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Title: Winter
Author: Sharp, Dallas Lore, 1870-1929
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: THE FOX SPARROWS' BATH (page 56)]


The Dallas Lore Sharp Nature Series

WINTER

by

DALLAS LORE SHARP

Author of “The Fall of the Year,” “The Lay of the Land,”
“The Face of the Fields,” etc.

Illustrated by Robert Bruce Horsfall



Boston New York Chicago
Houghton Mifflin Company

The Riverside Press Cambridge

Copyright, 1905, by Doubleday, Page and Company
Copyright, 1906, by the Chapple Publishing Company
Copyright, 1910, 1911, by Perry Mason Company
Copyright, 1912, by the Golden Rule Publishing Company
Copyright, 1912, by the Century Company
Copyright, 1908, 1911, 1912, by Dallas Lore Sharp

All Rights Reserved



    TO
    THE FOUR SMALL BOYS
    ON MULLEIN HILL
    WHO HUNT THE SNOW WITH ME



    CONTENTS


    INTRODUCTION                                          ix
       I. HUNTING THE SNOW                                 1
      II. THE TURKEY DRIVE                                15
     III. WHITE-FOOT                                      29
      IV. A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO SEE THIS WINTER          39
       V. CHRISTMAS IN THE WOODS                          46
      VI. CHICKADEE                                       61
     VII. A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO DO THIS WINTER           74
    VIII. THE MISSING TOOTH                               80
      IX. THE PECULIAR ’POSSUM                            94
       X. A FEBRUARY FRESHET                             105
      XI. A BREACH IN THE BANK                           112
     XII. A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO HEAR THIS WINTER        123
    XIII. THE LAST DAY OF WINTER                         129
          NOTES AND SUGGESTIONS                          137



    ILLUSTRATIONS


    THE FOX SPARROWS’ BATH                         _Frontispiece_
    SKUNK TRACKS                                                3
    CAT TRACKS                                                  4
    TRACKS OF HARE JOINED BY DOGS                               6
    “IN A BURST OF SPEED ACROSS THE OPEN FIELD”                 7
    DOG TRACKS IN FOUR INCHES OF SNOW                           7
    TRACKS OF THE WHITE-FOOTED MOUSE                            9
    “A GRAY SQUIRREL WITH A RED SQUIRREL AT HIS HEELS”         11
    FOX TRACKS                                                 12
    MUSKRAT TRAIL                                              14
    “INTO THE AIR THEY WENT”                                   26
    WHITE-FOOT--“IN THE WINTER GALES”                          33
    “FIVE WEE MICE”                                            35
    WHITE-FOOT AND THE HICKORY-NUTS                            38
    A VIREO’S NEST IN WINTER                                   40
    “WIND-SWEEPINGS”                                           41
    ’POSSUM IN THE PERSIMMON TREE                              50
    WEASEL--“WATCHING ME FROM BETWEEN THE STICKS”              58
    “A CHICKADEE!”                                             62
    “DOING THE EXCAVATING THEMSELVES”                          69
    FOOD FOR THE NUTHATCHES                                    76
    THE MOURNING-CLOAK BUTTERFLY, AN EARLY FLITTER             77
    A RUFFED GROUSE TRAIL                                      78
    “THE SNOW HAD MELTED FROM THE RIVER MEADOWS”               80
    “CARRYING A BIG BOB-TAILED VOLE OUT OF MY ‘MOWING’”        85
    “SCURRYING THROUGH THE TOPS OF SOME PITCH PINES”           90
    “ALL THE AFTERNOON THE CROWS HAVE BEEN GOING OVER”         93
    THE DUCK-BILLED PLATYPUS, OR DUCK-BILL                     97
    THE ECHIDNA, OR PORCUPINE ANT-EATER                        98
    “STANDING BEFORE A LARGE ’POSSUM”                          99
    “OUT SHE SPILLED AND NINE LITTLE ’POSSUMS WITH HER”       100
    “A GREAT BLUE HERON WOULD BEAT PONDEROUSLY ACROSS”        106
    MEADOW MOUSE--“IN A DRIFTING CATBIRD’S NEST”              109
    “A LITTLE FIGURE IN YELLOW OIL-SKINS”                     114
    “DREW A LIMP LITTLE FORM OUT OF THE WATER”                121
    QUAIL--“ONE OF THE COVEY CALLING THE FLOCK TOGETHER”      127
    “A FLOCK OF ROBINS DASHING INTO THE CEDARS”               131
    PUSSY-WILLOWS AND WATERCRESS                              132
    “THE HAZELNUT BUSHES ARE IN BLOOM”                        133
    BLUEBIRD--“LIKE A BIT OF SUMMER SKY”                      135



INTRODUCTION


As in _The Fall of the Year_, so here in _Winter_, the second volume
of this series, I have tried by story and sketch and suggestion to
catch the spirit of the season. In this volume it is the large, free,
strong, fierce, wild soul of Winter which I would catch, the bitter
boreal might that, out of doors, drives all before it; that challenges
all that is wild and fierce and strong and free and large within us,
till the bounding red blood belts us like an equator, and the glow of
all the tropics blooms upon our faces and down into the inmost of our
beings.

Winter within us means vitality and purpose and throbbing life; and
without us in our fields and woods it means widened prospect, the
storm of battle, the holiness of peace, the poetry of silence and
darkness and emptiness and death. And I have tried throughout this
volume to show that Winter is only a symbol, that death is only an
appearance, that life is everywhere, and that everywhere life
dominates even while it lies buried under the winding-sheet of the
snow.

        “A simple child,
    That lightly draws its breath,
    What should it know of death?”

Why, this at least, that the winter world is not dead; that the cold
is powerless to destroy; that life flees and hides and sleeps, only
to waken again, forever stronger than death--fresher, fairer, sweeter
for its long winter rest.

But first of all, and always, I have tried here to be a naturalist and
nature-lover, pointing out the sounds and sights, the things to do,
the places to visit, the how and why, that the children may know the
wild life of winter, and through that knowledge come to love winter
for its own sake.

And they will love it. Winter seems to have been made especially for
children. They do not have rheumatism. Let the old people hurry off
down South, but turn the children loose in the snow. The sight of a
snowstorm affects a child as the smell of catnip affects a cat. He
wants to roll over and over and over in it. And he should roll in it;
the snow is his element as it is a polar bear cub’s.

I love the winter, and so do all children--its bare fields, empty
woods, flattened meadows, its ranging landscapes, its stirless
silences, its tumult of storms, its crystal nights with stars new cut
in the glittering sky, its challenge, defiance, and mighty wrath. I
love its wild life--its birds and animals; the shifts they make to
conquer death. And then, out of this winter watching, I love the
gentleness that comes, the sympathy, the understanding! One gets very
close to the heart of Nature through such understanding.

    DALLAS LORE SHARP.
    MULLEIN HILL, March, 1912.



WINTER



CHAPTER I

HUNTING THE SNOW


You want no gun, no club, no game-bag, no steel trap, no snare when
you go hunting the snow. Rubber boots or overshoes, a good, stout
stick to help you up the ridges, a pair of field-glasses and a keen
eye, are all you need for this hunt,--besides, of course, the snow and
the open country.

You have shoveled the first snow of the winter; you have been
snowballing in it; you have coasted on it; and gone sleigh-riding over
it; but unless you have gone hunting over it you have missed the
rarest, best sport that the first snowfall can bring you.

Of all the days to be out in the woods, the day that follows the first
snowfall is--the best? No, not the best. For there is the day in April
when you go after arbutus; and there is the day in June when the
turtles come out to lay in the sand; the muggy, cloudy day in August
when the perch are hungry for you in the creek; the hazy Indian
Summer day when the chestnuts are dropping for you in the pastures;
the keen, crisp February day when the ice spreads glassy-clear and
smooth for you over the mill-pond; the muddy, raw, half-thawed,
half-lighted, half-drowned March day when the pussy-willows are
breaking, and the first spring frogs are piping to you from the
meadow. Then there is--every day, every one of the three hundred and
sixty-five days, each of them best days to be out in the live world of
the fields and woods.

But _one_ of the very best days to be out in the woods is the day that
follows the first winter snowfall, for that is the day when you must
shoulder a good stout stick and go gunning. Gunning with a stick? Yes,
with a stick, and rubber boots, and bird-glasses. Along with this
outfit you might take a small jointed foot-rule with which to measure
your quarry, and a notebook to carry the game home in.

It ought to be the day after the first real snow, but not if that snow
happens to be a blizzard and lies deep in dry powdery drifts, for then
you could hardly follow a trail if you should find one. Do not try the
hunt, either, if the snow comes heavy and wet; for then the animals
will stay in their dens until the snow melts, knowing, as they do,
that the soft slushy stuff will soon disappear. The snow you need will
lie even and smooth, an inch or two deep, and will be just damp enough
to pack into tight snowballs.

If, however, the early snows are not ideal, then wait until over an
old crusted snow there falls a fresh layer about an inch deep. This
may prove even better hunting, for by this time in the winter the
animals and birds are quite used to snow-walking, and besides, their
stores of food are now running short, compelling them to venture forth
whether or not they wish to go.

It was early in December that our first hunting-snow came last year.
We were ready for it, waiting for it, and when the winter sun broke
over the ridge, we started the hunt at the hen-yard gate, where we saw
tracks in the thin, new snow that led us up the ridge, and along its
narrow back, to a hollow stump. Here the hunt began in earnest; for
not until that trail of close, double, nail-pointed prints went under
the stump were the four small boys convinced that we were tracking a
skunk and not a cat.

The creature had moved leisurely--that you could tell by the closeness
of the prints. Wide-apart tracks in the snow mean hurry. Now a cat,
going as slowly as this creature went, would have put down her dainty
feet almost in a single line, and would have left round,
cushion-marked holes in the snow, not triangular, nail-pointed prints
like these. Cats do not venture into holes under stumps, either.

We had bagged our first quarry! No, no! We had not pulled that wood
pussy out of his hole and put him into our game-bag. We did not want
to do that. We really carried no bag; and if we had, we should not
have put the wood pussy into it, for we were hunting tracks, not
animals, and “bagging our quarry” meant trailing a creature to its
den, or following its track till we had discovered something it had
done, or what its business was, and why it was out. We were on the
snow for animal _facts_, not pelts.

We were elated with our luck, for this stump was not five minutes by
the ridge path from the hen-yard. And here, standing on the stump, we
were only sixty minutes away from Boston Common by the automobile,
driving no faster than the law allows. So we were hunting, not in a
wilderness, but just outside our dooryard and almost within the
borders of a great city.

And that is the first interesting fact of our morning hunt. No one but
a lover of the woods and a careful walker on the snow would believe
that here in the midst of hayfields, in sight of the smoke of city
factories, so many of the original wild wood-folk still live and
travel their night paths undisturbed.

Still, this is a rather rough bit of country, broken, ledgy,
boulder-strewn, with swamps and woody hills that alternate with small
towns and cultivated fields for many miles around.

Here the animals are still at home, as this hole of the skunk’s under
the stump proved. But there was more proof. As we topped the ridge on
the trail of the skunk, we crossed another trail, made up of bunches
of four prints,--two long and broad, two small and roundish,--spaced
about a yard apart.

A hundred times, the winter before, we had tried that trail in the
hope of finding the form or the burrow of its maker; but it crossed
and turned and doubled, and always led us into a tangle, out of which
we never got a clue. It was the track of the great northern hare, as
we knew, and we were relieved to see the strong prints of our cunning
neighbor again; for, what with the foxes and the hunters, we were
afraid it might have fared ill with him. But here he was, with four
good legs under him; and, after bagging our skunk, we returned to pick
up the hare’s trail, to try our luck once more.

We followed his long, leisurely leaps down the ridge, out into our
mowing-field, and over to the birches below the house. Here he had
capered about in the snow, had stood up on his haunches and gnawed the
bark from off a green oak sucker two and a half feet from the ground.
This, doubtless, was pretty near his length, stretched out--an
interesting item; not exact to the inch, perhaps, but close enough for
us; for who would care to kill him in order to measure him with
scientific accuracy?

Nor was this all; for up the footpath through the birches came the
marks of two dogs. They joined the marks of the hare. And then, back
along the edge of the woods to the bushy ridge, we saw a pretty race.

It was all in our imaginations, all done for us by those long-flinging
footprints in the snow. But we saw it all--the white hare, the
yelling hounds, nip and tuck, in a burst of speed across the open
field which must have left a gap in the wind behind.

It had all come as a surprise. The hounds had climbed the hill on the
scent of a fox, and had started the hare unexpectedly. Off he had gone
with a jump. But just such a jump of fear is what a hare’s magnificent
legs were intended for.

Those legs carried him a clear twelve feet in some of the longest
leaps for the ridge; and they carried him to safety, so far as we
could read the snow. In the medley of hare-and-hound tracks on the
ridge there was no sign of a tragedy. He had escaped again--but how
and where we have still to learn.

We had bagged our hare,--yet we have him still to bag,--and taking up
the trail of one of the dogs, we continued our hunt. One of the joys
of this snow-hunting is having a definite road or trail blazed for you
by knowing, purposeful wild-animal feet.

You do not have to blunder ahead, breaking your way into this
wilderness world, trusting luck to bring you somewhere. The wild
animal or the dog goes this way, and not that, for a reason. You are
watching that reason all along; you are pack-fellow to the hound; you
hunt with him.

Here the hound had thrust his muzzle into a snow-capped pile of
slashings, had gone clear round the pile, then continued on his way.
But we stopped; for out of the pile, in a single, direct line, ran a
number of mouse prints, going and coming. A dozen white-footed mice
might have traveled that road since the day before, when the snow had
ceased falling.

We entered the tiny road, for in this kind of hunting a mouse is as
good as a mink, and found ourselves descending the woods toward the
garden patch below. Halfway down we came to a great red oak, into a
hole at the base of which, as into the portal of some mighty castle,
ran the road of the mice. That was the end of it. There was not a
single straying footprint beyond the tree.

I reached in as far as my arm would go, and drew out a fistful of
pop-corn cobs. So here was part of my scanty crop! I pushed in again,
and gathered up a bunch of chestnut shells, hickory-nuts and several
neatly rifled hazelnuts. This was story enough. There must be a family
of mice living under the slashing-pile, who for some good reason kept
their stores here in the recesses of this ancient red oak. Or was this
some squirrel’s barn being pilfered by the mice, as my barn is the
year round? It was not all plain. But this question, this constant
riddle of the woods, is part of our constant joy in the woods. Life
is always new, and always strange, and always fascinating.

It has all been studied and classified according to species. Any one
knowing the woods at all, would know that these were mouse tracks,
would even know that they were the tracks of the white-footed mouse,
and not the tracks of the jumping mouse, the house mouse, or the
meadow mouse. But what is the whole small story of these prints? What
purpose, what intention, what feeling, do they spell? What and why?--a
hundred times!

So it is not the bare tracks that we are hunting; it is the meaning of
the tracks--where they are going, and what they are going for. Burns
saw a little mouse run across the furrows as he was plowing and wrote
a poem about it. So could we write a poem if we like Burns would stop
to think what the running of these little mice across the snow might
mean. The woods and fields, summer and winter, are full of poems that
might be written if we only knew just all that the tiny snow-prints
of a wood mouse mean, or understood just what, “root and all, and all
in all,” the humblest flower is.

The pop-corn cobs, however, we did understand; they told a plain
story; and, falling in with a gray squirrel’s track not far from the
red oak, we went on, our burdenless game-bag heavier, our hearts
lighter that we, by the sweat of our brows, had contributed a few ears
of corn to the comfort of this snowy winter world.

The squirrel’s track wound up and down the hillside, wove in and out
and round and round, hitting every possible tree, as if the only road
for a squirrel was one that looped and doubled, and tied up every
stump, and zigzagged into every tree trunk in the woods.

But all this maze was no ordinary journey. He had not run this coil of
a road for breakfast, because a squirrel, when he travels, say for
distant nuts, goes as directly as you go to your school or office;
only he goes not by streets, but by trees, never crossing more of the
open in a single rush than the space between him and the nearest tree
that will take him on his way.

What interested us here in the woods was the fact that a second series
of tracks, just like the first, except that they were only about half
as large, dogged the larger tracks persistently, leaping tree for
tree, and landing track for track with astonishing accuracy--tracks
which, had they not been evidently those of a smaller squirrel, would
have read to us most menacingly.

As this was the mating season for squirrels, I suggested that it might
have been a kind of Atalanta’s race here in the woods. But why did so
little a squirrel want to mate with one so large? They would not look
well together, was the answer of the small boys. They thought it much
more likely that Father Squirrel had been playing wood-tag with one of
his children.

Then, suddenly, as sometimes happens in the woods, the true meaning of
the signs was fairly hurled at us, for down the hill, squealing and
panting, rushed a full-sized gray squirrel, with a red squirrel like a
shadow, like a weasel, at his heels.

For just an instant I thought it was a weasel, so swift and silent and
gliding were its movements, so set and cruel seemed its expression, so
sure, so inevitable, its victory.

Whether it ever caught the gray squirrel or not, and what it would
have done had it caught the big fellow, I do not know. But I have seen
the chase often--the gray squirrel nearly exhausted with fright and
fatigue, the red squirrel hard after him. They tore round and round
us, then up over the hill, and disappeared.

One of the rarest prints for most snow-hunters nowadays, but one of
the commonest hereabouts, is the quick, sharp track of the fox. In the
spring particularly, when my fancy young chickens are turned out to
pasture, I have spells of fearing that the fox will never be
exterminated here in this untillable but beautiful chicken country. In
the winter, however, when I see Reynard’s trail across my lawn, when I
hear the music of the baying hounds and catch a glimpse of the
white-tipped brush swinging serenely in advance of the coming pack, I
cannot but admire the capable, cunning rascal, cannot but be glad for
him, and marvel at him, so resourceful, so superior to his almost
impossible conditions, his almost numberless foes.

We started across the meadow on his trail, but found it leading so
straightaway for the ledges, and so continuously blotted out by the
passing of the pack, that, striking the wallowy path of a muskrat in
the middle of the meadow, we took up the new scent to see what the
shuffling, cowering water-rat wanted from across the snow.

A man is known by the company he keeps, by the way he wears his hat,
by the manner of his laugh; and among the wild animals nothing tells
more of character than their manner of moving. You can read animal
character as easily in the snow as you can read act and direction.

The timidity, the indecision, the lack of purpose, the restless,
meaningless curiosity of this muskrat were evident from the first in
the starting, stopping, returning, going-on track he had plowed out in
the thin snow.

He did not know where he was going or what he was going for; he knew
only that he insisted upon going back, but all the while kept going
on; that he wanted to go to the right or to the left, yet kept moving
straight ahead.

We came to a big wallow in the snow, where, in sudden fear, he had had
a fit at the thought of something that might not have happened to him
had he stayed at home. Every foot of the trail read, “He would if he
could; if he couldn’t, how could he?”

We followed him on, across a dozen other trails, for it is not every
winter night that the muskrat’s feet get the better of his head, and,
willy-nilly, take him abroad. Strange and fatal weakness! He goes and
cannot stop.

Along the stone wall of the meadow we tracked him, across the
highroad, over our garden, into the orchard, up the woody hill to the
yard, back down the hill to the orchard, out into the garden, and back
toward the orchard again; and here, on a knoll just at the edge of the
scanty, skeleton shadow where the sunlight fell through the trees, we
lost him.

Two mighty wings, we saw, had touched the snow lightly here, and the
lumbering trail had vanished as into the air.

Close and mysterious the shadowy silent wings hang poised indoors and
out. Laughter and tears are companions. Life begins, but death
sometimes ends the trail. Yet the sum of life, outdoors and in, is
peace, gladness, and fulfillment.



CHAPTER II

THE TURKEY DRIVE


The situation was serious enough for the two boys. It was not a large
fortune, but it was their whole fortune, that straggled along the
slushy road in the shape of five hundred weary, hungry turkeys, which
were looking for a roosting-place.

But there was no place where they could roost, no safe place, as the
boys well knew, for on each side of the old road stretched the forest
trees, a dangerous, and in the weakened condition of the turkeys, an
impossible roost on such a night as was coming.

For the warm south wind had again veered to the north; the slush was
beginning to grow crusty, and a fine sifting of snow was slanting
through the open trees. Although it was still early afternoon, the
gloom of the night had already settled over the forest, and the
turkeys, with empty crops, were peevishly searching the bare trees for
a roost.

It was a strange, slow procession that they made, here in the New
Brunswick forest--the flock of five hundred turkeys, toled forward by
a boy of eighteen, kept in line by a well-trained shepherd-dog that
raced up and down the straggling column, and urged on in the rear by
a boy of nineteen, who was followed, in his turn, by an old horse and
farm wagon, creeping along behind.

It was growing more difficult all the time to keep the turkeys moving.
But they must not be allowed to stop until darkness should put an end
to the march. And they must not be allowed to take to the trees at
all. Some of them, indeed, were too weak to roost high; but the flock
would never move forward again if exposed in the tall trees on such a
night as this promised to be.

The thing to do was to keep them stirring. Once allow them to halt,
give one of them time to pick out a roosting-limb for himself, and the
march would be over for that afternoon. The boys knew their flock.
This was not their first drive. They knew from experience that once a
turkey gets it into his small head to roost, he is bound to roost.
Nothing will stop him. And in this matter the flock acts as a single
bird.

In the last village, back along the road, through which they had
passed, this very flock took a notion suddenly to go to roost, and to
go to roost on a little chapel as the vesper bells were tolling. The
bells were tolling, the worshipers were gathering, when, with a loud
gobble, one of the turkeys in the flock sailed into the air and
alighted upon the ridge-pole beside the belfry! Instantly the flock
broke ranks, ran wildly round the little building, and with a clamor
that drowned the vesper bell, came down on the chapel in a feathered
congregation that covered every shingle of the roof. Only the humor
and quick wit of the kindly old priest prevented the superstitious of
his people from going into a panic. The service had to wait until the
birds made themselves comfortable for the night--belfry, roof,
window-sills, and porch steps thick with roosting turkeys!

The boys had come to have almost a fear of this mania for roosting,
for they never knew when it might break out or what strange turn it
might take. They knew now, as the snow and the gray dusk began to
thicken in the woods, that the flock must not go to roost. Even the
dog understood the signs,--the peevish _quint, quint, quint_, the
sudden bolting of some gobbler into the brush, the stretching necks,
the lagging steps,--and redoubled his efforts to keep the line from
halting.

For two days the flock had been without food. Almost a week’s supply
of grain, enough to carry them through to the border, had been loaded
into the wagon before starting in upon this wild, deserted road
through the Black Creek region; but the heavy, day-long snowstorm had
prevented their moving at all for one day, and had made travel so
nearly impossible since then that here they were, facing a blizzard,
with night upon them, five hundred starving turkeys straggling wearily
before them, and a two days’ drive yet to go!

The two brothers had got a short leave from college, and had started
their turkey drive in the more settled regions back from the New
Brunswick border. They had bought up the turkeys from farm to farm,
had herded them in one great flock as they drove them leisurely along,
and had moved all the while toward the state line, whence they planned
to send them through Maine for the New England market. Upon reaching
the railroad, they would rest and feed the birds, and ship them, in a
special freight-car ordered in advance, to a Boston commission house,
sell the horse and rig for what they could get, and, with their dog,
go directly back to college.

More money than they actually possessed had gone into the daring
venture. But the drive had been more than successful until the
beginning of the Black Creek road. The year before they had gone over
the same route, which they had chosen because it was sparsely settled
and because the prices were low. This year the farmers were expecting
them; the turkeys were plentiful; and the traveling had been good
until this early snow had caught them here in the backwoods and held
them; and now, with the sudden shift of the wind again to the north,
it threatened to delay them farther, past all chance of bringing a
single turkey through alive.

But George and Herbert Totman had not worked their way into their
junior year at college to sit down by the roadside while there was
light to travel by. They were not the kind to let their turkeys go to
roost before sundown. It was a slow and solemn procession that moved
through the woods, but it moved--toward a goal that they had set for
that day’s travel.

All day, at long intervals, as they had pushed along the deep forest
road, the muffled rumble of distant trains had come to them through
the silence; and now, although neither of them had mentioned it, they
were determined to get out somewhere near the tracks before the night
and the storm should settle down upon them. Their road, hardly more
here than a wide trail, must cross the railroad tracks, as they
remembered it, not more than two or three miles ahead.

Leaving more and more of the desolate forest behind them with every
step, they plodded doggedly on. But there was so much of the same
desolate forest still before them! Yet yonder, and not far away, was
the narrow path of the iron track through the interminable waste;
something human--the very sight of it enough to warm and cheer them.
They would camp to-night where they could see a train go by.

The leaden sky lowered closer upon them. The storm had not yet got
under full headway, but the fine icy flakes were flying faster,
slanting farther, and the wind was beginning to drone through the
trees.

Without a halt, the flock moved on through the thickening storm. But
the dog was having all that he could do to keep the stragglers in
order; and George, in the rear, saw that they must stir the flock, for
the birds were gradually falling back into a thick bunch before him.

Hurrying back to the wagon, he got two loaves of bread, and ran ahead
with them to Herbert. The famished turkeys seemed to know what he
carried, and broke into a run after him. For half a mile they kept up
the gait, as both boys, trotting along the road, dropped pieces of
bread on the snow.

Then the whole game had to be repeated; for the greater part of the
flock, falling hopelessly behind, soon forgot what they were running
after, and began to cry, “_Quint! quint! quint!_”--the roosting-cry!
So, starting again in the rear with the bread, George carried the last
of the flock forward for another good run.

“We should win this game,” Herbert panted, “if we only had loaves
enough to make a few more touch-downs.”

“There’s half an hour yet to play,” was George’s answer.

“But what on?”

“Oh, on our nerve now,” the older boy replied grimly.

“That railroad is not far ahead,” said Herbert.

“Half an hour ahead. We’ve got to camp by that track to-night or--”

“Or what?”

But George had turned to help the dog head off some runaways.

Herbert, picking up a lump of frozen leaves and snow, began to break
this in front of the flock to tole them on.

He had hardly started the birds again, when a long-legged gobbler
brushed past him and went swinging down the road, calling, “_Quint!
quint! quint!_” to the flock behind. The call was taken up and passed
along the now extended line, which, breaking immediately into
double-quick, went streaming after him.

Herbert got out of the way to let them pass, too astonished for a
moment to do more than watch them go. It was the roosting-cry! An old
gobbler had given it; but as it was taking him, for once, in the right
direction, Herbert ordered back the dog that had dashed forward to
head him off, and fell in with George to help on the stragglers in the
rear.

As the laggards were brought up to a slight rise in the road, the
flock was seen a hundred yards ahead, gathered in a dark mass about a
telegraph-pole! It could be nothing else, for through the whirling
snow the big cross-arms stood out, dim but unmistakable.

It was this that the gobbler had spied and started for, this sawed and
squared piece of timber, that had suggested a barnyard to him,--corn
and roost,--as to the boys it meant a human presence in the forest
and something like human companionship.

It was after four o’clock now, and the night was hard upon them. The
wind was strengthening every minute; the snow was coming finer and
swifter. The boys’ worst fears about the storm were beginning to be
realized.

But the sight of the railroad track heartened them. The strong-armed
poles, with their humming wires, reached out hands of hope to them;
and getting among the turkeys, they began to hurry them off the track
and down the steep embankment, which fortunately offered them here
some slight protection from the wind. But as fast as they pushed the
birds off, the one-minded things came back on the track. The whole
flock, meanwhile, was scattering up and down the iron rails and
settling calmly down upon them for the night.

They were going to roost upon the track! The railroad bank shelved
down to the woods on each side, and along its whitened peak lay the
two black rails like ridge-poles along the length of a long roof. In
the thick half-light of the whirling snow, the turkeys seemed suddenly
to find themselves at home: and as close together as they could crowd,
with their breasts all to the storm, they arranged themselves in two
long lines upon the steel rails.

And nothing could move them! As fast as one was tossed down the bank,
up he came. Starting down the lines, the boys pushed and shoved to
clear the track; but the lines re-formed behind them quickly, evenly,
and almost without a sound. As well try to sweep back the waves of the
sea! They worked together to collect a small band of the birds and
drive them into the edge of the woods; but every time the band
dwindled to a single turkey that dodged between their legs toward its
place on the roost. The two boys could have kept _two_ turkeys off the
rails, but not five hundred.

“The game is up, George,” said Herbert, as the sickening thought of a
passing train swept over him.

The words were hardly uttered when there came the _tankle, tankle_ of
the big cow-bell hanging from the collar of the horse, that was just
now coming up to the crossing!

George caught his breath and started over to stop the horse, when,
above the loud hum of the wires and the sound of the wind in the
forest trees, they heard through the storm the muffled whistle of a
locomotive.

“Quick! The horse, Herbert! Hitch him to a tree and come!” called
George, as he dived into the wagon and pulled out their lantern.
“Those birds could wreck the train!” he shouted, and hurried forward
along the track with his lighted lantern in his hand.

It was not the thought of the turkeys, but the thought of the people
on the flying Montreal express,--if that it was,--that sped him up
the track. In his imagination he saw the wreck of a ditched train
below him; the moans of a hundred mangled beings he heard sounding in
his ears!

On into the teeth of the blinding storm he raced, while he strained
his eyes for a glimpse of the coming train.

The track seemed to lie straightaway in front of him, and he bent his
head for a moment before the wind, when, out of the smother of the
snow, the flaring headlight leaped almost upon him.

He sprang aside, stumbled, and pitched headlong down the bank, as the
engine of a freight, with a roar that dazed him, swept past.

But the engineer had seen him, and there was a screaming of iron
brakes, a crashing of cars together, and a long-drawn shrieking of
wheels, as the heavy train slid along the slippery rails to a stop.

As the engineer swung down from his cab, he was met, to his great
astonishment, by a dozen turkeys clambering up the embankment toward
him. He had plowed his way well among the roosting flock and brushed
them unhurt from the rails as the engine skidded along to its slow
stop.

By this time the conductor and the train-hands had run forward to see
what it all meant, and stood looking at the strange obstruction on the
track, when Herbert came into the glare of the headlight and joined
them. Then George came panting up, and the boys tried to explain the
situation. But their explanation only made a case of sheer negligence
out of what at first had seemed a mystery to the trainmen. Both the
engineer and the conductor were anxious and surly. Their train was
already an hour late; there was a through express behind, and the
track must be cleared at once.

And they fell at once to clearing it--conductor, fireman, brakemen,
and the two boys. Those railroad men had never tried to clear a track
of roosting turkeys before. They cleared it,--a little of it,--but it
would not stay cleared, for the turkeys slipped through their hands,
squeezed between their legs, ducked about their heels, and got back
into place. Finally the conductor, putting two men in line on each
rail, ordered the engineer to follow slowly, close upon their heels,
with the train, as they scattered the birds before them.

The boys had not once thought of themselves. They had had no time to
think of anything but the danger and the delay that they had caused.
They helped with all their might to get the train through, and as they
worked, silently listened to the repeated threats of the conductor.

At last, with a muttered something, the conductor kicked one of the
turkeys into a fluttering heap beneath the engine, and, turning,
commanded his crew to stand aside and let the engineer finish the rest
of the flock.

The men got away from the track. Then, catching Herbert by the arm,
George pointed along the train, and bending, made a tossing motion
toward the top of the cars.

“Quick!” he whispered. “One on every car!” and stepping calmly back in
front of the engine, he went down the opposite side of the long train.

As he passed the tender, he seized a big gobbler, and sent him with a
wild throw up to the top of a low coal-car, just as Herbert, on his
side, sent another fluttering up to the same perch. Both birds landed
with a flap and a gobble that were heard by the other turkeys up and
down the length of the train.

Instantly came a chorus of answering gobbles as every turkey along the
track saw, in the failing light, that real, buildings--farmyard
buildings--were here to roost on! And into the air they went, helped
all along the train by the two boys, who were tossing them into the
cars, or upon the loads of lumber, as fast as they could pass from car
to car.

Luckily, the rails were sleety, and the mighty driving-wheels,
spinning on the ice with their long load, which seemed to freeze
continually to the track, made headway so slowly that the whole flock
had come to roost upon the cars before the train was fairly moving.

Conductor and brakeman, hurrying back to board the caboose, were
midway of the train before they noticed what was happening. _How_ it
was happening they did not see at all, so hidden were the movements of
the two boys in the swirl of the blinding snow.

For just an instant the conductor checked himself. But it was too late
to do anything. The train was moving, and he must keep it moving as
fast as he could to the freight-yards ahead at the junction--the very
yards where, even now, an empty car was waiting for the overdue
turkeys.

As he ran on down the track and swung aboard the caboose, two other
figures closed in behind the train. One of them, seizing the other by
the arm, landed him safe upon the steps, and then shouted at him
through the storm:--

“Certainly you shall! I’m safe enough! I’ll drive on to that old
sawmill to-night. Feed ’em in the morning and wait for me! Good-by,”
and as the wind carried his voice away, George Totman found himself
staring after a ghost-white car that had vanished in the storm.

He was alone; but the thought of the great flock speeding on to the
town ahead was company enough. Besides, he had too much to do, and to
do quickly, to think of himself; for the snow was blocking his road,
and the cold was getting at him. But how the wires overhead sang to
him! How the sounding forest sang to him as he went back to give the
horse a snatch of supper!

He was soon on the road, where the wind at his back and the tall trees
gave him protection. The four-wheeled wagon pulled hard through the
piling snow, but the horse had had an easy day, and George kept him
going until, toward eight o’clock, he drew up behind a lofty pile of
slabs and sawdust at the old mill.

A wilder storm never filled the resounding forests of the North. The
old mill was far from being proof against the fine, icy snow; but when
George rolled himself in his heavy blanket and lay down beside his
dog, it was to go to sleep to the comfortable munching of the horse,
and with the thought that Herbert and the turkeys were safe.

And they were safe. It was late in the afternoon the next day when
George, having left the wagon at the mill, came floundering behind the
horse through the unbroken road into the streets of the junction, to
find Herbert anxiously waiting for him, and the turkeys, with full
crops, trying hard to go to roost inside their double-decked car.



CHAPTER III

WHITE-FOOT


The December rain was falling down, down, down, as if the drops were
lead instead of water. The December sky, if you could call it sky, had
settled down, down, down, as if it too were of lead, and were being
propped up only by the tops of the stiff bare trees.

A green stick in the fireplace behind me sizzled and sputtered and
blew its small steam whistles to warn me away from the window,--from
the sight of the naked trees, and the cold, thick fog upon the meadow,
and the blur of the pine woods beyond, and the rain falling down,
down, down.

A dreary world out of doors surely, with not a sign of life! The pine
tree, rising up above the hillside in front of the window, was green,
but only a few lifeless leaves rattled among the middle branches of
the oaks, while up in the stark top of a hickory sapling was wedged a
robin’s nest, deserted and wet and going to pieces.

I shivered, in spite of the hearth-fire behind me, for the face of the
gray gloom pressed close up against the window outside. And the empty
robin’s nest, already a ruin! its mud walls broken, its tiny timbers
hanging loose in the rain!

But what a large nest for a robin, I thought; and how strangely peaked
and pointed it is, like a little haycock! Then all at once, inside of
me, and all over me, I felt a warm, delightful feeling.

“It isn’t possible,” said I aloud, but all to myself; “it isn’t
possible that little White-Foot has moved into that old robin’s nest
and fitted it up with a peaked roof for the winter?”

And the thought of it started the warm, delightful feeling again
inside of me and all over me; and snatching up the tongs by the
fireplace I ran out into the December rain and tapped a few times on
the slender hickory sapling.

And what do you think happened?

It stopped raining?

No.

You broke your tongs?

No.

The nest fell out and hit you on the head?

No.

You ran back into the house again out of the rain?

Yes, I did, and I went straight to the window and looked out again at
the robin’s nest,--my deserted, ruined robin’s nest, with its thick
thatch of waterproof cedar bark, with its little round door-hole in
the side, with its soft furry bed, all toasty warm, out of which with
my tapping tongs I had just roused White-Foot and brought him
sleepy-eyed to look down at me from his door.

The rain continued to fall down; but my spirits went up, and up, at
the thought of that little mouse all safe and warm for the winter in
Robin’s deserted nest.

And so, if “there are no birds in last year’s nest,” as mourns a
doleful poem, you need not be sad on that account, for if you look
closely, you may find, now and then, a mouse in last year’s nest--and
who will say that finding a mouse in a bird’s nest is not almost as
interesting as finding a bird there?

A robin’s nest in the winter-time would be the wettest, muddiest,
coldest place in the world for a robin; but a mouse can take that old
robin’s nest and turn it into a snuggery (if you know what a
“snuggery” is) so cozy and warm that neither the tip of Mr. Mouse’s
sharp nose, nor the tip of his thin ears, nor the tippy-tip of his
long bare tail ever feels one sharp nip of the cold outside.

So, if there are no birds in last year’s nest (as surely there ought
not to be), take your tongs and tap, or, better, climb up, and reach
gently into the nest with your finger, for a mouse may be waiting
inside to bite you,--and that would be interesting.

For a mouse is interesting--just as interesting in his mousy ways as a
whale in his whalish ways, or a robin in his ways. Can you name
anything that does not grow interesting as soon as you begin to watch
and study it? Large things, small things, Bengal tigers or
earthworms--all things will surprise and interest you if you will
study them for a season.

I have a friend, for instance, who has shot more tigers, in more
lands, than any other living man; who knows more about tiger habits
and the tempers of the dangerous beasts than any other man; and who,
as I am writing this, is himself writing a book which is to be called
“Tiger Lands.” That will be an exciting book, no doubt, for he has had
adventures that made my hair stand up on my head, just to hear about.
Yet I very much doubt if that book, with all its man-eaters, will be
any more interesting or any more valuable to us than Darwin’s book on
earthworms.

So am I going to sigh because there are no birds in last year’s nests?
Had the poem said, “there are no _mice_ in last year’s nests,” that
might have made me sad, perhaps; though I am sure that I could go into
the woods almost any winter day and find plenty of old _stumps_ with
mice in them. And I am equally sure that there will be plenty of birds
in next summer’s nests; so, until the robins come back and build new
nests, I am going to look out of the window these dark December days,
and think of White-Foot in Robin’s old nest, high up there in the
slender sapling, where no cat can climb to him, and where no crow
will dare come to tear his house to pieces.

[Illustration: “THERE HE WILL SWING IN THE WINTER GALES”]

There he will swing in the winter gales with the snow swirling around
and beneath him; there he will dream through the rain and the slanting
sleet when his high sapling stairway is coated with ice and impossible
for him to climb; there he will live, and whenever I thump with the
tongs at his outer gate, up there in the little round doorway will
appear his head--his eyes, I should say, for he looks all eyes up
there, so large, so black, so innocent, so inquiring are they, so near
to rolling off down the tip of his nose with sheer surprise.

I shall have many a cheering glimpse of White-Foot, many a comforting
thought of him, out there, his thatch snow-covered, his thick-walled
nest in the slender hickory riding the winter seas that sweep the
hilltop, as safe as the ships anchored yonder in the landlocked
harbor; and he will be much more comforting to me out there than here
in the house with me; for, strangely enough, while White-Foot never
seems to join the common mice in the barn, never a winter goes by
without one or more of his kind coming into the house for the cold
weather.

This would be very pleasant if they could keep out of the pop-corn and
the nuts and the apples and the linen-drawers. But only recently one
got into the linen in the china-closet, and _chewed together_ the
loveliest damask nest that any being ever slept in.

There was nothing for such conduct, then, of course, except to kill
her. But I did not kill her, though I take no credit to myself, for I
tried to kill her, as any one would have been tempted to do.

I got her out of that linen-drawer in a hurry and chased her from
cupboard to couch, to radiator and bookcase, and lost her. The next
day I resumed the chase, and upset most of the furniture before she
finally gave me the slip. The next day she appeared, and once more we
turned things upside down, and once more from some safe corner she
watched me put the chairs back on their legs and pick up the pieces of
things.

But the next morning, as I opened the grate of the kitchen stove to
light the fire, there in the ash-pan huddled that little mouse; and
under her in a bed of ashes, as if to reproach me forever, were five
wee mice, just born, blind and naked in the choking dust, babes that
should have been sleeping covered in a bed of downy damask in the
linen-drawer.

I said I did not kill her. No, I reached in slowly, lifted her and her
babes out softly in my hand, carried them into a safe, warm place and
left them, devoutly hoping that they might all grow up to help
themselves, if need be, to an ear of pop-corn, or even to a cozy
corner and a sip of honey in the beehives.

No, I don’t believe I hoped all of that, for White-Foot is exceedingly
fond of honey, and no roof in all the out-of-doors is so much to his
liking as a beehive, warm with the heat of the clustered swarm; and
nowhere can he make such a nuisance of himself as inside the hive.

A robin’s nest, a beehive, a linen-drawer, a woodpecker’s hole--almost
any place will do for the winter home, so thick and warm can the mice
build their walls, so many bins of acorns and grain do they lay up,
and so bold are they to forage when their winter stores run low.

I had a curious experience with a white-footed mouse in the cellar one
winter. The small boys had carried into the cellar (to hide them from
me, I imagine) about four quarts of chestnuts which they had gathered.
A little later, when they went to get their nuts, the box was empty.
Not a chestnut left!

“Have you eaten all our chestnuts, father?”

“No, I haven’t--not a nut,” I answered.

“Well, they are all gone!” was the wail.

And so they were, but how, and where, we did not know. House mice had
not eaten them, for no shells were left behind; there were no rats or
squirrels in the cellar that fall; and as for one of the small
boys--that was past thought. The fact is, more suspicion was attached
to me in the case than anything in my previous conduct called for;
and, though altogether guiltless, I continued to be uncomfortably
quizzed from time to time about those chestnuts, until I began to
wonder if I _had_ got up in my sleep and devoured the four quarts,
shells and all.

Then one day, while we were putting things shipshape in the vegetable
cellar, what did we come upon but a nice little pile of chestnuts
hidden away in a dark corner; then we discovered another pile, laid up
carefully, neatly, in a secret spot, where no human eye--except the
human house-cleaning eye, that misses nothing--would ever have seen
them, and where no big human hand would ever have put them.

I was allowed to go then and there scot-free; and a trap was set for
the wood mouse. It was White-Foot, we knew. But we never caught her.
And I am glad of it, for after we took away what chestnuts we could
find, she evidently felt it necessary to make a new hoard, and began
with a handful of old hickory-nuts, shagbarks, that had been left in
the vegetable cellar beside the box of chestnuts.

Now, however, she felt the insecurity of the inner cellar, or else she
had found a fine big bin out in the furnace cellar, for out there by
the furnace she took those nuts and tucked them compactly away into
the toe of one of my tall hunting-boots.

There were double doors and a brick partition wall between the two
cellars. No matter. Here were the nuts she had not yet stored; and out
yonder was the hole, smooth and deep and dark, to store them in. She
found a way past the partition wall.

Every morning I shook those nuts out of my boot and sent them rattling
over the cellar floor. Every night the mouse gathered them up and put
them snugly back into the toe of the boot. She could not have carried
more than one nut at a time--up the tall boot-leg and down the oily,
slippery inside.

I should have liked to see her scurrying about the cellar, looking
after her curiously difficult harvest. Apparently, they were new nuts
to her every evening. Once I came down to find them lying untouched.
The mouse, perhaps, was away over night on other business. But the
following morning they were all gathered and nicely packed in the boot
as before. And as before I sent them sixty ways among the barrels and
boxes of the furnace room.

But I did it once too often, for it dawned upon the mouse one night
that these were the same old nuts that she had gathered now a dozen
times. That night they disappeared. Where? I wondered.

Weeks passed, and I had entirely forgotten about the nuts, when I came
upon them, the identical nuts of my boot, tiered carefully up in a
corner of the deep, empty water-tank away off in the attic!



CHAPTER IV

A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO SEE THIS WINTER


I

The first snowstorm! I would not miss seeing the first snowstorm, not
if I had to climb up to my high, tarry, smoky roof in the city and lie
down on my back, as I once did, in order to shut out everything but
the gray wavering flakes that came scattering from the sky. But how
marvelously white and airy they looked, too, coming down over the
blackened city of roofs, transfiguring it with their floating veil of
purity! You must see the first snowfall, and, if you want to, jump and
caper with the flakes, as I always do.


II

The sorrows of winter are its storms. They are its greatest glories
also. One should no more miss the sight of the winter storms than he
should miss the sight of the winter birds and stars, the winter suns
and moons! A storm in summer is only an incident; in winter it is an
event, a part of the main design. Nature gives herself over by the
month to the planning and bringing off of the winter storms--vast
arctic shows, the dreams of her wildest moods, the work of her
mightiest minions. Do not miss the soft feathery fall that plumes the
trees and that roofs the sheds with Carrara marble; the howling
blizzard with its fine cutting blast that whirls into smoking crests;
the ice-storm that comes as slow, soft rain to freeze as it falls,
turning all the world to crystal: these are some of the miracles of
winter that you must not fail to see.


III

You must see how close you had passed to and fro all summer to the
vireo’s nest, hanging from the fork on a branch of some low bush or
tree, so near to the path that it almost brushed your hat. Yet you
never saw it! Go on and make a study of the empty nests; see
particularly how many of them were built out along the roads or
paths, as if the builders wished to be near their human neighbors--as,
indeed, I believe they do. Study how the different birds
build--materials, shapes, finish, supports; for winter is the better
season in which to make such study, the summer being so crowded with
interests of its own.


IV

When the snow hardens, especially after a strong wind, go out to see
what you can find in the wind furrows of the snow--in the holes,
hollows, pockets, and in footprints in the snow. Nothing? Look again,
closely--that dust--wind-sweepings--seeds! Yes, seeds. Gather several
small boxes of them and when you return home take a small magnifying
glass and make them out--the sticktights, gray birches, yellow
birches, pines, ragweeds, milfoil--I cannot number them! It is a
lesson in the way the winds and the snows help to plant the earth.
Last winter I followed for some distance the deep frozen tracks of a
fox, picking out the various seeds that had drifted into every
footprint, just so far apart, as if planted in the snow by some modern
planting-machine. It was very interesting.


V

When the snow lies five or six inches deep, walk out along the
fence-rows, roadsides, and old fields to see the juncos, the sparrows,
and goldfinches feeding upon the seeds of the dead weeds standing
stiff and brown above the snow. Does the sight mean anything to you?
What does it mean?


VI

Burns has a fine poem beginning--

    “When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
    Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r,”

in which, he asks,--

    “Ilk happing bird--wee, helpless thing!--

           *       *       *       *       *

                    What comes o’ thee?
    Whare wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing,
                    An’ close thy e’e?”

Did you ever ask yourself the question? Go forth, then, as the dusk
begins to fall one of these chill winter days and try to see “what
comes o’” the birds, where they sleep these winter nights. You will
find an account of my own watching in a chapter called “Birds’ Winter
Beds” in “Wild Life Near Home.”


VII

You will come back from your watching in the dusk with the feeling
that a winter night for the birds is unspeakably dreary, perilous, and
chill. You will close the door on the darkness outside with a shiver
as much from dread as from the cold.

    “List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle,”--

you will think of the partridge beneath the snow, the crow in his
swaying pine-top, the kinglet in the close-armed cedar, the wild duck
riding out the storm in his freezing water-hole, and you will be glad
for your four thick walls and downy blankets, and you will wonder how
any creature can live through the long, long night of cold and dark
and storm. But there is another view of this same picture; another
picture, rather, of this same stormy, bitter night which you must not
miss seeing. Go out to see how the animals sleep, what beds they have,
what covers to keep off the cold: the mice in the corn-shocks; the
muskrats in their thick mud homes; the red squirrels in their rocking,
wind-swung beds, so soft with cedar bark and so warm that never a
tooth of the cold can bite through!

    “I heard nae mair, for Chanticleer
      Shook off the pouthery snaw,
    And hail’d the morning with a cheer,
      A cottage-rousing craw.”


VIII

This winter I have had two letters asking me how best to study the
mosses and lichens, and I answered, “Begin now.” Winter, when the
leaves are off, the ground bare, the birds and flowers gone, and all
is reduced to singleness and simplicity--winter is the time to observe
the shapes, colors, varieties, and growth of the lichens. Not that
every lover of nature needs to know the long Latin names (and many of
these lesser plants have no other names), but that every lover of the
out-of-doors should notice them--the part they play in the color of
things, the place they hold in the scheme of things, their exquisite
shapes and strange habits.


IX

You should see the brook, “bordered with sparkling frost-work ... as
gay as with its fringe of summer flowers.” You should examine under a
microscope the wonderful crystal form of the snow-flakes--each flake
shaped by an infinitely accurate hand according to a pattern that
seems the perfection, the very poetry, of mechanical drawing.


X

What a world of gray days, waste lands, bare woods, and frozen waters
there is to see! And you should see them--gray and bare and waste and
frozen. But what is a frozen pond for if not to be skated on? and
waste white lands, but to go sleighing over? and cold gray days, but
so many opportunities to stay indoors with your good books?

See the winter bleak and cheerless as at times you will, and as at
times you ought; still if you will look twice, and think as you look,
you will see the fishermen on the ponds catching pickerel through the
ice--life swimming there under the frozen surface! You will see the
bare empty woodland fresh budded to the tip of each tiny twig--life
all over the trees thrust forward to catch the touch of spring! You
will see the wide flinty fields thick sown with seeds--life, more life
than the sun and the soil can feed, sleeping there under “the tender,
sculpturesque, immaculate, warming, fertilizing snow”!



CHAPTER V

CHRISTMAS IN THE WOODS

    “’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”


But on the night before this particular Christmas every creature of
the woods that could stir was up and stirring; for over the old snow
was falling swiftly, silently, a soft, fresh covering that might mean
a hungry Christmas unless the dinner were had before morning.

Yet, when the morning dawned, a cheery Christmas sun broke across the
great gum swamp, lighting the snowy boles and soft-piled limbs of the
giant trees with indescribable glory, and pouring, a golden flood,
into the deep, spongy bottom of the swamp below. It would be a perfect
Christmas in the woods, clear, mild, stirless, with silent footing for
me, and everywhere the telltale snow.

And everywhere in the woods would be the Christmas spirit, too. As I
paused among the pointed cedars of the pasture, looking down into the
tangle at the head of the swamp, a clear, wild whistle rang in the
thicket, followed by a flash through the alders like a tongue of fire,
as a cardinal grosbeak shot down to the tangle of greenbrier and
magnolia under the slope of the hill. The bird was a fleck of flaming
summer. As warm as summer, too, were the pointed cones of stag-horn
sumac burning on the crest of the ridge against the group of holly
trees--trees as fresh as April, and all aglow with red berries.

The woods were decorated for the Holy Day. The gentleness of the soft,
new snow touched everything; cheer and good-will lighted the unclouded
sky and warmed the thick depths of the evergreens, and blazed in the
crimson-berried bushes of the ilex and the alder. The Christmas woods
were glad. The heart of the woods was full of Christmas peace.

Now I did not imagine all of this as I went along. Perhaps there was
the spirit of Christmas in my heart, and so I found the spirit of
Christmas in the woods; but so it must have been with the household I
had just left, back on the city street. Every one had Christmas in his
heart, and so every one found Christmas in the Christmas-tree blazing
and glittering in its candle-flame blossoms and jeweled fruit.

So there was real Christmas joy and peace--a real Christmas
spirit--abroad in the woods this snowy Christmas morning. The sky had
it, the trees had it, the soft white slopes had it, the softly flowing
creek had it, flowing softly toward the bay.

But doubtless my own feelings had something to do with it all. This
was Christmas Day, and these were my home woods, the woods where I
tramped and trapped and “grew up” when a boy; and this was I, after
twenty years of absence, I, the boy again, back in the old familiar
pasture on my way to Lupton’s Pond!

Yes, I must say that I was almost afraid as I followed the old
cow-path across the pasture, now only a slightly sunken line in the
snow; I was afraid that the path might be gone. Twenty years are a
good many years for a cow-path to last. But evidently the cows had
been crossing every year since I had been away; and not a single new
crook had they worn in the old winding trail. Then I was afraid, as I
came to the fence where I could look down upon the pond, lest the pond
might have disappeared. But no, there it lay, sealed over, as if kept
for me by the snow! Then I looked fearfully over the pond, over the
steep ridge on the opposite shore to where there used to stand two
particular persimmon trees.

My heart beat wildly for a moment. The woods up the ridge had been cut
off! Things had changed! I was confused and looked this way and that,
when, so near to me that I could scarcely believe my eyes, I saw the
twin trees, their hard, angular limbs closely globed with fruit, and
standing softly out against the sky!

It was enough. Forgetting the twenty years, I hurried down across the
pond and up to the persimmon trees on the other side--up _into_ the
trees indeed, for I never stopped until I had climbed clear up into
the top among the ripe persimmons!

Do you know what a persimmon, picked from a particular tree along
Cohansey Creek on Christmas Day, tastes like? especially when you have
not had a taste of persimmon for twenty years? No, you do not--because
you are not twenty years old, perhaps, and because you were not a boy
along Cohansey Creek, perhaps, and because, if you were, you did not
know those two particular persimmon trees, maybe.

Nobody ever seemed to know the perfection of those persimmons, except
myself and the ’possums. Not one of the Luptons, who owned the
pasture, the pond, and the trees, had ever been a boy, so far as I
could remember, and certainly not one of them had ever tasted the
fruit of those two trees. There were other persimmon trees up and down
the township, others here along the pond; but these two were the only
trees to hold their fruit until Christmas, preserved with such
richness of flavor, such a gummy, candied, wild, woodsy quality, that
it could not decay. Those persimmons never decayed. They candied,
evaporated, wrinkled, fell, and vanished away.

Or else the ’possums ate them--those that I did not eat. A ’possum had
already been here this Christmas morning before me. I had noted his
fresh tracks beneath the tree when I came up; and now, in the tree, I
saw where the snow had been brushed from several of the large limbs as
the ’possum had moved about in the top, eating his Christmas dinner.

You never ate a Christmas dinner high up in the top of a persimmon
tree? But you will, perhaps, some day, as good a Christmas dinner, I
hope, as ours was. For such persimmons! Bob Cratchit’s goose (“There
never was such a goose!”) could not have been any better flavored. Nor
could the little Cratchits have been any hungrier for goose than I was
for persimmons.

Now the ’possum had been having persimmons every night since the
frosts of October; so of course he felt no such hunger for persimmons
as I felt. But ripe persimmons would be a Christmas dinner for a
’possum every day in the year. There is nothing so unspeakably good as
persimmons if you happen to be a ’possum, or if you happen to be a
boy--even after twenty years!

So the ’possum and I had our Christmas dinner together at Nature’s
invitation, in the top of the persimmon tree. The ’possum, to be
sure, had eaten and gone before I came. But that is good form in the
woods. He was expecting me, so he came early, just before dawn, that
neither of us might be embarrassed, leaving his greetings for me in
sign-language in the snow.

A Christmas dinner all alone would be cold cheer indeed. But I was not
alone. Here was good company and plenty of it. Did not the tracks talk
to me? With abundance of fruit still left in the tree, did I need to
see that ’possum fold up his napkin, pull down his vest, spread his
hands over his expansive person and groan in the fullness of his
feast? No; all of that was printed plainly in the snow. Why, I could
even hear his groans in his tumbled tracks at the foot of the tree,
where the fat old fellow had literally fallen over himself! What an
appetite! What a pudding of persimmons he must be! He can hardly walk
for fat! Look at his trail in the snow leading down toward the pond--a
big wide wallow where he has bounced along!

So I slide down the tree and take up the ’possum’s trail. We have
broken bread together, this ’possum and I, and now we will enter the
woods together in the same good-fellowship for the rest of the day.
Persimmons and good-will are very proper things to be filled with when
you go into the Christmas woods.

And there is no better fellowship for such a tramp than the trail of
some animal like the possum or the mink or the fox. To go in with one
of these through the woods-door is to find yourself at home. Any one
can manage to get inside the woods, as the grocery boy or the census
man manages to get inside our houses. You can bolt in at any time on
business. But a _trail_, remember, is Nature’s invitation. Go softly
in with possum, or rabbit, or coon, and at the threshold of the trees
you will be met by the Spirit of the Woods--you will be made a guest
in this secret, shadowy house of the out-of-doors.

But do not fail first to break bread with the ’possum. A persimmon, or
a handful of wintergreen berries, or a nip of sassafras root, or a
piece of spruce gum, or a lump of liquid amber--share anything, take
any small part in the life of these who live wild in the woods, and
they will meet you at the threshold and make you more than welcome.

I went in with the ’possum. He had traveled home leisurely and without
fear, as his tracks plainly showed. He was full of persimmons. A good
happy world this, where such fare could be had for the picking! What
need to hurry home? Unless, indeed, one were in danger of falling
asleep by the way! So I thought, too, as I followed his winding path;
and if I was tracking him to his den, it was only to wake him for a
moment with the compliments of the season. But when I finally found
him in his hollow gum, he was so sound asleep he barely knew that
some one was poking him gently in the ribs and wishing him a merry
Christmas.

The ’possum had led me far along the creek to the centre of the empty,
hollow swamp, where the great-boled gums lifted their branches like a
timbered, unshingled roof between me and the wide sky. Far away
through the spaces of the rafters I saw a pair of wheeling buzzards,
and under them, in lesser circles, a broad-winged hawk. Here, at the
feet of the tall, clean trees, looking up through the leafless limbs,
I had something of a measure for the flight of the great birds. And
what power, what majesty and mystery in those distant buoyant wings!

I have seen the turkey buzzard sailing the skies on the bitterest
winter days. To-day, however, could hardly be called winter. Indeed,
nothing yet had felt the pinch of the cold. There was no hunger yet in
the swamp, though this new snow had scared the raccoons out, and their
half-human tracks along the margin of the swamp stream showed that, if
not hungry, they at least feared that they might be.

For a coon hates snow. He invariably stays in during the first light
snowfalls, and even in the late winter he will not venture forth in
fresh snow unless driven by hunger or some other dire need. Perhaps,
like a cat or a hen, he dislikes the wetting of his feet. Or it may be
that the soft snow makes bad hunting--for him. The truth is, I
believe, that such a snow makes too good hunting for the dogs and the
gunner. The new snow tells too clear a story. For the coon’s home is
no dark den among the ledges; only a hollow in some ancient oak or
tupelo. Once within, he is safe from the dogs, but his long, fierce
fight for life taught him generations ago that the nest-tree is a
fatal trap when behind the dogs come the axe and the gun. So he has
grown wary and enduring. He waits until the snow grows crusty, when
without sign, and almost without scent, he can slip forth among the
long shadows and prowl to the edge of dawn.

Skirting the stream out toward the higher back woods, I chanced to spy
a bunch of snow in one of the great sour gums, that I thought was an
old nest. A second look showed me tiny green leaves, then white
berries, then mistletoe!

It was not a surprise, however, for I had found it here before--a
long, long time before. It was back in my schoolboy days that I first
stood here under the mistletoe and had my first romance. There was no
chandelier, no pretty girl, in that romance--only a boy, the
mistletoe, the giant trees, and the sombre silent swamp. But there was
more than that, there was the thrill of discovery, for until that day
the boy did not know that mistletoe grew outside of England, did not
know that it grew in his own native swamps! Rambling alone through the
swamps along the creek that day, he stopped under a big curious bunch
of green, high up in one of the gums, and--made his first discovery!

So this Christmas Day the boy climbed up again at the peril of his
precious neck, and brought down a bit of that old romance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I followed the stream along through the swamp to the open meadows, and
then on under the steep wooded hillside that ran up to the higher land
of corn and melon fields. Here at the foot of the slope the winter sun
lay warm, and here in the sheltered, briery border I came upon the
Christmas birds.

There was a great variety of them, feeding and preening and chirping
in the vines. The tangle was a-twitter with their quiet, cheery talk.
Such a medley of notes you could not hear at any other season outside
a city bird store. How far the different species understood one
another I should like to know, and whether the hum of voices meant
sociability to them, as it certainly did to me. Doubtless the first
cause of their flocking here was the sheltered warmth and the great
numbers of berry-laden bushes, for there was no lack of abundance or
of variety on this Christmas table.

In sight from where I stood hung bunches of withering chicken, or
frost, grapes, plump clusters of blue-black berries of the greenbrier,
and limbs of the smooth winterberry beaded with their flaming fruit.
There were bushes of crimson ilex, too, trees of fruiting dogwood and
holly, cedars in berry, dwarf sumac and seedy sedges, while patches on
the wood slopes uncovered by the sun were spread with trailing
partridge-berry and the coral-fruited wintergreen. I had eaten part of
my dinner with the ’possum; now I picked a quantity of these
wintergreen berries, and continued my meal with the birds. And they
too, like the ’possum, had enough, and to spare.

Among the birds in the tangle was a large flock of northern fox
sparrows, whose vigorous and continuous scratching in the bared spots
made a most lively and cheery commotion. Many of them were splashing
about in tiny pools of snow-water, melted partly by the sun and partly
by the warmth of their bodies as they bathed. One would hop to a
softening bit of snow at the base of a tussock, keel over and begin to
flop, soon sending up a shower of sparkling drops from his rather
chilly tub. A winter snow-water bath seemed a necessity, a luxury
indeed; for they all indulged, splashing with the same purpose and
zest that they put into their scratching among the leaves.

A much bigger splashing drew me quietly through the bushes to find a
marsh hawk giving himself a Christmas souse. The scratching, washing,
and talking of the birds; the masses of green in the cedars, holly,
and laurels; the glowing colors of the berries against the snow; the
blue of the sky, and the golden warmth of the light made Christmas in
the heart of the noon, that the very swamp seemed to feel.

Two months later there was to be scant picking here, for this was the
beginning of the severest winter I ever knew. From this very ridge, in
February, I had reports of berries gone, of birds starving, of whole
coveys of quail frozen dead in the snow; but neither the birds nor I
dreamed to-day of any such hunger and death. A flock of robins whirled
into the cedars above me; a pair of cardinals whistled back and forth;
tree sparrows, juncos, nuthatches, chickadees, and cedar-birds cheeped
among the trees and bushes; and from the farm lands at the top of the
slope rang the calls of meadowlarks.

Halfway up the hill I stopped under a blackjack oak, where, in the
thin snow, there were signs of something like a Christmas revel. The
ground was sprinkled with acorn-shells and trampled over with feet of
several kinds and sizes,--quail, jay, and partridge feet; rabbit,
squirrel, and mouse feet, all over the snow as the feast of acorns had
gone on. Hundreds of the acorns were lying about, gnawed away at the
cup end, where the shell was thinnest, many of them further broken and
cleaned out by the birds.

As I sat studying the signs in the snow, my eye caught a tiny trail
leading out from the others straight away toward a broken pile of
cord-wood. The tracks were planted one after the other, so directly in
line as to seem like the prints of a single foot. “That’s a weasel’s
trail,” I said, “the death’s-head at this feast,” and followed it
slowly to the pile of wood. A shiver crept over me as I felt, even
sooner than I saw, a pair of small, sinister eyes fixed upon mine. The
evil pointed head, heavy but alert, and with a suggestion of fierce
strength out of all proportion to the slender body, was watching me
from between the sticks of cord-wood. And just so had it been watching
the mice and the rabbits and the birds feasting under the tree!

I packed a ball of snow round and hard, slipped forward upon my knees
and hurled it. _Spat!_ it struck the end of a stick within an inch of
the ugly head, nearly filling the crevice with snow. Instantly the
head appeared at another crack, and another ball struck viciously
beside it. Now it was back where it first appeared, nor did it flinch
for the next ball, or the next. The third went true, striking with a
_chug_ and packing the crack. But the black, hating eyes were still
watching me a foot lower down.

It is not all peace and good-will in the Christmas woods. But happily
the weasels are few. More friendly and timid eyes were watching me
than bold and murderous. It was foolish to want to kill--even the
weasel, for one’s woods are what one makes them. And so I let the man
with the gun, who just then chanced along, think that I had turned boy
again, and was snowballing the woodpile just for the fun of trying to
hit the end of the biggest stick.

I was glad he had come. The sight of him took all hatred out of me. As
he strode off with his stained bag I felt kindlier toward the
weasel--there were worse in the woods than he. He must kill to live,
and if he gloated over the kill, why, what fault of his? But the
other, the one with the blood-stained game-bag, he killed for the love
of killing. I was glad he had gone.

The crows were winging over toward their great roost in the pines when
I turned toward the town. They, too, had had good picking along the
creek flats and the ditches of the meadows. Their powerful wing-beats
and constant play up in the air told of full crops and no fear for the
night, already softly gray across the silent fields.

The air was crisper; the snow began to crackle under foot; the twigs
creaked and rattled as I brushed along; a brown beech leaf wavered
down and skated with a thin scratch over the crust; and pure as the
snow-wrapped crystal world, and sweet as the soft gray twilight, came
the call of a quail.

These were not the voices, colors, odors, and forms of summer. The
very face of things had changed; all had been reduced, made plain,
simple, single, pure! There was less for the senses, but how much
keener now their joy! The wide landscape, the frosty air, the tinkle
of tiny icicles, and, out of the quiet of the falling twilight, the
voice of the quail!

There is no day but is beautiful in the woods; and none more beautiful
than one like this Christmas Day--warm, and still, and wrapped to the
round red berries of the holly in the magic of the snow.



CHAPTER VI

CHICKADEE


I was crunching along through the January dusk toward home. The cold
was bitter. A half-starved partridge had just risen from the road and
fluttered off among the naked bushes--a bit of life vanishing into the
winter night of the woods. I knew the very hemlock in which he would
roost; but what were the thick, snow-bent boughs of his hemlock, and
what were all his winter feathers in such a night as this?--this night
of cutting winds and frozen snow!

The road dipped from the woods down into a wide, open meadow, where
the winds were free. The cold was driving, numbing here, with a power
for death that the thermometer could not mark. I backed against the
gale and sidewise hastened forward toward the double line of elms that
arched the road in front of the house. Already I could hear them creak
and rattle like things of glass. It was not the sound of life. Nothing
was alive; for what could live in this long darkness and fearful cold?

The question was hardly thought, when an answer was whirled past me
into the nearest of the naked elms. A chickadee! He caught for an
instant on a dead stub of a limb that stuck out over the road,
scrambled along to its broken tip, and whisked into a hole that ran
straight down the centre of the old stub, down, for I don’t know how
far.

I stopped. The limb lay out upon the wind, with only an eddy of the
gale sucking at the little round hole in the broken end, while
somewhere far down in its hollow heart, huddling himself into a downy,
dozy ball for the night, had crept the chickadee. I knew by the very
way he struck the limb and by the way he turned in at the hole that he
had been there before. He knew whither, across the sweeping meadows,
he was being blown. He had even helped the winds as they whirled him,
for, having tarried along the roads until late, he was in a great
hurry to get home. But he was safe for the night now, in the very bed,
it may be, where he was hatched last summer, and where at this moment,
who knows, were crowded half a dozen other chickadees, the rest of
that last summer’s brood, unharmed still, and still sharing the old
home hollow, where they were as snug and warm this fierce, wild night
as ever they were in the soft May days when they nestled here
together.

The cold drove me on; but the sight of the chickadee had warmed me,
and all my shivering world of night and death. And so he ever does.
For the winter has yet to be that drives him seeking shelter to the
sunny south. I never knew it colder than in January and February of
1904. During both of those months I drove morning and evening through
a long mile of empty, snow-buried woods. For days at a time I would
not see even a crow, but morning and evening at a certain dip in the
road two chickadees would fly from bush to bush across the hollow and
cheer me on my way.

They came out to the road, really to pick up whatever scanty crumbs of
food were to be found in my wake. They came also to hear me, and to
see me go past--to escape for a moment, I think, from the silence, the
desertion, and the death of the woods. They helped me to escape, too.

Four other chickadees, all winter long, ate with us at the house,
sharing, so far as the double windows would allow, the cheer of our
dining-room. We served them their meals on the lilac bush outside the
window, tying their suet on so that they could see us and we could see
them during meal-time. Perhaps it was mere suet, and nothing else at
all, that they got; but constantly, when our “pie was opened, the
birds began to sing”--a dainty dish indeed, a dish of live, happy
chickadees that fed our souls.

There are states in the far Northwest where the porcupine is protected
by law, as a last food resource for men who are lost and starving in
the forests. Porcupine is so slow that a dying man can catch him and
make a meal on him. Perhaps the porcupine was not designed by nature
for any such purpose, and would not approve of it at all. Perhaps
Chickadee was not left behind by Summer to feed my lost and starving
hope through the cheerless months of winter. But that is the use I
make of him. He is Summer’s pledge to me. He tells me that this winter
world is a living world and not a dreary world of death. The woods are
hollow, the winds are chill, the earth is cold and stiff, but there
flits Chickadee, and--I cannot lose faith, nor feel that this
procession of bleak white days is all a funeral! If Chickadee can
live, then so can I.

He is the only bird in my out-of-doors that I can find without fail
three hundred and sixty-five days in the year. From December to the
end of March he comes daily to my lilac bush for suet; from April to
early July he is busy with domestic cares in the gray birches down the
hillside; from August to December he and his family come hunting
quietly and sociably as a little flock among the trees and bushes of
the farm; and from then on he is back again for his winter meals at
“The Lilac.”

Is it any wonder that he was the first bird I ever felt personally
acquainted with? That early acquaintance, however, was not brought
about by his great abundance, nor by his very bad, bold manners, as
might be with the English sparrow. I got acquainted with him first,
because he wanted to get acquainted with me, he is such a cheerful,
confiding, sociable little bird! He drops down and peeps under your
hat-brim to see what manner of boy you are, and if you are really fit
to be abroad in this beautiful world, so altogether good both summer
and winter--for chickadees.

He is not quite so sociable in summer as in winter, but if you were no
bigger than a chickadee (two and one half inches without your tail!)
and had eight babies nearly as big as yourself to hunt grubs for,
besides a wife to pet and feed, do you think you could be very
sociable? In the winter, however, he is always at liberty to stop and
talk to you, a sweet little way he has that makes him the easiest bird
in the world to get acquainted with.

Last winter while I was tying up a piece of suet that had fallen into
the snow, a hungry and impatient chickadee lighted on the brim of my
felt hat. The brim bent under him, and he came fluttering down against
my nose, which I thought for an instant he was going to take for suet!
He didn’t snip it off, however, as a certain blackbird did a certain
maiden’s nose, but lighted instead on my shoulder. Then, seeing the
lump of suet in my hand, he flew up and perched upon my fingers and
held on, picking at the suet all the time I was tying it fast in the
bush.

He is a friendly little soul, who loves your neighborhood, as, indeed,
most birds do; who has no fear of you, because he cannot think that
you could fear him and so would want to hurt him.

Nature made him an insect-eater; but he has a mission to perform
besides eating pestiferous insects, and their eggs and grubs. This
destruction of insects he does that the balance of things may be
maintained out of doors, lest the insects destroy us. He has quite
another work to do, which is not a matter of grubs, and which in no
wise is a matter of fine feathers or sweet voice, but simply a matter
of sweet nature, vigor, and concentrated cheerfulness.

Chickadee is a sermon. I hear him on a joyous May morning calling
_Chick-a-dee! dee! Chick-a-dee! dee!_--brisk, bright, and cheery; or,
soft and gentle as a caress, he whistles, _Phœ-ee-bee!
Phœ-ee-bee!_ I meet him again on the edge of a bleak winter night.
He is hungry and cold, and he calls, as I hasten along, _Chick-a-dee!
dee! Chick-a-dee! dee!_ brisk, bright, and cheery; or, following after
me, he talks to me with words as soft and gentle as a caress.

Will you lend me your wings, Chickadee, your invisible wings on which
you ride the winds of life so evenly?

The abundant summer, the lean and wolfish winter, find Chickadee
cheerful and gentle. He is busier at some seasons than at others, with
fewer chances for friendship. He almost disappears in the early
summer. But this is because of family cares; and because the bigger,
louder birds have come back, and the big leaves have come out and
hidden him. A little searching, and you will discover him, in one of
your old decayed fence-posts, maybe, or else deep in the swamp,
foraging for a family of from six to eight, that fairly bulge and boil
over from the door of their home.

Here about Mullein Hill, this is sure to be a gray-birch home. Other
trees will do--on a pinch. I have found Chickadee nesting in live
white oaks, maples, upturned roots, and tumbling fence-posts. These
were shifts, only, mere houses, not real homes. The only good homelike
trees are old gray birches, dead these many years and gone to
punk--mere shells of tough circular bark walls. Halfway down the hill
is a small grove of these birches that we call the Seminary (because,
as a poet friend says, “they look like seminary girls in white
frocks”). Here the chickadees love to build.

Why has Chickadee this very decided preference? Is it a case of
protective coloration--the little gray and black bird choosing to nest
in this little gray and black tree because bird and tree so exactly
match one another in size and color? Or is there a strain of poetry
in Chickadee’s soul, something fine, that leads him into this
exquisite harmony--into this little gray house for his little gray
self?

Explain it as you may, it is a fact that the little bird shows this
marked preference, makes this deliberate choice; and in the choice is
protection and poetry, too. Doubtless he follows the guidance of a
sure and watchful instinct. But who shall deny to him a share of the
higher, finer things of the imagination?

His life is like his home--gentle and sweet and idyllic. There is no
happier spot in the summer woods than that about the birch of the
chickadees; and none whose happiness you will be so little liable to
disturb.

Before the woods were in leaf last spring I found a pair of chickadees
building in a birch along the edge of the swamp. They had just begun,
having dug out only an inch of the cavity. It was very interesting to
discover them doing the excavating themselves, for usually they refit
some abandoned chamber or adapt to their needs some ready-made hole.

The birch was a long, limbless cylinder of bark, broken off about
fourteen feet up, and utterly rotten, the mere skin of a tree stuffed
with dust. I could push my finger into it at any point. It was so weak
that every time the birds lighted upon the top the whole stub wobbled
and reeled. Surely they were building their house upon the sand! Any
creature without wings would have known that. The birds, however,
because they have wings, seem to have lost the sense of such
insecurity, often placing their nests as if they expected the nests
themselves to take wings and fly to safety when the rains descend and
the winds come.

This shaking stub of the chickadees was standing directly beneath a
great overshadowing pine, where, if no partridge bumped into it, if
two squirrels did not scamper up it together, if the crows nesting
overhead in the pine did not discover it, if no strong wind bore down
upon it from the meadow side, it might totter out the nesting-season.
But it didn’t. The birds were leaving too much to luck. I knew it, and
perhaps I should have pushed their card house down, then and there,
and saved the greater ruin later. Perhaps so, but who was I to
interfere in their labor?

Both birds were at the work when I discovered them, and so busily at
it that my coming up did not delay them for a single billful. It was
not hard digging, but it was very slow, for Chickadee is neither
carpenter nor mason. He has difficulty killing a hard-backed beetle.
So, whenever you find him occupying a clean-walled cavity, with a
neat, freshly chipped doorway, you may be sure that some woodpecker
built the house, and not this short-billed, soft-tailed little tit.
Chickadee lacks both the bill chisel and the tail brace. Perhaps the
explanation of his fondness for birch trees lies here--because the
birch trees die young and soon decay!

The birds were going down through the broken-off top, and not by a
hole through the leathery rind of the sides, for the bark was too
tough for their beaks. They would drop into the top of the stub, pick
up a wad of decayed wood and fly off to a dead limb of the pine. Here,
with a jerk and a snap of their bills, they would scatter the punk in
a shower so thin and far that I could neither hear it fall nor find a
trace of it upon the dead leaves of the ground. This nest would never
be betrayed by the workmen’s chips, as are the woodpeckers’
nest-holes.

Between the pair there averaged three beakfuls of excavating every two
minutes, one of the birds regularly shoveling twice to the other’s
once. They looked so exactly alike that I could not tell which bird
was pushing the enterprise; but I had my suspicions. It was Mrs.
Chickadee!

Mr. Chickadee was doing only part of his duty, and only
half-heartedly at that! Hers was the real interest, the real anxiety.
To be a Mr. Chickadee and show off! That’s the thing!

I sat a long time watching the work. It went on in perfect silence,
not a chirp, not the sound of a fluttering wing. The swamp along whose
margin the birds were building had not a joyous atmosphere. Damp,
dim-shadowed, and secret, it seemed to have laid its spell upon the
birds. Their very color of gray and black was as if mixed out of the
dusky colors of the swamp; their noiseless coming and going was like
the slipping to and fro of small shadows. They were a part of the
swamp--of its life, of its color, of its silence. They were children
of the swamp, sharing its very spirit, and that sharing was their
defense, the best protection that they could have had.

It didn’t save their nest, however. They felt and obeyed the spirit of
the Swamp in their own conduct, but the Swamp did not tell them where
to build. Birds and animals have wonderful instinct, or family wisdom,
but not much personal, individual wisdom.

It was about three weeks later when I stopped again under the pine and
found the birch stub in pieces upon the ground. Some strong wind had
come, or some robber had been after the eggs, and had brought the
whole house tumbling down.

But this is not the fate of all such birch-bark houses. Now and again
they escape; yet when they do it is always a matter for wonder.

I was following an old disused wood-road once when I frightened a
robin from her nest. Her mate joined her, and together they raised a
great hubbub. Immediately a chewink, a pair of vireos, and two black
and white warblers joined the robins in their din. Then a chickadee
appeared. He had a worm in his beak. His anxiety seemed so real that I
began to watch him, when, looking down among the stones for a place to
step, what should I see but his mate emerging from the end of a tiny
birch stump at my very feet! She had heard the racket and had come out
to see what it was all about. At sight of her, Mr. Chickadee hastened
with his worm, brushing my face, almost, as he darted to her side. She
took the worm sweetly, for she knew he had intended it for her. But
how do I know it was intended for her, and not for the young? There
were no young in the nest; only eggs. Even after the young came (there
were eight of them!), when life, from daylight to dark, was one
ceaseless, hurried hunt for worms, I saw him over and over again fly
to Mrs. Chickadee’s side caressingly and tempt her to eat.

The house of this pair did not fall. How could it when it stood
precisely two and a half feet from the ground? But that it wasn’t
looted is due to the amazing boldness of its situation. It stood
alone, close to the road, so close that the hub of a low wheel in
passing might have knocked it down. Perhaps a hundred persons had
brushed it in going by. How many dogs and cats had overlooked it no
one can say; nor how many skunks and snakes and squirrels. The
accident that discovered it to me had happened apparently to no one
else, so here it stood still safe, but only by the grace of Luck!

Cutting a tiny window in the bark just above the eggs, I looked in
upon the little children every day. I watched them hatch, grow, and
fill the cavity and hang over at the top. I was there the day they
forced my window open; I was there the day when there was no more room
at the top, and when, at the call of their parents, one child after
another of this large, sweet bird family found his wings and flew away
through the friendly woods.



CHAPTER VII

A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO DO THIS WINTER


I

You should go skating--crawling, I ought to say--over a pond of glare
ice this winter. Take the pond you are most familiar with. Go early on
a bright day, before any skater arrives, and lying flat upon the
clear, “black” ice, study the bottom of the pond and the fish that
swim below you. They have boats with glass bottoms along the
California coast, through which to watch the marvelous bottoms off
shore. But an Eastern pond covered with glare ice is as good, for such
ice is a plate-glass window into a wonder world.


II

Fight your way one of these winter days to the crest of some high hill
and stand up against a northwest gale. Feel the sweep of the winds
from across the plain beneath you; hear them speaking close in your
ear, as they fly past; catch them and breathe them, until they run red
in your leaping veins. Master them, and make them, mighty as they are,
your own. And something large and free, strong and sound will pass
into you; and you will love the great world more, and you will feel
how fit a place, for the strong of heart, is this earth to live on.


III

Keep a careful list of the winter birds you see; and visit every
variety of wood, meadow, and upland in your neighborhood--not
neglecting the parks and city trees--for a sight of the rarer winter
visitors, such as the snowy owl, the snow buntings, and the
crossbills.


IV

If you know little about the birds, then this is the time to begin
your study. When they are so few and scarce? Yes, just because they
are few and scarce. On a June morning (unless you are at home in the
woods) you will be confused by the medley of songs you hear, and the
shapes flitting everywhere about you; and you may be tempted to give
up your study for the very multitude. Get a pair of good field or
opera glasses and a good bird book, such as Hoffmann’s, “Guide to the
Birds,” and go into the fields and woods--leaving the book at home.
The first bird you see follow up until you can remember (1) his size,
color--whether he has a white bar on wings, or small spots or large
clear spots on breast; (2) his chirp, or call; (3) something peculiar
about his flight--a flirt of the tail, a habit of flying down to the
ground in getting away. Then come back to your book and identify him
_from memory_. If you cannot, then go out again and again; and it will
not be long before either this first one, or others, will be
accurately made out--the beginning of an acquaintance that you can
extend in the summer, but which will be plenty large enough for your
“coming-out” winter into bird society. For here is a list of the birds
you may be able to find during the winter:--

Screech owl, crow, robin, flicker, jay, goldfinch, tree sparrow,
English sparrow, song sparrow, junco, golden-crowned kinglet,
nuthatch, brown creeper, downy woodpecker, quail, partridge.


V

See to it that no bird in your neighborhood starves for lack of food
that you can supply. Tie a piece of suet to a tree or bush near the
house (by the window if you can) for the chickadees and blue jays;
keep a place on the lawn cleared of snow and well supplied with crumbs
and small seeds for the juncos and the sparrows; hang a netted bag of
cracked nuts out somewhere for the nuthatches; and provide corn and
nuts for the squirrels.


VI

Go out on a cold December day, or a January day, and see how many
“signs” of spring--“Minor Prophets,” as Mr. Torrey calls them--you can
bring home. They will be mostly buds of various sorts. Then, on a
warm, soft day, go again to see what you can bring home--flitting,
creeping, crawling things that the warm sun has brought from their
winter hiding.


VII

Make a map of your sky, showing the positions of the planets, the
constellations, and the most brilliant stars, the points in the
horizon for the rising and setting of the sun, say, in January, noting
the changes in places of things since your last map drawn in October.
Any school child can do it, and, in doing it, learn the few large
facts about the sky that most people are pitifully ignorant of.


VIII

Go out after a fresh light snow and take up the trail of a fox or a
rabbit or a partridge, as you might take up a problem in arithmetic,
or as a detective might take up a clew, and “solve” it--where the
creature came from, where going, what for, in a hurry or not, pursued
or pursuing, etc. It will give you one of the best of lessons in
observation, in following a clew, and in learning to take a hint.


IX

Go out to study the face of the ground--the ridges, hollows, level
places, the ledges, meadows, sandbanks, the course of the streams, the
location of the springs--the general shape and contour, the pitch and
slant and make-up of the region over which you tramp in the summer.
Now, when the leaves are off and things swept bare, you can get a
general idea of the lay of the land that will greatly aid you in your
more detailed study of plants and birds, of individual things, in the
summer. It is like an outline map in your geography.


X

Winter is the time to do much good reading. A tramp over real fields
is to be preferred to a tramp in a book. But a good book is pretty
nearly as good as anything under the stars. You need both fields and
books. And during these cold days--impossible days, some of them, for
work afield--you will read, read. Oh, the good things to read that
have been written about the out-of-doors!



CHAPTER VIII

THE MISSING TOOTH


The snow had melted from the river meadows, leaving them flattened,
faded, and stained with mud--a dull, dreary waste in the gray
February. I had stopped beside a tiny bundle of bones that lay in the
matted grass a dozen feet from a ditch. Here, still showing, was the
narrow path along which the bones had dragged themselves; there the
hole by which they had left the burrow in the bank of the ditch. They
had crawled out in this old runway, then turned off a little into the
heavy autumn grass and laid them down. The rains had come and the
winter snows. The spring was breaking now and the small bundle, gently
loosened and uncovered, was whitening on the wide, bare meadow.

Shall I stop beside this small bundle of whitening bones or shall I
turn my head away and pass on? Shall I allow you to stop with me in
our winter ramble and let you see the tragedy here in the flattened
meadow grass, or shall I hide from your eyes the dark, the bitter, the
tragic in the lives of the wild things out of doors?

I think it is best to hide nothing from you. Real love for nature is
largely sympathy with nature; and there can be no sympathy without
intimate and full understanding of the struggle and suffering in the
lives out of doors. There is a dark story in this little bundle of
bones. Do you wish to hear it? There is a fierce, cruel threat in the
growl of the winter wind. Do you wish to hear that? There is menace
and death in the shrill scream of the hawk. Do you wish to hear that?
Or do you wish to hear only the song of the robin? only the whisper of
the summer breeze? only the story of the life and love and joy of
things?

No, there are two sides to life--two sides to your life, the bright
and dark sides; two sides to the lives of all men, and to the lives of
all things. Summer is the bright side of Nature’s life; winter is the
dark side. Summer and winter are both needed to round out the life of
the year; so tears and laughter seem to be needed in our lives; joy
and sorrow, peace and suffering, rest and hardship--these, or
something like them, seem to be needed in the lesser lives of birds
and beasts to round out their experience and make them keen and
strong.

Happily, the pain and suffering in nature are largely hidden from us.
Wild things when stricken “turn their faces to the wall,” retreat,
slink silently away out of sight to be alone. They do not wish us to
know. But we do know, and we need to know, if we would enter into
their lives as a sharer in them; and if we would enter into and
understand the larger, wider, deeper life of which they, and we, and
all things, are a part.

You must pause with me above this little bundle of bones until I tell
you their story.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had recognized the bones at once as the skeleton of a muskrat. But
it was something peculiar in the way they lay that had caused me to
pause. They seemed outstretched, as if composed by gentle hands, the
hands of sleep. They had not been flung down. The delicate ribs had
fallen in, but not a bone was broken nor displaced, not one showed the
splinter of shot, or the crack that might have been made by a steel
trap. No violence had been done them. They had been touched by nothing
rougher than the snow. Out into the hidden runway they had crept.
Death had passed by them here; but no one else in all the winter
months.

The creature had died--a “natural” death. It had starved, while a
hundred acres of plenty lay round about. Picking up the skull, I
found the jaws locked together as if they were a single solid bone.
One of the two incisor teeth of the upper jaw was missing, and
apparently had never developed. The opposite tooth on the lower jaw,
thus unopposed and so unworn, had grown beyond its normal height up
into the empty socket above, then on, turning outward and piercing the
cheek-bone in front of the eye, whence, curving like a boar’s tusk, it
had slowly closed the jaws and locked them, rigid, set, as fixed as
jaws of stone.

At first the animal had been able to gnaw; but as the tooth curved
through the bones of the face and gradually tightened the jaws, the
creature got less and less to eat, until, one day, creeping out of the
burrow for food, the poor thing was unable to get back.

We seldom come upon the like of this. It is commoner than we think;
but, as I have said, it is usually hidden away and quickly over. How
often do we see a wild thing sick--a bird or animal suffering from an
accident, or dying, like this muskrat, because of some physical
defect? The struggle between animals--the falling of the weak as prey
to the strong--is ever before us; but this single-handed fight between
the creature and Nature is a far rarer, silenter tragedy. Nature is
too swift to allow us time for sympathy.

At best there is only a fighting chance in the meadow. Only strength
and craft may win; only those who have all of their teeth. The muskrat
with a single missing tooth never enters the real race of life at all.
He slinks from some abandoned burrow, and, if the owl and mink are not
watching, he dies alone in the grass, and we rarely know.

I shall never forget the impression made upon me by those quiet bones.
It was like that made by my first visit to a great city hospital--out
of the busy, cheerful street into a surgical ward, where the sick and
injured lay in long white lines. We tramp the woods and meadows and
never step from the sweet air and the pure sunlight of health into a
hospital. But that is not because no sick, ill-formed, or injured are
there. The proportion is smaller than among us humans, and for very
good reasons, yet there is much real suffering, and to come upon it,
as we will, now and then, must certainly quicken our understanding and
deepen our sympathy with the life out of doors.

No sensible person could for a moment believe the animals capable of
suffering as a human being can suffer; nor that there is any such call
for our sympathy from them as from our human neighbors. But an
unselfish sharing of the life of the fields demands that we take part
in all of it.

Nature wears a brave face. Her smile is ever in the open, her laughter
quick and contagious. This brave front is no mask. It is real.
Sunlight, song, color, form, and fragrance are real. And so is our
love and joy in Nature real. Real, also, should be our sympathy and
sorrow with Nature.

Here, for instance, are my crows: do I share fully in the life of
Nature so long as I think of the crow only with admiration for his
cunning or with wrath at his destruction of my melons and corn?

A crow has his solemn moments. He knows fear, pain, hunger, accident,
and disease; he knows something very like affection and love. For all
that, he is a mere crow. But a mere crow is no mean thing. He is my
brother, and a real love will give me part in all his existence. I
will forage and fight with him; I will parley and play; and when the
keen north winds find him in the frozen pines, I will suffer with him,
too.

Here again are my meadow voles. I know that my hay crop is shorter
every year for them,--a very little shorter. And I can look with
satisfaction at a cat carrying a big bob-tailed vole out of my
“mowing,” for the voles, along with other mice, are injurious to man.

But one day I came upon two of my voles struggling for life in the
water, exhausted and well-nigh dead. I helped them out, as I should
have helped out any other creature, and having saved them, why, what
could I do but let them go--even into my own meadow? This has happened
several times.

When the drought dries the meadow, the voles come to the deep,
plank-walled spring at the upper end, to drink. The water usually
trickles over the curb, but in a long dry spell it shrinks to a foot
or more below the edge, and the voles, once within for their drink,
cannot get out. Time and again I had fished them up, until I thought
to leave a board slanting down to the water, so that they could climb
back to the top.

It is wholesome to be the good Samaritan to a meadow mouse, to pour
out, even waste, a little of the oil and wine of sympathy on the
humblest of our needy neighbors.

Here are the chimney swallows, too. One can look with complacency,
with gratitude, indeed, upon the swallows of other chimneys, as they
hawk in the sky; yet, when the little creatures, so useful, but so
uncombed and unfumigated, set up their establishments in _your_
chimney, to the jeopardy of the whole house, then you need an
experience like mine.

I had had a like experience years before, when the house did not
belong to me. This time, however, the house was mine, and if it became
infested with vermin because of the swallows, I could not move away;
so I felt like burning them in the chimney, bag and baggage. There
were four nests, as nearly as I could make out, and, from the
frequent squeakings, I knew they were all filled with young. Then one
day, when the young were nearly ready to fly, there came a rain that
ran wet far down the sooty chimney, loosened the mortar of the nests,
and sent them crashing into the fireplace.

Some of the young birds were killed outright; the others were at my
mercy, flung upon me,--helpless, wailing infants! Of course I made it
comfortable for them on the back-log, and let their mothers flutter
down unhindered to feed them. Had I understood the trick, I would have
hawked for them and helped feed them myself!

They made a great thunder in the chimney; they rattled down into the
living-room a little soot; but nothing further came of it. We were not
quarantined. On the contrary, we had our reward, according to promise;
for it was an extremely interesting event to us all. It dispelled some
silly qualms, it gave us intimate part in a strange small life, so
foreign, yet so closely linked to our own; and it made us pause with
wonder that even our empty, sooty chimney could be made use of by
Nature to our great benefit.

I wonder if the nests of the chimney swallows came tumbling down when
the birds used to build in caves and hollow trees? It is a most
extraordinary change, this change from the trees to the chimneys, and
it does not seem to have been accompanied by an increase of
architectural wisdom necessary to meet all the conditions of the new
hollow. The mortar or glue, which, I imagine, held firmly in the empty
trees, will not mix with the chimney soot, so that the nest,
especially when crowded with young, is easily loosened by the rain,
and sometimes even broken away by the slight wing stroke of a
descending swallow, or by the added weight of a parent bird as it
settles with food.

We little realize how frequent fear is among the birds and animals,
and how often it proves fatal. A situation that would have caused no
trouble ordinarily, becomes through sudden fright a tangle or a trap.
I have known many a quail to bolt into a fast express train and fall
dead. Last winter I left the large door of the barn open, so that my
flock of juncos could feed inside upon the floor. They found their way
into the hayloft and went up and down freely. On two or three
occasions I happened in so suddenly that they were thoroughly
frightened and flew madly into the cupola to escape through the
windows. They beat against the glass until utterly dazed, and would
have perished there, had I not climbed up later and brought them down.
So thousands of the migrating birds perish yearly by flying wildly
against the dazzling lanterns of the lighthouses, and thousands more
either lose their course in the thick darkness of the stormy nights,
or else are blown out of it, and drift far away to sea.

Hasty, careless, miscalculated movements are not as frequent among the
careful wild folk as among us, perhaps; but there is abundant evidence
of their occasional occurrence and of their sometimes fatal results.

Several instances are recorded of birds that have been tangled in the
threads of their nests; and one instance of a bluebird that was caught
in the flying meshes of an oriole’s nest into which it had been
spying.

I once found the mummied body of a chippy twisting and swinging in the
leafless branches of a peach tree. The little creature was suspended
in a web of horsehair about two inches below a nest. It looked as if
she had brought a snarled bunch of the hair and left it loose in the
twigs. Later on, a careless step and her foot was fast, when every
frantic effort for freedom only tangled her the worse. In the nest
above were four other tiny mummies--a double tragedy that might with
care have been averted.

A similar fate befell a song sparrow that I discovered hanging dead
upon a barbed-wire fence. By some chance it had slipped a foot through
an open place between the two twisted strands, and then, fluttering
along, had wedged the leg and broken it in the struggle to escape.

We have all held our breath at the hazardous traveling of the
squirrels in the treetops. What other animals take such
risks?--leaping at dizzy heights from bending limbs to catch the tips
of limbs still smaller, saving themselves again and again by the
merest chance.

But luck sometimes fails. My brother, a careful watcher in the woods,
on one occasion when he was hunting, saw a gray squirrel miss its
footing in a tree and fall, breaking its neck upon a log beneath.

I have frequently known squirrels to fall short distances, and once I
saw a red squirrel come to grief like this gray squirrel. He was
scurrying through the tops of some lofty pitch pines, a little hurried
and flustered at sight of me, and, nearing the end of a high branch,
was in the act of springing, when the dead tip cracked under him and
he came tumbling headlong. The height must have been forty feet, so
that before he reached the ground he had righted himself,--his tail
out and legs spread,--but the fall was too great. He hit the earth
heavily, and before I could reach him he lay dead upon the needles,
with blood oozing from his eyes and nostrils.

Unhoused and often unsheltered, the wild things suffer as we hardly
yet understand. No one can estimate how many of our wild creatures die
in a year from severe cold, heavy storms, high winds and tides. I
have known the nests of a whole colony of gulls and terns to be swept
away in a great storm; while the tides, over and over, have flooded
the inlet marshes and drowned out the nests in the grass--those of the
clapper rails by thousands.

I remember a late spring storm that came with the returning redstarts
and, in my neighborhood, killed many of them. Toward evening of that
day one of the little black-and-orange voyageurs fluttered against the
window and we let him in, wet, chilled, and so exhausted that for a
moment he lay on his back in my open palm. Soon after there was
another soft tapping at the window,--and _two_ little redstarts were
sharing our cheer and drying their butterfly wings in our warmth. Both
of these birds would have perished had we not harbored them for the
night.

The birds and animals are not as weather-wise as we; they cannot
foretell as far ahead nor provide as certainly against need, despite
the popular notion to the contrary.

We point to the migrating birds, to the muskrat houses, to the hoards
of the squirrels, and say, “How wise and far-sighted these
Nature-taught children are!” True, they are, but only for conditions
that are normal. Their wisdom does not cover the unusual. The gray
squirrels did not provide for the unusually hard weather of last
winter. Three of them from the woodlot came begging of me, and lived
on my wisdom, not their own.

Consider the ravens, that neither sow nor reap, that have neither
storehouse nor barn, yet they are fed--but not always. Indeed, there
are few of our winter birds that go hungry so often as do the cousins
of the ravens, the crows, and that die in so great numbers for lack of
food and shelter.

After severe and protracted cold, with a snow-covered ground, a
crow-roost looks like a battlefield, so thick lie the dead and
wounded. Morning after morning the flock goes over to forage in the
frozen fields, and night after night returns hungrier, weaker, and
less able to resist the cold. Now, as the darkness falls, a bitter
wind breaks loose and sweeps down upon the pines.

    “List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
    I thought me on the ourie cattle,”--

and how often I have thought me of the crows biding the night yonder
in the moaning pines! So often, as a boy, and with so real an awe,
have I watched them returning at night, that the crows will never
cease flying through my wintry sky,--an endless line of wavering black
figures, weary, retreating figures, beating over in the early dusk.

And to-night another wild storm sweeps across the winter fields. All
the afternoon the crows have been going over, and are still passing as
the darkness settles at five o’clock. Now it is nearly eight, and the
long night is but just begun. The storm is increasing. The wind
shrieks about the house, whirling the fine snow in hissing eddies past
the corners and driving it on into long, curling crests across the
fields. I can hear the roar as the wind strikes the shoal of pines
where the fields roll into the woods--a vast surf sound, but softer
and higher, with a wail like the wail of some vast heart in pain.

I can see the tall trees rock and sway with their burden of dark
forms. As close together as they can crowd on the bending limbs cling
the crows, their breasts turned all to the storm. With crops empty and
bodies weak, they rise and fall in the cutting, ice-filled wind for
thirteen hours of night.

Is it a wonder that the life fires burn low? that sometimes the small
flames flicker and go out?



CHAPTER IX

THE PECULIAR ’POSSUM


If you are a New Englander, or a Northwesterner, then, probably, you
have never pulled a ’possum out of his hollow stump or from under some
old rail-pile, as I have done, many a time, down in southern New
Jersey. And so, probably, you have never made the acquaintance of the
most peculiar creature in our American woods.

Even roast ’possum is peculiar. Up to the time you taste roast ’possum
you quite agree with Charles Lamb that roast pig is peculiarly the
most delicious delicacy “in the whole _modus edibilis_,” in other
words, bill of fare. But once you eat roast ’possum, you will go all
over Lamb’s tasty “Dissertation upon Roast Pig,” marking out “pig”
with your pencil and writing in “’possum,” making the essay read
thus:--

“There is no flavor comparable, I will contend, to that of the crisp,
tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, _’possum_, as it is
called,--the very teeth are invited to their share of the pleasure at
this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle resistance,--with the
adhesive oleaginous--O call it not fat! but an indefinable sweetness
growing up to it--the tender blossoming of fat--fat cropped in the
bud--taken in the shoot--in the first innocence--” For no matter how
old your roast ’possum, he is as tender as the tenderest roast pig.
And that, of course, is peculiar.

But live ’possum is more peculiar than roast ’possum. It is peculiar,
for instance, that almost all of the ’possum’s relations, except his
immediate family, dwell apart in Australia,--in Australasia, for
marsupials are found also in Tasmania, New Guinea, and the
Moluccas--which islands the marsupials seem to have had given them for
their own when the world was made. There, at least, most of them live
and have lived for ages, except the ’possums. These latter, strangely
enough, live in South and North America, and nowhere else. The
peculiar, puzzling thing about them is: how they, and they only of the
marsupials, got away from Australia across the sea to America. Did a
family of them get set adrift on a log and float across? Or was there
once, as geologists tell us, a long string of islands close together,
stretching from the tip of South America, from the “Horn,” off across
the sea to Australia, over which the ’possums might once have made
their way? But if they came by such a route, why did not the kangaroos
come too? Ah, the kangaroo is not a ’possum. There is no other
creature in the woods that would dare play “Follow the leader” with
the ’possum. No, I am half inclined to think the scientists right who
say that the ’possum is the great-great-grandfather of all the
marsupials, and that the migration might have been the other way
about--from America, across the sea.

But what is the use of speculating? Here is the ’possum in our woods;
that we know; and yonder in Australasia are his thirteen sets of
cousins, and there they seem always to have been, for of these
thirteen sets of cousins, four sets have so long since ceased to live
that they are now among the fossils, slowly turning, every one of
them, to stone!

A queer history he has, surely! But queerer than his history, is his
body, and the way he grows from babyhood to twenty-pound ’possumhood.

For besides having a tail that can be used for a hand, and a paw with
a thumb like the human thumb, the female ’possum has a pocket or pouch
on her abdomen, just as the kangaroo has, in which she carries her
young.

Now that is peculiar, so very peculiar when you study deeply into it,
that the ’possum becomes to the scientist quite the most interesting
mammal in North America.

Returning from a Christmas vacation one year, while a student in
college, I brought back with me twenty-six live ’possums so that the
professor of zoölogy could study the peculiar anatomy of the ’possum
for several of its many meanings.

This pouch, for instance, and the peculiar bones of the ’possum, show
that it is a very primitive mammal, one of the very oldest mammals, so
close to the beginning of the mammalian line that there are only two
other living “animals” (we can hardly call them mammals) older and
more primitive--the porcupine ant-eater, and, oldest of all, the
duck-bill, not “older” at all perhaps, but only more primitive.

For the duck-bill, though classed as a mammal, not only has the bill
of the duck, but also lays eggs like the birds. The porcupine
ant-eater likewise lays eggs, and so seems almost as much bird or
reptile as mammal. And as the birds and reptiles lived upon the earth
before the age of mammals, and are a lower and more primitive order of
creatures, so the duck-bill, the porcupine ant-eater, and the ’possum,
because in their anatomy they are like the birds and the reptiles in
some respects, are perhaps the lowest and the oldest of all the
mammals.

The ’possum, therefore, is one of the most primitive of mammals, and
dates as far back as the reptilian age, when only traces of mammalian
life are to be found, the ’possum’s fossil ancestors being among the
notable of these early remains.

The mammals at that time, as I have just said, were only partly
mammal, for they were partly bird or reptile, as the duck-bill and
ant-eater still are. Now the ’possum does not lay eggs as these other
two do, for its young are born, not hatched; yet so tiny and
undeveloped are they when born, that they must be put into their
mother’s pouch and nursed, as eggs are put into a nest and brooded
until they are hatched--really born a second time.

For here in their mother’s pouch they are like chicks in the shell,
and quite as helpless. It is five weeks before they can stick their
heads out and take a look at the world.

No other mammalian baby is so much of a baby and yet comes so near to
being no baby at all. It is less than an inch long when put into the
pouch, and it weighs only four grains! Four grains? Think how small
that is. For there are 7000 grains to a pound, which means that it
would take 1750 baby ’possums to weigh as much as two cups of sugar!

“I should say he was peculiar!” I hear you exclaim; and you will agree
with an ancient History of Carolina which I have, when it declares:
“The Opoffom is the wonder of all the land animals.”

I wish you had been with me one spring day as I was stretching a
“lay-out” line across Cubby Hollow. (A lay-out line is a long
fish-line, strung with baited hooks, and reaching across the pond from
shore to shore.) I was out in the middle of the pond, lying flat on a
raft made of three cedar rails, when my dog began to bark at something
in a brier-patch on shore.

Paddling in as fast as I could, I found the dog standing before a
large ’possum, which was backed up against a tree. I finally got Mrs.
’Possum by the tail and dropped her unhurt into my eel-pot--a
fish-trap made out of an empty nail-keg--which I had left since fall
among the bushes of the hillside. Then paddling again to the middle of
the pond, I untangled and set my hooks on the lay-out line, and came
back to shore for my ’possum.

I didn’t quite fancy pushing my hand down through the burlap cover
over the end of the keg; so I turned it upside down to spill the
’possum out,--and out she spilled and nine little ’possums with her!

I had put in one and spilled out--ten! And this proves again that the
’possum is peculiar. Nine of these were babies that had been hidden
from me and the dog in their mother’s pouch.

Peculiar, too, was the history of one of these nine young ’possums
(the one we named “Pinky”). For after Pinky’s mother choked to death
on a fish-bone, I gave all his brothers and sisters away, and devoted
myself to training Pinky up in the way he should go. And strangely
enough, when he was grown, unlike any other wild animal I had ever
tamed, he would not depart from these domesticated ways, but insisted
upon coming back home every time I took him away to the woods. Of
course he was only a few months old when I tried to turn him loose in
the woods, and that may account for his returning and squeezing
through the opening of the pump-box trough into the kitchen and going
fast asleep on the cushion of the settee; as it may also account for
his getting into a neighbor’s yard by mistake on his way back one
night and drowning in the well.

You have read of ’possum hunts;--and they are peculiar, too, as
naturally they must needs be. For you hunt ’possums with rabbit
hounds, and shoot them with a meal-sack--shoot them _into_ a meal-sack
would be more exact. And you hunt by moonlight if you really love
’possum.

We used to start out just as the moon, climbing over the woods, fell
soft across the bare fields. The old dog would be some distance ahead,
her nose to the ground, sometimes picking up a trail in the first
cornfield, or again not until we reached the woods, or again leading
us for miles along the creek meadows among the scattered persimmon
trees, before striking a fresh scent.

Wherever the trail started it usually led away for the woods, for some
hollow stump or tree, where the ’possum made his nest. Once in a while
I have overtaken the fat fellow in an open field or atop a fence, or
have even caught him in a hencoop; but usually, if hunting at night,
it has been a long, and not always an easy, chase, for a ’possum, in
spite of his fat and his fossil ancestors, is not stupid. Or else he
is so slow-witted that there is no telling, by man or dog, which way
he will go, or what he may do next.

A rabbit, or a deer, or a coon, when you are on their trail, will do
certain things. You can count upon them with great certainty. But a
’possum never seems to do anything twice alike; he has no traveled
paths, no regular tricks, no set habits. He knows the road home,
but it is always a different road--a meandering, roundabout,
zigzag, criss-cross, up-and-down (up-the-trees-and-down) road,
we-won’t-get-home-till-morning road, that takes in all the way
stations, from the tops of tall persimmon trees to the bottoms of all
the deep, dark holes that need looking into, along the route.

Peculiar!--So, at least, a dog with an orderly mind and well-regulated
habits thinks, anyhow. For a ’possum trail will give a good rabbit dog
the blues; he hasn’t the patience for it. Only a slow rheumatic old
hound will stick to a ’possum trail with the endurance necessary to
carry it to its end--in a hollow log, or a hollow stump, or under a
shock of corn or a rail-pile. Once the trail actually led me, after
much trouble, into a hen-house and into a stove in the hen-house,
where, upon the grate, I found three ’possums in their nest!

It is a peculiar sport, this ’possum-hunting; yet it is mildly
exciting; and when you get your ’possum by the tail, he smiles at
you--grins, I ought to say--and has a fit. To go hunting for a
creature that smiles at you in a dreadful manner when you capture him,
that flops down in a dead faint or has a fit when you take him up by
the tail, that shows the spunk and fight of a boiled cabbage--to go
hunting for such a beast must be exciting, as exciting as going to the
store for a quart of beans.

But here are the winter woods at night, and the wide, moonlit fields,
covered, it may be, with the glistening snow. The full, round moon
rides high overhead, the pointed corn-shocks stand silent over the
fields, the woods rise dark and shadowy beyond. Only the slow, musical
cry of the hound echoes through the stirless air, which seems to
sparkle like the snow, as if filled with gleaming frost-dust that only
the moonlight can catch and set to glancing silvery-bright.

You don’t care whether you catch a ’possum or not; you are abroad in a
world so large and silent, so crystal-clear and shining, so crisp, so
open, so acreep with shadows, so deep and mysterious in its distances,
so pure and beautiful and unblemished, that just to be abroad is
wonder enough, and you are not sorry to come back under the brilliant
midnight sky with the old dog at your heels and over your shoulder an
empty bag.

But if your bag is heavy with fat ’possum then that, too, is good. You
have peered into his black hole; you have reached in and pulled him
out--nothing more. No roar of a gun has shattered your world of
crystal; you have killed nothing, wounded nothing--no, not even the
silence and the serenity of your soul. You and the clear, calm night
are still one.

You have dropped a smiling ’possum into an easy, roomy bag. He feels
warm against your back. The old dog follows proud and content at your
heels. And you feel--as the wide, softly shining sky seems to feel.

And that, too, is peculiar.



CHAPTER X

A FEBRUARY FRESHET


One of the very interesting events in my out-of-door year is the
February freshet. Perhaps you call it the February _thaw_. That is all
it could be called this year; and, in fact, a _thaw_ is all that it
ever is for me, nowadays, living, as I do, high and dry here, on
Mullein Hill, above a sputtering little trout brook that could not
have a freshet if it tried.

But Maurice River could have a freshet without trying. Let the high
south winds, the high tides, and the warm spring rains come on
together, let them drive in hard for a day and a night, as I have
known them to do, and the deep, dark river goes mad! The tossing tide
sweeps over the wharves, swirls about the piles of the great bridge,
leaps foaming into the air, and up and down its long high banks beats
with all its wild might to break through into the fertile meadows
below.

There are wider rivers, and other, more exciting things, than spring
freshets; but there were not when I was a boy. Why, Maurice River was
so wide that there was but a single boy in the town, as I remember,
who could stand at one end of the drawbridge and skim an oyster-shell
over to the opposite end! The best that I could do was to throw my
voice across and hear it echo from the long, hollow barn on the other
bank. It would seem to me to strike the barn in the middle, leap from
end to end like a creature caged, and then bound back to me faint and
frightened from across the dark tide.

I feared the river. Oh, but I loved it, too. Its tides were always
rising or falling--going down to the Delaware Bay and on to the sea.
And in from the bay, or out to the bay, with white sails set, the big
boats were always moving. And when they had gone, out over the wide
water the gulls or the fish hawks would sail, or a great blue heron,
with wings like the fans of an old Dutch mill, would beat ponderously
across.

I loved the river. I loved the sound of the calking-maul and the adze
in the shipyard, and the smell of the chips and tarred oakum; the
chatter of the wrens among the reeds and calamus; the pink of the
mallow and wild roses along the high mud banks; the fishy ditches with
their deep sluiceways through the bank into the river; and the vast,
vast tide-marshes that, to this day, seem to me to stretch away to the
very edge of the world.

What a world for a boy to drive cows into every morning, and drive
them home from every night, as I used to help do! or to trap muskrats
in during the winter; to go fishing in during the summer; to go
splashing up and down in when the great February freshet came on!

For of all the events of the year, none had such fascination for me as
the high winds and warm downpour that flooded the wharves, that drove
the men of the village out to guard the river-banks, and that drowned
out of their burrows and winter hiding-places all the wild things that
lived within reach of the spreading tide.

The water would pour over the meadows and run far back into the swamps
and farm lands, setting everything afloat that could float--rails,
logs, branches; upon which, as chance offered, some struggling
creature would crawl, and drift away to safety.

But not always to safety; for over the meadows the crows and fish
hawks, gulls, herons, bitterns, and at night the owls, were constantly
beating to pounce upon the helpless voyagers, even taking the
muskrats an easy prey, through their weakness from exposure and long
swimming in the water.

There would be only two shores to this wild meadow-sea--the
river-bank, a mere line of earth drawn through the water, and the
distant shore of the upland. If the wind blew from the upland toward
the bank, then the drift would all set that way, and before long a
multitude of shipwrecked creatures would be tossed upon this narrow
breakwater, that stood, a bare three feet of clay, against the wilder
river-sea beyond.

To walk up and down the bank then was like entering a natural history
museum where all the specimens were alive; or like going to a small
menagerie. Sparrows, finches, robins, mice, moles, voles, shrews,
snakes, turtles, squirrels, muskrats, with even a mink and an opossum
now and then, would scurry from beneath your feet or dive back into
the water as you passed along.

And by what strange craft they sometimes came! I once saw two muskrats
and a gray squirrel floating along on the top of one of the muskrats’
houses. And again a little bob-tailed meadow mouse came rocking along
in a drifting catbird’s nest which the waves had washed from its
anchorage in the rosebushes. And out on the top of some tall stake, or
up among the limbs of a tree you would see little huddled bunches of
fur, a muskrat perhaps that had never climbed before in his life,
waiting, like a sailor lashed to the rigging, to be taken off.

But it was not the multitude of wild things--birds, beasts,
insects--that fascinated me most, that led me out along the slippery,
dangerous bank through the swirling storm; it was rather the fear and
confusion of the animals, the wild giant-spirit raging over the face
of the earth and sky, daunting and terrifying them, that drew me.

Many of the small creatures had been wakened by the flood out of their
deep winter sleep, and, dazed and numbed and frightened, they seemed
to know nothing, to care for nothing but the touch of the solid earth
to their feet.

All of their natural desires and instincts, their hatreds, hungers,
terrors, were sunk beneath the waters. They had lost their wits, like
human creatures in a panic, and, struggling, fighting for a foothold,
they did not notice me unless I made at them, and then only took to
the water a moment to escape the instant peril.

The sight was strange, as if this were another planet and not our
orderly, peaceful world at all. Nor, indeed, was it; for fear cowered
everywhere, in all the things that were of the earth, as over the
earth and everything upon it raged the fury of river and sky.

The frail mud bank trembled under the beating of the waves; the sunken
sluices strangled and shook deep down through the whirlpools sucking
at their mouths; the flocks of scattered sea-birds--ducks and
brant--veered into sight, dashed down toward the white waters or drove
over with mad speed, while the winds screamed and the sky hung black
like a torn and flapping sail.

And I, too, would have to drop upon all fours, with the mice and
muskrats, and cling to the bank for my life, as the snarling river,
leaping at me, would plunge clear over into the meadow below.

A winter blizzard is more deadly, but not more fearful, nor so wild
and tumultuous. For in such a storm as this the foundations of the
deep seem to be broken up, the frame of the world shaken, and you, and
the mice, and the muskrats, share alike the wild, fierce spirit and
the fear.

To be out in such a storm, out where you can feel its full fury, as
upon a strip of bank in the midst of the churning waters, is good for
one. To experience a common peril with your fellow mortals, though
they be only mice and muskrats, is good for one; for it is to share
by so much in their humble lives, and by so much to live outside of
one’s own little self.

And then again, we are so accustomed to the order and fair weather of
our part of the globe, that we get to feel as if the universe were
being particularly managed for us; nay, that we, personally, are
managing the universe. To flatten out on a quaking ridge of earth or
be blown into the river; to hear no voice but the roar of the storm,
and to have no part or power in the mighty tumult of such a storm,
makes one feel about the size of a mouse, makes one feel how vast is
the universe, and how fearful the vortex of its warring forces!

The shriek of those winds is still in my ears, the sting of the
driving rains still on my face, the motion of that frail mud bank,
swimming like a long sea-serpent in the swirling waters, I can still
feel to my finger-tips. And the growl of the river, the streaming
shreds of the sky, the confusion beneath and about me, the mice and
muskrats clinging with me for a foothold--I live it all again at the
first spatter of a February rain upon my face.

To be out in a February freshet, out in a big spring break-up, is to
get a breaking up one’s self, a preparation, like Nature’s, for a new
lease of life--for spring.



CHAPTER XI

A BREACH IN THE BANK


The February freshet had come. We had been expecting it, but no one
along Maurice River had ever seen so wild and warm and ominous a
spring storm as this. So sudden and complete a break-up of winter no
one could remember; nor so high a tide, so rain-thick and driving a
south wind. It had begun the night before, and now, along near noon,
the river and meadows were a tumult of white waters, with the gale so
strong that one could hardly hold his own on the drawbridge that
groaned from pier to pier in the grip of the maddened storm.

It was into the teeth of this gale that a small boy dressed in large
yellow “oil-skins” made his slow way out along the narrow bank of the
river toward the sluices that controlled the tides of the great
meadows.

The boy was _in_ the large yellow oil-skins; not dressed, no, for he
was simply inside of them, his feet and hands and the top of his head
having managed to work their way out. It seems, at least, that his
head was partly out, for on the top of the oil-skins sat a large black
sou’wester. And in the arms of the oil-skins lay an old army musket,
so big and long that it seemed to be walking away with the oil-skins,
as the oil-skins seemed to be walking away with the boy.

I can feel the kick of that old musket yet, and the prick of the dried
sand-burs among which she knocked me. I can hear the rough rasping of
the chafing legs of those oil-skins too, though I was not the boy this
time inside of them. But I knew the boy who was, a real boy; and I
know that he made his careful way along the trembling river-bank out
into the sunken meadows, meadows that later on I saw the river burst
into and claim--and it still claims them, as I saw only last summer,
when after thirty years of absence I once more stood at the end of
that bank looking over a watery waste which was once the richest of
farm lands.

Never, it seemed, had the village known such wind and rain and such a
tide. It was a strange, wild scene from the drawbridge--wharves
obliterated, river white with flying spume and tossing ice-cakes, the
great bridge swaying and shrieking in the wind, and over everything
the blur of the swirling rain.

The little figure in yellow oil-skins was not the only one that had
gone along the bank since morning, for a party of men had carefully
inspected every foot of the bank to the last sluice, for fear that
there might be a weak spot somewhere. Let a breach occur with such a
tide as this and it could never be stopped.

And now, somewhat past noon, the men were again upon the bank. As they
neared Five-Forks sluice, the central and largest of the water-gates,
they heard a smothered _boom_ above the scream of the wind in their
ears. They were startled; but it was only the sound of a gun somewhere
off in the meadow. It was the gun of the boy in the oil-skins.

Late that afternoon Doctor “Sam,” driving home along the flooded road
of the low back swamp, caught sight, as he came out in view of the
river, of a little figure in yellow oil-skins away out on the meadow.

The doctor stopped his horse and hallooed. But the boy did not hear.
The rain on his coat, the wind and the river in his ears drowned every
other sound.

The dusk was falling, and as the doctor looked out over the wild
scene, he put his hands to his mouth and called again. The yellow
figure had been blotted out by the rain. There was no response, and
the doctor drove on.

Meanwhile the boy in the yellow oil-skins was splashing slowly back
along the narrow, slippery clay bank. He was wet, but he was warm, and
he loved the roar of the wind and the beat of the driving rain.

As the mist and rain were fast mixing with the dusk of the twilight,
he quickened his steps. His path in places was hardly a foot wide,
covered with rose and elder bushes mostly, but bare in spots where
holes and low worn stretches had been recently built up with cubes of
the tough blue mud of the flats.

The tide was already even with the top of the bank and was still
rising. It leaped and hit at his feet as he picked his way along. The
cakes of white ice crunched and heeled up against the bank with here
and there one flung fairly across his path. The tossing water
frequently splashed across. Twice he jumped places where the tide was
running over down into the meadows below.

How quickly the night had come! It was dark when he reached
Five-Forks sluice--the middle point in the long, high bank. While
still some distance off he heard the sullen roar of the big sluice,
through which the swollen river was trying to force its way.

He paused to listen a moment. He knew the peculiar voice of every one
of these gateways, as he knew every foot of the river-bank.

There was nothing wrong with the sullen roar. But how deep and
threatening! He could _feel_ the sound even better than he could hear
it, far down below him. He started forward, to pass on, when he half
felt, through the long, regular throbbing of the sluice, a shorter,
faster, closer quiver, as of a small running stream in the bank very
near his feet.

Dropping quickly to his knees, he laid his ear to the wet earth. A
cold, black hand seemed to seize upon him. He heard the purr of
running water!

It must be down about three feet. He could distinctly feel it tearing
through.

Without rising he scrambled down the meadow side of the bank to see
the size of the breach. He could hear nothing of it for the boiling at
the gates of the sluice. It was so dark he could scarcely see. But
near the bottom the mud suddenly caved beneath his feet, and a rush of
cold water caught at his knees.

The hole was greater than he feared.

Crawling back to the top of the bank, he leaned out over the river
side. A large cake of ice hung in water in front of him. He pushed it
aside and, bending until his face barely cleared the surface of the
river, he discovered a small sucking eddy, whose swirling hole he knew
ran into the breach.

He edged farther out and reached down under the water and touched the
upper rim of the hole. How large might it be? Swinging round, he dug
his fingers into the bank and lowered himself feet first until he
stood in the hole. It was the size of a small bucket, but he could
almost feel it going beneath his feet, and a sudden terror took hold
upon him.

He was only a boy, and the dark night, the wild river, the vast,
sweeping storm, the roar and tremor and tumult flattened him for a
moment to the ridge of the bank in a panic of fear!

But he heard the water running, he felt the bank going directly
beneath where he lay, and getting to his feet he started for the
village. A single hasty step and, but for the piles of the sluice, he
would have plunged into the river.

He must feel his way; but he never could do it in time to save the
bank. The breach must be stopped at once. He must stop it and keep it
stopped until the next patrol brought help.

Feeling his way back, he dropped again upon his hands and knees above
the breach to think for a moment. The cake of ice hung as before in
the eddy. Catching it, he tipped it and thrust it down across the
mouth of the hole, but it slipped from his cold fingers and dived
away. He pushed down the butt of his musket, turned it flat, but it
was not broad enough to cover the opening. Then he lowered himself
again, and stood in it, wedging the musket in between his boots; but
he could feel the water still tearing through at the sides, and eating
all the faster.

He clambered back to the top of the bank, put his hand to his mouth
and shouted. The only answer was the scream of the wind and the cry of
a brant passing overhead.

Then the boy laughed. “Easy enough,” he muttered, and, picking up the
musket, he leaned once more out over the river and thrust the steel
barrel of the gun hard into the mud just below the hole. Then,
stepping easily down, he sat squarely into the breach, the gun like a
stake in front of him sticking up between his knees.

Then he laughed again, as he caught his breath, for he had squeezed
into the hole like a stopper into a bottle, his big oil-skins filling
the breach completely.

The water stood above the middle of his breast, and the tide was still
rising. Darkness had now settled, but the ghostly ice-cakes, tipping,
slipping toward him, were spectral white. He had to shove them back as
now and then one rose before his face. The sky was black, and the deep
water below him was blacker. And how cold it was!

Doctor Sam had been stopped by the flooded roads on his way home, and
lights shone in the windows as he entered the village. He turned a
little out of his way and halted in front of a small cottage near the
bridge.

“Is Joe here?” he asked.

“No,” answered the mother; “he went down the meadow for muskrats and
has not returned yet. He’s probably over with the men at the store.”

Doctor Sam drove on to the store.

There was no boy in yellow oil-skins in the store.

Doctor Sam picked up a lighted lantern.

“Come on,” he said; “I’m wet, but I want a look at those sluices,” and
started for the river, followed immediately by the men, whom he led in
single file out along the bank.

Swinging his lantern low, he pushed into the teeth of the gale at a
pace that left the line of lights straggling far behind.

“What a night!” he growled. “If I had a boy of my own--” and he threw
the light as far as he could over the seething river and then down
over the flooded meadow.

Ahead he heard the roar of Five-Forks sluice, and swung his lantern
high, as if to signal it, so like the rush of a coming train was the
sound of the waters.

But the little engineer in yellow oil-skins could not see the signal.
He had almost ceased to watch. With his arm cramped about his gun, he
was still at his post; but the ice-cakes floated in and touched him;
the water no longer felt cold.

On this side, then on that, out over the swollen river, down into the
tossing meadow flared the lantern as the doctor worked his way along.

Above the great sluice he paused a moment, then bent his head to the
wind and started on, when his foot touched something soft that yielded
strangely, sending a shiver over him, and his light fell upon a bunch
of four dead muskrats lying in the path.

Along the meadow side flashed the lantern, up and over the riverside,
and Doctor Sam, reaching quickly down, drew a limp little form in
yellow oil-skins out of the water, as the men behind him came up.

A gurgle, a hiss, a small whirlpool sucking at the surface,--and the
tide was again tearing through the breach that the boy had filled.

The men sprang quickly to their task, and did it well, while Doctor
Sam, shielding the limp little form from the wind, forced a vial of
something between the white lips, saying over to himself as he watched
the closed eyes open, “If I had a boy of my own--If I had a boy--”

       *       *       *       *       *

No, Doctor Sam never had a boy of his own; but he always felt, I
think, that the boy of those yellow oil-skins was somehow pretty
nearly his.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a long, cold winter how I love the spatter on my face of the
first February rain! The little trout brook below me foams and
sometimes overruns the road, and as its small noise ascends the hill,
I can hear--the wind on a great river, the wash of waves against a
narrow bank, and the muffled roar of quaking sluices as when a
February freshet is on.

[Illustration: “DREW A LIMP LITTLE FORM OUT OF THE WATER”]



CHAPTER XII

A CHAPTER OF THINGS TO HEAR THIS WINTER


I

You should hear the three great silences of winter: the wide, sudden
silence that falls at twilight on the coming of the first winter
frost; the smothered hush that waits the breaking of a winter storm;
the crystal stillness, the speech of the stars, that pervades earth
and sky on a brilliant, stirless winter night. You should hear--or is
it _feel_?--them all.


II

So should you hear the great voices of the winter: the voice of the
north wind; the voice of a pine forest; the voice of the surf on a
stormy shore. There is no music that I know like the wild mighty music
of the winter winds in the winter woods. It will often happen that you
can pass through a bare stretch of naked hardwoods immediately into a
grove of thick-limbed spruces or pines. Never miss such an
opportunity. Do not let the high winds of this winter blow on and away
without your hearing them--at least once--as they sweep through the
hardwoods on into the deep resounding pines.


III

Did you ever hear the running, rumbling, reverberating sound of the
shore-to-shore split of a wide sheet of new ice? You will hear it as
the sun rises over the pond, as the tide turns in the ice-bound river,
and when the ice contracts with falling temperature,--a startling bolt
of sound, a quake, that cleaves the ice across and splits its way into
the heart of the frozen hills.


IV

One of the most unnatural of all the sounds out-of-doors is the
clashing, glassy rattle of trees ice-coated and shaken by the wind. It
is as if you were in some weird china shop, where the curtains, the
very clothes of the customers, were all of broken glass. It is the
rattle of death, not of life; no, rather it is the rustle of the
ermine robe of Winter, as he passes crystal-booted down his crystal
halls.


V

If winter is the season of large sounds, it is also the season of
small sounds, for it is the season of wide silence when the slightest
of stirrings can be heard. Three of these small sounds you must listen
for this winter: the smothered _tinkle-tunkle_ of water running under
thin ice, as where the brook passes a pebbly shallow; then the
_tick-tick-tick_ of the first snowflakes hitting the brown leaves on
a forest floor; then the fine sharp scratch of a curled and toothed
beech leaf skating before a noiseless breath of wind over the crusty
snow. Only he that hath ears will hear these sounds, speaking, as they
do, for the vast voiceless moments of the winter world.


VI

I have not heard the “covey call” of the quail this winter. But there
is not a quail left alive in all the fields and sprout-lands within
sound of me. I used to hear them here on Mullein Hill; a covey used to
roost down the wooded hillside in front of the house; but even they
are gone--hunted out of life; shot and eaten off of my small world.
What a horribly hungry animal man is!

But you may have the quail still in your fields. If so, then go out
toward dusk on a quiet, snowy day, especially if you have heard
shooting in the fields that day, and try to hear some one of the covey
calling the flock together: _Whir-r-rl-ee! Whir-r-rl-ee!
Whirl-ee-gee!_--the sweetest, softest, tenderest call you will ever
hear!


VII

And you certainly do have chickadees in your woods. If so, then go out
any time of day, but go on a cold, bleak, blustery day, when
everything is a-shiver, and, as Uncle Remus would say, “meet up” with
a chickadee. It is worth having a winter, just to meet a chickadee in
the empty woods and hear him call--a little pin-point of live sound,
an undaunted, unnumbed voice interrupting the thick jargon of the
winter to tell you that all this bluster and blow and biting cold
can’t get at the heart of a bird that must weigh, all told, with all
his winter feathers on, fully--an ounce or two!


VIII

And then the partridge--you must hear him, bursting like a bottled
hurricane from the brown leaves at your feet!


IX

Among the sweet winter sounds, that are as good to listen to as the
songs of the summer birds, you should hear: the loud joyous cackling
of the hens on a sunny January day; the munching of horses at night
when the wild winds are whistling about the barn; the quiet hum about
the hives,--

    “When come the calm mild days, as still such days will come,
    To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter home.”

And then, the sound of the first rain on the shingles--the first
February rain after a long frozen period! How it spatters the shingles
with _spring--spring--spring!_

[Illustration: “ONE OF THE COVEY CALLING THE FLOCK TOGETHER”]


X

It was in the latter end of December, upon a gloomy day that was heavy
with the oppression of a coming storm. In the heart of the maple swamp
all was still and cold and dead. Suddenly, as out of a tomb, I heard
the small, thin cry of a tiny tree-frog. And how small and thin it
sounded in the vast silences of that winter swamp! And yet how clear
and ringing! A thrill of life tingling out through the numb, nerveless
body of the woods that has ever since made a dead day for me
impossible.

Have you heard him yet?


XI

“After all,” says some one of our writers, “it is only a matter of
which side of the tree you stand on, whether it is summer or winter.”
Just so. But, after all, is it not a good thing to stand on the winter
side during the winter? to have a winter while we have it, and then
have spring? No shivering around on the spring side of the tree for
me. I will button up my coat, brace my back against the winter side
and shout to the hoary old monarch--

    “And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
    And gie’s a hand o’ thine;”

and what a grip he has!



CHAPTER XIII

THE LAST DAY OF WINTER


According to the almanac March 21st is the last day of winter. The
almanac is not always to be trusted--not for hay weather, or picnic
weather, or sailing weather; but you can always trust it for March
21st weather. Whatever the weather man at Washington predicts about
it, whatever comes,--snow, sleet, slush, rain, wind, or frogs and
sunshine,--March 21st _is_ the last day of winter.

The sun “crosses the line” that day; spring crosses with him; and I
cross over with the spring.

Let it snow! I have had winter enough. Let the wind rage! It cannot
turn back the sun; it cannot blow away the “equinoctial line”; it
cannot snow under my determination to have done, here and now, with
winter!

The sun crosses to my side of the Equator on the 21st of March; there
is nothing in the universe that can stop him. I cross over the line
with him; and there is nothing under the sun that can stop me. When
you want it to be spring, if you have the sun on your side of the line
you can have spring. Hitching your wagon to a star is a very great
help in getting along; but having the big sun behind you--

    “When descends on the Atlantic
        The gigantic
    Storm-wind of the equinox”

is a tremendous help in ridding you of a slow and, by this time,
wearisome winter, storm-wind and all.

Almanacs are not much to trust in; but if ever you prize one, it is on
the 21st of March,--that is, if you chance to live in New England. Yet
you can get along without the almanac--even in New England. Hang it up
under the corner of the kitchen mantelpiece and come out with me into
the March mud. We are going to find the signs of spring, the proofs
that this is the last day of winter, that the sun is somewhere in the
heavens and on _this_ side of the equatorial line.

Almanac or no, and with all other signs snowed under, there are still
our bones! Spring is in our bones. I cannot tell you how it gets into
them, nor describe precisely how it feels. But, then, I do not need
to. For you feel it in _your_ bones too--a light, hollow feeling, as
if your bones were birds’ bones, and as if you could flap your arms
and fly!

Only that you feel it more in your feet; and you will start and run,
like the Jungle-folk, like Mowgli--run, run, run! Oh, it is good to
have bones in your body, young bones with the “spring-running,” in
their joints, instead of the grit of rheumatism to stiffen and cripple
you!

The roads are barely thawed. The raw wind is penetrating, and we need
our greatcoats to keep out the cold. But look! A flock of
robins--twenty of them, dashing into the cedars, their brown breasts
glowing warm and red against the dull sky and the dark green of the
trees! And wait--before we go down the hill--here behind the barn--no,
there he dives from the telephone wire--Phœbe! He has just gotten
back, and is simply killing time now (and insects too), waiting for
Mrs. Phœbe to arrive, and housekeeping to begin.

Don’t move! There in the gray clouds--two soaring, circling hen-hawks!
_Kee-ee-you!_ _Kee-ee-you!_ Round and round they go, their shrill,
wild whistle piercing the four quarters of the sky and tingling down
the cold spine of every forest tree and sapling, stirring their life
blood until it seems to run red into their tops.

For see the maple swamp off yonder--the ashy gray of the boles, a
cold steel-color two thirds of the way toward the top, but there
changing into a faint garnet, a flush of warmth and life that seems
almost to have come since morning!

Let us go on now, for I want to get some watercress from the
brook--the first green growing thing for the table thus far!--and some
pussy-willows for the same table, only not to eat. (There are many
good things in this world that are not good to eat.) If the sun were
shining I should take you by way of the beehives to show you, dropping
down before their open doors, a few eager bees bringing home baskets
of pollen from the catkins of the hazelnut bushes. The hazelnut bushes
are in bloom! Yes, in bloom! No, the skunk-cabbages are not out yet,
nor the hepaticas, nor the arbutus; but the hazelnut bushes are in
bloom, and--see here, under the rye straw that covers the
strawberry-bed--a small spreading weed, green, and cheerily starred
with tiny white flowers!

It is the 21st of March; the sun has crossed the line; the phœbes
have returned; and here under the straw in the garden the
chickweed,--_starwort_,--first of the flowers, is in blossom!

But come on; I am not going back yet. This is the last day of winter.
Cold? Yes, it is cold, raw, wretched, gloomy, with snow still in the
woods, with frost still in the ground, and with not a frog or hyla
anywhere to be heard. But come along. This is the last day of
winter--of winter? No, no, it is the first day of spring. Robins back,
phœbes back, watercress for the table, chickweed in blossom, and a
bird’s nest with eggs in it! Winter? Spring? Birds’ eggs, did I say?

The almanac is mixed again. It always is. Who’s Who in the Seasons
when all of this is happening on the 21st of March? For here is the
bird’s nest with eggs in it, just as I said.

Watch the hole up under that stub of a limb while I tap on the trunk.
How sound asleep! But I will wake them. _Rap-rap-rap!_ There he
comes--the big barred owl!

Climb up and take a peek at the eggs, but don’t you dare to touch
them! Of course you will not. I need not have been so quick and severe
in my command; for, if we of this generation do not know as much about
some things as our fathers knew, we do at least know better than they
that the owls are among our best friends and are to be most jealously
protected.

Climb up, I say, and take a peek at those round white eggs, and
tell me, Is it spring or winter? Is it the last day, or the first
day, or the first and last in one? What a high mix-up is the
weather--especially this New England sort!

But look at that! A snowflake! Yes, it is beginning to snow--with the
sun crossing the line! It is beginning to snow, and down with the
first flakes, like a bit of summer sky drops a bluebird, calling
softly, sweetly, with notes that melt warm as sunshine into our
hearts.

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.” But see how
it snows! Yes, but see--

    The willows gleam with silver light;
      The maples crimson glow--
    The first faint streaks on winter’s east,
      Far-off and low.

    The northward geese, with winged wedge,
      Have split the frozen skies,
    And called the way for weaker wings,
      Where midnight lies.

    To-day a warm wind wakes the marsh;
      I hear the hylas peep
    And o’er the pebbly ford, unbound,
      The waters leap.

    The lambs bleat from the sheltered folds;
      Low whispers spread the hills:
    The rustle of the spring’s soft robes
      The forest fills.

    The night, ah me! fierce flies the storm
      Across the dark dead wold;
    The swift snow swirls; and silence falls
      On stream and fold.

    All white and still lie stream and hill--
      The winter dread and drear!
    Then from the skies a bluebird flies
      And--spring is here!



NOTES AND SUGGESTIONS


CHAPTER I

TO THE TEACHER

    “It must be a lovely place _in the summer_!” the dull and
    irritating often say to me, referring to my home in the country.
    What they mean is, of course, “How wretched a place the country
    is in winter!” But that attitude toward winter grows less and
    less common. We are learning how to enjoy the winter; and it is
    my hope that this volume may distinctly contribute to the
    knowledge that makes for that joy. Behind such joy is love, and
    behind the love is understanding, and behind the understanding
    is knowledge.

    The trouble with those who say they hate winter is a lack of
    knowledge. They do not know the winter; they never tramp the
    woods and fields in winter; they have no calendar of the rare,
    the high-festival days of winter.

    Such a day is the one of this opening chapter--“Hunting the
    Snow.” And the winter is full of them; as full as the summer, I
    had almost said! The possibilities of winter for nature-study,
    for tramps afield, for outdoor sport--for joy and health and
    knowledge and poetry are quite as good as those of summer. Try
    it this winter. Indeed, let the coldest, dullest, deadest day
    this winter challenge you to discover to yourself and to your
    pupils some sight, some sound, some happening, or some thought
    of the world outside that shall add to their small
    understanding, or touch their ready imaginations, or awaken
    their eager love for Nature.

    And do not let the rarer winter days pass (such as the day that
    follows the first snow-fall) without your taking them or sending
    them a-hunting the snow, else you will fail in duty as
    grievously as you would if you allowed a child to finish his
    public-school education without hearing of Bunker Hill.

    In reading this first chapter lay emphasis upon: (1) the real
    excitement possible without a gun in such a hunt; (2) the
    keener, higher kind of joy in watching a live animal than in
    killing it; (3) the unfairness of hunting to kill; (4) the rapid
    extinction of our wild animals, largely caused by guns; (5) the
    necessity now for protection--for every pupil’s doing all he can
    to protect wild life everywhere.


FOR THE PUPIL

    Study the drawings of the tracks in this chapter, then go into
    the woods and try to identify the tracks you find in the snow.
    Every track you discover and identify will be quarry in your
    bag--just as truly as though you had killed a deer or a moose or
    a bear. You can all turn snow-hunters without leaving blood and
    pain and death and emptiness and silence behind you. And it is
    just as good and exciting sport.

PAGE 4

    _cushion-marked holes:_ Examine a cat’s feet. Make a study of
    cat tracks: how they are placed; how wide apart; how they look
    when she walks, when she runs, when she jumps, when she gathers
    herself together for a spring. You can learn the art of
    snow-hunting by studying the tracks of the cat in your own
    dooryards.

    _wood pussy_: a polite name in New England for the skunk.

PAGE 5

    _the great northern hare:_ The northern hare is not often seen
    here, and I am not sure but that this may be the common brown
    rabbit.

PAGE 8

    _slashings:_ The name for the waste limbs and tops left after
    cutting forest trees. Tree wardens should compel the
    woodchoppers to pile this brush up as they cut and burn it while
    the snow is on the ground to prevent forest fires in summer.

    _hazelnuts_: small brown nuts like the filberts of the stores.
    They grow on a bush two to six feet high. There are two
    kinds,--common hazelnut and beaked hazelnut. The green husk
    looks like a cap, hence its Saxon name _haesle_, a cap, and the
    scientific name _Corylus_ from the Greek _corys_, a helmet.

PAGE 9

    _Burns:_ Robert Burns, the Scotch poet.

PAGE 10

    _root and all, and all in all_: from a poem by Lord Tennyson
    called “Flower in the Crannied Wall.”

PAGE 11

    _Atalanta’s race:_ Look up the story of the beautiful girl
    runner who lost her race with her lover because of her desire to
    pick up a golden apple.

PAGE 14

    _Two mighty wings_: an owl’s wing marks, perhaps the barred owl
    or the great horned owl, or the snowy owl, which sometimes comes
    down from the north in the winter.


CHAPTER II

TO THE TEACHER

    This herding and driving of turkeys to market is common in other
    sections of the country, particularly in Kentucky. I have told
    the story (as told to me by one who saw the flock) in order to
    bring out the force of instinct and habit, and the unreasoning
    nature of the animal mind as compared with man’s.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 15

    _Shepherd-dog:_ Only a well-trained dog would do, for turkeys
    are very timid and greatly afraid of a strange dog.

PAGE 18

    _Black Creek_: a local name; not in the Geography.

PAGE 26

    _a chorus of answering gobbles:_ Turkeys will follow their
    leader. It was this habit or trait that the boys now made use
    of.


CHAPTER III

TO THE TEACHER

    There is a three-pronged point to this chapter: (1) the empty
    birds’ nests are not things to mourn over. The birds are safe
    and warm down south; and they will build fresh, clean nests when
    they get back. Teach your children to see things as they
    are--the wholesomeness, naturalness, wisdom, and poetry of
    Nature’s arrangement. The poets are often sentimental; and most
    sentimentality is entirely misplaced. (2) The nest abandoned by
    the bird may be taken up by the mouse. The deadest, commonest of
    things may prove full of life and interest upon close
    observation. Summer may go; but winter comes and brings its own
    interests and rewards. So does youth go and old age come. There
    is nothing really abandoned in nature--nothing utterly lacking
    interest. (3) A mouse is not a Bengal tiger; but he is a whole
    mouse and in the _completeness_ of his life just as large and
    interesting as the tiger. If the small, the common, the things
    right at hand, are not interesting, it is not their fault--not
    the mouse’s fault--but _ours_.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 30

    _white-foot_: the deer, or wood mouse (_Peromyscus leucopus_).

PAGE 32

    “_There are no birds in last year’s nest_”: a line from a poem
    by Longfellow called “It is not always May.”

PAGE 33

    _Darwin’s book on earthworms:_ Read in this book how the worms
    make garden soil.


CHAPTER IV

TO THE TEACHER

    If you have at hand “The Fall of the Year,” read again the
    suggestions on page 112 for the chapter on “Things to See this
    Fall,” making use of this chapter as you did of that (1) as the
    object of a field excursion--or of several excursions until all
    the things suggested here have been seen; (2) as a test of the
    pupil’s actual study of nature; for there is scarcely a city
    child who cannot get far enough into nature (though he get no
    farther than the city park), and often enough to see most of the
    things pointed out in this chapter; (3) as suggestions for
    further study and observation by the pupils--things that they
    have seen which might be added to these ten here, and written
    about for composition work in English.


FOR THE PUPIL

    Here are ten different things for you to see this winter, and
    most of them, whether you live in the city or country, you can
    see, provided you live where the snow falls. But you will have
    some kind of a winter no matter where you live. Don’t miss
    it--its storms, its birds, its animals, its coasting, skating,
    snowshoeing, its invitations to tramp the frozen marshes and
    deep swamps where you cannot go in the summer, and where, on the
    snow you will catch many a glimpse of wild life that the rank
    summer sedges will never reveal. Don’t stop with these ten
    suggestions; there are a hundred other interesting things to
    see. And as you see them, write about them.


CHAPTER V

TO THE TEACHER

    Let this chapter be read very close to the Christmas recess,
    when your children’s minds are full of Christmas thoughts. This
    unconventional turn to the woods, this thought of Christmas
    among the animals and birds, might easily be the means of
    awakening many to an understanding of the deeper, spiritual side
    of nature-study--that we find in Nature only what we take to
    her; that we get back only what we give. It will be easy for
    them to take the spirit of Christmas into the woods because they
    are so full of it; and so it will be easy for them to feel the
    woods giving it back to them--the very last and best reward of
    nature-study. No, don’t be afraid that they are incapable of
    such lessons, of such thoughts and emotions. Some few may be;
    but no teacher ever yet erred by too much faith in the capacity
    of her pupils for the higher, deeper things.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 46

    These lines of poetry you all know. But who can tell who wrote
    them? Where did he live and when?

    _gum swamp:_ See description of such a swamp on pages 262-263 of
    the author’s “Wild Life Near Home.” This is the tree known as
    sour gum, more properly tupelo (_Nyssa sylvatica_ or
    _uniflora_).

    _cardinal grosbeak:_ Commonly called “cardinal,” or “redbird.”

PAGE 47

    _Holy Day:_ What was the oldest form of our word “holiday”?

    _ilex:_ _Ilex verticillata_, the black alder, or winterberry,
    one of the holly family. A low swamp bush covered with red
    berries all winter.

PAGE 48

    _Lupton’s Pond:_ A little pond along Cohansey Creek near
    Bridgeton, N. J.

    _Persimmon trees_: found from New Haven, Conn., to Florida.

PAGE 50

    _Bob Cratchit’s goose:_ There never was such a goose, as you all
    know who have read Dickens’s “Christmas Carol.”

PAGE 52

    _liquid amber:_ The balsamic juice of the sweet gum tree,
    sometimes called “bilsted” (_Liquidambar styraciflua_), a large,
    beautiful swamp tree found from Connecticut to Florida and west
    to Texas.

PAGE 53

    _half-human tracks:_ Because the coon is a relative of the bears
    and has a long hind foot that leaves a track much like that of a
    small baby.

PAGE 54

    _tupelo:_ See note on _gum swamp_, page 141.

    _sour gums_: same as tupelo.

PAGE 55

    _chicken or frost grapes_: _Vitis cordifolia_: the smallest,
    sourest, best (boy standards) of all our wild grapes. They ripen
    _after_ the frost and feed the boys and birds when all other
    such fruits have gone from the woods.

    _Smooth winterberry_: is really another ilex, _Ilex lævigata_, a
    larger bush than _Ilex verticillata_, the black alder or
    winterberry.

PAGE 56

    _Fox sparrows:_ See the frontispiece. The largest, most
    beautiful of our sparrows. Nests in the Far North. A migrant to
    New England and the Southern States.

PAGE 59

    _The crows were winging over toward their great roost:_ Don’t
    fail this winter to spend, if not Christmas Day, then one of
    your Christmas vacation days, in the woods, from morning until
    the crows go over to their roost. You will never forget that
    day.


CHAPTER VI

TO THE TEACHER

    Read to the pupils Emerson’s poem “The Titmouse,” dwelling on
    the lines,--

        “Here was this atom in full breath,
        Hurling defiance at vast death,” etc.

    and the part beginning,--

        “’Tis good will makes intelligence,”

    letting the students learn by heart the chickadee’s little
    song,--

                      “Live out of doors
        In the great woods, on prairie floors,” etc.

    Poem and chapter ought mutually to help each other. Read the
    chapter slowly, explaining clearly as you go on, making it
    finally plain that this mere “atom” of life is greater than all
    the winter death, no matter how “vast.”


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 64

    “_The Lilac_”: My lilac bush with its suet has become a kind of
    hotel, or inn, or boarding-house, for the chickadees.

PAGE 66

    _Phœ-ee-bee!_: more often the spring call than the winter
    call of Chickadee. It is to be distinguished from the
    “phœ’be” call of the phœbe, the flycatcher, by its greater
    softness and purity, and by its very distinct _middle syllable_,
    as if Chickadee said “Phœ’--ee--bee.” Phœbe’s note is
    two-syllabled.

PAGE 67

    _protective coloration_: a favorite term with Darwin and many
    later naturalists to describe the wonderful harmony in the
    colors of animals, insects, etc., and their natural
    surroundings, the animal’s color blending so perfectly into the
    color of its surroundings as to be a protection to the creature.

PAGE 69

    _card house_: as if made of cards, easily pushed, even blown
    down.

PAGE 70

    _the workman’s chips:_ Look on the ground under a newly
    excavated woodpecker’s hole, and you will find his “chips.”

PAGE 73

    _a tiny window:_ The tough birch-bark would bend readily. I
    would shut the window in leaving by means of a long, sharp
    thorn.


CHAPTER VII

TO THE TEACHER

    Make a point of going into the winter woods and fields, taking
    the pupils as often as possible with you. It may be impossible
    for your city children to get the rare chance of glare ice; but
    don’t miss it if it comes.

    This is the time to start your bird-study; to awaken sympathy
    and responsibility in your pupils by teaching them to feed the
    birds; to cultivate cheerfulness and the love of “hardness” in
    them by breasting with them a bitter winter gale for the pure
    joy of it. Use the suggestions here for whatever of
    resourcefulness and hardiness you can cultivate in the girls as
    well as in the boys.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 79

    _the good things to read:_ To name only a few of them, we might
    mention John Burroughs’s “Winter Sunshine” and “Squirrels and
    Other Fur-Bearers,” Bradford Torrey’s “Footing it in Franconia,”
    Frank Bolles’s “At the North of Bearcamp Water,” William
    Hamilton Gibson’s “Eye Spy,” William L. Finley’s “American
    Birds,” and Edward Breck’s “Wilderness Pets.”


CHAPTER VIII

TO THE TEACHER

    I believe this to be one of the most important chapters in the
    volume, dark and terrible as its lesson may appear. But grim,
    dark death itself is not so dark as fear of the truth. If you
    teach nothing else, by precept and example, teach love for the
    truth--for the whole truth in nature as everywhere else. Winter
    is a fact; let us face it. Death is a fact; let us face it; and
    by facing it half of its terror will disappear; nay more, for
    something of its deep reasonableness and meaning will begin to
    appear, and we shall be no more afraid. The _all_ of this is
    beyond a child, as it is beyond us; but the habit of looking
    honestly and fearlessly at things must be part of a child’s
    education, as later on it must be the very sum of it.

    Great tact and fine feeling must be exercised if you happen to
    have among the scholars one of the handicapped--one lacking any
    part, as the muskrat lacked--lest the application be taken
    personally. But let the lesson be driven home: the need every
    boy and girl has for a strong, full-membered body,--even for
    every one of his teeth,--if he is to live at his physical best.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 83

    _incisor teeth_: the four long front teeth of the
    rodents,--rats, mice, beavers, etc. These incisor teeth, are
    heavily enameled with a sharp cutting edge and keep growing
    continuously.

PAGE 85

    _voles_: meadow mice.

PAGE 86

    _chimney swallows_: more properly _swifts_; as these birds do
    not belong to the swallow family at all.

    _vermin_: The swifts are generally infested with vermin.

PAGE 91

    _clapper rails_: or marsh-hens (_Rallus crepitans_).

PAGE 92

    “_List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle_”: lines from Burns’s
    “A Winter Night.”


CHAPTER IX

TO THE TEACHER

    Make this chapter, as far as you can, the one in the volume for
    most intensive study. Show the pupils how the study of animal
    life is connected with geology, tell them of the record of life
    in the fossils of the rocks, the kinds of strange beasts that
    once inhabited the earth. Show them again how the study of
    animals in their anatomy is not the study of one--say of man,
    but how man and all the mammals, the reptiles, the birds, the
    fishes, the insects, on and on back to the single-celled
    amœba, are all related to each other, all links in one long
    wonder chain of life.


FOR THE PUPIL

PAGE 94

    _Charles Lamb:_ Look up his life in the Encyclopedia. Read for
    yourselves his essay on Roast Pig.

    _modus edibilis_: the Latin for “manner of eating.”

PAGE 95

    _the ’possum’s relations:_ They are the marsupials, the pouched
    animals, like the kangaroo.

PAGE 98

    _reptilian age_: one of the great geological ages or eras, known
    to the geologists as the great mesozoic or “middle” epoch, when
    reptiles ruled the land and sea.

PAGE 103

    _smiles at you--grins:_ Read the account of this habit in the
    opening chapter of the author’s “Wild Life Near Home.”


CHAPTER X

TO THE TEACHER

    This chapter and the next go together--this for the lover of
    wild life, the next for the lover of adventure. The spring
    freshet is one of the most interesting of the year of days for
    animal study--better even than the day after the first snowfall.
    But more than this, let both chapters suggest to you how
    primitive and elemental the real world is after all; with what
    cataclysmal forces the seasons are changed. As summer often
    passes into autumn with a silencing frost that rests like a hush
    of awe over the land; so winter often gives way to spring with a
    rush of wind and tidal powers that seem to shake the foundations
    of the world. To feel these forces, to be a part of all these
    moods, to share in all these feelings--this, too, is one of the
    ends of nature-study.


CHAPTER XII

TO THE TEACHER

    I should like to repeat here the suggestions in “The Fall of the
    Year” for this corresponding chapter. I will repeat only: “that
    _you_ are the teacher, not the book. The book is but a
    suggestion. You begin where it leaves off; you fill out where it
    is lacking.” For these are not all the sounds of winter; indeed
    they may not be the characteristic sounds in your neighborhood.
    No matter: the lesson is not this or that sound, but that your
    pupils _learn to listen_ for sounds, for the voices of the
    season, whatever those voices may be in their own particular
    region. The trouble is that we have ears, and literally hear
    not, eyes and see not, souls and feel not. Teach your pupils to
    use their eyes, ears, yes and _hearts_, and all things else will
    be added unto them in the way of education.


FOR THE PUPIL

    I

    It is the stilling of the insects that makes for the first of
    these silences; the hushing of the winds the second; the magic
    touch of the cold the third.

    II

    The voice of the great spring storm should be added to these,
    and the shriek of the wind about the house.

    III

    You should not only _hear_, but you should also _feel_ this
    split--passing with a thrilling shock beneath your feet.

    V

    How many other of the _small_ voices do you know? The chirp of
    the kinglets; the scratching of mice in a shock of corn; the----
    but you write a story about them. So listen for yourself.

    VI

    Do all you can to preserve the quail. Don’t shoot.

    VIII

    Along toward spring you should hear him “drumming” for a mate--a
    rapid motion of his wings much like the hollow sound of a
    distant drum.


CHAPTER XIII

TO THE TEACHER

    Do all that you can to teach the signs of the zodiac, the days
    of the seasons, and all the doings of the astronomical year. All
    that old lore of the skies is in danger of being lost. Some
    readers will say: “The author is not consistent! He loves the
    winter and here he is impatient to be done with it!” Some
    explanation on your part may be necessary: that the call of the
    spring is the call of life, a call so loud and strong that all
    life--human and wild, animal and vegetable,--hears it and is
    impatient to obey. If possible take your scholars upon a walk at
    this raw edge of the season when they will feel the chill but
    also the stirring of life all about them.


FOR THE PUPIL

    Get an almanac and study the old weather signs.

PAGE 130

    “_When descends on the Atlantic_”: from Longfellow’s “Seaweed.”

PAGE 133

    _frog or hyla_: The hylas belong to the family _Hylidæ_ and
    include our tree-toad, and our little tree-frog.

     “_For, lo, the winter is past_,”: from The Song of Songs, or The
    Song of Solomon, in the Bible.


    The Riverside Press
    CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS
    U . S . A





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