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Title: Everyday Adventures
Author: Scoville, Samuel
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 "Everyday Adventures" ***

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    EVERYDAY ADVENTURES

    [Illustration: TWO ADVENTURERS--GRAY FOX AND SCREECH OWL]



    EVERYDAY ADVENTURES

    By SAMUEL SCOVILLE, JR.


    _With Illustrations from Photographs_


    _The_ ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS BOSTON


    _Copyright 1920, by_
    _Samuel Scoville, Jr._


    Of the chapters of this book, three have appeared as separate
    articles in _The Atlantic Monthly_, three in _The Yale Review_,
    two in _The Youth's Companion_, and the others, in whole or in
    part, in _St. Nicholas_, _Good Housekeeping_, and _The Christian
    Endeavor World_.


    _This book is dedicated to that brave and loyal adventurer, who
    has shared so many everyday adventures with me--my wife._


    The illustrations for this book have been made from photographs
    taken by Mr. Howard T. Middleton, Mr. J. Fletcher Street, Mr.
    William L. Baily, and Mr. A. D. McGrew. The author wishes to
    express his appreciation here of the skill, knowledge, and
    patience which have made such photographs possible. In some of
    those taken by Mr. Middleton, tamed, caged, or mounted specimens
    have been used as models. In others he has persuaded wild
    animals to photograph themselves by various ingenious devices.



    CONTENTS


    EVERYDAY ADVENTURES             1
    ZERO BIRDS                     18
    SNOW STORIES                   38
    A RUNAWAY DAY                  59
    THE RAVEN'S NEST               73
    HIDDEN TREASURE                86
    BIRD'S-NESTING                100
    THE TREASURE HUNT             120
    ORCHID HUNTING                139
    THE MARSH DWELLERS            161
    THE SEVEN SLEEPERS            176
    DRAGON'S BLOOD                216



    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    _Two Adventurers--Gray Fox and Screech Owl_           Frontispiece
    _Br'er Fox and Br'er Possum_                                     4
    _The Singer of the Night--The Screech Owl_                      16
    _A Crow Chorus_                                                 25
    _Just Out of the Nest--Young Red Squirrels_                     28
    _The Dear Deer Mice_                                            35
    _Death-in-the-Dark--The Great Horned Owl_                       44
    _Flyer, the Squirrel_                                           52
    _The Long-tailed Weasel_                                        64
    "_The Young Ravens shall neither lack nor suffer Hunger_"       82
    _The Jewel-Box of the Wood Pewee_                               96
    _The Red-Shouldered Hawk_                                      104
    _Mrs. Killdeer at Her Nest_                                    108
    _Mr. Flicker at Home_                                          126
    _The Mourning Dove in Her Nest_                                128
    _Pink and White Lady Slippers_                                 146
    _The King of the Forest--The Banded Rattlesnake_               154
    _The Great Blue Heron at Breakfast_                            160
    _The Marsh Hawk's Nest_                                        164
    _Lotor, the Coon_                                              184
    _The Seventh Sleeper--The Skunk_                               192
    _The Whistlepig_                                               196
    _The Junco on His Watch Tower_                                 219
    _No Admittance--per order, Mr. Screech Owl_                    222


EVERYDAY ADVENTURES

    _For the sick and the sorry and the weary at heart stands a
    refuge at their very doors. There needs but sight to the
    unseeing eyes and the unstopping of deafened ears, and the way
    to the World where the sweet Wild-Folk dwell lies open. Therein
    is happiness that time cannot tarnish, the stilling of sorrow
    and rest from toil. Let him who hears the call heed it as he
    values his soul's welfare._



EVERYDAY ADVENTURES



I

EVERYDAY ADVENTURES


All that May day long I had been trying to break my record of birds
seen and heard between dawn and dark. Toward the end of the gray
afternoon an accommodating Canadian warbler, wearing a black necklace
across his yellow breast, carried me past my last year's mark, and I
started for home in great contentment. My path wound in and out among
the bare white boles of a beech wood all feathery with new
green-sanguine-colored leaves. Always as I enter that wood I have a
sense of a sudden silence, and I walk softly, that I may catch perhaps
a last word or so of what They are saying.

That day, as I moved without a sound among the trees, suddenly, not
fifty feet away, loping wearily down the opposite slope, came a gaunt
red fox and a cub. With her head down, she looked like the picture of
the wolf in Red Riding-Hood. The little cub was all woolly, like a
lamb. His back was reddish-brown, and he had long stripes of gray
across his breast and around his small belly, and his little sly face
was so comical that I laughed at the very first sight of it. What wind
there was blew from them to me, and my khaki clothes blended with the
coloring around me.

As I watched them, another larger cub trotted down the hill. The first
cub suddenly yapped at him, with a snarling little bark quite
different from that of a dog; but the other paid no attention, but
stalked sullenly into a burrow which for the first time I noticed
among the roots of a white-oak tree. Back of the burrow lay a large
chestnut log which evidently served as a watch-tower for the fox
family. To this the mother fox went, and climbing up on top of it, lay
down, with her head on her paws and her magnificent brush dangling
down beside the log, and went to sleep.

The little cub that was left trotted to the entrance of the burrow and
for a while played by himself, like a puppy or a kitten. First he
snapped at some blades of grass and chewed them up fiercely. Then,
seeing a leaf that had stuck in the wool on his back, he whirled
around and around, snapping at it with his little jaws. Failing to
catch it, he rolled over and over in the dirt until he had brushed it
off. Then he proceeded to stalk the battered carcass of an old black
crow that lay in front of the burrow. Crouching and creeping up on it
inch by inch, he suddenly sprang and caught that unsuspecting corpse
and worried it ferociously, with fierce little snarls. All the time
his wrinkled-up, funny little face was so comical that I nearly
laughed aloud every time he moved. At last he curled up in a round
ball, with his chin on his forepaws like his mother.

There before me, at the end of the quiet spring afternoon, two of the
wildest and shyest of all of our native animals lay asleep. Never
before had I seen a fox in all that country, nor even suspected that
one had a home within a scant mile of mine. As I watched them
sleeping, I felt somehow that the wildwood had taken me into her
confidence and was trusting her children to my care; and I would no
more have harmed them, than I would my own.

As I watched the cub curled up in a woolly ball, I wanted to creep up
and stroke his soft fur. Leaving the hard path, I started to cover as
silently as possible the fifty feet that lay between us. Before I had
gone far, a leaf rustled underfoot, and in a second the cub was on his
feet, wide awake, and staring down at me. With one foot in the air, I
waited and waited until he settled down to sleep again. A minute later
the same thing happened once more, only to be repeated at every step
or so. It took me something like half an hour to reach a point within
twenty feet of where he lay, and I looked straight into his eyes each
time that he stood up.

No wild animal can tell a man from a tree by sight alone if only he
stands still. Suddenly, as the cub sprang up, perhaps for the tenth
time, there about six feet to one side of him stood the old mother
fox. I had not heard a sound or seen a movement, but there she was. I
was so close that I dared not move my head to look at the cub, but
turned only my eyes. When I looked back the mother fox was gone. With
no sudden movement that I could detect, there almost before my eyes
she had melted into the landscape.

I stood like a stone until the cub had lain down once more. This time
evidently he was watching me out of his wrinkled-up little eyes, for
at my very first forward movement he got up, and with no appearance of
haste turned around and disappeared down in the burrow. The
watch-tower log was vacant, although I have no doubt that the mother
fox was watching me from some unseen spot.

When I came to examine the den, I found that there were three burrows
in a line, perhaps fifteen feet in length, with a hard-worn path
leading from one to the other. The watch-log behind them was rubbed
smooth and shiny, with reddish fox-hairs caught in every crevice. Near
the three burrows was a tiny one, which I think was probably dug as an
air-hole; while in front I found the feathers of a flicker, a purple
grackle, and a chicken, besides the remains of the crow aforesaid. How
any fox outside of the fable could beguile a crow is a puzzle to me.
All of these burrows were in plain sight, and I hunted a long time to
find the concealed one which is a part of the home of every
well-regulated fox family. For a while I could find no trace of it.
Finally I saw on the side of a stump one reddish hair that gave me a
clue. Examining the stump carefully, I found that it was hollow and
formed the entrance to the secret exit from the three main burrows.

A week later I went again to look at the home of that fox family; but
it was deserted by them and was now tenanted by a fat woodchuck,
who would never have ventured near the den if the owners had not left
it. Mrs. Fox had evidently feared the worst from my visit, and in the
night had moved her whole family to some better-hidden home. This was
three years ago, and, although I visit the place every winter, no
tell-tale tracks ever show that she has moved back.

[Illustration: BR'ER FOX AND BR'ER POSSUM]

It is not necessary to go to the forest for adventures: they lie in
wait for us at our very doors. My home is in a built-up suburb of a
large city, apparently hopelessly civilized. The other morning I was
out early for some before-breakfast chopping, the best of all
setting-up exercises. As I turned the corner of the garage, I suddenly
came face to face with a black-and-white animal with a pointed nose, a
bushy tail, and an air of justified confidence. I realized that I was
on the brink of a meeting which demanded courage but not rashness. "Be
brave, be brave, but not _too_ brave," should always be the motto of
the man who meets the skunk. From my past experience, however, I knew
that the skunk is a good sportsman. Unless rushed, he always gives
three warnings before he proceeds to extremities.

As I came near, he stopped and shook his head sadly, as if saying to
himself, "I'm afraid there's going to be trouble, but it isn't my
fault." As I still came on, he gave me danger signal number one by
suddenly stamping his forepaws rapidly on the hard ground. Upon my
further approach followed signal number two, to wit, the hoisting
aloft of his aforesaid long, bushy tail. As I came on more and more
slowly, I received the third and last warning--the end of the erect
tail moved quietly back and forth a few times.

It was enough. I stood stony still, for I knew that if, after that, I
moved forward but by the fraction of an inch, I would meet an unerring
barrage which would send a suit of clothes to an untimely grave. For
perhaps half a minute we eyed each other. Like the man in the story, I
made up my mind that one of us would have to run--and that I was that
one. Without any false pride I backed slowly and cautiously out of
range. Thereupon the threatening tail descended, and Mr. Skunk trotted
away through a gap in the fence into the long grass of an unoccupied
lot--probably seeking a breakfast of field-mice.

I felt a definite sense of relief, for it is usually more dangerous to
meet a skunk than a bear. In fact, all the bears that I have ever come
upon were disappearing with great rapidity across the landscape.

But there are times when a meeting with either Mr. or Mrs. Bruin is
apt to be an unhappy one. Several years ago I was camping out in Maine
one March, in a lumberman's shack. A few days before I came, two boys
in a village near by decided to go into the woods hunting, with a
muzzle-loading shot-gun and a long stick between them. One boy was ten
years old, while the other was a patriarch of twelve. On a hillside
under a great bush they noticed a small hole which seemed to have
melted through the snow, and which had a gamy savor that made them
suspect a coon. The boy with the stick poked it in as far as possible
until he felt something soft.

"I think there's something here," he remarked, poking with all his
might.

He was quite right. The next moment the whole bank of frozen snow
suddenly caved out, and there stood a cross and hungry bear, prodded
out of his winter sleep by that stick. The boys were up against a bad
proposition. The snow was too deep for running, and when it came to
climbing--that was Mr. Bear's pet specialty. So they did the only
thing left for them to do: they waited. The little one with the stick
got behind the big one with the gun, which weapon wavered unsteadily.

"Now, don't you miss," he said, "'cause this stick ain't very sharp."

Sometimes an attacking bear will run at a man like a biting dog. More
often it rises on its haunches and depends on the smashing blows of
its mighty arms and steel-shod paws. So it happened in this case. Just
before the bear reached the boys, he lifted his head and started to
rise. The first boy, not six feet away, aimed at the white spot which
most black bears have under their chin, and pulled the trigger. At
that close range the heavy charge of number six shot crashed through
the animal's throat, making a single round hole like a big bullet,
cutting the jugular vein, and piercing the neck vertebræ beyond. The
great beast fell forward with hardly a struggle, so close to the boys
that its blood splashed on their rubber boots. They got ten dollars
for the skin and ten dollars for the bounty, and about one million
dollars' worth of glory.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hasting homeward for more peaceful adventures, I find, near the road
which leads to the railway station over which scores and hundreds of
my friends and neighbors, including myself, pass every day, a little
patch of marshland. In the fall it is covered with a thick growth of
goldenrod, purple asters, joe-pye-weed, wild sunflowers, white
boneset, tear-thumb, black bindweed, dodder, and a score or more of
other common fall flowers.

One night, at nine o'clock, I noticed that an ice-blue star shone from
almost the very zenith of the heavens. Below her were two faint stars
making a tiny triangle, the left-hand one showing as a beautiful
double under an opera-glass. Below was a row of other dim points of
light in the black sky. It was Vega of the Lyre, the great Harp Star.
Then I knew that the time had come. We humans think, arrogantly, that
we are the only ones for whom the stars shine, and forget that flowers
and birds, and all the wild folk are born each under its own special
star.

The next morning I was up with the sun and visited that bit of
unpromising marshland past which all of us had plodded year in and
year out. In one corner, through the dim grass, I found flaming like
deep-blue coals one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, the
fringed gentian. The stalk and flower-stems looked like green
candelabra, while the unopened blossoms showed sharp edges like
beech-nuts. Above them glowed square fringed flowers of the richest,
deepest blue that nature holds. It is bluer than the bluebird's back,
and fades the violet, the aster, the great lobelia, and all the other
blue flowers that grow. The four petals were fringed, and the flower
seemed like a blue eye looking out of long lashes to the paler sky
above. The calyx inside was of a veined purple or a silver-white,
while four gold-tipped, light purple stamens clustered around a
canary-yellow pistil. That morning I wore on the train one of the two
flowers which I allowed myself to pick. Every friend I met spoke of it
admiringly. Some had heard of it, others had seen it for themselves in
places far distant. None of them knew that every day until frost they
would pass unheedingly within ten feet of nearly thirty of these
flowers.

Sometimes the adventure, unlike good children, is to be heard, not
seen. It was the end of a hot August day. I had been down for a late
dip in the lake, and was coming back through the woods to the old
farmhouse where I have spent so many of my summers. The path wound
through a grove of slim birches, and the lights in the afterglow were
all green and gold and white. From the nearby road a field sparrow,
with a pink beak, sang his silver flute song; and I stopped to listen,
and thought to myself, if he were only as rare as the nightingale, how
people would crowd to hear him.

Suddenly from the depths of the twilight woods a thrush song began. At
first I thought the singer was the wood thrush, which, besides the
veery or Wilson thrush, was the only one that I had supposed could be
found in that Connecticut township. The song, however, had a more
ethereal quality, and I listened in vain for the drop to the harsh
bass notes which always blemish the strain of the wood thrush.
Instead, after three arpeggio notes, the singer's voice went up and
up, with a sweep that no human voice or instrument could compass, and
I suddenly realized that I was in the presence of one of the great
singers of the world. For years I had read of the song of the hermit
thrush, but in all my wanderings I had never chanced to hear it
before.

Lafcadio Hearn writes of a Japanese bird whose song has the power to
change a man's whole life. So it was with me that midsummer evening.
Some thing had been added to the joy of living that could never be
taken from me. Since that twilight I have heard the hermit thrush sing
many times. Through the rain in the dawn-dusk on the top of Mount
Pocono, he sang for me once, while all around a choir of veerys
accompanied him with their strange minor harp-chords. One Sunday
morning, at the edge of a little Canadian river, I heard five singing
together on the farther side. "Ah-h-h, holy, holy, holy," their voices
chimed across the still water. In the woods, in migration, I have
heard their whisper-song, which the hermit sings only when traveling;
and once on a May morning, in my back yard, near Philadelphia, one
sang for me from the low limb of a bush as loudly as if he were in his
mountain home.

No thrush song, however, will ever equal that first one which I heard
among the birch trees. Creeping softly along the path that evening, I
finally saw the little singer on a branch against the darkening sky.
Again and again he sang, until at last I noticed that, when the
highest notes were reached and the song ceased to my ears, the singer
sang on still. Quivering in an ecstasy, with open beak and
half-fluttering wings, the thrush sang a strain that went beyond my
range. Like the love-song of the bat, perhaps the best part of the
song of the hermit thrush can never be heard by any human ear.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the morning of June twentieth. I stood at the gate of the
farm-house where three roads met, and the air was full of bird-songs.
For a long time I stood there, and tried to note how many different
songs I could hear. Nearby were the alto joy-notes of the Baltimore
oriole. Up from the meadow where the trout brook flowed, came the
bubbling, gurgling notes of the bobolink. Robins, wood thrushes, song
sparrows, chipping sparrows, blue-birds, vireos, goldfinches, chebecs,
indigo birds, flickers, phoebes, scarlet tanagers, red-winged
blackbirds, catbirds, house wrens--altogether, without moving from my
place, I counted twenty-three different bird-songs and bird-notes.

Nearby I saw a robin's nest, curiously enough built directly on the
ground on the side of the bank of one of the roads, and lined with
white wool, evidently picked up in the neighboring sheep-pasture.
This started me on another of the games of solitaire which I like to
play out-of-doors, and I tried to see how many nests I could discover
from the same vantage-point without moving. This is really a good way
to find birds' nests, and the one who stands still and watches the
birds will often find more than he who beats about. For a long time
the robin's nest was the only one on my list. At last the flashing
orange and black of a Baltimore oriole betrayed its gray swinging
pouch of a nest in a nearby spruce tree--the only time that I have
ever seen an oriole's nest in an evergreen tree. In a lilac bush I saw
the deep nest of the catbird, with its four vivid blue eggs and the
inevitable grapevine-bark lining around its edge.

In a high fork in a great maple tree at the corner of the road, the
chebec, or least flycatcher, showed me her home. Sooner or later, if
you watch any of the flycatchers long enough, they will generally show
you their nests. This one was high up in a fork, and made of string
and wool and down. Over in the adjoining orchard I saw a kingbird
light on her nest in the very top of an apple tree; and I have no
doubt that, if I had climbed up to it, I would have seen three
beautiful cream-white eggs blotched with chocolate-brown.

The last nest of all was my treasure nest of the summer. I was about
to give up the game and start off for a walk, when suddenly, right
ahead of me, hanging on the limb of a sugar-maple, not five feet above
the stone wall, I saw the swinging basket-nest of a vireo, with the
woven white strips of birch-bark on the outside which all vireos use
in that part of the country. It was as if a veil had suddenly dropped
from my eyes, for I had been looking in that direction constantly,
without seeing the nest directly in front of me. Probably, at last, I
must have slightly turned my head and finally caught the light in a
different direction. I supposed that the nest was that of the red-eyed
vireo, the only one of the five vireos which would be likely to build
in such a location. Climbing upon the wall to look at it, I saw that
the mother bird was on the nest. Even when I took hold of the limb,
she did not fly. Then I slowly pulled the limb down, and still the
brave little bird stayed on her nest, although several times she
started to her feet and, ruffling her feathers, made as if to fly. As
the nest came nearer and nearer, I could see that she was quivering
all over with fear, and that her heart was beating so rapidly as to
shake her tiny body. Finally, as she came almost within reach of my
outstretched hand, she gave me one long look and then suddenly cuddled
down over her dearly loved eggs and hid her head inside of the nest.
Reaching my hand out very carefully, I stroked her quivering little
back. She raised her head and gave me another long look, as if to make
sure whether I meant her any harm. Evidently I seemed friendly, for as
I stroked her head she turned and gave my finger a little peck, then
snuggled her head up against it in the most confiding, engaging way.
As she did so, I noticed that a white line ran from the beak to the
eye, and that she had a white eye-ring and a bluish-gray head. As I
looked at her, suddenly from a nearby branch the father bird sang,
and I recognized the song of the solitary or blue-headed vireo, who
belongs in the deep woods and whose rare nest is usually found in
their depths. As the male came nearer, I could see his pure white
throat which, with the white line from eye to bill and the
greenish-yellow markings on either flank, make good field-marks. The
four eggs, which I saw afterwards when the mother bird was off the
nest, were white with reddish markings all over instead of being
blotched at one end as are those of the red-eyed vireo. Every day for
the rest of that week I visited my little friend; and before I left
she grew to know me so well that she would not even ruffle up her
feathers when I pulled the limb down.

       *       *       *       *       *

Children are of great help in the life adventurous. They have an
inexhaustible fund of admiration for even the feeblest efforts of
their parents in adventuring. Many a dull dog, who once heard nothing
in all the world but the clank of business, has been changed into a
confirmed adventurer by sheer appreciation. Moreover, children possess
an energy and imagination which we grown-ups often lack. Only the
other afternoon I started off for a walk with my four, to find myself
suddenly dining in the New Forest with Robin Hood, Little John, Will
Scarlet, and Allan a' Dale. Owing probably to a certain comfortable
habit of person, I was elected to be Friar Tuck.

The forest itself is a wonderful wood of great trees hidden in a
little valley between two round green hills. In its centre is a
bubbling spring of clear water that never freezes in winter or dries
up in summer. That afternoon we had explored the Haunted House at the
edge of the wood, with its date-stone of 1809, ten-foot fireplace, and
vast stone chimney, and had fearfully approached that door under which
a dark stream of blood flowed a half-century ago, on the day when all
humans stopped dwelling in that house forever.

Little John climbed puffingly up through two sets of floor-beams, to
where a few warped hemlock boards still make a patch of flooring in
the attic. Under a rafter he found a cunningly concealed hidey-hole,
drilled like a flicker's nest into one of the soft mica-schist stones
of the chimney. Inside were a battered home-made top, whittled out of
a solid block, and two flint Indian arrow-heads, ghosts of some
long-dead boyhood which still lingered in the little attic chamber.

In the spring twilight we stole out by a side door, so that we might
not cross that stained threshold. A lilac bush, which in a century of
growth had become a thicket of purple, scented bloom, surrounded the
whole side of the house; while beside a squat buttonwood tree of
monstrous girth was the dome of a Dutch oven. We followed a dim path
fringed with white-thorn and sprays of sweet viburnum blossoms.

From the distance, beyond the farther hill, came the crooning of the
toads on their annual pilgrimage back to the marsh where they were
born. In time we reached a bank all blue and white with enameled
innocents. In front of this the camp-fire was always kindled. The Band
scattered for fire-wood--but not far, for there were too many lurking
shadows among those tree-trunks. At last the fire was laid and
lighted. Five minutes later all the powers of darkness fled for their
lives before the steady roaring column of smokeless flame that surged
up in front of the Band. Followed wassail and feasting galore.
Haunches of venison, tasting much like mutton-chops, broiled hissingly
at the end of green beechwood spits. Flagons of Adam's ale were
quaffed, and the loving-cup--it was of the folding variety--passed
from hand to hand.

All at once the substantial Tuck heaved himself up to his feet beside
the dying fire. There was not a sound in the sleeping forest.
Night-folk, wood-folk, water-folk, all were still. Then from the
pursed lips of the Friar sounded a long, wavering, mournful call.
Again and again it shuddered away across the hills. Suddenly, so far
away that at first it seemed an echo, it was answered. Once and twice
more the call sounded, and each time the answer was nearer and louder.
Something was coming. As the Band listened aghast, around the circle
made by the firelight glided a dark shape with fiery eyes. It realized
their worst fears, and with one accord they threw themselves on the
Friar, who rocked under the impact.

"Send it back, Fathie, send it back!" they shouted in chorus.

[Illustration: THE SINGER OF THE NIGHT--THE SCREECH OWL]

The good Friar unpuckered his lips.

"I am surprised, comrades," he said severely. "You aren't afraid of an
old screech-owl, are you?"

"N-n-n-ooo," quavered little Will Scarlet, "if you're _sure_ it's a
nowl."

"Certain sure," asserted the Friar reassuringly, and gave the call
again.

On muffled, silent wings the dark form drifted around and around the
light, but never across it, and then alighted on a nearby tree and
gave an indescribable little crooning note which the Friar could only
approximate. At last, disgusted with the clumsy attempts to continue a
conversation so well begun, the owl melted away into the darkness and
was gone.

After that, the Band decided that home was the one place for them.
Water was poured on the blaze, and earth heaped over the hissing
embers. Under the sullen flare of Arcturus and the glow of Algieba,
Spica, and all the stars of spring, they started back by dim wood
roads and flower-scented lanes. Will Scarlet, Little John, and Allan
a' Dale frankly shared the hands of the Friar, and in the darkest
places even the redoubtable Robin himself casually took possession of
an unoccupied thumb.



II

ZERO BIRDS


It had been a strenuous night. All day the mercury had been flirting
with the zero mark, and soon after sunset burrowed down into the bulb
below all readings. My bed that night felt like a well-iced tomb.
Probably daylight would have found me frozen to death if it had not
been for a saving idea. Hurrying into the children's room, I selected
two of the warmest and chubbiest. Banking them on either side of me in
my bed, I just survived the night. Of course it was hard on them; but
then, any round, warm child of proper sentiments should welcome an
opportunity to save the life of an aged parent.

In spite of my patent heating-plant I woke up toward morning
shivering, and remembered with a terrible depression that I had
boasted to Mrs. Naturalist and to various and sundry scoffing friends
that I would cut down and cut up and haul in one forty-foot hickory
tree before the glad New Year. For a while I decided that there was
nothing on earth worth exchanging for that warm bed. Finally, however,
my better nature conquered, and the dusk before the dawn found me in
the woods in front of a dead hickory tree some forty feet high and a
couple of rods through--at least that was how its flinty girth
impressed me after I had chopped a while. The air was like iced wine.
Every axe-stroke drove it tingling through my blood.

Before attacking the hickory, however, I began to cut down the brush
surrounding the doomed tree, so as to gain clear space for the
axe-swing. Almost immediately a vindictive spice-bush in falling
knocked off my glasses, and they fell into the snow somewhere ahead of
me. Without them I am in the same condition as a mole or a shrew, my
sense of sight being only rudimentary. Down I plumped on my knees in
the snow and fumbled in the half light with numbed fingers through the
cold whiteness ahead.

As I groped and grumbled in this lowly position, suddenly I heard the
prelude to one of the most beautiful of winter dawn-songs. It was a
liquid loud note full of rolling _r's_. Perhaps it can be best
represented in print somewhat as follows: "Chip'r'r'r'r." I forgot my
lost glasses and my cold hands and my wet knees waiting for the song
that I knew was coming. Another preliminary, rolling note or so, and
there sounded from a low stump a wild, ringing song that could be
heard for half a mile. "Wheedle-wheedle-wheedle," it began full of
liquid bell-like overtones. Then the singer added another syllable to
his strain and sang, "Whee-udel, whee-udel, whee-udel." Three times,
with a short rest between, he sang the full double strain through,
although it was so dark that only the ghostly, black tree-trunks could
be seen against the white snow. I needed no sight of him, however, to
recognize the singer. The song took me back to a bitter winter day in
Philadelphia some seventeen years ago, when I was laboriously
learning the birds. I was walking through a bit of waste-land
encircled by trolley-tracks when I heard this same song. It was like
nothing which I had ever heard in New England, where I had learned
what little I knew about birds, and I searched everywhere for the
singer, expecting to see a bird about the size of a robin.

Finally, in the underbrush just ahead of me, I saw an unmistakable
wren singing so ecstatically that he shook and trembled all over with
the outpouring of his song. It was my first sight and hearing of this
southern bird, the Carolina wren, the largest of our five wrens, whose
field-mark is a long white line over the eye. He is reddish-brown,
while the house wren, which is half an inch shorter, is
cinnamon-brown. The long-billed marsh wren also has a white line over
the eye and is about the same size, but is never found away from the
tall grass bordering on water, and has no such song as the Carolina.
The winter wren and the short-billed marsh wren could neither of them
be mistaken for the Carolina, as both are about an inch and a half
shorter and lack the white line. The house wren and the long-billed
marsh wren bubble when they sing, the Carolina wren and the winter
wren ring, and the short-billed marsh wren, the rarest of all, clicks.
Of them all only the Carolina wren sings in the winter.

That day the wren-song brought me good luck. It was no more than
finished when I heard someone passing along a nearby wood-road, who
turned out to be an early-rising workman from whom I borrowed some
matches with which I finally discovered my missing eyes half buried in
the snow. I attacked the pignut hickory with great energy to make up
for lost time. Little by little the axe bit through the tough wood,
until the kerf was well past the heart of the tree. As I chopped I
could hear the quick strokes of a far better wood-cutter than I shall
ever be. Suddenly he gave a loud, rattling call, and I recognized the
hairy woodpecker. He is much larger than the downy, being nearly the
size of a robin, while his call is wilder and louder and lacks the
downward run of the downy's note. We chopped on together, he at his
tree and I at mine. Suddenly from my tree sounded a warning crack, and
the trunk wavered for a moment. I stepped well off to one side, for it
is dangerous to stand behind a falling tree. If it strikes anything as
it falls the trunk may shoot backward. A venerable ancestor of mine,
so the story runs, tried to celebrate his ninetieth birthday by
chopping down a tree, and standing behind it, was killed by the
back-lash of the falling trunk.

The tree swayed forward toward the crimson rim of the rising sun. One
more stroke at its heart, and there was a loud series of cracks,
followed by a roar like thunder as it crashed down. Almost
immediately, as if awakened by the noise, I began to hear bird-notes.
From over to my left sounded a series of sharp, irritating
alarm-notes, and in the waxing light I caught a glimpse of a crested
blood-red bird at the edge of a green-brier thicket. In that same
place I had found his nest the spring before, made of twigs and strips
of bark and lined with grass and roots and holding three speckled
eggs. It was the cardinal grosbeak, another bird unknown to me in New
England. No matter how often I meet this crimson-crested grosbeak, he
will never become a common bird to me. Each time I see him I feel
again something of the thrill which came over me when I first met this
singer from the southland in a thicket on the edge of Philadelphia.
With the Carolina wren and the tufted titmouse, the cardinal grosbeak
completes a trio of birds that can never be commonplace to one born
north of Central Park, New York, which is about the limit of their
northern range.

To-day, as I watched my flaming cardinal, he suddenly dived stiffly
into the heart of the thicket. A moment later from its midst sounded a
clear, loud whistle, "Whit, whit, whit." I answered him, for this is
one of the few bird-calls I can imitate. Before long his dove-colored
mate also appeared. Her wings and tail were of a duller red, while the
upper-parts of her sleek body were of a brownish-ash tint. The throat
and a patch by the base of the bill were black in both. As I watched,
the singer in the thicket added to his whistle the word "Teu, teu,
teu, teu" and then finally ran them together--"Whee-teu, whee-teu,
whee-teu," so rapidly whistled that it sounded almost like a single
note.

On the way back to breakfast, as the sun came up and warmed a slope of
the woods, a flock of slate-colored juncos burst out altogether in a
chorus of soft little trills, with now and then sharp alarm-notes
like the clicking of pebbles together, interspersed with tiny
half-whispered notes best expressed by the same letters as those used
in writing the grosbeak music--"Teu, teu, teu, teu." Suddenly, from a
farther corner of the sun-warmed slope, I heard a few tinkling notes
followed by a tantalizing snatch of rich, sweet song shot through with
canary-like trills and runs. I hurried over the snow and caught a
glimpse of a little flock of birds with crowns of reddish-brown, and
each wearing small black spots in the exact centre of their
drab-colored waistcoats. They were tree-sparrows down from the far
North, and I was fortunate to have heard the peculiarly gentle cadence
of one of their rare winter songs.

Farther on, the caw of a passing crow drifted down from the cold sky,
and before I left the woods I heard the pip of a downy woodpecker and
the grunt of the white-breasted nuthatch, that tree-climber with the
white cheeks which, unlike woodpeckers, can go both up and down trees
head-foremost. In the early spring and sometimes on warm winter days,
one may hear his spring song, which is "Quee-quee-quee." It is not
much of a song, but Mr. Nuthatch is very proud of it and usually
pauses admiringly between each two strains. In my early bird-days I
used to mistake this spring song for the note of an early flicker, and
would scandalize better-educated ornithologists by reporting flickers
several weeks before their time. The last bird I heard before I left
the woods remarked solemnly, "Too-wheedle, too-wheedle, too-wheedle,
too-wheedle," like a creaking wheelbarrow, and then suddenly broke out
into the flat, harsh "Djay, djay, djay" which has given the
silver-and-blue jay its name.

By the time I had reached home, I decided that it was too cold a day
to practise law safely. The state legislature in their wisdom had
already made the day a half-holiday. Not to be outdone in generosity,
I decided to donate my half and make the holiday a whole one. Anent
this matter of holidays, the trouble with most of us is that we are
obsessed with the importance of our daily work. There are many
pleasant byways which we plan to come back and explore when we have
reached the end of the straight, steep, and intensely narrow road that
leads to achievement. The trouble is that there is no returning. Men
die rich, famous, or successful, who have never taken the time to
companion their children or to find their way into the world of the
wild-folk which lies at their very doors. It was not always so. Read
in Evelyn's Diary how for sixty years a great man played a great part
under three kings and the grim Protector, and yet never lost an
opportunity to refresh his life with bird-songs, hilltops,
flower-fields, and sky-air. We reach our goal to-day in a few
desperate years, stripped to the buff like a Marathon runner. One can
arrive later and not miss a thousand little happinesses along the way.

With similar arguments I convinced myself on that day, that it was my
duty as an amateur naturalist to discover how many birds I could meet
between dawn and dark with the thermometer below zero. Certain
gentlemen-adventurers of my acquaintance aided and abetted me in this
plan. They all held high office in a military organization known for
short as the Band. There was First Lieutenant Trottie, Second
Lieutenant Honey, Sergeant Henny-Penny, and Corporal Alice-Palace,
while I had been honored with a captain's commission in this regiment.
To be sure, there was something of a dearth of privates; but with such
a gallant array of officers their absence was not felt. At any hour of
day or night, to the last man, every member of the Band was ready for
the most desperate adventures by field and flood.

[Illustration: A CROW CHORUS]

As we left the house the thermometer stood at four below, while the
sky was of a frozen blue, without a cloud, and had a hard glitter as
if streaked with frost. In a low tree by the roadside, we heard the
metallic note of a downy woodpecker scurrying up the trunk and backing
stiffly down. Farther on sounded a loud cawing, and we saw four
ruffianly crows assaulting a respectable female broad-winged hawk. One
after the other they would flap over her as closely as possible,
aiming vicious pecks as they passed. The broad-winged beat the air
frantically with her short, wide, fringed wings, and seemed to make no
effort to defend herself against her black, jeering pursuers. Once she
alighted on an exposed limb. Instantly the crows settled near her and
used language which no respectable female hawk could listen to for a
moment. She spread her wings and soared away, and as she passed out
of sight they were still cawing on her trail.

If the hawk had been one of the swift Accipiters, such as the gray
goshawk or the Cooper's hawk, or any of the falcons, no crow would
have ventured to take any liberties. One of my friends, who collects
bird's eggs instead of bird-notes, was once attempting feloniously to
break and enter the home of a duck-hawk which was highly regarded in
the community--about two hundred feet highly in fact. As my friend was
swinging back and forth on a rope in front of the perpendicular cliff,
said duck-hawk dashed at him at the rate of some ninety miles per
hour. Being scared off by a blank cartridge, the enraged falcon
towered. A passing crow flapping through the air made a peck at the
hawk as it shot past. That was one of the last and most unfortunate
acts in that crow's whole life. The duck-hawk was fairly aching with
the desire to attack someone or something which was not protected by
thunder and lightning. With one flash of its wings it shot under that
misguided crow, and, turning on its back in mid-air, slashed it with
six talons like sharpened steel. The crow dropped, a dead mass of
black and blood, to the brow of the cliff below.

Finally we reached the tall, stone chimney--all that is left of some
long-forgotten house, which marks the entrance to old Darby Road,
which was opened in 1701. At that point Wild-Folk Land begins. The
hurrying feet of more than two centuries have sunk the road some ten
feet below its banks, and the wild-folk use its hidden bed like one
of their own trails. Foxes pad along its rain-washed course, and
rabbits and squirrels hop and scurry across its narrow width, while in
spring and summer wild ginger, ebony spleenwort, the blue-and-white
porcelain petals of the hepatica, and a host of other flowers bloom on
its banks. The birds too nest there, from the belted gray-blue and
white kingfisher, which has bored a deep hole into the clay under an
overhanging wild-cherry tree, down to the field sparrow, with its pink
beak and flute-song, which watches four speckled eggs close-hidden in
a tiny cup of woven grass.

To-day we followed the windings of the road, until we came to the vast
black oak tree which marks the place where Darby Road, after running
for nearly ten miles, stops to rest. Beyond stretched the unbroken
expanse of Blacksnake Swamp, bounded by the windings of Darby Creek.
The Band seated themselves on one of their favorite resting-places, a
great log which lay under the trees. Above us a white-breasted
nuthatch, with its white cheeks and black head, was rat-tat-tatting up
and around a half-dead limb, picking out every insect egg in sight
from the bark. As the bird came near the broken top of the bough, out
of a hole popped a very angry red squirrel exactly like a
jack-in-the-box. The red squirrel is the fastest of all the tree-folk
among the animals, but a nuthatch on a limb is not afraid of anything
that flies or crawls or climbs. He can run up and down around a
branch, forward and backward, unlike the woodpeckers, which must
always back down, or the brown creepers, which can go up a tree in
long spirals but have to fly down.

A red streak flashed down the limb on which the nuthatch was working.
That was the squirrel. A fraction of a second ahead of the squirrel
there was a wink of gray and white. That was the nuthatch. Before the
squirrel could even recover his balance, there was a cheerful
rat-tat-tat just behind him on the other side of the limb. As the
squirrel turned, the rapping sounded on the other side of the branch.
His bushy tail quivered, and using some strong squirrel-language, he
dived back into his hole. He was hardly out of sight when the nuthatch
was tapping again at his door. Once more the squirrel rushed out
chattering and sputtering. Once more the nuthatch was not there. Then
he tried chasing the bird around the limb, but there was nothing in
that. The nuthatch could turn in half the time and space, and moreover
did not have to be afraid of falling, for a drop of fifty feet to
frozen ground is no joke even for a red squirrel. The aggravating
thing about the nuthatch was that, no matter how hard the squirrel
chased him, he never stopped for a second, tapping away at the branch,
feeding even as he ran. Finally Mr. Squirrel went back to his house
and stayed there, while the nuthatch tapped in triumph all around his
hole, although muffled chatterings from within expressed the
squirrel's unvarnished opinion of that nuthatch.

When the nuthatch finally flew to another tree, we got up and followed
a path that twisted through a barren field full of grassy tussocks
and clumps of mockernut hickories and black-walnut trees, until it at
last lost itself in the depths of Blacksnake Swamp. This swamp had
taken its name from the day that we caught a black snake skimming
along over the tops of the bushes like a bird. In summer it is full of
impassable quagmires, and to-day we hoped to explore the hidden places
which we had never yet seen. We had scarcely passed through the outer
fringe of tall grasses and cat-tails, when we heard everywhere through
the cold air little tinkling notes, and caught glimpses of dark
sparrow-like birds with forked tails, striped breasts, and streaked
rich brown backs, each one showing a fine zigzag whitish line at the
bend of the wing. Another field-mark was a light patch over each eye,
and we identified the first and largest flock of pine siskin of the
year. These siskin are strange birds. One never knows when and where
they will appear. The last flock that I had seen was in my back-yard
in May. Usually too they are in trees, and this was the first time
that I had ever met with them on the ground. The birds gave little
canary-like notes, like goldfinches, which are often found with them,
but can always be recognized by their unstreaked breasts and double
wing-bars.

[Illustration: JUST OUT OF THE NEST--YOUNG RED SQUIRRELS]

For a long time we studied the flock through our field-glasses, until
every last one of the Band had learned this new bird. As we watched
them, a white-throated sparrow lisped from a nearby bush, and a little
later we met a flock of tree sparrows, a bird which is never by any
chance found in a tree. In the distance a woodpecker flew through the
air in a labored up-and-down flight, and, as he disappeared, he gave
the wild cry of the hairy woodpecker, a bird nearly twice the size of
his smaller brother, the downy. Close by the side of the creek, we
heard a tiny note like "pheep, pheep, pheep," and, even as we looked
for the bird, it flew past and lit on a tree on the other side of the
path, not two feet away. We all stood stony still, and in a minute a
brown creeper circled the tree, climbing it in tiny hops in a wide
spiral. He was so close that we could see his stiff, spiny tail with a
little row of spots at its base, and the brown and gray speckles on
his back, and his long curiously curved bill.

We pressed on into the very heart of the great, treacherous marsh,
to-day frozen hard and safe, and explored all of its secret places. In
a tangle of wild-grape vine, we found the round nest, rimmed with
grape-vine bark, of the cardinal grosbeak; while over in a thicket of
elderberry bushes, all rusty-gold with the clinging stems of that
parasite, the dodder, showed the close sheath of the fine branches of
a swamp maple. In a fork at the end of one of the branches, all
silver-gray, was the empty nest of a goldfinch, the last of all the
birds to nest. It was made of twisted strands of the silk of the
milkweed pods hackled by the bird's beak. In the snow, we came across
a strange track almost like the trail of a snake. It was a wide
trough, with little close-set, zigzag paw-marks running all through
it. The Captain told the Band that this was the trail of the fierce
blarina shrew, one of the killers. Without eyes or ears, this strange
little blind death eats its weight in flesh every twenty-four hours,
and slays under ground, above ground, and even under the water. The
Band regarded the strange tracks with enormous interest.

"How big do they grow?" anxiously inquired Henny-Penny, the littlest
but one of the Band.

"Just a little longer than my middle finger," the Captain reassured
him.

Suddenly, in the very midst of this zoölogical bric-a-brac, a great
thought came to each and every of the Band simultaneously.

"Lunch-time!" they shouted with one accord.

Then occurred the tragedy of the trip. In a pocket of his
shooting-jacket the Captain had a package of sandwiches containing
just one apiece, no more, no less. The rest of the lunch, thick
scones, raisins, chocolate, saveloy sausage, bacon, and other
necessaries and luxuries, had been wrapped up in another package and
intrusted to Honey as head of the commissary department for the
day--and Honey had left the package on the hall table! It was a grief
almost too great to be borne. The Band regarded their guilty comrade
reproachfully. Two large tears ran down Honey's cheeks. Alice-Palace,
the littlest of them all, gave way to unrestrained emotions which bade
fair to frighten away the most blood-thirsty of blarinas within the
radius of a mile.

Then it was that the Captain rose to the emergency. "Comrades," said
he, placing one hand over Alice-Palace's widely-opened mouth, "all is
not lost. Old woodsmen like ourselves can find food anywhere. Follow
me. Hist!"

Like Hawk-Eye and Chingachgook and other well-known scouts, the
Captain was apt to employ that mysterious word when beginning a
desperate adventure. The Band followed him with entire confidence,
albeit with certain snifflings on the part of Corporal Alice-Palace.
They crossed a tiny brook, and found themselves in a little grove of
swamp maples which had grown up around the fallen trunk of the parent
tree. The Captain scanned the trees carefully. Everywhere were trails
in the snow which he told them were the tracks of gray squirrels.
Suddenly he reached up and picked out from between a little twig
and the smooth trunk of a swamp-maple sapling, a big, dry,
beautifully-seasoned black walnut. That started the Band to looking,
and they found that the little trees were filled with walnuts, each
one wedged in between twigs or branches so that it would not blow
down. Up and down and about the low trees climbed and scrambled the
Band. Some of the nuts were hidden and some were in plain sight, but
altogether there was nearly half a peck of them, each one containing a
dry, crisp, golden kernel which tasted as rich and delicious as it
looked. They had come upon the winter storehouse of a gray-squirrel
family.

Piling the nuts in the lee of a big oak tree where the camp-fire was
to be made, they followed the Captain to a broken-down rail fence,
where grew a thicket of tiny trees with smooth trunks, whose gray
twigs were laden down with bunches of what looked like tiny purple
plums. Each one had a layer of pulp over a flat stone, and this pulp,
what there was of it, had a curious attractive spicy sugary taste. The
Captain told the Band that these were nanny-plums, sometimes known as
sweet viburnum. Further on, they found clusters of little purple
fox-grapes, fiercely sour in the fall, but now sweetened enough, under
the bite of the frost, to be swallowed.

Still the Captain was not ready to stop. Up the hillside he led them,
by a winding path through tangled thickets, until in a level place he
brought them to a group of curious trees. The bark of these was deeply
grooved and in places nearly three inches thick, while the branches
were covered with scores and scores of golden-red globes. Some were
wrinkled and frost-bitten until they had turned brown, but others
still hung plump and bright in the winter air. It was a grove of
persimmon trees. Before he could be stopped, Henny-Penny had picked
one of the best-looking of the lot and took a deep bite out of the
soft pulp. Immediately thereafter he spat out his first taste of
persimmon with great emphasis, his mouth so puckered that it was with
difficulty that he could express his unfavorable opinion of the new
fruit.

"Handsome is as handsome does," warned the Captain. "Try some of the
frost-bitten ones."

The Band accordingly did so, and found that the worst-looking and most
wrinkled specimens were sweet as honey and without a trace of pucker.
On their way back, they passed through a thicket of tangled bushes,
whose branches were all matted together in bunches which looked like
birds' nests. The twigs were laden down with round, purple berries
about the size of a wild cherry, and the Captain told the Band that
these were hackberries, otherwise known as sugar-berries. They picked
handfuls of them, and found that the berry had a sweet spicy pulp over
a fragile stone that could be crushed like the stones of a raisin,
while the fruit when eaten resembled a raisin in taste.

Hurrying back to the camp-fire tree, the Captain dug a round circle a
couple of feet in diameter in the snow, and spread down a layer of dry
leaves. Over these he built a little tepee of tiny, dry, black-oak
twigs. Underneath this he placed a fragment of birch-bark which he had
peeled off one of the aspen birches which grew on the fringe of the
swamp. This burned like paper, and in a minute the little ball of dry
twigs was crackling away with a steady flame. Over this he piled dry
sassafras and hickory boughs, and in a few moments the Band was seated
around a column of flame which roared up fully four feet high. With
their backs against the great oak tree, they cracked and cracked and
cracked black walnuts and crunched sugar-berries and nibbled
nanny-plums and tasted frost-grapes--saving the single sandwich until
next to the last; while for desert they had handfuls and handfuls of
honey-sweet, wrinkled persimmons.

[Illustration: THE DEAR DEER MICE]

Near the fire Lieutenant Trottie found an old box-cover bedded in the
snow. As he lifted it up, there was a rush and a scurry, and from a
round, warm nest underneath the cover, made of thistle-down, fur,
feathers, and tiny bits of woodfibre all matted together into a sort
of felt, dashed six reddish-brown, pink-pawed mice. They burrowed in
the snow, crept under the leaves, and in a minute were out of sight,
all except one, which tried to climb the box-cover and which Trottie
caught before he could scurry over the top of it. His fur was like
plush, with the hair a warm reddish-brown at the ends and gray at the
roots. Underneath he was snowy-white, although there, too, the fur
showed mouse-gray under the surface. He had little brown claws and six
tiny pink disks on each paw, which enabled him to run up and down
perpendicular surfaces. His eyes were big and brown and lustrous, and
he had flappy, pinky-gray, velvet ears, each one of which was half the
size of his funny little face and thin as gossamer. His paws were pink
and his long tail was covered with the finest of hairs. When he found
he was fairly caught, he snuggled down into Trottie's hand, making a
queer little whimpering noise, while his nose wrinkled and quivered.
When Trottie brought him to the fire, Henny-Penny offered him a
half-kernel of one of his walnuts. Instantly the little nose stopped
quivering, and Mousy sat up like a squirrel on the back of Trottie's
hand and nibbled away until the piece was all gone. Each one of the
Band took turns in feeding him until he could eat no more. Then
Trottie put him back in the deserted nest and replaced the box-cover.

The last adventure of all was on the way home. We were walking along
an abandoned railroad track, when suddenly a flock of light grayish
birds flew up all together out of the dry grass and lighted in a small
elm tree nearby. As we watched them, they turned and all flew down
together. Instantly it was as if a mass of peach-blossoms had been
spilled on the withered grass and white snow. Fully a third of the
flock had crimson crowns and rose-colored breasts, while at the base
of the streaked gray-and-brown backs showed a tinge of pink. It was
our first flock of the lesser redpolls all the way down from the
Arctic Circle. They were restless but not shy, and sometimes we were
able to get within six feet of them. They would continually fly back
and forth from the tree to the ground, keeping up a soft chattering
interspersed with little tinkling notes, somewhat resembling the
goldfinch or the siskin which we had left behind us in the swamp.
Always, when they flew, they gave a little piping call, and their
field-mark was a black patch under the throat which could be seen even
farther than their red polls or their rosy breasts. Their beaks were
light and very pointed, and they had forked tails like the siskin.

It was nearly twilight when we left them and at last started home. As
we followed a fox-trail in and out through the thickets of Fern
Valley, we caught a glimpse of a large brown bird on the ground. At
first I thought that it was some belated fox sparrow; but when it
hopped to a low twig and then raised its tail stiffly as I watched, I
recognized the hermit thrush, which always betrays itself by this
curious mannerism. The last one I had seen was singing like Israfel,
in the twilight of a Canadian forest. To-day the little singer was
silent, and I wondered what had kept him back from the southland, and
hoped that he would be able to win through the bitter days still ahead
of him. I have no doubt that he did, for the hermit thrush is a
brave-hearted, hardy, self-reliant bird.

The sun had gone down before we finally reached the road. Above the
after-glow showed a patch of apple-green sky against which was etched
the faintest, finest, and newest of crescent moons. It almost seemed
as if a puff of wind would blow her like a cobweb out of the sky.
Above gleamed Venus, the evening star, all silver-gold; while over
toward the other side of the sky, great golden Jupiter echoed back her
rays. Below the green, the sky was a mass of dusky gold which deepened
into amber and then slowly faded. As we walked home through the
twilight, we heard the last, sweetest, and saddest singer of that
winter day. Through the air shuddered a soft tremolo call, like the
whistling of swift, unseen wings or the wail of a little lost child.
It was the eerie call of the little screech-owl--and never was a bird
worse named. Answering, I brought him so close to us that we could see
his ear-tufts showing in the half-light. All the way home he followed
us, calling and calling for some one who will never come.



III

SNOW STORIES


The sun went down in a spindrift of pale gold and gray, which faded
into a bank of lead-colored cloud. The next morning the woods and
fields were dumb with snow. No blue jays squalled, nor white-skirted
juncos clicked; neither were there any nuthatches running gruntingly
up and down the tree-trunks. There was not even the caw of a passing
crow from the cold sky. As I followed an unbroken wood-road, it seemed
as if all the wild-folk were gone.

The snow told another story. On its smooth surface were records of the
lives that had throbbed and passed and ebbed beneath the silent trees.
Just ahead of me the road crossed a circle where, a half-century ago,
the charcoal-burners had set the round stamp of one of their pits. On
the level snow there was a curious trail of zigzag tracks. They were
deep and close-set, and made by some animal that walked flat-footed. I
recognized the trail of the unhasting skunk. Other animals may jump
and run and skurry through life, but the motto of the skunk is, "Don't
hurry, others will." The tracks of the fore-paw, when examined
closely, showed long claw-marks which were absent from the print of
the hind feet. Occasionally the trail changed into a series of groups
of four tracks arranged in a diagonal straight line, which marked
where the skunk had broken into the clumsy gallop which is its fastest
gait. Most of the time this particular skunk had walked in a slow and
dignified manner. By the edge of the woods he had stopped and dug
deeply into a rotten log, evidently looking for winter-bound crickets
and grubs.

At this point another character was added to the plot of this snow
story. Approaching at right angles to the trail of the skunk were the
tracks of a red fox. I knew he was red, because that is the only kind
of fox found in that part of New England. I knew them to be the tracks
of a fox, because they ran straight instead of spraddling like a dog,
and never showed any mark of a dragging foot. The trail told what had
happened. The first tracks were the far-apart ones of a hunting fox.
When he reached the skunk's trail, the foot-prints became close
together and ran parallel to the trail and some distance away from it.
The fox was evidently following the tracks in a thoughtful mood. He
was a young fox, or he would not have followed them at all. At the
edge of the clearing he had sighted the skunk and stopped, for the
prints were melted deep into the snow. Sometimes an old and hungry fox
will kill a skunk. In order to do this safely, the spine of the skunk
must be broken instantly by a single pounce, thus paralyzing the
muscles on which the skunk depends for his defense; for the skunk
invented the gas-attack a million years before the Boche. No living
animal can stay within range of the choking fumes of the liquid musk
which the skunk can throw for a distance of several feet. The snow
told me what happened next. It was a sad story. The fox had sprung and
landed beside the skunk, intending to snap it up like a rabbit. The
skunk snapped first. Around the log was a tangle of fox-tracks, with
flurries and ridges and holes in the snow where the fox had rolled and
burrowed. Out of the farther side a series of tremendous bounds showed
where a wiser and a smellier fox had departed from that skunk with an
initial velocity of close to one mile per minute. Finally, out of the
confused circle came the neat, methodical trail of the unruffled skunk
as he moved sedately away. Probably to the end of his life the device
of a black-and-white tail rampant will always be associated in that
fox's mind with the useful maxim, "Mind your own business."

Beyond the instructive fable of the fox and the skunk showed lace-work
patterns and traceries in the snow where scores and hundreds of the
mice-folk had come up from their tunnels beneath the whiteness, and
had frolicked and feasted the long night through. Some of these tracks
were in little clumps of fours. Each group had a five-fingered pair of
large prints in front and a pair of four-fingered tracks just behind.
Down the middle ran a tail-mark. They were the tracks of the
white-footed or deer-mice. These were the same little robbers which
swarmed into my winter camp and gnawed everything in sight. Even a
flitch of bacon hung on a cord was riddled with their tiny
teeth-marks. Only things hung on wires were safe, for their clinging
little feet cannot find a footing on the naked iron. One night they
gnawed a ring of round holes through the crown of a cherished felt hat
belonging to a friend of mine. The language he used when he looked at
that hat the next morning was unfit for the ears of any young
deer-mouse. Another time the deer-mice carried off about a peck of
expensive stuffing from a white horse-hair mattress, which I had
imported for the personal repose of my aged frame. Although I
ransacked that cabin from turret to foundation-stone I could never
find a trace of that horse-hair. In spite of their evil ways one
cannot help liking the little rascals. They have such bright, black
eyes, and wear such snowy, silky waistcoats and stockings.

The other evening I sat reading alone in my cabin in the heart of the
pine-barrens before a roaring fire. Suddenly I felt something tickle
my knee. When I moved there was a sudden jump and a deer-mouse sprang
out from my trouser-leg to the floor. Then I put a piece of bread on
the edge of the wood-box. Although I saw the bread disappear, I could
catch no glimpse of what took it. Finally I put a piece on my shoe,
and after running back and forth from the wood-box several times, Mr.
Mouse at last became brave enough to take it. When he found that I did
not move, he sat up on my shoe like a little squirrel and nibbled away
at his crumb, watching me all the time out of a corner of his black
eyes. I forgave him my friend's hat, and was almost ready to overlook
the horse-hair episode. When I moved, like a flash he dashed up the
wall by the fireplace, and hid behind a row of books that stood on
the red-oak plank which I had put in as a mantel-piece. Unfortunately
he had forgotten to hide his long silky tail. It hung down through the
crack between the plank and the rough stone of the chimney. I tiptoed
over and gave it a pinch to remind him to meddle no more with other
people's mattresses.

Returning to the wood-road--on that morning, among the trails of the
deer-mice were the more numerous tracks of the meadow- or field-mouse.
They show no tail-mark, and the smaller footprints were not side by
side as with the deer-mice, but almost always one behind the other.
These smaller paw-marks among all jumping-animals, such as rabbits,
squirrels, and mice, are always the marks of the fore-paws. The larger
far-apart tracks mark where the hind feet of the jumper come down in
front and outside of the fore-paws as he jumps.

On that day, among the mouse-tracks on the snow there showed another
faint trail, which looked like a string of tiny exclamation marks with
a tail-mark between them. It was the track of the masked shrew, the
smallest mammal of the Eastern states. This tiny fierce fragment of
flesh and blood is only about the length of a man's little finger. So
swift are the functions of its wee body that, deprived of food for six
hours, the shrew starves and dies. Many of them are found starved to
death on the melting snow, having crept up from their underground
burrows through the shafts made by grass and weed-stems. Wandering
over the white waste, they lose their way and, failing to find food,
starve before the sun is half way down the sky. As the shrew does not
hibernate, his whole life is a swift hunt for food; for every day this
apparently eyeless, earless animal must eat its own weight in flesh.
The weasels kill from blood-lust, but the shrews kill for their very
life's sake. It is a fearsome sight to see a shrew attack a mouse. The
mouse bites. The shrew eats. Boring in, the shrew secures a grip with
its long, crooked, crocodile jaws filled with fierce teeth, and
devours its way like fire through skin and flesh and bone, worrying
out and swallowing mouthfuls of blood and flesh until the mouse falls
over dead. This tiny beastling, the masked shrew, must be weighed by
troy weight, and tips a jeweler's scale at less than forty-five
grains.

To-day the snow said the shrew had been an unbidden and unwelcome
guest at the mice-dinner. At first the mice-trails were massed
together in a maze of tracks. Where the trail of the shrew touched the
circle, there shot out separate lines of mice-tracks, like the spokes
of a wheel, with the paw-marks far apart, showing that the guests had
all sprung up from the laden table of the snow and dashed off in
different directions. The shrew-track circled faintly here and there,
ran for some distance in a long straight trail, and--stopped. The
Sword of Damocles, which hangs forever over the head of all the little
wild-folk, had fallen. The shrew was gone. A tiny fleck of blood and a
single track like a great X on the snow told the tale of his passing.
All his fierceness and courage availed nothing when the great talons
of the flying death clamped through his soft fur. X is the signature
of the owl-folk just as K is of the hawk-kind. The size of the mark in
this case showed that the killer was one of the larger owls. Later in
the winter it might have been the grim white Arctic owl, which
sometimes comes down from the frozen North in very cold weather. So
early in the season, however, it would be either the barred or the
great horned owl.

I had hunted and camped and fished and tramped all through this
hill-country, and although I had often heard at night the "Whoo,
hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo" of the great horned owl, which keeps always the
same pitch, I had never heard the call of the barred owl, which ends
in a falling cadence with a peculiar deep, hollow note. So I decided
that the maker of the track was that fierce king of the deep woods,
whose head, with its ear-tufts or horns, may be seen peering from his
nest of sticks on the mountainside in a high tree-top as early as
February. On wings so muffled by soft downy feathers as to be
absolutely noiseless, he had swooped down in the darkness, and the
tiny bubble of the shrew's life had broken into the void.

Beyond this point the road wound upward toward the slope of the
Cobble, a steep, sharp-pointed little hill which suddenly thrust
itself up from a circle of broad meadows and flat woodlands. Time was
when all the Cobble was owned and ploughed clear to its peak by
Great-great-uncle Samuel, who had a hasty disposition and a tremendous
voice, and ploughed with two yoke of oxen which required a
considerable amount of conversation. Tradition has it that, when
discoursing to them, he could be heard in four different towns. That
was more than one hundred years ago, and the Cobble has been untouched
by plough or harrow since, and to-day is wooded to the very top.

[Illustration: DEATH-IN-THE-DARK--THE GREAT HORNED OWL]

Just ahead of me on the wood-road showed a deep track which only in
recent years has been seen in Connecticut. In my boyhood a deer-track
was as unknown as that of a wolf, and the wolves have been gone for at
least a century. Within the last ten years the deer have come back.
Last summer I met two on the roads with the cows, and later saw seven
make an unappreciated visit to my neighbor's garden, where they seemed
to approve highly of her lettuce. Straight up the hillside ran the
line of deeply stamped little hoof-marks. The trail looks like a
sheep's; but the front of each track ends in two beautifully curved
sharp points, while the track of a sheep is straighter and blunter.
Nor could any sheep negotiate that magnificent bound over the
five-foot rail fence. From take-off to where the four small hoofs
landed together on the other side was a good twenty feet.

On the other side of the fence the snow had drifted over a patch of
sweet fern by the edge of the wood-road in a low hummock. As I plodded
along, I happened to strike this with my foot. There was a tremendous
whirring noise, the snow exploded all over me, and out burst a
magnificent cock partridge, as we call the ruffed grouse in New
England, and whizzed away among the laurels like a lyddite shell.
When the snowstorm began, he had selected a cozy spot in the lee of
the sweet-fern patch, and had let himself be snowed over. The warmth
of his body had made a round, warm room, and with plenty of rich
fern-seeds within easy reach, he was prepared to stay in winter
quarters a week, if necessary.

The stories of the snow, although often difficult to read, are always
interesting. After the winter fairly sets in, we read nothing about
the Seven Sleepers who have put themselves in cold storage until
spring. The bear, the raccoon, the woodchuck, the skunk, the chipmunk,
and the jumping-mouse are all fast asleep underground. The last
sleeper never touches the ground when awake, and sleeps swinging
up-side-down by the long, recurved nails on his hind feet. He is the
bat, who lives and hunts in the air, and can out-fly any bird of his
own size.

Perhaps the most unexpected of the snow stories was one which I read
one winter day when out for a walk with the Botanist. Although the
snow was on the ground, the sky was as blue as in June, as the
Botanist and I swung into an old road that the forgotten feet of more
than two centuries had worn deep below its banks. It was opened in
1691, when William and Mary were king and queen, and Boston Tea
Parties and Liberty Bells and Declarations of Independence were not
yet even dreamed of in the land.

We always keep a bird-record of every walk, and note down the names of
the sky-folk whom we meet and any interesting bit of news that they
may have for us. In the migration season there is great rivalry as to
who shall meet the greatest number from the crowd of travelers going
north. Last year my best day's record was eighty-four different kinds
of birds, which beat the Botanist by two. A black duck and a late
bay-breasted warbler were the cause of his undoing. To a birdist every
walk is full of possibilities. Any day, anywhere, some bird may flash
into sight for the first time.

The Botanist has pointed out to me not fewer than twenty times the
sacred field where, one bitter winter day, he saw his first (and last)
flock of horned larks. For my part, I never fail to show him the
pignut hickory where my first golden-winged warbler spoke to me one
May morning.

To-day, however, our walk was almost a birdless one. We heard the caw
of the crow, the only bird-note that can be certainly counted on for
every day of the year. We saw the flutter of the white skirts of the
juncos. From a blighted chestnut tree we saw a bird flash down into
the dry grass from his perch on a dead limb. As we came nearer, he
glided off like a little aeroplane, and we recognized the flight and
the spotted buff waistcoat of the sparrow-hawk hunting meadow-mice.

Later in the morning we heard the "Pip, pip," of the song sparrow, and
marked the black spot on his breast. Far ahead, across a snow-covered
meadow, a bird flew dippingly up and down. He had laid aside his
canary-yellow and black suit, but his flight bewrayed the goldfinch.

Passing through a beechwood, we heard a sharp call, and saw a
black-and-white bird back down a tree. This cautious procedure stamped
him as the downy woodpecker. Of all the tree-climbers only the
woodpeckers back down.

Strangely enough, a short distance farther on we heard another cry
like that of the downy woodpecker, only harsher and wilder, and caught
a glimpse of the hairy woodpecker, the big brother of the downy, a
rarer, larger bird of the deep woods. That ended our bird list--a
paltry seven when we should have had a score.

We passed the swamp meadow close to the road, where the blue, blind
gentian grows not twenty-five yards from the unseeing eyes of the
travelers, who pass there every October day and never suspect what a
miracle of color lies hidden in the tangle of marsh-grass beside their
path. The Botanist with many misgivings had shown me the secret. For
three years we had tramped together before he held me to be worthy to
share it.

Farther on we crossed a plateau where a series of stumps showed where
a grove of chestnut trees had grown in the days before the Blight.
Suddenly from under our very feet dashed a brown rabbit, his white
powder-puff gleaming at every jump. The lithe, lean, springing body
seemed the very embodiment of speed. There are few animals that can
pass a rabbit in a hundred yards, even our cottontail, the slowest of
his family. He is, however, only a sprinter. In a long-distance event
the fox, the dog, and even the dogged, devilish little weasel can run
him down.

We looked at the form where he had been lying. It was a wet little
hollow made in the dank grass, with only a few dripping leaves for a
mattress--a forlorn bed. Yet Runny-Bunny, as some children I know have
named him, seems to rest well in his open-air sleeping porch, and even
lies abed there.

One far-away snowy day in February two of us stole a few moments from
the bedside of a sick child--how long, long ago it all seems now!--and
walked out among the wild-folk to forget. In a bleak meadow, right at
our feet, we saw a rabbit crouched, nearly covered by the snow. He had
been snowed under days before, but had slept out the storm until half
of his fleecy coverlet had melted away.

He lay so still that at first we thought he was dead; but on looking
closely, we could see the quick throbbing of his frightened little
heart. There was not a quiver from his taut body, or a blink from his
wide-open eyes. He lay motionless until my hand stroked gently his wet
fur. Then, indeed, he exploded like a brown bomb-shell from the snow,
and we laughed and laughed, the first and last time for many a weary
week.

Years later, I was coasting down the meadow-hill with one of my boys;
and, as the sled came to a stop, a rabbit burst out of the snow,
almost between the runners. The astonished boy rolled into a drift as
if blown clear off his sled by the force of the explosion.

To-day, as the Brownie sped over the soft snow, we could see how its
tracks in series of fours were made. At every jump the long hind-legs
thrust themselves far in front. They made the two far-apart tracks in
the snow, while the close-set fore-paws made the nearby tracks.
Accordingly a rabbit is always traveling in the direction of the
far-apart tracks, quite contrary to what most of us would suppose.

It is the same way with celestial rabbits. Look any clear winter night
down below the belt of Orion, and you will see a great rabbit-track in
the sky--the constellation of Lepus, the Hare, whose track leads away
from the Great Dog with baleful Sirius gleaming green in his fell jaw.

From the rabbit-meadow we followed devious paths down through Fern
Valley, which in summertime is a green mass of cinnamon fern,
interrupted fern, Christmas fern, brake, regal fern, and half a score
of others. In the midst of the marsh were rows of the fruit-stems of
the sensitive fern, which is the first to blacken before the frost.
These were heavy with rich wine-brown seed-pods, filled with seeds
like fine dust. They had an oily, nutty taste; and it would seem as if
some hungry mouse or bird would find them good eating during famine
times. Yet so far as I have observed they are never fed upon.

Along the side of the path were thickets of spice-bush, whose crushed
leaves in summer have an incense sweeter than burns in any censer of
man's making. To-day I broke one of the brittle branches, to nibble
the perfumed bark, and found at the end of a twig, pretending to be a
withered leaf, a cocoon of the prometheus moth. The leaf had been
folded together, lined with spun silk, and lashed so strongly that the
twig would break before the silken cable.

We passed through a clump of staghorn sumac with branches like
antlers, bearing at their ends heavy masses of fruit-clusters made up
of hundreds of dark, velvety crimson berries, each containing a brown
seed. The pulp of these berries is intensely sour, its flavor giving
the sumac its other name of "vinegar plant." These red clusters
crushed in sweetened water make a very good imitation of the red
circus-lemonade of our childhood. The staghorn is not to be confounded
with its treacherous sister, the poison sumac, with her corpse-colored
berries. She is a vitriol-thrower, and with her death-pale bark and
arsenic-green leaves, always makes me think of one of those haggard,
horrible women of the Terror.

It was in Fern Valley that the Botanist made his discovery for the
day. It was only a tree, and moreover a tree that he must have passed
many times before. Only to-day, however, did it catch his eye. The
bark was that of an oak, but the leaves, which clung thick and brown
to the limb, were long, with a straight edge something like the leaves
of the willow-oak, only broader and larger. It was no other than the
laurel-oak, a tree which by all rights belonged hundreds of miles to
the south of us.

He walked gloatingly around his discovery, and it was some time before
I could drag him on. Thereafter he gave me a masterly discourse, some
forty minutes in duration, on the life-history of the oaks, and
propounded several ingenious theories to account for the presence of
this strange species. This discourse continued until we reached the
historic white oak near the end of the valley, where the Botanist once
found a flock of bay-breasted warblers in the middle of a rainstorm;
and again I heard the story of that day.

Through the valley flowed a little stream, and the snow along its
banks told of the goings and comings of the wild-folk. Gray squirrels,
red squirrels, muskrats, rabbits, mice, foxes, weasels, all had passed
and repassed along these banks.

To me the most interesting trail was that of a blarina shrew. His
track in the snow is a strange one. It is a round, tunnel-like trail,
like that of some large caterpillar, with the trough made by the
wallowing little body filled with tiny alternate tracks--one of the
strangest of all the winter trails.

I could obtain very little enthusiasm from the Botanist over blarinas.
He still babbled of laurel-leafed oaks and similar frivolities. Even
the crowning event of the walk left him cold. It came on the
home-stretch. We were passing through the last pasture before reaching
the humdrum turnpike which led to the tame-folk. Suddenly in the snow
I saw a strange trail. It was evidently made by a jumper, but not one
whose track I knew. I followed it, until among the leaves in a bank
something moved. Before my astonished eyes hopped falteringly, but
bravely, a speckled toad.

The winter sun shone palely on his brown back still crusted with
the earth of his chill home. Down under the leaves and the frozen
ground he had heard the call, and struggled to the surface, expecting
to find spring awaiting him. Two jumps, however, had landed him in a
snowbank. It was a disillusion, and Mr. Toad winked his mild brown
eyes piteously. He struggled bravely to get out, but every jump
plunged him deeper into the snow. His movements became feebler as the
little warmth his cold blood contained oozed out.

[Illustration: FLYER, THE SQUIRREL]

Just as he was settling despairingly back into the crystallized cold,
I rescued him. He was too far gone even to move, for cold spells quick
death to the reptile folk. Only his blinking beautiful eyes, like
lignite flecked with gold, and the slow throbbing of his mottled
breast, showed that life was still in him. He nestled close in my
hand, willing to occupy it until warm weather.

I back-tracked him from his faltering efforts, and where his first
lusty jump showed on the thawing ground I found his hibernaculum. It
was only a little hollow, scarcely three inches deep, under sodden
leaves and wet earth, and cheerless enough, according to mammalian
ideas. It was evidently home for Mr. Toad, and when I set him therein,
he scrambled relievedly under some of the loose wet leaves which had
fallen back into his nest. I piled a generous measure of dripping
leaves and moist earth over his warted back. It may have been
imagination, but I fancied that the last look I had from his bright
eyes was one of gratitude. The Botanist scoffed at the idea, for
toads, like pine-snakes, convey absolutely no appeal to his narrow,
flower-bound nature.

I have erected a monument in the shape of a chestnut stake beside Mr.
Toad's winter residence, and I strongly suspect that he will be the
last of his family to get up when the spring rising-bell finally
rings.

"There's positively nothing to this early-rising business," I can hear
him telling his friends at the Puddle Club in April. "Look at what
happened to me. If it hadn't been for a well-meaning giant, I would
have caught my death of cold from getting out of bed too soon. Never
again!"

Our calendar-makers use red letters to mark special days. Personally,
I prefer orchids and birds and sunrises and nests and snakes and
similar markers. I have in my diary "The Day of the Prothonotary
Warbler," "The Day of the Henslow's Sparrow's Nest" (that was a day!),
"The Day of the Fringed Gentian," and many, many others. But always
and forever that snowy 21st of December is marked in my memory as "The
Day of the Early Toad."

Once more I was climbing the Cobble. The wood-road on which I started
had narrowed to a path. Overhead masses of rock showed through the
snow, and above them were the dark depths of the Bear-Hole where
Great-great-uncle Jake had once shot with his flintlock musket the
largest bear ever killed in that part of the state. It was here at the
cliff side that Shahrazad snow told me another story.

Along the edge of the slope ran a track made up of four holes in the
snow. The front ones were far apart and the back ones near apart.
Occasionally, instead of four holes, five would show in the snow, and
the position of the marks was reversed. A little farther on, and the
trail changed. The two near-apart tracks were now in a perpendicular
line instead of side by side. To Chingachgook, or Deerslayer, or
Daniel Boone, or any other well-known tracker, the trail would have,
of course, been an open book. But it had taken an amateur trailer like
myself some years to be able to read that snow record aright. The
trail was that of a cottontail rabbit. At first he had been hopping
contentedly along, with an eye open for anything eatable in the line
of winter vegetables. The far-apart tracks were the paw-marks of the
big hind-legs, which came in front of the marks made by the fore-paws
as they touched the ground at every hop. The five marks were where he
had sat down to look around. The fifth mark was the mark of his stubby
tail, and when he stopped, the little fore-paws made the near-apart
marks in front of the far-apart marks of his hind-feet, instead of
behind them as when he hopped.

Suddenly the rabbit detected something alarming coming from behind,
for the sedate hops changed into startled bounds. A little farther on
the trail said that the rabbit had caught sight of its pursuer as it
ran; for a rabbit by the position of its eyes sees backward and
forward equally well. The tracks showed a frantic burst of speed. In
an effort to get every possible bit of leverage, the fore-legs were
twisted so that they struck the ground one behind the other, which
accounted for the last set of marks perpendicular to those in front. A
line of tracks which came from a pile of stones, and paralleled the
rabbit's trail, told the whole story. The paw-marks were small and
dainty, but beyond each pad-print were the marks of fierce claws. No
wonder the rabbit ran wild when it first scented its enemy, and then
saw its long slim body bounding along behind, white as snow except for
the black tip of its tail.

It was the weasel, whose long body moves like the uncoiling of a steel
spring. A weasel running looks like a gigantic inch-worm that bounds
instead of crawls. Speed, however, is not what the little white killer
depends on for its prey. It can follow a trail by scent better than
any hound, climb trees nearly as well as a squirrel; and if the animal
it is chasing goes into a burrow, it has gone to certain death. The
rabbit's only chance would have been a straight-away run at full speed
for miles and hours. In this way it could probably have tired out the
weasel, which is a killer, not a runner, by profession. A rabbit,
however, like the fox, never runs straight. Round and round in great
circles it runs about its feeding-ground, of which it knows all the
paths and runways and burrows. Against a dog or fox these are safer
tactics than exploring new territory. Against a weasel they are
usually fatal.

It was easy to see on the snow what had happened. At first, when the
rabbit saw the weasel looping along its trail like a hunting snake, it
had started off with a sprint that in a minute carried it out of
sight. Then a strange thing happened. Although a rabbit can run for
an hour at nearly top speed, and in this case had every reason to run,
after a half-mile of rapid circling and doubling, the trail changed
and showed that the rabbit was plodding along as if paralyzed.

One of the weird and unexplained facts in nature is the strange power
that a weasel appears to have over all the smaller animals. Many of
them simply give up and wait for death when they find that a weasel is
on their trail. A red squirrel, which could easily escape through the
tree-tops, sometimes becomes almost hysterical with fright, and has
been known to fall out of a tree-top in a perfect ecstasy of terror.
Even the rat, which is a cynical, practical animal, with no nerves,
and a bitter, brave fighter when fight it must, loses its head when up
against a weasel. A friend of mine once saw a grim, gray old fellow
run squealing aloud across a road from a woodpile and plunge into a
stone wall. A moment later a weasel in its reddish summer coat came
sniffing along the rat's trail and passed within a yard of him.

This night the rabbit, with every chance for escape, began to run
slowly and heavily, as if in a nightmare, watching the while its back
trail. And when the weasel came in sight again, the trail stopped as
the rabbit crouched in the snow waiting for the end. It came
mercifully quick. When the weasel saw the rabbit had stopped, its red
eyes flamed, and with a flashing spring its teeth and claws were at
poor bunny's throat. There was a plaintive whinnying cry, and the
reddened snow told the rest.

So the last story of the snow ended in tragedy, as do nearly all true
stories of the wild-folk. Yet they need not our pity. Better a
thousand times the quick passing at the end of a swift run or of a
brave fight, than the long, long weariness of pain and sickness by
which we humans so often claim our immortality.



IV

A RUNAWAY DAY


It is a wise man who knows when to run away. To quote rightly the
words of a great poet, whose name has escaped me:--

    He who works and runs away
    May live to work another day.

So it was that, like Christian of old, I suddenly decided to escape
for my life from my city.

There were many reasons. It was a holiday. Then the sun rose on one of
the most perfect days that ever dawned since the calendar was
invented. Furthermore, there was the thought of a little cabin hidden
in the heart of the pine barrens. So I ran away through snow-covered
meadows and silent woods and past farmhouses that were old when this
republic was first born, until my law offices and the city and the
noise and the dust and the smoke were all behind the horizon.

An hour later I was following a little path that zigzagged back and
forth through thickets of scrub oak and stiff rows of pitch pines.
Above the trees was the rush of wings. The upper air was filled with
the victorious sound of going that heartened David from the tops of
the mulberry trees in that dread valley of Rephaim. Perhaps it was the
wind; but why did not the tree-tops sway instead of standing in
frozen rows? The sky above was the color of the eggs of the wood
thrush, a tender blue faintly washed with white. As the sun rose
higher and higher, the color deepened to that bluest of blues which
burns in May under the breast of the brooding catbird. Filtered
through frost, the sunlight shone, intensely bright but without heat.
The air was full of the spicery of a million pine trees. With every
breath it went tingling through my blood, carrying with it the joy of
the open and the freedom of the barrens.

At last I came to the cabin. It is set on the very edge of the
brownest, crookedest, sweetest stream in the world--the cedar-stained
Rancocas. The wide porch overhangs the water, and over the doorway is
a tiny horseshoe, which was dug out of the bog at Upper Mill,
undoubtedly cast by some fairy steed. One whole side of the cabin is
taken up by an arched fireplace built of brown and yellow and red
sandstone, the only stone that can be found in the Barrens. Squat and
curly, two massive andirons, hammered out of bog iron, stand among the
ashes. They have a story all their own.

Five miles through the woods is Upper Mill, which is not a mill at
all, but marks the place where, a century ago, one stood. The only
occupied house there is a log cabin built of imperishable white-cedar
logs in 1720, the date still showing on one of the logs. Charlie
Rogers lives there alone. It used to be an old tavern on the
cattle-road from Perth Amboy. Every now and then Charlie finds old
coins, King George III pennies and farthings, and the rare New Jersey
pennies which were coined only during two years, and which bear a
plough and the old name of New Jersey--Nova Cæsarea. One day, when I
was gossiping with Charlie, I told him that, if he took up the old
dirt floor and sifted it through an ash-sifter during the long winter
evenings, he might find a further store of rare coins. He took my
advice, and the first treasure he uncovered was these andirons buried
where once had been a hearth. Charlie gave them to me, and they hold
up logs now as well as they did two hundred years ago.

As I slipped into a well-worn suit of khaki, all the worry of the
month fell off my shoulders and rolled down the bank and was drowned
in the golden water. Tucking a pair of field-glasses into one pocket
and a package of lunch into the other, I started off on an exploring
trip. In the barrens everywhere are paths that wind for miles in and
out among the trees and along the edges of brooks and bogs. Who made
them? Who keeps them open? No one knows. I have been able to follow a
few of them out to the end. One leads to Ong's Hat, a little clearing
in the heart of the woods, where grows an enormous white-oak tree. A
century and a half ago Ong, the Indian, lived there. One day he
disappeared. Nothing was ever found except his blood-stained hat. Then
there is the path that leads to Sheep-Pen Hill, where seven empty
houses and a well stand deserted and alone. Others lead to Gum Sprung,
which, being translated, means Gum-Tree Cove, and to Double Trouble
and Mount Misery, where the rattlesnake den is, and Apple-Pie Hill,
and Friendship, and a host of other places that I have not explored.

To-day I walked for miles and miles through stretches of low, gleaming
pines and past pools set in golden sphagnum moss. The wind had died
down, and the silence seeped in and carried with it the comfort of the
wilderness. The first friend I met was a little bird that dived like a
mouse into a pile of brush. I saw a brook, and hurried to it, knowing
that if the bird were a winter wren it could not possibly keep from
running along the edges of that brook. Sure enough, in a minute I saw
it darting in and out of holes and with cocked tail curtsying on the
stones. It is the next to the smallest of our five wrens--only the
rare short-billed marsh wren is tinier.

To-day all through the tree-tops I heard the high-pitched tiny notes
of that tiny bird, the golden-crowned kinglet. Its forked tail,
striped head, and wing-bars are the field-marks by which it can be
told in spite of its quick movements. It is the third smallest of all
our birds: only the hummingbird and the short-billed marsh wren are
smaller. Beyond the kinglet I heard the clicking alarm-notes and saw a
flutter of the white skirts of a junco as it flew up ahead of me,
showing its white tail-feathers, while in the woods a silver-and-blue
bird sprang out of the bushes, for a wonder without a sound. It was
the blue jay, which scolds and squalls all day long. Overhead, in
spite of the bitter cold, the grim black buzzards, with their fringed
wings and black-and-gray undersides, wheeled in the air, while the
smaller crow flapped laboriously beneath them.

Near a stream I came upon a patch of the rare climbing fern, an
evergreen fern which climbs like a vine and has flat, veined leaves
that look like little green hands with four and five fingers. The stem
is like drawn copper wire. Beyond the fern I met the pale-gray poison
sumac, with its corpse-colored berries growing out from the sides of
the twigs instead of from the end, as do the berries of the harmless
varieties.

I followed Pond-Lily Path through the white sand that in the
springtime is all golden with barrens-heather. It winds in and out
through the scattered clumps of low pitch pine and thickets of scrub
oak, and finally leads to a still brook all afloat in midsummer with
pond lilies. When the path reached the bogs, which to-day were frozen
solid, I turned in, crossing them on the snow-covered ice. Everywhere
were lines of four-toed crow tracks, and here and there were rabbit
trails, a series of four round holes in the snow.

The next morning, when I followed my own tracks, I found that for more
than a mile I had been trailed by some animal making a series of
little paw-prints like those of a small cat, except that they were
close together and sometimes doubled, showing where the animal had
given sudden bounds. It was none other than the trail of a weasel,
probably the long-tailed variety, although that is rare in the
barrens. Like others of his family, this animal oftens follows a
man's tracks for a long distance, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps in
the hope of finding food. As I looked at the trail of this little
killer, I was glad that he was not larger. If weasels, or those other
killers, the shrews, were as large as a dog, no man's life would be
safe out of doors.

I explored so far that the sun had set before I turned back for the
cabin. Suddenly, from far over where the tree-trunks were inked black
against the golden afterglow, I heard a hoot, deep rather than loud.
"_Hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo!_" it went, and sometimes, "_Hoo-hoo-hoo!_"
Usually, though, the second note was doubled. It meant that the great
horned owl with its speckled gray back and white collar was hunting
rabbits through the silent woods. If it had been the barred owl, the
third note would have been doubled and the last note would have had a
drop in its cadence.

In the frosty twilight I hurried along the winding path, back to the
cabin and a long, dreamy evening before the roaring fire. First came a
wonderful exhibition of free-hand cooking. Then I piled the great
fireplace well up the chimney with masses of pitch-pine knots and
stumps that I had dug up in the dry bogs. All of the sapwood had
decayed, leaving nothing except the resinous bones of the fallen
trees. They burned at the touch of a match, with a red smoky flame.
Above them I banked dry lengths of swamp maple and post oak. Then,
drawing up a vast rocker well within the circle of the heat, I settled
down to read and dream in front of the red coals.

[Illustration: THE LONG-TAILED WEASEL]

There is nothing in life sweeter than a little loneliness. Nowadays we
live and die in crowds, like ants and bees, so that solitude is likely
to become one of the lost arts. No book ever tastes so well as before
a great fire in the heart of a wilderness, even if the wilderness be
only a few miles away. In my cabin I keep a special shelf of the books
which I have always wanted to read, and for which in some way I never
find time in the hurry of everyday life. That evening I sat for long
over the Saga of Burnt Njal, and read again of the bill of Gunnar and
the grim axe, the "ogress of war," of Skarphedinn and the sword of the
dauntless Kari. In the flickering firelight I pictured the death-fight
of Gunnar of Lithend, one of the four great fights of one man against
a multitude in history, and heard again Hallgarda, the fair and the
false, forsake him to his death.

"Give me two locks of thy hair," said Gunnar to Hallgarda, when that
his bow-string was cut in twain; "and ye two, my mother and thou,
twist them together into a bow-string for me."

"Does aught lie on it?" she says.

"My life lies on it," he said.

"I will not do it," said Hallgarda; "for know ye now that I never
cared a whit for thee."

At last it was time to go to bed. I went out to get a drink of the
most wonderful water in the world. Near the cabin a little bog was
frozen over a foot deep with white bubbled ice. In one place a round,
black hole had betrayed the secret spring that flooded the whole
swale. In the coldest weather this spring-hole remains unfrozen. I
dipped up a pitcherful of the soft, spicy cedar-water pulsing from the
very heart of the marsh. The Pinies have a saying that he who drinks
cedar-water will always come back to the barrens, no matter how far
afield he may wander.

As I came to the porch-steps, in the dark stream just below me I saw a
strange thing. Underneath the water a ball of fire flashed down the
stream and disappeared around the bend. For a long time I tried to
puzzle out what it could be. There was no form of aquatic
phosphorescent life that would swim through a northern stream in the
depths of winter. It was only when I started to tell the time by the
sky clock that the mystery was solved. I was looking at the star Caph
in Cassiopeia, which is the hour-hand of the clock, when suddenly a
meteor flashed down the sky, and I realized that my submarine of a few
moments before had been only the reflection of another shooting star.

As I stopped on the porch with my pitcher, the open door made a long
lane of light. Just across the creek, not fifty feet away, sounded a
crash in the brush, and there in the spotlight, held by the glare,
stood a big buck. For a moment I looked right into his beautiful,
liquid, gleaming eyes. Then, with a snort, he plunged into the woods
and was gone. For years I had tramped through the barrens and had
found the tracks of the deer that still live not thirty miles from the
third largest city in America, but until that night I had never seen
one.

It grew colder and colder, and the little cabin snapped and cracked
with the frost. Banking up the fireplace with logs, I pulled my bed up
into the circle of heat, and fell asleep to the flickering of the fire
and the croon of the wind among the pine trees outside. Through the
window I could see the winter sky ablaze with stars, while the late
moon shone like a bowl of frozen gold through the black tree-trunks.

The next morning I had to leave on the nine-o'clock train; and so I
rose early and after breakfast took a last walk down to Lower Mill and
back, to see if I could add any more winter birds to my list. It was a
cold, clear, snapping winter morning, and as the sun came up through
the pine trees I met first one and then another of the bird-folk
abroad after their breakfasts. First I heard the "Pip, pip!" of the
downy woodpecker, all black and white, with a bloodstain at the back
of his head. He is a tree-climber who can go up a tree head-foremost,
but must always back down. The nuthatches, with their white cheeks and
grunting notes, can go up and down a tree either head-first or
tail-first and the last of the tree-climbers, the brown creeper,
climbs up in a spiral, but has to fly down.

Farther on, I heard the call of the big hairy woodpecker, which looks
almost like the downy except that he is nearly twice as large. He was
drilling a hole in the under side of a branch and sucking out
hibernating ants with his long, sticky trident tongue. Next came a
tree sparrow, with his white wing-bar and brown-red patch on the crown
of his head. He was busily scratching on the ground; he is called a
tree sparrow because never by any chance is he found in a tree. On the
side of a white-oak tree a bit of bark seemed to move upward in a
spiral, and I recognized the brown creeper, the last of the climbers.
He went up the tree in a series of tiny hops and then, true to his
training, flew down and started up again.

As I turned the curve by Lower Mill, I saw in a thicket near the dam a
number of white-throated sparrows, with their striped white heads and
white throat-patches. Near them suddenly hopped a bird that ought to
have been far south. It was reddish brown with a long tail, and I
recognized the female chewink. She hopped around and scratched among
the leaves like a little hen, in true chewink style, as if the month
were April instead of January.

I hurried around a bend in the road and heard over my head a series of
loud _pips_, much like the note of an English sparrow. I looked
up--and there was my great adventure. A little locust tree was filled
with a flock of plump, large birds. At first I thought that they were
cedar birds, but in a moment I caught sight of their coloring. Six of
the males out of the flock of seventy-four were in full plumage. Their
forked tails were velvet black. Their wings were the golden white of
old ivory, with a broad black edge, their heads grayish black, and
their breasts and backs a deep, rich gold; and, strangest of all,
their thick beaks were of a greenish-white color.

It was a great moment. For the first time in my life I had met the
evening grosbeaks, and had found what afterwards proved to be the
largest flock ever reported of this rare bird of the far north so far
south. For a delightful hour I followed them. They were restless, but
not shy. Sometimes they alighted on the ground and then flew up all
together, like a flock of starlings. They looked like overgrown
goldfinches, just as the pine grosbeak looks like an overgrown purple
finch, and the blue grosbeak of the south for all the world like a
monstrous indigo bunting. As I followed them, suddenly I heard a sharp
_chip_, and to my delight there flashed into sight the crested
cardinal grosbeak, blood-red against the snow. For a moment the lithe,
nervous, flaming bird of the south met its squat, strong, stolid
cousin of the far north.

I could come quite near without alarming them, and then suddenly they
would all fly away together to some other tree without any apparent
reason. Besides the sparrow-like note that I first heard, they had a
sort of trilling chirp. Once they all started like a flock of
goldfinches or grackles in a chirping chorus. When they flew, they
sometimes gave a single, clear flight-note, but never made a sound
when feeding on the ground. The birds had short, slightly forked
tails, and the yellow ring around the eye gave them, when seen in
profile, a curious spectacled appearance; while the huge beak and
short tail made them seem clumsy as compared with the other grosbeaks.
The plumage of the females showed mottled black-and-white wings and
greenish-yellow backs and breasts. The iris of the eye in both sexes
was red, the legs of a bluish-gray pink, and the feet of a
grayish-pink color.

Later I found that the birds fed on the berries of the poison ivy, red
cedar, climbing bittersweet, and the buds and embryo needles of the
pitch pine, together with the seeds of the box elder. The favorite
food of the flock that I watched seemed always to be the pits of the
wild black cherry (_Prunus serotina_). They would take the pits well
out of sight back into their beaks, keeping their bills half open in a
comical manner, as if they had a bone in the throat. A second later
there would be a cracking noise and out would drop two nicely split
segments of the cherry pits, the meat having been swallowed. Sometimes
in the trees they would sidle along the limbs exactly as a parrot does
along its perch.

The authorities state that the evening grosbeak has no immature
plumage, but passes after its first moulting immediately into full
plumage. I saw one, however, that I am sure was in immature plumage.
The back was yellowish instead of being gray, like the females', and
the wings were of a dirty white color instead of being mottled black
and white, like the plumage of the females, or half black and half
white, like the plumage of the males. Both sexes seemed to have the
same call and gave it equally often.

The history of the evening grosbeak illustrates the far-reaching and
never-ending consequences of a falsehood. This bit of moralizing is
called forth because of the name of this sorely misdescribed bird. In
three languages, English, Greek and Latin, the myth is perpetuated
that the evening grosbeak, or _Hesperiphona vespertina_,
sings only at twilight. It all began in 1823, when one Major
Delafield, a boundary agent of the United States government, was
camping northwest of Lake Superior. There he met a flock of evening
grosbeaks in the twilight, and instantly jumped to the conclusion that
the birds were accustomed to spend the day in the dark recesses of
impassable swamps and come out and sing only at evening.

As a matter of fact, the evening grosbeak goes to bed at dark, like
all other respectable, reputable birds. Its song is a wandering, jerky
warble that the singer himself recognizes as a miserable failure, for
he often stops and looks discontented and then remains silent for a
minute before trying again. It sounds like the early part of a
robin's song, but is always suddenly checked as if the performer
were out of breath. The guess of the imaginative major was later
elaborated by Prince Lucien Bonaparte, Nuttall, and even by later
ornithologists,--Coues among them,--not one of whom had ever seen or
heard the bird. Coues's description in his "Key to North American
Birds" is worth quoting as a specimen of the rhetoric in which a past
generation of ornithologists dared to indulge.

"A bird of distinguished appearance, whose very name suggests the
far-away land of the dipping sun and the tuneful romance which the
wild bird throws around the close of day. Clothed in striking color
contrast of black, white and gold, he seems to represent the allegory
of diurnal transmutation, for his sable pinions close around the
brightness of his vesture, as night encompasses golden hues of sunset,
while the clear white space enfolded in these tints foretells the dawn
of the morrow."

That morning I knew nothing of the history or the habits of this
unknown and misrepresented bird. All I knew was that for me the
twenty-ninth day of January, 1917, would be marked in my calendar
forever by a bird from the north, all dusky gold and velvet black and
ivory white--the Day of the Evening Grosbeak.

At last the time came to leave them. As I started back for home, the
sun showed through the trees like a vast red coal, with a smoke of
clouds drifting across its face, and I traveled back to town in the
full glory of a clear winter morning, filled with the measureless
content of a great discovery. It was good to be alive and to look
forward to more work and to more glorious, adventure-filled runaway
days.



V

THE RAVEN'S NEST


After all, the Rosicrucians were an ignorant lot. They spent their
days over alembics, cucurbits, and crucibles--yet they grew old. In
our days many men--and a few women--have discovered the Elixir of
Youth--but never indoors. The prescription is a simple one. Mix a
hobby with plenty of sky-air, shake well, and take twice a week. I
know a railroad official who retired when he was seventy. "He'll die
soon," observed his friends kindly. Instead, he began to collect
native orchids from all points of the compass. Now he is too busy
tramping over mountains and through woods and marshes even to think of
dying. Anyway, he would not have time until he has found the
ram's-head and the crane's-bill orchids and finished his monograph on
the _Habenaria_. He will never grow old.

Neither will that other friend of mine who collects fresh-water
pearls, nor the one who makes me visit black-snake and rattlesnake
dens with him every spring, nor those others who spend their time in
collecting butterflies, beetles, wasps, and similar bric-a-brac. As
for those four abandoned oölogists who have hunted with me for years,
they will be young at a hundred. They rank high in their respective
callings. Yet from February, when the great horned owl begins its
nest, until the goldfinch lays her white eggs in July, the four spend
every holiday and vacation hunting birds' nests.

Personally I collect only notes, out-of-door secrets, and little
everyday adventures. Bird-songs, flower-fields, and friendships with
the wild-folk mean far more to me than cabinets of pierced eggs, dried
flowers, stuffed birds, and tanned skins. Nor am I much of a hunter.
When it comes to slaughtering defenseless animals with high-powered
guns, I prefer a position in an abattoir. One can kill more animals in
a day, and with less exertion. Yet my collecting and sporting friends
make allowances for my vagaries and take me with them on their
journeyings. Wherefore it happened that in early March I received a
telegram. "Raven's nest located. Come if you are man enough."

Now a middle-aged lawyer and the father of a family has no business
ravening along the icy and inaccessible cliffs which that gifted fowl
prefers for nursery purposes. I have, however, a maxim of Thoreau
which I furbish up for just such occasions. "A man sits as many risks
as he runs," wrote that wanderer in the woods. Accordingly the next
morning found me two hundred miles to the north, plodding through a
driving snow-storm toward Seven Mountains, with the first man in
recent years to find the nest of a northern raven in Pennsylvania.

For fifteen freezing miles we clambered over and around three of the
seven. By the middle of the afternoon we reached a cliff hidden behind
thickets of rhododendron. In the meantime the snow had changed to a
lashing rain, probably the coldest that has ever fallen on the North
American continent. Ploughing through slush, the black rhododendron
stems twisted around us like wet rubber, and the hollow green leaves
funneled ice-water down our backs and into our ears. Breaking through
the last of the thickets, we at length reached a little brook which
ran along the foot of the cliff. A hundred feet above, out from the
middle of the cliff stretched a long tongue of rock. Over this the
cliff arched like a roof, with a space between which widened toward
the tip of the tongue. In a niche above this cleft a dark mass showed
dimly through the rain.

"The nest!" muttered the Collector hoarsely, pouring a pint or so of
rain-water down my neck from his hat-brim as he bent toward me. I
stared with all my eyes, at last one of the chosen few to see the nest
of a Pennsylvania raven. It was made of large sticks. The fresh broken
ends and the droppings on the cliff-side showed that it was a recent
one. There were no signs of either of the birds. We solemnly removed
our coats and sweaters and prepared for the worst. To me the cliff
looked much like the Matterhorn, only slipperier. The Collector,
however, was most reassuring. He told me that the going looked worse
than it really was, and that, anyway, if I did fall, death would be so
nearly instantaneous as to involve little if any suffering.

Thus encouraged, I followed him gruntingly up a path which had
evidently been made by a chamois or an ibex. At last I found myself
perched on a shelf of stone about the width of my hand. The Collector,
who was above me on an even smaller foothold, took this opportunity to
tell me that the rare Allegheny cave-rat was found on this cliff, and
nearly fell off his perch trying to point out to me a crevice where he
had once seen the mass of sticks, stones, leaves, feathers, and bones
with which these versatile animals barricade their passage-ways. I
refused to turn my head. That day I was risking my life for ravens,
not rats. Above us was the long, rough tongue of rock. Below us, a far
hundred feet, the brook wound its way through snow-covered boulders.

Again the Collector led the way. Hooking both arms over the tongue of
rock above him, he drew himself up until his chest rested on the edge,
and then, sliding toward the precipice, managed to wriggle up in some
miraculous way without slipping off. From the top of the tongue he
clambered up to the niche where the nest was, calling down to me to
follow. Accordingly I left my shelf and hung sprawlingly on the
tongue; but there was no room to push my way up between it and the
rock-roof above.

"Throw your legs straight out," counseled the Collector from above,
"and let yourself slide."

I tried conscientiously, but it was impossible. My sedentary,
unadventurous legs simply would not whirl out into space. At last,
under the jeers of my friend, I shut my eyes and, kicking out
mightily, found myself sliding toward eternity. Just before I reached
it, under the Collector's bellowed instructions, I thrust my left arm
up as far as I could, and found a hand-hold on the slippery rock.
After getting my breath, I managed to wriggle up through the crevice
and lay safe on the top of the tongue. The niche above was not large
enough for us both, so the Collector came down while I took his place.
I was lashed by a freezing rain, my numb hands were cut and bleeding,
and there were ten weary miles still ahead. Yet that moment was worth
all that it cost. There is an indescribable fascination and triumph in
sharing a secret with the wild-folk, which can be understood only by
the initiate. The living naturalists who had looked into the home of
the Northern raven in Pennsylvania could be counted on the thumb and
first three fingers of one hand. At last the little finger belonged to
me.

The deep cup of the nest was about one foot in diameter and over a
yard across on the outside. It was firmly anchored on the shelf of
rock, the structure being built into the crevices and made entirely of
dead oak branches, some of them fully three quarters of an inch in
diameter. It looked from a distance like an enormous crow's nest. The
cup itself was some six inches deep, and lined with red and white
deer-hair and some long black hairs which were probably those of a
skunk. Inside, it had a little damp green moss; while the rim was made
of green birch twigs bruised and hackled by the beaks of the builders.
On this day, March 9, 1918, there were no eggs, although in a previous
year the Collector had found two as early as February 25, when the
cliffs were covered with snow; and on March 5, of another year he
collected a full set of five fresh eggs, which I afterwards examined
in his collection. The birds had built a nest the year before, without
laying. This fact, with the absence of eggs this year, convinced the
Collector that the birds were sterile from age. During the last years
of their long life, which is supposed to approach a century, a pair of
ravens will sometimes build, with pathetic pains, nest after nest
which are never occupied by eggs. The Collector promised to show me a
set, however, the next day in another nest.

At last it was time to start down. The Collector, who was waiting on
his shelf, warned me that the descent was more difficult than the
climb which I had just lived through, as it was necessary to slide
some six feet backwards to the shelf from which we started. As I
looked down the cliff-side I decided to remain with the ravens. It was
not until the Collector promised most solemnly to catch me, that I at
last let go and found myself back on the shelf with him. Then came
another wonderful moment. "Crrruck, crrruck, crrruck," sounded
hoarsely from the valley below--a note like that of a deep-voiced crow
with a bad cold.

"Hurry!" urged the Collector; "it's one of the old birds coming back."

I claim to have hurried as much as any man of my age could be expected
to do, but by the time I had reached the path the wary raven had
disappeared. I clambered down the cliff while the Collector
reproached me for my senile slowness. We stopped to rest at the foot,
and I was just telling him that the Cornishmen hate the raven because
to their ears he always cries "Corpse, corpse!" when suddenly the bird
itself came back again. It flew across the valley and alighted on a
tree-top by the opposite cliff, looking like a monster crow, being
about one-third longer. One might mistake a crow for a raven, but
never a raven for a crow. If there be any doubt about the bird, it is
always safe to set it down as a crow.

The flight of the raven, which consisted of two flaps and a soar, and
its long tail resembling that of an enormous grackle, were its most
evident field-marks.

For long we sat and watched the wary birds, until, chilled through by
the driving rain, we started to cover the ten miles that lay between
us and the house of Squire McMahon, a mountain friend of the
Collector, where we planned to pass the night. On the way the
Collector told me that he saw his first raven while wandering through
the mountains in the spring of 1909, and how he trailed and hunted and
watched until, in 1910, he found the first nest. Since then he had
found twelve. His system was a simple one. Selecting from a gazetteer
a list of mountain villages with wild names, such as Bear Creek,
Paddy's Mountain, and Panther Run, he would write to the postmasters
for the names of noted hunters and woodsmen. From them he would secure
more or less accurate information about the haunts of ravens, which
usually frequent only the loneliest and most inaccessible parts of the
mountains.

The trail led through deep forests and up and across mountains, and
was so covered with ice and snow as to be difficult going. At one
point the Collector showed me a place where he had been walking years
ago, when he suddenly became conscious that he was being followed by
something or somebody. At a point where the trail doubled on itself,
he ran back swiftly and silently, just in time to see a
bay-lynx--which had been trailing him, as those big cats sometimes
will--dive into a nearby thicket. Anon he cheered the way with snake
stories, for Seven Mountains in summer swarm with rattlesnakes and
copperheads.

By the time he had finished it was dark, and I thought with a great
longing of food and fire--especially fire. It did not seem possible to
be so cold and still live. In the very nick of time, for me at least,
we caught sight of the lamplight streaming from the windows of the
Squire's house. Dripping, chilled, tired, and starving, we burst into
Mrs. McMahon's immaculate kitchen and were treated by the old couple
like a pair of long-lost sons. In less than two minutes our
waterlogged shoes were off, our wet coats and sogged sweaters spread
out to dry, and we sat huddled over a glowing stove while Mrs. McMahon
fried fish, made griddle-cakes, and brewed hot tea simultaneously and
with a swiftness that just saved two lives. We ate and ate and ate and
ate, and then, in a huge feather-bed, we slept and slept and slept
and slept. Long after I have forgotten the difference between a tort
and a contract, and whether A. Edward Newton or Marie Corelli wrote
the "Amenities," that dinner and that sleep will stand out in my
memory.

The next morning we started off again in a driving snowstorm, to look
at another nest some ten miles farther on. The first bird we met was a
prairie horned lark flying over the valley, with its curious tossing,
mounting flight, like a bunch of thistle-down. It differs from the
more common horned, or shore, lark by having a white instead of a
yellow throat and eye-line; and it nests in the mountain meadows in
upper Pennsylvania, while its larger brother breeds in the far north.

Noon found us at a deer camp. Through the uncurtained windows we could
see the mounted body of a golden eagle, which, after stalking and
destroying one by one a whole flock of wild turkeys, had come to an
ignoble end while gorged on the carcass of a dead deer. The man who
captured it by throwing his coat over its head thought at first that
it was a turkey buzzard, which southern bird, curiously enough, finds
its way through the valleys up into these northern mountains. In fact,
the Collector once found a buzzard's nest just across a ravine from
the nest of a raven. Beyond the camp, on the other side of a rushing
torrent, we found another raven's nest swaying in the gale, in the
very top of a slender forty-foot white pine, the only raven's nest the
Collector had ever found in a tree. It was deserted, and we reached
home late that night with frost-bitten faces and ears, and without a
sight of the eggs of the northern raven.

The next day we took a train, and traveled forty miles down the river
to where, on a cliff overhanging the water, a pair of ravens had
nested for the last fifty years. There we found numerous old nests,
but never a trace of any that were fresh. There too we found a
magnificent wild turkey hanging dead in a little apple tree; it had
come to a miserable end by catching the toes of one foot in between
two twigs in such a way that it could not release itself. The bright
red color of its legs distinguished it from a tame turkey. The
Collector confided to me that the ambition of his life was to find the
nest of a wild turkey, which is the rarest of all Pennsylvania nests.
Next to it from a collecting standpoint come the nests of the Northern
raven, pileated woodpecker, and Blackburnian warbler, in the order
named.

       *       *       *       *       *

March 12, 1919, found me again on a raven hunt with the Collector.
Before sunrise I was dropped from a sleeper at a little mountain
station set in a hill country full of broad fields, swift streams, and
leafless trees, flanked by dark belts of pines and hemlocks. Beyond
the hills was raven-land, lonely, wind-swept, full of lavender and
misty-purple mountains, with now and then a gap showing in their
ramparts. It was in these gaps that the ravens nested, always on the
north side, farthest from the sun.

Nearby was Treaster's Valley, which old Dan Treaster won from a pack
of black wolves before the Revolution. When he lay a-dying, three
quarters of a century later, the wailing howl of a wolf-pack sounded
outside his cabin, although wolves had been gone from the Valley for
fifty years. Old Dan sat up with the death-sweat on his forehead and
grinned. "They've come to see me off," he whispered and fell back
dead.

[Illustration: "THE YOUNG RAVENS SHALL NEITHER LACK NOR SUFFER
HUNGER"]

They bred hunters in that Valley. Peter Penz, the Indian fighter, who
celebrated his ninetieth birthday by killing a red bear, came from
there. So did Jacob Quiggle, who killed a maned panther one winter
night, under the light of a wind-swept moon, with his famous gun,
Black Sam. Over on Panther's Run not ten miles away, lived Solomon
Miller, who shot the last wood-bison, and died at the age of
eighty-eight, clapping his hands and shouting the chorus of a
hunting-song.

As the light began to show in the eastern sky, came the first
bird-notes of the day. The caw of a crow, a snatch of song-sparrow
melody, the chirp of a robin, the fluted alto note of a blue-bird, and
the squeal of a red-tailed hawk sounded before the sun came up.

A change of trains, and I met the Collector, as enthusiastic as ever.
Already that year he had found six ravens' nests with eggs in them,
but the one he had promised to show me was the best of the lot. It was
located in Poe's Gap, where local tradition hath it that the poet
wooed, not unsuccessfully, a mountain girl, and wrote "The Raven" in
her cabin. On the way to the Gap we heard and saw nineteen different
kinds of birds, including siskin, fox sparrows, and killdeer, and saw
a buzzard sail on black-fringed wings over the peaks. On a farmer's
barn we saw a goshawk nailed, its blue-gray back and finely penciled
breast unmistakable, even after the winter storms.

As we entered the Gap, patches of snow showed here and there, and a
mad mountain brook of foaming gray water came frothing and raging to
meet us. When we were full two hundred and fifty yards away from the
nest, the female raven flapped and soared away. The nest itself was
only thirty feet from the ground, on a shelf protected by a protruding
ledge, some ten feet down from the top of the cliffs. Rigging a rope
to a tree, I managed to swarm up and look at last on the eggs of a
Northern raven. They were three in number, a full clutch. The number
ranges from three to five, very rarely six, with one instance of
seven. The eggs themselves were half as large again as those of a
crow, and all different in coloration. One was light-blue-flecked and
speckled with brown and lavender; another heavily marked with lavender
and greenish-brown; while the last was of a solid greenish-brown
color.

The nest itself faced the Gap, and from it one could look clear across
the forest to the settled country beyond, while behind the cliff
stretched a range of low, unexplored mountains. The nest itself was
made of smaller sticks than the one I had seen over at Seven
Mountains, and had a double lining of brown and white deer-hair, a
fresh lining having been laid over that of the year before. As we
climbed to the nest, the ravens soared near, giving only the hoarse
"Crrruck." They have also a soft love-note, which cannot be heard
fifty yards away and sounds something like the syllables
"Ga-gl-gl-gli." As they soared near us, their plumage shone like black
glass, and we could see the long tapered feathers of the neck swell
whenever either of them croaked. They had a peculiar trick of gliding
side by side and suddenly touching wings, overlapping each other for
an instant. While we watched them, a red-shouldered hawk unwarily
approached the Gap. In an instant, the male raven was upon him, and
there was a sharp fight. The Buteo was not to be driven away easily,
and made brave play with beak and talons; but he never had a chance.
The raven glided round and round him with wonderful speed and
smoothness, driving in blow after blow with his heavy, punishing beak,
until the hawk was glad to escape.

For long and long I watched the dark, wise mysterious birds circle
through the blue sky. As I sat in their eyrie, I could look far, far
across the forests and the ranges of hills, to where the ploughed
fields began. Perhaps that poet whose heart-strings were a lute had
looked from that same raven-cliff before he went back to die among the
tame folk, and wished that he could stay in wild-folk land where he
belonged.



VI

HIDDEN TREASURE


It cost me an appendix to become a treasure-hunter, but it was worth
the price. I really had very little use for that appendix anyway,
while my membership in the Order of Treasure-Hunters has brought me in
several million dollars' worth of health and happiness.

It all began when I was sent from a city hospital to an old farmhouse
in the northwestern corner of Connecticut, with instructions to avoid
all but the most ladylike kind of exercise. Accordingly one morning I
found myself tottering feebly along a wood-road that led over Pond
Hill, highly resolved to walk to Hen's Pine and back. This was the
lone tree which stood on the crest of the wooded hill which, half a
century ago, old Hen, a freed slave, had begged from the
charcoal-burners when they coaled that region. Hen's old horse, Bill,
is buried at its foot, and Hen had hoped to lie there himself with his
axe, his fiddle, and his whip. Instead, he sleeps in a little
graveyard on a bare hill beside his old master.

My path had just crossed a round green circle in the woods where an
old charcoal-pit had set its seal forever. Suddenly a brown bird flew
up from beside the road a few yards ahead of me. If she had kept
quiet, I never would have learned her secret. When, however, she came
back, flying from branch to branch with fluttering wings and jerking
tail, keeping up at the same time a rattle of alarm-notes like a tiny
machine-gun, even a novice like myself would suspect a nest.

Fortunately a broken hazel bush marked the exact spot from which she
had flown. On going there, and looking carefully near its base, I
found what has always seemed to me one of the most beautifully hidden
nests of all the hundreds which I have seen since--perhaps because it
was my first rare nest. It was roofed in by the split hazel-branch,
and made of woven dry grass and leaves, with a scanty lining of
horse-hair and a flooring of leaf-fragments. Inside were five eggs.
Four of them were bluish-white, with aureoles of reddish-brown
blotches around the blunt ends; but the fifth was larger, and was
specked and splashed with blotches of rufous and brown-purple. Long
afterwards I learned that this last egg was the fatal gift of that
vampire the cow-bird, and that by leaving it there I had doomed the
four legitimate future birds of that nest to certain death. Sooner or
later the deadly changeling would hatch from that egg and roll its
foster-brothers out of the nest to starve.

That day, however, I was ignorant even of the name of the bird whose
nest I had found. For long I stood and gloated like a miser over the
little jewel-casket which the mother-bird had shown me, and for the
first time realized that anywhere in the woods and fields I might
come upon other treasure-hordes of the same kind. Then and there I
became a treasure-hunter. Ever since then I leave my treasures where I
find them, so that my recollections of them may not be marred by any
memories of fluttering, mourning mother birds. Aside from any
sentimental reasons, it has always seemed to me that he who takes the
eggs which he has discovered is guilty of the economic error of
spending his principal. If left undisturbed, the nest will pay
dividends in the way of information and observations which are worth
more than the mere possession of the pierced and empty eggs.

All the time that I was studying this nest both the parent birds were
moving around me in anxious circles. At times the mother bird would
drop her wings and scurry along just in front of me, pretending that
she was wounded nigh unto death and that, if I would but follow her
away from the nest, she could easily be caught. Both the birds had
brown backs and buff breasts and sides spotted with black, and
constantly tilted their tails and walked instead of hopping. As soon
as I came back to the farmhouse, I rummaged through colored charts and
bird-books until I had decided that the nest was that of a fox
sparrow, which also has a brown back and a spotted breast. It was not
until another year that I learned that the fox sparrow nests in the
far North and that the bird whose home I had discovered was none other
than the oven-bird--or golden-crowned accentor, to give him his more
sonorous title. This is the bird which comes in late April or early
May and sings all through the woods the best example of a crescendo
song in all bird-music. His nest on the ground usually has a domed
overhanging roof which makes it resemble an old-fashioned Dutch oven.

In spite of my ignorance there followed the happiest week of my life.
I forgot that I was an invalid, as well as all the injunctions of my
doctor. From morning until night I hunted birds' nests. As usual
fortune favored the novice, and I found nests that first week which I
have found but few times since.

The very next morning, on the other side of Pond Hill I turned a
sudden corner of the path through the dim green silence, and stepped
right into a breakfast-party. Mrs. Ruffed Grouse, known in that part
of the country as partridge, was breakfasting in the open path with at
least a dozen little grouse--or is it greese. Although taken by
surprise, neither she nor her children hesitated for the fraction of a
second. Falling upon the ground, she rolled and flapped as if in the
last agonies of death, whining like a puppy and dragging herself
almost to my feet. I looked away from the covey for a minute, to watch
the bird struggling and whining at my very feet. As I stretched my
hand out toward her, she feebly flopped away, still apparently well
within reach. I took a step or so after her, to see if she would
really permit herself to be caught. Suddenly realizing that she was
only decoying me away from her brood, I turned back. Although I had
gone less than six feet, and the little birds had been huddled
together close to me on the bare path, they had absolutely
disappeared. It seemed impossible that in a few seconds they could
have gained the shelter of the woods or could have found cover in the
scanty grass and scattered leaves close at hand. Not one could I find
although I searched and searched. When I turned back the mother grouse
was gone also, although I could hear her whining through the bushes.

Years later, again at the edge of the woods, one day early in June, I
came upon another mother grouse leading a covey of little chicks,
evidently just hatched, in single file out from the woods into the
open, probably to catch grasshoppers. She went through the same
performance as the first one, but this time I selected the two nearest
chicks, which stood directly in front of me, and resolved that nothing
would make me take my eyes away from them. Even as I watched, they
melted away into the grass. One I found lying motionless on its side
under a big brown leaf, looking exactly like its covering. The other I
never did find. At first the leaf-hidden partridge refused to move
even when I touched it, until I picked it up. Then it gave a shrill
peep almost like a little chicken. Instantly the poor mother bird
rushed up to my very feet and dashed her wings frantically against my
legs, jumping up from the ground and whining so piteously that, after
I had stroked her fuzzy, soft little chick, I put it back on the
ground without any further examination. At once it disappeared, and
the mother bird, still whining, also sidled away into the woods.

I hid behind an apple tree and waited nearly half an hour. At last
from the woods sounded a low "Cluck, cluck, cluck," and instantly nine
little partridge chicks, one by one, started up from the most
impossible hiding-places. It was like watching a resurrection. Some
came from under leaves, others out of clumps of grass, and two or
three rose from the almost bare ground, where they had lain in perfect
concealment. Falling into single file, they hurried like little ghosts
into the thicket, and the last I heard of that little family was a few
soft and very satisfied clucks from the hidden mother bird.

During that golden week of treasure-hunting I found a number of common
nests which, although everyday affairs to an experienced
ornithologist, were then, as they are now, a source of never-ending
interest. There was the robin's nest partly made of wool, which I
found in a thorn-bush in the sheep-pasture, with its four long,
sky-blue eggs. Over in the woods, just back of the deserted house
where Nat Bunker, the Indian, used to weave wonderful baskets out of
maiden-hair stems, I found the nest of a wood thrush in a witch-hazel
about seven feet from the ground, by the simple process of running my
head against the bush while going through the thick undergrowth. This
accident bunted the mother thrush off the nest; and pulling the bush
down, I peered in and saw three light-blue eggs.

If I had taken these eggs, as some bird's-nesters do, I never should
have had the experience of actually seeing a little wood thrush come
into the world. It was the last morning of my stay, and I had been
making my round of nests, examining each one and beginning the
bird-notes which I have kept up ever since. As I pulled the nest down
and looked at the three eggs, I suddenly saw a tiny black speck appear
out of the side of one. Then the shell cracked and split, and I
realized that what I had seen was the beak of the little bird within.
In a moment the crack spread, and finally, with a tremendous effort,
one half of the blue shell slid off and there in front of me, snugly
resting in the other half of the shell, was the naked baby-thrush, its
long neck curled down beside its round stomach. Raising its blind
head, it pressed against the confining shell, while its whole bare
body shook with the heart-throbs of a new life. I realized that before
my eyes this bare, blind bird was passing from one world into another;
and when the birth was finally accomplished and, free from the
prisoning shell, the little thrush lay panting on the bottom of the
soft nest, I turned away with a certain sense of uplift that I had
watched a fellow creature win a battle for a higher life.

It was another wood thrush's nest that same week, in the deep of a
thicket, that gave me still another experience. The nest was in a tiny
bush much lower than I have ever found a wood thrush's nest since.
When the mother thrush left the nest, she wasted no time in idle
alarm-notes, but, circling around the bush, flew straight for my face.
I ducked, and she went over me, only to turn and come back; and if I
had not guarded myself by striking at her with my hands, I have no
manner of doubt that she would have struck me with her beak.

In only one other instance in many years of bird's-nesting have I ever
been actually attacked by a nesting bird. Once in the twilight I had
found my first and last nest of a Kentucky warbler on the edge of a
wood. Taking a short cut through the trees, I was instantly assailed
by a pair of screech-owls, which flew directly at my face, snapping
their beaks and making little wailing notes. The light was so dim and
their flight so swift, that I actually ran out into the open, fearing
lest they might land with beak or claw on my eyes.

It was on the third day that I found in a white-thorn bush the little
horse-hair nest of the chipping sparrow. This last summer, in the
depths of Northern Canada, while hunting for such rare nests as the
bay-breasted, the yellow-palm and the Tennessee warblers, I found the
same little horse-hair home of the chipping sparrow. I thought with
this my last, as I did with my first, that there are no eggs of
American birds more beautiful than those little blue, brown-flecked
eggs of the dear gentle little chippy.

That same day, on the edge of the thick woods near the schoolhouse, I
found swinging from maple saplings, four and five feet from the
ground, the beautiful little woven baskets, thatched on the outside
with white birch-bark and lined within with pine-needles, of the
red-eyed vireo, with the black line through and the white line above
her red eye. In the vast, bare hardhack pasture on the slope of Pond
Hill, I watched a field sparrow fly down under a hardhack bush with a
bug in its beak. Hurrying there, I found on the ground, concealed by
the bush, her little nest of woven grass, with four little field
sparrows inside, whose gaping beaks kept both father and mother field
sparrow busy all day to fill them. As the parent birds flitted around
me, I could see plainly the pink beak which distinguishes the field
sparrow from all others of its family. Beside the brook, among the
cat-tails on the ground, I found the rough nest of the red-winged
blackbird, with its four eggs scrawled with strange black
hieroglyphics.

The fourth day was another treasure-trove day. Just at dawn, in a
dew-drenched thicket of spirea, I found three nests not six feet
apart. In one, root-lined and thatched with strips of grape-vine bark,
glowed the four deep blue eggs of the cat bird. The next nest,
singularly deep and made of dried grass, was owned by a black-blue
indigo bunting who, in spite of his intense coloring, seemed content
with three washed-out white eggs and a light-brown wife. On the last
nest the bird was brooding, and showed the golden-crowned head and the
chestnut band along the side which has given its name to the
chestnut-sided warbler. The nest, a humble affair of grass and hair,
sheltered four wonderful eggs, pink-white, spotted at the largest end
with flecks of chocolate and lilac and umber. Back of the thickets
tottered an old, old house. For fifty years it had been leased to the
wild-folk. As I looked at it, one of them flitted out of the
cellar-way, a gray bird whose name-note was phoebe. Just within the
doorway, on an oak beam, I found her new-finished nest of fresh,
bright, green moss.

All that morning I followed orchid-haunted paths through dim aisles of
high pine trees without finding a nest. When I gave up hunting for
them, they appeared. Toward noon I had put together a pocket rod and
was wading down the bed of a little brook, to catch a few trout for
lunch. In a little pool at the foot of a laurel bush, I landed a plump
jeweled fish. I cast again, and my hook caught a low hanging branch. I
gave the bough a shake, and from the foot of the bush a pale brown
bird stole out. A moment later I was looking at my first veery's nest.
It seemed strange to meet face to face this dweller in the dark woods.
Usually I had heard his weird harp-notes from the cool green depths of
the thicket, but with never a glimpse of the singer. To-day he sat on
a low branch within six feet, and I could plainly see the faintly
marked breast and the white spot under the beak which are the
field-marks of the veery, or Wilson's thrush. Both birds flittered
around me like ghosts, saying faintly, "Wheer! wheer! wheer!" The nest
was built just off the ground and lined with brown leaves, and held
four of the most vivid blue eggs owned by any of the bird-folk. The
eggs of the cat-bird are of a deeper blue, but the strange vivid
brightness of the veery's eggs makes all other blue eggs look faded by
contrast.

All too soon my glorious week of treasure-hunting drew to a close. For
the last day were reserved the best two of my bird-adventures. During
the morning I had followed a wood-road which led through dark woods
into a marsh, and then up a wooded slope. I sat down to rest, and
suddenly saw a gray bird fly up into a tree, alight on a limb, and
before my eyes suddenly disappear. Bringing my field-glasses to bear,
I discovered saddled on that limb a lichen-covered nest, which looked
so exactly like the limb itself that, if the bird had not shown me her
home, I would never by any chance have discovered it. It was a far
climb for an invalid, but I felt that life was not worth living unless
I could have a closer look at this strange nest which had flashed into
sight right before my eyes. Gruntingly I clambered up the trunk, and
for the first time looked into the beautiful nest of the wood pewee.
It was lined with down and held four perfect eggs, pearly-white and
flecked with heavy brown and black spots.

For a long time I sat perched aloft, rejoicing over every perfect
detail of that nest and the eggs, and studying the gentle, silent,
anxious parent birds, of a dark-brownish-gray with two white wing-bars
and whitish under-parts. I went back to lunch feeling that my last day
had been well spent. However, the best was yet to be. I realize from
later experiences in bird's nesting that all this has an impossible
sound, but I can only say that I am setting down the happenings of
this week of treasure-hunting exactly as they came, and as they appear
in the battered canvas-bound note-book in which I scrawled my
field-notes that summer. The Wild Folk had evidently decided to
celebrate my discovery of their world by granting me seven days of
nest-finding rarely vouchsafed even to veteran ornithologists.

[Illustration: THE JEWEL-BOX OF THE WOOD PEWEE]

It was at twilight, and I stood on the edge of an old orchard where
grew a white-oak tree. As I looked away across the valley, I heard a
humming noise, and through the dimming light saw a tiny bird buzzing
through the air just overhead. As I watched, she alighted on a long
limb about ten feet from the ground, and even an ignoramus like myself
could recognize the long curved beak of the hummingbird. This one had
a white instead of a crimson throat, which, I was to learn, marked the
female. For an instant the little bird perched on the limb just over
my head, and then suddenly sidled toward what seemed a tiny knot, but
was not. Lest I be betrayed into further puns unworthy the fair fame
of a bird-student, I hasten to add that I had found the nest of a
ruby-throated hummingbird.

It was too dark that evening to examine it more closely, but by
sunrise the next morning I was on the spot with a step-ladder, and
with more delight than I have ever had in a nest since, looked down
into the tiny lichen-covered, cobweb-stitched, thistle-down-lined nest
of this smallest of all our birds. Within were two tiny white eggs.
The opening of the nest was just about the size of a quarter of a
dollar, and it did not seem possible that two little birds could later
be brooded and fed and reared in such a tiny cradle. The nest itself
was saddled on the limb, which was perhaps four inches in diameter.
It was so placed that the bottom of the nest did not rest directly on
the limb, but hung a little to one side, so that the future little
birds would rest in the swing of a hammock rather than on the hard
foundation of the branch itself. The nest was lashed to the limb with
strand after strand of cobwebs carried and wound around and around,
until the whole structure was firmly anchored by myriads of almost
invisible but tough little ropes. Inside, it was lined with the soft
yellowish-white fluffy fleece found inside milkweed pods. Next came a
layer of reddish-brown seed-husks, all bound and lashed together with
a network of cobwebs. On the outside was a layer of dull ashy-green
lichen-scales. Each minute separate fragment was fitted into a mosaic
which covered the whole nest. Outside of everything was another almost
invisible network of cobwebs, like the net of a balloon which holds
the round globe within. There must have been hundreds of gossamer
strands making up this network, all so fine that only by the closest
examination could they be seen.

Every bird's nest is a miracle, but I don't know any that is such a
marvel of industry and ingenuity and beauty as that of the
ruby-throated bird. Later on, when Mrs. Hummingbird was through with
her home, I collected it, and had an opportunity of seeing just what
the building of that nest meant to her--for, sad to say, Mr. H. B.
never moves a claw to help in home-building. The labor of collecting
the spider-webs alone, to say nothing of the hundreds of lichen-flecks
and seed-husks, would seem to be almost impossible. On the outside of
the nest I counted over a hundred separate bits of lichen, and then
undoubtedly overlooked many; while in the next layer of seed-husks
there were probably at least three times as many. Bit by bit, flake by
flake, the little worker had gathered her material, and from it had
spun, and woven and built a nest which was not only soft and secure
for her little ones, but, when finished, was absolutely disguised. No
prowler on the ground or pirate of the air could tell that nest from a
lichen-covered knot, unless, as had been my fortune, the little mother
herself showed it to them.

So endeth the tale of my first treasure-hunting. If you are not one of
us, don't let another summer go by without joining our Order. You will
find a wealth of happiness which no thief can steal nor misfortune
lose, and which, as the years go by, pays ever-increasing dividends of
joyous memories.



VII

BIRD'S-NESTING


It is the best of all out-of-door sports bar none. The thrill of
hidden treasure, the lure of adventure, the joy of escape from in-door
days--all these are part of it. Try it of a May day, or before sunrise
some June morning. I have a friend who leads a double life. During
business hours he is the president of a bank. Outside of them he is
the most abandoned bird's-nester of my acquaintance. If his depositors
could see their president going up the side of a perpendicular
oak-tree with climbing-irons, to look at the dizzy home of a red-tail
hawk, or picking his way across bottomless bogs in search of the
bittern's nest, there would probably be a run on his bank.

I know a woman seventy-two years young, who took up bird's-nesting in
order to help forget a great sorrow. While her contemporaries are
dozing their lives away in caps and easy-chairs, she is afield in all
sorts of weather, and sees more birds and finds more nests in a year
than the average woman meets in a lifetime. Incidentally she gets more
health and happiness out of life than any woman of her age whom I have
ever met.

Another woman, in a little town in New Jersey, by the sudden death of
her husband was left alone with but little money and no friends.
Moreover, her doctor advised her that she had only a year at most to
live. One day she found the nest of a prairie warbler, that little
jewel-casket lined with fern-wool. It held four eggs like pink-flecked
pearls. The very next day she bought a bird-book, and forgot all about
herself, and spent the happiest months of her life hunting nests. At
the end of a year in the open, she notified her indignant physician
that she had become too much interested in her hobby to confirm his
diagnosis. To-day she supports herself happily by writing about what
she sees and hears among the wild-folk.

The moral of all this is, go bird's-nesting. This past summer,
practising what I preach, I spent all my spare holidays in May, June,
and July hunting rare nests. Let me say in preface that I collect only
with a note-book and a camera. Personally, I prefer to have memories
and notes and pictures of my bird's-nests rather than cabinets full of
pierced and empty eggs; for I believe that a human who visits his
brethren of the air as their friend will find out more about them than
he who follows them about like a weasel, only to rob their nests.

The first of my bird-holidays was on May 20th. Four of us were to meet
at Mount Pocono, the highest mountain in Pennsylvania, on a hunt for
the rare nest of that tiny bird, the golden-crowned kinglet. Late that
evening we reached the camp near the top of the mountain, where we
were to make our headquarters. Up there the weather had harked back
to March, and the water froze on the porch that night. We pooled our
blankets and curled up together for warmth.

At one A.M. a whip-poor-will began his loud night-song. He always
sings as if he were wound up, and in a great hurry to finish his song
before the mechanism runs down. Later, in the darkness, we heard the
drumming like distant thunder of the ruffed grouse. One of our party
claims that on this mountain the grouse always drum at four-thirty in
the morning; and his stock as an accurate ornithologist went above par
when we examined our watches and found that it was just half-past
four. As the darkness turned to the dusk of dawn, the first day-song
was the beautiful minor strain of the white-throated sparrow. "O
Canada, Canada, Canada," he fluted. Then came a snatch of the wheezing
strain of the song sparrow. Finally, sweetest of all, sounded two or
three tantalizing notes of the hermit thrush, pure, single, prolonged
notes of wonderful sweetness, followed by two arpeggio chords.

We were up and out before sunrise; for he who would find rare nests
must look for them while the birds are laying or brooding. Four hours
distant, back in Philadelphia, summer had come. Here the trees showed
the green tracery of early spring, and the apple trees were still in
blossom, while everywhere the woods were white with the long pure
snow-petals of the shadblow. Some day we four are going to follow
Spring north, bird's-nesting all the way, until within the Arctic
Circle we find her in mid-July.

To-day the first nest discovered was that of the junco, or
slate-colored snowbird, whose jingling little song and the flutter of
whose white skirts were everywhere throughout the woods. This one was
close to the camp, hollowed out of the side of a bank of pine-needles,
and held four white eggs sparsely spotted with reddish-brown. The
little mother-bird chipped frantically, with a clicking note which the
Architect said always made him think that she carried pebbles in her
throat.

There were trillions of trilliums, as the Artist remarked
epigrammatically. Some were the common trilliums, of a dark
garnet-red. Besides these we found many of the rarer painted
trilliums--a pure white triangle with a stained crimson reversed
triangle in the centre. All of the trilliums are studies in triangles.
The painted trillium has the crimson triangle in the centre, set on
the white triangle made up of three petals which, in their turn, are
fixed in a reversed triangle of green sepals, and the whole blossom is
set in a still larger triangle made up of three green leaves.
Everywhere the woods were full of purple-pink rhodora, the earliest of
the azaleas. Its blossoms were silver flecked with deeper-colored
spots.

The next nest found was to me the most eventful one of the day,
although not an especially rare one on that mountain. The Architect
was walking beside one of the strange hummocks which are thought to
have been formed by buried tree-trunks in the path of some old-time
cyclone. Suddenly his eye was caught by the gleam of four sky-blue
eggs shining like turquoises from a nest directly on the ground,
lined neatly with red-brown pine-needles and with dry dark green moss
on the outside, the hall-mark of the nest of the hermit thrush. In
front of it was a cushion of partridge-berry vines, with their green
leaves and red berries, while blueberry fronds, covered with tender
green leaves, arched over the nest, and sprays of ground-pine
sheltered its sides. It was a fitting home for the beautiful twilight
singer. The eggs of a hermit thrush actually seem to gleam from the
ground, unlike the mottled and speckled and clouded eggs of most
ground-nesters.

As the sun came up, the whole mountain-side rang with bird-songs.
There was the abrupt strain of the magnolia warbler, who to my ears
says, "Wheedle, wheedle, whee-chee." The black-and-white warbler sang
like a tiny, creaking wheel, as he ran up and down tree-trunks. Down
in the meadows beyond the lake, the long-tailed brown thrasher said,
"Hello, hello! Come over here, come over here. There he goes, there he
goes. Whoa, whoa, ha-ha, ha-ha." If you do not believe my reading of
his song, listen the next time one sings to you, and see if these are
not his exact words. Overhead we often heard the squeal of the
red-shouldered hawk, sounding almost like the cry of the blue jay.
Then there was the loud yet gentle warble of the purple finch; and
once we saw a beautiful rose-red male and his gray-brown wife feeding
each other on a limb like a pair of lovebirds. Another song which was
interesting to me, because almost new, was that of the solitary or
blue-headed vireo, who sang, "See, see me-e. See me, you! you!" His
whole song is in couplets. The Artist said that my rendering was too
imaginative, and that what the bird really said was "Che-wee--che-woo,
che-wee--chu, chu," which perhaps is more accurate.

[Illustration: THE RED-SHOULDERED HAWK]

Through appalling swamps and tangled thickets of rhododendron we were
led by the Banker, who had highly resolved not to return without a
sight of the golden-crowned kinglet's nest. Once we came to a large
spruce in which had been cut, in the living wood, great square holes
like those in bar-posts. On one side we counted five, on another
three, while on the opposite side were no less than ten, with a new
one on the top cut right into the solid heart-wood. It was a
feeding-tree of the great pileated woodpecker of the North, a
magnificent black and white bird with a scarlet crest, nearly the size
of a crow. All that morning we searched in vain for the kinglet's
nest. Only as we came back to the cabin at noon for lunch, were our
hopes raised.

As we walked down the trail, not a hundred yards from the
cabin-entrance, in a spruce tree, the Banker spied a great hanging
nest made of wool and lined with feathers, from the top of which flew
the only golden-crowned kinglet which we saw that day, with the orange
patch on the top of his tiny head edged with black and yellow. The
nest was empty, but the Banker felt that he had made the great
discovery of his life and discoursed learnedly on the industry of this
tiny bird, which could find and carry such a mass of wool and build a
nest at least a hundred times larger than itself. It was not until a
month later that he was reluctantly convinced that what he had found
was the nest of a deer-mouse.

That afternoon we skirted the little lake and saw, not forty feet
above us, a bald eagle flying down toward us with its snowy neck and
pure white tail. He flew with four or five quick flaps, and then would
soar. In the distance we saw another eagle pursued by a scurrilous
cawing crow. The eagle flew over to the shore, and alighted and drank,
and then, standing on the edge of the water, seemed to be fishing. His
pursuer also alighted just behind him, and walked close up. Every time
the eagle would turn, the crow would scuttle off, like some little
blackguard boy following and reviling one of his elders. Several times
the crow flew over the head of the eagle and tried to gain courage
enough to make a dab at him. Through it all the king of birds paid
absolutely no attention to his tormentor. The comparison of the crow
with the eagle gave some idea of the size of the latter. He seemed
over three times as large as the crow.

It was the Banker again, on the other side of the lake, who made the
next discovery. We were hunting a little apart through the woods, when
he announced from where he stood that he had just caught a glimpse of
a Brewster's warbler. For the benefit of other bird-students who are
in my class, let me write what I learned that day in regard to said
bird. A Brewster's warbler is the rare hybrid between the
golden-winged warbler and the blue-winged warbler, more closely
resembling the golden-winged. When it takes after the blue-winged, it
is called the Lawrence warbler. This specimen we studied feather by
feather for over half an hour at short range, and the experts of the
party pronounced it beyond peradventure a Brewster's warbler,--a bird
not seen often in a lifetime. It was solid blue on the back, pearly
white underneath, and showed white tail-feathers, together with a
greenish-yellow patch on the very crown of its head. It had two broad
yellow wing-bars, one large and the other small, and its white throat,
innocent of any black mark, was the field-mark by which it could be
told from either of its parents or from its half-brother the Lawrence.

It was the Artist who made the last discovery of the day. Near the
crest of the mountain, he gave a piercing cry and announced that he
had discovered an Indian cobra. We all hastened to his rescue, and saw
a fearsome sight. Coiled in front of him, hissed and struck a bloated,
swollen snake, with flattened head and up-turned snout. It was none
other than the American puff-adder, which ought to be called the bluff
adder since, in spite of its threats, it is never known to bite, and
is really a harmless and gentle snake.

The last thing the writer can remember of that trip was hearing, as he
fell asleep, the Architect tell the Banker of the time he found two
loon's eggs, which a man had discovered on the top of a muskrat's
house and put under one of his hens to hatch.

The next day we were back in Philadelphia and summer again, with a
list of seventy-six different kinds of birds identified on the trip
and a total of ten nests found.

A few days later I went bird's-nesting with another friend in the very
heart of the city of Camden. Through the manufacturing district a
sluggish creek winds its way past factory after factory. There, under
a clump of golden-rod leaves, he showed me the nest of a spotted
sandpiper, made of reeds lined with grass, containing four
eggs--dark-brown eggs, spotted at the larger end with chocolate marks,
and coming to a sharp point at the other end. Later on, I found
another nest in the middle of a mass of horse-tail. Then, in the very
centre of a base-ball diamond, not far from second base, on the naked
ground, he showed me a killdeer's nest--a hollow scraped in the
gravel, with four eggs which so matched the stones that they had
escaped the notice of the players all around them. On the bank of the
creek we found song sparrows' nests, and out in a patch of marsh, on
the very last tussock, the dried-grass nest of a swamp sparrow, which
was much thicker than the song sparrow's, while the four eggs were of
a marbled warm brown and white.

Then we pushed on, still in the city limits, until we came to an old
quarry-bed half-filled with water, which had turned into a noisome bit
of marshland. Pushing a rickety raft out through the muck and
water-reeds of the stagnant water, my friend showed me, on a clump of
pickerel weed on a sunken stick, a nest of twigs on which was
sitting a strange bird. Its long sharp beak pointed straight skyward.
Its back was a combination of shades of soft reddish-browns, while its
breast was reddish-brown streaked with white. The most curious things
about it were its eyes. They were almost all pupil, with a bright
golden ring around the extreme edge, and stared at us unwinkingly like
a great snake. Although we came close up, the bird absolutely refused
to leave her nest, and stabbed viciously at a stick which I poked out
toward her. Finally, not daring to trust my hand within reach of that
stabbing yellow beak, I lifted her up bodily with the long stick,
enough to show five whitish-blue eggs rounded at each end. It was the
rare nest and eggs of the least bittern, a bird a little over a foot
long, which has a strange habit of clutching with its claws the stalks
of reeds and walking up them like a monkey. As we left, amid the
clicking notes of the cricket-frogs and the boom of the bull-frogs we
heard a very low "Cluck, cluck, cluck." It was the least bittern
singing the only song she knew, in celebration of the fact that she
still had her eggs safe.

[Illustration: MRS. KILDEER AT HER NEST]

The Architect and myself decided to travel once again, later in the
season, to the mountain, in the hope that we might make a better
nesting record. We reached the cabin on June 17th, and again found
ourselves back in spring. The peepers were still calling, and there
were wild lilies-of-the-valley in the woods, and pink rose-hearted
twin-flowers, with their scent of heliotrope. Everywhere grew the
dwarf cornel, or bunch-berry, with its four white petals--the smallest
of the dogwoods, which grows only a few inches high.

The first nest was found by me. It was built on a foundation of tiny
twigs in a bush, and had a two-story effect, the upper story being
made of fine grass. As I came near the bush, a magnificent
chestnut-sided warbler, with the bay patches on his sides and his
yellow crown, made such an outcry that I suspected the nest and
finally found it. There were three eggs in it and one tiny young bird,
smaller than a bumblebee. Everywhere grew the beautiful northern
azalea, of a clear pink with a perfume like sandal-wood. The Canadian
warbler, with its black necklace on its yellow breast, sang everywhere
a song which sounded like, "Ea-sy, ea-sy, you, you"; and we heard also
the orange-throated Blackburnian warbler's wiry, thin notes.

Near the top of the mountain are two sphagnum bogs, difficult to find,
but the home of many a rare bird. We finally located the larger of
these bogs, and there the Artist made the great discovery of the day.
Right out from underneath his foot, as he splashed through the wet
moss, flew a yellow-bellied flycatcher, which gives a note like the
wood-pewee and whose nest had been found only once before in the state
of Pennsylvania. Right in front of him, hidden in the deep moss, was
this long-sought nest. It was set deep in club-moss and lined with
white pine-needles, and contained four pinkish-white eggs with an
aureole around the larger end, with light rufous markings. It was so
overshadowed with wintergreen leaves and aronia and bunch-berries
that, even after the Artist had pointed out the place to me, it was
with very great difficulty that I found it.

As we crossed the marsh, I heard the song of the olive-backed thrush,
which sounds to me like a cross between the notes of the wood thrush
and the strange harp-chords of the veery or Wilson thrush. In another
part of the bog sang the rare Nashville warbler, whose nest we have
yet to find. Its song starts like the creak of the black-and-white
warbler and ends like a chipping sparrow. In a marsh beyond the
sphagnum bog, I found the nest of a Maryland yellowthroat, set in a
yellow viburnum shrub some six inches from the ground. This nest is
usually on the ground. It was set just as a gem is set in a ring, the
setting consisting of leaves which come up into five or six points.
Held by the points is a little cup of grass. The eggs were the most
beautiful we saw that day--of a pinkish-white with a wreath of
chestnut blotches around the larger end. On the farther side of the
marsh, a white-throated sparrow flew out from in front of me; and
after a long search I found its nest--a little moss-rimmed cup of
gray-green, yellow grass, containing four eggs of a faint blue clouded
with chestnut, which was massed in large blotches at the larger end.
With the four eggs was a dumpy young cow-bird, that fatal changeling
which is the death of so many little birds. In this case we saved four
prospective white-throated sparrows from being starved to death by
their ugly foster-brother. The white-throat is a dear, gentle, little
bird. Even its alarm-notes are soft, instead of being harsh and
disagreeable like those of most other sparrows.

The next day I found a song sparrow's nest and a catbird's nest, and
then in the midst of dark, cool woods, where an icy brown trout-brook
ran through a mass of rhododendron, a thrush suddenly slipped away
ahead of me out of a clump of rhododendron bushes. The light color of
the bird and the lighter spotted breast marked it as a veery or Wilson
thrush. On looking at the bush, I saw the nest, a rough one made of
hemlock twigs matted together, and lined with pine-needles with a
basis of leaves. Inside were four small eggs of a heavenly blue. They
are among the smallest of all of our pure-blue eggs.

That same day the Artist found a beautiful nest of a
black-throated-blue warbler, also set in a rhododendron bush. The nest
was made of the light inner bark of the rhododendron, which was of a
bright yellow. Inside, it was lined with black and tan rootlets so
fine that they look almost like horse-hair. These are the same
rootlets which the magnolia warbler uses to line its nest, and up to
the present time no ornithologist whom I have met has been able to
identify them.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Can you go to Maryland to-day on a bird-trip?" telephoned the
Banker.

"No," said I, "lawyers have to work for a living."

"There'll be blue-gray gnatcatchers and mocking-birds and Acadian
flycatchers," he tried again.

"No," said I.

"I've found out where the prothonotary warbler lives," he said once
more.

"No," said I.

"We may find its nest," he continued. "No one up here has seen one for
years."

"No," said I firmly. "What time does the train start?"

Sunset found me Somewhere in Maryland. I was squeezed into a buggy
built for one, along with the Miller, at whose house we were intending
to stop, and the Banker, who is constructed on flowing, generous
lines. We drove creakingly through miles and miles of blossoming peach
orchards. At the Miller's house we ate the worst supper that money
could buy. The Miller's wife had evidently been born a bad cook, and
by careful practice had become worse. It was over at last, and the
Banker and I retired to a room under the rafters which contained one
window and a mountainous bed. The rest of the space was taken up by
mosquitoes. I undressed, jumped into the bed, and sank out of sight.
The Banker located me by my muffled cries for help, and pulled me to
the surface just in time to save my life. Thereafter we molded a
conical crater in that feather-bed and carefully fitted ourselves in,
leaving a large air-hole at the top.

It was a hot night. The mosquitoes bit steadily, and the feather-bed
was like a furnace seven times heated. All night long a whip-poor-will
called his name under our window over three million times. The Banker
said he counted the notes. Finally, after hours and hours of agony, I
fell into a troubled sleep and was instantly awakened by the Banker,
who said it was time to get up. We breakfasted on what remained of the
corpse of the supper of the night before, which we found on the table.
A few moments later I was morosely moving an alleged boat through the
mists of the morass.

Without further alliteration, let me chronicle what paid for all the
toil, hardships and privations of the trip. It was the sight of a bird
of burnished gold flashing through the curling mists. "Tweet, tweet,
tweet," he called ringingly as he flew. The note reminded me somewhat
of the loud song of the Kentucky warbler, and the Banker, of the note
of the solitary sandpiper. Every now and then we caught tantalizing
glimpses of this warbler, which never by any chance stands still, but
flits here and there among the trees over the water. From the trees I
constantly heard squeaking notes, apparently of young birds. They
sounded everywhere, and I decided that the whole marsh must be full of
nests. The Banker laughed at my ignorance and told me that this was
the note of the blue-gray gnatcatchers--"like a mouse with a
toothache," as Chapman describes it. With great difficulty I caught a
glimpse of the tiny bird here and there among the tree-tops, and saw
the two long feathers of its tail, and had a glimpse of the gray and
white of its plumage. Some weeks before, the Banker had found down
there one of its rare and beautiful nests, like a large hummingbird's
nest, lined with down and thatched on the outside with lichens, and
fastened to a high bough.

That day I found the first nest of the prothonotary warbler. This bird
uses deserted woodpeckers' nests in dead trees set in marshes, so it
was necessary to paddle around to every dead tree which showed a hole.
I finally saw a little red-birch stub sticking up in the corner of the
marsh, and rowing over to it, noticed a small hole in its side.
Picking away the bark, I made it larger and a piece of the fresh green
moss, from which the nest of the prothonotary warbler is always built,
showed itself. Imbedded in the moss was a vivid orange-yellow feather,
which could belong to no other bird. The nest was just built and
contained no eggs.

The Banker found the second nest, in a willow-stub ten feet from the
ground, in an old downy woodpecker's nest. He found it by seeing the
male bird fly into the hole. Climbing up to the nest, he found that in
it were four young birds. Perching on a limb, he sat about four feet
from the nest while I was in the boat perhaps ten feet away. The
cock-bird flew up with a May-fly, making a soft alarm-note something
like that made by a field sparrow, only gentler. He flew up close to
where my friend sat and hesitated for a long while. Finally, the
hungry little birds inside gave a prolonged squeak, which probably
meant, "May-flies immediately!" This was too much for Mr.
Prothonotary. With a farewell look at the Banker, he turned his back
and dived into the nest, placing himself entirely at the mercy of this
giant who was keeping guard over his home. Seven times he did this
while we watched, bringing in two beetles, a small wasp, a fly, and
three May-flies. The hen-bird would come up time and time again with a
fly in her beak, but never could quite muster up courage enough to go
into the nest, but absent-mindedly swallowing the fly herself, would
go off.

We had a wonderful chance to study the coloring of this rare bird. The
cock-bird had a bright black eye which showed vividly against his
yellow cheek, as did his long black bill. His colors were gray,
yellow, and olive. The underside of his tail was pure white, and he
had a white edge to his wings, while the top of the wings was
greenish-yellow. The whole head, throat, and breast were of an intense
golden, almost orange yellow, and the wings were bluish-gray. The bird
itself was just about the size of the common black-and-white warbler.
The female was of the same coloring, only much paler.

After that came the tragedy of the day for me. An overhanging bough
knocked off my glasses, and they sank in the black waters of the marsh
and continued sunk, in spite of my frantic groping and diving for
them. The rest of the day I realized how the blinded galley-slaves
felt who were chained to the oar in mediæval times. The Banker kindly
described to me all the sixty-five different kinds of birds he saw in
that marsh. As my vision was limited to a range of about two feet, I
did not see many more birds personally. In spite of my blinded
condition, I did discover, however, another prothonotary's nest. I had
taken hold of a rotten willow-stub while pushing the boat through a
thicket. It broke in my hand, and there, in an exposed downy
woodpecker's hole, was a newly made nest of green moss, with a few
twigs and bark-strips on top, but no eggs. The fourth and last nest
was found by the Banker, again in a downy's hole. He saw something
move and thought it was a mouse or chickadee. Finally a long bill came
out of the hole and then a head. It was a hen prothonotary building
her nest. She had the hole already filled with moss, and was bringing
in grass, and would whirl around and around inside, modeling the nest
carefully. Within, she had lined it with grass, just as a chipping
sparrow's nest is lined with hair.

This was the last nest of the day. The Banker suggested that we stay
over another night, but I felt that home was the best place for a
blind man. My last memory of the golden prothonotary was hearing him
call, "Tweet, tweet, tweet" from the willows, as we started back to
the mill.

The last of my nesting-trips was on July 7th. The Artist in some
mysterious way had learned the secret of Tern Island, one of the few
places on the New Jersey coast where the Wilson tern still nests. In a
rickety old power-boat--probably it was the first one ever built--we
traveled haltingly through the most intricate channels imaginable,
and finally reached an island hidden by shoals and salt-marshes, but
whose farther beach faced the ocean. There, in a space about four
hundred by one hundred feet, we found seventy nests of tern,
containing a hundred and sixty-five eggs. Most of the nests contained
two eggs, some three, and one, four. The nests were merely hollows in
the sand, lined with bits of pure-white shell. The usual color of the
eggs was a blue-green background, heavily blotched with chocolate
blotches, although I found one egg of a light green, speckled all over
with light-red specks. In only one nest was there a young bird. The
little chick lay flat in the burning sun, while overhead hung the
mother tern, pearl-white with black-tipped wings, making a grinding,
scolding note. The young tern was downy like a duckling, and had tiny
red feet and a pink beak tipped with black. We put up a stake to mark
the nest, and later in the day, when we came back to photograph it, we
found that the little tern had crawled out, followed the shadow which
the stick had made, and lay with its head in the scanty shade far away
from the nest.

We met other rare water-fowl that blazing day. We saw the rare piping
plover, whose nest I was afterwards to find in Upper Canada, black
skimmers, with their strange slant-cut beaks, black tern, least tern,
loons, black-bellied plover, and everywhere throughout the
salt-meadows enormous great-blue herons.

This was the last trip of our quartette for the summer, and we are
looking forward to many more springs and summers among the bird-folk.
Let me end as I began--go bird's-nesting. Escape into the open from
these narrow in-door days, and learn the way to where the wild-folk
dwell. Seek their paterans and share their secrets. In their land you
will find the help of the hills, and hope wide as the world, and
strength and youth and health and happiness in full measure. Try it.



VIII

THE TREASURE-HUNT


I have always been of a very treasurous disposition. Such terms as
ingots, doubloons, and pieces-of-eight all my life long have been to
me words of power. In spite of these tendencies, I cannot say that up
to date I have unearthed much treasure. To be sure, there was that day
when I found a shiny quarter in the mud on my way to school. Instead
of being the out-cropping of a lode of currency, it turned out,
however, to be only a sporadic, solitary, companionless coin. Even so,
it was no mean find. I remember that it brought into my young life a
full pound of peppermint lozenges tastefully decorated in red ink,
with mottos of simple diction and exquisite sentiment. "Remember me,"
and "I love but dare not tell," were two of them, while another was a
manly query unanswered across the years which read, "How about a
kiss?" Although this treasure-trove gained me a fleeting popularity,
yet, like all treasure, it was soon gone. A prosaic teacher
confiscated the bulk of the hoard, and all I gained from it was the
privilege of learning by heart a poem of the late Mr. Longfellow. To
this day those beautiful lines,--

    Be still, sad heart, and cease repining,
    Behind the clouds is the sun still shining,--

cause in me a slight sensation of nausea.

It is probably due to these lawless traits that in my meridian years I
now hold the position which I do. Five and a half days in the week I
practise law. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons and all holidays,
legal and illegal, I am the Captain of a Robber Band, with all the
perquisites and perils which go with that high office. Without
vaunting myself unduly, I may claim to have fairly deserved my
position. Starting as a mere friar in the band of one Robin Hood, my
abilities as an outlaw brought me rapidly to the front. Thereafter,
when that band was reorganized, I was unanimously offered the position
once held by that implacable character who knew the Sesame Secret and
pursued a Mr. Baba so unsuccessfully, yet so unflinchingly. Flattered
by this recognition of qualities of leadership unsuspected by an
unthinking world, I accepted the responsibilities of the captaincy.
They were shared by First-Lieutenant Trottie, Second-Lieutenant Honey,
Sergeant Henny-Penny, and Corporal Alice-Palace. There were no
privates.

It was on a spring evening soon after the aforesaid election that the
Band met. The Captain spoke with the stern brevity which characterizes
all great leaders.

"Comrades," he announced, shutting the door and looking carefully
under the sofa to make sure that there were no spies about, "I have
just heard that there is a treasure not many miles from here. All
those in favor of a treasure-hunt to-morrow will kindly make a loud
noise."

The vote was probably the finest collection of assorted sounds ever
heard outside of a ship-yard. Right in the middle of it, the door
burst open, and in rushed Minnie, the cook, with a dipper of water,
under the impression that her favorite fear of fire had at last come
to pass. Close behind her was the Quartermaster-General, sometimes
known as Mother, while almost at the same instant old John, the
gardener, ran up on the porch with an axe, shouting hopefully, "Hould
him! I'm comin'!" under the impression that there was a fight of sorts
well under way.

The voting stopped suddenly, and the Captain looked quite ashamed as
he explained. Mother pretended to be very indignant.

"Some day," she said, "you'll all be in terrible danger and you'll
shout and yell and scream and bellow for help but not one of us will
come, will we, John?"

"Divil a step," called back John, as he clumped disappointedly down
the steps, his unused axe over his shoulder.

The Quartermaster-General agreed to withdraw her threat only after the
Captain had pledged the honor of the Band that there should be no
further disgustful noises within the house. Thereafter there were
hurryings and skurryings and dashings to and fro, in preparation for
the great adventure. Honey put fresh rubbers on his trusty sling-shot,
with which he could frequently hit a barn-door at five paces. Trottie
oiled up the air-rifle, which he was only allowed to use in windowless
wildernesses. Henny-Penny kept up such a fusillade with his new
pop-gun, that the Captain threatened to send him forth unarmed on the
morrow if he heard but one more pop. Alice-Palace's practice, however,
was the most spectacular. She had a water-pistol which, when properly
charged, would propel a stream of water an unbelievable distance. From
the bathroom door she took a snap-shot at Henny-Penny, who was
approaching her confidingly. The charge took effect in the very centre
of a large pink ear, and it was a long time before Henny-Penny could
be convinced that he was not mortally wounded.

At last the Captain ordered bed and perfect silence within fifteen
minutes, under penalty of being shot at sunrise.

"Nobody couldn't shoot me at sunrise," boasted Corporal Alice-Palace,
as she started up the stairs, "cause I wouldn't get up."

The next morning at dawn, from the Captain's room sounded the clear
whistle of the cardinal grosbeak--the adventure-call of the Band.
Followed thumps, splashings, and the sounds of rapid dressing from the
third story where the Band bivouacked.

"If there be any here," announced the Captain after breakfast, "who
for the sake of their wives and families wish to draw back, now is the
time. Once on the way, it will be too late."

"I haven't got any wife," piped up Henny-Penny, "nor any family 'cept
this one, but I want to come."

Similar sentiments were expressed by the rest of the Band. The Captain
said that it made the blood run faster in his shriveled old veins to
have such gallant comrades.

Purple grackles creaked and clattered in the trees, and the bushes
were full of song-sparrow notes, as the Band hurried away from the
house-line toward the Land of the Wild-Folk, where Romance still
dwells and adventures lurk behind every bush. A tottering stone
chimney marked its boundaries. There old Roberts Road began. On and
beyond Roberts Road anything might happen.

Each one of the Band, in addition to the lethal weapons already set
forth, carried a note-book and a pencil with which to keep a list of
all birds seen and heard, with notes on the same. Even Corporal
Alice-Palace, who was only six, carried a blank-book about the size of
a geography. To date it contained this single entry: "Robbins eat
wormes. I saw him do it."

The Quartermaster-General, despite the difficulty of the evening
before, had seen to it that the Band carried with them the very finest
lunch that any treasure-hunters ever had since Pizarro dined with the
Inca of Peru.

As they moved deep and deeper into Wild-Folk Land the air was full of
bird-songs. The Captain made them stop and listen to the singing
sparrows. First there was the song sparrow, who begins with three
notes and wheezes a little as he sings. It took them longer to learn
the quieter song of the vesper sparrow, with the flash of white in his
tail-feathers. His song always starts with two dreamy, contralto
notes and dies away in a spray of soprano twitterings. Then there were
the silver flute-notes of the little pink-beaked field sparrow, which
they were to hear later across darkling meadows, and the strange minor
strains of the white-throated sparrow.

Before long, a sudden thirst came upon Sergeant Henny-Penny.
Fortunately they were near the bubbling spring that marked the
beginning of Fox Valley, and the whole Band halted and drank in the
most advanced military manner, to wit, by bending the rims of their
felt hats into a cup. This method the Captain assured them was far
superior to the more usual system of lying flat on their tummies, and
had the approval of all great military leaders from Gideon down.

Right in the very midst of their drinking, there sounded from the
thicket a hurried warble of a mellow timbre, the wood-wind of the
sparrow orchestra, and they caught a fleeting glimpse of the gray and
tawny which is worn only by the fox sparrow, the largest of the
sparrows and the sweetest and rarest singer of them all. A moment
later a song sparrow sang. When he stopped, the strain was taken up by
the fox sparrow in another key. Three times through he sang the
twelve-note melody of the song sparrow, and his golden voice made the
notes of the other sound pitifully thin and reedy. Then the fox
sparrow threw in for good measure a few extemporaneous whistled
strains of his own, and seemed to wait expectantly--but the song
sparrow sang no more.

Through the long narrow valley, hidden between two green hills,
marched the Band, following the hidden safe path that generations of
foxes had made through the very middle of a treacherous marsh. As the
road bent in toward Darby Creek, there sounded the watchman's rattle
of the first kingfisher they had heard that year; and as they came to
the creek itself, a vast blue-gray bird with a long neck and bill
flapped up ahead of them. It was so enormous that Alice-Palace was
positive that it was a roc; but it turned out to be the great blue
heron, the largest bird in Eastern America.

From the marshy fields swept great flocks of red-winged blackbirds,
each one showing a yellow-bordered, crimson epaulet, proof positive
that Mrs. Blackbird was still in the South. Mrs. Robin had come back
the week before, which accounted for the joy-songs which sounded from
every tree-top. Until she comes, the robin's song is faint and thin
and infrequent. Beyond the creek they heard the "Quick, quick, quick,"
of the flicker calling to spring, and before long they came to the
tree where he had hollowed his hole. A most intelligent flicker he
was, too, for his shaft was sunk directly under a sign which read "No
Shooting Here."

From behind them as they marched, tolled the low sweet bell-notes of
the mourning dove--"Ah--coo, coo, coo." The Captain tried to imitate
the sound, and the harassed bird stood it as long as he could, but
finally flew away with whistling wings. Then the Captain told the Band
of a brave mother-dove whose nest he once found on the last day of
March. It was only a flat platform of dry sticks in a spruce tree, and
held two pearly-white eggs. The day after he found it, there came a
sudden snowstorm, and when he saw the nest again, it was covered with
snow--but there was the mother-bird still brooding her dear-loved
eggs, with her head just showing above the drifted whiteness.

[Illustration: MR. FLICKER AT HOME]

Beside the ruins of a spring-house, a gray bird with a tilting tail
said, "Phoe, bee-bee, bee." It was the little phoebe, so glad to
be back that he stuttered when he called his name. Thereafter the
Captain was moved to relate another anecdote. It seemed a friend of
his had stopped a pair of robins from nesting over a hammock hung
under an apple tree, by nailing a stuffed cat right beside their
bough. Whereupon the two robins, when they came the next morning, fled
with loud chirps of dismay. When two phoebes started to build on his
porch, he tried the same plan. He was called out of town the next day,
and when he came back a week later he found that the phoebes had
deserted their old nest. They had however built a new one--on top of
the cat's head.

As the Band swung back into the far end of Roberts Road, the Captain's
eye caught the gleam of a half-healed notch which he had cut in a
pin-oak sapling the year before, at the top of a high bank, to mark
the winter-quarters of a colony of blacksnakes. He halted the Band,
and one by one they clambered up the slope, stopping puffingly at the
first ledge, and searching the withered grass and gray rocks above
for any black, sinister shapes. Suddenly Honey did a remarkable
performance in the standing-back-broad-jump, finishing by rolling
clear to the foot of the bank. Right where he had stood lay a hale and
hearty specimen of a blacksnake nearly five feet long. Evidently it
had only just awakened from its winter-sleep, for there were
clay-smears on the smooth, satiny scales, and even a patch of clay
between the golden, unwinking eyes. Only the flickering of a long,
black, forked tongue showed that his snakeship was alive. Then it was
that the Captain lived up to the requirements of his position by
picking up that blacksnake with what he fondly believed to be an air
of unconcern. He showed the awe-stricken Band that the pupil of the
snake's eye was a circle, instead of the oval which is the hallmark of
that fatal family of pit-vipers to which the rattlesnake, copperhead,
and moccasin belong.

"If you have any doubt about a snake," lectured the Captain, "pick it
up and look it firmly in the eye. If the pupil is oval--drop it.
Perhaps, however," he went on reflectively, "it would be better to get
someone else to do the picking-up part."

When the Band learned from the Captain that it was the creditable
custom of the Zoölogical Gardens to give free entry to such as bore
with them as a gift a snake of size, their views toward the captive
changed considerably. Said snake was now legal tender, to be cherished
accordingly. It was the resourceful First Lieutenant Trottie who
solved all difficulties in regard to transportation. He hurriedly
removed a stocking, and the snake was inserted therein, giving the
stocking that knobbed, lumpy appearance usually seen in such articles
only at Christmas time.

[Illustration: THE MOURNING DOVE ON HER NEST]

From the Den the Band marched to a bowl-shaped meadow not far from old
Tory Bridge, under which a Revolutionary soldier hid with his horse
while his pursuers thundered overhead, well-nigh a century and a half
ago. On three sides of the field the green turf sloped down to a long
level stretch, covered by a thin growth of different trees, centring
on a thicket through which trickled a little stream. Near the fence on
a white-oak tree some ill-tempered owner had fastened a fierce sign
which read: "Keep out. Trespassers will be shot without notice." The
cross owner had been gone many a long year, but the sign still stood,
and it always gave the Band a delightful thrill to read it.

At the edge of the grove the Captain halted them all.

"Comrades," he said in a whisper, "I have heard rumors that there is a
clue to the treasure hidden in the sign-tree."

It was enough. With one accord the Band sprang upon that defenceless
tree. Some searched among its gnarled roots. Others examined the lower
branches. It was Henny-Penny, however, who boosted by Alice-Palace,
fumbled back of the threatening old sign and drew out a crumpled slip
of grimy paper. On it had been laboriously inscribed in some red
fluid, presumably blood, a skull and cross-bones. Underneath, in a
very bad hand, was written: "By the roots of the nearest black-walnut
tree. Captain Kidd."

There was a moment's check. It was Honey who recognized the tree by
its crooked clutching twigs, and found at its roots a crumpled piece
of paper which said: "Go to the nearest tulip tree. Blackbeard the
Pirate." It was Trottie who remembered that a tulip tree has square
leaves, and it was he who found the message which read: "I am buried
under a stone which stands between a spice-bush and a white-ash tree."
They all knew the spice-bush, with its brittle twigs and pungent bark
which was made to be nibbled, and under the stone they found a note
which said: "Look in the crotch of a dogwood tree. If you will listen
you will hear its bark"; which made the Band laugh like anything.

The last message of all read: "I am swinging in a vireo's nest on the
branch of a sour-gum tree." That was a puzzle which held the Band
hunting like beagles in check for a long time. Corporal Alice-Palace
at last spied the bleached little basket-nest at the end of a low
limb. Inside was a bit of paper which, when unfolded, seemed to be
entirely blank. So were the face of the Band as they looked. It was
the Captain again who saved the day.

"I have heard," he whispered, "that sometimes pirates write in
lemon-juice, which makes an invisible ink that needs heat to bring it
out. Like the Gold-Bug, you know."

It was enough. In less than sixty seconds, sun time, the Band had
built a tiny fire after the most approved Indian method, and as soon
as it began to crackle, the paper was held as close to the blaze as
possible. The Captain had the right idea. As the paper bent under the
heat, on its white surface brown tracings appeared, which slowly
formed letters and then words, until they could all read: "I am in the
hidey-hole of the chimney of the Haunted House. The Treasure."

For a moment the Band stared at each other in silence. They had made a
special study of pirates, black, white, yellow, and mixed. Haunted
houses, however, were beyond their bailiwick. It spoke well for the
iron discipline and high hearts of the company that not one of them
faltered. Led by dauntless Sergeant Henny-Penny, they crossed the
creek in single file on a tippy tree-trunk. Half hidden in the bushes
above, a gaunt stone house stared down at them out of empty
window-sockets like a skull. Through the thicket and straight up the
slope the Band charged, with such speed that the Captain was hard put
to keep up with his gallant officers. They never halted until they
stood at the threshold of the House itself. Under the bowed lintel the
Band marched, and never halted until they reached the vast fireplace
which took in a whole side of the room. The floorings of the House had
gone, and nothing but the naked beams remained, save for a patch of
warped boards far up against the stone chimney where the attic used to
be. It was plainly there that they must look for the hidey-hole.

The Captain showed his followers how in one of the window-ledges the
broken ends of the joists made a rude ladder. Up this the Band
clambered to the first tier of joists, without any mishap save that
the Captain's hat fell off and landed in front of the fireplace.

As they all roosted like chickens on the beams, there sounded a
footstep just outside. The Band stood stony still and held their
breath. Through the dim doorway came the furtive figure of a man. In
one hand he carried a basket, while the other was clinched on a
butcher-knife well fitted for dark and desperate deeds. Although the
basket seemed to be filled with dandelion greens, no one could tell
what dreadful, dripping secret might be concealed underneath. For a
minute the stranger looked uneasily around the shadowy room, and when
his eye caught sight of the Captain's hat, he started back and peered
into every corner, while the Band stood taut and tense just over his
unsuspecting head. At last, however, evidently convinced that the hat
was ownerless and abandoned, he picked it up and, taking off his own
battered, shapeless head-covering, started to try on the Captain's
cherished felt. Then it was that the latter acted. Bending noiselessly
down until his head was hardly a foot above the unwary wanderer's ear,
he shouted in a deep, fierce, growly voice which the Band had never
suspected him of having:--

"Drop that hat! Run for your life!"

The stranger obeyed both of these commands to the letter. Throwing
away the hat as if it were redhot, he dashed out of the doorway and
sprinted down the slope, scattering dandelion greens at every jump,
and disappeared in the thicket beyond. Although the Captain laughed
and laughed until he nearly fell off his beam, the rest of the Band
feared the worst.

"He looked exactly like Black Dog," murmured Honey in a low voice.

"Yes," chimed in Trottie, "kind of slinky and tallowy."

Whereupon, in spite of the Captain's reassuring words, they made haste
to find the Treasure, fearing lest at any moment they might hear the
shrill and dreadful whistle which sounded on the night when Billy
Bones died. Sidling along the beams in the wake of the Captain, they
came to what remained of a crumbling staircase. One by one they passed
up this until they reached the bit of attic flooring which they had
seen from below. Sure enough, in one of the soft mica-schist rocks of
the chimney, someone had chiseled a deep and delightful hidey-hole.

It was Lieutenant Trottie who, by virtue of his rank, first explored
the unknown depths and drew therefrom a heavy, grimy canvas bag. When
he undid the draw-string, a rolling mass of gold and silver nuggets
rattled down on the dry boards, while the Band gasped at the sight of
so much sudden wealth. A moment later a series of crunching noises
showed that the treasure-hunters had discovered that said gold and
silver were only thin surface foils, each concealing a luscious heart
of sweet chocolate. The Captain met their inquiring glances unmoved.

"It only shows," he explained, "what thoughtful chaps pirates have
become. They knew you couldn't use a bag of doubloons nowadays, but
that sweet chocolate always comes in handy."

Hidden treasure is not a thing to be investigated scientifically, nor
can anything restore a glamour once gone. Perhaps so unconsciously
reasoned the Band as they followed the Captain down the steep stairs
and the steeper ladder. Through the lilac bushes he led them around to
the far side of the House. There the stairway had disappeared, and
most of the sagging floor-beams were broken. A limb of a nearby apple
tree had thrust its way above the lilac thicket, until it nearly
touched the ledge of a window half hidden by the boughs.

Up the apple tree the Captain clambered, followed by the Band, and
walking out on the limb, led the way across the window-ledge into a
tiny room. For some unknown reason, amid the general wreckage and ruin
of the House, this room still stood untouched and with its flooring
unbroken. Even the walls, plastered a deep blue, showed scarcely a
crack on their surface. Best of all, fronting the open dormer of the
window, was a long, deep settee, with curly, carved legs and a bent,
comfortable back. Its seat was so wide that the Corporal's legs stuck
out straight in front of her when she sat down with the rest of the
Band at the end of the line.

Framed in the broken sheathing and bleached stone of the
window-opening, there stretched out before them a vista of little
valleys and round wooded hills, all feathery green with the new
leaves of early spring. The Band felt that they occupied a strong and
strategic position. A drop of some twenty feet sheer from the broken
flooring behind them to the ground protected them against any rear
attack, and the only entrance to their refuge was so shadowed and
hidden by rose-red and snow-white apple-blossoms that it would be a
cunning and desperate foe indeed who could find or would storm their
fastness.

With safety once secured, it was the unanimous feeling of the whole
company that luncheon was the next and most pressing engagement for
their consideration. An investigation of the commissary showed that
the Quartermaster-General had merited promotion and decoration and
citation and various other military honors, by reason of the
unsurpassable quality of the rations for which she was responsible.
When these were topped off by the Treasure for dessert, it was felt by
the whole Band that this was a Day which thereafter would rank in
their memories with Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and press hard
upon the heels even of Christmas Day itself.

After a rapturous half-hour undisturbed by any desultory and
unnecessary conversation, followed a chapter in the Adventures of
Great-great Uncle Jake. Said relative had been a distant collateral
connection of the Captain, and had fought through the Revolution, and,
in the opinion of the Band, next to General Washington, had probably
been most nearly responsible for the final success of the patriot
arms. It was Uncle Jake who made General Putnam get off his horse into
the mud and give the countersign. It was Uncle Jake who shot the
Hessian who used to stand on an earthwork and make insulting gestures
every morning toward the Continental camp. It was Uncle Jake again
who, when he was captured, broke his way out of the Hulks, and swam
ashore one stormy night. To-day the Captain had bethought himself of a
rather unusual experience which Uncle Jake once had while hunting
bears.

"It was during a February thaw," he began. "Uncle Jake was coming down
Pond Hill, when he stepped into a mushy place back of a patch of
bushes, and sank in up to his waist. He felt something soft under his
feet and stamped down hard. A second later," continued the Captain
impressively, "he wished he hadn't. Something rose right up underneath
him, and the next thing poor old Uncle Jake knew, he was astride a big
black bear, going down hill like mad--riding bear-back as it were. You
see," went on the Captain hurriedly, "Uncle Jake had stepped into a
bear-hole and waked up a bear by stamping on his back. He was in a bad
fix. He didn't want to stay on and he didn't dare to get off. So what
do you suppose he did?"

"Rode him up a tree," hazarded Henny-Penny.

"No," said the Captain. "He stuck on until they got to level ground.
Then Uncle Jake drew his hunting-knife and stabbed the old bear dead
right through his neck, and afterwards made an overcoat out of its
skin."

The Band felt that they could bear nothing further in the story line
after this anecdote, and the Treasure having gone the way of all
treasures, the march back was begun. It was the Captain who, on this
homeward trip, discovered another treasure. They were passing a marshy
swale of land, where a little stream trickled through a tangle of
trees. From out of the thicket came an unknown bird-call. "Pip, pip,
pip," it sounded. As they peered among the bushes, on a low branch the
Captain saw six strange birds, all gold and white and black, with
thick, white bills. Never had the Band seen him so excited before. He
told them that the strangers were none other than a company of the
rare evening grosbeaks, which had come down from the far Northwest,
which had never before been reported in that county, and which few
bird-students ever meet in a whole lifetime, although he had found a
flock in New Jersey a few months before. For long the Band stood and
watched them. They flew down on the ground and began feeding on
cherry-pits, cracking the stones in their great bills. At times they
would fly up into a tree and sidle along the limbs like little
parrots. The females had mottled black-and-white wings and gray backs
and breasts, while the males had golden breasts and backs, with wings
half velvet-black and half ivory-white.

For a long time they all watched the birds and made notes, until the
dimming light warned them that it was time to be on their way. In the
twilight the hylas called across the marshes, and from upland meadows
scores of meadow-larks cried, "Swee-eet, swee-eet." Westering down the
sky sank the crescent new moon, with blazing Jupiter in her train. As
the Band climbed Violet Hill and swung into the long lane which ended
in home, they heard the last and loveliest bird-song of that whole
dear day. Through the gathering darkness came a sweet and dreamy
croon, the love-song of the little owl. Even as they listened, the
distant door of the house opened and, framed in the lamp-light,
waiting for them, was Mother, the best treasure of all.



IX

ORCHID-HUNTING


My path led down the side of the lonely Barrack, as the coffin-shaped
hill had been named. There I had been exploring a little mountain
stream, which I had fondly and mistakenly hoped might prove to be a
trout-brook. The winding wood-road passed through dim aisles of
whispering pine trees. At a steep place, a bent green stem stretched
half across the path, and from it swayed a rose-red flower like a
hollow sea-shell carved out of jacinth. For the first time I looked
down on the moccasin flower or pink lady-slipper (_Cypripedium
acaule_), the largest of our native orchids.

For a long time I hung over the flower. Its discovery was a great
moment, one of those that stand out among the thirty-six-odd million
of minutes that go to make up a long life. For the first time my eyes
were opened to see what a lovely thing a flower could be. In the
half-light I knelt on the soft pine-needles and studied long the
hollow purple-pink shell, veined with crimson, set between two other
tapering petals of greenish-purple, while a sepal of the same color
curved overhead. The whole flower swayed between two large curved,
grooved leaves.

Leaving the path, I began to hunt for others under the great trees,
and at last came upon a whole congregation nodding and swaying in
long rows around the vast trunks of white pines which were old trees
when this country was born.

From that day I became a hunter of orchids and a haunter of far-away
forests and lonely marshlands and unvisited hill-tops and
mountain-sides. Wherever the lovely hid-folk dwell, there go I. They
are strange flowers, these orchids. When first they were made out of
sunshine, mist, and dew, every color was granted them save one. They
may wear snow-white, rose-red, pearl and gold, green and white, purple
and gold, ivory and rose, yellow, gold and brown, every shade of
crimson and pink. Only the blues are denied them.

Since that first great day I have found the moccasin flower in many
places--on the top of bare hills and in the black-lands of northern
Canada, where, four feet under the peat, the ice never melts even in
midsummer. Once I saw it by a sphagnum bog where I was hunting for the
almost unknown nest of the Tennessee warbler, amid clouds of black
flies and mosquitoes that stung like fire. Again, on the tip-top of
Mount Pocono in Pennsylvania, I had just found the long-sought nest of
a chestnut-sided warbler. Even as I admired the male bird, with his
white cheeks and golden head and chestnut-streaked sides, and the four
eggs like flecked pink pearls, my eye caught a sight which brought me
to my knees regardless for a moment of nest, eggs, birds, and all.
Among rose-hearted twin-flowers and wild lilies of the valley and
snowy dwarf cornels swung three moccasin flowers in a line. The outer
ones, like the guard-stars of great Altair, were light in color.
Between them gleamed, like the Eagle Star itself, a flower of deepest
rose, an unearthly crystalline color, like a rain-drenched jacinth.

Another time, at the crest of a rattlesnake den, I found two of these
pink pearls of the woods swinging above the velvet-black coils of a
black timber rattlesnake. I picked my way down the mountain-side, with
Beauty in one hand and Death in the other, as I romantically remarked
to the unimpressed snake-collector who was waiting for me with an open
gunny-sack.

Then there was the day in the depths of the pine-barrens, where
stunted, three-leaved pitch pines took the place of the towering,
five-leaved white pine of the North. The woods looked like a
shimmering pool of changing greens lapping over a white sand-land that
had been thrust up from the South into the very heart of the North. I
followed a winding wood-path along the high bank of a stream stained
brown and steeped sweet with a million cedar-roots. A mountain laurel
showed like a beautiful ghost against the dark water--a glory of
white, pink-flecked flowers.

Through dripping branches of withewood and star-leaved sweet-gum
saplings the path twisted. Suddenly, at the very edge of the bank, out
of a mass of hollow, crimson-streaked leaves filled with clear water,
swung two glorious blossoms. Wine-red, aquamarine, pearl-white, and
pale gold they gleamed and nodded from slender stems. It was the
pitcher-plant, which I had never seen in blossom before.

From the stream the hidden path wound through thicket after thicket,
sweet as spring, with the fragrance of the wild magnolia and the
spicery of the gray-green bayberry. Its course was marked with white
sand, part of the bed of some sea forgotten a hundred thousand years
ago. By the side of the path showed the vivid crimson-lake leaves of
the wild ipecac, with its strange green flowers; while everywhere, as
if set in snow, gleamed the green-and-gold of the Hudsonia, the
barrens-heather. The plants looked like tiny cedar trees laden down
with thickly set blossoms of pure gold, which the wind spilled in
little yellow drifts on the white sand. In the distance, through the
trees, were glimpses of meadows, hazy-purple with the blue toad-flax.
Beside the path showed here and there the pale gold of the
narrow-leaved sundrops, with deep-orange stamens. Beyond were masses
of lambskill, with its fatal leaves and crimson blossoms.

On and on the path led, past jade-green pools in which gleamed buds of
the yellow pond-lily, like lumps of floating gold. Among them were
blossoms of the paler golden-club, which looked like the tongue of a
calla lily. At last the path stretched straight toward the flat-topped
mound that showed dim and fair through the low trees. The woods became
still. Even the Maryland yellow-throat stopped singing, the prairie
warbler no longer drawled his lazy notes, and the chewink, black and
white and red all over, like the newspaper in the old conundrum,
stopped calling his name from the thickets and singing, "Drink your
tea!"

I knew that at last I had come upon a fairy hill, such an one wherein
the shepherd heard a host of tiny voices singing a melody so haunting
sweet that he always after remembered it, and which has since come
down to us of to-day as the tune of Robin Adair. Listen as I would,
however, there was no sound from the depths of this hill. Perhaps the
sun was too high, for the fairy-folk sing best in late twilight or
early dawn.

The mound, like all fairy hills, was guarded. The path ran into a
tangle of sand-myrtle, with vivid little oval green leaves and
feathery white, pink-centred blossoms. Just beyond stood a bush of
poison-sumac. Pushing aside the fierce branches, I went unscathed up
the mound. At its very edge was another sentry. From under my feet
sounded a deep, fierce hiss, and there across the path stretched the
great body of a pine snake fully six feet long, all cream-white and
umber-brown. Raising its strange pointed head, with its gold and black
eyes, it hissed fearsomely. I had learned, however, that a pine
snake's hiss is worse than its bite and, when I poked its rough,
mottled body with my foot, it gave up pretending to be a dangerous
snake and lazily moved off to some spot where it would not be
disturbed by intruding humans.

The pyxies had carpeted the side of the mound thick with their
wine-red and green moss, starred with hundreds of flat, five-petaled
white blossoms. This celebrated pyxie moss is not a moss at all, but a
tiny shrub. Near the summit of the mound the path was lost in a foam
of the blue, lilac, and white butterfly blossoms of the lupine. Little
clouds of fragrance drifted through the air, as the wind swayed rows
and rows of the transparent bells of the leucothoe. Beyond the lupine
stood a rank of dazzling white turkey-beards, the xerophyllum of the
botanists. The inmost circle of the mound was carpeted with dry gray
reindeer moss, and before me, in the centre of the circle, drooped on
slender stems seven rose-red moccasin flowers.

    They have sought him high, they have sought him low,
      They have sought him over down and lea;
    They have found him by the milk-white thorn
      That guards the gates o' Faerie.

    'Twas bent beneath and blue above,
      Their eyes were held that they might not see
    The kine that grazed beneath the knowes;
      Oh, they were the Queens o' Faerie.

If only that day my eyes had been loosed like those of True Thomas, I
too might have seen the fairy queens in all their regal beauty.

Wherever it be found, the moccasin flower will always hold me by its
sheer beauty. Yet to my memory none of them can approach the
loveliness of that cloistered colony which I first found in the pine
wood so many years ago. Year after year I would visit them. Then came
a time when for five years I was not able to travel to their home.
When, at last, I made my pilgrimage to where they grew, there was no
cathedral of mighty green arches roofed by a shimmering June sky;
there were no aisles of softly singing trees; and there were no rows
of sweet faces looking up at me and waiting for my coming; only heaps
of sawdust and hideous masses of lopped branches showed where a steam
sawmill had cut its deadly way. Underneath the fallen dying boughs
which had once waved above the world, companioned only by sky and sun
and the winds of heaven, I found one last starveling blossom left of
all her lovely company. Protected no longer by the sheltering boughs,
she was bleached nearly white by the sun, and her stem crept crookedly
along the ground underneath the mass of brush and litter which had
once been a carpet of gold. Never since that day have I visited the
place where my friends wait for me no more.

It was another orchid which, for eleven years, on the last day of
every June, made me travel two hundred miles due north. From an old
farmhouse on the edge of the Berkshires I would start out in the
dawn-dusk on the first day of every July. The night-hawks would still
be twanging above me as I followed, before sunrise, a dim silent road
over the hills all sweet with the scent of wild-grape and the drugged
perfume of chestnut tassels. At last I would reach a barway sunken in
masses of sweet-fern and shaded by thickets of alder and witch-hazel.
There a long-forgotten wood-road led to my Land of Heart's Desire.
Parting the branches, I would step into the hush of the sleeping wood,
pushing my way through masses of glossy, dark-green Christmas ferns
and clumps of feathery, tossing maidenhair. Black-throated blue
warblers sang above, and that ventriloquist, the oven bird, would call
from apparently a long way off, "Teacher, teacher, teacher," ending
with a tremendous "TEACH!" right under my feet.

At last there would loom up through the green tangle a squat broken
white pine. That was my landmark. I would push my way through a tangle
of sanicle, and beyond the trunk of a slim elm catch a gleam of white
in the dusk. There, all rose-red and snow-white, with parted lips,
waited for me the queen flower of the woods, the _Cypripedium reginæ_,
the loveliest of all our orchids. Two narrow, white, beautiful curved
petals stretched out at right angles, while above them towered a white
sepal, the three together making a snowy cross. Below this cross hung
the lip of the flower, a milk-white hollow shell fully an inch across
and an inch deep, veined with crystalline pink which deepened into
purple, growing more intense in color until the veins massed in a
network of vivid violet just under the curved lips kissed by many a
wandering wood-bee. Inside the shell were spots of intense purple,
showing through the transparent walls. The other two white sepals were
joined together and hung as a single one behind the lip.

[Illustration: PINK AND WHITE LADY SLIPPERS (_Cypripedium reginæ_)]

I had first found this orchid while hunting for a veery's nest in the
marsh. At that time nothing was showing except the leaves, which grow
on tall, round, downy stems. They were beautifully curved at the
margin, and were of a brilliant green, a little lighter on the under
side than on the upper, and, at first sight, much like the leaves of
the well-known marsh hellebore. That day was the beginning of a
ten-year tryst which I kept every summer with this wood-queen. Then,
alas, I lost her!

It came about thus. The marsh in which she hid was part of a thousand
acres owned by a friend of mine, who was an enthusiastic and rival
flower-hunter. Each year, when I visited my colony of these queen
orchids, I sent him one with my compliments and the assurance that the
flower belonged to him because it was found on his land. I accompanied
these gifts with various misleading messages as to where they grew. He
would hunt and hunt, but find nothing but exasperation. Finally, he
bribed me, with an apple-wood corner cupboard I had long coveted, to
show him the place. It was not fifty yards from the road, and when I
took him to it he was overcome with emotion.

"I'll bet that I have tramped a hundred miles," he said plaintively,
"through every spot on this farm except this one, looking for this
flower. Nobody who knew anything about botany would ever think of
looking here."

The next year my wood-lady did not meet me, nor the next, and I
strongly suspect that she has been transplanted to some secret spot
known to my unscrupulous botanical friend alone. Moreover, he has
never yet paid me that corner cupboard.

I never saw the flower again until last summer I visited a marsh in
northern New Jersey, where I had been told by another orchid-hunter
that it grew. This marsh I was warned was a dangerous one. Cattle and
men, too, in times past have perished in its depths. For eight
unexplored miles it stretched away in front of me. After many
wanderings I at length found my way to Big Spring, a murky, malevolent
pool set in dark woods, with the marsh stretching away beyond.

Not far away, in a limestone cliff, I came upon a deep burrow, in
front of which was a sinister pile of picked bones of all sizes and
shapes. The sight suggested delightful possibilities. Panthers,
wolves, ogres--anything might belong to such a pile of bones as that.
I knew, however, that the last New Jersey wolf was killed a century or
so ago. The burrow was undoubtedly too small for a panther, or even an
undersized ogre. Accordingly I was compelled reluctantly to assign the
den to the more commonplace bay-lynx, better known as the wild-cat.

On these limestone rocks I found the curious walking-fern, which loves
limestone and no other. Both of the cliff brakes were there, too--the
slender, with its dark, fragile, appealing beauty, and its hardier
sister, the winter-brake, whose leathery fronds are of a strange
blue-green, a color not found in any other plant. Then there was the
rattlesnake fern, a lover of deep and dank woods, with its
golden-yellow seed-cluster, or 'rattle,' growing from the centre of
its fringed leaves. The oddest of all the ferns was the maidenhair
spleen-wort, whose tiny leaves are of the shape of those of the
well-known maidenhair fern. When they are exposed to bright sunlight,
all the fertile leaves which have seeds on their surface suddenly
begin to move, and for three or four minutes vibrate back and forth as
rapidly as the second-hand of a watch.

Farther and farther I pushed on into the treacherous marsh, picking my
way from tussock to tussock. Now and then my foot would slip into
black, quivering mire, thinly veiled by marsh-grasses. When this
happened, the whole swamp would shake and chuckle and lap at the
skull-shaped tussocks and the bleached skeletons of drowned trees
which showed here and there. At last, when I had almost given up hope,
I came upon a clump of the regal flowers growing, not in the swamp
itself, but on a shaded bank sloping down from the encircling woods.
Three of the plants had two flowers each, the rest only one. Among
these was a single blossom, pure white without a trace of pink or
purple. Although it was only the thirtieth of June, several of the
flowers were already slightly withered and past their prime, showing
that this orchid is at its best in New Jersey in the middle of June,
rather than the end of the month, as in Connecticut. The perfect
flowers were beautiful orchids, and had a rich fragrance which I had
never noticed in my Connecticut specimens. Yet, in some way, to me
they lacked the charm and loveliness of my lost flowers of the North.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a cold May day. The Ornithologist and myself were climbing Kent
Mountain, along with Jim Pan, the last of the Pequots. Whenever Jim
drank too much hard cider, which was as often as he could get it, he
would give terrible war-whoops and tell how many palefaces his
ancestors had scalped. He would usually end by threatening to do some
free-hand scalping on his own account--but he never did. He had a son
named Tin Pan, who never talked unless he had something to say, which
was not more than once or twice during the year.

The two lived all alone, in a little cabin on the slope of Kent
Mountain. On the outside of Jim's door some wag once painted a skull
and crossbones, one night when Jim was away on a hunt for some of the
aforesaid hard cider. When the Last of the Pequots came back and saw
what had been done, he swore mightily that he would leave said
insignia there until he could wash them out with the heart's blood of
the gifted artist. They still show faintly on the door, although Jim
has slept for many a year in the little Indian cemetery on the
mountain, beside his great-aunt Eunice who lived to be one hundred and
four years old. Lest it may appear that Jim was an unduly fearsome
Indian, let me hasten to add that there was never a kinder, happier,
or more untruthful Pequot from the beginning to the end of that
long-lost tribe.

On that day the Ornithologist and myself were on our way to a
rattlesnake den, the secret of which had been in the Pan family for
some generations. In past years Jim's forbears had done a thriving
business in selling skins and rattlesnake oil, in the days when the
rattlesnake shared with the skunk the honor of providing an unwilling
cure for rheumatism. Our path led up through masses of color. There
was the pale pure pink of the crane's-bill or wild geranium, the
yellow adder's tongue, and the faint blue-and-white porcelain petals
of the hepatica, with cluster after cluster of the snowy,
golden-hearted bloodroot whose frail blossoms last but for a day.

That very morning a long-delayed warbler-wave was breaking over the
mountain, and the Ornithologist could hardly contain himself as he
watched the different varieties pass by. I recall that we scored over
twenty different kinds of warblers between dawn and dark, and I saw
for the first time the Wilson's black-cap, with its bright yellow
breast and tiny black crown, and the rare Cape May warbler, with its
black-streaked yellow underparts and orange-red cheeks. The richly
dressed and sombre black-throated blue and bay-breasted were among the
crowd, while black-throated greens, myrtles, magnolias,
chestnut-sided, blackpolls, Canadians, redstarts, with their
fan-shaped tails, and Blackburnians, with their flaming throats and
breasts glowing like live coals, went by in a never-ending procession.

All the way Jim kept up a steady flow of anecdote. I can remember
only one, a blood-curdling story about a man from Bridgeport, name not
given, who caught a rattlesnake while on a hunt with Jim, but who let
go while attempting to put it into the bag, whereupon the rattlesnake
bit him as it dropped.

"Did he die?" queried the writer and the Ornithologist in chorus.

"No," said Jim proudly; "Tin and I saved his life."

"Whiskey?" ventured the writer.

"Not for snake-bites," responded Jim simply.

"Well, how was it?" persisted the Ornithologist, hoping to learn of
some mysterious Indian remedy.

"Well," said Jim, stretching out his tremendous arms like a great
bear, "I held him tight and Tin here burned the place out. It took two
matches and he yelled somethin' terrible. I told him we were savin'
his life, but the fool said he would rather die of snake-bite than be
burned to death. You wouldn't suppose a grown man would make such a
fuss over two little matches."

Finally, we reached the Den, a ledge of rocks near the top of the
mountain, where for some unknown reason all the rattlesnakes for miles
around were accustomed to hibernate during the winter and to remain
for some weeks in the late spring before scattering through the
valley. The Ornithologist and I fell unobtrusively to the rear, while
the dauntless Pan led the van with a crotched stick. Suddenly Jim
thrust one foot up into the air like a toe-dancer, and pirouetted with
amazing rapidity on the other. He had been in the very act of stepping
over a small huckleberry-bush, when he noted under its lee a
rattlesnake in coil, about the size of a peck measure--as pretty a
death-trap as was ever set in the woods. By the time I got there, Jim
had pinned the hissing heart-shaped head down with his forked stick,
while the bloated, five-foot body was thrashing through the air in
circles, the rattles whirring incessantly.

"Grab him just back of the stick," panted Jim, bearing down with all
his weight, "and put him in the bag."

I paused.

"You're not scared, are you?" he inquired; while Tin, who had hurried
up with a gunny-sack, regarded me reproachfully.

"Certainly not," I assured him indignantly, "but I don't want to be
selfish. Let Tin do it."

"No," said Jim firmly, "you're company. Tin can pick up rattlesnakes
any day."

"Well, how about my friend?" I rejoined weakly.

The Ornithologist, who had been watching the scene from the far
background, spoke up for himself.

"I wouldn't touch that damn snake," he said earnestly, "for eleven
million dollars."

At this profanity the rattlesnake started another paroxysm of
struggling, while his rattle sounded like an alarm-clock. When he
stopped to rest, the Ornithologist raised his price to an even
billion--in gold. It was evident that I was the white man's hope. It
would never do to let two members of a conquered race see a pale-face
falter. Remembering Deerslayer at the stake, Daniel Boone, and sundry
other brave white men without a cross, I set my teeth, gripped the
rough, cold, scaly body just back of the crotched stick, and lifted.
The great snake's black, fixed, devilish eyes looked into mine. If, in
this world, there are peep-holes into hell, they are found in the eyes
of an enraged rattlesnake. As he came clear of the ground, he coiled
round my arm to the elbow, so that the rattles sounded not a foot from
my ear. Although the rattlesnake is not a constrictor, and there was
no real danger, yet under the touch of his body my arm quivered like a
tuning-fork.

"What makes your arm shake so?" queried Jim, watching me critically.

"It's probably rheumatism," I assured him.

Suddenly, under my grip, the snake's mouth opened, showing on either
side of the upper jaw ridges of white gum. From these suddenly flashed
the movable fangs which are always folded back until ready for use.
They were hollow and of a glistening white. Halfway down on the side
of each was a tiny hole, from which the yellow venom slowly oozed. I
began tremulously to unwind my unwelcome armlet, while Tin waited with
the open bag.

"Be sure you take your hand away quick after you drop him in," advised
Jim.

"Don't you worry about that," I replied; "no man will ever get his
hand away quicker than I'm going to."

[Illustration: THE KING OF THE FOREST--THE BANDED RATTLESNAKE]

Whereupon I unwound the rattling coils from my arm, and then broke all
speed records in removing my hand from the neighborhood of that snake.
This was my first introduction to the King of the Dark Places, the
grim timber rattlesnake, the handsomest of all the thirteen varieties
found within the United States.

On my way back from the den it was Jim Pan who pointed out to me on
the lower slope of the mountain the beautiful showy orchid (_Orchis
spectabilis_). Between two oblong shining green leaves grew a loose
spike of purple-pink and white butterfly blossoms. This is the first
of the orchids to appear, and no more exquisite or beautiful flower
could head the procession which stretches from May until September. I
find this flower but seldom, usually because I am not in the
hill-country early enough, although once I found a perfect flower in
bloom as late as Decoration Day, a left-over from the first spring
flowers.

It was Jim, too, that day, who quite appropriately showed me the
rattlesnake plantain (_Goodyera pubescens_), with its rosette of green
leaves heavily veined with white, from the centre of which in late
summer grows a spike of crowded, greenish-white flowers. Under the
doctrine of signatures, these leaves are still thought by many to be a
sure cure for the bite of a rattlesnake. Personally, I would rather
rely on a sharp knife and permanganate of potash. In the same group as
the rattlesnake plantain are several varieties of lady's tresses,
which grow in every damp meadow in midsummer and early fall. Little
spikes of greenish-white flowers they are, growing out of what looks
like a twisted or braided stem. Of them all the most interesting to me
is the grass-leaved lady's tresses (_Gyrostachys præcox_), where the
flowers grow round and round the stem in a perfect spiral.

As I went on with my hunting, I learned that not all the members of
the orchis family are beautiful. There is the coral root, with tiny
dull brownish-purple flowers, which one finds growing in dry woods,
often near colonies of the Indian pipe. The green and the
ragged-fringed orchids are other disappointing members. Yet, to a
confirmed collector, even these poor relations of the family are full
of interest. In fact, the second rarest orchid of our American
list--the celebrated crane-fly orchid (_Tipularia unifolia_)--has a
series of insignificant greenish-purple blossoms which look as much
like mosquitoes or flies as anything else, and can be detected only
with the greatest difficulty. Yet I am planning to take a journey of
several hundred miles this very summer on the off-chance of seeing one
of these flowers. Nearly as rare is the strange ram's-head
lady's-slipper (_Cypripedium arietinum_), the rarest of all the
cypripedia and belonging to the same family as the glorious moccasin
flower and queen flower. The lip of the ram's-head consists of a
strange greenish pouch with purple streaks, shaped like the head of a
ram.

There are scores of other odd, often lovely, and usually rare, members
of the great orchis family, which can be met with from May to
September. There is the beautiful golden whip-poor-will's shoe, in two
sizes (_Cypripedium hirsutum_, and _Cypripedium parviflorum_), and
those lovely nymphs, rose-purple Arethusa (_Arethusa bulbosa_), and
Calypso (_Calypso borealis_), with her purple blossom varied with pink
and shading to yellow.

One of the fascinations of orchid-hunting is the fact that you may
suddenly light upon a strange orchid growing in a place which you have
passed for years. Such a happening came to me the day when I first
found the rose pogonia (_Pogonia ophioglossoides_). I was following a
cow-path through the hard hack pastures which I had traveled perhaps a
hundred times before. Suddenly, as I came to the slope of the upper
pasture, growing in the wet bank of the deep-cut trail, my eye caught
sight of a little flower of the purest rose-pink, the color of the
peach-blossom, with a deeply fringed drooping lip, the whole flower
springing from a slender stem with oval, grass-like leaves. To me it
had a fragrance like almonds, although others have found in it the
scent of sweet violets or of fresh raspberries. It is the pogonia
family which includes the rarest of all of our orchids, the almost
unknown smaller whorled pogonia (_Pogonia affinis_). Few indeed have
been the botanists who have seen even a pressed specimen of this
strange flower.

Two weeks after I found the rose pogonia, I came again to visit her.
To my astonishment and delight, by her side was growing another
orchid, like some purple-pink butterfly which had alighted on a long
swaying stem. It was no other than the beautiful grass-pink
(_Limodorum tuberosum_), which blooms in July, while the pogonia comes
out in late June. The grass-pink has from two to six blossoms on each
stem, and the yellow lip is above instead of below the flower, as in
the case of most orchids. Years later I was to find this orchid
growing by scores in the pine-barrens.

Last, but by no means least, is the great genus _Habenaria_--the
exquisite fringed orchids. Purple, white, gold, green--they wear all
these colors. He who has never seen either the large or the small
purple fringed orchid growing in the June or July meadows, or the
flaming yellow fringed orchid all orange and gold in the August
meadows, has still much for which to live.

It was with an orchid of this genus that I had my most recent
adventure. I had traveled with the Botanist into the heart of the
pine-barrens. There may be places where more flowers and rarer flowers
and sweeter flowers grow than in these barrens, but if so, the
Botanist and I have never found the spot. From the early spring, when
the water freezes in the hollow leaves of the pitcher-plant, to the
last gleam of the orange polygala in the late fall, we are always
finding something rare and new. On that August day we followed a dim
path that led through thickets of scrub-oak and sweet pepper-bush. By
its side grew clumps of deer-grass, with its purple-pink petals and
masses of orange-colored stamens. Sometimes the path would disappear
from sight in masses of hudsonia and sand-myrtle. Everywhere above the
blueberry bushes flamed the regal Turk's-cap lily, with its curved
fire-red petals. On high the stalks towered above a tangle of lesser
plants bearing great candelabra of glorious blossoms.

Finally, we came to a little ditch which some forgotten
cranberry-grower had dug through the barrens to a long-deserted bog.
On its side grew the rare thread-leafed sundew, with its long
thread-like leaf covered with tiny red hairs and speckled thick with
glittering drops of dew; while here and there little insects, which
had alighted on the sweet, fatal drops, were enmeshed in the
entangling hairs. Well above the line of strangled insects on which it
fed, a pink blossom smiled unconcernedly. Like the attractive lady
mentioned in Proverbs, her house goes down into the chambers of death.

As we followed the dike, the air was sweet with the perfume of white
alder. The long stream of brown cedar-water was starred white with
gleaming, fragrant water-lilies. In a marsh by the ditch grew clumps
of cotton-grass or pussytoes, each stem of which bore a tuft of soft
brown wool, like the down which a mother rabbit pulls from her breast
when she lines her nest for her babies.

At last we came to the abandoned cranberry bog. Suddenly the Botanist
jumped into the ditch, splashed his way across, and disappeared in the
bog, waving his arms over his head. I found him on his knees in the
wet sphagnum moss, chanting ecstatically the mystic word
"Blephariglottis." In front of him, on a green stem, was clustered a
mass of little flowers of incomparable whiteness, with fringed lips
and long spikes. One petal bent like a canopy over the brown stamens,
while the other two flared out on either side, like the wings of tiny
white butterflies. It was the white-fringed orchid (_Habenaria
blephariglottis_). Beside her whiteness even the snowy petals of the
water-lily and the white alder showed yellow tones. Like El Nath among
the stars, the white fringed orchid is the standard of whiteness for
the flowers.

Three great blue herons flew over our heads, folded their wings, and
alighted not thirty yards away--an unheard-of proceeding for this wary
bird. A Henslow sparrow sang his abrupt and, to us, almost unknown
song. The Botanist neither saw nor heard. All the way home he was in a
blissful daze, and when I said good-bye to him at the station, he only
murmured happily "Blephariglottis."

[Illustration: THE GREAT BLUE HERON AT BREAKFAST]



X

THE MARSH DWELLERS


The sweet, hot, wild scent of the marsh came up to us. It was
compounded of sun and wind and the clean dry smell of miles and miles
of bleaching sedges, all mingled with the seethe and steam of a green
blaze of growth that had leaped from the ooze to meet the summer.
Through it all drifted tiny elusive puffs of fragrance from flowers
hidden under thickets of willow and elderberry. The smooth petals of
wild roses showed among the rushes, like coral set in jade. On the
sides of burnt tussocks, where the new grass grew sparse as hair on a
scarred skull, rue anemones trembled above their trefoil leaves. When
the world was young they sprang from the tears which Aphrodite shed
over the body of slain Adonis. Still the pale wind-driven flowers sway
as if shaken by her sobs, and have the cold whiteness of him dead.

The leaves of the meadow rue, like some rare fern, showed here and
there, but the clustered white flowers had not yet bloomed, nor the
flat yellow blossoms of the shrubby cinquefoil. There were thickets of
aronia or chokeberry, whose flat white blossoms and reddish bark
showed its kinship to the apple tree. Among the pools gleamed marsh
marigolds fresh from the mint of May, while deep down in the grass at
the foot of the tussocks were white violets, short-stemmed and with
the finest of umber-brown traceries at the centre of their petals. The
blues and purples may or may not be sweet, but one can always count on
the faint fragrance of the white.

We lay on the turf covering a ledge of smoky quartz thrust like a
wedge into the marsh. Across a country of round green hills and
fertile farms its squat bulk stretched unafraid, an untamed monster of
another age. Beyond the long levels we could see Wolf Island, where a
hunted wolf-pack, protected by quagmires and trembling bogs, made its
last stand two centuries ago. Where a fringe of trees showed the
beginning of solid ground, a pair of hawks with long black-barred
tails wheeled and screamed through the sky. "Geck, geck, geck, geck,"
they called, almost like a flicker, except that the tone was flatter.
As they circled, both of them showed a snowy patch over the rump, the
field-mark of the marsh hawk. The male was a magnificent blue-gray
bird, whose white under-wings were tipped with black like those of a
herring gull. We watched them delightedly, for the rare nest of the
marsh hawk, the only one of our hawks which nests on the ground, was
one of the possibilities of the marsh.

Suddenly we heard from behind us a sound that sent us crawling
carefully up to the crest of the ridge. It was like the pouring of
water out of some gigantic bottle or the gurgling suck of an
old-fashioned pump: "Bloop--bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop"--it came to us
with a strange subterranean timbre. The last time I had heard that
note was in the pine-barrens three years before. Then it sounded like
the thudding of a mallet on a stake, for its quality always depends on
the nature of the country across which it travels. From the top of our
knoll we saw a rare sight. In the open pasture by the edge of the
marsh stood a bird between two and three feet high, of a streaked
brown color, with a black stripe down each side of its neck. Even as
we watched, the bird began a series of extraordinary actions. Hunching
its long neck far down between its shoulders, it suddenly thrust it
up. As each section straightened, there came to us across the pasture
the thudding, bubbling, watery note which we had first heard. It
seemed impossible that a bird could make such a volume of sound. At
times, after each "bloop," would come the sharp click of the bill as
it rapidly opened and shut. Finally the singer convulsively
straightened the last kink out of its neck and with a last retching
note thrust its long yellow beak straight skyward. We had seen an
American bittern boom--a rarer sight even than the drumming of a
ruffed grouse or the strange flight-song of the woodcock at twilight.
Suddenly the bittern stopped and, hunching its neck, stepped
stealthily, like a little old bent man, into the sedges. With its long
beak pointing directly upward, it stood motionless and seemed to melt
into the color of the withered rushes. One look away, and it was
almost impossible for the eye to pick the bird out from its cover.

I turned to look at the marsh hawks just in time to see the female
alight on the ground by a stunted willow bush far across the marsh. I
waited, one, two, three minutes, but no bird rose. Evidently she was
on the nest. Keeping my eye fixed on that special bush, which looked
like a score of others, I plunged into the marsh, intending to bound
like a chamois from crag to crag. On the second bound I slipped off a
tussock and went up to my knees in mud and water. The rest of the way
I ploughed along, making a noise at each step like the bittern's note.
Half-way to the bush, the mother hawk rose and circled around us,
screaming monotonously. For half an hour we searched back and forth
without finding any nest. At last we hid in a willow thicket, thinking
that perhaps the hawk might go back to her nest. Instead, both birds
disappeared in some distant woods. The sun was getting low and we were
miles from our inn; yet as this was the nearest either of us had ever
been to finding a marsh hawk's nest, we decided to hunt on until dark.

[Illustration: THE MARSH HAWK'S NEST]

I laid out a route from my bush to another about thirty yards away,
and between those two as bounds planned to quarter back and forth over
every square foot of ground, moving toward the woods where the hawks
had gone. It seemed an almost hopeless hunt, for the marsh at this
point was dry, with patches of bushes, masses of sedge, and piled
heaps here and there of dry rushes. As I reached my farther boundary
and was about to return, I straightened my aching back and looked
beyond the bush. There, directly ahead, in a space fringed by spirea
bushes but in plain sight, lay a round nest on the ground--about
eight inches across and three inches deep, made of coarse grasses
ringed around with rushes. Beneath the nest was a well-packed platform
several inches thick. I think that this was a natural pile of rushes
pressed down by the bird. There, under the open sky, were five large
eggs of a dirty bluish-white, nearly ready to hatch. They were the
size of a small hen's egg. The very second I caught sight of the nest
the mother hawk came dashing through the air, from some unseen perch
where she had been watching me with her telescopic eyes. Fifty feet
away, she folded her wings and dived at my head, falling through the
air like a stone. With her fierce unflinching eyes, half-open beak,
and outspread claws, she looked dangerous. Ten feet away, however, she
swooped up and circled off in ever-widening rings, screaming
mournfully. Beside the nest was one barred tail-feather.

    I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
      And a certain use in the world no doubt,
    Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone
      'Mid the blank miles round about:

    For there I picked up on the heather
      And there I put inside my breast
    A moulted feather, an eagle-feather!
      Well, I forget the rest.

Something of this we felt as we lingered over this long-sought nest,
making notes and photographs--our way of collecting.

Just at sunset we waded back and stopped at the little arm of the
swamp where we had first heard the bittern. Suddenly from the sedges
came a scolding little song that sounded like "Chop, chip-chop,
chp'p'p'p'," and we caught the merest glimpse of a tiny bird with a
tip-tilted tail and brown back whose undersides seemed yellowish. It
was none other than the rare short-billed marsh wren, next to the
smallest of our Eastern birds, only the hummingbird being tinier.
Neither of us had ever seen this marsh wren before, and we tramped
back three long miles to town with a new bird, a new nest, and a new
note to our credit in our out-of-doors account.

That night over a good dinner we were joined by the other two of our
Four who for many happy years have hunted together. Just at dawn the
next day, we all stole out of the sleeping inn and along the silent
village streets, sweet with the scent of lilacs. Right in front of the
town hall we found the first nest of the day. Cunningly hidden in the
crotch of a sugar maple, just over the heads of hundreds of unseeing
passers-by, a robin had brooded day by day over four eggs whose
heavenly blue made a jewel-casket of her mud nest. I hope that the
brave silent bird raised her babies and sent them out to add to the
world's store of music and beauty.

Beyond the village we dragged a meadow. A long cord was tied to the
ankles of two of us, and each walked away from the other until it was
taut and then marched slowly through the fields. The moving line just
swished the top of the long grass and flushed any ground birds that
might be nesting within the area covered by the fifty-foot cord. Our
first haul was a vesper sparrow's nest with one egg--the bird breaking
cover near my end. Later in the day another of our party found a
better nest of the same bird in the middle of a field, made and lined
with grass and set in a little hollow in the ground. It held three
eggs of a bluish white, blotched and clouded with umber and lavender
at the larger ends. Two of the eggs were marked with black
hieroglyphics like those seen in the eggs of an oriole or red-winged
blackbird. The vesper is that gray sparrow which shows two white
tail-feathers when it flies, and sings an alto song whose first two
notes are always in a different key from the rest of the strain.

In another field we flushed a bobolink. Unfortunately the Artist,
whose duty it was to watch the rope, was at the moment gazing skywards
at cloud-effects, and though we burrowed and peered for a full hour in
the fragrant dripping grass, we never found that nest. The home of a
bobolink is one of the best hidden of all of our common
ground-builders. I remember one Decoration Day when I highly resolved
to find a bobolink's nest in a field where several pairs were nesting.
Early in my hunt I decided that the gay black-and-white males, which
seemed to be flying and singing aimlessly, were really signaling my
approach to the females on the nests. At any rate, the mother birds
would rise far ahead as I came near, evidently after having run for
long distances through the grass, and gave me no clue as to the
whereabouts of their nests. I decided, however, that my only chance
was to watch these females, knowing that an incubating bird will not
leave her eggs for any great length of time. Accordingly, when the
next streaked brown bird flew up far ahead of me, I settled down in
the long grass with a field-glass and carefully watched her flight.
She crossed the meadow and alighted some three hundred yards away. In
about fifteen minutes she came back and settled in the grass on a
slope some distance from where she had flown out. Almost immediately
she flew out again, probably warned by the male on guard. Once more
she crossed the meadow, and this time stayed away so long that I
nearly fell asleep in the drowsy, scented grass. In the meantime, one
by one, the songs of the males, like the tinkling, gurgling notes of a
trout-brook, ceased, and my part of the meadow seemed deserted.
Finally through my half-shut eyes I saw Mrs. Bobolink come flying low
over the tops of the waving grass. As I lay perfectly still, she made
a half-circle around the slope and suddenly disappeared in the ripple
of a green wave that rose to meet the wind. I marked the place by a
tall weed stalk, and waited a minute to see whether this was another
feint. As she did not appear, I ran up as rapidly and silently as
possible before the father bird could spy me from the other side of
the pasture and cry the alarm. Perhaps he had become careless while
rollicking with his friends. At any rate, when I reached the place
there was no sign of any bobolink near me.

When I was a couple of yards away from the weed-stalk, up sprang the
female bobolink, apparently from almost the very spot I had noted.
This was encouraging; it showed that she had not run through the grass
any distance this time, either when flushed or when alighting. Almost
immediately the truant father bird appeared and sang gayly near me,
occasionally diving mysteriously and impressively into the grass in
different places, as if visiting a nest. I was not to be distracted by
any such tactics, but threw my hat to the exact spot from which, as I
judged, the female had started. With this as a centre I pushed back
the long grass and began to search the area of a five-foot circle,
first looking hurriedly under the hat to make sure that it had not
covered the nest. My search was all in vain, although it seemed to me
that I examined every square inch of that circle. At last I decided
that the sly birds had again deceived me. Taking up my hat, I was
about to begin another watch, when, in the very spot where the hat had
lain, I noticed that the long leaves of a narrow-leafed plantain at
one place had been parted, showing a hole underneath. I carefully
separated the leaves, and before me lay the long-desired nest. It was
only a shallow hollow under the leaves, lined with fine dry grass and
containing four dark eggs heavily blotched and marbled with red-brown.

It is probable that ordinarily, when the mother bird left the nest,
she would arrange the leaves so as entirely to cover the hole beneath.
If this were done, it would seem impossible that they concealed
anything, for they would be apparently flat on the surface of the
ground. My unexpected approach had flushed her before she had time to
put back the leaves.

The pleasure of finding such a skilfully concealed nest is
indescribable. The hunt is a contest between intelligence and
instinct, where victory by no means always inclines to the human. As I
looked down at the nest, I knew just how the talented recluse in "The
Gold Bug" felt when, after solving the cryptogram and disposing of
every difficulty, he at last gazed into the open treasure-chest.

To-day there was to be no such glorious experience, and we finally
gave up the hunt and started back across the meadow. As we moved
through the swishing grass, suddenly we heard a curious clicking
bird-note. "See-lick, see-lick, see-lick," it sounded, and we
recognized the unfamiliar notes of that rare little black-striped
sparrow, the Henslow. The last time we four had heard that note
together was on a trip into the heart of the pine-barrens, when we not
only identified this bird for the first time, but also found its nest,
a treasure-trove indeed. To-day we did not even get a glimpse of the
bird.

Beyond the meadows we came face to face with the marsh itself, and
plunged in to show the Banker and the Architect our marsh hawk's nest.
On the way back the Artist made a discovery. Waist-deep among the
sedges, with the tiny marsh wrens chipping and bubbling all around
him, he suddenly espied a round ball made of green grass fastened to
the rushes with a little hole in one side.

"The nest of the short-billed marsh wren!" he declared loudly. We
hurried to him. The nest was empty, but, as it was early for the wrens
to be laying, this fact had no effect on his triumph. We admired the
nest, the bird, and the discoverer freely--all except the Architect,
who lingered behind the rest of us, regarding the nest with much
suspicion. Suddenly he noted a movement in the grass, and as he
watched, a tawny little meadow mouse climbed up the grass-stems and
popped into the hole in the side, to find out what this inquisitive
race of giants had been doing to his house. It was pitiful to see the
Artist. At first he denied the mouse. Then, when it dashed out in
front of us, he claimed that its presence had nothing to do with the
question of the ownership of the nest.

"Isn't it possible," he demanded bitterly, "that a well-behaved meadow
mouse may make a neighborly call on a marsh wren?"

"No," replied the Architect decisively; and we started away from the
discredited nest.

Later on, the Artist had his revenge. We were hunting everywhere for
the bittern's nest. Suddenly, as the Artist stepped on a tussock, a
large squawking bird flew out from under his foot. No wonder she
squawked. He had stepped so nearly on top of her that, as she escaped,
she left behind a handful of long, beautifully mottled tail-feathers,
unmistakably those of an English pheasant. The nest was at the side
of the tussock, entirely covered over with the arched reeds, and
contained fifteen eggs, three of which the clumsy foot of the Artist
had broken. They were of a chocolate color and, curiously enough,
almost identical in color and size with those of the American bittern,
except that the inside of the shell of the broken eggs was a light
blue. The nest itself was nearly eight inches across and about three
inches deep, made entirely of grass. Hurriedly clearing away the
broken eggs, we called the Architect from the far side of the marsh.
He hastened up, took one look at the nest, and then told us solemnly
that this was one of the most unusual occurrences known in
ornithology. Three pairs of bitterns had joined housekeeping and laid
eggs in the same nest. It was hard on the Architect that we should
have flushed probably the only bird in the world whose eggs are almost
identical in color and size with those of the American bittern, and it
was not until the Artist produced the pheasant's tail-feathers that
our friend would admit that there was anything wrong with his theory.

As we started to leave the place, I saw on the other side of the
tussock the largest wood-turtle I have ever met. Its legs and tail
were of a bright brick-red, while the shell was beautifully carved in
deep intaglios of dingy black and yellow. This turtle ranks next to
the terrapin in taste, a fact which I proved the next day. As Mr.
Wood-Turtle is fond of bird's eggs, I strongly suspect that my capture
of him was all that saved the lives of a round dozen of prospective
pheasants. We had a leisurely lunch near one of the coldest bubbling
springs in the world, seated on a high, dry ridge under the shade of a
vast black-walnut tree. After lunch we crossed quaking, treacherous
bogs, that lapped at our feet as we passed, and reached Wolf Island.
It was made up of a series of rocky ridges, shaded with trees and
masked by a dense undergrowth. Beneath the great boulders and at the
base of tiny cliffs, we could trace dark holes and burrows where two
centuries ago the celebrated pack made their home.

Beyond the Island a tawny bird slipped out of a tussock ahead of me,
like a shadow. Hurrying to the place, I found the perfectly rounded
nest of a veery thrush, lined with leaves and entirely arched over by
the long marsh-grass. From the brown leaf-bed the four vivid blue eggs
gleamed out of the green grass like turquoises set in malachite. The
eggs of a catbird are of a deeper blue, and those of a hermit thrush
of a purer tone, but of all the blue eggs, of robin, wood thrush,
hermit thrush, bluebird, cuckoo, or catbird, there is none so vivid in
its coloring as that of the veery. That nest with its beautiful
setting stands out in my mind as a notable addition to my collection
of out-of-door memories.

More searchings followed without results, until the sun was westering
well down the sky. Five miles lay between us and clean clothes and a
bath. Reluctantly we left the marsh, with our bittern's nest still
unfound. As we approached the village, we saw showing over the meadows
the edge of a continuation of the marsh, and decided that we had time
for just one more exploring trip. Here we found the worst going of the
day. In front of us were innumerable dry cat-tail stalks and hollow
reed-stems, while the mud was deeper and the mosquitoes were fiercer
than in the main swamp.

At last the Banker and the Architect sat down exhausted under a tree,
while the Artist and myself planned to cross to a fringe of woods on
the farther side before giving up. In the middle of the marsh we
separated, and before long I found myself on the trail of another
marsh hawk's nest. It was evidently close at hand, for both the birds
swooped down and circled around my head, calling frantically all the
time. Look as I would, however, I could find no trace of the nest. We
reached the woods without finding anything and came back together.
When we were within two hundred yards of where the other two were
luxuriously waiting for us in the shade, from under my very feet
flapped a monstrous bird nearly three feet high. It was the bittern. I
was so close that I could see the yellow bill, and the glossy black on
the sides of the neck and tips of the wings, and the different shades
of brown on back, head, and wings. As it sprang up, it gave a hoarse
cry and flapped off with labored strokes of its broad wings. Right
before me was a flat platform of reeds about a foot in diameter, well
packed down and raised about five inches from the water. On this
platform were a shred or so of down and four eggs of a dull coffee
color. In a moment the Banker and the Architect were splashing and
crackling through the mud and reeds, and we spent the last
quarter-hour of our trip in admiring and photographing the
much-desired nest.

So ended our visit to Wolf Island Marsh with a list of fifty-one birds
seen and heard, and seven nests found, photographed, and enjoyed.



XI

THE SEVEN SLEEPERS


A thousand and a thousand years ago, seven saints hid from heathen
persecutors among the cold mountains which circle Ephesus. The
multitude who cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" are drifting
dust, and the vast city itself but a mass of half-buried ruins. Yet
somewhere in a lonely cave sleep those seven holy men, unvexed by
sorrow, untouched by time, until Christ comes again. So runs the
legend.

It is a far cry to Ephesus, and whether the Seven still sleep there,
who may say? Yet here and now seven other Sleepers live with us, who
slumber through our winters, with hunger and cold and danger but a
dream. Their names I once rhymed for some children of my acquaintance.
As I am credibly advised that the progress of a camel through the eye
of a needle is an easy process compared to having a poem printed by
the Atlantic Press, I hasten to include in this chapter the following
exquisite bit of free verse (I call it free because I don't get
anything extra for it).

    The Bat and the Bear, they never care
      What winter winds may blow;
    The Jumping-Mouse in his cozy house
      Is safe from ice and snow.

    The Chipmunk and the Woodchuck,
      The Skunk, who's slow but sure,
    The ringed Raccoon, who hates the moon,
      Have found for cold the cure.

Something of the lives of these our brethren of the wild I have tried
to set forth here--because I care for them all.

       *       *       *       *       *

First comes the slyest, the shyest, and the stillest of the Seven--the
blackbear, who yet dwells among men when his old-time companions, the
timber-wolf and the panther, have been long gone. Silent as a shadow,
he is with us far oftener than we know. Only a few years ago bears
were found in New Jersey, in dense cedar-swamps, unsuspected by a
generation of near-by farmers. In Pennsylvania and New York they are
increasing, and I have no doubt that they can still be found in parts
of New England, from which they are supposed to have disappeared a
half-century ago. In fact, it is always unsafe to say that any of the
wild-folk have gone forever. I have lived to see a herd of seven
Virginia deer feeding in my neighbor's cabbage-patch in Connecticut,
although neither my father nor my grandfather ever saw a wild deer in
that state. In that same township I once had a fleeting glimpse of an
otter, and only last winter, within thirty miles of Philadelphia, I
located a colony of beaver.

The blackbear is nearly as black as a blacksnake, whose color is as
perfect a standard of absolute black on earth as El Nath is of white
among the stars. He has a brownish muzzle and a white diamond-shaped
patch on his breast. Sometimes he is brown, or red, or yellow, or even
white. Not so wise as the wolf, or so fierce as the panther, yet the
blackbear has outlived them both. "When in doubt, _run_!" is his
motto; and like Descartes, the wise blackbear founds his life on the
doctrine of doubt. As for the unwise--they are dead. To be sure, even
this saving rule of conduct would not keep him alive in these days of
repeating rifles, were it not for his natural abilities. A bear can
hear a hunter a quarter of a mile away, and scent one for over a mile
if the wind be right. He may weigh three hundred pounds and be over
two feet wide, yet he will slip like a shadow through tangled
underbrush without a sound.

Bear-cubs are born in January, after the mother bear has gone into
winter quarters, blind and bare and pink, and so small that two of
them can be held at once on a man's hand. Bears mate every other year,
and the half-grown cubs hibernate with the mother during their second
winter.

The blackbear is a good swimmer, and may sometimes be seen crossing
lonely lakes in the northern woods. At such times he is an ugly
customer to tackle without a gun, as he will swim straight at a canoe
and tip it over if possible. A friend of mine, while fishing in upper
Canada, on a sluggish river between two lakes, saw a bear swimming
well ahead of the canoe. He began to paddle with all his might to
overtake him, but to his surprise seemed to be moving backwards.
Looking around, he saw his guide, who was more experienced in
bear-ways, backing water desperately. Just then the swimming animal
turned his head and saw the canoe. Instantly the hair on his back
bristled and stood up in a long stiff ridge, and he stopped
swimming--whereupon my friend found himself instantaneously,
automatically, and enthusiastically assisting the guide.

Even where the blackbear is common, one may spend a long lifetime
without sight or sound of him. There may be half a dozen bear feeding
in a berry-patch. You may find signs that they are close at hand and
all about. Yet no matter how you may hide and skulk and hunt, never a
glimpse of one of them will you get. In bear country you will more
often smell the hot, strong, unmistakable scent of a bear who is
watching you close at hand, than see the bear himself. In fact the
sight of a wild blackbear is an adventure worth remembering.

Personally, I am ashamed to say that, although I have tramped and
camped and fished and hunted on both sides of the continent, I have
never really seen a bear. Twice I have had glimpses of one. The first
time was in what was then the Territory of Washington. I was walking
with a friend through a bit of virgin forest. The narrow path was
walled in on both sides by impenetrable wind-breaks and underbrush. As
we suddenly and silently came around a sharp bend, there was a crash
through a mass of fallen trees, and I almost saw what caused it. At
least I saw the bushes move. Right ahead of us, in the mould of a torn
and rotted stump, was a foot-print like that of a broad, short, bare
human foot. It was none other than the paw-mark of Mr. Bear, who is a
plantigrade and walks flat-footed. Although I was sorry to miss seeing
him, yet I was glad that it was the bear and not the man who had to
dive through that underbrush.

Another time I was camping in Maine. Not far from our tent, which we
had cunningly concealed on a little knoll near the edge of a lonely
lake, I found a tiny brook which trickled down a hillside. Although it
ran through dense underbrush, it was possible to fish it, and every
afternoon I would bring back half a dozen jeweled trout to broil for
supper. One day I had gone farther in than usual, and was standing
silently, up to my waist in water and brush, trying to cast over an
exasperating bush into a little pool beyond. Suddenly I smelt bear.
Not far from me there sounded a very faint crackling in the bushes on
a little ridge, about as loud as a squirrel would make. As I leaned
forward to look, my knee came squarely against a nest of enthusiastic
and able-bodied yellow-jackets. Instantly a cloud of them burst over
me like shrapnel, stinging my unprotected face unendurably. As I
struck at them with my hand, I caught just one glimpse of a patch of
black fur through the brush on the ridge above me. The next second my
hand struck my eye-glasses, and they went spinning into the brush,
lost forever, and I was stricken blind. Thereafter I dived and hopped
like a frog through the brush and water, until I came out beyond that
yellow-jacket barrage. I never saw that bear again. Probably he
laughed himself to death.

The blackbear is undoubtedly leather-lined, for he will dig up and eat
the bulbs of the jack-in-the-pulpit, which affect a human tongue--I
speak from knowledge--like a mixture of nitric acid and powdered
glass. Moreover, he is the only animal which can swallow the
tight-rolled green cigars of the skunk-cabbage in the early spring. An
entry in my nature-notes reads as follows:--

"Only a fool or a bear would taste skunk-cabbage."

My lips were blistered and my tongue swollen when I wrote it. The fact
that the blackbear and the blackcat or fisher are the only two mammals
which can eat Old Man Quill-Pig, alias porcupine, and swallow his
quills, confirms my belief as to the bear's lining. The dog, the lynx,
the wild cat, and the wolf have all tried--and died.

Last spring, in northern Pennsylvania I found myself on the top of a
mountain, by the side of one of those trembling bogs locally known as
bear-sloughs. There I had highly resolved to find the nest of a nearby
Nashville warbler, which kept singing its song, which begins like a
black-and-white warbler and ends like a chipping sparrow. I did not
suppose that there was a bear within fifty miles of me. Suddenly I
came upon a large, quaking-aspen tree set back in the woods by the
side of the bog. Its smooth bark was furrowed by a score of deep
scratches and ridges about five feet from the ground, while above them
the tree had apparently been repeatedly chewed. I recognized it as a
bear-tree. In the spring and well through the summer certain trees are
selected by all the he-bears of a territory as a signpost whereon they
carve messages for friend and foe. No male bear of any real bearhood
would think of passing such a tree without cutting his initials wide,
deep, and high, for all the world to see.

The first flurries of snow mean bed-time for Bruin. He is not afraid
of the cold, for he wears a coat of fur four inches thick over a
waistcoat of fat of the same thickness. He has found, however, that
rent is cheaper than board. Unless there comes some great acorn year,
when the oak trees are covered with nuts, he goes to bed when the snow
flies. One of the rarest adventures in wood-craft is the finding of a
bear-hole where Bruin sleeps rolled up in a big, black ball until
spring. It is always selected and concealed with the utmost care, for
the blackbear takes no chances of being attacked in his sleep. The
last bear-hole of which I have heard was not far from home. Two
friends of mine were shooting in the Pocono Mountains with a dog,
about the middle of November, 1914. Suddenly the dog started up a
blackbear on a wooded slope. After running a short distance, the bear
turned and popped into a hole under an overhanging bank. Almost
immediately he started to come out again, growling savagely. I am
sorry to say that my friends shot him. Then they explored the hole
which he was preparing for his winter-quarters. It was beautifully
constructed. The entrance was under an overhanging bank, shielded by
bushes, and it seemed unbelievable that so large an animal could have
forced his shoulders through so small a hole. The burrow was
jug-shaped, spreading out inside and sloping up, while a dry shelf had
been dug out in the bank. This was covered with layers of dry leaves
and a big blanket of withered grass. In the top of the bank a tiny
hole had been dug, which opened out in some thick bushes and was
probably an air-hole. Just outside the entrance, a bear had piled an
armful of dry sticks, evidently intending, when he had finally entered
the hole, to pull them over the entrance and entirely hide it. The
bear itself turned out to be a young one. A veteran would have died
fighting before giving up the secret of his winter castle.

       *       *       *       *       *

The opal water was all glimmering green and gold and crimson, as it
whirled under overhanging boughs aflame with the fires of fall. The
air tasted of frost, and had the color of pale gold. Around sudden
curves, through twisted channels, and down gleaming vistas, our canoe
followed the crooked stream as it ran through the pine-barrens. The
woods on either side were glories of color. There was the scarlet of
the mountain sumac, with its winged leaves, and the deep purple of the
star-leaved sweet-gum. Sassafras trees were lemon-yellow or wine-red.
The persimmon was the color of gold, while the poison sumac, with its
death-pale bark, and venomous leaves up-curled as if ready to sting,
flaunted the regal red-and-yellow of Spain.

At last, we beached our canoe in a little grove and landed for lunch.
By the edge of the smoky, golden cedar-water, in the pure white sand,
was a deep footprint, like that made by a baby's bare foot with a
pointed heel. I recognized the hand and seal of Lotor, the Washer, who
believes firmly in that old proverb about cleanliness. That is about
as near, however, as Lotor ever gets to godliness. He is the
grizzled-gray raccoon, who wears a black mask on his funny, foxy face,
and has a ringed tail shaped like a bâton, and sets his hind feet
flat, like his second-cousin the bear, while his menu-card covers
almost as wide a range. Whatever he eats--frogs, crawfish, chicken,
and even fresh eggs and snakes--he always washes. Two, three, and even
four times, he rinses and rubs his food if he can find water.

That footprint in the sand carried me back more years than I like to
count. It was on the same kind of fall day that I first entered the
fastnesses of Rolfe's Woods. First there came Little Woods, close at
home, where one could play after school, and where the spotted leaves
of the adder's-tongue grew everywhere. Then came Big Woods, which
required a full Saturday afternoon to do it justice. It was there that
I accumulated by degrees the twenty-two spotted turtles, the five
young gray squirrels, and the three garter-snakes, which gladdened my
home.

Far beyond Big Woods was a wilderness of swamps and thickets known to
us as Rolfe's Woods. This was only to be visited in company with some
of the big boys and on a full holiday. That day, Boots Lockwood and
Buck Thompson, patriarchs who must have been all of fourteen years
old, were planning to visit these woods. Four of us little chaps
tagged along until it was too late to send us back. We found that the
perils of the place had not been overstated. In a dark thicket Boots
showed us wolf-tracks. At least he said they were, and he ought
to have known, for he had read "Frank in the Woods," "The
Gorilla-Hunters," and other standard authorities on such subjects.
Farther on we heard a squalling note, which Buck at once recognized as
the scream of a panther. Boots confirmed his diagnosis, and showed the
reckless bravery of his nature by laughing so heartily at our scared
faces that he had to lean against a tree for some time before he could
go on. In later years I have heard the same note made by a blue jay, a
curious coincidence which should have the attention of some of our
prominent naturalists.

[Illustration: LOTOR, THE COON]

Finally, we came to a little clearing with a vast oak-tree in the
centre. As we neared it, suddenly Buck gave a yell and pointed
overhead. There on a hollow dead limb crouched a strange beast. It was
gray in color, with a black-masked face, and was ten times larger than
any gray squirrel, the wildest animal which we had met personally.
There was a hasty and whispered consultation between the two leaders,
after which Buck announced that the stranger was none other than a
Canada lynx, according to him an animal of almost supernatural
ferocity and cunning. Furthermore, he stated that he, assisted by
Boots, intended to climb the tree and attack said lynx with a club.
Our part was to encircle the tree and help Boots if the lynx elected
to fight on land instead of aloft. If so be that he sprang on any one
of us, the rest were to attack him instantly, before he had time to
lap the blood of his victim--a distressing habit which Buck advised us
was characteristic of all Canada lynxes.

This masterly plan was somewhat marred by the actions of Robbie Crane.
Robbie was of a gentle nature, and one whose manners and ideals were
far superior to the rough boys with whom he occasionally consorted.
Mrs. Crane said so herself. After reflecting a moment on the lynx's
unrestrained and sanguinary traits, he suddenly disappeared down the
back-track with loud sobbings, and never stopped running until he
reached home an hour later. Thereafter our names were stricken from
Robbie's calling-list by Mrs. Crane.

As Buck, boosted by Boots, started up the tree, the perfidious lynx
disappeared in an unsuspected hole beneath a branch, from which he
refused to come out in spite of all that Buck and Boots could do. One
member, at least, of that hunting-party was immensely relieved by his
unexpected retreat. It was many years later before I learned that even
such masters of woodcraft as Buck and Boots could be mistaken, and
that the Canada lynx was really a Connecticut coon.

It was not until recently that I ever met Lotor by daylight. Three
years ago I was walking down a hillside after a sudden November
snowstorm. My way led past two gray-squirrel nests, well thatched and
chinked with the leaves by which they can always be told from crows'
nests. From one of them I saw peering down at me the funny face of a
coon. When I pounded on the other tree, another coon stared sleepily
down at me. Probably the unexpected snowstorm had sent them both to
bed in the first lodgings which they could find; or it may be that
they had decided to try the open-air sleeping-rooms of the squirrels
rather than the hollow-tree houses in which the coon family usually
spend their winters.

Sometimes at night you may hear near the edge of the woods a
plaintive, tremulous call floating from out of the dark
trees--"Whoo-oo-oo-oo, whoo-oo-oo-oo." It is one of the night-notes of
the coon. It sounds almost like the wail of the little screech-owl,
save that there is a certain animal quality to the note. Moreover, the
screech-owl will always answer, when one imitates the call, and will
generally come floating over on noiseless wings to investigate. The
coon, however, instantly detects the imitation and calls no more that
night.

Unlike the bears, Mr. and Mrs. Coon and all the little coons,
averaging from three to six, hibernate together soon after the first
snowstorm of the year. One of the few legends of the long-lost
Connecticut Indians which I can remember is that of an old Indian
hunter, who would appear on my great-grandfather's farm in the depths
of winter and, after obtaining permission, would go unerringly to one
or more coon-trees, which he would locate by signs unknown to any
white hunter. In each tree he would find from four to six fat coons,
whose fur and flesh he would exchange for gunpowder, tobacco, hard
cider, and other necessities of life.

Mr. and Mrs. Coon are good parents. They keep their children with them
until the arrival of a new family, which occurs with commendable
regularity every spring. A friend of mine once saw a young coon fall
into the water from its tree in the depths of a swamp. At the splash,
the mother coon came out of the den, forty feet up the trunk, and
climbed down to help. Master Coon, wet, shaken, and miserable, managed
to get back to the tree-trunk and clung there whimpering. Mother Coon
gripped him by the scruff of his neck and marched him up the tree to
the den, giving him a gentle nip whenever he stopped to cry.

In spite of his funny face and playful ways, Mr. Coon is a cheerful,
desperate, scientific fighter. In a fair fight, or an unfair one for
that matter, he will best a dog double his size, and he fears no
living animal of his own weight, save only that versatile weasel, the
blackcat. I became convinced of this one dark November morning many
years ago, when I foolishly used to kill animals instead of making
friends of them. All night long, with a pack of alleged coon dogs, we
had hunted invisible and elusive coons through thick woods. I had
scratched myself all over with greenbrier, and, while running through
the dark, had plunged head first into the coldest known brook on the
continent. Four separate times I had been persuaded by false and
flattering words to climb slippery trees after imaginary coons, with a
lantern fastened round my neck.

This time my friends assured me there could be no mistake. Both Grip
and Gyp, the experts of the pack, had their fore-paws against an
enormous tulip tree which stood apart from all others. In order that
there might be no possible mistake, black Uncle Zeke, the leader of
the hunt, who knew most of the coons in those woods by their first
names, agreed to "shine" this particular coon. Lighting a lantern, he
held it behind his head, staring fixedly up into the tree as he did
so. Sure enough, in a minute, far up along the branches gleamed two
green spots. Those were the eyes of the coon, staring down at the
light. It was impossible to climb this tree, so we built a fire and
waited for daylight.

Dawn found us regarding a monster coon crouched in the branches some
forty or fifty feet up. Uncle Zeke produced a cherished shot-gun. The
barrel had once burst, by reason of the muzzle being accidentally
plugged with mud, and had been thereafter cut down, so that it was
less than a foot in length. In spite of its misfortune, Uncle Zeke
assured us that it was still a wonderful shooter. We scattered and
gave him a free field. In a properly conducted coonhunt, a coon, like
a fox, must be killed by dogs or not at all. Uncle Zeke told us that
this one, as soon as he heard the shot, although uninjured, would come
down, like Davy Crockett's coon.

Sure enough, when the shot cut through the branches well above the
animal, he started slowly down the trunk, head-foremost, like a
squirrel, and never stopped until he reached a branch some twenty feet
above the yelping pack. Then, with hardly a pause, he launched himself
right into their midst. As he came through the air, we could see him
slashing with his claws, evidently limbering up. He struck the ground,
only to disappear in a wave of dogs. In a minute he fought himself
clear, and managed to get his back against the tree. Then followed a
great exhibition of scientific fighting. The coon was perfectly
balanced on all four feet, and did wonderful execution with his
flexible fore-paws, armed with sharp, curved claws. He went through
that mongrel pack like a light-weight champion in a street fight.
Ducking, side-stepping, slashing and biting fiercely in the clinches,
he broke entirely through the circle, and started off at a brisk trot
toward the thick woods. The pack followed after him, baying
ferociously, but doing nothing more. Not one of them would venture
again into close quarters. Though we came back empty-handed, not even
Uncle Zeke grudged that coon his life.

       *       *       *       *       *

The motto of the next sleeper is, "Don't hurry, others will." If you
meet in your wanderings a black-and-white animal wearing a pointed
nose, a bushy tail, and an air of justified confidence, avoid any
altercation with him. The skunk discovered the secret of the
gas-attack a million years before the Boche. He is one of the best
friends of the farmer--and the worst treated. Given a fair chance,
every week he will eat several times his weight in mice and insects.
Moreover, with the muskrat he contributes divers furs to the market,
whose high-sounding names disguise their lowly origin. During the
coldest part of the winter he retires to his burrow and sleeps
fitfully. He is the last to go to bed and the first to get up; and on
any warm day in late winter you may see his close-set, alternate,
stitch-like tracks in the snow. The black-and-white banner of
skunk-kind is a huge bushy resplendent tail, sometimes as wide as it
is long. At the very tip is set a tuft like the white plume of Henry
of Navarre. When it stands straight up, the battle is on, and wise
wild-folk remove themselves elsewhere with exceeding swiftness. As for
the simple--they wish they had.

The armament of this Seventh Sleeper is simple but effective. It
consists of two scent glands located near the base of the tail, which
empty into a movable duct or pipe which can be protruded some
distance. Through this duct, by means of large contractile muscles, a
stream of liquid musk can be propelled with incredible accuracy, and
with a range of from six to ten feet. Moreover the skunk's accurate
breech-loading and repeating weapon has one device not yet found in
any man-made artillery. Each gland, besides the hole for long-range
purposes, is pierced with a circle of smaller holes through which the
deadly gas can be sprayed in a cloud for work at close quarters. The
skunk's battery can be operated over the bow or from port or
starboard, but rarely astern.

The liquid musk itself is a clear, golden-yellow fluid full of little
bubbles of the devastating gas, and curiously enough is almost
identical in appearance with the venom of the rattlesnake. As to its
odor, it has been described feelingly as a mixture of perfume-musk,
essence of garlic, burning sulphur, and sewer-gas, raised to the
thousandth power. Its effect is very much like that produced by the
fumes of ammonia, another animal product, or the mustard-gas of modern
warfare. It may cause blindness, convulsions, and such constriction
and congestion of the breathing passages as even to bring about death.
Some individuals and animals, however, seem to be more or less immune
to the effects of this secretion. I remember once attending by
invitation a possum hunt conducted by a number of noted possumists of
color. We were accompanied by a bevy of miscellaneous dogs. The
possums were generally found wandering here and there among the
thickets, or located in low persimmon trees. Every now and then one of
the dogs would bring to bay a strolling skunk. As the skins had a
considerable market value, these skunks were regarded as the special
prizes of the chase. The hunters dispatched them by a quick blow
across the back which broke the spine. Such a blow paralyzed the
muscles and effectually prevented any further artillery practice on
the part of the skunk which received it. Before it could be delivered,
both the hunter and the dog were usually exposed to an unerring
barrage, which however seemed to cause them no especial inconvenience.
Before long every hunter, except myself, had one or more skunks tucked
away in his pockets.

It was a long, strong night. Before it was over I was in some doubt as
to whether I had been attending a possum hunt or had taken part in a
skunk chase. My family had no doubt whatever on the subject when I
reached home the next morning. I was earnestly invited to tarry in the
wilderness until such time as I could obtain a complete change of
raiment. Thereafter I tried to give my hunting clothes away to the
worthy poor. Said poor, however, would have none of them, and they
repose in a lonely grave in a Philadelphia back-yard even unto this
day.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw him last fall sitting up like a little post in the Half-Moon Lot
where the blind blue gentian grows. Every once in a while he would
drop down and begin to nibble again, only to stop and sit up stiff and
straight on sentry duty. For the gray, grizzled woodchuck is as wary
as he is fat. Watchfulness is the price of his life.

Once I spied him far out in a clover-patch, nibbling away at the pink
sweet blossoms as I passed along the road. At the bar-way a chipmunk
leaped into the wall with a sharp squeak. Without even stopping to
raise his head, Mr. Woodchuck scuttled through the clover, and dived
into his burrow. It was a bit of animal team-work such as takes place
when a fox or a deer uses a far-away crow or a jay as a picket, and
dashes away at its warning of the coming of an enemy.

Soon afterwards I was on my way to a spring down in the pasture. As I
passed near a stone wall half hidden in a tangle of chokecherries and
bittersweet, there was a piercing whistle, followed by a scrambling
and a scuffling as the woodchuck dived down among the stones, and I
understood why, below Mason and Dixon's Line, he is always called the
"whistlepig." It is a good name, for he whistles, and he is certainly
like a little pig in that he eats and eats and eats until he seems
mostly quivering paunch. According to the farmers of Connecticut, he
eats to get strength enough to dig, and then digs to get an appetite
to eat, and so passes his life in a vicious circle of eating and
digging and digging and eating. In spite of his unwieldy weight, the
woodchuck is a bitter, brave fighter when fight he must.

I once watched a bull-terrier named Paddy tackle a big chuck near a
shallow brook. Round and round the dog circled, trying for the fatal
throat-hold. Round and round whirled the brave old chuck, chattering
with his great chisel-like teeth, which could bite through dog-hide
and dog-flesh and bone just as easily as they gnawed through stolen
apples. Every once in a while Paddy would clinch, but the woodchuck
saved himself every time by hunching his neck down between his round
shoulders and punishing the dog so terribly with his sharp teeth that
the latter would at last retreat, yelping with pain. They would whirl
in circles, and roll over and over in the clinches; but always the old
chuck would be found with his squat figure on its legs at the end of
each round. His thick grizzled coat was more of a protection, too,
than the thin skin of the short-haired terrier.

At last both of them were tired out. As if by agreement, both drew
back and lay down, panting and watching each other's every movement
like two boxers. Finally, the woodchuck, who was nearer the brook,
began to drag himself along until he reached the edge of the water.
Then he lowered his head, still watching his opponent, and sucked in
deep, cool, satisfying drinks.

It was too much for Paddy. He started for the brook also. The old
chuck stopped drinking, and pulled himself together; but Paddy wanted
water, not blood. In a moment he had his nose in the brook. There the
two lay, not a couple of yards apart, and drank until they could drink
no more.

The whistlepig was the first out. Slowly and watchfully he waddled
away from the brook and toward the stone wall, that refuge of all
hunted little animals. Paddy gave a fierce growl, but the water tasted
too good, and he stayed for another long drink. Then he darted out
after the woodchuck, barking ferociously all the time, as if he could
hardly wait to begin the battle again. The woodchuck watched him
steadily, ready to stop and fight at any moment.

Somehow, although Paddy barked and growled and rushed at his
retreating opponent with exceeding fierceness, there were always a few
yards between them, until Mr. Chuck disappeared at last down between
two great stones in the wall. Then indeed Paddy dashed in, and
growled, and tore up the turf, and stuck his nose deep down between
the stones, and told the world all the terrible things he would do to
that woodchuck if he could only catch him. From the bowels of the old
wall, between barks, sounded now and then the muffled but defiant
whistle of the unconquered whistlepig.

Finally, Paddy, with an air of having done all that could be expected,
gave some fierce farewell barks and trotted off toward the farmhouse.

Some people claim to have dug woodchucks out of their holes.
Personally I believe that it is about as easy to dig a woodchuck out
of its hole as it is to catch a squirrel in its tree. They have a
network of holes, and have a habit of starting digging on their own
account when molested, and sealing up the new hole after them, so that
they leave no trace.

Once, in company with another amateur naturalist, we tried to dig an
old chuck out of its burrow. After first stopping up all the spare
holes we could find, the naturalist dug and dug and dug and dug. Then
we enlisted two other men, and they dug and dug and dug. After a while
we came to a mass of great boulders. Then we pressed into service a
yoke of oxen, and they tugged and tugged and tugged. Said digging and
tugging and tugging and digging lasted the half of a long summer day.
All together, it was an exceeding great digging--but we never got
that woodchuck.

[Illustration: THE WHISTLEPIG]

In September and October the woodchuck devotes all of his time to
eating. The consequence is that, by the time the first frost comes, he
is a big gray bag of fat. Mr. Woodchuck does not believe in storing up
food in his burrow, like the chipmunk. He prefers to be the
storehouse. Soon after the first frost he disappears in his hole, and
far down underground, at the end of a network of intersecting
passages, rolls himself up in a round, warm ball, and sleeps until
spring.

According to the legend, on Candlemas, or Ground-Hog Day,--which comes
on February second,--he peeps out, and, if he can see his shadow, goes
in again for six more weeks of cold weather. So far this day has not
yet been made a legal holiday. It probably will be some time, along
with Columbus Day, Labor Day, and other equally important days. I will
not vouch for the fact that the weather depends on the shadow; but
there is no doubt that the woodchuck does come out of his burrow in a
February thaw and looks around, as his tracks prove; but he is not
interested in his shadow. No indeed! What he comes out for is to look
for the future Mrs. Woodchuck, and when he finds her he goes in again.

Sometimes you read in nature-books that the woodchuck is good to eat.
Don't believe it. I ought to know. I ate one once. Anyone is welcome
to my share of the world's supply of woodchucks. When I camped out as
a boy, we had to eat everything that we shot: and one summer I ate a
part of a woodchuck, a crow, a green heron, and a blue jay. The chuck
was about in the crow's class.

       *       *       *       *       *

We humans have different feelings toward the different Sleepers. One
may respect the bear, and have a certain tempered regard for the coon,
or even the skunk. Everyone, however, loves that confiding, gentle
little Sleeper, the striped chipmunk--"Chippy Nipmunk," as certain
children of my acquaintance have named him. He is that little squirrel
who lives in the ground and has two big pockets in his cheeks.
Sometimes in the fall you may think that he has the mumps. Really it
is only acorns. He can carry four of them in each cheek. Once I met a
greedy chipmunk who had his pockets so full of nuts that he could not
enter his own burrow. Although he tried with his head sideways, and
even upside-down, he could not get in. When he saw me coming, he
rapidly removed two hickory nuts from which he had nibbled the sharp
points at each end, and popped into his hole, leaving the nuts high,
but not dry, outside. When I carried them off, he stuck his head out
of the hole, and shouted, "Thief! Thief!" after me in chipmunk
language, so loudly that, in order not to be arrested, I carried them
back again.

Almost the first wild animal of my acquaintance was the chipmunk.
During one of my very early summers, probably the fourth or fifth, a
wave of chipmunks swept over the old farm where I happened to be. They
swarmed everywhere, and every stone wall seemed to be alive with
them. It was probably one of the rare chipmunk migrations, which,
although denied by some naturalists, actually do occur.

Chippy usually goes to bed in late October, and sleeps until late
March. He takes with him a light lunch of nuts and seeds, in case he
may wake up and be hungry during the long night. Moreover, these come
in very handy along about breakfast-time, for when he gets up there is
little to eat. Then, too, he is very busy during those early spring
weeks. In the first place, he has to sing his spring song for hours.
It is a loud, rolling "Chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck," almost like a
bird-song, and Chippy is very proud of it. Then, too, he has to find a
suitable Miss Chipmunk and persuade her to become Mrs. Chipmunk, all
of which takes a great deal of time. So the nuts which he stores up
are probably intended rather for an early breakfast than a late
supper.

An Indian writer tells how the boys of his tribe used to take
advantage of the chipmunk's spring serenade. The first warm day in
March they would all start out armed with bows and arrows, and at the
nearest chipmunk-hole one would imitate the loud chirrup of the
chipmunk. Instantly every chipmunk within hearing would pop out of his
hole and join the chorus, until sometimes as many as fifty would be
singing at the same time, too busily to dodge the blunt arrows of the
boy-hunters.

Besides his song the chipmunk has another high-pitched note, and an
alarm-squeal which he gives as he dives into his burrow. There are two
phases of Eastern chipmunks, the Northern and the Southern, besides
the Oregon, the painted, and the magnificent golden chipmunk of the
West. All of them have the same dear, gentle ways.

When I was a boy, a chipmunk was a favorite pet. Flying squirrels were
too sleepy, red squirrels too restless, and gray squirrels too bitey
for petting purposes. Chippy is easily tamed, and moreover does not
have to be kept in a cage, which is no place for any wild animal. I
knew one once who used to go to school in a boy's pocket every day;
and he behaved quite as well as the boy, which is not saying much.
Sometimes he would come out and sit on the desk beside the boy's book,
so as to help him over the particularly hard places.

The chipmunk, like most of the Sleepers, has a varied diet. He eats
all kinds of nuts and weed-seeds, and also has a pretty taste in
mushrooms. It was a chipmunk who once taught me the difference between
a good and a bad mushroom. I saw him sitting on a stump, nibbling what
seemed to be a red russula, which tastes like red pepper and acts like
an emetic if one is foolish enough to swallow much of it. When I came
near, he ran away, leaving his lunch behind. On tasting the mushroom I
found that, although it was a red russula, it was not the _emetica_,
and I learned to recognize the delicious _alutacea_.

Sometimes, sad to say, Chippy eats forbidden food. A friend of mine
found him once on a low limb, nibbling a tiny, green grass-snake. The
chipmunk had eaten about half of the snake, when he suddenly stopped
and let the remainder drop, and then sat and reflected for a full
minute. At the end of that time he became actively ill, and after
losing all of that fresh snake-lunch, scampered away, an emptier, if
not a wiser, chipmunk.

In spite of his gentle ways Chippy lives in a world of enemies. Hawks,
snakes, cats, boys, and dogs, all are his foes. More than all the rest
put together, however, he fears the devilish red weasel, which runs
him down relentlessly above and below the ground alike. Only in the
water has the chipmunk a chance to escape. Although the weasel can
hold him for a few yards, yet in a long swim the chipmunk will draw
away so far from his pursuer that he will generally escape.
Underground, if given a few seconds' time, he also escapes by a method
known to a number of the underground folk. Dashing through a series of
the main burrows, he runs into a side gallery, and instantly walls
himself in so neatly that his pursuer rushes past without suspecting
his presence.

For many years one of the out-of-door problems to which I was unable
to find the answer was how a chipmunk could dig a burrow and leave no
trace of any fresh earth. I examined scores of new chipmunk-holes, but
never found the least trace of fresh earth near the entrance. His
secret is to start at the other end. This sounds like a joke, but it
is exactly what he does. He will run a shaft for many feet, coming up
in some convenient thicket or beneath the slope of an overhanging
bank. All the earth will be taken out through the first hole, which is
then plugged up. This accounts for the heaps of fresh earth which I
have frequently seen near chipmunk colonies, but with no burrow
anywhere in sight.

The Band was on the march. The evening before, at story-time, Sergeant
Henny-Penny and Corporal Alice-Palace had listened spellbound while
the Captain told them of the adventures of trustful Chippy-Nipmunk
when he tried to get change for a horse-chestnut from Mr. G. Squirrel,
who it seems was of a grasping and over-reaching disposition, and how
Chippy wrote home about the transaction signing himself "Butternutly
yours." The story had made such a sensation that the flattered Captain
had promised, on the next day, which was a half-holiday, to take the
whole Band up to Chipmunk Hill, where old Mr. Prindle had named and
tamed a chipmunk colony.

Late afternoon found them plodding up the grass-grown road which led
to the lonely little house on top of the hill, where Mr. Prindle had
lived since days before which the memory of the Band ran not. They
found the old man seated on the porch in a great Boston rocker, and
glad enough to see them all. The Captain introduced them in due form,
from First Lieutenant Trottie down to Corporal Alice-Palace.

"'T ain't everybody," said Mr. Prindle, pulling Second Lieutenant
Honey's ear reflectively, "that would climb five miles up-hill to see
an old man. How would a few fried cakes and some cider go?"

There was an instantaneous vote in favor of this resolution, in which
Alice-Palace's good-time noise easily soared like a siren-whistle
above all the other expressions of assent.

"Be careful and don't swallow the holes," Mr. Prindle warned them a
few moments later, as he brought out a big panful of brownish-red,
spicy fried cakes cooked in twisted rings.

The Band promised to use every precaution, and there was an
adjournment of all other business until the pan and the pitcher were
alike empty.

"Are your chipmunks still alive?" queried the Captain, as they all sat
down on the vast, squatty-legged settee next to Mr. Prindle's rocker.

"Yes, indeed," replied the latter, "they've been with me nigh on to
four years now."

Alice-Palace's eyes became very big.

"Not Chippy-Nipmunk?" she whispered to the Captain.

"Exactly," replied that official, "and then some."

Thereafter, at Mr. Prindle's suggestion, they all sat stony-still and
mousy-quiet while he made a funny little hissing, whistling noise.
From under the porch there came a scurrying rush, and the two bright
eyes of a big striped chipmunk popped up over the edge of the
porch-step. A minute later, from two holes in a near-by bank, two
other chipmunks dashed out. They all had ashy-gray backs, with five
stripes of such dark brown as to look almost like black. Their tails
had a black, white-tipped fringe, while the gray color of the back
changed into clear orange-brown on their flanks and legs.

"This one is James," announced Mr. Prindle, as the first chipmunk
hurried across the porch toward his chair. "His full name is James
William Francis," he explained, "after a second-cousin of mine who
looked a good deal like him. I generally call him James for short. The
other two are Nip and Tuck," he went on. "Old Bill will be along in a
minute. You see," he continued, "he's an old bachelor and lives all by
himself quite a ways off."

"What about James?" inquired Honey.

"He's been a widower," said Mr. Prindle, sadly, "ever since his wife
stayed out one day to get a good look at a hawk."

As he spoke, another chipmunk came around the end of the porch and
hastened to join the other three.

"Here's Bill now," announced Mr. Prindle.

Then the old man reached into his pocket and took out a handful of
butternuts and gave two to each of the Band.

"Hold one in your closed hand and the other between your thumb and
finger where they can see it," he advised them.

A moment later there was a chorus of delighted squeals. Each chipmunk
had run up and taken the nut which was in sight, and was burrowing and
scrabbling with soft little paws and sniffling little noses into four
sets of clenched fingers, in an attempt to secure the other hidden
nuts. When the last of them had disappeared, looking as if he had an
attack of mumps, the Band thanked Mr. Prindle and started for home.

"Butternutly yours," quoted Alice-Palace as they hurried down the long
hill.

       *       *       *       *       *

Have you ever dreamed of writing a wonderful poem, and then waked up
and found that you had forgotten it; or, worse still, that it wasn't
wonderful at all? That is what happened to me the other night. All
that was left of the lost masterpiece was the following alleged
verse:--

    After dark everybody's house
    Belongs to the little brown Flittermouse.

I admit that the mystery and pathos and beauty which that verse seemed
to have in dreamland have some way evaporated in daylight. So as I
can't give to the world any poetry in praise of my friend the
Flittermouse, I must do what I can for him in prose. In the first
place, his everyday name is Bat. Our forebears knew him as the flying
or "flitter" mouse. Probably, too, he is the original of the Brownie,
that ugly brown elf that used to flit about in the twilight.

He is perhaps the best equipped of all of our mammals, for he flies
better than any bird, is a strong though unwilling swimmer, and is
also fairly active on the ground. In addition, he has such an
exquisite sense of feeling, that he is able to fly at full speed in
the dark, steering his course and instantly avoiding any obstacle by
the mere feel of the air-currents. In fact, the bat's whole body,
including the ribs and edges of its wings, may be said to be full of
eyes. These are highly developed nerve-endings, which are so
sensitive that they are instantly aware of the presence of any body
met in flight, by the difference in the air-pressure.

As early as 1793 an Italian naturalist found that a blinded bat could
fly as well as one with sight. They were able to avoid all parts of a
room, and even to fly through silken threads stretched in such a
manner as to leave just space enough for them to pass with their wings
expanded. When the threads were placed closer together, the blind bats
would contract their wings in order to pass between them without
touching.

An English naturalist put wax over a bat's closed eyes and then let it
loose in a room. It flew under chairs, of which there were twelve in
the room, without touching anything, even with the tips of its wings.
When he attempted to catch it, the bat dodged; nor could it be taken
even when resting, as it seemed to feel with its wings the approach of
the hand stretched out to seize it.

When it comes to flying, the bat is the swallow of the night.
Sometimes it may be confused with a chimney-swift at twilight, but it
can always be told by its dodging, lonely flight, while the swifts fly
in companies and without zigzagging through the air. It is doubtful
whether even the swallow or the swiftest of the hawks, such as the
sharp-shinned or the duck hawk, perhaps the fastest bird that flies,
can equal the speed of the great hoary bat. Moreover, the flight of
the bat is absolutely silent. He may dart and turn a foot away from
you, but you will hear absolutely nothing. A hoary bat, the largest
of all the family, has been seen to overtake and fly past a flock of
migrating swallows, while a red bat has been watched carrying four
young clinging to her, which together weighed more than she did, and
yet she flew and hunted and captured insects in mid-air as usual.
There is no bird which can give such an exhibition of strong flying.
The hoary bat has even been found on the Bermuda Islands in autumn and
early winter. As these islands are five hundred and forty storm-swept
miles from the nearest land, this is evidence of an extraordinarily
high grade of wing-power.

When it comes to personal habits, bats of all kinds are perhaps the
most useful mammals that we have. No American bat eats anything but
insects, and insects of the most disagreeable kind, such as
cockroaches, mosquitoes, and June-bugs. A house-bat has been seen to
eat twenty-one June-bugs in a single night; while another young bat
would eat from thirty-four to thirty-seven cockroaches in the same
time, beginning this commendable work before it was two months old.
Moreover, bats do not bring into houses any noxious insects, like
bedbugs or lice, despite their bad reputation. They are unfortunately
afflicted with numerous parasites, but none of them are of a kind to
attack man. All bats are great drinkers, and twice a day skim over the
nearest water, drinking copiously on the wing. Sometimes, where trout
are large enough, bats fall victims to their drinking habits, being
seized on the wing like huge moths by leaping trout, as they approach
the water to drink.

Bats also feed twice a day at regular periods, once at sundown and
once at sunrise, always capturing and eating their insect food on the
wing. Some of them have a curious habit of using a pouch, which is
made of the membrane stretched between their hind legs, as a kind of
net to hold the captured insect until it can be firmly gripped and
eaten. In this same pouch the young are carried as soon as they are
born, and until they are strong enough to nurse. After that, like
young jumping mice, they cling to the teats of the mother bat, and are
carried everywhere in this way. When they get too large to be so
conveyed in comfort, the mother bat hangs them up in some secret place
until her return.

Moreover a mother bat is just as devoted to her babies as any other
mammal. She takes entire charge of them, with never any help from the
father bat. Young bats are blind at birth, but their eyes open on the
fifth day, and on the thirteenth day the baby bat no longer clings to
its mother, but roosts beside her. The bat has from two to four young,
depending on the species. Most young bats can fly and forage for
themselves when they are about three months old, although the silvery
bat begins to fly when it is three weeks old. No bat makes a nest.

Titian Peale, of Philadelphia, in an early natural history, tells a
story of a boy who, in 1823, caught a young red bat and took it home.
Three hours later, in the evening, he started to take it to the
museum, carrying it in his hand. As he passed near the place where it
was caught, the mother bat appeared and followed the boy for two
squares, flying around him and finally lighting on his breast, until
the boy allowed her to take charge of her little one.

The bat has but few enemies. They are occasionally caught by owls,
probably taken unawares or when hanging in some dark tree. In fact,
virtually the only enemies a bat has are fur-lice, which breed upon
them in enormous quantities. It is this misfortune, and the fact that
a bat has a strong rank smell like that of a skunk, which keep it from
being popular as a pet.

A friend of mine once, however, kept a little brown bat, which had
been drowned out from a tree by a thunder-storm, for a long time under
a sieve as a pet. The bat became tame and would accept food, and it
was most interesting to see the deft, speedy way in which he husked
millers and other minute insects, rejecting their wings, skinning
their bodies, and devouring the flesh only after it had been prepared
entirely to its liking. He would wash himself with his tongue and his
paw, like a cat, using the little thumb-nail at the bend of his wing,
and stretching the rubbery membrane into all kinds of shapes, until it
seemed as if he would tear it in his zeal for cleanliness.

A bat always alights first by catching the little hooks on its wings.
As soon as it has a firm grip with these, it at once turns over, head
downward, and hangs by the long, recurved nails of the hind feet, and
in this position sleeps through the daylight. It sleeps through the
winter in the top of some warm steeple or, far more often than we
suspect, in dark corners of our houses, and sometimes in hollow trees
and deserted buildings and caves. Only when caught by the cold does
the bat hibernate. Often it migrates like the birds.

One of the strangest things about the flittermouse is its voice. It is
a penetrating, shrill squeak, so high that many people cannot hear it
at all. The chirp of a sparrow is about five octaves above the middle
E of the piano, while the cry of the bat is a full octave above that.
In England there is a saying that no person more than forty years old
can hear the cry of a bat. This is founded probably on the fact that
the ears of many of us, especially as we approach middle age, are
unable to distinguish sounds more than four octaves above middle E.
Some naturalists believe that the shrill squeak which most of us do
hear is only one of many notes of the bat, and that the various
species have different calls, like those of birds, and probably even
have a love-song during the mating season, in late August or early
September, which can never be heard by human ears.

Most bats found in the Eastern States are either large brown
house-bats, one of two kinds of little brown bats, black bats, red or
tree bats, pigmy bats, or, last, largest and most beautiful of all,
hoary bats. The big brown bat, or house-bat, is the commonest. This is
the last of the bats to come out in the evening, for each has a
certain fixed hour when it begins to hunt, which varies only with the
light. When the big brown bat starts, the twilight has almost turned
to dark.

The two kinds of little brown bat, Leconte's and Say's, cannot be told
apart in flight. Both of them are much smaller than the big brown bat,
and the ear of a Leconte's bat barely reaches the end of the nose,
while that of a Say's bat is considerably longer. All bats have large
ears, each of which contains a curious inner ear known as the
"antitragus." Both of these little bats are country bats and prefer
caves and hollow trees to houses and outbuildings.

The black bat can be told from all other American bats by its deep
black-brown color touched with silvery white. This bat likes to hunt
and hawk over water, skimming across ponds like swallows. Some of the
black-bat colonies, or "batteries," are very large, one by actual
count including 9,640 bats.

Next comes the Georgia pigmy bat, so called to distinguish it from the
very rare New York pigmy bat. This little bat can be told by its small
size, for it is the smallest of all of our eastern bats, by its
yellowish pale color, and especially by its flight, which is weak and
fluttering, like that of a large butterfly.

The red bat is a tree bat, spending the daytime in the foliage of
trees, and rarely, if ever, being found in caves or houses. It can be
told at a glance by its red color. It is the greatest of all the bats
except the last, the hoary bat, the largest of them all, with a
wing-spread of from fifteen to seventeen inches. This great bat soars
high, well above the tree-tops, where it can prey upon the high-flying
great moths. It is one of the most beautiful, as well as the rarest,
of our bats, being found in the East only in the spring or fall
migration. It wears a magnificent furry coat as beautiful as that of
the silver fox, but, like all of its race, it is cursed with the
homeliest face ever worn by an animal. It is this hobgoblin face
which, in spite of a blameless life and useful habits, makes the
flittermouse, whatever its species, universally hated.

However, handsome is as handsome does, and the boy who kills a bat has
killed one of our most useful animals and deserves to be bitten by all
the mosquitoes, and bumped by all the June bugs, and crawled over by
all the cockroaches, and to have his clothes corrupted by all the
moths, that the dead bat would have eaten if it had been allowed to
live.

After I had supposedly finished this chapter I was reading it aloud at
the dinner-table to the defenceless Band, one Sunday afternoon about
two o'clock, on a freezing day in December. Just as I was in the midst
of the masterpiece, one of my audience suddenly woke up and said,
"There's a bat!" Sure enough, outside, in the glass-enclosed porch,
was flying a large brown house-bat. Back and forth it went through the
freezing air, as swiftly as if it were summer. I was much touched by
this beautiful tribute to my authorship, and went out and managed to
catch my visitor when he alighted. The bat however was ungrateful
enough to bite the hand that had praised him, and I will end this
account by writing of knowledge that a bat's tiny teeth are as sharp
as needles and that he is always willing to use them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not dangerous like the skunk, or brave like the raccoon, or big like
the bear, the least of the Sleepers is the best-looking of them all.
Shy and solitary, the gentle little jumping mouse is as dainty as he
looks. His fur is lead, overlaid with gold deepening to a dark brown
on the back, and like the deer-mouse he wears a snowy silk waistcoat
and stockings. His strength is in his powerful crooked hind-legs, and
his length in his silky tail, which occupies five of his eight inches.
Given one jump ahead of any foe that runs, springs, flies, or crawls,
and Mr. Jumping Mouse is safe. He patters through the grass by the
edge of thickets and weed-patches, like any other mouse, until
alarmed. Then with a bound he shoots high into the air, in a leap that
will cover from two to twelve feet. It is in this that his long tail
plays its part. In a graceful curve, with tip upturned, it balances
and guides him through the air in a jump which will cover over forty
times his own length, equivalent to a performance of two hundred and
forty feet by a human jumper. The instant he strikes, the jumper soars
away again like a bird, at right angles to his first jump, and zigzags
here and there through the air, so fast and so far as to baffle even
the swift hawk and the dogged weasel.

Every day Mr. Jumping Mouse washes and polishes his immaculate self,
and draws his long silky tail through his mouth until every hair
shines. Mrs. Jumping Mouse is a good mother, and never deserts her
babies. If alarmed while feeding them, she will spring through the air
with from three to five of them clinging to her for dear life, and
carry them safely through all her series of lofty leaps.

The first frost rings the bed-time bell for the jumping mouse. Three
feet underground he builds a round nest of dried grass, and lines it
with feathers, hair, and down. Then he rolls himself into a round
bundle, which he ties up with two wraps of his long tail, and goes to
sleep until spring. Of all the Sleepers he is the soundest. Dig him up
and he shows no sign of life; but if brought in to a fire, he wakes up
and becomes his own lively self once more. Put him out in the cold,
and he rolls up and falls asleep again.

One of the Band who holds high office is by way of being a naturalist
instead of an explorer or an aviator, as he originally intended. Last
summer, in a bit of dried-up marshland near the roadside, he heard
strange rustlings. On investigating, he found a family of young
jumping mice moving through the grass and feeding on the buds of
alder-bushes. They were quite tame, and as they ran out on the ends of
the branches, he had a good view of them and finally managed to catch
one by the end of his long tail. The mouse bit the boy, but did not
even draw blood. Afterwards he seemed to become tamer, although
shaking continually. Given a bit of bread, he sat up and nibbled it
like a little squirrel; but even as he ate he suddenly had a spasm of
fright and died. This death from fright occurs among a number of the
more highly strung of the mice-folk, even when they seem to have
become perfectly tame. This same young naturalist observed another
jumping mouse which, contrary to all the books, took to the water when
pursued, and swam nearly as expertly as a muskrat.

So endeth the Chronicle of the Seven Sleepers.



XII

DRAGON'S BLOOD

Then Sigurd went his way and roasted the heart of Fafnir on a rod. And
when he tasted the blood, straightway he wot the speech of every bird
of the air.


It takes longer nowadays. Yet the years are well spent. There is a
strange indescribable happiness that comes with the knowledge of the
bird-notes. As for the songs--they are not only among the joys of
life, but they bring with them many other happinesses. Even as I
write, the memory of many of them comes back to me: wind-swept
hilltops; white sand-dunes against a blue, blue sea; singing rows of
pine trees marching miles and miles through the barrens; jade-green
pools; crooked streams of smoky-brown water; lonely islands;
orchid-haunted marsh-lands; far journeyings and good fellowship with
others who have learned the Way--these are but a few of them. Let me
entreat you to leave the narrow in-door days and wander far afield
before it be too late.

    Come sit beside the weary way
    And hear the angels sing.

Ride with Aucassin into the greenwood. There perchance, as happed to
him, you will see the green grass grow and listen to the sweet birds
sing and hear some good word.

To him who will but listen there are adventures in bird-songs
anywhere, any time, and any season. It was but last winter that I
found myself again in the dawn-dusk facing a defiant hickory, armed
only with an axe. Let me recommend to every man who is worried about
his body, his soul, or his estate during the winter months, that he
buy or borrow a well-balanced axe and cut down and cut up a few trees
for fire-wood. As he forces the tingling iced oxygen into every cell
of his lungs, he will find that he is taking a new view of life and
love and debt and death, and other perplexing and perennial topics.

Quite recently I read a journal that a young minister kept, back in
the fifties. One entry especially appealed to me.

"Decided this morning that I was not the right man for this church.
Chopped wood for two hours in Colonel Hewitt's wood-lot. Decided that
this was the church for me and that I was the man for this church."

On this particular morning, I heard once more the wild dawn-song of
the Carolina wren, full of liquid bell-like overtones. As I listened,
my mind went back to another wren-song. I had been hunting for the
nest of a yellow palm warbler in a little gully in the depths of a
northern forest. The blood ran down my face from the fierce bites of
the black-flies, and the mosquitoes stung like fire. Suddenly, from
the side of the tiny ravine, began a song full of ringing, glassy
notes such as one makes by running a wet finger rapidly on the inside
of a thin glass finger-bowl. Listening, I forgot that I was wet and
tired and hungry and bitten and stung. For the first time I listened
to the song of the winter wren. For years I had met this little bird
along the sides of brooks in the winter and running in and out of
holes and under stones like a mouse; but to-day to me it was no longer
a tiny bird. It was the voice of the untamed, unknown northern woods.
It is hard to make any notation of the song. It flowed like some
ethereal stream filled with little bubbles of music which broke in
glassy tinkling sprays of sound over the under-current of the high
vibrating melody itself. The song seemed to have two parts. The first
ended in a contralto phrase, while the second soared like a fountain
into a spray of tinkling trills. Through it all ran a strange
unearthly dancing lilt, such as the fairy songs must have had, heard
by wandering shepherds at the edge of the green fairy hills. At its
very height the melody suddenly ceased, and once again I dropped back
into a workaday, mosquito-ridden world, with ten miles between me and
my camp.

On that day I found two of the almost unknown, feather-lined nests of
the yellow palm warbler, and climbed up to the jewel-casket of a
bay-breasted warbler, and was shown the cherished secret of a
Nashville warbler's nest deep hidden in the sphagnum moss of a little
tussock in the middle of a pathless morass. Yet my great adventure was
the song of the winter wren.

It was under quite different circumstances that I last heard the best
winter singer of all. Never was there a more discouraging day for a
collector of bird-songs. The year was dying of rheumy age. On the
trees still hung a few dank, blotched leaves, while the sodden ground
plashed under foot and a leaden mist of rain covered everything. Yet
at the edge of the very first field that I started to cross, a strange
call cut through the fog, and I glimpsed a large black-and-white bird
crossing the meadow with the dipping up-and-down flight of a
woodpecker. It was the hairy woodpecker, the big brother of the more
common downy, and a bird that usually loves the depths of the woods.
Hardly had it alighted on a wild-cherry tree, when an English sparrow
flew up from a nearby ash-dump and attacked the new comer. The
harassed woodpecker flew to the next tree and the next, but was driven
on and away each time by the sparrow, until finally, with another
rattling call, it flew back to the woods from whence it had come. A
moment later a starling alighted on the same tree, unmolested by its
compatriot.

[Illustration: THE JUNCO ON HIS WATCH TOWER]

I followed the fields to a nearby patch of woods. It is small and
bounded on all sides by crowded roads, but at all times of the year I
find birds there. As I reached the edge of the trees white-skirted
juncos flew up in front of me. Mingled with their sharp notes, like
the clicking of pebbles, came the gentle whisper of the white-throated
sparrow, and from a nearby thicket one of them gave its strange minor
song. For its length I know of no minor strain in bird-music that is
sweeter. Like the little silver flute-trill of the pink-beaked field
sparrow, and the lovely contralto notes of the bluebird who from
mid-sky calls down, "Faraway, faraway, faraway," the song of the
white-throated sparrow is tantalizingly brief and simple in its
phrasing. Up in Canada the guides call the bird the "widow-woman."
Usually its song, except in the spring, is incomplete and apt to
flatten a little on some of the notes; but today it rang through the
rain as true and compelling as when it wakes me, from the syringa and
lilac bushes outside my sleeping-porch, some May morning.

Through the dripping boughs I pressed far into the very centre of the
wood. In a tangle of greenbrier sounded a series of sharp irritating
chips, and a cardinal, blood-red against the leaden sky, perched
himself on a bough of a hornbeam sapling. As I watched him sitting
there in the cold rain, he seemed like some bird of the tropics which
had flamed his way north and would soon go back to the blaze of sun
and riot of color where he belonged. Yet the cardinal grosbeak stays
with us all winter, and I have seen four of the vivid males at a time,
all crimson against the white snow. To-day he looked down upon me, and
without any warning suddenly began to sing his full song in a whisper.
"Wheepl, wheepl, wheepl," he whistled with a mellow and wood-wind
note; and again, a full tone lower, "Wheepl, wheepl, wheepl." Then he
sang a lilting double-note song, "Chu-wee, chu-wee, chu-wee," ending
with a ringing whistle, "Whit, whit, whit, teu, teu, teu," and then
ran them together, "Whit-teu, whit-teu, whit-teu." As his lovely
dove-colored mate flitted jealously through the thicket, he tactfully
and smackingly cried, "Kiss, kiss, kiss," and dived into the bushes to
join her. Again and again he ran through his little repertoire, so low
that thirty feet away he could hardly be heard. Leaden clouds and dank
mists might cover the earth, but life would always be worth the living
so long as one could find snatches of jeweled songs like that sung to
me by the cardinal. As I started homeward under the dripping sky,
crimson against the dark green of a cedar tree, my friend called his
good-bye to me in one last long ringing note.

Late that afternoon the rain stopped, the clouds rolled back, and in
the west the sky was a mass of flame, with pools of sapphire-blue and
rose-red cloud. Above, in a stretch of pure cool apple-green, floated
the newest of new moons. As the after-glow ebbed, one by one all the
wondrous tints merged into a great band of amber that barred the dark
for long. Just before it faded in the last moments of the twilight,
there shuddered across the evening air the sweetest, saddest note that
can be heard in all winter music. It was a tremolo, wailing little cry
that always makes me think of the children the pyxies stole, who can
be heard now and again in the twilight, or before dawn, calling,
calling vainly for one long gone. In the dim light in a nearby tree, I
could see the ear-tufts of the little red-brown screech-owl. Like the
beat of unseen wings, his voice trembled again and again through the
air, and answering him, I called him up to within six feet of me.
Around and around my head he flew like a great moth, his soft muffled
wings making not the faintest breath of sound, until at last he
drifted away into the dark.

That night the temperature rose, until the very breath of spring
seemed to be in the air; and early the next morning, before even the
faint glimmer of the dawn-dusk had shown, I was awakened by hearing a
croon so soft and sweet that it ran for long through my dreams without
waking me. Again and again it sounded, like the singing ripple of a
trout brook or the happy little cradle-song that a mother ruffed
grouse makes when she broods her leaf-brown chicks. I recognized the
love-song of the little owl, months before its time--a song which
belongs to the nights when the air is full of spring scents and
hyla-calls.

Perhaps the singer was the same bird who visited Sergeant Henny-Penny
one Christmas night. During the day the Band had taken a most
successful bird-walk. We had seen and heard some twenty different
kinds of birds; heard the white-breasted nuthatch sing his
spring-song, "Quee-quee-quee," as a Christmas carol for us; met a red
fox trotting sedately through the snow, and altogether had a most
adventurous day. That evening I was reading in front of the fire when
from Sergeant Henny-Penny's room came an S.O.S. "Fathie, come quick,
there's a nangel flyin' around my room," he called.

I hurried, for angels flying or sitting are rarely scored on my
bird-lists. When I reached the room, Henny-Penny had burrowed so far
under the bedclothes that it seemed doubtful if he would ever reach
the surface again. When I switched on the light, at first I could see
nothing, and I began to be afraid that the "nangel" had escaped
through the open window. Finally on the picture-moulding I spied the
celestial visitor. It was a screech owl of the red phase,--they may be
either red or gray,--and when I came near it snapped its beak
fiercely, to the terror of the Sergeant under the clothes. With a
quick jump I managed to catch it. At first it puffed up its feathers
and pretended to be very fierce, but at last it snuggled into my hand
and was with difficulty persuaded to fly out again into the cold
night.

[Illustration: NO ADMITTANCE PER ORDER, MR. SCREECH OWL]

Another singer of the night is of course the whip-poor-will. When I
lived farther out in the country than I do now, for two successive
years I was awakened at two o'clock in the morning by a whip-poor-will
passing north and singing in the nearby woods. The third year he broke
all records by alighting on my lawn at sunset in late April. There,
under a pink dogwood tree which stood like a statue of spring, he sang
for ten minutes. Only once before have I ever heard a whip-poor-will
sing in the daylight. Once at high noon in the pine-barrens, one burst
out so loud and ringingly that the pine warbler stopped his trilling
and the prairie warbler his seven wire-thin notes which run up the
scale. It was as uncanny as when the Lone Wolf gave tongue to the
midnight hunting chorus for Mowgli, at the edge of the jungle by day.

Now, when I live nearer civilization, and alas! farther from the
birds, I have to travel far to hear whip-poor-wills. One hour and
eleven minutes from my office in time, thirty-seven miles in space,
but a whole life away in peace and happiness and rest, I have a little
cabin in the heart of the barrens. There in spring I sleep swinging in
a hammock above a great bush of mountain-laurel, ghost-white against
the smoky water of the stream.

Below me in the marsh, where the pitcher-plants bloom among the sweet
pepper and blueberry bushes, is a pitch-pine sapling bent almost into
a circle. Sometimes my friends cut exploration paths through the bush
or, in the winter, search for firewood, but no one is ever allowed to
touch that bent tree. There some spring night, as a little breeze,
heavy with the scent of white azalea and creamy magnolia blossoms,
sways me back and forth, from the bent tree showing dimly in the
moonlight through the tree-trunks, the whip-poor-will perches himself,
lengthwise always, and sings and sings. Through the dark rings his
hurried stressed song, with the accent heavy on the first syllable.
The singer is always afraid that some one may stop him before he
finishes, and he hurries and hurries with a little click between the
triads. At exactly eight o'clock, and again at just two in the
morning, he sings there. Up in the mountains, where we once found the
whip-poor-will's two lustrous eggs lying like great spotted pearls on
a naked bed of leaves, he sings at eight, at ten, and at three. Some
people dislike the song. To me the wild lonely voice of the unseen
singer pealing out in the dark has a strange fascination.

There are certain bird-notes that strike strange chords whose
vibrations are lost in a mist of dreams. I remember a little runaway
boy, who stood in a clover field in a gray twilight and heard the
clanging calls of wild geese shouting down from mid-sky. Frightened,
he ran home a vast distance--at least the width of two fields. As he
ran, there seemed to come back to him the memory of a forgotten dream,
if it were a dream, in which he lay in another land, on a chill
hillside. Overhead in the darkness passed a burst of triumphant music,
and the strong singing of voices not of this earth. From that day the
trumpet-notes of the wild geese bring back through the fog of the
drifting years that same dream to him who heard them first in that
far-away, long-ago clover field. A few years ago there was a night of
April storm. Until midnight the house creaked and rattled and
clattered under a screaming gale. Then the wind died down, and a dense
fog covered the streets of the little town. Suddenly overhead sounded
the clang and clamor of a lost flock of geese that circled and
quartered over the house back and forth through the mist. That night
the dream came back so vividly that, even after the dreamer awoke, he
seemed to feel the cold dew of that hillside and hear an echo of the
singing voices.

It was only a few months ago that this same dreamer found himself on
the shore of Delaware Bay, with the three friends who had gone
adventuring with him for so many happy years. In the middle of a maze
of woods and swamps shrouded in clouds of low-lying mist, they found
at last the nest of the bald eagle for which they were searching. It
was in the top of a towering sour-gum tree, and the great birds
circled around, giving futile little cries that sounded like the
squeaking of a slate pencil. As it was too misty to photograph the
nest and the birds, the party started off exploring until the light
became better.

Following the song of a fox sparrow, the dreamer became separated from
the others in the mist, and after plashing through half-frozen
morasses, found himself on the barren shore of the bay itself. As he
stood there, with the white mist curling around him like smoke, from
the sea came a clamor of voices. Nearer and nearer it swept, until a
wild trumpeting sounded not thirty feet above his head. Around and
around the clanging chorus swept, while, stare as he would, he could
not spy even a feather of the flock so close above him. At the sound
the years rolled back. Once again he was in the clover field in the
gray twilight. Once again, on a far-away hillside, he heard that other
chorus of his dreams. For a moment, in the lonely mist by the sea, he
had a strange illusion that the life of which that cold hillside was a
memory was the reality, and the present the dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

It takes five years to understand Eskimo. It takes a long lifetime to
learn bird-language. At any time, in any place, the collector of
bird-notes may hear an unknown bird or a strange song from a known
bird. Wherefore let no ornithologist vaunt himself. He may be able to
distinguish between the song of the purple finch and the warbling
vireo, or the chestnut-sided warbler, the redstart, and the yellow
warbler, and then hear some common bird, like the Maryland
yellow-throat, sing a song which he has never heard before and may
never hear again; or an oven bird, or even a phoebe, rise to the
ecstasy of a flight-song which no more resembles their everyday
measure than water resembles wine.

Early in my experience as a bird-student, I learned to walk humbly. It
happened on this wise. I had been invited to spend my summer at a
Sanitarium for Deserted Husbands. Said retreat was maintained by a
noble-hearted benefactor in a vast, rambling cool house, bordered on
three sides by dense woods. The day of my arrival I was approached by
one of the older inmates, who, with false and flattering tongue,
praised my scanty knowledge of bird-ways, and made me promise to teach
him the different bird-songs as he heard them from the house.

Early the next morning, as I lay in bed, there sounded a strange song.
It seemed to come from a tree at the other end of the house and
possessed a peculiar rippling, gurgling timbre. A minute or so later
my new acquaintance rushed in and seemed much pained that I did not
know the singer. Thereafter my life was burdened by that song.
Occasionally it sounded in the early morning, when I wanted to sleep
but was awakened by my enthusiastic disciple. Another time I would
hear it in the evening. One day it would come from the house, and
again from the edge of the woods. Yet, skulk and peer and listen as I
would, I could never locate the singer or identify the song.

The revelation came one Sunday morning, as two of us were breakfasting
on the terrace close to the house. Suddenly that vile song began. It
seemed to come from near the top of a tree by the farther end of the
house. I rushed to the place, my napkin flapping as I ran. By the time
I reached the tree, the song came from the opposite side of the house.
Back I hastened, only to find that the bird had once more flitted to
the other side. I hurried there, but again that bird was gone, and a
moment later sang from the farthest end of the house. Three separate
times I circled the place, with the singer and the song always just
ahead of me. It was only when I noticed that my companion at breakfast
had fallen forward on the table overcome by emotion, that I began to
suspect the worse. I hid behind a tree and waited. A moment later I
saw the alleged bird-enthusiast, clothed in preposterous pink pajamas,
and blowing false and fluting notes on a tin bird-whistle, the silly
kind that children fill with water and blow through. I have not yet
been able to live down that bird-song.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I was a boy, there were four of us who always hunted and fished
and tramped and explored together. We never supposed that anything
could separate us. Yet the years have blown us apart, and we go
adventuring together no more. Alone of that quartette I am left to
follow the trail that seemed in those days to have no ending. The same
years, however, have made me some amends. Once again there are four of
us who spend all our holidays in the open. We collect orchids and
bird-songs, and find new birds and nests, and quest far among the
wild-folk in our search for secrets and adventures. Sometimes we go
south, and become acquainted with blue-gray gnatcatchers and
prothonotary warblers and summer tanagers and mocking-birds and blue
grosbeaks, and other birds which we never see here. Sometimes we
explore lonely islands hidden in a maze of sand-bars, and discover
where the terns and the laughing gulls nest; or we find wonderful
things waiting for us on mountain-tops or hidden among morasses and
quaking bogs.

Two years ago we decided to follow Spring north. First we welcomed as
usual the spring migrants and the spring flowers in April and May.
When the sky-pilgrims had passed on, and the lush growth of summer
began to show, we traveled northwards to the top of Mount Pocono, the
highest mountain of our state, and found Spring waiting for us there.
The apple blossoms were just coming out and the woods were sweet with
trailing arbutus. There we found the nests of the yellow-bellied and
alder fly-catchers, solitary vireos, and black-throated blue and
Canada and Blackburnian warblers. As once more Summer followed hard on
our heels, we took passage and traveled to a lonely camp in northern
Canada. The second day of our trip we overtook Spring again, and were
traveling through amethyst masses of rhodora and woods white with the
shad-blow. At last the apple orchards were not yet in flower, and for
the third time that year we found ourselves among the cherry blossoms.

We never stopped until we reached a lonely bay far to the north. The
sun was westering well down the sky when at last we crowded into a
creaking buckboard for a ten-mile drive. The air was full of strange
bird-songs. From the fields came a little song that began like a
feeble song sparrow and ended in a buzz. It was the Savannah sparrow,
which I had seen every year in migration, but had never before heard
sing. At the first bend in the road we came to a bit of marshland so
full of unknown bird-notes that we stopped to explore. From the edge
of the sphagnum bog came a loud explosive song--"Chip, chip, chippy,
chippy, chippy, chippy!" The singer was a greenish-colored bird, light
underneath, with a white line through the eye, and looked much like a
red-eyed vireo except that it had a warbler beak, the which it opened
to a surprising width as it sang. It was none other than the Tennessee
warbler, so rare a bird in my part of the world that even to see one
in migration was then an event. Here it was one of the commonest birds
of that whole region.

Then I stalked a strange vireo-song, something like the monotonous
notes of the red-eyed vireo, but softer and with a different cadence.
I finally found the singer in a little thicket, and studied it for
some ten minutes not six feet away. For the first time in my life I
had seen and heard the smallest and rarest of all the six vireos, the
Philadelphia, so named because it is never by any chance found in
Philadelphia. Its tininess and the pale yellow upper breast shading
into white were noticeable field-marks. To me it seemed a tame, dear,
beautiful little bird.

Just at starlight we reached the camp, and I fell asleep to the weird
notes of unknown water-birds passing down the river through the
darkness. Followed a week of unalloyed happiness. Each day, from
before dawn until long after dark, we met strange birds and found new
nests and listened to unknown bird-songs. One morning we heard a loud
yap from a dead maple-stub. On its side grew what seemed to be an
orange-colored fungus. As we came nearer, it proved to be the head of
a male Arctic three-toed woodpecker, who wears an orange patch on his
forehead and shares with his undecorated spouse the pains and
pleasures of incubation. As we came nearer, he flew out of the nest,
showing his jet-black back and white throat, and fed unconcernedly up
and down the tree, even when we climbed to where we could look down at
the five ivory-white eggs he had been brooding.

Later on we were to learn how favored above all other ornithologists
we had been, in that within one short week we had found such almost
unknown nests as those of the Arctic three-toed woodpecker, the yellow
palm, the bay-breasted, and the Tennessee warbler. We learned the
jingling little song of the yellow palm warbler, who has a
maroon-colored head, a yellow breast, and twitches his tail like a
water thrush. Another new song was the "Swee, swee, swee" of the
bay-breasted warbler, who wears a rich sombre suit of black and
bay. Over on the shore we heard the plaintive piping of the
brownish-gray-and-white piping plover, who ran ahead of us and was
hard to see against the sand. Right beside my foot I found one of the
nests, a little hollow in the warm sand, lined with broken shells,
containing four eggs, the color of wet sand all spotted with black and
gray.

All through the woods we heard a strange wild, ringing song much like
that of the Carolina wren. "Chick-a-ree, chick-a-ree, chick-a-ree,
chick" it sounded. Then between the songs the bird sang another like a
rippling laugh, and then for variety had a note which went "Chu, chu,
chu" like a fish-hawk. It was some time before we found that these
three songs all came from the same bird, and it was much longer before
we learned the singer's name. For days and days we searched the woods
without a glimpse of him. We found at last that he was none other than
the ruby-crowned kinglet, that tiny bird with a concealed patch of
flame-colored feathers on the top of his head, who sings so
brilliantly as he passes through the Eastern states in the spring. Not
once during that week did we hear the intricate warble which is the
kinglet's spring song. Evidently this talented performer has a
different repertoire for his home engagement from that which he uses
while on the road.

One of the most beautiful songs of that week I heard in the middle of
a marsh, up to my knees in muck, water, and sphagnum moss. Around me
grew wild callas, with their single curved dead-white petals and
pussy-toes, grasses topped with what looked like little dabs of warm
brown fur. I was painstakingly searching through the wet moss and
tangled reeds for the little hidden jewel-caskets of the
yellow-bellied flycatcher, Lincoln finch, Wilson, Tennessee, and
yellow palm warblers. I had just found my fourth yellow palm warbler's
nest, all lined with feathers, and with its four eggs like flecked
pink pearls, the nest itself so cunningly concealed in a mass of moss
and marsh-grass that the discovery of each one seemed a miracle that
would never happen again.

Suddenly, out of a corner of my eye, I caught sight of a tiny movement
under the drooping boughs of a little spruce half hidden in a tangle
of moss. There crouched a little brown rabbit, not even half-grown,
but yet old enough to have learned that maxim of the rabbit-folk--when
in danger sit still! Not a muscle of his taut little body quivered
even when I touched him, save only his soft brown nose. That was
covered with mosquitoes, and even to save his life Bunny could not
keep from wrinkling it. It was this tiny movement that had betrayed
him. I brushed away the mosquitoes and was watching him hop away
gratefully to another cover, when down from mid-sky came a rippling
whinnying note as if from some far-away aeolian harp. As I looked, a
speck showed against the blue, which grew larger and larger, and into
sight volplaned a Wilson snipe, the driven air whining and beating
against its wings in little waves of music, and we had added to our
collection of bird-music the famous wing-song of the Wilson snipe,
even rarer than the strange flight-song of the woodcock.

A little later one of my friends found our first olive-backed thrush's
nest, lined with porcupine-hair and black rootlets, and containing
blue eggs blotched with brown. Just beyond the nest I heard what I
thought was a gold-finch singing "Per-chickery, per-chickery." The
song was so loud that I stopped to investigate, and to my delight
found that the singer was a pine grosbeak, all rose-red against a dark
green spruce. All around us magnificent olive-sided flycatchers
shouted from their tree-tops, "Hip! three cheers! Hip! three cheers!"
and we heard the listless song of the beautiful Cape May warbler, with
its yellow and black under-parts and orange-brown eye-patch and black
crown. "Zee, zee, zee, zip," it sang, something like the song of the
blackpoll warbler, but lacking the high, glassy, crystalline notes of
that white-cheeked bird.

I was responsible for the last bird-song which appears on the lists of
my three friends--but not on mine. We were to start back for
civilization the next morning, and I was walking along the river-bank
in the late twilight, while my more industrious and scientific
companions were writing up their notes and compiling lists of
everything seen and heard on our trip. Through the windows of the
gun-room I could see their learned backs as they bent over their
compilations. Suddenly the eerie little wail of a screech owl floated
up from the river-bank. Curiously enough, it came from the very tree
behind which I was crouching. Instantly I saw three backs straighten
and three heads peer excitedly out into the darkness. When I at last
strolled in half an hour later, they told me excitedly that they had
scored the first screech owl ever heard in that particular part of
Canada. I never told them. It is not safe to trifle with the feelings
of a scientific ornithologist. Undoubtedly my reticence in regard to
that particular bird-song is all that has saved me from occupying a
lonely grave in upper Canada.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sweetest of all the singers, the thrush-folk--what shall I say of
them? of the veery, with its magic notes; of the hermit thrush whose
song opens the portals of another world; of the dear wood thrush who
sings at our door. While these three voices are left in the world,
there are recurrent joys that nothing can take from us.

It was the veery song that I learned first. More years ago than I like
to remember, I walked at sunrise by a thicket, listening to bird-songs
and wondering whether there was any way by which I might come to learn
the names of the singers. One song rippled out of that thicket that
thrilled me with its strange unearthly harp-chords. "Ta-wheela,
ta-wheela, ta-wheela," it ran weirdly down the scale, and strangely
enough, was at its best at a distance and in the dusk or the early
moonlight. I was to learn later that the singer was the veery or
Wilson thrush. That was many years ago, but I have loved the bird from
that day. Once I found its nest set in the midst of a dark
rhododendron swamp; and as the mother bird slipped like a tawny shadow
from the wondrous blue eggs gleaming in the dusk, from nearby vibrated
the whirling ringing notes of its mate. Again, on a tussock in Wolf
Island Marsh I found another; and as both birds fluttered around me
with the alarm note, "Pheu, pheu," the father bird whispered a strain
of his song, and it was as if the wind had rippled the music from the
waving marsh-grasses.

In the dawn-dusk on the top of Mount Pocono I have listened to them
singing in the rain, and their song was as dreamy sweet as the
tinkling of the spring shower. The veery song is at its best by
moonlight. I remember one late May twilight coming down to the round
green circle of an old charcoal-pit, by the side of a little lake set
deep in the hills and fringed with the tender green of the opening
leaves. That day I had climbed Kent Mountain, and seen my first eagle,
and visited a rattlesnake den, and found a dozen or so nests, and
walked many dusty miles. It was nearly dark as I slipped off my
clothes and swam through the motionless water. The still air was sweet
with little elusive waves of perfume from the blossoms of the wild
grape. Over the edge of Pond Hill the golden rim of a full moon made
the faint green tracery of the opening leaves all show in a mist of
soft moonlight. As I reached the centre of the lake, from both shores
a veery chorus began. The hermit thrush will not sing after eight, but
the veery sings well into the dark, if only the moon will shine. That
night, as from the hidden springs of the lake the heart-blood of the
hills pulsed against my tired body, the veery songs drifted across the
water, all woven with moonshine and fragrance, until it seemed as if
the moonlight and the perfume, the coolness and the song were all one.

Some April evening between cherry-blow and apple-blossom the wood
thrush comes back. I first hear his organ-notes from the beech tree at
the foot of Violet Hill. Down from my house beside the white oak I
make haste to meet him. In 1918, he came to me on May 3; in 1917 on
April 27; and in 1916 on April 30. He seems always glad to see me, yet
with certain reserves and withdrawings quite different from the
robins, who chirp unrestrainedly at one's very feet. His well-fitting
coat of wood-brown and soft white, dusked and dotted with black,
accord with the natural dignity of the bird. It is quite impossible to
be reserved in a red waistcoat. Some of my earliest and happiest
bird-memories are of this sweet singer.

The wood thrush has a habit of marking his nest with some patch or
shred of white, perhaps so that when he comes back from his twilight
song he may find it the more readily. Usually the mark is a bit of
paper, or a scrap of cloth, on which the nest is set. Last winter I
was walking across a frozen marsh where in late summer the blue blind
gentian hides. The long tow-colored grass of the tussocks streamed out
before a stinging wind which howled at me like a wolf. I crept through
thickets to the centre of a little wood, until I was safe from its
fierce fingers among the close-set tree-trunks. There I found the
last-year's nest of a wood thrush built on a bit of bleached
newspaper. Pulling out the paper, I read on it in weather-faded
letters, "Votes for Women!" There was no doubt in my mind that the
head of that house was a thrushigist. That is probably the reason too
why Father Thrush takes his turn on the eggs.

Once in the depths of a swamp in the Pocono Mountains I was hunting
for the nests of the northern water thrush, which is a wood-warbler
and not a thrush at all. That temperamental bird always chooses
peculiarly disagreeable morasses for his home. In the roots of an
overturned tree by the side of the deepest and most stagnant pool that
he can conveniently find, his nest is built, unlike his twin-brother,
the Louisiana water thrush, who chooses the bank of some lonely
stream. On that day, while ploughing through mud and water and
mosquitoes, I came upon a wood thrush's nest beautifully lined with
dry green moss, with a scrap of snowy birch-bark for its marker.

The song of the wood thrush is a strain of woodwind notes, few in
number, but inexpressibly true, mellow, and assuaging. "Cool bars of
melody--the liquid coolness of a deep spring," is how they sounded to
Thoreau. "Air--o--e, air-o-u," with a rising inflection on the "e" and
a falling cadence on the "u," is perhaps an accurate phrasing of the
notes. Many of our singers give a more elaborate performance. The
brown thrasher, that grand-opera singer who loves a tree-top and an
audience, has a more brilliant song. Yet there are few listeners who
will prefer his florid, conscious style to the simple, appealing notes
of the wood thrush. Although his is perhaps the most beautiful strain
in our everyday chorus, to me the wood thrush does not rank with
either the veery or the hermit. His song lacks the veery's magic and
the ethereal quality of the hermit, and is marred by occasional
grating bass-notes.

My own favorite I have saved until the very last. There is an
unmatchable melody in the song of the hermit thrush found in that of
no other bird. The olive-backed thrush has a hurried unrestful song, a
combination of the notes of the wood thrush and the veery. I have
never heard that mountain-top singer, the Bicknell thrush, or him of
the far North, the gray-cheeked, or the varied thrush of the West, but
from the description of their songs I doubt if any of them possess the
qualities of the hermit.

As I write, across the ice-bound months comes the memory of that
spring twilight when I last heard the hermit thrush sing. I was
leaning against the gnarled trunk of a great beech, between two
buttressed roots. Overhead was a green mist of unfolding leaves, and
the silver and gray light slowly faded between the bare white boles
of the wood. A few creaking grackles rowed through the sky, and in the
distance crows cawed on their way to some secret roost. Down through
the air fell the alto sky-call of the bluebirds, and robins flocking
for the night whispered greetings to each other. Below me the brook
was full of voices. It tinkled and gurgled, and around the bend at
intervals sounded a murmur so human that at first I thought some other
wanderer had discovered my refuge. It was only, however, the
mysterious babble that always sounds at intervals when a brook sings
to a human. It was as if the water were trying to speak the listener's
language, and had learned the tones but not the words. Now and again
the wind sounded in the valley below; then passed overhead with a vast
hollow roar, so high that the spice-bush thicket which hid me hardly
swayed.

I leaned back against the vast thews and ridged muscles of the beech,
one of the generations upon generations of men who pass like dreams
under its vast branches. One of my play-time fancies in the woods is
to hark back a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years, and try to
picture what trees and animals and men I might have met there then.
Another is to choose the tree on which my life-years are to depend.
Give up the human probabilities of life, and live as long or as short
as the tree of my choice. Of course it would be a lottery. The tree
might die, or be cut down, the year after I had made my bargain; and I
used to plan how I would secure and guard the bit of woodland where my
life-tree lived. Of all those that I met, this particular beech with
the centuries behind it and the centuries yet to come, was my special
choice, for the beech is the slowest growing of all our trees. This
one towered high overhead, while its roots plunged down deep into the
living waters and its vast girth seemed as if nothing could shake it.

That evening, as I lay against it and bargained for a share of its
years, I thought that I felt the vast trunk move as if its life
reached out to mine. Life is given to the tree and to the mammal. Why
may they not meet on some common plane? Some one, some day, will learn
the secret of that meeting-place.

So I dreamed, when suddenly in the twilight beyond my thicket a song
began. It started with a series of cool, clear, round notes, like
those of the wood thrush but with a wilder timbre. In the world where
that singer dwells, there is no fret and fever of life and strife of
tongues. On and on the song flowed, cool and clear. Then the strain
changed. Up and up with glorious sweeps the golden voice soared. It
was as if the wood itself were speaking. There was in it youth and
hope and spring and glories of dawns and sunsets and moonlight and the
sound of the wind from far away. Again the world was young and
unfallen, nor had the gates of Heaven closed. All the long-lost dreams
of youth came true--while the hermit thrush sang.


    MCGRATH-SHERRILL PRESS
    GRAPHIC ARTS BLDG.
    BOSTON



Transcriber's note:


Archaic and inconsistent spelling and punctuation retained.





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