those nearest the walls are
fullest of leaves, as if the walls somehow gave them protection. The
forest is creeping into the inclosure. Here and there the graceful
palm-like tassel of a young long-leaved pine rises above the tall
winter-killed grass. It is not the worst thing about the world that it
tends to run wild.

Now the quail sings again, this time in two notes, and now the hummer is
again in the orange-tree. And all the while the redbird whistles in the
shrubbery. He feels the beauty of the day. If I were a bird, I would
sing with him. From far away comes the chant of a pine-wood sparrow. I
can just hear it.

This is a place for dreams and quietness. Nothing else seems worth the
having. Let us feel no more the fever of life. Surely they are the wise
who seek Nirvana; who insist not upon themselves, but wait absorption
--reabsorption--into the infinite. The dead have the better part. I
think of the stirring, adventurous man who built these walls and dug
these canals. His life was full of action, full of journeyings and
fightings. Now he is at peace, and his works do follow him--into the
land of forgetfulness. Blessed are the dead. Blessed, too, are the bees,
the birds, the butterflies, and the lizards. Next to the dead, perhaps,
they are happy. And I also am happy, for I too am under the spell. To me
also the sun and the air are sweet, and I too, for to-day at least, am
careless of the world and all its doings.

So I sat dreaming, when suddenly there was a stir in the grass at my
feet. A snake was coming straight toward me. Only the evening before a
cracker had filled my ears with stories of "rattlers" and "moccasins."
He seemed to have seen them everywhere, and to have killed them as one
kills mosquitoes. I looked a second time at the moving thing in the
grass. It was clothed in innocent black; but, being a son of Adam, I
rose with involuntary politeness to let it pass. An instant more, and it
slipped into the masonry at my side, and I sat down again. It had been
out taking the sun, and had come back to its hole in the wall. How like
the story of my own day,--of my whole winter vacation! Nay, if we choose
to view it so, how like the story of human life itself!

As I started homeward, leaving the mill and the cabin behind me, some
cattle were feeding in the grassy road. At sight of my umbrella (there
are few places where a sunshade is more welcome than in a Florida
pine-wood) they scampered away into the scrub. Poor, wild-eyed,
hungry-looking things! I thought of Pharaoh's lean kine. They were like
the country itself, I was ready to say. But perhaps I misjudged both,
seeing both, as I did, in the winter season. With the mercury at 80°, or
thereabout, it is hard for the Northern tourist to remember that he is
looking at a winter landscape. He compares a Florida winter with a New
England summer, and can hardly find words to tell you how barren and
poverty-stricken the country looks.

After this I went more than once to the sugar mill. Morning and
afternoon I visited it, but somehow I could never renew the joy of my
first visit. Moods are not to be had for the asking, nor earned by a
walk. The place was still interesting, the birds were there, the
sunshine was pleasant, and the sea breeze fanned me. The orange blossoms
were still sweet, and the bees still hummed about them; but it was
another day, or I was another man. In memory, none the less, all my
visits blend in one, and the ruined mill in the dying orchard remains
one of the bright spots in that strange Southern world which, almost
from the moment I left it behind me, began to fade into indistinctness,
like the landscape of a dream.


The city of Sanford is a beautiful and interesting place, I hope, to
those who live in it. To the Florida tourist it is important as lying at
the head of steamboat navigation on the St. John's River, which here
expands into a lake--Lake Monroe--some five miles in width, with Sanford
on one side, and Enterprise on the other; or, as a waggish traveler once
expressed it, with Enterprise on the north, and Sanford and enterprise
on the south.

Walking naturalists and lovers of things natural have their own point of
view, individual, unconventional, whimsical, if you please,--very
different, at all events, from that of clearer-witted and more
serious-minded men; and the inhabitants of Sanford will doubtless take
it as a compliment, and be amused rather than annoyed, when I confess
that I found their city a discouragement, a widespread desolation of
houses and shops. If there is a pleasant country road leading out of it
in any direction, I was unlucky enough to miss it. My melancholy
condition was hit off before my eyes in a parable, as it were, by a
crowd of young fellows, black and white, whom I found one afternoon in a
sand-lot just outside the city, engaged in what was intended for a game
of baseball. They were doing their best,--certainly they made noise
enough; but circumstances were against them. When the ball came to the
ground, from no matter what height or with what impetus, it fell dead in
the sand; if it had been made of solid rubber, it could not have
rebounded. "Base-running" was little better than base-walking. "Sliding"
was safe, but, by the same token, impossible. Worse yet, at every "foul
strike" or "wild throw" the ball was lost, and the barefooted fielders
had to pick their way painfully about in the outlying saw-palmetto scrub
till they found it. I had never seen our "national game" played under
conditions so untoward. None but true patriots would have the heart to
try it, I thought, and I meditated writing to Washington, where the
quadrennial purification of the civil service was just then in
progress,--under a new broom,--to secure, if possible, a few bits of
recognition ("plums" is the technical term, I believe) for men so
deserving. The first baseman certainly, who had oftenest to wade into
the scrub, should have received a consulate, at the very least. Yet they
were a merry crew, those national gamesters. Their patriotism was of the
noblest type,--the unconscious. They had no thought of being heroes, nor
dreamed of bounties or pensions. They quarreled with the umpire, of
course, but not with Fate; and I hope I profited by their example. My
errand in Sanford was to see something of the river in its narrower and
better part; and having done that, I did not regret what otherwise might
have seemed a profitless week.

First, however, I walked about the city. Here, as already at St.
Augustine, and afterward at Tallahassee, I found the mocking-birds in
free song. They are birds of the town. And the same is true of the
loggerhead shrikes, a pair of which had built a nest in a small
water-oak at the edge of the sidewalk, on a street corner, just beyond
the reach of passers-by. In the roadside trees--all freshly planted,
like the city--were myrtle warblers, prairie warblers, and blue
yellowbacks, the two latter in song. Once, after a shower, I watched a
myrtle bird bathing on a branch among the wet leaves. The street gutters
were running with sulphur water, but he had waited for rain. I commended
his taste, being myself one of those to whom water and brimstone is a
combination as malodorous as it seems unscriptural. Noisy boat-tailed
grackles, or "jackdaws," were plentiful about the lakeside, monstrously
long in the tail, and almost as large as the fish crows, which were
often there with them. Over the broad lake swept purple martins and
white-breasted swallows, and nearer the shore fed peacefully a few
pied-billed grebes, or dabchicks, birds that I had seen only two or
three times before, and at which I looked more than once before I made
out what they were. They had every appearance of passing a winter of
content. At the tops of three or four stakes, which stood above the
water at wide intervals,--and at long distances from the shore,--sat
commonly as many cormorants, here, as everywhere, with plenty of idle
time upon their hands. On the other side of the city were orange groves,
large, well kept, thrifty looking; the fruit still on the trees (March
20, or thereabouts), or lying in heaps underneath, ready for the boxes.
One man's house, I remember, was surrounded by a fence overrun with
Cherokee rosebushes, a full quarter of a mile of white blossoms.

My best botanical stroll was along one of the railroads (Sanford is a
"railway centre," so called), through a dreary sand waste. Here I picked
a goodly number of novelties, including what looked like a beautiful
pink chicory, only the plant itself was much prettier (_Lygodesmia_); a
very curious sensitive-leaved plant (_Schrankia_), densely beset
throughout with curved prickles, and bearing globes of tiny pink-purple
flowers; a calopogon, quite as pretty as our Northern _pulchellus_; a
clematis (_Baldwinii_), which looked more like a bluebell than a
clematis till I commenced pulling it to pieces; and a great profusion of
one of the smaller papaws, or custard-apples, a low shrub, just then
full of large, odd-shaped, creamy-white, heavy-scented blossoms. I was
carrying a sprig of it in my hand when I met a negro. "What is this?" I
asked. "I dunno, sir." "Isn't it papaw?" "No, sir, that ain't papaw;"
and then, as if he had just remembered something, he added, "That's dog

Oftener than anywhere else I resorted to the shore of the lake,--to the
one small part of it, that is to say, which was at the same time easily
reached and comparatively unfrequented. There--going one day farther
than usual--I found myself in the borderland of a cypress swamp. On one
side was the lake, but between me and it were cypress-trees; and on the
other side was the swamp itself, a dense wood growing in stagnant black
water covered here and there with duckweed or some similar growth: a
frightful place it seemed, the very abode of snakes and everything evil.
Stories of slaves hiding in cypress swamps came into my mind. It must
have been cruel treatment that drove them to it! Buzzards flew about my
head, and looked at me. "He has come here to die," I imagined them
saying among themselves. "No one comes here for anything else. Wait a
little, and we will pick his bones." They perched near by, and, not to
lose time, employed the interval in drying their wings, for the night
had been showery. Once in a while one of them shifted his perch with an
ominous rustle. They were waiting for me, and were becoming impatient.
"He is long about it," one said to another; and I did not wonder. The
place seemed one from which none who entered it could ever go out; and
there was no going farther in without plunging into that horrible mire.
I stood still, and looked and listened. Some strange noise, "bird or
devil," came from the depths of the wood. A flock of grackles settled in
a tall cypress, and for a time made the place loud. How still it was
after they were gone! I could hardly withdraw my gaze from the green
water full of slimy black roots and branches, any one of which might
suddenly lift its head and open its deadly white mouth! Once a fish-hawk
fell to screaming farther down the lake. I had seen him the day before,
standing on the rim of his huge nest in the top of a tree, and uttering
the same cries. All about me gigantic cypresses, every one swollen
enormously at the base, rose straight and branchless into the air. Dead
trees, one might have said,--light-colored, apparently with no bark to
cover them; but if I glanced up, I saw that each bore at the top a
scanty head of branches just now putting forth fresh green leaves, while
long funereal streamers of dark Spanish moss hung thickly from every

I am not sure how long I could have stayed in such a spot, if I had not
been able to look now and then through the branches of the under-woods
out upon the sunny lake. Swallows innumerable were playing over the
water, many of them soaring so high as to be all but invisible. Wise and
happy birds, lovers of sunlight and air. _They_ would never be found in
a cypress swamp. Along the shore, in a weedy shallow, the peaceful
dabchicks were feeding. Far off on a post toward the middle of the lake
stood a cormorant. But I could not keep my eyes long at once in that
direction. The dismal swamp had me under its spell, and meanwhile the
patient buzzards looked at me. "It is almost time," they said; "the
fever will do its work,"--and I began to believe it. It was too bad to
come away; the stupid town offered no attraction; but it seemed perilous
to remain. Perhaps I _could_ not come away. I would try it and see. It
was amazing that I could; and no sooner was I out in the sunshine than I
wished I had stayed where I was; for having once left the place, I was
never likely to find it again. The way was plain enough, to be sure, and
my feet would no doubt serve me. But the feet cannot do the mind's part,
and it is a sad fact, one of the saddest in life, that sensations cannot
be repeated.

With the fascination of the swamp still upon me, I heard somewhere in
the distance a musical voice, and soon came in sight of a garden where a
middle-aged negro was hoeing,--hoeing and singing: a wild, minor,
endless kind of tune; a hymn, as seemed likely from a word caught here
and there; a true piece of natural melody, as artless as any bird's. I
walked slowly to get more of it, and the happy-sad singer minded me not,
but kept on with his hoe and his song. Potatoes or corn, whatever his
crop may have been,--I did not notice, or, if I did, I have
forgotten,--it should have prospered under his hand.

Farther along, in the highway,--a sandy track, with wastes of scrub on
either side,--boy of eight or nine, armed with a double-barreled gun,
was lingering about a patch of dwarf oaks and palmettos. "Haven't got
that rabbit yet, eh?" said I. (I had passed him there on my way out, and
he had told me what he was after.)

"No, sir," he answered.

"I don't believe there's any rabbit there."

"Yes, there is, sir; I saw one a little while ago, but he got away
before I could get pretty near."

"Good!" I thought. "Here is a grammarian. Not one boy in ten in this
country but would have said 'I seen.'" A scholar like this was worth
talking with. "Are there many rabbits here?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, there's a good deal."

And so, by easy mental stages, I was clear of the swamp and back in the
town,--saved from the horrible, and delivered to the commonplace and
the dreary.

My best days in Sanford were two that I spent on the river above the
lake. A youthful boatman, expert alike with the oar and the gun, served
me faithfully and well, impossible as it was for him to enter fully into
the spirit of a man who wanted to look at birds, but not to kill them. I
think he had never before seen a customer of that breed. First he rowed
me up the "creek," under promise to show me alligators, moccasins, and
no lack of birds, including the especially desired purple gallinule. The
snakes were somehow missing (a loss not irreparable), and so were the
purple gallinules; for them, the boy thought, it was still rather early
in the season, although he had killed one a few days before, and for
proof had brought me a wing. But as we were skirting along the shore I
suddenly called "Hist!" An alligator lay on the bank just before us. The
boy turned his head, and instantly was all excitement. It was a big
fellow, he said,--one of three big ones that inhabited the creek. He
would get him this time. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Oh yes, I'll blow the
top of his head off." He was loaded for gallinules, and I, being no
sportsman, and never having seen an alligator before, was some shades
less confident. But it was his game, and I left him to his way. He
pulled the boat noiselessly against the bank in the shelter of tall
reeds, put down the oars, with which he could almost have touched the
alligator, and took up his gun. At that moment the creature got wind of
us, and slipped incontinently into the water, not a little to my relief.
One live alligator is worth a dozen dead ones, to my thinking. He showed
his back above the surface of the stream for a moment shortly afterward,
and then disappeared for good.

Ornithologically, the creek was a disappointment. We pushed into one bay
after another, among the dense "bonnets,"--huge leaves of the common
yellow pond lily,--but found nothing that I had not seen before. Here
and there a Florida gallinule put up its head among the leaves, or took
flight as we pressed too closely upon it; but I saw them to no
advantage, and with a single exception they were dumb. One bird, as it
dashed into the rushes, uttered two or three cries that sounded
familiar. The Florida gallinule is in general pretty silent, I think;
but he has a noisy season; then he is indeed noisy enough. A swamp
containing a single pair might be supposed to be populous with barn-yard
fowls, the fellow keeps up such a clatter: now loud and terror-stricken,
"like a hen whose head is just going to be cut off," as a friend once
expressed it; then soft and full of content, as if the aforesaid hen had
laid an egg ten minutes before, and were still felicitating herself upon
the achievement. It was vexatious that here, in the very home of Florida
gallinules, I should see and hear less of them than I had more than once
done in Massachusetts, where they are esteemed a pretty choice rarity,
and where, in spite of what I suppose must be called exceptional good
luck, my acquaintance with them had been limited to perhaps half a dozen
birds. But in affairs of this kind a direct chase is seldom the best
rewarded. At one point the boatman pulled up to a thicket of small
willows, bidding me be prepared to see birds in enormous numbers; but we
found only a small company of night herons--evidently breeding
there--and a green heron. The latter my boy shot before I knew what he
was doing. He took my reproof in good part, protesting that he had had
only a glimpse of the bird, and had taken it for a possible gallinule.
In the course of the trip we saw, besides the species already named,
great blue and little blue herons, pied-billed grebes, coots,
cormorants, a flock of small sandpipers (on the wing), buzzards,
vultures, fish-hawks, and innumerable red-winged blackbirds.

Three days afterward we went up the river. At the upper end of the lake
were many white-billed coots (_Fulica americana_); so many that we did
our best to count them as they rose, flock after flock, dragging their
feet over the water behind them with a multitudinous splashing noise.
There were a thousand, at least. They had an air of being not so very
shy, but they were nobody's fools. "See there!" my boy would exclaim, as
a hundred or two of them dashed past the boat; "see how they keep just
out of range!"

We were hardly on the river itself before he fell into a state of
something like frenzy at the sight of an otter swimming before us,
showing its head, and then diving. He made after it in hot haste, and
fired I know not how many times, but all for nothing. He had killed
several before now, he said, but had never been obliged to chase one in
this fashion. Perhaps there was a Jonah in the ship; for though I
sympathized with the boy, I sympathized also, and still more warmly,
with the otter. It acted as if life were dear to it, and for aught I
knew it had as good a right to live as either the boy or I. No such
qualms disturbed me a few minutes later, when, as the boat was grazing
the reeds, I espied just ahead a snake lying in wait among them. I gave
the alarm, and the boy looked round. "Yes," he said, "a big one, a
moccasin,--a cotton-mouth; but I'll fix him." He pulled a stroke or two
nearer, then lifted his oar and brought it down splash; but the reeds
broke the blow, and the moccasin slipped into the water, apparently
unharmed. That was a case for powder and shot. Florida people have a
poor opinion of a man who meets a venomous snake, no matter where,
without doing his best to kill it. How strong the feeling is my boatman
gave me proof within ten minutes after his failure with the
cotton-mouth. He had pulled out into the middle of the river, when I
noticed a beautiful snake, short and rather stout, lying coiled on the
water. Whether it was an optical illusion I cannot say, but it seemed to
me that the creature lay entirely above the surface,--as if it had been
an inflated skin rather than a live snake. We passed close by it, but it
made no offer to move, only darting out its tongue as the boat slipped
past. I spoke to the boy, who at once ceased rowing.

"I think I must go back and kill that fellow," he said.

"Why so?" I asked, with surprise, for I had looked upon it simply as a

"Oh, I don't like to see it live. It's the poisonousest snake there is."

As he spoke he turned the boat: but the snake saved him further trouble,
for just then it uncoiled and swam directly toward us, as if it meant to
come aboard. "Oh, you're coming this way, are you?" said the boy
sarcastically. "Well, come on!" The snake came on, and when it got well
within range he took up his fishing-rod (with hooks at the end for
drawing game out of the reeds and bonnets), and the next moment the
snake lay dead upon the water. He slipped the end of the pole under it
and slung it ashore. "There! how do you like that?" said he, and he
headed the boat upstream again. It was a "copper-bellied moccasin," he
declared, whatever that may be, and was worse than a rattlesnake.

On the river, as in the creek, we were continually exploring bays and
inlets, each with its promising patch of bonnets. Nearly every such
place contained at least one Florida gallinule; but where were the
"purples," about which we kept talking,--the "royal purples," concerning
whose beauty my boy was so eloquent?

"They are not common yet," he would say. "By and by they will be as
thick as Floridas are now."

"But don't they stay here all winter?"

"No, sir; not the purples."

"Are you certain about that?"

"Oh yes, sir. I have hunted this river too much. They couldn't be here
in the winter without my knowing it."

I wondered whether he could be right, or partly right, notwithstanding
the book statements to the contrary. I notice that Mr. Chapman, writing
of his experiences with this bird at Gainesville, says, "None were seen
until May 25, when, in a part of the lake before unvisited,--a mass of
floating islands and 'bonnets,'--I found them not uncommon." The boy's
assertions may be worth recording, at any rate.

In one place he fired suddenly, and as he put down the gun he exclaimed,
"There! I'll bet I've shot a bird you never saw before. It had a bill as
long as that," with one finger laid crosswise upon another. He hauled
the prize into the boat, and sure enough, it was a novelty,--a king
rail, new to both of us. We had gone a little farther, and were passing
a prairie, on which were pools of water where the boy said he had often
seen large flocks of white ibises feeding (there were none there now,
alas, though we crept up with all cautiousness to peep over the bank),
when all at once I descried some sharp-winged, strange-looking bird over
our heads. It showed sidewise at the moment, but an instant later it
turned, and I saw its long forked tail, and almost in the same breath
its white head. A fork-tailed kite! and purple gallinules were for the
time forgotten. It was performing the most graceful evolutions, swooping
half-way to the earth from a great height, and then sweeping upward
again. Another minute, and I saw a second bird, farther away. I watched
the nearer one till it faded from sight, soaring and swooping by
turns,--its long, scissors-shaped tail all the while fully spread,--but
never coming down, as its habit is said to be, to skim over the surface
of the water. There is nothing more beautiful on wings, I believe: a
large hawk, with a swallow's grace of form, color, and motion. I saw it
once more (four birds) over the St. Mark's River, and counted the sight
one of the chief rewards of my Southern winter.

At noon we rested and ate our luncheon in the shade of three or four
tall palmetto-trees standing by themselves on a broad prairie, a place
brightened by beds of blue iris and stretches of golden
senecio,--homelike as well as pretty, both of them. Then we set out
again. The day was intensely hot (March 24), and my oarsman was more
than half sick with a sudden cold. I begged him to take things easily,
but he soon experienced an almost miraculous renewal of his forces. In
one of the first of our after-dinner bonnet patches, he seized his gun,
fired, and began to shout, "A purple! a purple!" He drew the bird in, as
proud as a prince. "There, sir!" he said; "didn't I tell you it was
handsome? It has every color there is." And indeed it was handsome,
worthy to be called the "Sultana;" with the most exquisite iridescent
bluish-purple plumage, the legs yellow, or greenish-yellow (a point by
which it may be distinguished from the Florida gallinule, as the bird
flies from you), the bill red tipped with pale green, and the shield (on
the forehead, like a continuation of the upper mandible) light blue, of
a peculiar shade, "just as if it had been painted." From that moment the
boy was a new creature. Again and again he spoke of his altered
feelings. He could pull the boat now anywhere I wanted to go. He was
perfectly fresh, he declared, although I thought he had already done a
pretty good day's work under that scorching sun. I had not imagined how
deeply his heart was set upon showing me the bird I was after. It made
me twice as glad to see it, dead though it was.

Within an hour, on our way homeward, we came upon another. It sprang out
of the lily pads, and sped toward the tall grass of the shore. "Look!
look! a purple!" the boy cried. "See his yellow legs!" Instinctively he
raised his gun, but I said No. It would be inexcusable to shoot a second
one; and besides, we were at that moment approaching a bird about which
I felt a stronger curiosity,--a snake-bird, or water-turkey, sitting in
a willow shrub at the further end of the bay. "Pull me as near it as it
will let us come," I said. "I want to see as much of it as possible." At
every rod or two I stopped the boat and put up my glasses, till we were
within perhaps sixty feet of the bird. Then it took wing, but instead of
flying away went sweeping about us. On getting round to the willows
again it made as if it would alight, uttering at the same time some
faint ejaculations, like "ah! ah! ah!" but it kept on for a second sweep
of the circle. Then it perched in its old place, but faced us a little
less directly, so that I could see the beautiful silver tracery of its
wings, like the finest of embroidery, as I thought. After we had eyed it
for some minutes we suddenly perceived a second bird, ten feet or so
from it, in full sight. Where it came from, or how

[Transcriber's note: missing page 142]

too, shaped like a narrow wedge, was unconscionably long; and as the
bird showed against the sky, I could think of nothing but an animated
sign of addition. A better man--the Emperor Constantine, shall we
say?--might have seen in it a nobler symbol.

While we were loitering down the river, later in the afternoon, an eagle
made its appearance far overhead, the first one of the day. The boy, for
some reason, refused to believe that it was an eagle. Nothing but a
sight of its white head and tail through the glass could convince him.
(The perfectly square _set_ of the wings as the bird sails is a pretty
strong mark, at no matter what distance.) Presently an osprey, not far
from us, with a fish in his claws, set up a violent screaming. "It is
because he has caught a fish," said the boy; "he is calling his mate."
"No," said I, "it is because the eagle is after him. Wait a bit." In
fact, the eagle was already in pursuit, and the hawk, as he always does,
had begun struggling upward with all his might. That is the fish-hawk's
way of appealing to Heaven against his oppressor. He was safe for that
time. Three negroes, shad-fishers, were just beyond us (we had seen them
there in the morning, wading about the river setting their nets), and at
the sight of them and of us, I have no doubt, the eagle turned away. The
boy was not peculiar in his notion about the osprey's scream. Some one
else had told me that the bird always screamed after catching a fish.
But I knew better, having seen him catch a hundred, more or less,
without uttering a sound. The safe rule, in such cases, is to listen to
all you hear, and believe it--after you have verified it for yourself.

It was while we were discussing this question, I think, that the boy
opened his heart to me about my methods of study. He had looked through
the glass now and then, and of course had been astonished at its power.
"Why," he said finally, "I never had any idea it could be so much fun
just to look at birds in the way you do!" I liked the turn of his
phrase. It seemed to say, "Yes, I begin to see through it. We are in the
same boat. This that you call study is only another kind of sport." I
could have shaken hands with him but that he had the oars. Who does not
love to be flattered by an ingenuous boy?

All in all, the day had been one to be remembered. In addition to the
birds already named--three of them new to me--we had seen great blue
herons, little blue herons, Louisiana herons, night herons, cormorants,
pied-billed grebes, kingfishers, red-winged blackbirds, boat-tailed
grackles, redpoll and myrtle warblers, savanna sparrows, tree swallows,
purple martins, a few meadow larks, and the ubiquitous turkey buzzard.
The boat-tails abounded along the river banks, and, with their tameness
and their ridiculous outcries, kept us amused whenever there was nothing
else to absorb our attention. The prairie lands through which the river
meanders proved to be surprisingly dry and passable (the water being
unusually low, the boy said), with many cattle pastured upon them. Here
we found the savanna sparrows; here, too, the meadow larks were singing.

It was a hard pull across the rough lake against the wind (a dangerous
sheet of water for flat-bottomed rowboats, I was told afterward), but
the boy was equal to it, protesting that he didn't feel tired a bit, now
we had got the "purples;" and if he did not catch the fever from
drinking some quarts of river water (a big bottle of coffee having
proved to be only a drop in the bucket), against my urgent remonstrances
and his own judgment, I am sure he looks back upon the labor as on the
whole well spent. He was going North in the spring, he told me. May joy
be with him wherever he is!

The next morning I took the steamer down the river to Blue Spring, a
distance of some thirty miles, on my way back to New Smyrna, to a place
where there were accessible woods, a beach, and, not least, a daily sea
breeze. The river in that part of its course is comfortably narrow,--a
great advantage,--winding through cypress swamps, hammock woods,
stretches of prairie, and in one place a pine barren; an interesting and
in many ways beautiful country, but so unwholesome looking as to lose
much of its attractiveness. Three or four large alligators lay sunning
themselves in the most obliging manner upon the banks, here one and
there one, to the vociferous delight of the passengers, who ran from one
side of the deck to the other, as the captain shouted and pointed. One,
he told us, was thirteen feet long, the largest in the river. Each
appeared to have its own well-worn sunning-spot, and all, I believe,
kept their places, as if the passing of the big steamer--almost too big
for the river at some of the sharper turns--had come to seem a
commonplace event. Herons in the usual variety were present, with
ospreys, an eagle, kingfishers, ground doves, Carolina doves, blackbirds
(red-wings and boat-tails), tree swallows, purple martins, and a single
wild turkey, the first one I had ever seen. It was near the bank of the
river, on a bushy prairie, fully exposed, and crouched as the steamer
passed. For a Massachusetts ornithologist the mere sight of such a bird
was enough to make a pretty good Thanksgiving Day. Blue yellow-backed
warblers were singing here and there, and I retain a particular
remembrance of one bluebird that warbled to us from the pine-woods. The
captain told me, somewhat to my surprise, that he had seen two flocks of
paroquets during the winter (they had been very abundant along the river
within his time, he said), but for me there was no such fortune. One
bird, soaring in company with a buzzard at a most extraordinary height
straight over the river, greatly excited my curiosity. The captain
declared that it must be a great blue heron; but he had never seen one
thus engaged, nor, so far as I can learn, has any one else ever done so.
Its upper parts seemed to be mostly white, and I can only surmise that
it may have been a sandhill crane, a bird which is said to have such a

As I left the boat I had a little experience of the seamy side of
Southern travel; nothing to be angry about, perhaps, but annoying,
nevertheless, on a hot day. I surrendered my check to the purser of the
boat, and the deck hands put my trunk upon the landing at Blue Spring.
But there was no one there to receive it, and the station was locked. We
had missed the noon train, with which we were advertised to connect, by
so many hours that I had ceased to think about it. Finally, a negro, one
of several who were fishing thereabouts, advised me to go "up to the
house," which he pointed out behind some woods, and see the agent. This
I did, and the agent, in turn, advised me to walk up the track to the
"Junction," and be sure to tell the conductor, when the evening train
arrived, as it probably would do some hours later, that I had a trunk at
the landing. Otherwise the train would not run down to the river, and my
baggage would lie there till Monday. He would go down presently and put
it under cover. Happily, he fulfilled his promise, for it was already
beginning to thunder, and soon it rained in torrents, with a cold wind
that made the hot weather all at once a thing of the past.

It was a long wait in the dreary little station; or rather it would have
been, had not the tedium of it been relieved by the presence of a newly
married couple, whose honeymoon was just then at the full. Their delight
in each other was exuberant, effervescent, beatific,--what shall I
say?--quite beyond veiling or restraint. At first I bestowed upon them
sidewise and cornerwise glances only, hiding bashfully behind my
spectacles, as it were, and pretending to see nothing; but I soon
perceived that I was to them of no more consequence than a fly on the
wall. If they saw me, which sometimes seemed doubtful,--for love is
blind,--they evidently thought me too sensible, or too old, to mind a
little billing and cooing. And they were right in their opinion. What
was I in Florida for, if not for the study of natural history? And
truly, I have seldom seen, even among birds, a pair less sophisticated,
less cabined and confined by that disastrous knowledge of good and evil
which is commonly understood to have resulted from the eating of
forbidden fruit, and which among prudish people goes by the name of
modesty. It was refreshing. Charles Lamb himself would have enjoyed it,
and, I should hope, would have added some qualifying footnotes to a
certain unamiable essay of his concerning the behavior of married


One of my first inquiries at Tallahassee was for the easiest way to the
woods. The city is built on a hill, with other hills about it. These are
mostly under cultivation, and such woods as lay within sight seemed to
be pretty far off; and with the mercury at ninety in the shade, long
tramps were almost out of the question. "Take the St. Augustine road,"
said the man to whom I had spoken; and he pointed out its beginning
nearly opposite the state capitol. After breakfast I followed his
advice, with results so pleasing that I found myself turning that corner
again and again as long as I remained in Tallahassee.

The road goes abruptly downhill to the railway track, first between deep
red gulches, and then between rows of negro cabins, each with its garden
of rosebushes, now (early April) in full bloom. The deep sides of the
gulches were draped with pendent lantana branches full of purple
flowers, or, more beautiful still, with a profusion of fragrant white
honeysuckle. On the roadside, between the wheel-track and the gulch,
grew brilliant Mexican poppies, with Venus's looking-glass, yellow
oxalis, and beds of blackberry vines. The woods of which my informant
had spoken lay a little beyond the railway, on the right hand of the
road, just as it began another ascent. I entered them at once, and after
a semicircular turn through the pleasant paths, amid live-oaks,
water-oaks, red oaks, chestnut oaks, magnolias, beeches, hickories,
hornbeams, sweet gums, sweet bays, and long-leaved and short-leaved
pines, came out into the road again a quarter of a mile farther up the
hill. They were the fairest of woods to stroll in, it seemed to me, with
paths enough, and not too many, and good enough, but not too good; that
is to say, they were footpaths, not roads, though afterwards, on a
Sunday afternoon, I met two young fellows riding through them on
bicycles. The wood was delightful, also, after my two months in eastern
Florida, for lying on a slope, and for having an undergrowth of loose
shrubbery instead of a jungle of scrub oak and saw palmetto. Blue jays
and crested flycatchers were doing their best to outscream one
another,--with the odds in favor of the flycatchers,--and a few smaller
birds were singing, especially two or three summer tanagers, as many
yellow-throated warblers, and a ruby-crowned kinglet. In one part of the
wood, near what I took to be an old city reservoir, I came upon a single
white-throated sparrow and a humming-bird,--the latter a strangely
uncommon sight in Tallahassee, where, of all the places I have ever
seen, it ought to find itself in clover. Here, too, were a pair of
Carolina wrens, just now in search of a building-site, and conducting
themselves exactly in the manner of bluebirds intent on such business;
peeping into every hole that offered itself, and then, after the
briefest interchange of opinion,--unfavorable on the female's part, if
we may guess,--concluding to look a little farther.

As I struck the road again, a man came along on horseback, and we fell
into conversation about the country. "A lovely country," he called it,
and I agreed with him. He inquired where I was from, and I mentioned
that I had lately been in southern Florida, and found this region a
strong contrast. "Yes," he returned; and, pointing to the grass, he
remarked upon the richness of the soil. "This yere land would fertilize
that," he said, speaking of southern Florida. "I shouldn't wonder," said
I. I meant to be understood as concurring in his opinion, but such a
qualified, Yankeefied assent seemed to him no assent at all. "Oh, it
will, it will!" he responded, as if the point were one about which I
must on no account be left unconvinced. He told me that the fine house
at which I had looked, a little distance back, through a long vista of
trees, was the residence of Captain H., who owned all the land along the
road for a good distance. I inquired how far the road was pretty, like
this. "For forty miles," he said. That was farther than I was ready to
walk, and coming soon to the top of the hill, or, more exactly, of the
plateau, I stopped in the shade of a china-tree, and looked at the
pleasing prospect. Behind me was a plantation of young pear-trees, and
before me, among the hills northward, lay broad, cultivated slopes,
dotted here and there with cabins and tall, solitary trees. On the
nearer slope, perhaps a sixteenth of a mile away, a negro was ploughing,
with a single ox harnessed in some primitive manner,--with pieces of
wood, for the most part, as well as I could make out through an
opera-glass. The soil offered the least possible hindrance, and both he
and the ox seemed to be having a literal "walk-over." Beyond him--a full
half-mile away, perhaps--another man was ploughing with a mule; and in
another direction a third was doing likewise, with a woman following in
his wake. A colored boy of seventeen--I guessed his age at
twenty-three--came up the road in a cart, and I stopped him to inquire
about the crops and other matters. The land in front of me was planted
with cotton, he said; and the men ploughing in the distance were getting
ready to plant the same. They hired the land and the cabins of Captain
H., paying him so much cotton (not so much an acre, but so much a mule,
if I understood him rightly) by way of rent. We talked a long time about
one thing and another. He had been south as far as the Indian River
country, but was glad to be back again in Tallahassee, where he was
born. I asked him about the road, how far it went. "They tell me it goes
smack to St. Augustine," he replied; "I ain't tried it." It was an
unlikely story, it seemed to me, but I was assured afterward that he was
right; that the road actually runs across the country from Tallahassee
to St. Augustine, a distance of about two hundred miles. With company of
my own choosing, and in cooler weather, I thought I should like to walk
its whole length.[1] My young man was in no haste. With the reins (made
of rope, after a fashion much followed in Florida) lying on the forward
axle of his cart, he seemed to have put himself entirely at my service.
He had to the full that peculiar urbanity which I began after a while to
look upon as characteristic of Tallahassee negroes,--a gentleness of
speech, and a kindly, deferential air, neither forward nor servile, such
as sits well on any man, whatever the color of his skin.

[Footnote 1: But let no enthusiast set out to walk from one city to the
other on the strength of what is here written. After this sketch was
first printed--in _The Atlantic Monthly_--a gentleman who ought to know
whereof he speaks sent me word that my informants were all of them
wrong--that the road does not run to St. Augustine. For myself, I assert
nothing. As my colored boy said, "I ain't tried it."]

In that respect he was like another boy of about his own age, who lived
in the cabin directly before us, but whom I did not see till I had been
several times over the road. Then he happened to be at work near the
edge of the field, and I beckoned him to me. He, too, was serious and
manly in his bearing, and showed no disposition to go back to his hoe
till I broke off the interview,--as if it were a point of good manners
with him to await my pleasure. Yes, the plantation was a good one and
easily cultivated, he said, in response to some remark of my own. There
were five in the family, and they all worked. "We are all big enough to
eat," he added, quite simply. He had never been North, but had lately
declined the offer of a gentleman who wished to take him there,--him and
"another fellow." He once went to Jacksonville, but couldn't stay. "You
can get along without your father pretty well, but it's another thing to
do without your mother." He never meant to leave home again as long as
his mother lived; which was likely to be for some years, I thought, if
she were still able to do her part in the cotton-field. As a general
thing, the colored tenants of the cabins made out pretty well, he
believed, unless something happened to the crops. As for the old
servants of the H. family, they didn't have to work,--they were
provided for; Captain H.'s father "left it so in his testimonial." I
spoke of the purple martins which were flying back and forth over the
field with many cheerful noises, and of the calabashes that hung from a
tall pole in one corner of the cabin yard, for their accommodation. On
my way South, I told him, I had noticed these dangling long-necked
squashes everywhere, and had wondered what they were for. I had found
out since that they were the colored man's martin-boxes, and was glad to
see the people so fond of the birds. "Yes," he said, "there's no danger
of hawks carrying off the chickens as long as the martins are round."

Twice afterward, as I went up the road, I found him ploughing between
the cotton rows; but he was too far away to be accosted without
shouting, and I did not feel justified in interrupting him at his work.
Back and forth he went through the long furrow after the patient ox, the
hens and chickens following. No doubt they thought the work was all for
their benefit. Farther away, a man and two women were hoeing. The family
deserved to prosper, I said to myself, as I lay under a big
magnolia-tree (just beginning to open its large white flowers) and idly
enjoyed the scene. And it was just here, by the bye, that I solved an
interesting etymological puzzle, to wit, the origin and precise meaning
of the word "baygall,"--a word which the visitor often hears upon the
lips of Florida people. An old hunter in Smyrna, when I questioned him
about it, told me that it meant a swampy piece of wood, and took its
origin, he had always supposed, from the fact that bay-trees and
gall-bushes commonly grew in such places. A Tallahassee gentleman agreed
with this explanation, and promised to bring home some gall-berries the
next time he came across any, that I might see what they were; but the
berries were never forthcoming, and I was none the wiser, till, on one
of my last trips up the St. Augustine road, as I stood under the large
magnolia just mentioned, a colored man came along, hat in hand, and a
bag of grain balanced on his head.

"That's a large magnolia," said I.

He assented.

"That's about as large as magnolias ever grow, isn't it?"

"No, sir; down in the gall there's magnolias a heap bigger 'n that."

"A gall? What's that?"

"A baygall, sir."

"And what's a baygall?"

"A big wood."

"And why do you call it a baygall?"

He was stumped, it was plain to see. No doubt he would have scratched
his head, if that useful organ had been accessible. He hesitated; but it
isn't like an uneducated man to confess ignorance. "'Cause it's a
desert," he said, "a thick _place_."

"Yes, yes," I answered, and he resumed his march.

The road was traveled mostly by negroes. On Sunday afternoons it looked
quite like a flower garden, it was so full of bright dresses coming home
from church. "Now'-days folks git religion so easy!" one young woman
said to another, as they passed me. She was a conservative. I did not
join the procession, but on other days I talked, first and last, with a
good many of the people; from the preacher, who carried a handsome cane
and made me a still handsomer bow, down to a serious little fellow of
six or seven years, whom I found standing at the foot of the hill,
beside a bundle of dead wood. He was carrying it home for the family
stove, and had set it down for a minute's rest. I said something about
his burden, and as I went on he called after me: "What kind of birds are
you hunting for? Ricebirds?" I answered that I was looking for birds of
all sorts. Had he seen any ricebirds lately? Yes, he said; he started a
flock the other day up on[1] the hill. "How did they look?" said I.
"They is red blackbirds," he returned. This was not the first time I had
heard the redwing called the ricebird. But how did the boy know me for a
bird-gazer? That was a mystery. It came over me all at once that
possibly I had become better known in the community than I had in the
least suspected; and then I remembered my field-glass. That, as I could
not help being aware, was an object of continual attention. Every day I
saw people, old and young, black and white, looking at it with
undisguised curiosity. Often they passed audible comments upon it among
themselves. "How far can you see through the spyglass?" a bolder spirit
would now and then venture to ask; and once, on the railway track out in
the pine lands, a barefooted, happy-faced urchin made a guess that was
really admirable for its ingenuity. "Looks like you're goin' over
inspectin' the wire," he remarked. On rare occasions, as an act of
special grace, I offered such an inquirer a peep through the magic
lenses,--an experiment that never failed to elicit exclamations of
wonder. Things were so near! And the observer looked comically
incredulous, on putting down the glass, to find how suddenly the
landscape had slipped away again. More than one colored man wanted to
know its price, and expressed a fervent desire to possess one like it;
and probably, if I had ever been assaulted and robbed in all my solitary
wanderings through the flat-woods and other lonesome places, my
"spyglass" rather than my purse--the "lust of the eye" rather than the
"pride of life"--would have been to thank.

[Footnote 1: He did not say "upon" any more than Northern white boys

Here, however, there could be no thought of such a contingency. Here
were no vagabonds (one inoffensive Yankee specimen excepted), but
hard-working people going into the city or out again, each on his own
lawful business. Scarcely one of them, man or woman, but greeted me
kindly. One, a white man on horseback, invited, and even urged me, to
mount his horse, and let him walk a piece. I must be fatigued, he was
sure,--how could I help it?--and he would as soon walk as not. Finding
me obstinate, he walked his horse at my side, chatting about the
country, the trees, and the crops. He it was who called my particular
attention to the abundance of blackberry vines. "Are the berries sweet?"
I asked. He smacked his lips. "Sweet as honey, and big as that,"
measuring off a liberal portion of his thumb. I spoke of them half an
hour later to a middle-aged colored man. Yes, he said, the blackberries
were plenty enough and sweet enough; but, for his part, he didn't
trouble them a great deal. The vines (and he pointed at them, fringing
the roadside indefinitely) were great places for rattlesnakes. He liked
the berries, but he liked somebody else to pick them. He was awfully
afraid of snakes; they were so dangerous. "Yes, sir" (this in answer to
an inquiry), "there are plenty of rattlesnakes here clean up to
Christmas." I liked him for his frank avowal of cowardice, and still
more for his quiet bearing. He remembered the days of slavery,--"before
the surrender," as the current Southern phrase is,--and his face beamed
when I spoke of my joy in thinking that his people were free, no matter
what might befall them. He, too, raised cotton on hired land, and was
bringing up his children--there were eight of them, he said--to habits
of industry.

My second stroll toward St. Augustine carried me perhaps three
miles,--say one sixty-sixth of the entire distance,--and none of my
subsequent excursions took me any farther; and having just now commended
a negro for his candor, I am moved to acknowledge that, between the sand
underfoot and the sun overhead, I found the six miles, which I spent at
least four hours in accomplishing, more fatiguing than twice that
distance would have been over New Hampshire hills. If I were to settle
in that country, I should probably fall into the way of riding more, and
walking less. I remember thinking how comfortable a certain ponderous
black mammy looked, whom I met on one of these same sunny and sandy
tramps. She sat in the very middle of a tipcart, with an old and truly
picturesque man's hat on her head (quite in the fashion, feminine
readers will notice), driving a one-horned ox with a pair of
clothes-line reins. She was traveling slowly, just as I like to travel;
and, as I say, I was impressed by her comfortable appearance. Why would
not an equipage like that be just the thing for a naturalistic idler?

Not far beyond my halting-place of two days before I came to a Cherokee
rosebush, one of the most beautiful of plants,--white, fragrant, single
roses (_real_ roses) set in the midst of the handsomest of glossy green
leaves. I was delighted to find it still in flower. A hundred miles
farther south I had seen it finishing its season a full month earlier. I
stopped, of course, to pluck a blossom. At that moment a female redbird
flew out of the bush. Her mate was beside her instantly, and a nameless
something in their manner told me they were trying to keep a secret. The
nest, built mainly of pine needles and other leaves, was in the middle
of the bush, a foot or two from the grass, and contained two bluish or
greenish eggs thickly spattered with dark brown. I meant to look into it
again (the owners seemed to have no great objection), but somehow missed
it every time I passed. From that point, as far as I went, the road was
lined with Cherokee roses,--not continuously, but with short
intermissions; and from the number of redbirds seen, almost invariably
in pairs, I feel safe in saying that the nest I had found was probably
one of fifteen or twenty scattered along the wayside. How gloriously the
birds sang! It was their day for singing. I was ready to christen the
road anew,--Redbird Road.

But the redbirds, many and conspicuous as they were, had no monopoly of
the road or of the day. House wrens were equally numerous and equally at
home, though they sang more out of sight. Red-eyed chewinks, still far
from their native berry pastures, hopped into a bush to cry, "Who's he?"
at the passing of a stranger, in whom, for aught I know, they may have
half recognized an old acquaintance. A bunch of quails ran across the
road a little in front of me, and in another place fifteen or twenty
red-winged blackbirds (not a red wing among them) sat gossiping in a
treetop. Elsewhere, even later than this (it was now April 7), I saw
flocks, every bird of which wore shoulder-straps,--like the traditional
militia company, all officers. _They_ did not gossip, of course (it is
the male that sports the red), but they made a lively noise.

As for the mocking-birds, they were at the front here, as they were
everywhere. During my fortnight in Tallahassee there were never many
consecutive five minutes of daylight in which, if I stopped to listen, I
could not hear at least one mocker. Oftener two or three were singing at
once in as many different directions. And, speaking of them, I must
speak also of their more northern cousin. From the day I entered Florida
I had been saying that the mocking-bird, save for his occasional mimicry
of other birds, sang so exactly like the thrasher that I did not believe
I could tell one from the other. Now, however, on this St. Augustine
road, I suddenly became aware of a bird singing somewhere in advance,
and as I listened again I said aloud, with full persuasion, "There!
that's a thrasher!" There was a something of difference: a shade of
coarseness in the voice, perhaps; a tendency to force the tone, as we
say of human singers,--a _something_, at all events, and the longer I
hearkened, the more confident I felt that the bird was a thrasher. And
so it was,--the first one I had heard in Florida, although I had seen
many. Probably the two birds have peculiarities of voice and method
that, with longer familiarity on the listener's part, would render them
easily distinguishable. On general principles, I must believe that to be
true of all birds. But the experience just described is not to be taken
as proving that _I_ have any such familiarity. Within a week afterward,
while walking along the railway, I came upon a thrasher and a
mocking-bird singing side by side; the mocker upon a telegraph pole, and
the thrasher on the wire, halfway between the mocker and the next pole.
They sang and sang, while I stood between them in the cut below and
listened; and if my life had depended on my seeing how one song differed
from the other, I could not have done it. With my eyes shut, the birds
might have changed places,--if they could have done it quickly
enough,--and I should have been none the wiser.

As I have said, I followed the road over the nearly level plateau for
what I guessed to be about three miles. Then I found myself in a bit of
hollow that seemed made for a stopping-place, with a plantation road
running off to the right, and a hillside cornfield of many acres on the
left. In the field were a few tall dead trees. At the tip of one sat a
sparrow-hawk, and to the trunk of another clung a red-bellied
woodpecker, who, with characteristic foolishness, sat beside his hole
calling persistently, and then, as if determined to publish what other
birds so carefully conceal, went inside, thrust out his head, and
resumed his clatter. Here, too, were a pair of bluebirds, noticeable for
their rarity, and for the wonderful color--a shade deeper than is ever
seen at the North, I think--of the male's blue coat. In a small thicket
in the hollow beside the road were noisy white-eyed vireos, a
ruby-crowned kinglet,--a tiny thing that within a month would be singing
in Canada, or beyond,--an unseen wood pewee, and (also unseen) a hermit
thrush, one of perhaps twenty solitary individuals that I found
scattered about the woods in the course of my journeyings. Not one of
them sang a note. Probably they did not know that there was a Yankee in
Florida who--in some moods, at least--would have given more for a dozen
bars of hermit thrush music than for a day and a night of the
mocking-bird's medley. Not that I mean to disparage the great Southern
performer; as a vocalist he is so far beyond the hermit thrush as to
render a comparison absurd; but what I love is a _singer_, a voice to
reach the soul. An old Tallahassee negro, near the "white Norman
school,"--so he called it,--hit off the mocking-bird pretty well. I had
called his attention to one singing in an adjacent dooryard. "Yes," he
said, "I love to hear 'em. They's very amusin', very amusin'." My own
feeling can hardly be a prejudice, conscious or unconscious, in favor of
what has grown dear to me through early and long-continued association.
The difference between the music of birds like the mocker, the thrasher,
and the catbird and that of birds like the hermit, the veery, and the
wood thrush is one of kind, not of degree; and I have heard music of the
mocking-bird's kind (the thrasher's, that is to say) as long as I have
heard music at all. The question is one of taste, it is true; but it is
not a question of familiarity or favoritism. All praise to the mocker
and the thrasher! May their tribe increase! But if we are to indulge in
comparisons, give me the wood thrush, the hermit, and the veery; with
tones that the mocking-bird can never imitate, and a simplicity which
the Fates--the wise Fates, who will have variety--have put forever
beyond his appreciation and his reach.

Florida as I saw it (let the qualification be noted) is no more a land
of flowers than New England. In some respects, indeed, it is less so.
Flowering shrubs and climbers there are in abundance. I rode in the cars
through miles on miles of flowering dogwood and pink azalea. Here, on
this Tallahassee road, were miles of Cherokee roses, with plenty of the
climbing scarlet honeysuckle (beloved of humming-birds, although I saw
none here), and nearer the city, as already described, masses of lantana
and white honeysuckle. In more than one place pink double roses
(vagrants from cultivated grounds, no doubt) offered buds and blooms to
all who would have them. The cross-vine (_Bignonia_), less freehanded,
hung its showy bells out of reach in the treetops. Thorn-bushes of
several kinds were in flower (a puzzling lot), and the treelike
blueberry (_Vaccinium arboreum_), loaded with its large, flaring white
corollas, was a real spectacle of beauty. Here, likewise, I found one
tiny crab-apple shrub, with a few blossoms, exquisitely tinted with
rose-color, and most exquisitely fragrant. But the New Englander, when
he talks of wild flowers, has in his eye something different from these.
He is not thinking of any bush, no matter how beautiful, but of trailing
arbutus, hepaticas, bloodroot, anemones, saxifrage, violets, dogtooth
violets, spring beauties, "cowslips," buttercups, corydalis, columbine,
Dutchman's breeches, clintonia, five-finger, and all the rest of that
bright and fragrant host which, ever since he can remember, he has seen
covering his native hills and valleys with the return of May.

It is not meant, of course, that plants like these are wholly wanting in
Florida. I remember an abundance of violets, blue and white, especially
in the flat-woods, where also I often found pretty butterworts of two or
three sorts. The smaller blue ones took very acceptably the place of
hepaticas, and indeed I heard them called by that name. But, as compared
with what one sees in New England, such "ground flowers," flowers which
it seems perfectly natural to pluck for a nosegay, were very little in
evidence. I heard Northern visitors remark the fact again and again. On
this pretty road out of Tallahassee--itself a city of flower gardens--I
can recall nothing of the kind except half a dozen strawberry blossoms,
and the oxalis and specularia before mentioned. Probably the
round-leaved houstonia grew here, as it did everywhere, in small
scattered patches. If there were violets as well, I can only say I have
forgotten them.

Be it added, however, that at the time I did not miss them. In a garden
of roses one does not begin by sighing for mignonette and lilies of the
valley. Violets or no violets, there was no lack of beauty. The Southern
highway surveyor, if such a personage exists, is evidently not consumed
by that distressing puritanical passion for "slicking up things" which
too often makes of his Northern brother something scarcely better than a
public nuisance. At the South you will not find a woman cultivating with
pain a few exotics beside the front door, while her husband is mowing
and burning the far more attractive wild garden that nature has planted
just outside the fence. The St. Augustine road, at any rate, after
climbing the hill and getting beyond the wood, runs between natural
hedges,--trees, vines, and shrubs carelessly intermingled,--not dense
enough to conceal the prospect or shut out the breeze ("straight from
the Gulf," as the Tallahassean is careful to inform you), but sufficient
to afford much welcome protection from the sun. Here it was good to find
the sassafras growing side by side with the persimmon, although when,
for old acquaintance' sake, I put a leaf into my mouth I was half glad
to fancy it a thought less savory than some I had tasted in Yankeeland.
I took a kind of foolish satisfaction, too, in the obvious fact that
certain plants--the sumach and the Virginia creeper, to mention no
others--were less at home here than a thousand miles farther north. With
the wild-cherry trees, I was obliged to confess, the case was reversed.
I had seen larger ones in Massachusetts, perhaps, but none that looked
half so clean and thrifty. In truth, their appearance was a puzzle,
rum-cherry trees as by all tokens they undoubtedly were, till of a
sudden it flashed upon me that there were no caterpillars' nests in
them! Then I ceased to wonder at their odd look. It spoke well for my
botanical acumen that I had recognized them at all.

Before I had been a week in Tallahassee I found that, without
forethought or plan, I had dropped into the habit (and how pleasant it
is to think that some good habits _can_ be dropped into!) of making the
St. Augustine road my after-dinner sauntering-place. The morning was for
a walk: to Lake Bradford, perhaps, in search of a mythical ivory-billed
woodpecker, or westward on the railway for a few miles, with a view to
rare migratory warblers. But in the afternoon I did not walk,--I
loitered; and though I still minded the birds and flowers, I for the
most part forgot my botany and ornithology. In the cool of the day, then
(the phrase is an innocent euphemism), I climbed the hill, and after an
hour or two on the plateau strolled back again, facing the sunset
through a vista of moss-covered live-oaks and sweet gums. Those quiet,
incurious hours are among the pleasantest of all my Florida memories. A
cuckoo would be cooing, perhaps; or a quail, with cheerful ambiguity,--
such as belongs to weather predictions in general,--would be prophesying
"more wet" and "no more wet" in alternate breaths; or two or three
night-hawks would be sweeping back and forth high above the valley; or a
marsh hawk would be quartering over the big oatfield. The martins would
be cackling, in any event, and the kingbirds practicing their aerial
mock somersaults; and the mocking-bird would be singing, and the redbird
whistling. On the western slope, just below the oatfield, the Northern
woman who owned the pretty cottage there (the only one on the road) was
sure to be at work among her flowers. A laughing colored boy who did
chores for her (without injury to his health, I could warrant) told me
that she was a Northerner. But I knew it already; I needed no witness
but her beds of petunias. In the valley, as I crossed the railroad
track, a loggerhead shrike sat, almost of course, on the telegraph wire
in dignified silence; and just beyond, among the cabins, I had my choice
of mocking-birds and orchard orioles. And so, admiring the roses and the
pomegranates, the lantanas and the honeysuckles, or chatting with some
dusky fellow-pilgrim, I mounted the hill to the city, and likely as not
saw before me a red-headed woodpecker sitting on the roof of the State
House, calling attention to his patriotic self--in his tri-colored
dress--by occasional vigorous tattoos on the tinned ridgepole. I never
saw him there without gladness. The legislature had begun its session in
an economical mood,--as is more or less the habit of legislatures, I
believe,--and was even considering a proposition to reduce the salary
and mileage of its members. Under such circumstances, it ought not to
have been a matter of surprise, perhaps, that no flag floated from the
cupola of the capitol. The people's money should not be wasted. And
possibly I should never have remarked the omission but for a certain
curiosity, natural, if not inevitable, on the part of a Northern
visitor, as to the real feeling of the South toward the national
government. Day after day I had seen a portly gentleman--with an air, or
with airs, as the spectator might choose to express it--going in and out
of the State House gate, dressed ostentatiously in a suit of Confederate
gray. He had worn nothing else since the war, I was told. But of course
the State of Florida was not to be judged by the freak of one man, and
he only a member of the "third house." And even when I went into the
governor's office, and saw the original "ordinance of secession" hanging
in a conspicuous place on the wall, as if it were an heirloom to be
proud of, I felt no stirring of sectional animosity, thorough-bred
Massachusetts Yankee and old-fashioned abolitionist as I am. A brave
people can hardly be expected or desired to forget its history,
especially when that history has to do with sacrifices and heroic deeds.
But these things, taken together, did no doubt prepare me to look upon
it as a happy coincidence when, one morning, I heard the familiar cry of
the red-headed woodpecker, for the first time in Florida, and looked up
to see him flying the national colors from the ridgepole of the State
House. I did not break out with "Three cheers for the red, white, and
blue!" I am naturally undemonstrative; but I said to myself that
_Melanerpes erythrocephalus_ was a very handsome bird.


On one of my first jaunts into the suburbs of Tallahassee I noticed not
far from the road a bit of swamp,--shallow pools with muddy borders and
flats. It was a likely spot for "waders," and would be worth a visit. To
reach it, indeed, I must cross a planted field surrounded by a lofty
barbed-wire fence and placarded against trespassers; but there was no
one in sight, or no one who looked at all like a land-owner; and,
besides, it could hardly be accounted a trespass--defined by Blackstone
as an "_unwarranted_ entry on another's soil"--to step carefully over
the cotton rows on so legitimate an errand. Ordinarily I call myself a
simple bird-gazer, an amateur, a field naturalist, if you will; but on
occasions like the present I assume--with myself, that is--all the
rights and titles of an ornithologist proper, a man of science strictly
so called. In the interest of science, then, I climbed the fence and
picked my way across the field. True enough, about the edges of the
water were two or three solitary sandpipers, and at least half a dozen
of the smaller yellowlegs,--two additions to my Florida list,--not to
speak of a little blue heron and a green heron, the latter in most
uncommonly green plumage. It was well I had interpreted the placard a
little generously. "The letter killeth" is a pretty good text in
emergencies of this kind. So I said to myself. The herons, meanwhile,
had taken French leave, but the smaller birds were less suspicious; I
watched them at my leisure, and left them still feeding.

Two days later I was there again, but it must be acknowledged that this
time I tarried in the road till a man on horseback had disappeared round
the next turn. It would have been manlier, without doubt, to pay no
attention to him; but something told me that he was the cotton-planter
himself, and, for better or worse, prudence carried the day with me.
Finding nothing new, though the sandpipers and yellowlegs were still
present, with a very handsome little blue heron and plenty of
blackbirds, I took the road again and went further, and an hour or two
afterward, on getting back to the same place, was overtaken again by the
horseman. He pulled up his horse and bade me good-afternoon. Would I
lend him my opera-glass, which happened to be in my hand at the moment?
"I should like to see how my house looks from here," he said; and he
pointed across the field to a house on the hill some distance beyond.
"Ah," said I, glad to set myself right by a piece of frankness that
under the circumstances could hardly work to my disadvantage; "then it
is your land on which I have been trespassing." "How so?" he asked, with
a smile; and I explained that I had been across his cotton-field a
little while before. "That is no trespass," he answered (so the reader
will perceive that I had been quite correct in my understanding of the
law); and when I went on to explain my object in visiting his cane-swamp
(for such it was, he said, but an unexpected freshet had ruined the crop
when it was barely out of the ground), he assured me that I was welcome
to visit it as often as I wished. He himself was very fond of natural
history, and often regretted that he had not given time to it in his
youth. As it was, he protected the birds on his plantation, and the
place was full of them. I should find his woods interesting, he felt
sure. Florida was extremely rich in birds; he believed there were some
that had never been classified. "We have orioles here," he added; and so
far, at any rate, he was right; I had seen perhaps twenty that day
(orchard orioles, that is), and one sat in a tree before us at the
moment. His whole manner was most kindly and hospitable,--as was that of
every Tallahassean with whom I had occasion to speak,--and I told him
with sincere gratitude that I should certainly avail myself of his
courtesy and stroll through his woods.

I approached them, two mornings afterward, from the opposite side,
where, finding no other place of entrance, I climbed a six-barred,
tightly locked gate--feeling all the while like "a thief and a
robber"--in front of a deserted cabin. Then I had only to cross a grassy
field, in which meadow larks were singing, and I was in the woods. I
wandered through them without finding anything more unusual or
interesting than summer tanagers and yellow-throated warblers, which
were in song there, as they were in every such place, and after a while
came out into a pleasant glade, from which different parts of the
plantation could be seen, and through which ran a plantation road. Here
was a wooden fence,--a most unusual thing,--and I lost no time in
mounting it, to rest and look about me. It is one of the marks of a true
Yankee, I suspect, to like such a perch. My own weakness in that
direction is a frequent subject of mirth with chance fellow travelers.
The attitude is comfortable and conducive to meditation; and now that I
was seated and at my ease, I felt that this was one of the New England
luxuries which, almost without knowing it, I had missed ever since I
left home.

Of my meditations on this particular occasion I remember nothing; but
that is no sign they were valueless; as it is no sign that yesterday's
dinner did me no good because I have forgotten what it was. In the
latter case, indeed, and perhaps in the former as well, it would seem
more reasonable to draw an exactly opposite inference. But, quibbles
apart, one thing I do remember: I sat for some time on the fence, in the
shade of a tree, with an eye upon the cane-swamp and an ear open for
bird-voices. Yes, and it comes to me at this moment that here I heard
the first and only bull-frog that I heard anywhere in Florida. It was
like a voice from home, and belonged with the fence. Other frogs I had
heard in other places. One chorus brought me out of bed in Daytona--in
the evening--after a succession of February dog-day showers. "What is
that noise outside?" I inquired of the landlady as I hastened
downstairs. "That?" said she, with a look of amusement; "that's frogs."
"It _may_ be," I thought, but I followed the sounds till they led me in
the darkness to the edge of a swamp. No doubt the creatures were frogs,
but of some kind new to me, with voices more lugubrious and homesick
than I should have supposed could possibly belong to any batrachian. A
week or two later, in the New Smyrna flat-woods, I heard in the distance
a sound which I took for the grunting of pigs. I made a note of it,
mentally, as a cheerful token, indicative of a probable scarcity of
rattlesnakes; but by and by, as I drew nearer, the truth of the matter
began to break upon me. A man was approaching, and when we met I asked
him what was making that noise yonder. "Frogs," he said. At another
time, in the flat-woods of Port Orange (I hope I am not taxing my
reader's credulity too far, or making myself out a man of too
imaginative an ear), I heard the bleating of sheep. Busy with other
things, I did not stop to reflect that it was impossible there should be
sheep in that quarter, and the occurrence had quite passed out of my
mind when, one day, a cracker, talking about frogs, happened to say,
"Yes, and we have one kind that makes a noise exactly like the bleating
of sheep." That, without question, was what I had heard in the
flat-woods. But this frog in the sugar-cane swamp was the same fellow
that on summer evenings, ever and ever so many years ago, in sonorous
bass that could be heard a quarter of a mile away, used to call from
Reuben Loud's pond, "Pull him in! Pull him in!" or sometimes (the
inconsistent amphibian), "Jug o' rum! Jug o' rum!"

I dismounted from my perch at last, and was sauntering idly along the
path (idleness like this is often the best of ornithological industry),
when suddenly I had a vision! Before me, in the leafy top of an oak
sapling, sat a blue grosbeak. I knew him on the instant. But I could see
only his head and neck, the rest of his body being hidden by the leaves.
It was a moment of feverish excitement. Here was a new bird, a bird
about which I had felt fifteen years of curiosity; and, more than that,
a bird which here and now was quite unexpected, since it was not
included in either of the two Florida lists that I had brought with me
from home. For perhaps five seconds I had my opera-glass on the blue
head and the thick-set, dark bill, with its lighter-colored under
mandible. Then I heard the clatter of a horse's hoofs, and lifted my
eyes. My friend the owner of the plantation was coming down the road at
a gallop, straight upon me. If I was to see the grosbeak and make sure
of him, it must be done at once. I moved to bring him fully into view,
and he flew into the thick of a pine-tree out of sight. But the tree was
not far off, and if Mr. ---- would pass me with a nod, the case was
still far from hopeless. A bright thought came to me. I ran from the
path with a great show of eager absorption, leveled my glass upon the
pine-tree, and stood fixed. Perhaps Mr. ---- would take the hint. Alas!
he had too much courtesy to pass his own guest without speaking. "Still
after the birds?" he said, as he checked his horse. I responded, as I
hope, without any symptom of annoyance. Then, of course, he wished to
know what I was looking at, and I told him that a blue grosbeak had just
flown into that pine-tree, and that I was most distressingly anxious to
see more of him. He looked at the pine-tree. "I can't see him," he said.
No more could I. "It wasn't a blue jay, was it?" he asked. And then we
talked of one thing and another, I have no idea what, till he rode away
to another part of the plantation where a gang of women were at work. By
this time the grosbeak had disappeared utterly. Possibly he had gone to
a bit of wood on the opposite side of the cane-swamp. I scaled a
barbed-wire fence and made in that direction, but to no purpose. The
grosbeak was gone for good. Probably I should never see another. Could
the planter have read my thoughts just then he would perhaps have been
angry with himself, and pretty certainly he would have been angry with
me. That a Yankee should accept his hospitality, and then load him with
curses and call him all manner of names! How should he know that I was
so insane a hobbyist as to care more for the sight of a new bird than
for all the laws and customs of ordinary politeness? As my feelings
cooled, I saw that I was stepping over hills or rows of some
strange-looking plants just out of the ground. Peanuts, I guessed; but
to make sure I called to a colored woman who was hoeing not far off.
"What are these?" "Pinders," she answered. I knew she meant
peanuts,--otherwise "ground-peas" and "goobers,"--and now that I once
more have a dictionary at my elbow I learn that the word, like "goober,"
is, or is supposed to be, of African origin.

I was preparing to surmount the barbed-wire fence again, when the
planter returned and halted for another chat. It was evident that he
took a genuine and amiable interest in my researches. There were a great
many kinds of sparrows in that country, he said, and also of
woodpeckers. He knew the ivory-bill, but, like other Tallahasseans, he
thought I should have to go into Lafayette County (all Florida people
say La_fay_ette) to find it. "That bird calling now is a bee-bird," he
said, referring to a kingbird; "and we have a bird that is called the
French mocking-bird; he catches other birds." The last remark was of
interest for its bearing upon a point about which I had felt some
curiosity, and, I may say, some skepticism, as I had seen many
loggerhead shrikes, but had observed no indication that other birds
feared them or held any grudge against them. As he rode off he called my
attention to a great blue heron just then flying over the swamp. "They
are very shy," he said. Then, from further away, he shouted once more to
ask if I heard the mocking-bird singing yonder, pointing with his whip
in the direction of the singer.

For some time longer I hung about the glade, vainly hoping that the
grosbeak would again favor my eyes. Then I crossed more planted
fields,--climbing more barbed-wire fences, and stopping on the way to
enjoy the sweetly quaint music of a little chorus of white-crowned
sparrows,--and skirted once more the muddy shore of the cane-swamp,
where the yellowlegs and sandpipers were still feeding. That brought me
to the road from which I had made my entry to the place some days
before; but, being still unable to forego a splendid possibility, I
recrossed the plantation, tarried again in the glade, sat again on the
wooden fence (if that grosbeak only _would_ show himself!), and thence
went on, picking a few heads of handsome buffalo clover, the first I had
ever seen, and some sprays of penstemon, till I came again to the
six-barred gate and the Quincy road. At that point, as I now remember,
the air was full of vultures (carrion crows), a hundred or more, soaring
over the fields in some fit of gregariousness. Along the road were
white-crowned and white-throated sparrows (it was the 12th of April),
orchard orioles, thrashers, summer tanagers, myrtle and paim warblers,
cardinal grosbeaks, mocking-birds, kingbirds, logger-heads,
yellow--throated vireos, and sundry others, but not the blue grosbeak,
which would have been worth them all.

Once back at the hotel, I opened my Coues's Key to refresh my memory as
to the exact appearance of that bird. "Feathers around base of bill
black," said the book. I had not noticed that. But no matter; the bird
was a blue grosbeak, for the sufficient reason that it could not be
anything else. A black line between the almost black beak and the
dark-blue head would be inconspicuous at the best, and quite naturally
would escape a glimpse so hasty as mine had been. And yet, while I
reasoned in this way, I foresaw plainly enough that, as time passed,
doubt would get the better of assurance, as it always does, and I should
never be certain that I had not been the victim of some illusion. At
best, the evidence was worth nothing for others. If only that excellent
Mr. ----, for whose kindness I was unfeignedly thankful (and whose
pardon I most sincerely beg if I seem to have been a bit too free in
this rehearsal of the story),--if only Mr. ---- could have left me alone
for ten minutes longer!

The worry and the imprecations were wasted, after all, as, Heaven be
thanked, they so often are; for within two or three days I saw other
blue grosbeaks and heard them sing. But that was not on a cotton
plantation, and is part of another story.


All pilgrims to Tallahassee visit the Murat place. It is one of the most
conveniently accessible of those "points of interest" with which
guide-books so anxiously, and with so much propriety, concern
themselves. What a tourist prays for is something to see. If I had ever
been a tourist in Boston, no doubt I should before now have surveyed the
world from the top of the Bunker Hill monument. In Tallahassee, at all
events, I went to the Murat estate. In fact, I went more than once; but
I remember especially my first visit, which had a livelier sentimental
interest than the others because I was then under the agreeable delusion
that the Prince himself had lived there. The guide-book told me so,
vouchsafing also the information that after building the house he
"interested himself actively in local affairs, became a naturalized
citizen, and served successively as postmaster, alderman, and mayor"--a
model immigrant, surely, though it is rather the way of immigrants,
perhaps, not to refuse political responsibilities.

Naturally, I remembered these things as I stood in front of "the big
house"--a story-and-a-half cottage--amid the flowering shrubs. Here
lived once the son of the King of Naples; himself a Prince, and--worthy
son of a worthy sire--alderman and then mayor of the city of
Tallahassee. Thus did an uncompromising democrat pay court to the shades
of Royalty, while a mocking-bird sang from a fringe-bush by the gate,
and an oriole flew madly from tree to tree in pursuit of a fair creature
of the reluctant sex.

The inconsistency, if such it was, was quickly punished. For, alas! when
I spoke of my morning's pilgrimage to an old resident of the town, he
told me that Murat never lived in the house, nor anywhere else in
Tallahassee, and of course was never its postmaster, alderman, or mayor.
The Princess, he said, built the house after her husband's death, and
lived there, a widow. I appealed to the guide-book. My informant
sneered,--politely,--and brought me a still older Tallahassean, Judge
----, whose venerable name I am sorry to have forgotten, and that
indisputable citizen confirmed all that his neighbor had said. For once,
the guide-book compiler must have been misinformed.

The question, happily, was one of no great consequence. If the Prince
had never lived in the house, the Princess had; and she, by all accounts
(and I make certain her husband would have said the same), was the
worthier person of the two. And even if neither of them had lived there,
if my sentiment had been _all_ wasted (but there was no question of
tears), the place itself was sightly, the house was old, and the way
thither a pleasant one--first down the hill in a zigzag course to the
vicinity of the railway station, then by a winding country road through
the valley past a few negro cabins, and up the slope on the farther
side. Prince Murat, or no Prince Murat, I should love to travel that
road to-day, instead of sitting before a Massachusetts fire, with the
ground deep under snow, and the air full of thirty or forty degrees of

In the front yard of one of the cabins opposite the car-wheel foundry,
and near the station, as I now remember, a middle-aged negress was
cutting up an oak log. She swung the axe with vigor and precision, and
the chips flew; but I could not help saying, "You ought to make the man
do that."

She answered on the instant. "I would," she said, "if I had a man to

"I'm sure you would," I thought. Her tongue was as sharp as her axe.

Ought I to have ventured a word in her behalf, I wonder, when a man of
her own color, and a pretty near neighbor, told me with admirable
_naïveté_ the story of his bereavement and his hopes? His wife had died
a year before, he said, and so far, though he had not let the grass grow
under his feet, he had found no one to take her place. He still meant to
do so, if he could. He was only seventy-four years old, and it was not
good for a man to be alone. He seemed a gentle spirit, and I withheld
all mention of the stalwart and manless wood-cutter. I hope he went
farther, and fared better. So youthful as he was, surely there was no
occasion for haste.

When I had skirted a cotton-field--the crop just out of the ground--and
a bit of wood on the right, and a swamp with a splendid display of white
water-lilies on the left, and had begun to ascend the gentle slope, I
met a man of considerably more than seventy-four years.

"Can you tell me just where the Murat place is?" I inquired.

He grinned broadly, and thought he could. He was one of the old Murat
servants, as his father had been before him. "I was borned on to him,"
he said, speaking of the Prince. Murat was "a gentleman, sah." That was
a statement which it seemed impossible for him to repeat often enough.
He spoke from a slave's point of view. Murat was a good master. The old
man had heard him say that he kept servants "for the like of the thing."
He didn't abuse them. He "never was for barbarizing a poor colored
person at all." Whipping? Oh, yes. "He didn't miss your fault. No, sah,
he didn't miss your fault." But his servants never were "ironed." He
"didn't believe in barbarousment."

The old man was thankful to be free; but to his mind emancipation had
not made everything heavenly. The younger set of negroes ("my people"
was his word) were on the wrong road. They had "sold their birthright,"
though exactly what he meant by that remark I did not gather. "They
ain't got no sense," he declared, "and what sense they has got don't do
'em no good."

I told him finally that I was from the North. "Oh, I knows it," he
exclaimed, "I knows it;" and he beamed with delight. How did he know, I
inquired. "Oh, I knows it. I can see it _in_ you. Anybody would know it
that had any jedgment at all. You's a perfect gentleman, sah." He was
too old to be quarreled with, and I swallowed the compliment.

I tore myself away, or he might have run on till night--about his old
master and mistress, the division of the estate, an abusive overseer
("he was a perfect dog, sah!"), and sundry other things. He had lived a
long time, and had nothing to do now but to recall the past and tell it
over. So it will be with us, if we live so long. May we find once in a
while a patient listener.

This patriarch's unfavorable opinion as to the prospects of the colored
people was shared by my hopeful young widower before mentioned, who
expressed himself quite as emphatically. He was brought up among white
people ("I's been taughted a heap," he said), and believed that the
salvation of the blacks lay in their recognition of white supremacy. But
he was less perspicacious than the older man. He was one of the very few
persons whom I met at the South who did not recognize me at sight as a
Yankee. "Are you a legislator-man?" he asked, at the end of our talk.
The legislature was in session on the hill. But perhaps, after all, he
only meant to flatter me.

If I am long on the way, it is because, as I love always to have it, the
going and coming were the better part of the pilgrimage. The estate
itself is beautifully situated, with far-away horizons; but it has
fallen into great neglect, while the house, almost in ruins, and
occupied by colored people, is to Northern eyes hardly more than a
larger cabin. It put me in mind of the question of a Western gentleman
whom I met at St. Augustine. He had come to Florida against his will,
the weather and the doctor having combined against him, and was looking
at everything through very blue spectacles. "Have you seen any of those
fine old country mansions," he asked, "about which we read so often in
descriptions of Southern, life?" He had been on the lookout for them, he
averred, ever since he left home, and had yet to find the first one; and
from his tone it was evident that he thought the Southern idea of a
"fine old mansion" must be different from his.

The Murat house, certainly, was never a palace, except as love may have
made it so. But it was old; people had lived in it, and died in it;
those who once owned it, whose name and memory still clung to it, were
now in narrower houses; and it was easy for the visitor--for one
visitor, at least--to fall into pensive meditation. I strolled about the
grounds; stood between the last year's cotton-rows, while a Carolina
wren poured out his soul from an oleander bush near by; admired the
confidence of a pair of shrikes, who had made a nest in a honeysuckle
vine in the front yard; listened to the sweet music of mocking-birds,
cardinals, and orchard orioles; watched the martins circling above the
trees; thought of the Princess, and smiled at the black children who
thrust their heads out of the windows of her "big house;" and then, with
a sprig of honeysuckle for a keepsake, I started slowly homeward.

The sun by this time was straight overhead, but my umbrella saved me
from absolute discomfort, while birds furnished here and there an
agreeable diversion. I recall in particular some white-crowned sparrows,
the first ones I had seen in Florida. At a bend in the road opposite the
water-lily swamp, while I was cooling myself in the shade of a friendly
pine-tree,--enjoying at the same time a fence overrun with Cherokee
roses,--a man and his little boy came along in a wagon. The man seemed
really disappointed when I told him that I was going into town, instead
of coming from it. It was pretty warm weather for walking, and he had
meant to offer me a lift. He was a Scandinavian, who had been for some
years in Florida. He owned a good farm not far from the Murat estate,
which latter he had been urged to buy; but he thought a man wasn't any
better off for owning too much land. He talked of his crops, his
children, the climate, and so on, all in a cheerful strain, pleasant to
hear. If the pessimists are right,--which may I be kept from
believing,--the optimists are certainly more comfortable to live with,
though it be only for ten minutes under a roadside shade-tree.

When I reached the street-car track at the foot of the hill, the one car
which plies back and forth through the city was in its place, with the
driver beside it, but no mules.

"Are you going to start directly?" I asked.

"Yes, sah," he answered; and then, looking toward the stable, he shouted
in a peremptory voice, "Do about, there! Do about!"

"What does that mean?" said I. "Hurry up?"

"Yes, sah, that's it. 'Tain't everybody that wants to be hurried up; so
we tells 'em, 'Do about!'"

Half a minute afterwards two very neatly dressed little colored boys
stepped upon the rear platform.

"Where you goin'?" said the driver. "Uptown?"

They said they were.

"Well, come inside. Stay out there, and you'll git hurt and cost this
dried-up company more money than you's wuth."

They dropped into seats by the rear door. He motioned them to the front
corner. "Sit down there," he said, "right there." They obeyed, and as he
turned away he added, what I found more and more to be true, as I saw
more of him, "I ain't de boss, but I's got right smart to say."

Then, he whistled to the mules, flourished his whip, and to a persistent
accompaniment of whacks and whistles we went crawling up the hill.


I arrived at Tallahassee, from Jacksonville, late in the afternoon,
after a hot and dusty ride of more than eight hours. The distance is
only a hundred and sixty odd miles, I believe; but with some bright
exceptions, Southern railroads, like Southern men, seem to be under the
climate, and schedule time is more or less a formality.

For the first two thirds of the way the country is flat and barren.
Happily, I sat within earshot of an amateur political economist, who,
like myself, was journeying to the State capital. By birth and education
he was a New York State man, I heard him say; an old abolitionist, who
had voted for Birney, Fremont, and all their successors down to
Hayes--the only vote he was ever ashamed of. Now he was a "greenbacker."
The country was going to the dogs, and all because the government did
not furnish money enough. The people would find it out some time, he
guessed. He talked as a bird sings--for his own pleasure. But I was
pleased, too. His was an amiable enthusiasm, quite exempt, as it seemed,
from all that bitterness, which an exclusive possession of the truth so
commonly engenders. He was greatly in earnest; he knew he was right; but
he could still see the comical side of things; he still had a sense of
the ludicrous; and in that lay his salvation. For a sense of the
ludicrous is the best of mental antiseptics; it, if anything, will keep
our perishable human nature sweet, and save it from the madhouse. His
discourse was punctuated throughout with quiet laughter. Thus, when he
said, "_I_ call it the _late_ Republican party," it was with a chuckle
so good-natured, so free from acidity and self-conceit, that only a
pretty stiff partisan could have taken offense. Even his predictions of
impending national ruin were delivered with numberless merry quips and
twinkles. Many good Republicans and good Democrats (the adjective is
used in its political sense) might have envied him his sunny temper,
joined, as it was, to a good stock of native shrewdness. For something
in his eye made it plain that, with all his other qualities, our merry
greenbacker was a reasonably competent hand at a bargain; so that I was
not in the least surprised when his seat-mate told me afterward, in a
tone of much respect, that the "Colonel" owned a very comfortable
property at St. Augustine. But his best possession, I still thought, was
his humor and his own generous appreciation of it. To enjoy one's own
jokes is to have a pretty safe insurance against inward adversity.

Happily, I say, this good-humored talker sat within hearing. Happily,
too, it was now--April 4--the height of the season for flowering
dogwood, pink azalea, fringe-bushes, Cherokee roses, and water lilies.
All these had blossomed abundantly, and mile after mile the wilderness
and the solitary place were glad for them. Here and there, also, I
caught flying glimpses of some unknown plant bearing a long upright
raceme of creamy-white flowers. It might be a white lupine, I thought,
till at one of our stops between stations it happened to be growing
within reach. Then I guessed it to be a _Baptisia_, which guess was
afterward confirmed--to my regret; for the flowers lost at once all
their attractiveness. So ineffaceable (oftenest for good, but this time
for ill) is an early impression upon the least honorably esteemed of the
five senses! As a boy, it was one of my tasks to keep down with a scythe
the weeds and bushes in a rocky, thin-soiled cattle pasture. In that
task,--which, at the best, was a little too much like work--my most
troublesome enemy was the common wild indigo (_Baptisia tinctoria_),
partly from the wicked pertinacity with which it sprang up again after
every mowing, but especially from the fact that the cut or bruised stalk
exhaled what in my nostrils was a most abominable odor. Other people do
not find it so offensive, I suspect, but to me it was, and is, ten times
worse than the more pungent but comparatively salubrious perfume which a
certain handsome little black-and-white quadruped--handsome, but
impolite--is given to scattering upon the nocturnal breeze in moments of
extreme perturbation.

Somewhere beyond the Suwanee River (at which I looked as long as it
remained in sight--and thought of Christine Nilsson) there came a sudden
change in the aspect of the country, coincident with a change in the
nature of the soil, from white sand to red clay; a change indescribably
exhilarating to a New Englander who had been living, if only for two
months, in a country without hills. How good it was to see the land
rising, though never so gently, as it stretched away toward the horizon!
My spirits rose with it. By and by we passed extensive hillside
plantations, on which little groups of negroes, men and women, were at
work. I seemed to see the old South of which I had read and dreamed, a
South not in the least like anything to be found in the wilds of
southern and eastern Florida; a land of cotton, and, better still, a
land of Southern people, instead of Northern tourists and settlers. And
when we stopped at a thrifty-looking village, with neat, homelike
houses, open grounds, and lordly shade-trees, I found myself saying
under my breath, "Now, then, we are getting back into God's country."

As for Tallahassee itself, it was exactly what I had hoped to find it: a
typical Southern town; not a camp in the woods, nor an old city
metamorphosed into a fashionable winter resort; a place untainted by
"Northern enterprise," whose inhabitants were unmistakably at home, and
whose houses, many of them, at least, had no appearance of being for
sale. It is compactly built on a hill,--the state capitol crowning the
top,--down the pretty steep sides of which run roads into the open
country all about. The roads, too, are not so sandy but that it is
comparatively comfortable to walk in them--a blessing which the
pedestrian sorely misses in the towns of lower Florida: at St.
Augustine, for example, where, as soon as one leaves the streets of the
city itself, walking and carriage-riding alike become burdensome and,
for any considerable distance, all but impossible. Here at Tallahassee,
it was plain, I should not be kept indoors for want of invitations from

I arrived, as I have said, rather late in the afternoon; so late that I
did nothing more than ramble a little about the city, noting by the way
the advent of the chimney swifts, which I had not found elsewhere, and
returning to my lodgings with a handful of "banana-shrub"
blossoms,--smelling wonderfully like their name,--which a good woman had
insisted upon giving me when I stopped beside the fence to ask her the
name of the bush. It was my first, but by no means my last, experience
of the floral generosity of Tallahassee people.

The next morning I woke betimes, and to my astonishment found the city
enveloped in a dense fog. The hotel clerk, an old resident, to whom I
went in my perplexity, was as much surprised as his questioner. He did
not know what it could mean, he was sure; it was very unusual; but he
thought it did not indicate foul weather. For a man so slightly
acquainted with such phenomena, he proved to be a remarkably good
prophet; for though, during my fortnight's stay, there must have been at
least eight foggy mornings, every day was sunny, and not a drop of rain

That first bright forenoon is still a bright memory. For one thing, the
mocking-birds outsang themselves till I felt, and wrote, that I had
never heard mocking-birds before. That they really did surpass their
brethren of St. Augustine and Sanford would perhaps be too much to
assert, but so it seemed; and I was pleased, some months afterward, to
come upon a confirmatory judgment by Mr. Maurice Thompson, who, if any
one, must be competent to speak.

"If I were going to risk the reputation of our country on the singing of
a mocking-bird against a European nightingale," says Mr. Thompson,[1] "I
should choose my champion from the hill-country in the neighborhood of
Tallahassee, or from the environs of Mobile.... I have found no birds
elsewhere to compare with those in that belt of country about thirty
miles wide, stretching from Live Oak in Florida, by way of Tallahassee,
to some miles west of Mobile."

[Footnote 1: _By-Ways and Bird-Notes_, p. 20.]

I had gone down the hill past some negro cabins, into a small,
straggling wood, and through the wood to a gate which let me into a
plantation lane. It was the fairest of summer forenoons (to me, I mean;
by the almanac it was only the 5th of April), and one of the fairest of
quiet landscapes: broad fields rising gently to the horizon, and before
me, winding upward, a grassy lane open on one side, and bordered on the
other by a deep red gulch and a zigzag fence, along which grew vines,
shrubs, and tall trees. The tender and varied tints of the new leaves,
the lively green of the young grain, the dark ploughed fields, the red
earth of the wayside--I can see them yet, with all that Florida sunshine
on them. In the bushes by the fence-row were a pair of cardinal
grosbeaks, the male whistling divinely, quite unabashed by the
volubility of a mocking-bird who balanced himself on the treetop

    "Superb and sole, upon a pluméd spray,"

and seemed determined to show a Yankee stranger what mocking-birds could
really do when they set out. He did his work well; the love notes of the
flicker could not have been improved by the flicker himself; but, right
or wrong, I could not help feeling that the cardinal struck a truer and
deeper note; while both together did not hinder me from hearing the
faint songs of grasshopper sparrows rising from the ground on either
side of the lane. It was a fine contrast: the mocker flooding the air
from the topmost bough, and the sparrows whispering their few almost
inaudible notes out of the grass. Yes, and at the self-same moment the
eye also had its contrast; for a marsh hawk was skimming over the field,
while up in the sky soared a pair of hen-hawks.

In the wood, composed of large trees, both hard wood and pine, I had
found a group of three summer tanagers, two males and one female,--the
usual proportion with birds generally, one may almost say, in the
pairing season. The female was the first of her sex that I had seen, and
I remarked with pleasure the comparative brightness of her dress. Among
tanagers, as among negroes, red and yellow are esteemed a pretty good
match. At this point, too, in a cluster of pines, I caught a new
song--faint and listless, like the indigo-bird's, I thought; and at the
word I started forward eagerly. Here, doubtless, was the indigo-bird's
southern congener, the nonpareil, or painted bunting, a beauty which I
had begun to fear I was to miss. I had recognized my first tanager from
afar, ten days before, his voice and theme were so like his Northern
relative's; but this time I was too hasty. My listless singer was not
the nonpareil, nor even a finch of any kind, but a yellow-throated
warbler. For a month I had seen birds of his species almost daily, but
always in hard wood trees, and silent. Henceforth, as long as I remained
in Florida, they were invariably in pines,--their summer quarters,--and
in free song. Their plumage is of the neatest and most exquisite; few,
even among warblers, surpass them in that regard: black and white
(reminding one of the black-and-white creeper, which they resemble also
in their feeding habits), with a splendid yellow gorget. Myrtle warblers
(yellow-rumps) were still here (the peninsula is alive with them in the
winter), and a ruby-crowned kinglet mingled its lovely voice with the
simple trills of pine warblers, while out of a dense low treetop some
invisible singer was pouring a stream of fine-spun melody. It should
have been a house wren, I thought (another was singing close by), only
its tune was several times too long.

At least four of my longer excursions into the surrounding country
(long, not intrinsically, but by reason of the heat) were made with a
view to possible ivory-billed woodpeckers. Just out of the town
northward, beyond what appeared to be the court end of Marion Street,
the principal business street of the city, I had accosted a gentleman in
a dooryard in front of a long, low, vine-covered, romantic-looking
house. He was evidently at home, and not so busy as to make an
interruption probably intrusive. I inquired the name of a tree, I
believe. At all events, I engaged him in conversation, and found him
most agreeable--an Ohio gentleman, a man of science, who had been in the
South long enough to have acquired large measures of Southern
_insouciance_ (there are times when a French word has a politer sound
than any English equivalent), which takes life as made for something
better than worry and pleasanter than hard work. He had seen
ivory-bills, he said, and thought I might be equally fortunate if I
would visit a certain swamp, about which he would tell me, or, better
still, if I would go out to Lake Bradford.

First, because it was nearer, I went to the swamp, taking an early
breakfast and setting forth in a fog that was almost a mist, to make as
much of the distance as possible before the sun came out. My course lay
westward, some four miles, along the railway track, which, thanks to
somebody, is provided with a comfortable footpath of hard clay covering
the sleepers midway between the rails. If all railroads were thus
furnished they might be recommended as among the best of routes for
walking naturalists, since they go straight through the wild country.
This one carried me by turns through woodland and cultivated field,
upland and swamp, pine land and hammock; and, happily, my expectations
of the ivory-bill were not lively enough to quicken my steps or render
me heedless of things along the way.

Here I was equally surprised and delighted by the sight of yellow
jessamine still in flower more than a month after I had seen the end of
its brief season, only a hundred miles further south. So great,
apparently, is the difference between the peninsula and this Tallahassee
hill-country, which by its physical geography seems rather to be a part
of Georgia than of Florida. Here, too, the pink azalea was at its
prettiest, and the flowering dogwood, also, true queen of the woods in
Florida as in Massachusetts. The fringe-bush, likewise, stood here and
there in solitary state, and thorn-bushes flourished in bewildering

Nearer the track were the omnipresent blackberry vines, some patches of
which are especially remembered for their bright rosy flowers.

Out of the dense vegetation of a swamp came the cries of Florida
gallinules, and then, of a sudden, I caught, or seemed to catch, the
sweet _kurwee_ whistle of a Carolina rail. Instinctively I turned my ear
for its repetition, and by so doing admitted to myself that I was not
certain of what I had heard, although the sora's call is familiar, and
the bird was reasonably near. I had been taken unawares, and every
ornithologist knows how hard it is to be sure of one's self in such a
case. He knows, too, how uncertain he feels of any brother observer who
in a similar case seems troubled by no distrust of his own senses. The
whistle, whatever it had been, was not repeated, and I lost my only
opportunity of adding the sora's name to my Florida catalogue--a loss,
fortunately, of no consequence to any but myself, since the bird is well
known as a winter visitor to the State.

Further along, a great blue heron was stalking about the edge of a
marshy pool, and further still, in a woody swamp, stood three little
blue herons, one of them in white plumage. In the drier and more open
parts of the way cardinals, mocking-birds, and thrashers were singing,
ground doves were cooing, quails were prophesying, and loggerhead
shrikes sat, trim and silent, on the telegraph wire. In the pine lands
were plenty of brown-headed nuthatches, full, as always, of friendly
gossip; two red-shouldered hawks, for whom life seemed to wear a more
serious aspect; three Maryland yellow throats; a pair of bluebirds, rare
enough now to be twice welcome; a black-and-white creeper, and a yellow
redpoll warbler. In the same pine woods, too, there was much good music:
house wrens, Carolina wrens, red-eyed and white-eyed vireos, pine
warblers, yellow-throated warblers, blue yellowbacks, red-eyed chewinks,
and, twice welcome, like the bluebirds, a Carolina chickadee.

A little beyond this point, in a cut through a low sand bank, I found
two pairs of rough-winged swallows, and stopped for some time to stare
at them, being myself, meanwhile, a gazing-stock for two or three
negroes lounging about the door of a cabin not far away. It is a happy
chance when a man's time is _doubly_ improved. Two of the birds--the
first ones I had ever seen, to be sure of them--perched directly before
me on the wire, one facing me, the other with his back turned. It was
kindly done; and then, as if still further to gratify my curiosity, they
visited a hole in the bank. A second hole was doubtless the property of
the other pair. Living alternately in heaven and in a hole in the
ground, they wore the livery of the earth.

    "They are not fair to outward view
    As many swallows be,"

I said to myself. But I was not the less glad to see them.

I should have been gladder for a sight of the big woodpecker, whose
reputed dwelling-place lay not far ahead. But, though I waited and
listened, and went through the swamp, and beyond it, I heard no strange
shout, nor saw any strange bird; and toward noon, just as the sun
brushed away the fog, I left the railway track for a carriage by-way
which, I felt sure, must somehow bring me back to the city. And so it
did, past here and there a house, till I came to the main road, and then
to the Murat estate, and was again on familiar ground.

Two mornings afterward I made another early and foggy start, this time
for Lake Bradford. My instructions were to follow the railway for a mile
or so beyond the station, and then take a road bearing away sharply to
the left. This I did, making sure I was on the right road by inquiring
of the first man I saw--a negro at work before his cabin. I had gone
perhaps half a mile further when a white man, on his way after a load of
wood, as I judged, drove up behind me. "Won't you ride?" he asked. "You
are going to Lake Bradford, I believe, and I am going a piece in the
same direction." I jumped up behind (the wagon consisting of two long
planks fastened to the two axles), thankful, but not without a little
bewilderment. The good-hearted negro, it appeared, had asked the man to
look out for me; and he, on his part, seemed glad to do a kindness as
well as to find company. We jolted along, chatting at arm's length, as
it were, about this and that. He knew nothing of the ivory-bill; but
wild turkeys--oh, yes, he had seen a flock of eight, as well as he could
count, not long before, crossing the road in the very woods through
which I was going. As for snakes, they were plenty enough, he guessed.
One of his horses was bitten while ploughing, and died in half an hour.
(A Florida man who cannot tell at least one snake story may be set down
as having land to sell.) He thought it a pretty good jaunt to the lake,
and the road wasn't any too plain, though no doubt I should get there;
but I began to perceive that a white man who traveled such distances on
foot in that country was more of a _rara avis_ than any woodpecker.

Our roads diverged after a while, and my own soon ran into a wood with
an undergrowth of saw palmetto. This was the place for the ivory-bill,
and as at the swamp two days before, so now I stopped and listened, and
then stopped and listened again. The Fates were still against me. There
was neither woodpecker nor turkey, and I pushed on, mostly through pine
woods--full of birds, but nothing new--till I came out at the lake.
Here, beside an idle sawmill and heaps of sawdust, I was greeted by a
solitary negro, well along in years, who demanded, in a tone of almost
comical astonishment, where in the world I had come from. I told him
from Tallahassee, and he seemed so taken aback that I began to think I
must look uncommonly like an invalid, a "Northern consumptive," perhaps.
Otherwise, why should a walk of six miles, or something less, be treated
as such a marvel? However, the negro and I were soon on the friendliest
of terms, talking of the old times, the war, the prospects of the
colored people (the younger ones were fast going to the bad, he
thought), while I stood looking out over the lake, a pretty sheet of
water, surrounded mostly by cypress woods, but disfigured for the
present by the doings of lumbermen. What interested me most (such is the
fate of the devotee) was a single barn swallow, the first and only one
that I saw on my Southern trip.

On my way back to the city, after much fatherly advice about the road on
the part of the negro, who seemed to feel that I ran the greatest risk
of getting lost, I made two more additions to my Florida catalogue--the
wood duck and the yellow-billed cuckoo, the latter unexpectedly early
(April 11), since Mr. Chapman had recorded it as arriving at Gainesville
at a date sixteen days later than this.

I did not repeat my visit to Lake Bradford; but, not to give up the
ivory-bill too easily,--and because I must walk somewhere,--I went
again as far as the palmetto scrub. This time, though I still missed the
woodpecker, I was fortunate enough to come upon a turkey. In the
thickest part of the wood, as I turned a corner, there she stood before
me in the middle of the road. She ran along the horse-track for perhaps
a rod, and then disappeared among the palmetto leaves.

Meanwhile, two or three days before, while returning from St. Mark's,
whither I had gone for a day on the river, I had noticed from the car
window a swamp, or baygall, which looked so promising that I went the
very next morning to see what it would yield. I had taken it for a
cypress swamp, but it proved to be composed mainly of oaks; very tall
but rather slender trees, heavily draped with hanging moss and standing
in black water. Among them were the swollen stumps, three or four feet
high, of larger trees which had been felled. I pushed in through the
surrounding shrubbery and bay-trees, and waited for some time, leaning
against one of the larger trunks and listening to the noises, of which
the air of the swamp was full. Great-crested flycatchers, two Acadian
flycatchers, a multitude of blue yellow-backed warblers, and what I
supposed to be some loud-voiced frogs were especially conspicuous in the
concert; but a Carolina wren, a cardinal, a red-eyed vireo, and a
blue-gray gnatcatcher, the last with the merest thread of a voice,
contributed their share to the medley, and once a chickadee struck up
his sweet and gentle strain in the very depths of the swamp--like an
angel singing in hell.

My walk on the railway, that wonderful St. Mark's branch (I could never
have imagined the possibility of running trains over so crazy a track),
took me through the choicest of bird country. The bushes were alive, and
the air rang with music. In the midst of the chorus I suddenly caught
somewhere before me what I had no doubt was the song of a purple finch,
a bird that I had not yet seen in Florida. I quickened my steps, and to
my delight the singer proved to be a blue grosbeak. I had caught a
glimpse of one two days before, as I have described in another chapter,
but with no opportunity for a final identification. Here, as it soon
turned out, there were at least four birds, all males, and all singing;
chasing each other about after the most persistent fashion, in a piece
of close shrubbery with tall trees interspersed, and acting--the four
of them--just as two birds are often seen to do when contending for the
possession of a building site. At a first hearing the song seems not so
long sustained as the purple finch's commonly is, but exceedingly like
it in voice and manner, though not equal to it, I should be inclined to
say, in either respect. The birds made frequent use of a monosyllabic
call, corresponding to the calls of the purple finch and the
rose-breasted grosbeak, but readily distinguishable from both. I was
greatly pleased to see them, and thought them extremely handsome, with
their dark blue plumage set off by wing patches of rich chestnut.

A little farther, and I was saluted by the saucy cry of my first Florida
chat. The fellow had chosen just such a tangled thicket as he favors in
Massachusetts, and whistled and kept out of sight after the most
approved manner of his kind. On the other side of the track a white-eyed
vireo was asserting himself, as he had been doing since the day I
reached St. Augustine; but though he seems a pretty clever substitute
for the chat in the chat's absence, his light is quickly put out when
the clown himself steps into the ring. Ground doves cooed, cardinals
whistled, and mocking-birds sang and mocked by turns. Orchard orioles,
no unworthy companions of mocking-birds and cardinals, sang here and
there from a low treetop, especially in the vicinity of houses. To judge
from what I saw, they are among the most characteristic of Tallahassee
birds,--as numerous as Baltimore orioles are in Massachusetts towns,
and frequenting much the same kind of places. In one day's walk I
counted twenty-five. Elegantly dressed as they are,--and elegance is
better than brilliancy, perhaps, even in a bird,--they seem to be
thoroughly democratic. It was a pleasure to see them so fond of cabin

Of the other birds along the St. Mark's railway, let it be enough to
mention white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, red-eyed chewinks
(the white-eye was not found in the Tallahassee region), a red-bellied
woodpecker, two red-shouldered hawks, shrikes, kingbirds,
yellow-throated warblers, Maryland yellow-throats, pine warblers, palm
warblers,--which in spite of their name seek their summer homes north of
the United States,--myrtle warblers, now grown scarce, house wrens,
summer tanagers, and quails. The last-named birds, by the way, I had
expected to find known as "partridges" at the South, but as a matter of
fact I heard that name applied to them only once. On the St. Augustine
road, before breakfast, I met an old negro setting out for his day's
work behind a pair of oxen. "Taking some good exercise?" he asked, by
way of a neighborly greeting; and, not to be less neighborly than he, I
responded with some remark about a big shot-gun which occupied a
conspicuous place in his cart. "Oh," he said, "game is plenty out where
we are going, about eight miles, and I take the gun along." "What kind
of game?" "Well, sir, we may sometimes find a partridge." I smiled at
the anti-climax, but was glad to hear Bob White honored for once with
his Southern title.

A good many of my jaunts took me past the gallinule swamp before
mentioned, and almost always I stopped and went near. It was worth while
to hear the poultry cries of the gallinules if nothing more; and often
several of the birds would be seen swimming about among the big white
lilies and the green tussocks. Once I discovered one of them sitting
upright on a stake,--a precarious seat, off which he soon tumbled
awkwardly into the water. At another time, on the same stake, sat some
dark, strange-looking object. The opera-glass showed it at once to be a
large bird sitting with its back toward me, and holding its wings
uplifted in the familiar heraldic, _e-pluribus-unum_ attitude of our
American spread-eagle; but even then it was some seconds before I
recognized it as an anhinga,--water turkey,--though it was a male in
full nuptial garb. I drew nearer and nearer, and meanwhile it turned
squarely about,--a slow and ticklish operation,--so that its back was
presented to the sun; as if it had dried one side of its wings and
tail,--for the latter, too, was fully spread,--and now would dry the
other. There for some time it sat preening its feathers, with monstrous
twistings and untwistings of its snaky neck. If the chat is a clown, the
water turkey would make its fortune as a contortionist. Finally it rose,
circled about till it got well aloft, and then, setting its wings,
sailed away southward and vanished, leaving me in a state of wonder as
to where it had come from, and whether it was often to be seen in such a
place--perfectly open, close beside the highway, and not far from
houses. I did not expect ever to see another, but the next morning, on
my way up the railroad to pay a second visit to the ivory-bill's swamp,
I looked up by chance,--a brown thrush was singing on the telegraph
wire,--and saw two anhingas soaring overhead, their silvery wings
glistening in the sun as they wheeled. I kept my glass on them till the
distance swallowed them up.

Of one long forenoon's ramble I retain particular remembrance, not on
account of any birds, but for a half hour of pleasant human intercourse.
I went out of the city by an untried road, hoping to find some trace of
migrating birds, especially of certain warblers, the prospect of whose
acquaintance was one of the lesser considerations which had brought me
so far from home. No such trace appeared, however, nor, in my
fortnight's stay in Tallahassee, in almost the height of the migratory
season, did I, so far as I could tell, see a single passenger bird of
any sort. Some species arrived from the South--cuckoos and orioles, for
example; others, no doubt, took their departure for the North; but to
the best of my knowledge not one passed through. It was a strange
contrast to what is witnessed everywhere in New England. By some other
route swarms of birds must at that moment have been entering the United
States from Mexico and beyond; but unless my observation was at fault,--
and I am assured that sharper eyes than mine have had a similar
experience,--their line of march did not bring them into the Florida
hill-country. My morning's road not only showed me no birds, but led me
nowhere, and, growing discouraged, I turned back till I came to a lane
leading off to the left at right angles. This I followed so far that it
seemed wise, if possible, to make my way back to the city without
retracing my steps. Not to spend my strength for naught, however (the
noonday sun having always to be treated with respect), I made for a
solitary house in the distance. Another lane ran past it. That, perhaps,
would answer my purpose. I entered the yard, all ablaze with roses, and
in response to my knock a gentleman appeared upon the doorstep. Yes, he
said, the lane would carry me straight to the Meridian road (so I think
he called it), and thence into the city. "Past Dr. H.'s?" I asked.
"Yes." And then I knew where I was.

First, however, I must let my new acquaintance show me his garden. His
name was G., he said. Most likely I had heard of him, for the
legislature was just then having a good deal to say about his sheep, in
connection with some proposed dog-law. Did I like roses? As he talked he
cut one after another, naming each as he put it into my hand. Then I
must look at his Japanese persimmon trees, and many other things. Here
was a pretty shrub. Perhaps I could tell what it was by crushing and
smelling a leaf? No; it was something familiar; I sniffed, and looked
foolish, and after all he had to tell me its name--camphor. So we went
the rounds of the garden,--frightening a mocking-bird off her nest in an
orange-tree,--till my hands were full. It is too bad I have forgotten
how many pecan-trees he had planted, and how many sheep he kept. A
well-regulated memory would have held fast to such figures: mine is
certain only that there were four eggs in the mocking-bird's nest. Mr.
G. was a man of enterprise, at any rate; a match for any Yankee,
although he had come to Florida not from Yankeeland, but from northern
Georgia. I hope all his crops are still thriving, especially his white
roses and his Marshal Niels.

In the lane, after skirting some pleasant woods, which I meant to visit
again, but found no opportunity, I was suddenly assaulted by a pair of
brown thrashers, half beside themselves after their manner because of my
approach to their nest. How close my approach was I cannot say; but it
must be confessed that I played upon their fears to the utmost of my
ability, wishing to see as many of their neighbors as the disturbance
would bring together. Several other thrashers, a catbird, and two house
wrens appeared (all these, since "blood is thicker than water," may have
felt some special cousinly solicitude, for aught I know), with a
ruby-crowned kinglet and a field sparrow.

In the valley, near a little pond, as I came out into the Meridian road,
a solitary vireo was singing, in the very spot where one had been heard
six days before. Was it the same bird? I asked myself. And was it
settled for the summer? Such an explanation seemed the more likely
because I had found no solitary vireo anywhere else about the city,
though the species had been common earlier in the season in eastern and
southern Florida, where I had seen my last one--at New Smyrna--March 26.

At this same dip in the Meridian road, on a previous visit, I had
experienced one of the pleasantest of my Tallahassee sensations. The
morning was one of those when every bird is in tune. By the road side I
had just passed Carolina wrens, house wrens, a chipper, a field sparrow,
two thrashers, an abundance of chewinks, two orchard orioles, several
tanagers, a flock of quail, and mocking-birds and cardinals uncounted.
In a pine wood near by, a wood pewee, a pine warbler, a yellow-throated
warbler, and a pine-wood sparrow were singing--a most peculiarly select
and modest chorus. Just at the lowest point in the valley I stopped to
listen to a song which I did not recognize, but which, by and by, I
settled upon as probably the work of a freakish prairie warbler. At that
moment, as if to confirm my conjecture,--which in the retrospect becomes
almost ridiculous,--a prairie warbler hopped into sight on an outer twig
of the water-oak out of which the music had proceeded. Still something
said, "Are you sure?" and I stepped inside the fence. There on the
ground were two or three white-crowned sparrows, and in an instant the
truth of the case flashed upon me. I remembered the saying of a friend,
that the song of the white-crown had reminded him of the vesper sparrow
and the black-throated green warbler. That was my bird; and I listened
again, though I could no longer be said to feel in doubt. A long time I
waited. Again and again the birds sang, and at last I discovered one of
them perched at the top of the oak, tossing back his head and warbling
--a white-crowned sparrow: the one regular Massachusetts migrant which I
had often seen, but had never heard utter a sound.

The strain opens with smooth, sweet notes almost exactly like the
introductory syllables of the vesper sparrow. Then the tone changes, and
the remainder of the song is in something like the pleasingly hoarse
voice of a prairie warbler, or a black-throated green. It is soft and
very pretty; not so perfect a piece of art as the vesper sparrow's
tune,--few bird-songs are,--but taking for its very oddity, and at the
same time tender and sweet. More than one writer has described it as
resembling the song of the white-throat. Even Minot, who in general was
the most painstaking and accurate of observers, as he is one of the most
interesting of our systematic writers, says that the two songs are
"almost exactly" alike. There could be no better example of the
fallibility which attaches, and in the nature of the case must attach,
to all writing upon such subjects. The two songs have about as much in
common as those of the hermit thrush and the brown thrasher, or those of
the song sparrow and the chipper. In other words, they have nothing in
common. Probably in Minot's case, as in so many others of a similar
nature, the simple explanation is that when he thought he was listening
to one bird he was really listening to another.

The Tallahassee road to which I had oftenest resorted, to which, now,
from far Massachusetts, I oftenest look back, the St. Augustine road, so
called, I have spoken of elsewhere. Thither, after packing my trunk on
the morning of the 18th, I betook myself for a farewell stroll. My
holiday was done. For the last time, perhaps, I listened to the
mocking-bird and the cardinal, as by and by, when the grand holiday is
over, I shall listen to my last wood thrush and my last bluebird. But
what then? Florida fields are still bright, and neither mocking-bird nor
cardinal knows aught of my absence. And so it _will_ be.

    "When you and I behind the Veil are past,
    Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last."

None the less, it is good to have lived our day and taken our peep at
the mighty show. Ten thousand things we may have fretted ourselves
about, uselessly or worse. But to have lived in the sun, to have loved
natural beauty, to have felt the majesty of trees, to have enjoyed the
sweetness of flowers and the music of birds,--so much, at least, is not
vanity nor vexation of spirit.



Blackbird, red--wing,
Blue-eyed Grass,
Buzzard, turkey,

Carrion Crow (Black Vulture),
Cedar, red,
Chat, yellow-breasted,
Cherokee Rose,
Cherry, wild,
Chewink (Towhee):--
Chickadee, Carolina,
Chimney Swift,
Clematis Baldwinii,
Clover, buffalo,
Coot (Fulica americana),
Coquina Clam,
Creeper, black-and-white,
Cuckoo, yellow-billed,

Duck, wood,

Eagle, bald,
  great white,
  little white,

Flicker (Golden-winged Woodpecker),
Flowering Dogwood,
  wood pewee,

Gnatcatcher, blue-gray,
Golden club,
Grackle, boat-tailed,
Grebe, pied-billed,

  great blue,
  great white (_or_ Egret),
  little blue,
  night (black-crowned),
Houstonia, round-leaved,
Humming-bird, ruby-throated,

Iris versicolor,

  Florida blue,

Killdeer Plover,
Kinglet, ruby--crowned,
Kite, fork-tailed,

Lark, meadow,
Lobelia Feayana,
Loggerhead Shrike,

Martin, purple,
Maryland Yellow-throat,

Myrtle Bird. _See_ Warbler.

Nuthatch, brown-headed,

Orange, wild,
Oriole, orchard,
Osprey. _See_ Fish-Hawk.
Oxalis, yellow,

Poison Ivy,
Poppy, Mexican,


Redbird (Cardinal Grosbeak),


Salvia lyrata,
Shrike, loggerhead,
Sow Thistle,
Snakebird (Water Turkey),
  grasshopper (yellow-winged),
St. Peter's-wort,
  tree (white-bellied),
Swift, chimney,

Tanager, summer,
Thrasher (Brown Thrush),
  Northern water,
  Louisiana water,
Towhee. _See_ Chewink.

Vaccinium, arboreum,
Venus's Looking-glass (Specularia),
Virginia creeper,
Vulture (Carrion Crow),

  black-throated green,
  blue yellow-backed,
  myrtle (yellow-rumped),
  palm (yellow redpoll),
  yellow-throated (Dendroica dominica),

Water Lily,
Water Thrush:--
Water Turkey (Snakebird),
Wood Pewee,
  golden-winged (flicker),
  Carolina (mocking),
  long-billed marsh,

Yellow Jessamine,
Yellow-legs (Totanus flavipes),

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Florida Sketch-Book" ***

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