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´╗┐Title: Muskrat City
Author: Abbott, Henry, 1850-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Muskrat City" ***

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MUSKRAT CITY

By
HENRY ABBOTT

NEW YORK
1922

Copyright 1922
by
HENRY ABBOTT



MUSKRAT CITY

The Irish cook one day proposed to the ship's captain the following
conundrum: "Is anny thin' lost whin yeez know where 'tis?" The
Captain assured him that in such case the thing was not lost. And
Dennis responded: "Well, thin, shure, the ta-kettle is safe, for 'tis
in the bottom av the ocean."

Bige and I thought we were lost. We did not know the way to our
destination. We did not know the way back home. But realizing that we
were in the heart of the trackless forest, we knew we were perfectly
safe.

We had eaten an early breakfast that morning at the "Dan'l Boone
Camp." We had made sandwiches for lunch, wrapped them in paper, tied
the packages on the sides of our fish baskets, and had started for
Plum Pond, where we expected to do some fishing.

We had been walking five hours and had not yet reached Plum Pond.
Indeed, we felt quite sure we had passed it, either on the right or
on the left. Also, it was possible that we had been, for the last
hour, going northwest instead of southwest. It was raining and we had
not consulted the compass very often. It had been raining for the
past three hours, and now the water was falling in a flood, and we
were soaked to the skin. Our shoes were filled with water and as we
plodded on it sloshed, sloshed, with every step. We were bewildered,
but it would do no good to stop, or turn back, so we continued to
push on.

Presently, as we passed over a ridge and climbed down the steep
hillside, we saw a cleared place in the bottom of the valley. Bige
exclaimed, "Gosh!! Well I'll be doggoned! If that ain't Muskrat
City." The map makers had not discovered the place, and Bige had
never heard of it, yet the instant he saw it he knew its name was
Muskrat City, and it shall so remain unless an act of legislature
changes it.

At the bottom of a deep valley, with steep hills on either side, in
the center of a beaver meadow was a collection of a score or more of
conical shaped mud huts, about two and a half feet high and three
feet in diameter at the base. In each of these huts there lived a
male muskrat, his wife and family of seven to nine children. There
also were numerous bachelor muskrats, who lived by themselves in
holes in the bank.

Lest some of our readers may not be acquainted with a "beaver
meadow," let us explain that at some period of time, long ago,
possibly two hundred or maybe five hundred years ago, beavers lived
here and built a dam across the brook as all beavers do. The dam
backed the waters of the brook up and flooded the floor of the
valley, thus drowning all the trees which were not cut and peeled by
the beavers. These trees, of course, fell and decayed, so that not
even stumps or roots were left. In the course of time the beavers
either were exterminated by trappers or they had exhausted their food
supply in that valley and then emigrated to some other stream. In the
absence of the builders, who must constantly make repairs, the dam
had broken and the brush it contained had decayed. Only the stones
and dirt used in its construction remained to mark the spot where it
had once held back a beaver pond covering several acres. This space
had remained swampy for some years and trees did not grow upon it. It
was now covered with a rank growth of grass.

Many such places are found in the forest and they are always known as
beaver meadows. They unquestionably mark spots where colonies of
beavers once lived, though it might have been many years before.

The far-sighted, fore-handed pioneers who settled in the state of
Iowa, with prophetic wisdom and civic pride of hope, loaded the
labels of their communities with the word "City." After the lapse of
eighty years, the last census showed twenty-three "Cities" in that
state having less than one thousand inhabitants each. Of these, six
have less than three hundred each. "Promise City" in eighty years has
acquired two hundred and seventy-eight inhabitants, while "Walnut
City" beats the record with thirty.

We then did not know, and we do not now know, how many inhabitants
there were in Muskrat City, but we feel confident they outnumbered
the citizens of some of the Iowa cities.

By the time we had reached the floor of the valley, rain ceased to
fall and in a few minutes the sun was shining. We were not only wet
but we now realized that we were hungry. It was long past our usual
lunch hour. Fish baskets were unslung from our backs and we found our
sandwiches had been reduced by the rain to a mushy mess mixed with
paper pulp. Indeed, a substantial part of our rations had been
converted into liquid form and distributed along our route through
the woods.

Without wasting time in vain cussing or discussing, Bige at once set
to work building a fire on the gravelly beach of the brook. This was
one of those occasions when a waterproof match box proved useful. But
one should also know how to build a fire in the woods without
matches. Any Boy Scout can tell you how to do it.

Nature has provided curly birch bark for kindling, for just such
emergencies as this, and it is usually dry on the leeward side of the
tree. In a few minutes a roaring, crackling fire was going, and our
clothing--as much of it as native modesty would permit--was hanging
on saplings which we had cut and stuck in the ground about the fire.

While this work was under way I strung up my rod, went up the brook
into the edge of the woods, and in a deep hole caught some trout. I
got six fine ones in about twice as many casts.

Bige dressed the fish while I got some striped maple leaves. They are
about as large as cabbage leaves but thinner. Each fish was wrapped
in one of these leaves which was tied on with a piece of string. The
packages were then dipped in the brook to wet the leaves and were
buried in hot ashes and covered with live coals. In about fifteen
minutes we pulled our fish out of the fire. The wrappers were charred
and they looked like burned sticks. Breaking them open we found the
skin of the fish stuck to the charred leaves and it came free from
the flesh, which was pink and steaming.

For preserving the delicious flavor of freshly caught trout, this is
the best method of cooking I know of. A thin inner layer of green
birch bark, or a piece of paper, if one has it, will do for a
wrapper.

Other methods of cooking, in the absence of the usual culinary
utensils, are numerous. One we have practiced as follows: The
sharpened end of a slender green sapling is stuck through a fish's
mouth and lengthwise into the solid part of its body. The other end
of the stick, which should be three feet long, is pushed into the
ground and the stick bent so as to bring the fish directly over a bed
of live coals--not over the blaze. By this method several fish can be
broiled at the same time. On other occasions we have built a bigger
fire, with larger sticks of wood, found some flat stones twelve to
fifteen inches across which we put in the fire and when they were
quite hot, dragged them out, and laid our fish on the stones to cook.
This also is an excellent way to cook bacon and we sometimes employ
it even when a frying pan is handy. Of course, we washed the stones
in the brook before they were put into the fire. But then, one can be
quite sure that the fire will kill any stray microbe that the stone
might harbor.

Freshly peeled birch bark makes excellent plates on which to serve
primitive meals such as described.

Luncheon finished, and our clothes dry, we discussed our next move.
Since no one was left at Dan'l's who might worry over our absence, we
decided to remain at Muskrat City over night, then make an early
morning start toward the beginning of a trail to civilization.

In carrying out this program the first step was to prepare a shelter
and a bed. The lack of an axe was a handicap, but our large pocket
knives were made to serve. About ten feet from our fireplace lay the
moss-covered body of a pine tree that had fallen out across the
meadow, possibly fifty or seventy-five years ago. We cut two saplings
and drove them into the ground seven feet from the log and five feet
apart, leaving a fork on each of these posts five feet above the
ground. A pole was laid across in the two forks, and other poles were
laid sloping from this to the log. Then we peeled yellow birch bark
to cover the roof and anchored the bark with heavy sticks above it.
Brush piled against the two sides formed sufficient protection from
the wind and the front was open toward the fire. Balsam boughs were
gathered for the bed and some firewood collected; then we went down
stream to fish and explore.

During the past twenty-five years Bige and I have built many similar
one-night shelters, in widely separated parts of the forest. We have
slept under them with comfort when it rained. We have, on occasion,
found white frost on the ground in the morning. The forest furnishes,
free at hand, the materials required, and the labor involved is only
an element of the pleasure of forest exploration.

Half a mile down the brook we found it emptied into a larger stream,
where we soon filled a basket with trout. Also we picked a hatful of
raspberries. We returned to the city in time for an early supper and
as we had no dishes to wash we had ample time to discuss our probable
location and the most promising course to pursue in the morning.

The chief charm of exploration lies in the uncertainty of always
finding what one starts out to find, and in the equal certainty that
one may find something else, possibly even more interesting or more
valuable than what was on the program.

Columbus failed to discover a western route to India, but he found
something else, and got himself put into history and his bust in the
hall of fame.

Bige and I failed to reach Plum Pond, but we found a better thing.
The fishing in our two brooks was all that could be desired. There
were evidences that the hunting would be good in this "neck of the
woods," when the hunting season should open, and it was unlikely that
any other hunters would penetrate to this remote section. Bige saw
great possibilities in the fur crop when the hunting should be over,
and trapping begin.

So, though we were hopelessly lost (?) in "an impenetrable forest,"
we slept comfortably, and peacefully, crawling out of our nest only
occasionally when the fire required another stick of wood. Only on
such occasions did we see or hear the permanent residents of Muskrat
City. As the fire was kicked together and a fresh stick thrown upon
it, causing a shower of sparks to shoot upward, then would be heard a
rapid succession of splashes as fifteen or twenty rats would plunge
into the brook and scurry to their hiding places. Otherwise, they
silently went about their business.

About seven o'clock on the following morning, we climbed the ridge
over which we had come into Muskrat City, and taking careful note of
landmarks, we proceeded in a general eastward direction. One can
usually see but a short distance in an unlumbered forest. After two
hours of slow and difficult travel we climbed a high and steep hill.
When we neared the top we noted a rocky ledge on the summit.
Scrambling to the top of this, we had an unobstructed and extended
view over valleys and foothills, and saw mountain peaks in every
direction.

  [Illustration: Owl's Head Mountain in the distance]

A long distance off to the northeast loomed up the highest peak of
all, which from its height and its two rounded, bare knobs, we knew
to be Owl's Head Mountain. We also knew that it was but two miles
from the top of Owl's Head to the Dan'l Boone Camp. We trained the
compass on that peak and took a fresh start toward home. For many
years Bige and I had hunted partridge and deer on every side of this
mountain and over its foothills. On many occasions, also, we had been
on its bald summit. So now, on returning to its shadow, we should be
on familiar ground.

Jim Flynn now lives on Owl's Head Mountain, from the time the snow
has melted in the woods in late spring until the snow begins to fall
again in the autumn. Jim is employed by the State Conservation
Commission to watch out for fires in the forests. When Jim discovers
the beginning of a fire anywhere in the range of his outlook, the
fact and location is reported by telephone to the chief at fire
headquarters, when men with tools are dispatched from the nearest
settlement to put out the fire before it gets beyond control. This
service was established in 1909 with lookout stations on the tops of
all the high peaks in the Adirondack range. Since that date there
have been no disastrous forest fires in that region.

  [Illustration: Jim Flynn]

Jim lives in a log cabin which he built just below the rocky ledge
which covers the summit. On the high point a steel tower thirty-five
feet high carries his lookout station above the tree tops. This is a
rather lonely spot in which to live half the year. On rainy days,
when there is little danger of a fire making headway, Jim is
permitted to visit his family at the settlement on the lake, and to
bring back fresh supplies.

  [Illustration: Jim Flynn's Cabin]

Jim is glad to have visitors call upon him at his mountain-top
resort, and to encourage such he has made an excellent trail to the
nearest point on Long Lake, about three miles, and has marked it with
signs to point the way up the mountain. Jim will lend you his
field-glass, name the points of interest in view, make coffee for
you, if you bring the makings, and discuss with you the latest
political questions, philosophy or religion.

   [Illustration: Jim in his Look-out Tower]

In a book entitled, "The Adirondack, or Life in the Woods," published
in 1849, J. T. Headley, the author, writes about his visit to the top
of Owl's Head Mountain, with his guide, Mitchell Sabattis, an Indian,
and the first settler on Long Lake. Headley says that in returning
they "lost their way and were fourteen hours without food." He
describes the view from the top of Owl's Head as follows:

"It looks off on a prospect that would make your heart stand still in
your bosom. Look away toward that distant horizon! In its broad sweep
round the heavens, it takes in nearly four hundred miles, while
between slumbers an ocean but it is an ocean of tree tops. Conceive,
if you can, this vast expanse stretching on and spreading away, till
the bright green becomes shaded into a deep black, with not a sound
to break the solitude, and not a hand's breadth of land in view
throughout the whole. It is a vast forest-ocean, with mountain ridges
for billows, rolling smoothly and gently on like the subsiding swell
of a storm. I stand on the edge of a precipice which throws its naked
wall far down to the tops of the fir trees below, and look off on
this surpassing wild and strange spectacle. The life that villages,
and towns, and cultivated fields give to a landscape is not here,
neither is there the barrenness and savageness of the view from
Tahawus. It is all vegetation--luxuriant, gigantic vegetation; but
man has had no hand in it. It stands as the Almighty made it,
majestic and silent, save when the wind or the storm breathes on it,
waking up its myriad low-toned voices, which sing:

  'The wild profound eternal bass
  In nature's anthem.'

Oh, how still and solemn it slumbers below me; while far away yonder,
to the left, shoots up into the heavens the massive peaks of the
Adirondack chain, mellowed here, by the distance, into beauty. Yet
there is one relief to this vast forest solitude--like gems sleeping
in a moss bed, lakes are everywhere glittering in the bright
sunshine. How calm and trustingly they repose on the bosom of the
wilderness! Thirty-six, a hunter tells me, can be counted from this
summit, though I do not see over twenty. * * * Some of these are from
four to six miles in width, and yet they look like mere pools at this
distance, and in the midst of such a mass of green.

I have gazed on many mountain prospects in this and the old world,
but this view has awakened an entirely new class of emotions."

  [Illustration: Jim entertaining a guest on the mountain]

As Bige and I descended the steep slope from our lookout, we were
quickly buried among the evergreens, with the only extended view
toward the blue sky and floating clouds above the tall tree tops.
Having in mind the experience of the previous day, the compass was
frequently consulted, but travel was difficult and progress slow.

An hour later we came upon a small log cabin, having a roof of spruce
bark, no floor, but a puncheon door and one window. In one corner was
a crude fireplace made of stones, having two lengths of stove pipe
which passed through the window for a chimney. Opposite the fireplace
was a balsam bed and in another corner was a pile of spruce gum.
There were also a frying pan, tin plate, knife and fork, and on a
bark shelf some food stuff. We left the shack and on a path a short
distance from it, we met its owner who was returning. He was of
uncertain age, but with white hair and white scraggy beard. He
carried a bag partly filled with gum and in one hand a long pole
having a small shovel-shaped piece of steel fastened to one end. This
implement he used to loosen a ball of gum that was too high on the
tree trunk to be otherwise reached.

The man proved to be Sam Lapham. Bige knew him and I had often heard
about him. Sam spent most of the summer collecting spruce gum, which
he was able to sell for a good price. This unfrequented part of the
forest was one of his camping places during the "gumming season." The
sticky juice of the spruce tree oozes out through cracks in the wood,
and collects on the bark where it hangs in lumps from the size of a
child's thumb up to the dimensions of a hen's egg. In the course of
years of exposure to the air this pitchy material crystallizes,
"ripens," and becomes spruce gum. On inquiry we learned that there is
a constant demand for spruce gum, but an insufficient supply since
few make a business of collecting it. It appears that a few pounds of
clarified spruce gum and an equal quantity of "chicle" from South
America are mixed with a carload of paraffine wax and some flavoring
extract, the result being the "chewing gum" of commerce which is
distributed by the one-cent slot machines, and furnishes exercise for
the jaw muscles of the rising generation. It has been estimated that
more than five million dollars are expended for chewing gum in the
United States every year.

  [Illustration: Blue Mountain seen from Owl's Head]

It also is possible to chew pure spruce gum, just as it is broken
from the tree trunk. I have tried it. In this operation one must
"watch his step" to avoid lockjaw. At least, caution must be
exercised until the quid is well "started." I understand that in some
places it is possible, at an increased cost, to buy spruce gum that
has been "started."

We reached Dan'l's in time for a late luncheon and were none the
worse for our exploit. While we were on our lookout mountain we
recognized several lakes and ponds and learned that Plum Pond was a
long way from Muskrat City and to the south of it. Also, while there,
on a piece of birch bark we made a topographical map of the region in
view and laid out a new route to Muskrat City. This route was not a
direct bee-line. It was circuitous, but it would avoid the swamps,
the deep valleys and the steep ridges, and also would enter the city
following up along the brook.

Having gone out to our headquarters on the lake for fresh supplies, a
week later we made another trip to Muskrat City. This time we carried
a small tent, an axe and food to last a week. While there we built a
log lean-to camp. It was placed on a shelf, or narrow level space on
the steep hillside, about seventy feet above the bottom of the
valley. The shelf was just wide enough for our building and the
fireplace in front. There were plenty of stones on the ground with
which we built the fireplace. We chose this elevation for our
building site because it would be above the fogs that often at night
settle in the bottom of a valley, on a stream or pond.

  [Illustration: Owl's Head over the roof of the saw mill]

A rill, tumbling down the steep hillside, draining a cold spring
above, passed within thirty yards of the camp and supplied us with
the kind of drinking water that, in the city, we buy for thirty cents
a quart. This is a commodity that Nature distributes with lavish hand
throughout this entire mountain region. On every hillside may be
found one or more springs of pure soft water having a temperature of
approximately forty degrees on the hottest days of summer. Here, the
rheumatic, the dispeptic, the diabetic, and the fellow with kidneys,
may have the poisons washed out of his system; while the balsamic air
heals the rent in his breathing machinery. These processes may go
forward, not while he sits on a hotel porch and broods over his
troubles, but while he camps, explores, fishes, hunts and forgets his
disabilities.

  [Illustration: Inside of Camp at Muskrat City]

Bige and I made many trips to, and spent many days at, Muskrat City.
We explored a large section of forest country adjacent thereto. In
the season, we frequently ate broiled partridge, venison and other
game, while a few minutes of fishing any day would furnish all the
trout we ever cared to eat. When we required a variation in diet, we
might go down stream about two miles to a pond and catch a mess of
bullheads or frogs.

We made the acquaintance of many fur-bearing animals who lived in the
neighborhood. In these Bige took a deep interest, since he was always
looking forward to the winter season, when he should extend his old
trapping line over the mountains to this valley. This, indeed, was
one of the motives that induced the building of the camp. It provided
a sleeping place for him at the outer end of his trapping circuit.

Personally, for many years, I have not engaged in the very strenuous
sport of trapping. I shall, therefore, represent the trapper by
proxy. When the snow in the forest is from four to five feet deep,
one may travel on snowshoes over the tops of witchhopple bushes and
much other underbrush which in summer impedes travel. Nevertheless,
it is not child's play to drag a pair of snow shoes fifteen or twenty
miles per day, visit a hundred and fifty traps, rebait and reset
them, skin the caught animals, and carry home the hides. All of this,
of course, must often be done when the thermometer is far below zero.
On so long a trapping line as this would be, a comfortable boarding
house at the outer end of the loop was, for many reasons, very
desirable.

One of the frequent visitors to the brook that ran through Muskrat
City below our hillside camp, was a mink. She often caught small
trout, from three to five inches long. Some of these were eaten on
the spot, others were carried to her nest in a hole in the bank. They
doubtless were fed to her family of nine half grown young minks.

  [Illustration: A Mink]

The mink is a small animal, having a long, slender body and short
legs. It walks rather clumsily, with back arched upward, but it can
go rapidly and gracefully in a springing, bounding movement. In this
manner it often travels long distances. In a farming section, mink
will rob the hen-house, eating eggs and killing young chickens. In
the woods, mink catch mice, frogs and eat eggs of water fowl, but
they specialize on small fish. In trapping mink, a piece of fish
makes good bait. A large number of mink skins are required in making
a fur garment for a human to wear, but considering its small size the
trapper gets a good price for a mink skin.

On the hillside back of our camp, on occasions, a marten might be
seen chasing a red squirrel over the ground, up a tree trunk, through
the branches, jumping from one tree to another, and generally
catching and eating the squirrel. We don't care if he does. The red
squirrel eats the eggs of the partridge and our sympathies are with
the partridge.

The marten is one of the most graceful and beautiful animals in our
forests. It has a rich brown coat and lives in remote, inaccessible
parts of the wilderness. It is more shy of the human animal than is
the mink. It is also about three or four times the size of mink and
will sometimes attack and kill a mink or a rabbit. The marten will,
when possible, vary his diet by eating nuts and small fruit.

The marten makes a nest of moss, grass and leaves, in a hollow tree
or log or among rocks. They have also been found living in a
squirrel's nest, doubtless after killing the squirrels. Bait your
trap for a marten with a chipmunk, a wood-rat or a piece of meat.

  [Illustration: A Marten]

A woodchuck sometimes ambled through one of the paths in the grass of
the meadow. A farmer would strenuously object to the presence of a
woodchuck in his meadow, where this animal would destroy a surprising
quantity of clover. In this forest meadow no one objected, and since
the woodchuck does not eat fish or flesh he was never molested. His
wife, however, must guard her young, as there are several
unscrupulous residents of this forest who would eat them without the
slightest compunction.

Another fellow prowled about our valley, though he lived on the
ridges. He is larger than a marten and is also a handsome animal, but
of a somewhat different type. He sometimes attains an extreme length
of three and one-half feet and weighs eighteen or twenty pounds. He
is known as a "fisher." Sometimes, also, called "black-cat" or
"black-fox." The fisher is very ferocious and is feared by all
animals not larger than himself. He is powerful and agile; the
swiftest and most deadly of all the smaller forest carnivores. He
will kill marten, mink, raccoon, muskrat, rabbit, and sometimes a
fox. A fisher will attack a porcupine, tipping him over and biting
into his stomach and the underpart of the body, where there are no
quills. Nevertheless, fisher, when trapped, are often found with
porcupine quills in the skin and in various parts of the body.

The fisher catches trout, and gets larger ones than would satisfy the
mink, so he is no friend of ours. The fisher also is charged with the
crime of following the trail of the trapper through the woods,
robbing his traps and eating the animals caught in them. Bige vowed
that he "would get that fellow next winter," and he "would get
thirty-five dollars for his hide." (Now it would bring a much larger
sum.) The proper procedure would be to set a second and larger steel
trap, carefully covered and chained to a tree, but without bait, in
such a position that when the fisher undertakes his high-handed game
of robbery he will walk on and be himself caught in the second trap.

There was, of course, our old friend, the raccoon. He will find a
camp anywhere, and if one is not careful he will find the camp larder
and get away with the food. The coon has hands (fore feet) like a
monkey, and he can use them as skillfully. The coon will eat anything
a human will eat, and some other things. He takes his toll of frogs
and trout, and he does not scorn the trimmings of trout we dress for
our own table. Almost any kind of bait will do for the coon trap, and
a coon-skin automobile coat will do for either man or woman having
the price.

Red foxes seldom were seen in daylight at our city camp, though at
night they were often heard barking. The fox is a very interesting
animal and whether living in an open farming country or in the deep
forest, he is credited with "living by his wits." By his acts he
exhibits remarkable reasoning powers and adaptability to conditions
that arise, though they may never before have been met. In the woods
his food is similar to that of the marten, although he cannot climb a
tree to capture his prey. The fox specializes on partridge and other
birds that nest on the ground.

About a trap, the fox is very foxy. Tracks in the snow show when he
has visited one, and he will usually succeed in springing a trap
without getting caught in it. No matter how carefully it may be
concealed, he can, and often does, pull the trap out, tip it over,
spring it from the under side, then take out the bait. Every trapper
has his pet method of circumventing this foxy trick. The favorite
systems include the use of a second un-baited trap, which the fox is
expected to step on while he is playing with the baited trap.

The dream and hope of the lifetime of every trapper is to some day
catch a freak, black or silver grey fox; the skin of which commands a
fabulous price. Such a catch would be like finding a gold mine. Of
course, if these freak foxes were oftener caught, their fur would be
less valuable.

The fact that, notwithstanding the number of trout eaters, including
ourselves, who lived or roamed in our valley, there were still many
trout in the streams, was to our minds conclusive proof that there
were no otter in the neighborhood. An otter will clean the trout out
of a brook in a few days. He will eat many and leave the rest dead on
the bank, then move to another fishing place, ten or fifteen miles
away. But there is no proof that an otter might not wander through
this valley some time in the winter when the traps are set. The otter
is a great traveler; also, in a fur store he is an aristocrat.

The varying hares, white rabbits, or snow-shoe rabbits, as they are
variously designated, were plentiful in and near Muskrat City. They
were often seen in the early dusk of evening, seldom in mid-day.
They, in common with many small forest animals, are night prowlers.
Doubtless for protective purposes, Nature provides this animal, like
the deer and some others, with the faculty of changing the color of
its coat with the change of seasons. When the snow falls in autumn,
this breed of rabbit molts its brown summer fur and takes on a new
coat as white as the snow itself. Again, when the snow melts and
disappears in spring the varying hare sheds its white fur and
acquires a new coat of brown for summer wear. The hind feet of this
animal are exceptionally large, especially in winter when the long
spreading toes are entirely covered with still longer fur, thus
forming broad snow-shoe shaped pads which enable their owner to
freely move about on deep soft snow. It is a curious fact that the
tracks left in the snow by this animal show the large spreading
prints of the two hind feet, placed ahead of the smaller imprints of
the fore feet, which at the end of a lope always bring up in the
rear.

When startled, this rabbit has the habit of rapidly thumping on the
ground with its hind feet, making a dull drumming sound which may be
heard for a considerable distance. This thumping also is said to be a
signal employed during the mating season.

Several years ago I witnessed a fight between one of these rabbits
and a domestic cat. The rabbit was a captive, enclosed by a tight
fence in a pen about sixteen feet square, in one corner of which was
a covered nest containing seven young rabbits. The cat had climbed
into the pen and was trying to steal a baby rabbit, when the mother
jumped on the cat's back and beat a rapid tatoo thereon with its hind
feet, and doubtless with toe nails extended, as the air was filled
with flying fur. The cat escaped over the fence, but for many days it
went about with a sore back, unprotected by its normal coating of
fur.

The snow-shoe rabbit is generally defenseless against its many forest
enemies, and falls an easy victim to the trapper. It is a strict
vegetarian in diet, and in its forest home does no harm to man or
other animal.

The muskrats, who owned the city, however, were most in evidence.
They held the center of the forest stage, and always secured the most
attention. Perhaps this was because there were more of them in our
valley than there were of any other animal. Possibly because the
muskrat is the most numerous of any fur-bearing animal in North
America. It is reported that in 1914 ten million American muskrat
skins were sold in London. Of course, during the same year other
millions were sold in the fur markets in various cities in the United
States.

  [Illustration: A Muskrat and his house]

The muskrat has a compact body about twelve inches long from nose to
root of tail. The tail is long, naked and scaly, slightly flattened
vertically. It is used as a rudder in the water. The hind feet have
short webs and are otherwise adapted for swimming. Its fur is fine
and dense, interspersed with long, coarse hairs. Its color is dark
umber brown, except on the stomach, which is grey. It has a musky
odor due to secretions of a large gland. The muskrat is very
prolific, usually having several litters of young in a season,
totaling often as many as eighteen during a summer.

Muskrats feed on roots and stems of succulent water plants and other
vegetables, varied with an occasional frog, fish, or fresh-water
clam. A muskrat who lives near our cottage has the habit of opening
clams and leaving the shells on our dock every night. The shells we
are obliged to sweep off in the morning. "Musky" builds on the marsh,
in the edge of a pond or near a stream, a curious cone-shaped house
or lodge. He stores up roots and grasses for winter use, frequently
building these in with mud into the walls of his house. Then in case
of shortage of other food, he eats his house.

Bachelor or unmated muskrats sometimes dig holes in the bank of pond
or stream, making the entrance under or near the water. Also, they
sometimes build nests in tangled grass or a brush pile.

A muskrat skin brings to the trapper a smaller return in unit value
than any other fur-bearing animal he captures. But he gets more of
them, so if market conditions are favorable the total revenue from
his catch is likely to be satisfactory. In the manufacture of fur
garments, however, the humble muskrat holds an important place. In a
fur factory, by the skillful use of tweezers for pulling out the
coarse grey hairs, by the use of clipping and singeing machines, with
the aid of dyes ("made in Germany") of various colors, his skin is
effectually disguised and it emerges therefrom not only in larger
numbers than the skins of any other four-footed beast, but completely
transformed in appearance, and masquerading under more different
aliases than are permitted to all the other fur animals combined.

For example, the former resident of Muskrat City might appear in the
showroom of the fur dealer as "river mink," "mountain marten,"
"valley sable," "spruce beaver," "brook fisher," "domestic raccoon,"
"hillside fox," "fresh-water otter," "Hudson seal," etc., etc. Also,
sometimes he does good service under plain "muskrat."

During many seasons since our first visit trappers have taken from
their backs the coats of many residents of Muskrat City. These have
been transformed and now, in cold weather and in hot weather, cover
the backs of women in other cities. Also, their four-footed neighbors
have captured and eaten many muskrats; nevertheless, the colony seems
to be just as numerous as when we first knew it.

The snows of twenty winters have fallen in the forest since Bige and
I put Muskrat City on the map, and since we built the camp on the
hillside above it. Other trappers have followed Bige's trail through
the woods and have taken their toll of the inhabitants. But I am
confident that if a census were taken today, it would be found that
in population Muskrat City is holding its own quite equal to some of
the cities in Iowa.

Doubtless it is a wise provision of Nature that those animals, birds
and fishes which are most killed and eaten by others are made most
prolific. Such thinning of their ranks may be necessary to avert
famine, disease or some worse disaster among them. In view of their
many predatory enemies, not forgetting the human killer of fish, it
is marvelous that any trout of legal size are found in a brook.

Noises of the forest night are always interesting. While the camp
fire burns, the forest people in its immediate vicinity are generally
quiet. The fire is an unusual experience for them. It attracts them.
They are fascinated by it, as are small boys by a circus, and while
it burns they are likely to suspend their usual occupations and watch
the flare and flicker of the blaze and the weird shadows it casts.
Many of the less timid may approach quite near, others more wary will
circle quietly and cautiously about at a considerable distance but
always in view of the fire. If there should happen to be a light fall
of snow on the ground the tracks visible in the snow in the morning
will disclose the names of the visitors at the camp fire.

Later at night, however, when the fire has died down, and is no
longer visible, one's forest neighbors will resume their usual
occupations, and the wakeful camper may listen to the patter of
hurrying footsteps, to the scratch of toe-nails on bark as a climber
goes up or down a tree trunk, to the sniff of the inquisitive fellow
who smells about the camp, to the chatter of the chap who talks to
himself, to the loping or jumping noises, to the splashes in the
brook, to the last despairing cry of some small animal as his life is
being crushed out by his captor. A deer, softly stepping along his
beaten path which leads down the valley to a pond where he goes every
night for drink, for water plants, or just to wallow, may encounter a
breeze bringing to his nostrils the human scent. He then will blow
his bugle blast, which can be heard a mile. In such case the wakeful
camper is never in doubt as to who spoke. The same is true when the
owl booms out across the valley his eternal question, "Who?" No other
bird or beast ever speaks in the same tone of voice. But most of the
smaller noises of the forest night are subjects for speculation. One
always instinctively tries to analyze and allocate each noise to its
author. In this game an intimate knowledge of the habits of forest
residents is useful, so that, at the camp breakfast in the morning,
one may confidently assert that so and so visited the camp last
night!

When, as sometimes happened, both Bige and I were wakeful at the same
time, the breakfast hour was made interesting by differing opinions,
and discussions over the habits and identity of our noisy neighbors.
There are, of course, many birds and a few animals who sleep at
night, and are met with only in the daytime. These were not
considered in our discussions.

One night at Muskrat City, both Bige and I were suddenly awakened by
most unusual sounds coming from the direction of the hillside across
the valley. Bige sprang up to a sitting posture, exclaiming,
"Sufferin' Cats! Did you hear that noise?" I did; and expressed the
opinion that "the suffering of the cats was acute." Immediately, the
sounds were repeated, if possible louder than before. It would be
difficult accurately to describe those sounds. We were reminded of
disputes we had heard, in the back yard, between two Thomas cats,
whose wordy arguments over their respective claims to "Mariah" often
ended in scratching and hair-pulling. I, however, never met any tom
cat who could produce one-tenth of the volume of noise that came
across that valley.

There were two voices, one a little higher pitched than the other,
and both talked at once. Beginning in a low-toned complaining wail
like the last despairing cry of a lost soul entering perdition,
remarks would follow each other in crescendo volume, and in ever
increasing rapidity, epithets would be fired by the contestants until
the snarling, sarcastic statements were fairly spat out, ending in
shrieks that could be heard miles. After an interval of a few seconds
during which the disputants seemed to have changed their positions,
the argument was renewed, proceeding as before except that with each
repetition the anger and violence of the scrappers increased. At the
height of one of these tirades there was heard the scratching and
tearing of toe-nails on bark as one wordy fighter seemed to chase the
other up the trunk of a tree and through the branches. This was
quickly followed by two thuds as of one heavy body after another
striking the ground, then the breaking of sticks, the rustle of
leaves and brush as the two animals raced up the steep hillside. The
race was punctuated by snarling, snapping sounds, which died away in
the distance as the language fighters passed over the ridge until the
sounds finally became inaudible. It was a dark night, and at no time
did we get a glimpse, even indistinctly, of the scrappers. We are
still speculating and wondering who or what they were.

This story has been told to many hunters and trappers familiar with
Adirondack forests. Opinions have been sought as to the probable
identity of these belligerent animals. So far, no plausible or
reasonable suggestion has been made. Some of the old-timers say the
tale reminds them of experiences of fifty or sixty years ago, when
the bay-lynx, bobcat or wild-cat made these woods and mountains their
home and hunting ground; but they have been exterminated. None of
these cats have been seen for more than a generation.

Neither Bige nor I are acquainted with any animal capable of making
the particular kind of noise we heard that night at Muskrat City. Our
suggestion is, that possibly the wild-cats have come back.

One winter an unusual number of snow storms occurred, following each
other in rapid succession until there was an accumulation of snow
over five feet deep throughout the forest and on the roof of our camp
at Muskrat City. This was followed by rain and freezing weather,
turning the snow into ice. The great weight of ice and snow proved
too heavy for the roof and it was broken down. In the following
spring a large maple tree fell across the camp and crushed it into a
tangled, shapeless wreck. Our log camp at Muskrat City has
disappeared, but as a memory it shall remain forever!



END OF MUSKRAT CITY





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