By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Riverby
Author: Burroughs, John, 1837-1921
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Riverby" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

     |      Books by John Burroughs.                                 |
     |                                                               |
     | WORKS. Each volume, 16mo, gilt top, $1.25; the set, 11 vols., |
     | uniform, $13.75; half calf, gilt top, $27.50; half polished   |
     | morocco, $30.25.                                              |
     |                                                               |
     |      WAKE-ROBIN.                                              |
     |      WINTER SUNSHINE.                                         |
     |      LOCUSTS AND WILD HONEY.                                  |
     |      FRESH FIELDS.                                            |
     |      INDOOR STUDIES.                                          |
     |      BIRDS AND POETS, with Other Papers.                      |
     |      PEPACTON, and Other Sketches.                            |
     |      SIGNS AND SEASONS.                                       |
     |      RIVERBY.                                                 |
     |      WHITMAN: A STUDY.                                        |
     |      THE LIGHT OF DAY: Religious Discussions and              |
     |        Criticisms from the Standpoint of a Naturalist.        |
     |                                                               |
     | A YEAR IN THE FIELDS. Selections appropriate to each season   |
     | of the year, from the writings of John Burroughs. Illustrated |
     | from Photographs by CLIFTON JOHNSON. Uniform with             |
     | the _Riverside Edition_ of Burroughs's works. 12mo, $1.50.    |
     |                                                               |
     | WHITMAN: A Study. _Riverside Edition._ 12mo, $1.50, _net_.    |
     |                                                               |
     | THE LIGHT OF DAY: Religious Discussions and Criticisms from   |
     | the Standpoint of a Naturalist. _Riverside Edition._ 12mo,    |
     | $1.50, _net_.                                                 |
     |                                                               |
     | WINTER SUNSHINE. _Cambridge Classics Series._ Crown 8vo,      |
     | $1.00.                                                        |
     |                                                               |
     | WAKE-ROBIN. _Riverside Aldine Series._ 16mo, $1.00.           |
     |                                                               |
     | SQUIRRELS AND OTHER FUR-BEARERS. Illustrated. Square 12mo,    |
     | $1.00.                                                        |
     |                                                               |
     |      HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY.                           |




     The Riverside Press, Cambridge

     Copyright, 1894, 1895,

     _All rights reserved._

     _The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A._
     Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.


I have often said to myself, "Why should not one name his books as
he names his children, arbitrarily, and let the name come to mean
much or little, as the case may be?" In the case of the present
volume—probably my last collection of Out-of-door Papers—I have taken
this course, and have given to the book the name of my place here on
the Hudson, "Riverby," by the river, where the sketches were written,
and where for so many years I have been an interested spectator of the
life of nature, as, with the changing seasons, it has ebbed and flowed
past my door.

                                                            J. B.


         I. AMONG THE WILD-FLOWERS                       1


       III. BIRDS' EGGS                                 61

        IV. BIRD COURTSHIP                              77

         V. NOTES FROM THE PRAIRIE                      87

        VI. EYE-BEAMS                                  111

       VII. A YOUNG MARSH HAWK                         133

      VIII. THE CHIPMUNK                               145

        IX. SPRING JOTTINGS                            155

         X. GLIMPSES OF WILD LIFE                      171

        XI. A LIFE OF FEAR                             193

       XII. LOVERS OF NATURE                           203

      XIII. A TASTE OF KENTUCKY BLUE-GRASS             221

       XIV. IN MAMMOTH CAVE                            241

        XV. HASTY OBSERVATION                          251

       XVI. BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE             271

      XVII. THE WAYS OF SPORTSMEN                      277

     XVIII. TALKS WITH YOUNG OBSERVERS                 283

            INDEX                                      317





Nearly every season I make the acquaintance of one or more new
flowers. It takes years to exhaust the botanical treasures of any one
considerable neighborhood, unless one makes a dead set at it, like
an herbalist. One likes to have his floral acquaintances come to him
easily and naturally, like his other friends. Some pleasant occasion
should bring you together. You meet in a walk, or touch elbows on a
picnic under a tree, or get acquainted on a fishing or camping-out
expedition. What comes to you in the way of birds or flowers, while
wooing only the large spirit of open-air nature, seems like special
good fortune. At any rate, one does not want to bolt his botany, but
rather to prolong the course. One likes to have something in reserve,
something to be on the lookout for on his walks. I have never yet
found the orchid called calypso, a large, variegated purple and yellow
flower, Gray says, which grows in cold, wet woods and bogs,—very
beautiful and very rare. Calypso, you know, was the nymph who fell
in love with Ulysses and detained him seven years upon her island,
and died of a broken heart after he left her. I have a keen desire to
see her in her floral guise, reigning over some silent bog, or rising
above the moss of some dark glen in the woods, and would gladly be the
Ulysses to be detained at least a few hours by her.

I will describe her by the aid of Gray, so that if any of my readers
come across her they may know what a rarity they have found. She may
be looked for in cold, mossy, boggy places in our northern woods. You
will see a low flower, somewhat like a lady's-slipper, that is, with
an inflated sac-shaped lip; the petals and sepals much alike, rising
and spreading; the color mingled purple and yellow; the stem, or scape,
from three to five inches high, with but one leaf,—that one thin and
slightly heart-shaped, with a stem which starts from a solid bulb. That
is the nymph of our boggy solitudes, waiting to break her heart for any
adventurous hero who may penetrate her domain.

Several of our harmless little wild flowers have been absurdly named
out of the old mythologies: thus, Indian cucumber root, one of
Thoreau's favorite flowers, is named after the sorceress Medea, and
is called "medeola," because it was at one time thought to possess
rare medicinal properties; and medicine and sorcery have always been
more or less confounded in the opinion of mankind. It is a pretty and
decorative sort of plant, with, when perfect, two stages or platforms
of leaves, one above the other. You see a whorl of five or six leaves,
a foot or more from the ground, which seems to bear a standard with
another whorl of three leaves at the top of it. The small, colorless,
recurved flowers shoot out from above this top whorl. The whole
expression of the plant is singularly slender and graceful. Sometimes,
probably the first year, it only attains to the first circle of leaves.
This is the platform from which it will rear its flower column the next
year. Its white, tuberous root is crisp and tender, and leaves in the
mouth distinctly the taste of cucumber. Whether or not the Indians used
it as a relish as we do the cucumber, I do not know.

Still another pretty flower that perpetuates the name of a Grecian
nymph, a flower that was a new find to me a few summers ago, is the
arethusa. Arethusa was one of the nymphs who attended Diana, and was by
that goddess turned into a fountain, that she might escape the god of
the river, Alpheus, who became desperately in love with her on seeing
her at her bath. Our Arethusa is one of the prettiest of the orchids,
and has been pursued through many a marsh and quaking bog by her
lovers. She is a bright pink-purple flower an inch or more long, with
the odor of sweet violets. The sepals and petals rise up and arch over
the column, which we may call the heart of the flower, as if shielding
it. In Plymouth County, Massachusetts, where the arethusa seems common,
I have heard it called Indian pink.

But I was going to recount my new finds. One sprang up in the footsteps
of that destroying angel, Dynamite. A new railroad cut across my
tramping-ground, with its hordes of Italian laborers and its mountains
of giant-powder, etc., was enough to banish all the gentler deities
forever from the place. But it did not.

Scarcely had the earthquake passed when, walking at the base of a
rocky cliff that had been partly blown away in the search for stone
for two huge abutments that stood near by, I beheld the débris at the
base of the cliff draped and festooned by one of our most beautiful
foliage plants, and one I had long been on the lookout for, namely,
the climbing fumitory. It was growing everywhere in the greatest
profusion, affording, by its tenderness, delicacy, and grace, the most
striking contrast to the destruction the black giant had wrought. The
power that had smote the rock seemed to have called it into being.
Probably the seeds had lain dormant in cracks and crevices for years,
and when the catastrophe came, and they found themselves in new soil
amid the wreck of the old order of things, they sprang into new life,
and grew as if the world had been created anew for them, as in a sense
it had. Certainly, they grew most luxuriantly, and never was the ruin
wrought by powder veiled by more delicate, lace-like foliage.[5:1]
The panicles of drooping, pale flesh-colored flowers heightened the
effect of the whole. This plant is a regular climber; it has no extra
appendages for that purpose, and does not wind, but climbs by means
of its young leafstalks, which lay hold like tiny hands or hooks. The
end of every branch is armed with a multitude of these baby hands.
The flowers are pendent, and swing like ear jewels. They are slightly
heart-shaped, and when examined closely look like little pockets made
of crumpled silk, nearly white on the inside or under side, and pale
purple on the side toward the light, and shirred up at the bottom.
And pockets they are in quite a literal sense, for, though they fade,
they do not fall, but become pockets full of seeds. The fumitory is a
perpetual bloomer from July till killed by the autumn frosts.

     [5:1] Strange to say, the plant did not appear in that
     locality the next season, and has never appeared since.
     Perhaps it will take another dynamite earthquake to wake it

The closely allied species of this plant, the dicentra (Dutchman's
breeches and squirrel corn), are much more common, and are among our
prettiest spring flowers. I have an eye out for the white-hearts
(related to the bleeding-hearts of the gardens, and absurdly called
"Dutchman's breeches") the last week in April. It is a rock-loving
plant, and springs upon the shelves of the ledges, or in the débris at
their base, as if by magic. As soon as blood-root has begun to star the
waste, stony places, and the first swallow has been heard in the sky,
we are on the lookout for dicentra. The more northern species, called
"squirrel corn" from the small golden tubers at its root, blooms in
May, and has the fragrance of hyacinths. It does not affect the rocks,
like all the other flowers of this family.

My second new acquaintance the same season was the showy
lady's-slipper. Most of the floral ladies leave their slippers in
swampy places in the woods; only the stemless one (_acaule_) leaves
hers on dry ground before she reaches the swamp, commonly under
evergreen trees, where the carpet of pine needles will not hurt her
feet. But one may penetrate many wet, mucky places in the woods before
he finds the prettiest of them all, the showy lady's-slipper,—the
prettiest slipper, but the stoutest and coarsest plant; the flower
large and very showy, white, tinged with purple in front; the stem two
feet high, very leafy, and coarser than bear-weed. Report had come to
me, through my botanizing neighbor, that in a certain quaking sphagnum
bog in the woods the showy lady's-slipper could be found. The locality
proved to be the marrowy grave of an extinct lake or black tarn. On
the borders of it the white azalea was in bloom, fast fading. In the
midst of it were spruces and black ash and giant ferns, and, low in the
spongy, mossy bottom, the pitcher plant. The lady's-slipper grew in
little groups and companies all about. Never have I beheld a prettier
sight,—so gay, so festive, so holiday-looking. Were they so many gay
bonnets rising above the foliage? or were they flocks of white doves
with purple-stained breasts just lifting up their wings to take flight?
or were they little fleets of fairy boats, with sail set, tossing on
a mimic sea of wild, weedy growths? Such images throng the mind on
recalling the scene, and only faintly hint its beauty and animation.
The long, erect, white sepals do much to give the alert, tossing look
which the flower wears. The dim light, too, of its secluded haunts, and
its snowy purity and freshness, contribute to the impression it makes.
The purple tinge is like a stain of wine which has slightly overflowed
the brim of the inflated lip or sac and run part way down its snowy

This lady's-slipper is one of the rarest and choicest of our wild
flowers, and its haunts and its beauty are known only to the few.
Those who have the secret guard it closely, lest their favorite be
exterminated. A well-known botanist in one of the large New England
cities told me that it was found in but one place in that neighborhood,
and that the secret, so far as he knew, was known to but three persons,
and was carefully kept by them.

A friend of mine, an enthusiast on orchids, came one June day a long
way by rail to see this flower. I conducted him to the edge of the
swamp, lifted up the branches as I would a curtain, and said, "There
they are."

"Where?" said he, peering far into the dim recesses.

"Within six feet of you," I replied.

He narrowed his vision, and such an expression of surprise and delight
as came over his face! A group of a dozen or more of the plants, some
of them twin-flowered, were there almost within reach, the first he had
ever seen, and his appreciation of the scene, visible in every look and
gesture, was greatly satisfying. In the fall he came and moved a few of
the plants to a tamarack swamp in his own vicinity, where they throve
and bloomed finely for a few years, and then for some unknown reason

Nearly every June, my friend still comes to feast his eyes upon this
queen of the cypripediums.

While returning from my first search for the lady's-slipper, my hat
fairly brushed the nest of the red-eyed vireo, which was so cunningly
concealed, such an open secret, in the dim, leafless underwoods, that
I could but pause and regard it. It was suspended from the end of a
small, curving sapling; was flecked here and there by some whitish
substance, so as to blend it with the gray mottled boles of the trees;
and, in the dimly lighted ground-floor of the woods, was sure to escape
any but the most prolonged scrutiny. A couple of large leaves formed a
canopy above it. It was not so much hidden as it was rendered invisible
by texture and position with reference to light and shade.

A few summers ago I struck a new and beautiful plant in the shape of
a weed that had only recently appeared in that part of the country. I
was walking through an August meadow when I saw, on a little knoll, a
bit of most vivid orange, verging on a crimson. I knew of no flower of
such a complexion frequenting such a place as that. On investigation,
it proved to be a stranger. It had a rough, hairy, leafless stem
about a foot high, surmounted by a corymbose cluster of flowers or
flower-heads of dark vivid orange-color. The leaves were deeply notched
and toothed, very bristly, and were pressed flat to the ground. The
whole plant was a veritable Esau for hairs, and it seemed to lay hold
upon the ground as if it was not going to let go easily. And what a
fiery plume it had! The next day, in another field a mile away, I
chanced upon more of the flowers. On making inquiry, I found that a
small patch or colony of the plants had appeared that season, or first
been noticed then, in a meadow well known to me from boyhood. They
had been cut down with the grass in early July, and the first week in
August had shot up and bloomed again. I found the spot aflame with
them. Their leaves covered every inch of the surface where they stood,
and not a spear of grass grew there. They were taking slow but complete
possession; they were devouring the meadow by inches. The plant seemed
to be a species of hieracium, or hawkweed, or some closely allied
species of the composite family, but I could not find it mentioned in
our botanies.

A few days later, on the edge of an adjoining county ten miles distant,
I found, probably, its headquarters. It had appeared there a few years
before, and was thought to have escaped from some farmer's door-yard.
Patches of it were appearing here and there in the fields, and the
farmers were thoroughly alive to the danger, and were fighting it
like fire. Its seeds are winged like those of the dandelion, and it
sows itself far and near. It would be a beautiful acquisition to our
midsummer fields, supplying a tint as brilliant as that given by the
scarlet poppies to English grain-fields. But it would be an expensive
one, as it usurps the land completely.[10:1]

     [10:1] This observation was made ten years ago. I have since
     learned that the plant is _Hieracium aurantiacum_ from
     Europe, a kind of hawkweed. It is fast becoming a common weed
     in New York and New England. (1894.)

Parts of New England have already a midsummer flower nearly as
brilliant, and probably far less aggressive and noxious, in
meadow-beauty, or rhexia, the sole northern genus of a family of
tropical plants. I found it very abundant in August in the country
bordering on Buzzard's Bay. It was a new flower to me, and I was
puzzled to make it out. It seemed like some sort of scarlet evening
primrose. The parts were in fours, the petals slightly heart-shaped and
convoluted in the bud, the leaves bristly, the calyx-tube prolonged,
etc.; but the stem was square, the leaves opposite, and the tube
urn-shaped. The flowers were an inch across, and bright purple. It
grew in large patches in dry, sandy fields, making the desert gay with
color; and also on the edges of marshy places. It eclipses any flower
of the open fields known to me farther inland. When we come to improve
our wild garden, as recommended by Mr. Robinson in his book on wild
gardening, we must not forget the rhexia.

Our seacoast flowers are probably more brilliant in color than the same
flowers in the interior. I thought the wild rose on the Massachusetts
coast deeper tinted and more fragrant than those I was used to. The
steeple-bush, or hardhack, had more color, as had the rose gerardia and
several other plants.

But when vivid color is wanted, what can surpass or equal our
cardinal-flower? There is a glow about this flower as if color emanated
from it as from a live coal. The eye is baffled, and does not seem
to reach the surface of the petal; it does not see the texture or
material part as it does in other flowers, but rests in a steady, still
radiance. It is not so much something colored as it is color itself.
And then the moist, cool, shady places it affects, usually where it has
no floral rivals, and where the large, dark shadows need just such a
dab of fire! Often, too, we see it double, its reflected image in some
dark pool heightening its effect. I have never found it with its only
rival in color, the monarda or bee-balm, a species of mint. Farther
north, the cardinal-flower seems to fail, and the monarda takes its
place, growing in similar localities. One may see it about a mountain
spring, or along a meadow brook, or glowing in the shade around the
head of a wild mountain lake. It stands up two feet high or more, and
the flowers show like a broad scarlet cap.

The only thing I have seen in this country that calls to mind the
green grain-fields of Britain splashed with scarlet poppies may be
witnessed in August in the marshes of the lower Hudson, when the broad
sedgy and flaggy spaces are sprinkled with the great marsh-mallow. It
is a most pleasing spectacle,—level stretches of dark green flag or
waving marsh-grass kindled on every square yard by these bright pink
blossoms, like great burning coals fanned in the breeze. The mallow is
not so deeply colored as the poppy, but it is much larger, and has the
tint of youth and happiness. It is an immigrant from Europe, but it is
making itself thoroughly at home in our great river meadows.

The same day your eye is attracted by the mallows, as your train skirts
or cuts through the broad marshes, it will revel with delight in the
masses of fresh bright color afforded by the purple loosestrife, which
grows in similar localities, and shows here and there like purple
bonfires. It is a tall plant, grows in dense masses, and affords a
most striking border to the broad spaces dotted with the mallow. It,
too, came to us from over seas, and first appeared along the Wallkill,
many years ago. It used to be thought by the farmers in that vicinity
that its seed was first brought in wool imported to this country from
Australia, and washed in the Wallkill at Walden, where there was a
woolen factory. This is not probable, as it is a European species, and
I should sooner think it had escaped from cultivation. If one were to
act upon the suggestions of Robinson's "Wild Garden," already alluded
to, he would gather the seeds of these plants and sow them in the
marshes and along the sluggish inland streams, till the banks of all
our rivers were gay with these brilliant exotics.

Among our native plants, the one that takes broad marshes to itself
and presents vast sheets of color is the marsh milkweed, far less
brilliant than the loosestrife or the mallow, still a missionary in the
wilderness, lighting up many waste places with its humbler tints of

One sometimes seems to discover a familiar wild flower anew by coming
upon it in some peculiar and striking situation. Our columbine is at
all times and in all places one of the most exquisitely beautiful of
flowers; yet one spring day, when I saw it growing out of a small seam
on the face of a great lichen-covered wall of rock, where no soil or
mould was visible,—a jet of foliage and color shooting out of a black
line on the face of a perpendicular mountain wall and rising up like a
tiny fountain, its drops turning to flame-colored jewels that hung and
danced in the air against the gray rocky surface,—its beauty became
something magical and audacious. On little narrow shelves in the rocky
wall the corydalis was blooming, and among the loose bowlders at its
base the blood-root shone conspicuous, suggesting snow rather than
anything more sanguine.

Certain flowers one makes special expeditions for every season. They
are limited in their ranges, and must generally be sought for in
particular haunts. How many excursions to the woods does the delicious
trailing arbutus give rise to! How can one let the spring go by without
gathering it himself when it hides in the moss! There are arbutus days
in one's calendar, days when the trailing flower fairly calls him to
the woods. With me, they come the latter part of April. The grass is
greening here and there on the moist slopes and by the spring runs; the
first furrow has been struck by the farmer; the liver-leaf is in the
height of its beauty, and the bright constellations of the blood-root
shine out here and there; one has had his first taste and his second
taste of the spring and of the woods, and his tongue is sharpened
rather than cloyed. Now he will take the most delicious and satisfying
draught of all, the very essence and soul of the early season, of the
tender brooding days, with all their prophecies and awakenings, in the
handful of trailing arbutus which he gathers in his walk. At the mere
thought of it, one sees the sunlight flooding the woods, smells the
warm earthy odors which the heat liberates from beneath the dry leaves,
hears the mellow bass of the first bumblebee,

     "Rover of the underwoods,"

or the finer chord of the adventurous honey-bee seeking store for
his empty comb. The arriving swallows twitter above the woods; the
first chewink rustles the dry leaves; the northward-bound thrushes,
the hermit and the gray-cheeked, flit here and there before you. The
robin, the sparrow, and the bluebird are building their first nests,
and the first shad are making their way slowly up the Hudson. Indeed,
the season is fairly under way when the trailing arbutus comes. Now
look out for troops of boys and girls going to the woods to gather it!
and let them look out that in their greed they do not exterminate it.
Within reach of our large towns, the choicer spring wild flowers are
hunted mercilessly. Every fresh party from town raids them as if bent
upon their destruction. One day, about ten miles from one of our Hudson
River cities, there got into the train six young women loaded down
with vast sheaves and bundles of trailing arbutus. Each one of them
had enough for forty. They had apparently made a clean sweep of the
woods. It was a pretty sight,—the pink and white of the girls and the
pink and white of the flowers! and the car, too, was suddenly filled
with perfume,—the breath of spring loaded the air; but I thought it
a pity to ravish the woods in that way. The next party was probably
equally greedy, and, because a handful was desirable, thought an armful
proportionately so; till, by and by, the flower will be driven from
those woods.

Another flower that one makes special excursions for is the pond-lily.
The pond-lily is a star, and easily takes the first place among lilies;
and the expeditions to her haunts, and the gathering her where she
rocks upon the dark secluded waters of some pool or lakelet, are the
crown and summit of the floral expeditions of summer. It is the
expedition about which more things gather than almost any other: you
want your boat, you want your lunch, you want your friend or friends
with you. You are going to put in the greater part of the day; you
are going to picnic in the woods, and indulge in a "green thought in
a green shade." When my friend and I go for pond-lilies, we have to
traverse a distance of three miles with our boat in a wagon. The road
is what is called a "back road," and leads through woods most of the
way. Black Pond, where the lilies grow, lies about one hundred feet
higher than the Hudson, from which it is separated by a range of rather
bold wooded heights, one of which might well be called Mount Hymettus,
for I have found a great deal of wild honey in the forest that covers
it. The stream which flows out of the pond takes a northward course for
two or three miles, till it finds an opening through the rocky hills,
when it makes rapidly for the Hudson. Its career all the way from the
lake is a series of alternating pools and cascades. Now a long, deep,
level stretch, where the perch and the bass and the pickerel lurk, and
where the willow-herb and the royal osmunda fern line the shores; then
a sudden leap of eight, ten, or fifteen feet down rocks to another
level stretch, where the water again loiters and suns itself; and so
on through its adventurous course till the hills are cleared and the
river is in sight. Our road leads us along this stream, across its
rude bridges, through dark hemlock and pine woods, under gray, rocky
walls, now past a black pool, then within sight or hearing of a foaming
rapid or fall, till we strike the outlet of the long level that leads
to the lake. In this we launch our boat and paddle slowly upward over
its dark surface, now pushing our way through half-submerged treetops,
then ducking under the trunk of an overturned tree which bridges the
stream and makes a convenient way for the squirrels and wood-mice, or
else forcing the boat over it when it is sunk a few inches below the
surface. We are traversing what was once a continuation of the lake;
the forest floor is as level as the water and but a few inches above
it, even in summer; it sweeps back a half mile or more, densely covered
with black ash, red maple, and other deciduous trees, to the foot of
the rocky hills which shut us in. What glimpses we get, as we steal
along, into the heart of the rank, dense, silent woods! I carry in my
eye yet the vision I had, on one occasion, of a solitary meadow lily
hanging like a fairy bell there at the end of a chance opening, where a
ray of sunlight fell full upon it, and brought out its brilliant orange
against the dark green background. It appeared to be the only bit of
bright color in all the woods. Then the song of a single hermit thrush
immediately after did even more for the ear than the lily did for the
eye. Presently the swamp sparrow, one of the rarest of the sparrows,
was seen and heard; and that nest there in a small bough a few feet
over the water proves to be hers,—in appearance a ground-bird's nest
in a bough, with the same four speckled eggs. As we come in sight of
the lilies, where they cover the water at the outlet of the lake, a
brisk gust of wind, as if it had been waiting to surprise us, sweeps
down and causes every leaf to leap from the water and show its pink
under side. Was it a fluttering of hundreds of wings, or the clapping
of a multitude of hands? But there rocked the lilies with their golden
hearts open to the sun, and their tender white petals as fresh as
crystals of snow. What a queenly flower, indeed, the type of unsullied
purity and sweetness! Its root, like a black, corrugated, ugly reptile,
clinging to the slime, but its flower in purity and whiteness like a
star. There is something very pretty in the closed bud making its way
up through the water to meet the sun; and there is something touching
in the flower closing itself up again after its brief career, and
slowly burying itself beneath the dark wave. One almost fancies a sad,
regretful look in it as the stem draws it downward to mature its seed
on the sunless bottom. The pond-lily is a flower of the morning; it
closes a little after noon; but after you have plucked it and carried
it home, it still feels the call of the morning sun, and will open to
him, if you give it a good chance. Coil their stems up in the grass
on the lawn, where the sun's rays can reach them, and sprinkle them
copiously. By the time you are ready for your morning walk, there they
sit upon the moist grass, almost as charmingly as upon the wave.

Our more choice wild flowers, the rarer and finer spirits among them,
please us by their individual beauty and charm; others, more coarse and
common, delight us by mass and profusion; we regard not the one, but
the many, as did Wordsworth his golden daffodils:—

     "Ten thousand saw I at a glance
      Tossing their heads in sprightly dance."

Of such is the marsh marigold, giving a golden lining to many a
dark, marshy place in the leafless April woods, or marking a little
watercourse through a greening meadow with a broad line of new gold.
One glances up from his walk, and his eye falls upon something like
fixed and heaped-up sunshine there beneath the alders, or yonder in the
freshening field.

In a measure, the same is true of our wild sunflowers, lighting up many
a neglected bushy fence-corner or weedy roadside with their bright,
beaming faces. The evening primrose is a coarse, rankly growing plant;
but, in late summer, how many an untrimmed bank is painted over by it
with the most fresh and delicate canary yellow!

We have one flower which grows in vast multitudes, yet which is
exquisitely delicate and beautiful in and of itself: I mean the
houstonia, or bluets. In May, in certain parts of the country, I see
vast sheets of it; in old, low meadow bottoms that have never known the
plow, it covers the ground like a dull bluish or purplish snow which
has blown unevenly about. In the mass it is not especially pleasing;
it has a faded, indefinite sort of look. Its color is not strong and
positive enough to be effective in the mass, yet each single flower
is a gem of itself. The color of the common violet is much more firm
and pronounced; and how many a grassy bank is made gay with it in the
mid-May days! We have a great variety of violets, and they are very
capricious as to perfume. The only species which are uniformly fragrant
are the tall Canada violet, so common in our northern woods,—white,
with a tinge of purple to the under side of its petals,—and the small
white violet of the marshy places; yet one summer I came upon a host
of the spurred violet in a sunny place in the woods which filled the
air with a delicate perfume. A handful of them yielded a perceptible
fragrance, but a single flower none that I could detect. The Canada
violet very frequently blooms in the fall, and is more fragrant at such
times than in its earlier blooming. I must not forget to mention that
delicate and lovely flower of May, the fringed polygala. You gather
it when you go for the fragrant, showy orchis,—that is, if you are
lucky enough to find it. It is rather a shy flower, and is not found in
every wood. One day we went up and down through the woods looking for
it,—woods of mingled oak, chestnut, pine, and hemlock,—and were about
giving it up when suddenly we came upon a gay company of them beside an
old wood-road. It was as if a flock of small rose-purple butterflies
had alighted there on the ground before us. The whole plant has a
singularly fresh and tender aspect. Its foliage is of a slightly purple
tinge, and of very delicate texture. Not the least interesting feature
about the plant is the concealed fertile flower which it bears on a
subterranean shoot, keeping, as it were, one flower for beauty and one
for use.


In our walks we note the most showy and beautiful flowers, but not
always the most interesting. Who, for instance, pauses to consider that
early species of everlasting, commonly called mouse-ear, that grows
nearly everywhere by the roadside or about poor fields? It begins to be
noticeable in May, its whitish downy appearance, its groups of slender
stalks crowned with a corymb of paper-like buds, contrasting it with
the fresh green of surrounding grass or weeds. It is a member of a very
large family, the Compositæ, and does not attract one by its beauty;
but it is interesting because of its many curious traits and habits.
For instance, it is diœcious, that is, the two sexes are represented
by separate plants; and, what is more curious, these plants are usually
found separated from each other in well-defined groups, like the men
and women in an old-fashioned country church,—always in groups; here
a group of females, there, a few yards away, a group of males. The
females may be known by their more slender and graceful appearance,
and, as the season advances, by their outstripping the males in growth.
Indeed, they become real amazons in comparison with their brothers.
The staminate or male plants grow but a few inches high; the heads
are round, and have a more dusky or freckled appearance than do the
pistillate; and as soon as they have shed their pollen their work is
done, they are of no further use, and by the middle of May, or before,
their heads droop, their stalks wither, and their general collapse
sets in. Then the other sex, or pistillate plants, seem to have taken
a new lease of life; they wax strong, they shoot up with the growing
grass and keep their heads above it; they are alert and active; they
bend in the breeze; their long, tapering flower-heads take on a tinge
of color, and life seems full of purpose and enjoyment with them. I
have discovered, too, that they are real sun-worshipers; that they
turn their faces to the east in the morning, and follow the sun in his
course across the sky till they all bend to the west at his going down.
On the other hand, their brothers have stood stiff and stupid, and
unresponsive to any influence of sky and air, so far as I could see,
till they drooped and died.

Another curious thing is that the females seem vastly more numerous,—I
should say almost ten times as abundant. You have to hunt for the
males; the others you see far off. One season I used every day to pass
several groups or circles of females in the grass by the roadside. I
noted how they grew and turned their faces sunward. I observed how
alert and vigorous they were, and what a purplish tinge came over their
mammæ-shaped flower-heads as June approached. I looked for the males;
to the east, south, west, none could be found for hundreds of yards.
On the north, about two hundred feet away, I found a small colony of
meek and lowly males. I wondered by what agency fertilization would
take place,—by insects, or by the wind? I suspected it would not take
place. No insects seemed to visit the flowers, and the wind surely
could not be relied upon to hit the mark so far off, and from such an
unlikely corner, too. But by some means the vitalizing dust seemed to
have been conveyed. Early in June, the plants began to shed their down,
or seed-bearing pappus, still carrying their heads at the top of the
grass, so that the breezes could have free access to them, and sow the
seeds far and wide.

As the seeds are sown broadcast by the wind, I was at first puzzled
to know how the two sexes were kept separate, and always in little
communities, till I perceived, what I might have read in the botany,
that the plant is perennial and spreads by offsets and runners, like
the strawberry. This would of course keep the two kinds in groups by

Another plant which has interesting ways and is beautiful besides is
the adder's-tongue, or yellow erythronium, the earliest of the lilies,
and one of the most pleasing. The April sunshine is fairly reflected in
its revolute flowers. The lilies have bulbs that sit on or near the top
of the ground. The onion is a fair type of the lily in this respect.
But here is a lily with the bulb deep in the ground. How it gets there
is well worth investigating. The botany says that the bulb is deep in
the ground, but offers no explanation. Now it is only the bulbs of the
older or flowering plants that are deep in the ground. The bulbs of the
young plants are near the top of the ground. The young plants have but
one leaf, the older or flowering ones have two. If you happen to be in
the woods at the right time in early April, you may see these leaves
compactly rolled together, piercing the matted coating of sear leaves
that cover the ground like some sharp-pointed instrument. They do not
burst their covering or lift it up, but pierce through it like an awl.

But how does the old bulb get so deep into the ground? In digging
some of them up one spring in an old meadow bottom, I had to cleave
the tough fibrous sod to a depth of eight inches. The smaller ones
were barely two inches below the surface. Of course they all started
from the seed at the surface of the soil. The young botanist, or
nature-lover, will find here a field for original research. If, in late
May or early June, after the leaves of the plant have disappeared, he
finds the ground where they stood showing curious, looping, twisting
growths or roots, of a greenish white color, let him examine them. They
are as smooth and as large as an angle-worm, and very brittle. Both
ends will be found in the ground, one attached to the old bulb, the
other boring or drilling downward and enlarged till it suggests the new
bulb. I do not know that this mother root in all cases comes to the
surface. Why it should come at all is a mystery, unless it be in some
way to get more power for the downward thrust. My own observations upon
the subject are not complete, but I think in the foregoing I have given
the clew as to how the bulb each year sinks deeper and deeper into the

It is a pity that this graceful and abundant flower has no good and
appropriate common name. It is the earliest of the true lilies,
and it has all the grace and charm that belong to this order of
flowers. _Erythronium_, its botanical name, is not good, as it is
derived from a Greek word that means red, while one species of our
flower is yellow and the other is white. How it came to be called
adder's-tongue I do not know; probably from the spotted character of
the leaf, which might suggest a snake, though it in no wise resembles
a snake's tongue. A fawn is spotted, too, and "fawn-lily" would be
better than adder's-tongue. Still better is the name "trout-lily,"
which has recently been proposed for this plant. It blooms along the
trout streams, and its leaf is as mottled as a trout's back. The name
"dog's-tooth" may have been suggested by the shape and color of the
bud, but how the "violet" came to be added is a puzzle, as it has not
one feature of the violet. It is only another illustration of the
haphazard way in which our wild flowers, as well as our birds, have
been named.

In my spring rambles I have sometimes come upon a solitary specimen of
this yellow lily growing beside a mossy stone where the sunshine fell
full upon it, and have thought it one of the most beautiful of our wild
flowers. Its two leaves stand up like a fawn's ears, and this feature,
with its recurved petals, gives it an alert, wide-awake look. The white
species I have never seen. I am told they are very abundant on the
mountains in California.

Another of our common wild flowers, which I always look at with an
interrogation-point in my mind, is the wild ginger. Why should this
plant always hide its flower? Its two fuzzy, heart-shaped green leaves
stand up very conspicuously amid the rocks or mossy stones; but its one
curious, brown, bell-shaped flower is always hidden beneath the moss
or dry leaves, as if too modest to face the light of the open woods.
As a rule, the one thing which a plant is anxious to show and to make
much of, and to flaunt before all the world, is its flower. But the
wild ginger reverses the rule, and blooms in secret. Instead of turning
upward toward the light and air, it turns downward toward the darkness
and the silence. It has no corolla, but what the botanists call a lurid
or brown-purple calyx, which is conspicuous like a corolla. Its root
leaves in the mouth a taste precisely like that of ginger.

This plant and the closed gentian are apparent exceptions, in their
manner of blooming, to the general habit of the rest of our flowers.
The closed gentian does not hide its flower, but the corolla never
opens; it always remains a closed bud. I used to think that this
gentian could never experience the benefits of insect visits, which
Darwin showed us were of such importance in the vegetable world. I once
plucked one of the flowers into which a bumblebee had forced his way,
but he had never come out; the flower was his tomb.

I am assured, however, by recent observers, that the bumblebee does
successfully enter the closed corolla, and thus distribute its

     [27:1] "A bumblebee came along and lit upon a cluster of
     asters. Leaving these, it next visited a head of gentians,
     and with some difficulty thrust its tongue through the valves
     of the nearest blossom; then it pushed in its head and body
     until only the hind legs and the tip of the abdomen were
     sticking out. In this position it made the circuit of the
     blossom, and then emerged, resting a moment to brush the
     pollen from its head and thorax into the pollen-baskets,
     before flying again to a neighboring aster. The whole process
     required about twenty seconds." _Ten New England Blossoms and
     their Insect Visitors_, CLARENCE MOORES WEED, pp. 93, 94.

There is yet another curious exception which I will mention, namely,
the witch-hazel. All our trees and plants bloom in the spring, except
this one species; this blooms in the fall. Just as its leaves are
fading and falling, its flowers appear, giving out an odor along the
bushy lanes and margins of the woods that is to the nose like cool
water to the hand. Why it should bloom in the fall instead of in the
spring is a mystery. And it is probably because of this very curious
trait that its branches are used as divining-rods, by certain credulous
persons, to point out where springs of water and precious metals are

Most young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from
the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and
woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight. Find your
flower, and then name it by the aid of the botany. There is so much in
a name. To find out what a thing is called is a great help. It is the
beginning of knowledge; it is the first step. When we see a new person
who interests us, we wish to know his or her name. A bird, a flower, a
place,—the first thing we wish to know about it is its name. Its name
helps us to classify it; it gives us a handle to grasp it by; it sheds
a ray of light where all before was darkness. As soon as we know the
name of a thing, we seem to have established some sort of relation with

The other day, while the train was delayed by an accident, I wandered
a few yards away from it along the river margin seeking wild flowers.
Should I find any whose name I did not know? While thus loitering,
a young English girl also left the train and came in my direction,
plucking the flowers right and left as she came. But they were all
unknown to her; she did not know the name of one of them, and she
wished to send them home to her father, too. With what satisfaction she
heard the names! The words seemed to be full of meaning to her, though
she had never heard them before in her life. It was what she wanted: it
was an introduction to the flowers, and her interest in them increased
at once.

"That orange-colored flower which you just plucked from the edge of
the water,—that is our jewel-weed," I said.

"It looks like a jewel," she replied.

"You have nothing like it in England, or did not have till lately; but
I hear it is now appearing along certain English streams, having been
brought from this country."

"And what is this?" she inquired, holding up a blue flower with a very
bristly leaf and stalk.

"That is viper's bugloss, or blue-weed, a plant from your side of the
water, one that is making itself thoroughly at home along the Hudson,
and in the valleys of some of its tributaries among the Catskills. It
is a rough, hardy weed, but its flower, with its long, conspicuous
purple stamens and blue corolla, as you see, is very pretty."

"Here is another emigrant from across the Atlantic," I said, holding up
a cluster of small white flowers, each mounted upon a little inflated
brown bag or balloon,—the bladder campion. "It also runs riot in
some of our fields, as I am sure you will not see it at home." She
went on filling her hands with flowers, and I gave her the names of
each,—sweet clover or melilotus, a foreign plant; vervain (foreign);
purple loosestrife (foreign); toad-flax (foreign); chelone, or
turtle-head, a native; and the purple mimulus, or monkey-flower, also a
native. It was a likely place for the cardinal-flower, but I could not
find any. I wanted this hearty English girl to see one of our native
wild flowers so intense in color that it would fairly make her eyes
water to gaze upon it.

Just then the whistle of the engine summoned us all aboard, and in a
moment we were off.

When one is stranded anywhere in the country in the season of flowers
or birds, if he feels any interest in these things he always has
something ready at hand to fall back upon. And if he feels no interest
in them he will do well to cultivate an interest. The tedium of an
eighty-mile drive which I lately took (in September), cutting through
parts of three counties, was greatly relieved by noting the various
flowers by the roadside. First my attention was attracted by wild thyme
making purple patches here and there in the meadows and pastures. I got
out of the wagon and gathered some of it. I found honey-bees working
upon it, and remembered that it was a famous plant for honey in parts
of the Old World. It had probably escaped from some garden; I had never
seen it growing wild in this way before. Along the Schoharie Kill, I
saw acres of blue-weed, or viper's bugloss, the hairy stems of the
plants, when looked at toward the sun, having a frosted appearance.

What is this tall plant by the roadside, thickly hung with pendent
clusters of long purplish buds or tassels? The stalk is four feet high,
the lower leaves are large and lobed, and the whole effect of the plant
is striking. The clusters of purple pendents have a very decorative
effect. This is a species of nabalus, of the great composite family,
and is sometimes called lion's-foot. The flower is cream-colored, but
quite inconspicuous. The noticeable thing about it is the drooping
or pendulous clusters of what appear to be buds, but which are the
involucres, bundles of purple scales, like little staves, out of which
the flower emerges.

In another place I caught sight of something intensely blue in a wet,
weedy place, and, on getting some of it, found it to be the closed
gentian, a flower to which I have already referred as never opening,
but always remaining a bud. Four or five of these blue buds, each like
the end of your little finger and as long as the first joint, crown the
top of the stalk, set in a rosette of green leaves. It is one of our
rarer flowers, and a very interesting one, well worth getting out of
the wagon to gather. As I drove through a swampy part of Ulster County,
my attention was attracted by a climbing plant overrunning the low
bushes by the sluggish streams, and covering them thickly with clusters
of dull white flowers. I did not remember ever to have seen it before,
and, on taking it home and examining it, found it to be climbing
boneset. The flowers are so much like those of boneset that you would
suspect their relationship at once.

Without the name, any flower is still more or less a stranger to
you. The name betrays its family, its relationship to other flowers,
and gives the mind something tangible to grasp. It is very difficult
for persons who have had no special training to learn the names of
the flowers from the botany. The botany is a sealed book to them.
The descriptions of the flowers are in a language which they do not
understand at all. And the key is no help to them. It is as much a
puzzle as the botany itself. They need a key to unlock the key.

One of these days some one will give us a handbook of our wild flowers,
by the aid of which we shall all be able to name those we gather in
our walks without the trouble of analyzing them. In this book we shall
have a list of all our flowers arranged according to color, as white
flowers, blue flowers, yellow flowers, pink flowers, etc., with place
of growth and time of blooming; also lists or sub-lists of fragrant
flowers, climbing flowers, marsh flowers, meadow flowers, wood flowers,
etc., so that, with flower in hand, by running over these lists we
shall be pretty sure to find its name. Having got its name, we can
turn to Gray or Wood and find a more technical description of it if we



On looking at the southern and more distant Catskills from the Hudson
River on the east, or on looking at them from the west from some point
of vantage in Delaware County, you see, amid the group of mountains,
one that looks like the back and shoulders of a gigantic horse. The
horse has got his head down grazing; the shoulders are high, and the
descent from them down his neck very steep; if he were to lift up his
head, one sees that it would be carried far above all other peaks,
and that the noble beast might gaze straight to his peers in the
Adirondacks or the White Mountains. But the head and neck never come
up; some spell or enchantment keeps it down there amid the mighty herd;
and the high round shoulders and the smooth strong back of the steed
are alone visible. The peak to which I refer is Slide Mountain, the
highest of the Catskills by some two hundred feet, and probably the
most inaccessible; certainly the hardest to get a view of, it is hedged
about so completely by other peaks,—the greatest mountain of them all,
and apparently the least willing to be seen; only at a distance of
thirty or forty miles is it seen to stand up above all other peaks. It
takes its name from a landslide which occurred many years ago down its
steep northern side, or down the neck of the grazing steed. The mane of
spruce and balsam fir was stripped away for many hundred feet, leaving
a long gray streak visible from afar.

Slide Mountain is the centre and the chief of the southern Catskills.
Streams flow from its base, and from the base of its subordinates,
to all points of the compass,—the Rondout and the Neversink to the
south; the Beaverkill to the west; the Esopus to the north; and several
lesser streams to the east. With its summit as the centre, a radius of
ten miles would include within the circle described but very little
cultivated land; only a few poor, wild farms in some of the numerous
valleys. The soil is poor, a mixture of gravel and clay, and is subject
to slides. It lies in the valleys in ridges and small hillocks, as if
dumped there from a huge cart. The tops of the southern Catskills are
all capped with a kind of conglomerate, or "pudden stone,"—a rock of
cemented quartz pebbles which underlies the coal measures. This rock
disintegrates under the action of the elements, and the sand and gravel
which result are carried into the valleys and make up the most of the
soil. From the northern Catskills, so far as I know them, this rock has
been swept clean. Low down in the valleys the old red sandstone crops
out, and, as you go west into Delaware County, in many places it alone
remains and makes up most of the soil, all the superincumbent rock
having been carried away.

Slide Mountain had been a summons and a challenge to me for many
years. I had fished every stream that it nourished, and had camped
in the wilderness on all sides of it, and whenever I had caught a
glimpse of its summit I had promised myself to set foot there before
another season had passed. But the seasons came and went, and my feet
got no nimbler, and Slide Mountain no lower, until finally, one July,
seconded by an energetic friend, we thought to bring Slide to terms by
approaching him through the mountains on the east. With a farmer's son
for guide we struck in by way of Weaver Hollow, and, after a long and
desperate climb, contented ourselves with the Wittenberg, instead of
Slide. The view from the Wittenberg is in many respects more striking,
as you are perched immediately above a broader and more distant sweep
of country, and are only about two hundred feet lower. You are here on
the eastern brink of the southern Catskills, and the earth falls away
at your feet and curves down through an immense stretch of forest till
it joins the plain of Shokan, and thence sweeps away to the Hudson and
beyond. Slide is southwest of you, six or seven miles distant, but is
visible only when you climb into a treetop. I climbed and saluted him,
and promised to call next time.

We passed the night on the Wittenberg, sleeping on the moss, between
two decayed logs, with balsam boughs thrust into the ground and meeting
and forming a canopy over us. In coming off the mountain in the
morning we ran upon a huge porcupine, and I learned for the first time
that the tail of a porcupine goes with a spring like a trap. It seems
to be a set-lock; and you no sooner touch with the weight of a hair one
of the quills, than the tail leaps up in a most surprising manner, and
the laugh is not on your side. The beast cantered along the path in my
front, and I threw myself upon him, shielded by my roll of blankets.
He submitted quietly to the indignity, and lay very still under my
blankets, with his broad tail pressed close to the ground. This I
proceeded to investigate, but had not fairly made a beginning when
it went off like a trap, and my hand and wrist were full of quills.
This caused me to let up on the creature, when it lumbered away till
it tumbled down a precipice. The quills were quickly removed from my
hand, when we gave chase. When we came up to him, he had wedged himself
in between the rocks so that he presented only a back bristling with
quills, with the tail lying in ambush below. He had chosen his position
well, and seemed to defy us. After amusing ourselves by repeatedly
springing his tail and receiving the quills in a rotten stick, we made
a slip-noose out of a spruce root, and, after much manœuvring, got
it over his head and led him forth. In what a peevish, injured tone
the creature did complain of our unfair tactics! He protested and
protested, and whimpered and scolded like some infirm old man tormented
by boys. His game after we led him forth was to keep himself as much
as possible in the shape of a ball, but with two sticks and the cord
we finally threw him over on his back and exposed his quill-less and
vulnerable under side, when he fairly surrendered and seemed to say,
"Now you may do with me as you like." His great chisel-like teeth,
which are quite as formidable as those of the woodchuck, he does not
appear to use at all in his defense, but relies entirely upon his
quills, and when those fail him he is done for.

After amusing ourselves with him awhile longer, we released him and
went on our way. The trail to which we had committed ourselves led us
down into Woodland Valley, a retreat which so took my eye by its fine
trout brook, its superb mountain scenery, and its sweet seclusion,
that I marked it for my own, and promised myself a return to it at
no distant day. This promise I kept, and pitched my tent there twice
during that season. Both occasions were a sort of laying siege to
Slide, but we only skirmished with him at a distance; the actual
assault was not undertaken. But the following year, reinforced by two
other brave climbers, we determined upon the assault, and upon making
it from this the most difficult side. The regular way is by Big Ingin
Valley, where the climb is comparatively easy, and where it is often
made by women. But from Woodland Valley only men may essay the ascent.
Larkins is the upper inhabitant, and from our camping-ground near his
clearing we set out early one June morning.

One would think nothing could be easier to find than a big mountain,
especially when one is encamped upon a stream which he knows springs
out of its very loins. But for some reason or other we had got an idea
that Slide Mountain was a very slippery customer and must be approached
cautiously. We had tried from several points in the valley to get a
view of it, but were not quite sure we had seen its very head. When on
the Wittenberg, a neighboring peak, the year before, I had caught a
brief glimpse of it only by climbing a dead tree and craning up for a
moment from its topmost branch. It would seem as if the mountain had
taken every precaution to shut itself off from a near view. It was
a shy mountain, and we were about to stalk it through six or seven
miles of primitive woods, and we seemed to have some unreasonable fear
that it might elude us. We had been told of parties who had essayed
the ascent from this side, and had returned baffled and bewildered.
In a tangle of primitive woods, the very bigness of the mountain
baffles one. It is all mountain; whichever way you turn—and one turns
sometimes in such cases before he knows it—the foot finds a steep and
rugged ascent.

The eye is of little service; one must be sure of his bearings and push
boldly on and up. One is not unlike a flea upon a great shaggy beast,
looking for the animal's head; or even like a much smaller and much
less nimble creature,—he may waste his time and steps, and think he
has reached the head when he is only upon the rump. Hence I questioned
our host, who had several times made the ascent, closely. Larkins laid
his old felt hat upon the table, and, placing one hand upon one side
and the other upon the other, said: "There Slide lies, between the two
forks of the stream, just as my hat lies between my two hands. David
will go with you to the forks, and then you will push right on up." But
Larkins was not right, though he had traversed all those mountains many
times over. The peak we were about to set out for did not lie between
the forks, but exactly at the head of one of them; the beginnings of
the stream are in the very path of the slide, as we afterward found. We
broke camp early in the morning, and with our blankets strapped to our
backs and rations in our pockets for two days, set out along an ancient
and in places an obliterated bark road that followed and crossed and
recrossed the stream. The morning was bright and warm, but the wind
was fitful and petulant, and I predicted rain. What a forest solitude
our obstructed and dilapidated wood-road led us through! five miles
of primitive woods before we came to the forks, three miles before we
came to the "burnt shanty," a name merely,—no shanty there now for
twenty-five years past. The ravages of the bark-peelers were still
visible, now in a space thickly strewn with the soft and decayed trunks
of hemlock-trees, and overgrown with wild cherry, then in huge mossy
logs scattered through the beech and maple woods; some of these logs
were so soft and mossy that one could sit or recline upon them as upon
a sofa.

But the prettiest thing was the stream soliloquizing in such musical
tones there amid the moss-covered rocks and boulders. How clean it
looked, what purity! Civilization corrupts the streams as it corrupts
the Indian; only in such remote woods can you now see a brook in all
its original freshness and beauty. Only the sea and the mountain forest
brook are pure; all between is contaminated more or less by the work of
man. An ideal trout brook was this, now hurrying, now loitering, now
deepening around a great boulder, now gliding evenly over a pavement
of green-gray stone and pebbles; no sediment or stain of any kind,
but white and sparkling as snow-water, and nearly as cool. Indeed,
the water of all this Catskill region is the best in the world. For
the first few days, one feels as if he could almost live on the water
alone; he cannot drink enough of it. In this particular it is indeed
the good Bible land, "a land of brooks of water, of fountains and
depths that spring out of valleys and hills."

Near the forks we caught, or thought we caught, through an opening, a
glimpse of Slide. Was it Slide? was it the head, or the rump, or the
shoulder of the shaggy monster we were in quest of? At the forks there
was a bewildering maze of underbrush and great trees, and the way did
not seem at all certain; nor was David, who was then at the end of
his reckoning, able to reassure us. But in assaulting a mountain, as
in assaulting a fort, boldness is the watchword. We pressed forward,
following a line of blazed trees for nearly a mile, then, turning
to the left, began the ascent of the mountain. It was steep, hard
climbing. We saw numerous marks of both bears and deer; but no birds,
save at long intervals the winter wren flitting here and there, and
darting under logs and rubbish like a mouse. Occasionally its gushing,
lyrical song would break the silence. After we had climbed an hour or
two, the clouds began to gather, and presently the rain began to come
down. This was discouraging; but we put our backs up against trees and
rocks, and waited for the shower to pass.

"They were wet with the showers of the mountain, and embraced the rocks
for want of shelter," as they did in Job's time. But the shower was
light and brief, and we were soon under way again. Three hours from
the forks brought us out on the broad level back of the mountain upon
which Slide, considered as an isolated peak, is reared. After a time we
entered a dense growth of spruce which covered a slight depression in
the table of the mountain. The moss was deep, the ground spongy, the
light dim, the air hushed. The transition from the open, leafy woods to
this dim, silent, weird grove was very marked. It was like the passage
from the street into the temple. Here we paused awhile and ate our
lunch, and refreshed ourselves with water gathered from a little well
sunk in the moss.

The quiet and repose of this spruce grove proved to be the calm that
goes before the storm. As we passed out of it, we came plump upon the
almost perpendicular battlements of Slide. The mountain rose like a
huge, rock-bound fortress from this plain-like expanse. It was ledge
upon ledge, precipice upon precipice, up which and over which we
made our way slowly and with great labor, now pulling ourselves up by
our hands, then cautiously finding niches for our feet and zigzagging
right and left from shelf to shelf. This northern side of the mountain
was thickly covered with moss and lichens, like the north side of a
tree. This made it soft to the foot, and broke many a slip and fall.
Everywhere a stunted growth of yellow birch, mountain-ash, and spruce
and fir opposed our progress. The ascent at such an angle with a roll
of blankets on your back is not unlike climbing a tree: every limb
resists your progress and pushes you back; so that when we at last
reached the summit, after twelve or fifteen hundred feet of this sort
of work, the fight was about all out of the best of us. It was then
nearly two o'clock, so that we had been about seven hours in coming
seven miles.

Here on the top of the mountain we overtook spring, which had been
gone from the valley nearly a month. Red clover was opening in the
valley below, and wild strawberries just ripening; on the summit the
yellow birch was just hanging out its catkins, and the claytonia, or
spring-beauty, was in bloom. The leaf-buds of the trees were just
bursting, making a faint mist of green, which, as the eye swept
downward, gradually deepened until it became a dense, massive cloud in
the valleys. At the foot of the mountain the clintonia, or northern
green lily, and the low shad-bush were showing their berries, but long
before the top was reached they were found in bloom. I had never
before stood amid blooming claytonia, a flower of April, and looked
down upon a field that held ripening strawberries. Every thousand feet
elevation seemed to make about ten days' difference in the vegetation,
so that the season was a month or more later on the top of the mountain
than at its base. A very pretty flower which we began to meet with well
up on the mountain-side was the painted trillium, the petals white,
veined with pink.

The low, stunted growth of spruce and fir which clothes the top of
Slide has been cut away over a small space on the highest point, laying
open the view on nearly all sides. Here we sat down and enjoyed our
triumph. We saw the world as the hawk or the balloonist sees it when
he is three thousand feet in the air. How soft and flowing all the
outlines of the hills and mountains beneath us looked! The forests
dropped down and undulated away over them, covering them like a carpet.
To the east we looked over the near-by Wittenberg range to the Hudson
and beyond; to the south, Peak-o'-Moose, with its sharp crest, and
Table Mountain, with its long level top, were the two conspicuous
objects; in the west, Mt. Graham and Double Top, about three thousand
eight hundred feet each, arrested the eye; while in our front to the
north we looked over the top of Panther Mountain to the multitudinous
peaks of the northern Catskills. All was mountain and forest on every
hand. Civilization seemed to have done little more than to have
scratched this rough, shaggy surface of the earth here and there.
In any such view, the wild, the aboriginal, the geographical greatly
predominate. The works of man dwindle, and the original features of
the huge globe come out. Every single object or point is dwarfed; the
valley of the Hudson is only a wrinkle in the earth's surface. You
discover with a feeling of surprise that the great thing is the earth
itself, which stretches away on every hand so far beyond your ken.

The Arabs believe that the mountains steady the earth and hold it
together; but they had only to get on the top of a high one to see how
insignificant they are, and how adequate the earth looks to get along
without them. To the imaginative Oriental people, mountains seemed to
mean much more than they do to us. They were sacred; they were the
abodes of their divinities. They offered their sacrifices upon them.
In the Bible, mountains are used as a symbol of that which is great
and holy. Jerusalem is spoken of as a holy mountain. The Syrians were
beaten by the Children of Israel because, said they, "their gods are
gods of the hills; therefore were they stronger than we." It was on
Mount Horeb that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and on
Sinai that he delivered to him the law. Josephus says that the Hebrew
shepherds never pasture their flocks on Sinai, believing it to be
the abode of Jehovah. The solitude of mountain-tops is peculiarly
impressive, and it is certainly easier to believe the Deity appeared
in a burning bush there than in the valley below. When the clouds of
heaven, too, come down and envelop the top of the mountain,—how such
a circumstance must have impressed the old God-fearing Hebrews! Moses
knew well how to surround the law with the pomp and circumstance that
would inspire the deepest awe and reverence.

But when the clouds came down and enveloped us on Slide Mountain,
the grandeur, the solemnity, were gone in a twinkling; the
portentous-looking clouds proved to be nothing but base fog that wet
us and extinguished the world for us. How tame, and prosy, and humdrum
the scene instantly became! But when the fog lifted, and we looked from
under it as from under a just-raised lid, and the eye plunged again
like an escaped bird into those vast gulfs of space that opened at our
feet, the feeling of grandeur and solemnity quickly came back.

The first want we felt on the top of Slide, after we had got some rest,
was a want of water. Several of us cast about, right and left, but no
sign of water was found. But water must be had, so we all started off
deliberately to hunt it up. We had not gone many hundred yards before
we chanced upon an ice-cave beneath some rocks,—vast masses of ice,
with crystal pools of water near. This was good luck, indeed, and put a
new and brighter face on the situation.

Slide Mountain enjoys a distinction which no other mountain in the
State, so far as is known, does,—it has a thrush peculiar to itself.
This thrush was discovered and described by Eugene P. Bicknell, of New
York, in 1880, and has been named Bicknell's thrush. A better name
would have been Slide Mountain thrush, as the bird so far has only
been found on the mountain.[46:1] I did not see or hear it upon the
Wittenberg, which is only a few miles distant, and only two hundred
feet lower. In its appearance to the eye among the trees, one would
not distinguish it from the gray-cheeked thrush of Baird, or the
olive-backed thrush, but its song is totally different. The moment I
heard it I said, "There is a new bird, a new thrush," as the quality
of all thrush songs is the same. A moment more, and I knew it was
Bicknell's thrush. The song is in a minor key, finer, more attenuated,
and more under the breath than that of any other thrush. It seemed as
if the bird was blowing in a delicate, slender, golden tube, so fine
and yet so flute-like and resonant the song appeared. At times it was
like a musical whisper of great sweetness and power. The birds were
numerous about the summit, but we saw them nowhere else. No other
thrush was seen, though a few times during our stay I caught a mere
echo of the hermit's song far down the mountain-side. A bird I was not
prepared to see or hear was the black-poll warbler, a bird usually
found much farther north, but here it was, amid the balsam firs,
uttering its simple, lisping song.

     [46:1] Bicknell's thrush turns out to be the more southern
     form of the gray-cheeked thrush, and is found on the higher
     mountains of New York and New England.

The rocks on the tops of these mountains are quite sure to attract
one's attention, even if he have no eye for such things. They are
masses of light reddish conglomerate, composed of round wave-worn
quartz pebbles. Every pebble had been shaped and polished upon some
ancient seacoast, probably the Devonian. The rock disintegrates where
it is most exposed to the weather, and forms a loose sandy and pebbly
soil. These rocks form the floor of the coal formation, but in the
Catskill region only the floor remains; the superstructure has never
existed, or has been swept away; hence one would look for a coal mine
here over his head in the air, rather than under his feet.

This rock did not have to climb up here as we did; the mountain stooped
and took it upon its back in the bottom of the old seas, and then got
lifted up again. This happened so long ago that the memory of the
oldest inhabitant of these parts yields no clue to the time.

A pleasant task we had in reflooring and reroofing the log-hut with
balsam boughs against the night. Plenty of small balsams grew all
about, and we soon had a huge pile of their branches in the old hut.
What a transformation, this fresh green carpet and our fragrant bed,
like the deep-furred robe of some huge animal wrought in that dingy
interior! Two or three things disturbed our sleep. A cup of strong
beef-tea taken for supper disturbed mine; then the porcupines kept
up such a grunting and chattering near our heads, just on the other
side of the log, that sleep was difficult. In my wakeful mood I was
a good deal annoyed by a little rabbit that kept whipping in at our
dilapidated door and nibbling at our bread and hardtack. He persisted
even after the gray of the morning appeared. Then about four o'clock
it began gently to rain. I think I heard the first drop that fell. My
companions were all in sound sleep. The rain increased, and gradually
the sleepers awoke. It was like the tread of an advancing enemy which
every ear had been expecting. The roof over us was of the poorest, and
we had no confidence in it. It was made of the thin bark of spruce
and balsam, and was full of hollows and depressions. Presently these
hollows got full of water, when there was a simultaneous downpour of
bigger and lesser rills upon the sleepers beneath. Said sleepers, as
one man, sprang up, each taking his blanket with him; but by the time
some of the party had got themselves stowed away under the adjacent
rock, the rain ceased. It was little more than the dissolving of
the nightcap of fog which so often hangs about these heights. With
the first appearance of the dawn I had heard the new thrush in the
scattered trees near the hut,—a strain as fine as if blown upon a
fairy flute, a suppressed musical whisper from out the tops of the
dark spruces. Probably never did there go up from the top of a great
mountain a smaller song to greet the day, albeit it was of the purest
harmony. It seemed to have in a more marked degree the quality of
interior reverberation than any other thrush song I had ever heard.
Would the altitude or the situation account for its minor key?
Loudness would avail little in such a place. Sounds are not far heard
on a mountain-top; they are lost in the abyss of vacant air. But amid
these low, dense, dark spruces, which make a sort of canopied privacy
of every square rod of ground, what could be more in keeping than this
delicate musical whisper? It was but the soft hum of the balsams,
interpreted and embodied in a bird's voice.

It was the plan of two of our companions to go from Slide over into
the head of the Rondout, and thence out to the railroad at the little
village of Shokan, an unknown way to them, involving nearly an all-day
pull the first day through a pathless wilderness. We ascended to the
topmost floor of the tower, and from my knowledge of the topography of
the country I pointed out to them their course, and where the valley
of the Rondout must lie. The vast stretch of woods, when it came into
view from under the foot of Slide, seemed from our point of view very
uniform. It swept away to the southeast, rising gently toward the
ridge that separates Lone Mountain from Peak-o'-Moose, and presented a
comparatively easy problem. As a clue to the course, the line where the
dark belt or saddle-cloth of spruce, which covered the top of the ridge
they were to skirt, ended, and the deciduous woods began, a sharp,
well-defined line was pointed out as the course to be followed. It led
straight to the top of the broad level-backed ridge which connected two
higher peaks, and immediately behind which lay the headwaters of the
Rondout. Having studied the map thoroughly, and possessed themselves
of the points, they rolled up their blankets about nine o'clock, and
were off, my friend and myself purposing to spend yet another day and
night on Slide. As our friends plunged down into that fearful abyss,
we shouted to them the old classic caution, "Be bold, be bold, _be not
too_ bold." It required courage to make such a leap into the unknown,
as I knew those young men were making, and it required prudence. A
faint heart or a bewildered head, and serious consequences might have
resulted. The theory of a thing is so much easier than the practice!
The theory is in the air, the practice is in the woods; the eye, the
thought, travel easily where the foot halts and stumbles. However, our
friends made the theory and the fact coincide; they kept the dividing
line between the spruce and the birches, and passed over the ridge
into the valley safely; but they were torn and bruised and wet by the
showers, and made the last few miles of their journey on will and pluck
alone, their last pound of positive strength having been exhausted in
making the descent through the chaos of rocks and logs into the head of
the valley. In such emergencies one overdraws his account; he travels
on the credit of the strength he expects to gain when he gets his
dinner and some sleep. Unless one has made such a trip himself (and I
have several times in my life), he can form but a faint idea what it
is like,—what a trial it is to the body, and what a trial it is to
the mind. You are fighting a battle with an enemy in ambush. How those
miles and leagues which your feet must compass lie hidden there in
that wilderness; how they seem to multiply themselves; how they are
fortified with logs, and rocks, and fallen trees; how they take refuge
in deep gullies, and skulk behind unexpected eminences! Your body not
only feels the fatigue of the battle, your mind feels the strain of the
undertaking; you may miss your mark; the mountains may outmanœuvre
you. All that day, whenever I looked upon that treacherous wilderness,
I thought with misgivings of those two friends groping their way there,
and would have given something to have known how it fared with them.
Their concern was probably less than my own, because they were more
ignorant of what was before them. Then there was just a slight shadow
of a fear in my mind that I might have been in error about some points
of the geography I had pointed out to them. But all was well, and the
victory was won according to the campaign which I had planned. When
we saluted our friends upon their own doorstep a week afterward, the
wounds were nearly all healed and the rents all mended.

When one is on a mountain-top, he spends most of the time in looking at
the show he has been at such pains to see. About every hour we would
ascend the rude lookout to take a fresh observation. With a glass I
could see my native hills forty miles away to the northwest. I was
now upon the back of the horse, yea, upon the highest point of his
shoulders, which had so many times attracted my attention as a boy.
We could look along his balsam-covered back to his rump, from which
the eye glanced away down into the forests of the Neversink, and on
the other hand plump down into the gulf where his head was grazing or
drinking. During the day there was a grand procession of thunder-clouds
filing along over the northern Catskills, and letting down veils of
rain and enveloping them. From such an elevation one has the same view
of the clouds that he does from the prairie or the ocean. They do not
seem to rest across and to be upborne by the hills, but they emerge
out of the dim west, thin and vague, and grow and stand up as they get
nearer and roll by him, on a level but invisible highway, huge chariots
of wind and storm.

In the afternoon a thick cloud threatened us, but it proved to be the
condensation of vapor that announces a cold wave. There was soon a
marked fall in the temperature, and as night drew near it became pretty
certain that we were going to have a cold time of it. The wind rose,
the vapor above us thickened and came nearer, until it began to drive
across the summit in slender wraiths, which curled over the brink and
shut out the view. We became very diligent in getting in our night
wood, and in gathering more boughs to calk up the openings in the hut.
The wood we scraped together was a sorry lot, roots and stumps and
branches of decayed spruce, such as we could collect without an axe,
and some rags and tags of birch bark. The fire was built in one corner
of the shanty, the smoke finding easy egress through large openings on
the east side and in the roof over it. We doubled up the bed, making it
thicker and more nest-like, and as darkness set in, stowed ourselves
into it beneath our blankets. The searching wind found out every
crevice about our heads and shoulders, and it was icy cold. Yet we fell
asleep, and had slept about an hour when my companion sprang up in an
unwonted state of excitement for so placid a man. His excitement was
occasioned by the sudden discovery that what appeared to be a bar of
ice was fast taking the place of his backbone. His teeth chattered, and
he was convulsed with ague. I advised him to replenish the fire, and to
wrap himself in his blanket and cut the liveliest capers he was capable
of in so circumscribed a place. This he promptly did, and the thought
of his wild and desperate dance there in the dim light, his tall form,
his blanket flapping, his teeth chattering, the porcupines outside
marking time with their squeals and grunts, still provokes a smile,
though it was a serious enough matter at the time. After a while, the
warmth came back to him, but he dared not trust himself again to the
boughs; he fought the cold all night as one might fight a besieging
foe. By carefully husbanding the fuel, the beleaguering enemy was kept
at bay till morning came; but when morning did come, even the huge root
he had used as a chair was consumed. Rolled in my blanket beneath a
foot or more of balsam boughs, I had got some fairly good sleep, and
was most of the time oblivious to the melancholy vigil of my friend. As
we had but a few morsels of food left, and had been on rather short
rations the day before, hunger was added to his other discomforts. At
that time a letter was on the way to him from his wife, which contained
this prophetic sentence: "I hope thee is not suffering with cold and
hunger on some lone mountain-top."

Mr. Bicknell's thrush struck up again at the first signs of dawn,
notwithstanding the cold. I could hear his penetrating and melodious
whisper as I lay buried beneath the boughs. Presently I arose and
invited my friend to turn in for a brief nap, while I gathered some
wood and set the coffee brewing. With a brisk, roaring fire on, I left
for the spring to fetch some water, and to make my toilet. The leaves
of the mountain goldenrod, which everywhere covered the ground in the
opening, were covered with frozen particles of vapor, and the scene,
shut in by fog, was chill and dreary enough.

We were now not long in squaring an account with Slide, and making
ready to leave. Round pellets of snow began to fall, and we came
off the mountain on the 10th of June in a November storm and
temperature. Our purpose was to return by the same valley we had come.
A well-defined trail led off the summit to the north; to this we
committed ourselves. In a few minutes we emerged at the head of the
slide that had given the mountain its name. This was the path made by
visitors to the scene; when it ended, the track of the avalanche began;
no bigger than your hand, apparently, had it been at first, but it
rapidly grew, until it became several rods in width. It dropped down
from our feet straight as an arrow until it was lost in the fog, and
looked perilously steep. The dark forms of the spruce were clinging
to the edge of it, as if reaching out to their fellows to save them.
We hesitated on the brink, but finally cautiously began the descent.
The rock was quite naked and slippery, and only on the margin of the
slide were there any boulders to stay the foot, or bushy growths to
aid the hand. As we paused, after some minutes, to select our course,
one of the finest surprises of the trip awaited us: the fog in our
front was swiftly whirled up by the breeze, like the drop-curtain at
the theatre, only much more rapidly, and in a twinkling the vast gulf
opened before us. It was so sudden as to be almost bewildering. The
world opened like a book, and there were the pictures; the spaces were
without a film, the forests and mountains looked surprisingly near;
in the heart of the northern Catskills a wild valley was seen flooded
with sunlight. Then the curtain ran down again, and nothing was left
but the gray strip of rock to which we clung, plunging down into the
obscurity. Down and down we made our way. Then the fog lifted again.
It was Jack and his beanstalk renewed; new wonders, new views, awaited
us every few moments, till at last the whole valley below us stood in
the clear sunshine. We passed down a precipice, and there was a rill of
water, the beginning of the creek that wound through the valley below;
farther on, in a deep depression, lay the remains of an old snow-bank;
Winter had made his last stand here, and April flowers were springing
up almost amid his very bones. We did not find a palace, and a hungry
giant, and a princess, etc., at the end of our beanstalk, but we found
a humble roof and the hospitable heart of Mrs. Larkins, which answered
our purpose better. And we were in the mood, too, to have undertaken an
eating bout with any giant Jack ever discovered.

Of all the retreats I have found amid the Catskills, there is no other
that possesses quite so many charms for me as this valley, wherein
stands Larkins's humble dwelling; it is so wild, so quiet, and has such
superb mountain views. In coming up the valley, you have apparently
reached the head of civilization a mile or more lower down; here the
rude little houses end, and you turn to the left into the woods.
Presently you emerge into a clearing again, and before you rises the
rugged and indented crest of Panther Mountain, and near at hand, on a
low plateau, rises the humble roof of Larkins,—you get a picture of
the Panther and of the homestead at one glance. Above the house hangs a
high, bold cliff covered with forest, with a broad fringe of blackened
and blasted tree-trunks, where the cackling of the great pileated
woodpecker may be heard; on the left a dense forest sweeps up to the
sharp spruce-covered cone of the Wittenberg, nearly four thousand
feet high, while at the head of the valley rises Slide over all. From
a meadow just back of Larkins's barn, a view may be had of all these
mountains, while the terraced side of Cross Mountain bounds the view
immediately to the east. Running from the top of Panther toward Slide
one sees a gigantic wall of rock, crowned with a dark line of fir. The
forest abruptly ends, and in its stead rises the face of this colossal
rocky escarpment, like some barrier built by the mountain gods. Eagles
might nest here. It breaks the monotony of the world of woods very

I delight in sitting on a rock in one of these upper fields, and seeing
the sun go down behind Panther. The rapid-flowing brook below me fills
all the valley with a soft murmur. There is no breeze, but the great
atmospheric tide flows slowly in toward the cooling forest; one can see
it by the motes in the air illuminated by the setting sun: presently,
as the air cools a little, the tide turns and flows slowly out. The
long, winding valley up to the foot of Slide, five miles of primitive
woods, how wild and cool it looks, its one voice the murmur of the
creek! On the Wittenberg the sunshine lingers long; now it stands up
like an island in a sea of shadows, then slowly sinks beneath the wave.
The evening call of a robin or a thrush at his vespers makes a marked
impression on the silence and the solitude.

The following day my friend and I pitched our tent in the woods beside
the stream where I had pitched it twice before, and passed several
delightful days, with trout in abundance and wild strawberries at
intervals. Mrs. Larkins's cream-pot, butter-jar, and bread-box were
within easy reach. Near the camp was an unusually large spring, of icy
coldness, which served as our refrigerator. Trout or milk immersed in
this spring in a tin pail would keep sweet four or five days. One night
some creature, probably a lynx or a raccoon, came and lifted the stone
from the pail that held the trout and took out a fine string of them,
and ate them up on the spot, leaving only the string and one head. In
August bears come down to an ancient and now brushy bark-peeling near
by for blackberries. But the creature that most infests these backwoods
is the porcupine. He is as stupid and indifferent as the skunk; his
broad, blunt nose points a witless head. They are great gnawers, and
will gnaw your house down if you do not look out. Of a summer evening
they will walk coolly into your open door if not prevented. The most
annoying animal to the camper-out in this region, and the one he needs
to be most on the lookout for, is the cow. Backwoods cows and young
cattle seem always to be famished for salt, and they will fairly lick
the fisherman's clothes off his back, and his tent and equipage out of
existence, if you give them a chance. On one occasion some wood-ranging
heifers and steers that had been hovering around our camp for some
days made a raid upon it when we were absent. The tent was shut and
everything snugged up, but they ran their long tongues under the tent,
and, tasting something savory, hooked out John Stuart Mill's "Essays on
Religion," which one of us had brought along, thinking to read in the
woods. They mouthed the volume around a good deal, but its logic was
too tough for them, and they contented themselves with devouring the
paper in which it was wrapped. If the cattle had not been surprised at
just that point, it is probable the tent would have gone down before
their eager curiosity and thirst for salt.

The raid which Larkins's dog made upon our camp was amusing rather
than annoying. He was a very friendly and intelligent shepherd dog,
probably a collie. Hardly had we sat down to our first lunch in camp
before he called on us. But as he was disposed to be too friendly, and
to claim too large a share of the lunch, we rather gave him the cold
shoulder. He did not come again; but a few evenings afterward, as we
sauntered over to the house on some trifling errand, the dog suddenly
conceived a bright little project. He seemed to say to himself, on
seeing us, "There come both of them now, just as I have been hoping
they would; now, while they are away, I will run quickly over and know
what they have got that a dog can eat." My companion saw the dog get
up on our arrival, and go quickly in the direction of our camp, and he
said something in the cur's manner suggested to him the object of his
hurried departure. He called my attention to the fact, and we hastened
back. On cautiously nearing camp, the dog was seen amid the pails in
the shallow water of the creek investigating them. He had uncovered the
butter, and was about to taste it, when we shouted, and he made quick
steps for home, with a very "kill-sheep" look. When we again met him
at the house next day he could not look us in the face, but sneaked
off, utterly crestfallen. This was a clear case of reasoning on the
part of the dog, and afterward a clear case of a sense of guilt from
wrong-doing. The dog will probably be a man before any other animal.



"Admire the bird's egg and leave it in its nest" is a wiser forbearance
than "Love the wood-rose and leave it on its stalk." We will try to
leave these eggs in the nest, and as far as possible show the bird and
the nest with them.

The first egg of spring is undoubtedly a hen's egg. The domestic fowls,
not being compelled to shift for themselves, and having artificial
shelter, are not so mindful of the weather and the seasons as the wild
birds. But the hen of the woods and the hen of the prairie, namely, the
ruffed and the pinnated grouse, do not usually nest till the season is
so far advanced that danger from frost is past.

The first wild egg, in New York and New England, is probably that of
an owl, the great horned owl, it is said, laying as early as March.
They probably shelter their eggs from the frost and the snow before
incubation begins. The little screech owl waits till April, and seeks
the deep snug cavity of an old tree; the heart of a decayed apple-tree
suits him well. Begin your search by the middle of April, and before
the month is past you will find the four white, round eggs resting upon
a little dry grass or a few dry leaves in the bottom of a long cavity.
Owls' eggs are inclined to be spherical. You would expect to see a big,
round-headed, round-eyed creature come out of such an egg.

The passenger pigeon nests before danger from frost is passed; but as
it lays but two eggs, probably in two successive days, the risks from
this source are not great, though occasionally a heavy April snow-storm
breaks them up.

Which is the earliest song-bird's egg? One cannot be quite so certain
here, as he can as to which the first wild flower is, for instance;
but I would take my chances on finding that of the phœbe-bird
first, and finding it before the close of April, unless the season
is very backward. The present season (1883) a pair built their nest
under the eaves of my house, and deposited their eggs, the last
days of the month. Some English sparrows that had been hanging
around, and doubtless watching the phœbes, threw the eggs out and
took possession of the nest. How shrewd and quick to take the hint
these little feathered John Bulls are! With a handful of rattling
pebble-stones I told this couple very plainly that they were not
welcome visitors to my premises. They fled precipitately. The next
morning they appeared again, but were much shyer. Another discharge
of pebbles, and they were off as if bound for the protection of the
British flag, and did not return. I notice wherever I go that these
birds have got a suspicion in their heads that public opinion has
changed with regard to them, and that they are no longer wanted.

The eggs of the phœbe-bird are snow-white, and when, in threading
the gorge of some mountain trout brook, or prowling about some high,
overhanging ledge, one's eye falls upon this mossy structure planted
with such matchless art upon a little shelf of the rocks, with its
complement of five or six pearl-like eggs, he is ready to declare it
the most pleasing nest in all the range of our bird architecture. It
was such a happy thought for the bird to build there, just out of the
reach of all four-footed beasts of prey, sheltered from the storms
and winds, and, by the use of moss and lichens, blending its nest so
perfectly with its surroundings that only the most alert eye can detect
it. An egg upon a rock, and thriving there,—the frailest linked to the
strongest, as if the geology of the granite mountain had been bent into
the service of the bird. I doubt if crows, or jays, or owls ever rob
these nests. Phœbe has outwitted them. They never heard of the bird
that builded its house upon a rock. "Strong is thy dwelling-place, and
thou puttest thy nest in a rock."

The song sparrow sometimes nests in April, but not commonly in our
latitude. Emerson says, in "May-Day:"—

     "The sparrow meek, prophetic-eyed,
      Her nest beside the snow-drift weaves,
      Secure the osier yet will hide
      Her callow brood in mantling leaves."

But the sparrow usually prefers to wait till the snow-drift is gone.
I have never found the nest of one till long after the last drift had
disappeared from the fields, though a late writer upon New England
birds says the sparrow sometimes lays in April, when snow is yet upon
the ground.

The sparrow is not a beautiful bird except in our affections and
associations, and its eggs are not beautiful as eggs go,—four or five
little freckled spheres, that, like the bird itself, blend well with
the ground upon which they are placed.

The eggs of the "chippie," or social sparrow, are probably the most
beautiful of sparrow eggs, being of a bright bluish green with a ring
of dark purple spots around the larger end.

Generally there is but little relation between the color of the bird
and the color of its egg. For the most part, the eggs of birds that
occupy open, exposed nests are of some tint that harmonizes well with
the surroundings. With the addition of specks of various hue, they are
rendered still less conspicuous. The eggs of the scarlet tanager are
greenish blue, with faint brown or purplish markings. The blackbird
lays a greenish blue egg also, with various markings. Indeed, the
favorite ground tint of the birds that build open nests is a greenish
blue; sometimes the blue predominates, sometimes the green; while the
eggs of birds that build concealed nests, or lay in dark cavities, are
generally white, as is the case with the eggs of all our woodpeckers,
for instance. The eggs of the bluebird are bluish white.

Among the flycatchers, the nest of the phœbe is most concealed, at
least from above, and her eggs are white, while those of nearly all
the other species are more or less tinted and marked. The eggs of the
hummingbird are white, but the diminutiveness of their receptacle is a
sufficient concealment. Another white egg is that of the kingfisher,
deposited upon fish-bones at the end of a hole in the bank eight or
nine feet long. The bank swallow also lays white eggs, as does the
chimney swallow, the white-bellied swallow, and the purple martin. The
eggs of the barn swallow and cliff swallow are more or less speckled.
In England the kingfisher (smaller and much more brilliantly colored
than ours), woodpeckers, the bank swallow, the swift, the wryneck
(related to the woodpecker), and the dipper also lay white eggs.

A marked exception to the above rule is furnished by the eggs of the
Baltimore oriole, perhaps the most fantastically marked of all our
birds' eggs. One would hardly expect a plainly marked egg in such a
high-swung, elaborately woven, deeply pouched, aristocratic nest. The
threads and strings and horsehairs with which the structure is sewed
and bound and stayed are copied in the curious lines and markings of
the treasures it holds. After the oriole is through with its nest, it
is sometimes taken possession of by the house wren in which to rear
its second brood. The long, graceful cavity, with its fine carpet of
hair, is filled with coarse twigs, as if one were to build a log hut in
a palace, and the rusty-colored eggs of the little busybody deposited
there. The wren would perhaps stick to its bundle of small fagots in
the box or pump tree, and rear its second brood in the cradle of the
first, were it not that by seeking new lodgings time can be saved. The
male bird builds and furnishes the second nest, and the mother bird has
begun to lay in it before the first is empty.

The chatter of a second brood of nearly fledged wrens is heard now
(August 20) in an oriole's nest suspended from the branch of an
apple-tree near where I write. Earlier in the season the parent birds
made long and determined attempts to establish themselves in a cavity
that had been occupied by a pair of bluebirds. The original proprietor
of the place was the downy woodpecker. He had excavated it the autumn
before, and had passed the winter there, often to my certain knowledge
lying abed till nine o'clock in the morning. In the spring he went
elsewhere, probably with a female, to begin the season in new quarters.
The bluebirds early took possession, and in June their first brood
had flown. The wrens had been hanging around, evidently with an eye
on the place (such little comedies may be witnessed anywhere), and
now very naturally thought it was their turn. A day or two after the
young bluebirds had flown, I noticed some fine, dry grass clinging to
the entrance to the cavity; a circumstance which I understood a few
moments later, when the wren rushed by me into the cover of a small
Norway spruce, hotly pursued by the male bluebird. It was a brown
streak and a blue streak pretty close together. The wrens had gone
to housecleaning, and the bluebird had returned to find his bed and
bedding being pitched out-of-doors, and had thereupon given the wrens
to understand in the most emphatic manner that he had no intention of
vacating the premises so early in the season. Day after day, for more
than two weeks, the male bluebird had to clear his premises of these
intruders. It occupied much of his time and not a little of mine, as
I sat with a book in a summer-house near by, laughing at his pretty
fury and spiteful onset. On two occasions the wren rushed under the
chair in which I sat, and a streak of blue lightning almost flashed
in my very face. One day, just as I had passed the tree in which the
cavity was placed, I heard the wren scream desperately; turning, I saw
the little vagabond fall into the grass with the wrathful bluebird
fairly upon him; the latter had returned just in time to catch him, and
was evidently bent on punishing him well. But in the squabble in the
grass the wren escaped and took refuge in the friendly evergreen. The
bluebird paused for a moment with outstretched wings looking for the
fugitive, then flew away. A score of times during the month of June did
I see the wren taxing every energy to get away from the bluebird. He
would dart into the stone wall, under the floor of the summer-house,
into the weeds,—anywhere to hide his diminished head. The bluebird,
with his bright coat, looked like an officer in uniform in pursuit of
some wicked, rusty little street gamin. Generally the favorite house
of refuge of the wrens was the little spruce, into which their pursuer
made no attempt to follow them. The female would sit concealed amid
the branches, chattering in a scolding, fretful way, while the male
with his eye upon his tormentor would perch on the topmost shoot and
sing. Why he sang at such times, whether in triumph and derision, or to
keep his courage up and reassure his mate, I could not make out. When
his song was suddenly cut short, and I glanced to see him dart down
into the spruce, my eye usually caught a twinkle of blue wings hovering
near. The wrens finally gave up the fight, and their enemies reared
their second brood in peace.

That the wren should use such coarse, refractory materials, especially
since it builds in holes where twigs are so awkward to carry and
adjust, is curious enough. All its congeners, the marsh wrens, the
Carolina wren, the winter wren, build of soft flexible materials. The
nest of the winter wren, and of the English "Jenny Wren," is mainly of
moss, and is a marvel of softness and warmth.

One day a swarm of honey-bees went into my chimney, and I mounted the
stack to see into which flue they had gone. As I craned my neck above
the sooty vent, with the bees humming about my ears, the first thing
my eye rested upon in the black interior was two long white pearls
upon a little shelf of twigs, the nest of the chimney swallow, or
swift,—honey, soot, and birds' eggs closely associated. The bees,
though in an unused flue, soon found the gas of anthracite that hovered
about the top of the chimney too much for them, and they left. But
the swallows are not repelled by smoke. They seem to have entirely
abandoned their former nesting-places in hollow trees and stumps and
to frequent only chimneys. A tireless bird, never perching, all day
upon the wing, and probably capable of flying one thousand miles in
twenty-four hours, they do not even stop to gather materials for their
nests, but snap off the small dry twigs from the treetops as they fly
by. Confine one of these swallows to a room and it will not perch,
but after flying till it becomes bewildered and exhausted, it clings
to the side of the wall till it dies. I once found one in my room on
returning, after several days' absence, in which life seemed nearly
extinct; its feet grasped my finger as I removed it from the wall,
but its eyes closed, and it seemed about on the point of joining its
companion which lay dead upon the floor. Tossing it into the air,
however, seemed to awaken its wonderful powers of flight, and away it
went straight toward the clouds. On the wing the chimney swallow looks
like an athlete stripped for the race. There is the least appearance
of quill and plumage of any of our birds, and, with all its speed and
marvelous evolutions, the effect of its flight is stiff and wiry. There
appears to be but one joint in the wing, and that next the body. This
peculiar inflexible motion of the wings, as if they were little sickles
of sheet iron, seems to be owing to the length and development of the
primary quills and the smallness of the secondary. The wing appears to
hinge only at the wrist. The barn swallow lines its rude masonry with
feathers, but the swift begins life on bare twigs, glued together by a
glue of home manufacture as adhesive as Spaulding's.

I have wondered if Emerson referred to any particular bird in these
lines from "The Problem:"—

     "Know'st thou what wove yon wood-bird's nest
      Of leaves, and feathers from her breast?"

Probably not, but simply availed himself of the general belief that
certain birds or fowls lined their nests with their own feathers. This
is notably true of the eider duck, and in a measure of our domestic
fowls, but so far as I know is not true of any of our small birds. The
barn swallow and house wren feather their nests at the expense of the
hens and geese. The winter wren picks up the feathers of the ruffed
grouse. The chickadee, Emerson's favorite bird, uses a few feathers
in its upholstering, but not its own. In England, I noticed that the
little willow warbler makes a free use of feathers from the poultry
yard. Many of our birds use hair in their nests, and the kingbird and
cedar-bird like wool. I have found a single feather of the bird's own
in the nest of the phœbe. Such a circumstance would perhaps justify
the poet.

About the first of June there is a nest in the woods upon the ground
with four creamy white eggs in it, spotted with brown or lilac, chiefly
about the larger ends, that always gives the walker, who is so lucky
as to find it, a thrill of pleasure. It is like a ground sparrow's
nest with a roof or canopy to it. The little brown or olive backed
bird starts away from your feet and runs swiftly and almost silently
over the dry leaves, and then turns her speckled breast to see if
you are following. She walks very prettily, by far the prettiest
pedestrian in the woods. But if she thinks you have discovered her
secret, she feigns lameness and disability of both legs and wing, to
decoy you into the pursuit of her. This is the golden-crowned thrush,
or accentor, a strictly wood bird, about the size of a song sparrow,
with the dullest of gold upon his crown, but the brightest of songs in
his heart. The last nest of this bird I found was while in quest of the
pink cypripedium. We suddenly spied a couple of the flowers a few steps
from the path along which we were walking, and had stooped to admire
them, when out sprang the bird from beside them, doubtless thinking she
was the subject of observation instead of the flowers that swung their
purple bells but a foot or two above her. But we never should have seen
her had she kept her place. She had found a rent in the matted carpet
of dry leaves and pine needles that covered the ground, and into this
had insinuated her nest, the leaves and needles forming a canopy above
it, sloping to the south and west, the source of the more frequent
summer rains.

At about the same time one finds the nest above described, if he
were to explore the woods very thoroughly, he might chance upon two
curious eggs lying upon the leaves as if dropped there by chance.
They are elliptical, both ends of a size, about an inch and a quarter
long, of a creamy white spotted with lavender. These are the eggs
of the whip-poor-will, a bird that has absolutely no architectural
instincts or gifts. Perhaps its wide, awkward mouth and short beak are
ill-adapted to carrying nest materials. It is awkward upon the ground
and awkward upon the tree, being unable to perch upon a limb, except
lengthwise of it.

The song and game birds lay pointed eggs, but the night birds lay round
or elliptical eggs.

The egg-collector sometimes stimulates a bird to lay an unusual number
of eggs. A youth, whose truthfulness I do not doubt, told me he once
induced a high-hole to lay twenty-nine eggs by robbing her of an egg
each day. The eggs became smaller and smaller, till the twenty-ninth
one was only the size of a chippie's egg. At this point the bird gave
up the contest.

There is a last egg of summer as well as a first egg of spring, but one
cannot name either with much confidence. Both the robin and the chippie
sometimes rear a third brood in August; but the birds that delay their
nesting till midsummer are the goldfinch and the cedar-bird, the former
waiting for the thistle to ripen its seeds, and the latter probably for
the appearance of certain insects which it takes on the wing. Often the
cedar-bird does not build till August, and will line its nest with wool
if it can get it, even in this sultry month. The eggs are marked and
colored, as if a white egg were to be spotted with brown, then colored
a pale blue, then again sharply dotted or blotched with blackish or
purplish spots.

But the most common August nest with me—early August—is that of the
goldfinch,—a deep, snug, compact nest, with no loose ends hanging,
placed in the fork of a small limb of an apple-tree, peach-tree, or
ornamental shade-tree. The eggs are a faint bluish white.

While the female is sitting, the male feeds her regularly. She calls
to him on his approach, or when she hears his voice passing by, in the
most affectionate, feminine, childlike tones, the only case I know of
where the sitting bird makes any sound while in the act of incubation.
When a rival male invades the tree, or approaches too near, the male
whose nest it holds pursues and reasons or expostulates with him in
the same bright, amicable, confiding tones. Indeed, most birds make
use of their sweetest notes in war. The song of love is the song of
battle, too. The male yellowbirds flit about from point to point,
apparently assuring each other of the highest sentiments of esteem and
consideration, at the same time that one intimates to the other that
he is carrying his joke a little too far. It has the effect of saying
with mild and good-humored surprise, "Why, my dear sir, this is my
territory; you surely do not mean to trespass; permit me to salute you,
and to escort you over the line." Yet the intruder does not always take
the hint. Occasionally the couple have a brief sparring match in the
air, and mount up and up, beak to beak, to a considerable height, but
rarely do they actually come to blows.

The yellowbird becomes active and conspicuous after the other birds
have nearly all withdrawn from the stage and become silent, their
broods reared and flown. August is his month, his festive season. It
is his turn now. The thistles are ripening their seeds, and his nest
is undisturbed by jay-bird or crow. He is the first bird I hear in
the morning, circling and swinging through the air in that peculiar
undulating flight, and calling out on the downward curve of each
stroke, "Here we go, here we go!" Every hour in the day he indulges in
his circling, billowy flight. It is a part of his musical performance.
His course at such times is a deeply undulating line, like the long
gentle roll of the summer sea, the distance from crest to crest or from
valley to valley being probably thirty feet; this distance is made with
but one brief beating of the wings on the downward curve. As he quickly
opens them, they give him a strong upward impulse, and he describes
the long arc with them closely folded. Thus, falling and recovering,
rising and sinking like dolphins in the sea, he courses through the
summer air. In marked contrast to this feat is his manner of flying
when he indulges in a brief outburst of song in the air. Now he flies
level, with broad expanded wings nearly as round and as concave as two
shells, which beat the air slowly. The song is the chief matter now,
and the wings are used only to keep him afloat while delivering it. In
the other case, the flight is the main concern, and the voice merely
punctuates it.

I know no autumn egg but a hen's egg, though a certain old farmer
tells me he finds a quail's nest full of eggs nearly every September;
but fall progeny of any kind has a belated start in life, and the
chances are against it.



There is something about the matchmaking of birds that is not easily
penetrated. The jealousies and rivalries of the males and of the
females are easily understood,—they are quite human; but those sudden
rushes of several males, some of them already mated, after one female,
with squeals and screams and a great clatter of wings,—what does it
mean? There is nothing human about that, unless it be illustrative
of a trait that has at times cropped out in the earlier races, and
which is still seen among the Esquimaux, where the male carries off
the female by force. But in these sudden sallies among the birds, the
female, so far as I have observed, is never carried off. One may see
half a dozen English sparrows engaged in what at first glance appears
to be a general mêlée in the gutter or on the sidewalk; but if you look
more closely you will see a single female in the midst of the mass,
beating off the males, who, with plumage puffed out and screaming and
chattering, are all making a set at her. She strikes right and left,
and seems to be equally displeased with them all. But her anger may
be all put on, and she may be giving the wink all the time to her
favorite. The Esquimaux maiden is said by Doctor Nansen to resist
stoutly being carried off even by the man she is desperately in love

In the latter half of April, we pass through what I call the "robin
racket,"—trains of three or four birds rushing pell-mell over the lawn
and fetching up in a tree or bush, or occasionally upon the ground, all
piping and screaming at the top of their voices, but whether in mirth
or anger it is hard to tell. The nucleus of the train is a female. One
cannot see that the males in pursuit of her are rivals; it seems rather
as if they had united to hustle her out of the place. But somehow the
matches are no doubt made and sealed during these mad rushes. Maybe the
female shouts out to her suitors, "Who touches me first wins," and away
she scurries like an arrow. The males shout out, "Agreed!" and away
they go in pursuit, each trying to outdo the other. The game is a brief
one. Before one can get the clew to it, the party has dispersed.

Earlier in the season the pretty sparring of the males is the chief
feature. You may see two robins apparently taking a walk or a run
together over the sward or along the road; only first one bird runs,
and then the other. They keep a few feet apart, stand very erect, and
the course of each describes the segment of an arc about the other,

      _____   _____   _____   _____   _____
     /     \ /     \ /     \ /     \ /     \

How courtly and deferential their manners toward each other are! often
they pipe a shrill, fine strain, audible only a few yards away. Then,
in a twinkling, one makes a spring and they are beak to beak, and
claw to claw, as they rise up a few feet into the air. But usually no
blow is delivered; not a feather is ruffled; each, I suppose, finds
the guard of the other perfect. Then they settle down upon the ground
again, and go through with the same running challenge as before. How
their breasts glow in the strong April sunlight; how perk and military
the bearing of each! Often they will run about each other in this way
for many rods. After a week or so the males seem to have fought all
their duels, when the rush and racket I have already described begins.

The bluebird wins his mate by the ardor of his attentions and the
sincerity of his compliments, and by finding a house ready built
which cannot be surpassed. The male bluebird is usually here several
days before the female, and he sounds forth his note as loudly and
eloquently as he can till she appears. On her appearance he flies at
once to the box or tree cavity upon which he has had his eye, and,
as he looks into it, calls and warbles in his most persuasive tones.
The female at such times is always shy and backward, and the contrast
in the manners of the two birds is as striking as the contrast in
their colors. The male is brilliant and ardent; the female is dim
and retiring, not to say indifferent. She may take a hasty peep into
the hole in the box or tree and then fly away, uttering a lonesome,
homesick note. Only by a wooing of many days is she to be fully won.

The past April I was witness one Sunday morning to the jealousies
that may rage in these little brown breasts. A pair of bluebirds had
apparently mated and decided to occupy a woodpecker's lodge in the
limb of an old apple-tree near my study. But that morning another male
appeared on the scene, and was bent on cutting the first male out, and
carrying off his bride. I happened to be near by when the two birds
came into collision. They fell to the grass, and kept their grip upon
each other for half a minute. Then they separated, and the first up
flew to the hole and called fondly to the female. This was too much
for the other male, and they clinched again and fell to the ground as
before. There they lay upon the grass, blue and brown intermingled. But
not a feather was tweaked out, or even disturbed, that I could see.
They simply held each other down. Then they separated again, and again
rushed upon each other. The battle raged for about fifteen minutes,
when one of the males—which one, of course, I could not tell—withdrew
and flew to a box under the eaves of the study, and exerted all the
eloquence he possessed to induce the female to come to him there. How
he warbled and called, and lifted his wings and flew to the entrance to
the box and called again! The female was evidently strongly attracted;
she would respond and fly about half way to an apple-tree, and look
toward him. The other male, in the mean time, did his best to persuade
her to cast her lot with him. He followed her to the tree toward his
rival, and then flew back to the nest and spread his plumage and
called and warbled, oh, so confidently, so fondly, so reassuringly!
When the female would return and peep into the hole in the tree, what
fine, joyous notes he would utter! then he would look in and twinkle
his wings, and say something his rival could not hear. This vocal and
pantomimic contest went on for a long time. The female was evidently
greatly shaken in her allegiance to the male in the old apple-tree. In
less than an hour another female responded to the male who had sought
the eaves of the study, and flew with him to the box. Whether this was
their first meeting or not I do not know, but it was clear enough that
the heart of the male was fixed upon the bride of his rival. He would
devote himself a moment to the new-comer, and then turn toward the old
apple-tree and call and lift his wings; then, apparently admonished
by the bird near him, would turn again to her and induce her to look
into the box and warble fondly; then up on a higher branch again, with
his attention directed toward his first love, between whom and himself
salutations seemed constantly passing. This little play went on for
some time, when the two females came into collision, and fell to the
ground tweaking each other spitefully. Then the four birds drifted away
from me down into the vineyard, where the males closed with each other
again and fell to the plowed ground and lay there a surprisingly long
time, nearly two minutes, as we calculated. Their wings were outspread,
and their forms were indistinguishable. They tugged at each other most
doggedly; one or the other brown breast was generally turned up,
partly overlaid by a blue coat. They were determined to make a finish
of it this time, but which got the better of the fight I could not
tell. But it was the last battle; they finally separated, neither,
apparently, any the worse for the encounter. The females fought two
more rounds, the males looking on and warbling approvingly when they
separated, and the two pairs drifted away in different directions. The
next day they were about the box and tree again, and seemed to have
definitely settled matters. Who won and who lost I do not know, but
two pairs of bluebirds have since been very busy and very happy about
the two nesting-places. One of the males I recognize as a bird that
appeared early in March; I recognize him from one peculiar note in the
midst of his warble, a note that suggests a whistle.

The matchmaking of the high-holes, which often comes under my
observation, is in marked contrast to that of the robins and bluebirds.
There does not appear to be any anger or any blows. The male or two
males will alight on a limb in front of the female, and go through with
a series of bowings and scrapings that are truly comical. He spreads
his tail, he puffs out his breast, he throws back his head, and then
bends his body to the right and to the left, uttering all the while a
curious musical hiccough. The female confronts him unmoved, but whether
her attitude is critical or defensive I cannot tell. Presently she
flies away, followed by her suitor or suitors, and the little comedy is
enacted on another stump or tree. Among all the woodpeckers the drum
plays an important part in the matchmaking. The male takes up his stand
on a dry, resonant limb, or on the ridgeboard of a building, and beats
the loudest call he is capable of. The downy woodpecker usually has a
particular branch to which he resorts for advertising his matrimonial
wants. A favorite drum of the high-holes about me is a hollow wooden
tube, a section of a pump, which stands as a bird-box upon my
summer-house. It is a good instrument; its tone is sharp and clear. A
high-hole alights upon it, and sends forth a rattle that can be heard
a long way off. Then he lifts up his head and utters that long April
call, _Wick, wick, wick, wick_. Then he drums again. If the female does
not find him, it is not because he does not make noise enough. But his
sounds are all welcome to the ear. They are simple and primitive and
voice well a certain sentiment of the April days. As I write these
lines I hear through the half-open door his call come up from a distant
field. Then I hear the steady hammering of one that has been for three
days trying to penetrate the weather boarding of the big icehouse by
the river, and reach the sawdust filling for a nesting-place.

Among our familiar birds the matchmaking of none other is quite so
pretty as that of the goldfinch. The goldfinches stay with us in lorn
flocks and clad in a dull-olive suit throughout the winter. In May the
males begin to put on their bright summer plumage. This is the result
of a kind of superficial moulting. Their feathers are not shed, but
their dusky covering or overalls are cast off. When the process is only
partly completed, the bird has a smutty, unpresentable appearance. But
we seldom see them at such times. They seem to retire from society.
When the change is complete, and the males have got their bright
uniforms of yellow and black, the courting begins. All the goldfinches
of a neighborhood collect together and hold a sort of musical festival.
To the number of many dozens they may be seen in some large tree,
all singing and calling in the most joyous and vivacious manner. The
males sing, and the females chirp and call. Whether there is actual
competition on a trial of musical abilities of the males before the
females or not I do not know. The best of feeling seems to pervade the
company; there is no sign of quarreling or fighting; "all goes merry as
a marriage bell," and the matches seem actually to be made during these
musical picnics. Before May is passed the birds are seen in couples,
and in June housekeeping usually begins. This I call the ideal of
love-making among birds, and is in striking contrast to the squabbles
and jealousies of most of our songsters.

I have known the goldfinches to keep up this musical and love-making
festival through three consecutive days of a cold northeast rain-storm.
Bedraggled, but ardent and happy, the birds were not to be dispersed by
wind or weather.

All the woodpeckers, so far as I have observed, drum up their mates;
the male advertises his wants by hammering upon a dry, resonant
limb, when in due time the female approaches and is duly courted and
won. The drumming of the ruffed grouse is for the same purpose; the
female hears, concludes to take a walk that way, approaches timidly,
is seen and admired, and the match is made. That the male accepts the
first female that offers herself is probable. Among all the birds the
choice, the selection, seems to belong to the female. The males court
promiscuously; the females choose discreetly. The grouse, unlike the
woodpecker, always carries his drum with him, which is his own proud
breast; yet, if undisturbed, he selects some particular log or rock
in the woods from which to sound forth his willingness to wed. What
determines the choice of the female it would be hard to say. Among
song-birds, it is probably the best songster, or the one whose voice
suits her taste best. Among birds of bright plumage, it is probably
the gayest dress; among the drummers, she is doubtless drawn by some
quality of the sound. Our ears and eyes are too coarse to note any
differences in these things, but doubtless the birds themselves note

Birds show many more human traits than do quadrupeds. That they
actually fall in love admits of no doubt; that there is a period of
courtship, during which the male uses all the arts he is capable of
to win his mate, is equally certain; that there are jealousies and
rivalries, and that the peace of families is often rudely disturbed
by outside males or females is a common observation. The females,
when they come to blows, fight much more spitefully and recklessly
than do the males. One species of bird has been known to care for the
young of another species which had been made orphans. The male turkey
will sometimes cover the eggs of his mate and hatch and rear the brood
alone. Altogether, birds often present some marked resemblances in
their actions to men, when love is the motive.

Mrs. Martin, in her "Home Life on an Ostrich Farm," relates this
curious incident:—

"One undutiful hen—having apparently imbibed advanced
notions—absolutely refused to sit at all, and the poor husband,
determined not to be disappointed of his little family, did all the
work himself, sitting bravely and patiently day and night, though
nearly dead with exhaustion, till the chicks were hatched out. The next
time this pair of birds had a nest, the cock's mind was firmly made up
that he would stand no more nonsense. He fought the hen [kicked her],
giving her so severe a thrashing that she was all but killed, and this
Petruchio-like treatment had the desired effect, for the wife never
again rebelled, but sat submissively."

In the case of another pair of ostriches of which Mrs. Martin tells,
the female was accidentally killed, when the male mourned her loss for
over two years, and would not look at another female. He wandered up
and down, up and down, the length of his camp, utterly disconsolate.
At last he mated again with a most magnificent hen, who ruled him
tyrannically; he became the most hen-pecked, or rather hen-kicked of



The best lesson I have had for a long time in the benefits of
contentment, and of the value of one's own nook or corner of the world,
however circumscribed it may be, as a point from which to observe
nature and life, comes to me from a prairie correspondent, an invalid
lady, confined to her room year in and year out, and yet who sees
more and appreciates more than many of us who have the freedom of a
whole continent. Having her permission, why should I not share these
letters with my readers, especially since there are other house-bound
or bed-bound invalids whom they may reach, and who may derive some
cheer or suggestion from them? Words uttered in a popular magazine like
"The Century" are like the vapors that go up from the ground and the
streams: they are sure to be carried far and wide, and to fall again as
rain or dew, and one little knows what thirsty plant or flower they may
reach and nourish. I am thinking of another fine spirit, couch-bound in
one of the northern New England States, who lives in a town that bears
the same name as that in which my Western correspondent resides, and
into whose chamber my slight and desultory papers have also brought
something of the breath of the fields and woods, and who in return has
given me many glimpses of nature through eyes purified by suffering.

Women are about the best lovers of nature, after all; at least of
nature in her milder and more familiar forms. The feminine character,
the feminine perceptions, intuitions, delicacy, sympathy, quickness,
etc., are more responsive to natural forms and influences than is the
masculine mind.

My Western correspondent sees existence as from an altitude, and sees
where the complements and compensations come in. She lives upon the
prairie, and she says it is as the ocean to her, upon which she is
adrift, and always expects to be, until she reaches the other shore.
Her house is the ship which she never leaves. "What is visible from
my window is the sea, changing only from winter to summer, as the sea
changes from storm to sunshine. But there is one advantage,—messages
can come to me continually from all the wide world."

One summer she wrote she had been hoping to be well enough to renew her
acquaintance with the birds, the flowers, the woods, but instead was
confined to her room more closely than ever.

"It is a disappointment to me, but I decided long ago that the wisest
plan is to make the best of things; to take what is given you, and make
the most of it. To gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost,
applies to one's life as well as to other things. Though I cannot walk,
I can think and read and write; probably I get my share of pleasure
from sources that well people are apt to neglect. I have learned that
the way to be happy is to keep so busy that thoughts of self are forced
out of sight; and to live for others, not for ourselves.

"Sometimes, when I think over the matter, I am half sorry for well
people, because, you see, I have so much better company than they can
have, for I have so much more time to go all over the world and meet
all the best and wisest people in it. Some of them died long ago to
the most of people, but to me they are just as much alive as they
ever were; they give me their best and wisest thoughts, without the
disagreeable accompaniments others must endure. Other people use their
eyes and ears and pens for me; all I have to do is to sit still and
enjoy the results. Dear friends I have everywhere, though I am unknown
to them; what right have I to wish for more privileges than I have?"

There is philosophy for you,—philosophy which looks fate out of
countenance. It seems that if we only have the fortitude to take the
ills of life cheerfully and say to fortune, "Thy worst is good enough
for me," behold the worst is already repentant and fast changing to the
best. Love softens the heart of the inevitable. The magic phrase which
turns the evil spirits into good angels is, "I am contented." Happiness
is always at one's elbow, it seems, in one disguise or another; all one
has to do is to stop seeking it afar, or stop _seeking_ it at all, and
say to this unwelcome attendant, "Be thou my friend," when, lo! the
mask falls, and the angel is disclosed. Certain rare spirits in this
world have accepted poverty with such love and pride that riches at
once became contemptible.

My correspondent has the gift of observation. In renouncing self, she
has opened the door for many other things to enter. In cultivating the
present moment, she cultivates the present incident. The power to see
things comes of that mental attitude which is directed to the now and
the here: keen, alert perceptions, those faculties that lead the mind
and take the incident as it flies. Most people fail to see things,
because the print is too small for their vision; they read only the
large-lettered events like the newspaper headings, and are apt to miss
a part of these, unless they see in some way their own initials there.

The small type of the lives of bird and beast about her is easily read
by this cheerful invalid. "To understand that the sky is everywhere
blue," says Goethe, "we need not go around the world;" and it would
seem that this woman has got all the good and pleasure there is in
natural history from the pets in her room, and the birds that build
before her window. I had been for a long time trying to determine
whether or not the blue jay hoarded up nuts for winter use, but had not
been able to settle the point. I applied to her, and, sitting by her
window, she discovered that jays do indeed hoard food in a tentative,
childish kind of way, but not with the cunning and provident foresight
of the squirrels and native mice. She saw a jay fly to the ground with
what proved to be a peanut in its beak, and carefully cover it up with
leaves and grass. "The next fall, looking out of my own window, I saw
two jays hiding chestnuts with the same blind instinct. They brought
them from a near tree, and covered them up in the grass, putting but
one in a place. Subsequently, in another locality, I saw jays similarly
employed. It appears to be simply the crow instinct to steal, or to
carry away and hide any superfluous morsel of food." The jays were
really planting chestnuts instead of hoarding them. There was no
possibility of such supplies being available in winter, and in spring
a young tree might spring from each nut. This fact doubtless furnishes
a key to the problem why a forest of pine is usually succeeded by a
forest of oak. The acorns are planted by the jays. Their instinct for
hiding things prompts them to seek the more dark and secluded pine
woods with their booty, and the thick layer of needles furnishes an
admirable material with which to cover the nut. The germ sprouts and
remains a low slender shoot for years, or until the pine woods are cut
away, when it rapidly becomes a tree.

My correspondent thinks the birds possess some of the frailties of
human beings; among other things, ficklemindedness. "I believe they
build nests just for the fun of it, to pass away the time, to have
something to chatter about and dispute over." (I myself have seen a
robin play at nest-building late in October, and have seen two young
bluebirds ensconce themselves in an old thrush's nest in the fall
and appear to amuse themselves like children, while the wind made
the branch sway to and fro.) "Now my wrens' nest is so situated that
nothing can disturb them, and where I can see it at any time. They have
often made a nest and left it. A year ago, during the latter part of
May, they built a nest, and in a few days they kicked everything out
of the box and did the work all over again, repeating the operation
all July, then left the country without accomplishing anything
further. This season they reared one brood, built another nest, and,
I think, laid one or more eggs, idled around a few weeks, and then
went away." (This last was probably a "cock-nest," built by the male
as a roosting-place.) "I have noticed, too, that blue jays build their
apology for a nest, and abandon it for another place in the same tree."
Her jays and wrens do not live together on the most amicable terms.
"I had much amusement while the jay was on the nest, watching the
actions of the wrens, whose nest was under the porch close by the oak.
Perched on a limb over the jay, the male wren sat flirting his tail and
scolding, evidently saying all the insulting things he could think of;
for, after enduring it for some time, the jay would fly off its nest in
a rage, and, with the evident intention of impaling Mr. Wren with his
bill, strike down vengefully and—find his bill fast in the bark, while
his enemy was somewhere else, squeaking in derision. They kept that up
day after day; but the wren is too lively to be caught by a large bird.

"I have never had the opportunity to discover whether there was any
difference in the dispositions of birds of the same species; it would
take a very close and extended observation to determine that; but I
do know there is as much difference between animals as between human
beings in that respect. Horses, cats, dogs, squirrels, all have their
own individuality. I have had five gray squirrels for pets, and even
their features were unlike. Fred and Sally were mates, who were kept
shut up in their cages all the time. Fred was wonderfully brave, would
strut and scold until there was something to be afraid of, then would
crouch down behind Sally and let her defend him, the sneak! He abused
her shamefully, but she never resented it. Being the larger, she could
have whipped him and not half tried; but she probably labored under
the impression, which is shared by some people, that it is a wife's
duty to submit to whatever abuse the husband chooses to inflict. Their
characters reminded me so strongly of some people I have seen that I
used to take Fred out and whip him regularly, as a sort of vicarious
punishment of those who deserved it. Chip was a gentle, pretty
squirrel, fond of being petted, spent most of her time in my pocket or
around my neck, but she died young; probably she was too good to live.

"Dick, lazy and a glutton, also died young, from over-eating. Chuck,
the present pet, has Satan's own temper—very ugly—but so intelligent
that she is the plague of our lives, though at the same time she is
a constant source of amusement. It is impossible to remain long angry
with her, however atrocious her crimes are. We are obliged to let
her run loose through the house, for, when shut up, she squeals and
chatters and rattles her cage so we can't endure it. From one piece
of mischief to another as fast as she can go, she requires constant
watching. She knows what is forbidden very well, for, if I chance to
look at her after she has been up to mischief, she quickly drops down
flat, spreads her tail over her back, looking all the time so very
innocent that she betrays herself. If I go towards her, she springs on
my back, where I cannot reach her to whip her. She never bites _me_,
but if others tease her she is very vicious. When I tease her, she
relieves her feelings by biting any one else who happens to be in the
room; and it is no slight matter being bitten by a squirrel's sharp
teeth. Knowing that the other members of the family are afraid of her,
she amuses herself by putting nuts in their shoes, down their necks, or
in their hair, then standing guard, so that if they remove the nuts she
flies at them.

"Chuck will remember an injury for months, and take revenge whenever
opportunity offers. She claims all the nuts and candy that come into
the house, searching Mr. B——'s pockets _on Sundays_, never on other
days. I don't see how she distinguishes, unless from the fact that he
comes home early on that day. Once, when she caught one of the girls
eating some of her nuts, she flew at her, bit her, and began carrying
off the nuts to hide as fast as she could. For months afterward she
would slip slyly up and bite the girl. She particularly despises my
brother, he teases her so, and gives her no chance to bite; so she gets
even with him by tearing up everything of his she can find,—his books,
his gloves, etc.; and if she can get into the closet where I keep the
soiled clothing, she will select such articles as belong to him, and
tear them up! And she has a wonderful memory; never forgets where
she puts things; people whom she has not seen for several years she

"She had the misfortune to have about two inches of her tail cut off,
by being caught in the door, which made it too short to be used for
wiping her face; it would slip out of her hands, making her stamp her
feet and chatter her teeth with anger. By experimenting, she found by
backing up in a corner it was prevented from slipping out of her reach.
Have had her five years; wonder how long their lives usually are? One
of my neighbors got a young squirrel, so young that it required milk;
so they got a small nursing-bottle for it. Until that squirrel was over
a year old, whenever he got hungry he would get his bottle and sit and
hold it up as if he thought that quite the proper way for a squirrel
to obtain his nourishment. It was utterly comical to see him. We have
no black squirrels; a few red ones, and a great many gray ones of
different kinds."

I was much interested in her pet squirrel, and made frequent inquiries
about it. A year later she writes: "My squirrel still lives and rules
the house. She has an enemy that causes her much trouble,—a rat that
comes into the wood-shed. I had noticed that, whenever she went out
there, she investigated the dark corners with care before she ventured
to play, but did not understand it till I chanced to be sitting in the
kitchen door once, as she was digging up a nut she had buried. Just as
she got it up, a great rat sprung on her back; there ensued a trial of
agility and strength to see which should have that nut. Neither seemed
to be angry, for they did not attempt to bite, but raced around the
shed, cuffing each other at every opportunity; sometimes one had the
nut, sometimes the other. I regret to say my squirrel, whenever she
grew tired, took a base advantage of the rat by coming and sitting
at my feet, gnawing the nut, and plainly showing by her motions her
exultation over her foe. Finally the rat became so exasperated that he
forgot prudence, and forced her to climb up on my shoulder.

"In an extract from a London paper I see it asserted that birds and
snakes cannot taste. As to the snakes I cannot say, but I know birds
can taste, from observing my canary when I give him something new to
eat. He will edge up to it carefully, take a bit, back off to meditate;
then, if he decides he likes it, he walks up boldly and eats his fill.
But if there is anything disagreeable in what I offer him, acid, for
instance, there is such a fuss! He scrapes his bill, raises and lowers
the feathers on the top of his head, giving one the impression that he
is making a wry face. He cannot be induced to touch it a second time.

"I have taught him to think I am afraid of him, and how he tyrannizes
over me, chasing me from place to place, pecking and squeaking! He
delights in pulling out my hair. When knitting or crocheting, he tries
to prevent my pulling the yarn by standing on it; when that fails, he
takes hold with his bill and pulls with all his little might."

Some persons have a special gift or quality that enables them to
sustain more intimate relations with wild creatures than others. Women,
as a rule, are ridiculously afraid of cattle and horses turned loose in
a field, but my correspondent, when a young girl, had many a lark with
the prairie colts. "Is it not strange," she says, "that a horse will
rarely hurt a child, or any person that is fond of them? To see a drove
of a hundred or even a hundred and fifty unbroken colts branded and
turned out to grow up was a common occurrence then [in her childhood].
I could go among them, catch them, climb on their backs, and they never
offered to hurt me; they seemed to consider it _fun_. They would come
up and touch me with their noses, and prance off around and around me;
but just let a man come near them, and they were off like the wind."

All her reminiscences of her early life in Iowa, thirty years ago, are
deeply interesting to me. Her parents, a Boston family, moved to that
part of the State in advance of the railroads, making the journey from
the Mississippi in a wagon. "My father had been fortunate enough to
find a farm with a frame house upon it (the houses were mostly log
ones) built by an Englishman whose homesickness had driven him back to
England. It stood upon a slight elevation in the midst of a prairie,
though not a very level one. To the east and to the west of us, about
four miles away, were the woods along the banks of the streams. It was
in the month of June when we came, and the prairie was tinted pink with
wild roses. From early spring till late in the fall the ground used to
be so covered with some kinds of flowers that it had almost as decided
a color as the sky itself, and the air would be fragrant with their
perfume. First it is white with 'dog-toes' [probably an orchid], then
a cold blue from being covered with some kind of light-blue flower;
next come the roses; in July and August it is pink with the 'prairie
pink,' dotted with scarlet lilies; as autumn comes on, it is vivid
with orange-colored flowers. I never knew their names; they have woody
stalks; one kind that grows about a foot high has a feathery spray of
little blossoms [goldenrod?]. There are several kinds of tall ones;
the blossom has yellow leaves and brown velvety centres [cone-flower,
or rudbeckia, probably, now common in the East]. We youngsters used to
gather the gum that exuded from the stalk. Every one was poor in those
days, and no one was ashamed of it. Plenty to eat, such as it was. We
introduced some innovations in that line that shocked the people here.
We used _corn meal_; they said it was only fit for hogs. Worse than
that, we ate 'greens,'—weeds, they called them. It does not seem
possible, but it is a fact, that with all those fertile acres around
them waiting for cultivation, and to be had almost for the asking,
those people (they were mainly Hoosiers) lived on fried salt pork
swimming in fat, and hot biscuit, all the year round; no variety, no
vegetables, no butter saved for winter use, no milk after cold weather
began, for it was too much trouble to milk the cows—_such_ a shiftless
set! And the hogs they raised,—you should have seen them! 'Prairie
sharks' and 'razor-backs' were the local names for them, and either
name fitted them; long noses, long legs, bodies about five inches
thick, and no amount of food would make them fat. They were allowed
to run wild to save the trouble of caring for them, and when the
pork-barrel was empty they _shot_ one.

"Everybody drove oxen and used lumber-wagons with a board across the
box for a seat. How did we ever endure it, riding over the roadless
prairies! Then, any one who owned a horse was considered an aristocrat
and despised accordingly. One yoke of oxen that we had were not to be
sneezed at as a fast team. They were trained to trot, and would make
good time, too. [I love to hear oxen praised. An old Michigan farmer,
an early settler, told me of a famous pair of oxen he once had; he
spoke of them with great affection. They would draw any log he hitched
them to. When they had felt of the log and found they had their match,
he said they would nudge each other, give their tails a kink, lift up
their heads, and say _eh-h-h-h!_ then something had to come.]

"One phrase you used in your last letter—'the start from the
stump'—shows how locality governs the illustrations we use. The start
was not from the _stump_ here, quite the reverse. Nature made the
land ready for man's hand, and there were no obstacles in the shape
of stumps and stones to overcome. Probably in the East a pine-stump
fence is not regarded as either particularly attractive or odd; but
to me, when I first saw one in York State, it was both. I had never
even heard of the stumps being utilized in that way. Seen for the
first time, there is something grotesque in the appearance of those
long arms forever reaching out after something they never find,
like a petrified octopus. Those fences are an evidence of Eastern
thrift,—making an enemy serve as a friend. I think they would frighten
our horses and cattle, used as they are to the almost invisible wire
fence. 'Worm' fences were the fashion at first. But they soon learned
the necessity of economizing wood. The people were extravagant, too,
in the outlay of power in tilling the soil, sixteen yoke of oxen being
thought absolutely necessary to run a breaking-plow; and I have seen
twenty yoke used, requiring three men to drive and attend the great
clumsy plow. Every summer you might see them in any direction, looking
like 'thousand-legged worms.' They found out after a while that two
yoke answered quite as well. There is something very queer about the
bowlders that are supposed to have been brought down from northern
regions during the glacial period; like Banquo's ghost, they refuse to
stay down. Other stones beside them gradually become buried, but the
bowlders are always on top of the ground. Is there something repellent
about them, that the earth refuses to cover them? They seem to be of no
use, for they cannot be worked as other stone; they have to be broken
open with heat in some way, though I did see a building made of them
once. The bowlders had been broken and put in big squares and little
squares, oblong pieces and triangles. The effect was curious, if not

"In those days there were such quantities of game-birds, it was the
sportsman's paradise, and during the summer a great many gunners from
the cities came there. Prairie-chickens without number, as great a
nuisance as the crows in the East, only we could eat them to pay for
the grain they ate; also geese, turkeys, ducks, quail, and pigeons.
Did you ever hear the prairie-chickens during the spring? I never felt
sure spring had come to stay till, in the early morning, there came the
boom of the chickens, _Poor old booff_. It is an indescribable sound,
as if there were a thousand saying the same thing and keeping perfect
time. No trouble then getting a child up early in the morning, for it
is time for hunting prairie-chickens' nests. In the most unexpected
places in the wild grass the nests would be found, with about sixteen
eggs in them, looking somewhat like a guinea-hen's egg. Of course, an
omelet made out of them tasted ever so much better than if made out
of home-laid eggs; now I should not like the taste so well, probably,
for there is a wild flavor to the egg, as there is to the flesh of the
bird. Many a time I've stepped right into the nest, so well was it
hidden. After a prairie fire is a good time to go egging, the nests
being in plain sight and the eggs already roasted. I have tried again
and again to raise the chickens by setting the eggs under the tame
hens, but it cannot be done; they seem to inherit a shyness that makes
them refuse to eat, and at the first opportunity they slip off in the
grass and are gone. Every kind of food, even to live insects, they
will refuse, and will starve to death rather than eat in captivity.
There are but few chickens here now; they have taken Horace Greeley's
advice and gone west. As to four-footed game, there were any number of
the little prairie-wolves and some big gray ones. Could see the little
wolves running across the prairie any time o' day, and at night their
continual _yap, yap_ was almost unendurable. They developed a taste for
barn-yard fowl that made it necessary for hens to roost high. They are
cowards in the daytime, but brave enough to come close to the house at
night. If people had only had foxhounds, they would have afforded an
opportunity for some sport. I have seen people try to run them down on
horseback, but never knew them to succeed.

"One of my standard amusements was to go every little while to a den
the wolves had, where the rocks cropped out of the ground, and poke
in there with a stick, to see a wolf pop out scared almost to death.
As to the big wolves, it was dangerous sport to meddle with them. I
had an experience with them one winter that would have begotten a
desire to keep a proper distance from them, had I not felt it before.
An intensely cold night three of us were riding in an open wagon on
one seat. The road ran for about a mile through the woods, and as we
entered it four or five gray wolves sprang out at us; the horse needed
no urging, you may be sure, but to me it seemed an age before we got
out into the moonlight on the prairie; then the wolves slunk back into
the woods. Every leap they made it seemed as if they would jump into
the wagon. I could hear them strike against the back of it, and hear
their teeth _click_ together as they barely missed my hand where I held
on to the seat to keep from being thrown out. My most prominent desire
about that time was to sit in the middle, and let some one else have
the outside seat.

"Grandfather was very fond of trapping, and used to catch a great many
wolves for their skins and the bounty; also minks and muskrats. I
always had to help skin them, which I considered dreadful, especially
skinning the muskrats; but as that was the only condition under which
I was allowed to go along, of course I submitted, for I wouldn't
miss the excitement of seeing whether we had succeeded in outwitting
and catching the sly creatures for any consideration. The beautiful
minks, with their slender satiny bodies, it seemed a pity to catch
them. Muskrats I had no sympathy for, they looked so ratty, and had so
unpleasant a smell. The gophers were one of the greatest plagues the
farmers had. The ground would be dotted with their mounds, so round and
regular, the black dirt pulverized so finely. I always wondered how
they could make them of such a perfect shape, and wished I could see
way down into their houses. They have more than one entrance to them,
because I've tried to drown them out, and soon I would see what I took
to be my gopher, that I thought I had covered so nicely, skipping off.
They took so much corn out of the hills after it was planted that it
was customary to mix corn soaked with strychnine with the seed corn. Do
they have pocket gophers in the East? [No.] They are the cutest little
animals, with their pockets on each side of their necks, lined with
fur; when they get them stuffed full they look as broad as they are
long, and so saucy. I have met them, and had them show fight because I
wouldn't turn out of their path,—the little impudent things!

"One nuisance that goes along with civilization we escaped until the
railroad was built, and that was _rats_. The railroads brought other
nuisances, too, the weeds; they soon crowded out the native plants.
I don't want to be understood as calling _all_ weeds nuisances; the
beautiful flowers some of them bear save their reputations,—the
dandelion, for instance; I approve of the dandelion, whatever others
may think. I shall never forget the first one I found in the West; it
was like meeting an old friend. It grew alongside of an emigrant road,
about five miles from my home; here I spied the golden treasure in the
grass. Some of the many 'prairie schooners' that had passed that way
had probably dropped the one seed. Mother dug it up and planted it
in our flower-bed, and in two years the neighborhood was yellow with
them,—all from that one root. The prairies are gone now, and the wild
flowers, those that have not been civilized to death like the Indians,
have taken refuge in the fence-corners."

I had asked her what she knew about cranes, and she replied as

"During the first few years after we came West, cranes, especially
the sand-hill variety, were very plentiful. Any day in the summer you
might see a triangle of them flying over, with their long legs dragging
behind them; or, if you had sharp eyes, could see them stalking
along the sloughs sometimes found on the prairie. In the books I see
them described as being brown in color. Now I should not call them
brown, for they are more of a yellow. They are just the color of a
gosling, should it get its down somewhat soiled, and they look much
like overgrown goslings set up on stilts. I have often found their
nests, and always in the shallow water in the slough, built out of
sticks,—much as the children build cob-houses,—about a foot high,
with two large flat eggs in them. I have often tried to catch them on
their nests, so as to see how they disposed of their long legs, but
never quite succeeded. They are very shy, and their nests are always
so situated as to enable them to see in every direction. I had a great
desire to possess a pet crane, but every attempt to raise one resulted
in failure, all on account of those same slender legs.

"The egg I placed under a 'sitting hen' (one was as much as a hen
could conveniently manage); it would hatch out all right, and I had no
difficulty in feeding the young crane, for it would eat anything, and
showed no shyness,—quite different from a young prairie-chicken; in
fact, their tameness was the cause of their death, for, like Mary's
little lamb, they insisted on going everywhere I went. When they
followed me into the house, and stepped upon the smooth floor, one
leg would go in one direction and the other in the opposite, breaking
one or both of them. They seemed to be unable to walk upon any smooth
surface. Such ridiculous-looking things they were! I have seen a few
pure white ones, but only on the wing. They seem more shy than the
yellow ones.

"Once I saw a curious sight; I saw seven or eight cranes dance a
cotillon, or something very much like it. I have since read of wild
fowl performing in that way, but then I had never heard of it. They
were in a meadow about half a mile from the house; I did not at all
understand what they were doing, and proceeded to investigate. After
walking as near as I could without frightening them, I crept through
the tall grass until I was within a rod of the cranes, and then lay
and watched them. It was the most comical sight to see them waltz
around, sidle up to each other and back again, their long necks and
legs making the most clumsy motions. With a little stretch of the
imagination one might see a smirk on their faces, and suspect them of
caricaturing human beings. There seemed to be a regular method in their
movements, for the changes were repeated. How long they kept it up I
do not know, for I tired of it, and went back to the house, but they
had danced until the grass was trampled down hard and smooth. I always
had a mania for trying experiments, so I coaxed my mother to cook one
the men had shot, though I had never heard of any one's eating crane.
It was not very good, tasted somewhat peculiar, and the thought that
maybe it was poison struck me with horror. I was badly scared, for I
reflected that I had no proof that it was _not_ poison, and I had been
told so many times that I was bound to come to grief, sooner or later,
from trying to find out things."

I am always glad to have the views of a sensible person, outside of
the literary circles, upon my favorite authors, especially when the
views are spontaneous. "Speaking of Thoreau," says my correspondent,
"I am willing to allow most that is said in his praise, but _I do not
like him_, all the same. Do you know I feel that he was not altogether
human. There is something uncanny about him. I guess that, instead
of having a human soul, his body was inhabited by some sylvan deity
that flourished in Grecian times; he seemed out of place among human

Of Carlyle, too, she has an independent opinion. "It is a mystery to
me why men so universally admire Carlyle; women do not, or, if there
is occasionally one who does, she does not _like_ him. A woman's first
thought about him would be, 'I pity his wife!' Do you remember what he
said in answer to Mrs. Welsh's proposal to come and live with them and
help support them? He said they could only live pleasantly together on
the condition that she looked up to him, not he to her. Here is what
he says: 'Now, think, Liebchen, whether your mother will consent to
forget her riches and our poverty, and uncertain, more probably scanty,
income, and consent in the spirit of Christian meekness to make me her
guardian and director, and be a second wife to her daughter's husband?'
Now, isn't that insufferable conceit for you? To expect that a woman
old enough to be his mother would lay aside her self-respect and
individuality to accept him, a comparatively young and inexperienced
man, as her master? The cheekiness of it! Here you have the key-note of
his character,—'great I and little u.'

"I have tried faithfully to like him, for it seemed as if the fault
must be in me because I did not; I have labored wearily through nearly
all his works, stumbling over his superlatives (why, he is an adjective
factory; his pages look like the alphabet struck by a cyclone. You call
it picturesqueness; I call it grotesqueness). But it was of no use; it
makes me tired all over to think of it. All the time I said to myself,
'Oh, do stop your scolding; you are not so much better than the rest
of us.' One is willing to be led to a higher life, but who wants to be
pushed and cuffed along? How can people place him and our own Emerson,
the dear guide and friend of so many of us, on the same level? It may
be that the world had need of him, just as it needs lightning and rain
and cold and pain, but must we _like_ these things?"[109:1]

     [109:1] My correspondent was Mrs. Beardslee of Manchester,
     Iowa. She died in October, 1885.





My most interesting note of the season of 1893 relates to a weasel.
One day in early November, my boy and I were sitting on a rock at the
edge of a tamarack swamp in the woods, hoping to get a glimpse of some
grouse which we knew were in the habit of feeding in the swamp. We had
not sat there very long before we heard a slight rustling in the leaves
below us, which we at once fancied was made by the cautious tread of a
grouse. (We had no gun.) Presently, through the thick brushy growth,
we caught sight of a small animal running along, that we at first took
for a red squirrel. A moment more, and it came into full view but a few
yards from us, and we saw that it was a weasel. A second glance showed
that it carried something in its mouth which, as it drew near, we saw
was a mouse or a mole of some sort. The weasel ran nimbly along, now
the length of a decayed log, then over stones and branches, pausing
a moment every three or four yards, and passed within twenty feet of
us, and disappeared behind some rocks on the bank at the edge of the
swamp. "He is carrying food into his den," I said; "let us watch him."
In four or five minutes he reappeared, coming back over the course
along which he had just passed, running over and under the same stones
and down the same decayed log, and was soon out of sight in the swamp.
We had not moved, and evidently he had not noticed us. After about six
minutes we heard the same rustle as at first, and in a moment saw the
weasel coming back with another mouse in his mouth. He kept to his
former route as if chained to it, making the same pauses and gestures,
and repeating exactly his former movements. He disappeared on our left
as before, and, after a few moments' delay, reëmerged and took his
course down into the swamp again. We waited about the same length of
time as before, when back he came with another mouse. He evidently
had a big crop of mice down there amid the bogs and bushes, and he
was gathering his harvest in very industriously. We became curious
to see exactly where his den was, and so walked around where he had
seemed to disappear each time, and waited. He was as punctual as usual,
and was back with his game exactly on time. It happened that we had
stopped within two paces of his hole, so that, as he approached it, he
evidently discovered us. He paused, looked steadily at us, and then,
without any sign of fear, entered his den. The entrance was not under
the rocks as we had expected, but was in the bank a few feet beyond
them. We remained motionless for some time, but he did not reappear.
Our presence had made him suspicious, and he was going to wait a while.
Then I removed some dry leaves and exposed his doorway, a small, round
hole, hardly as large as the chipmunk makes, going straight down into
the ground. We had a lively curiosity to get a peep into his larder. If
he had been carrying in mice at this rate very long, his cellars must
be packed with them. With a sharp stick I began digging into the red
clayey soil, but soon encountered so many roots from near trees that I
gave it up, deciding to return next day with a mattock. So I repaired
the damages I had done as well as I could, replaced the leaves, and we
moved off.

The next day, which was mild and still as usual, I came back armed, as
I thought, to unearth the weasel and his treasures. I sat down where
we had sat the day before and awaited developments. I was curious to
know if the weasel was still carrying in his harvest. I had sat but a
few minutes when I heard again the rustle in the dry leaves, and saw
the weasel coming home with another mouse. I observed him till he had
made three trips; about every six or seven minutes, I calculated, he
brought in a mouse. Then I went and stood near his hole. This time he
had a fat meadow-mouse. He laid it down near the entrance, went in and
turned around, and reached out and drew the mouse in after him. That
store of mice I am bound to see, I thought, and then fell to with the
heavy mattock. I followed the hole down about two feet, when it turned
to the north. I kept the clew by thrusting into the passage slender
twigs; these it was easy to follow. Two or three feet more and the hole
branched, one part going west, the other northeast. I followed the west
one a few feet till it branched. Then I turned to the easterly tunnel,
and pursued it till it branched. I followed one of these ways till it
divided. I began to be embarrassed and hindered by the accumulations
of loose soil. Evidently this weasel had foreseen just such an assault
upon his castle as I was making, and had planned it accordingly. He was
not to be caught napping. I found several enlargements in the various
tunnels, breathing spaces, or spaces to turn around in, or to meet
and chat with a companion, but nothing that looked like a terminus, a
permanent living-room. I tried removing the soil a couple of paces away
with the mattock, but found it slow work. I was getting warm and tired,
and my task was apparently only just begun. The farther I dug the more
numerous and intricate became the passages. I concluded to stop, and
come again the next day, armed with a shovel in addition to the mattock.

Accordingly, I came back on the morrow, and fell to work vigorously.
I soon had quite a large excavation; I found the bank a labyrinth of
passages, with here and there a large chamber. One of the latter I
struck only six inches under the surface, by making a fresh breach a
few feet away.

While I was leaning upon my shovel-handle and recovering my breath, I
heard some light-footed creature tripping over the leaves above me just
out of view, which I fancied might be a squirrel. Presently I heard
the bay of a hound and the yelp of a cur, and then knew that a rabbit
had passed near me. The dogs came hurrying after, with a great rumpus,
and then presently the hunters followed. The dogs remained barking not
many rods south of me on the edge of the swamp, and I knew the rabbit
had run to hole. For half an hour or more I heard the hunters at work
there, digging their game out; then they came along and discovered me
at my work. (An old trapper and woodsman and his son.) I told them what
I was in quest of. "A mountain weasel," said the old man. "Seven or
eight years ago I used to set deadfalls for rabbits just over there,
and the game was always partly eaten up. It must have been this weasel
that visited my traps." So my game was evidently an old resident of
the place. This swamp, maybe, had been his hunting-ground for many
years, and he had added another hall to his dwelling each year. After
further digging, I struck at least one of his banqueting halls, a
cavity about the size of one's hat, arched over by a network of fine
tree-roots. The occupant evidently lodged or rested here also. There
was a warm, dry nest, made of leaves and the fur of mice and moles. I
took out two or three handfuls. In finding this chamber I had followed
one of the tunnels around till it brought me within a foot of the
original entrance. A few inches to one side of this cavity there was
what I took to be a back alley where the weasel threw his waste; there
were large masses of wet, decaying fur here, and fur pellets such as
are regurgitated by hawks and owls. In the nest there was the tail
of a flying squirrel, showing that the weasel sometimes had a flying
squirrel for supper or dinner.

I continued my digging with renewed energy; I should yet find the grand
depot where all these passages centred; but the farther I excavated,
the more complex and baffling the problem became; the ground was
honeycombed with passages. What enemy has this weasel, I said to
myself, that he should provide so many ways of escape, that he should
have a back door at every turn? To corner him would be impossible; to
be lost in his fortress were like being lost in Mammoth Cave. How he
could bewilder his pursuer by appearing now at this door, now at that;
now mocking him from the attic, now defying him from the cellar! So
far, I had discovered but one entrance; but some of the chambers were
so near the surface that it looked as if the planner had calculated
upon an emergency when he might want to reach daylight quickly in a new

Finally I paused, rested upon my shovel a while, eased my aching back
upon the ground, and then gave it up, feeling as I never had before the
force of the old saying, that you cannot catch a weasel asleep. I had
made an ugly hole in the bank, had handled over two or three times a
ton or more of earth, and was apparently no nearer the weasel and his
store of mice than when I began.

Then I regretted that I had broken into his castle at all; that I
had not contented myself with coming day after day and counting his
mice as he carried them in, and continued my observation upon him each
succeeding year. Now the rent in his fortress could not be repaired,
and he would doubtless move away, as he most certainly did, for his
doors, which I had closed with soil, remained unopened after winter had
set in.

But little seems known about the intimate private lives of any of our
lesser wild creatures. It was news to me that any of the weasels lived
in dens in this way, and that they stored up provision against a day of
need. This species was probably the little ermine, eight or nine inches
long, with tail about five inches. It was still in its summer dress of
dark chestnut-brown above and whitish below.

It was a mystery where the creature had put the earth which it must
have removed in digging its den; not a grain was to be seen anywhere,
and yet a bushel or more must have been taken out. Externally, there
was not the slightest sign of that curious habitation there under the
ground. The entrance was hidden beneath dry leaves, and was surrounded
by little passages and flourishes between the leaves and the ground.
If any of my readers find a weasel's den, I hope they will be wiser
than I was, and observe his goings and comings without disturbing his



Success in observing nature, as in so many other things, depends upon
alertness of mind and quickness to take a hint. One's perceptive
faculties must be like a trap lightly and delicately set; a touch must
suffice to spring it. But how many people have I walked with, whose
perceptions were rusty and unpracticed,—nothing less than a bear would
spring their trap! All the finer play of nature, all the small deer,
they miss. The little dramas and tragedies that are being enacted by
the wild creatures in the fields and woods are more or less veiled
and withdrawn; and the actors all stop when a spectator appears upon
the scene. One must be able to interpret the signs, to penetrate the
scenes, to put this and that together.

Then nature speaks a different language from our own; the successful
observer translates this language into human speech. He knows the
meaning of every sound, movement, gesture, and gives the human
equivalent. Careless or hasty observers, on the other hand, make the
mistake of reading their own thoughts or mental and emotional processes
into nature; plans and purposes are attributed to the wild creatures
which are quite beyond them. Some people in town saw an English sparrow
tangled up in a horsehair, and suspended from a tree, with other
sparrows fluttering and chattering about it. They concluded at once
that the sparrows had executed one of their number, doubtless for some
crime. I have several times seen sparrows suspended in this way about
their nesting and roosting places. Accidents happen to birds as well as
to other folks. But they do not yet imitate us in the matter of capital

One day I saw a little bush sparrow fluttering along in the grass,
disabled in some way, and a large number of its mates flitting and
calling about it. I captured the bird, and, in doing so, its struggles
in my hand broke the bond that held it—some kind of web or silken
insect thread that tied together the quills of one wing. When I let
it fly away, all its mates followed it as if wondering at the miracle
that had been wrought. They no doubt experienced some sort of emotion.
Birds sympathize with each other in their distress, and will make
common cause against an enemy. Crows will pursue and fight a tame crow.
They seem to look upon him as an alien and an enemy. He is never so
shapely and bright and polished as his wild brother. He is more or less
demoralized, and has lost caste. Probably a pack of wolves would in the
same way destroy a tame wolf, should such an one appear in their midst.
The wild creatures are human,—with a difference, a wide difference.
They have the keenest powers of perception,—what observers they are!
how quickly they take a hint—but they have little or no powers of
reflection. The crows do not meet in parliaments and caucuses, as has
been fancied, and try offenders, and discuss the tariff, or consider
ways and means. They are gregarious and social, and probably in the
fall have something like a reunion of the tribe. At least their vast
assemblages upon the hills at this season have a decidedly festive

The crow has fine manners. He always has the walk and air of a lord of
the soil. One morning I put out some fresh meat upon the snow near my
study window. Presently a crow came and carried it off, and alighted
with it upon the ground in the vineyard. While he was eating of it,
another crow came, and, alighting a few yards away, slowly walked up
to within a few feet of this fellow and stopped. I expected to see
a struggle over the food, as would have been the case with domestic
fowls or animals. Nothing of the kind. The feeding crow stopped eating,
regarded the other for a moment, made a gesture or two, and flew away.
Then the second crow went up to the food, and proceeded to take his
share. Presently the first crow came back, when each seized a portion
of the food and flew away with it. Their mutual respect and good-will
seemed perfect. Whether it really was so in our human sense, or whether
it was simply an illustration of the instinct of mutual support which
seems to prevail among gregarious birds, I know not. Birds that are
solitary in their habits, like hawks or woodpeckers, behave quite
differently toward each other in the presence of their food.

The lives of the wild creatures revolve about two facts or emotions,
appetite and fear. Their keenness in discovering food and in
discovering danger are alike remarkable. But man can nearly always
outwit them, because, while his perceptions are not as sharp, his
power of reflection is so much greater. His cunning carries a great
deal farther. The crow will quickly discover anything that looks like
a trap or snare set to catch him, but it takes him a long time to see
through the simplest contrivance. As I have above stated, I sometimes
place meat on the snow in front of my study window to attract him. On
one occasion, after a couple of crows had come to expect something
there daily, I suspended a piece of meat by a string from a branch
of the tree just over the spot where I usually placed the food. A
crow soon discovered it, and came into the tree to see what it meant.
His suspicions were aroused. There was some design in that suspended
meat evidently. It was a trap to catch him. He surveyed it from every
near branch. He peeked and pried, and was bent on penetrating the
mystery. He flew to the ground, and walked about and surveyed it from
all sides. Then he took a long walk down about the vineyard as if
in hope of hitting upon some clew. Then he came to the tree again,
and tried first one eye, then the other, upon it; then to the ground
beneath; then he went away and came back; then his fellow came, and
they both squinted and investigated, and then disappeared. Chickadees
and woodpeckers would alight upon the meat and peck it swinging in the
wind, but the crows were fearful. Does this show reflection? Perhaps
it does, but I look upon it rather as that instinct of fear and
cunning so characteristic of the crow. Two days passed thus: every
morning the crows came and surveyed the suspended meat from all points
in the tree, and then went away. The third day I placed a large bone
on the snow beneath the suspended morsel. Presently one of the crows
appeared in the tree, and bent his eye upon the tempting bone. "The
mystery deepens," he seemed to say to himself. But after half an hour's
investigation, and after approaching several times within a few feet of
the food upon the ground, he seemed to conclude there was no connection
between it and the piece hanging by the string. So he finally walked
up to it and fell to pecking it, flickering his wings all the time, as
a sign of his watchfulness. He also turned up his eye, momentarily, to
the piece in the air above, as if it might be some disguised sword of
Damocles ready to fall upon him. Soon his mate came and alighted on a
low branch of the tree. The feeding crow regarded him a moment, and
then flew up to his side, as if to give him a turn at the meat. But he
refused to run the risk. He evidently looked upon the whole thing as a
delusion and a snare, and presently went away, and his mate followed
him. Then I placed the bone in one of the main forks of the tree, but
the crows kept at a safe distance from it. Then I put it back to the
ground, but they grew more and more suspicious; some evil intent in it
all, they thought. Finally a dog carried off the bone, and the crows
ceased to visit the tree.



If one has always built one's nest upon the ground, and if one comes
of a race of ground-builders, it is a risky experiment to build in a
tree. The conditions are vastly different. One of my near neighbors,
a little song sparrow, learned this lesson the past season. She grew
ambitious; she departed from the traditions of her race, and placed her
nest in a tree. Such a pretty spot she chose, too—the pendent cradle
formed by the interlaced sprays of two parallel branches of a Norway
spruce. These branches shoot out almost horizontally; indeed, the lower
ones become quite so in spring, and the side shoots with which they
are clothed droop down, forming the slopes of miniature ridges; where
the slopes of two branches join, a little valley is formed which often
looks more stable than it really is. My sparrow selected one of these
little valleys about six feet from the ground, and quite near the walls
of the house. Here, she has thought, I will build my nest, and pass the
heat of June in a miniature Norway. This tree is the fir-clad mountain,
and this little vale on its side I select for my own. She carried
up a great quantity of coarse grass and straws for the foundation,
just as she would have done upon the ground. On the top of this mass
there gradually came into shape the delicate structure of her nest,
compacting and refining till its delicate carpet of hairs and threads
was reached. So sly as the little bird was about it, too,—every
moment on her guard lest you discover her secret! Five eggs were laid,
and incubation was far advanced, when the storms and winds came. The
cradle indeed did rock. The boughs did not break, but they swayed and
separated as you would part your two interlocked hands. The ground
of the little valley fairly gave way, the nest tilted over till its
contents fell into the chasm. It was like an earthquake that destroys a

No born tree-builder would have placed its nest in such a situation.
Birds that build at the end of the branch, like the oriole, tie the
nest fast; others, like the robin, build against the main trunk; still
others build securely in the fork. The sparrow, in her ignorance,
rested her house upon the spray of two branches, and when the tempest
came the branches parted company and the nest was engulfed.

Another sparrow friend of mine met with a curious mishap the past
season. It was the little social sparrow, or chippie. She built her
nest on the arm of a grapevine in the vineyard, a favorite place with
chippie. It had a fine canopy of leaves, and was firmly and securely
placed. Just above it hung a bunch of young grapes, which in the warm
July days grew very rapidly. The little bird had not foreseen the
calamity that threatened her. The grapes grew down into her nest and
completely filled it, so that, when I put my hand in, there were the
eggs sat upon by the grapes. The bird was crowded out, and had perforce
abandoned her nest, ejected by a bunch of grapes. How long she held
her ground I do not know; probably till the fruit began to press
heavily upon her.



It is a curious habit the wood thrush has of starting its nest with a
fragment of newspaper or other paper. Except in remote woods, I think
it nearly always puts a piece of paper in the foundation of its nest.
Last spring I chanced to be sitting near a tree in which a wood thrush
had concluded to build. She came with a piece of paper nearly as large
as my hand, placed it upon the branch, stood upon it a moment, and
then flew down to the ground. A little puff of wind caused the paper
to leave the branch a moment afterward. The thrush watched it eddy
slowly down to the ground, when she seized it and carried it back. She
placed it in position as before, stood upon it again for a moment,
and then flew away. Again the paper left the branch, and sailed away
slowly to the ground. The bird seized it again, jerking it about rather
spitefully, I thought; she turned it around two or three times, then
labored back to the branch with it, upon which she shifted it about as
if to hit upon some position in which it would lie more securely. This
time she sat down upon it for a moment, and then went away, doubtless
with the thought in her head that she would bring something to hold
it down. The perverse paper followed her in a few seconds. She seized
it again, and hustled it about more than before. As she rose with
it toward the nest, it in some way impeded her flight, and she was
compelled to return to the ground with it. But she kept her temper
remarkably well. She turned the paper over and took it up in her beak
several times before she was satisfied with her hold, and then carried
it back to the branch, where, however, it would not stay. I saw her
make six trials of it, when I was called away. I think she finally
abandoned the restless fragment, probably a scrap that held some
"breezy" piece of writing, for later in the season I examined the nest
and found no paper in it.



In walking through the woods one day in early winter, we read upon the
newly fallen snow the record of a mink's fright the night before. The
mink had been traveling through the woods post-haste, not along the
watercourses where one sees them by day, but over ridges and across
valleys. We followed his track some distance to see what adventures
he had met with. We tracked him through a bushy swamp, saw where he
had left it to explore a pile of rocks, then where he had taken to the
swamp again, then to the more open woods. Presently the track turned
sharply about, and doubled upon itself in long hurried strides. What
had caused the mink to change its mind so suddenly? We explored a few
paces ahead, and came upon a fox track. The mink had seen the fox
stalking stealthily through the woods, and the sight had probably
brought his heart into his mouth. I think he climbed a tree, and waited
till the fox passed. His track disappeared amid a clump of hemlocks,
and then reappeared again a little beyond them. It described a big
loop around, and then crossed the fox track only a few yards from the
point where its course was interrupted. Then it followed a little
watercourse, went under a rude bridge in a wood-road, then mingled with
squirrel tracks in a denser part of the thicket. If the mink met a
muskrat or a rabbit in his travels, or came upon a grouse, or quail, or
a farmer's hen-roost, he had the supper he was in quest of.



The eye always sees what it wants to see, and the ear hears what it
wants to hear. If I am intent upon birds'-nests in my walk, I find
birds'-nests everywhere. Some people see four-leaved clovers wherever
they look in the grass. A friend of mine picks up Indian relics all
about the fields; he has Indian relics in his eye. I have seen him
turn out of the path at right angles, as a dog will when he scents
something, and walk straight away several rods, and pick up an Indian
pounding-stone. He saw it out of the corner of his eye. I find that
without conscious effort I see and hear birds with like ease. Eye and
ear are always on the alert.

One day in early June I was walking with some friends along a secluded
wood-road. Above the hum of the conversation I caught the distressed
cry of a pair of blue jays. My companions heard it also, but did not
heed it.

But to my ear the cry was peculiar. It was uttered in a tone of anguish
and alarm. I said, "Let us see what is the trouble with these jays."
I presently saw a nest twenty-five or thirty feet from the ground in
a small hemlock which I at once concluded belonged to the jays. The
birds were but a few yards away, hopping about amid the neighboring
branches, uttering now and then their despairing note. Looking more
intently at the nest, I became aware in the dim light of the tree of
something looped about it, or else there was a dark, very crooked limb
that partly held it. Suspecting the true nature of the case, I threw a
stone up through the branches, and then another and another, when the
dark loops and folds upon one side of the nest began to disappear, and
the head and neck of a black snake to slowly slide out on a horizontal
branch on the other; in a moment the snake had cleared the nest, and
stretched himself along the branch.

Another rock-fragment jarred his perch, when he slid cautiously along
toward the branch of a large pine-tree which came out and mingled its
spray with that of the hemlock. It was soon apparent that the snake
was going to take refuge in the pine. As he made the passage from one
tree to the other, we sought to dislodge him by a shower of sticks and
stones, but without success; he was soon upon a large branch of the
pine, and, stretched out on top of the limb, thought himself quite
hidden. And so he was; but we knew his hiding-place, and the stones
and clubs we hurled soon made him uneasy. Presently a club struck the
branch with such force that he was fairly dislodged, but saved himself
by quickly wrapping his tail about the limb. In this position he hung
for some moments, but the intervening branches shielded him pretty well
from our missiles, and he soon recovered himself and gained a still
higher branch that reached out over the road and nearly made a bridge
to the trees on the other side.

Seeing the monster was likely to escape us, unless we assailed him
at closer quarters, I determined to climb the tree. A smaller tree
growing near helped me up to the first branches, where the ascent
was not very difficult. I finally reached the branch upon which the
snake was carefully poised, and began shaking it. But he did not come
down; he wrapped his tail about it, and defied me. My own position was
precarious, and I was obliged to move with great circumspection.

After much manœuvring I succeeded in arming myself with a dry branch
eight or ten feet long, where I had the serpent at a disadvantage. He
kept his hold well. I clubbed him about from branch to branch, while my
friends, with cautions and directions, looked on from beneath. Neither
man nor snake will indulge in very lively antics in a treetop thirty or
forty feet from the ground. But at last I dislodged him, and, swinging
and looping like a piece of rubber hose, he went to the ground, where
my friends pounced upon him savagely and quickly made an end of him.

I worked my way carefully down the tree, and was about to drop upon the
ground from the lower branches, when I saw another black snake coiled
up at the foot of the tree, as if lying in wait for me. Had he started
to his mate's rescue, and, seeing the battle over, was he now waiting
to avenge himself upon the victor? But the odds were against him; my
friends soon had him stretched beside his comrade.

The first snake killed had swallowed two young jays just beginning to
feather out.

How the serpent discovered the nest would be very interesting to know.
What led him to search in this particular tree amid all these hundreds
of trees that surrounded it? It is probable that the snake watches like
a cat, or, having seen the parent birds about this tree, explored it.
Nests upon the ground and in low boughs are frequently rifled by black
snakes, but I have never before known one to climb to such a height in
a forest tree.

It would also be interesting to know if the other snake was in the
secret of this nest, and was waiting near to share in its contents.
One rarely has the patience to let these little dramas or tragedies be
played to the end; one cannot look quietly on, and see a snake devour
anything. Not even when it is snake eat snake. Only a few days later my
little boy called me to the garden to see a black snake in the act of
swallowing a garter snake. The little snake was holding back with all
his might and main, hooking his tail about the blackberry bushes, and
pulling desperately; still his black enemy was slowly engulfing him,
and had accomplished about eight or ten inches of him, when he suddenly
grew alarmed at some motion of ours, and ejected the little snake
from him with unexpected ease and quickness, and tried to escape. The
little snake's head was bleeding, but he did not seem otherwise to have
suffered from the adventure.

Still a few days later, the man who was mowing the lawn called to me to
come and witness a similar tragedy, but on a smaller scale,—a garter
snake swallowing a little green snake. Half the length of the green
snake had disappeared from sight, and it was quite dead. The process
had been a slow one, as the garter snake was only two or three inches
longer than his victim. There seems to be a sort of poetic justice in
snake swallowing snake, shark eating shark, and one can look on with
more composure than when a bird or frog is the victim. It is said that
in the deep sea there is a fish that will swallow another fish eight
or ten times its own size. It seizes its victim by the tail and slowly
sucks it in, stretching and expanding itself at the same time, and
probably digesting the big fish by inches, till, after many days, it is
completely engulfed. Would it be hard to find something analogous to
this in life, especially in American politics?



Most country boys, I fancy, know the marsh hawk. It is he you see
flying low over the fields, beating about bushes and marshes and
dipping over the fences, with his attention directed to the ground
beneath him. He is a cat on wings. He keeps so low that the birds and
mice do not see him till he is fairly upon them. The hen-hawk swoops
down upon the meadow-mouse from his position high in air, or from the
top of a dead tree; but the marsh hawk stalks him and comes suddenly
upon him from over the fence, or from behind a low bush or tuft of
grass. He is nearly as large as the hen-hawk, but has a much longer
tail. When I was a boy I used to call him the long-tailed hawk. The
male is a bluish slate color; the female a reddish brown, like the
hen-hawk, with a white rump.

Unlike the other hawks, they nest on the ground in low, thick marshy
places. For several seasons a pair have nested in a bushy marsh a few
miles back of me, near the house of a farmer friend of mine, who has
a keen eye for the wild life about him. Two years ago he found the
nest, but when I got over to see it the next week, it had been robbed,
probably by some boys in the neighborhood. The past season, in April
or May, by watching the mother bird, he found the nest again. It was in
a marshy place, several acres in extent, in the bottom of a valley, and
thickly grown with hardhack, prickly ash, smilax, and other low thorny
bushes. My friend brought me to the brink of a low hill, and pointed
out to me in the marsh below us, as nearly as he could, just where the
nest was located. Then we crossed the pasture, entered upon the marsh,
and made our way cautiously toward it. The wild thorny growths, waist
high, had to be carefully dealt with. As we neared the spot I used my
eyes the best I could, but I did not see the hawk till she sprang into
the air not ten yards away from us. She went screaming upward, and was
soon sailing in a circle far above us. There, on a coarse matting of
twigs and weeds, lay five snow-white eggs, a little more than half as
large as hens' eggs. My companion said the male hawk would probably
soon appear and join the female, but he did not. She kept drifting away
to the east, and was soon gone from our sight.

We soon withdrew and secreted ourselves behind the stone wall, in hopes
of seeing the mother hawk return. She appeared in the distance, but
seemed to know she was being watched, and kept away. About ten days
later we made another visit to the nest. An adventurous young Chicago
lady also wanted to see a hawk's nest, and so accompanied us. This
time three of the eggs were hatched, and as the mother hawk sprang
up, either by accident or intentionally, she threw two of the young
hawks some feet from the nest. She rose up and screamed angrily. Then,
turning toward us, she came like an arrow straight at the young lady, a
bright plume in whose hat probably drew her fire. The damsel gathered
up her skirts about her and beat a hasty retreat. Hawks were not so
pretty as she thought they were. A large hawk launched at one's face
from high in the air is calculated to make one a little nervous. It is
such a fearful incline down which the bird comes, and she is aiming
exactly toward your eye. When within about thirty feet of you, she
turns upward with a rushing sound, and, mounting higher falls toward
you again. She is only firing blank cartridges, as it were; but it
usually has the desired effect, and beats the enemy off.

After we had inspected the young hawks, a neighbor of my friend offered
to conduct us to a quail's nest. Anything in the shape of a nest is
always welcome, it is such a mystery, such a centre of interest and
affection, and, if upon the ground, is usually something so dainty and
exquisite amid the natural wreckage and confusion. A ground-nest seems
so exposed, too, that it always gives a little thrill of pleasurable
surprise to see the group of frail eggs resting there behind so slight
a barrier. I will walk a long distance any day just to see a song
sparrow's nest amid the stubble or under a tuft of grass. It is a jewel
in a rosette of jewels, with a frill of weeds or turf. A quail's nest
I had never seen, and to be shown one within the hunting-ground of
this murderous hawk would be a double pleasure. Such a quiet, secluded,
grass-grown highway as we moved along was itself a rare treat.
Sequestered was the word that the little valley suggested, and peace
the feeling the road evoked. The farmer, whose fields lay about us,
half grown with weeds and bushes, evidently did not make stir or noise
enough to disturb anything. Beside this rustic highway, bounded by old
mossy stone walls, and within a stone's throw of the farmer's barn,
the quail had made her nest. It was just under the edge of a prostrate

"The nest is right there," said the farmer, pausing within ten feet of
it, and pointing to the spot with his stick.

In a moment or two we could make out the mottled brown plumage of the
sitting bird. Then we approached her cautiously till we bent above her.

She never moved a feather.

Then I put my cane down in the brush behind her. We wanted to see the
eggs, yet did not want rudely to disturb the sitting hen.

She would not move.

Then I put down my hand within a few inches of her; still she kept her
place. Should we have to lift her off bodily?

Then the young lady put down her hand, probably the prettiest and the
whitest hand the quail had ever seen. At least it started her, and
off she sprang, uncovering such a crowded nest of eggs as I had never
before beheld. Twenty-one of them! a ring or disk of white like a
china tea-saucer. You could not help saying how pretty, how cunning,
like baby hens' eggs, as if the bird was playing at sitting as children
play at housekeeping.

If I had known how crowded her nest was, I should not have dared
disturb her, for fear she would break some of them. But not an egg
suffered harm by her sudden flight; and no harm came to the nest
afterward. Every egg hatched, I was told, and the little chicks, hardly
bigger than bumblebees, were led away by the mother into the fields.

In about a week I paid another visit to the hawk's nest. The eggs were
all hatched, and the mother bird was hovering near. I shall never
forget the curious expression of those young hawks sitting there on the
ground. The expression was not one of youth, but of extreme age. Such
an ancient, infirm look as they had,—the sharp, dark, and shrunken
look about the face and eyes, and their feeble, tottering motions! They
sat upon their elbows and the hind part of their bodies, and their
pale, withered legs and feet extended before them in the most helpless
fashion. Their angular bodies were covered with a pale yellowish down,
like that of a chicken; their heads had a plucked, seedy appearance;
and their long, strong, naked wings hung down by their sides till they
touched the ground: power and ferocity in the first rude draught, shorn
of everything but its sinister ugliness. Another curious thing was the
gradation of the young in size; they tapered down regularly from the
first to the fifth, as if there had been, as probably there was, an
interval of a day or two between the hatching of each.

The two older ones showed some signs of fear on our approach, and one
of them threw himself upon his back, and put up his impotent legs, and
glared at us with open beak. The two smaller ones regarded us not at
all. Neither of the parent birds appeared during our stay.

When I visited the nest again, eight or ten days later, the birds were
much grown, but of as marked a difference in size as before, and with
the same look of extreme old age,—old age in men of the aquiline
type, nose and chin coming together, and eyes large and sunken. They
now glared upon us with a wild, savage look, and opened their beaks

The next week, when my friend visited the nest, the larger of the
hawks fought him savagely. But one of the brood, probably the last to
hatch, had made but little growth. It appeared to be on the point of
starvation. The mother hawk (for the male seemed to have disappeared)
had doubtless found her family too large for her, and was deliberately
allowing one of the number to perish; or did the larger and stronger
young devour all the food before the weaker member could obtain any?
Probably this was the case.

Arthur brought the feeble nestling away, and the same day my little boy
got it and brought it home, wrapped in a woolen rag. It was clearly a
starved bantling. It cried feebly, but would not lift up its head.

We first poured some warm milk down its throat, which soon revived it,
so that it would swallow small bits of flesh. In a day or two we had it
eating ravenously, and its growth became noticeable. Its voice had the
sharp whistling character of that of its parents, and was stilled only
when the bird was asleep. We made a pen for it, about a yard square,
in one end of the study, covering the floor with several thicknesses
of newspapers; and here, upon a bit of brown woolen blanket for a
nest, the hawk waxed strong day by day. An uglier-looking pet, tested
by all the rules we usually apply to such things, would have been
hard to find. There he would sit upon his elbows, his helpless feet
out in front of him, his great featherless wings touching the floor,
and shrilly cry for more food. For a time we gave him water daily
from a stylograph-pen filler, but the water he evidently did not need
or relish. Fresh meat, and plenty of it, was his demand. And we soon
discovered that he liked game, such as mice, squirrels, birds, much
better than butcher's meat.

Then began a lively campaign on the part of my little boy against
all the vermin and small game in the neighborhood to keep the hawk
supplied. He trapped and he hunted, he enlisted his mates in his
service, he even robbed the cats to feed the hawk. His usefulness as a
boy of all work was seriously impaired. "Where is J——?" "Gone after
a squirrel for his hawk." And often the day would be half gone before
his hunt was successful. The premises were very soon cleared of mice,
and the vicinity of chipmunks and squirrels. Farther and farther he
was compelled to hunt the surrounding farms and woods to keep up with
the demands of the hawk. By the time the hawk was ready to fly he had
consumed twenty-one chipmunks, fourteen red squirrels, sixteen mice,
and twelve English sparrows, besides a lot of butcher's meat.

His plumage very soon began to show itself, crowding off tufts of the
down. The quills on his great wings sprouted and grew apace. What a
ragged, uncanny appearance he presented! but his look of extreme age
gradually became modified. What a lover of the sunlight he was! We
would put him out upon the grass in the full blaze of the morning sun,
and he would spread his wings and bask in it with the most intense
enjoyment. In the nest the young must be exposed to the full power of
the midday sun during our first heated terms in June and July, the
thermometer often going up to ninety-three or ninety-five degrees, so
that sunshine seemed to be a need of his nature. He liked the rain
equally well, and when put out in a shower would sit down and take it
as if every drop did him good.

His legs developed nearly as slowly as his wings. He could not stand
steadily upon them till about ten days before he was ready to fly. The
talons were limp and feeble. When we came with food he would hobble
along toward us like the worst kind of a cripple, dropping and moving
his wings, and treading upon his legs from the foot back to the elbow,
the foot remaining closed and useless. Like a baby learning to stand,
he made many trials before he succeeded. He would rise up on his
trembling legs only to fall back again.

One day, in the summer-house, I saw him for the first time stand for a
moment squarely upon his legs with the feet fully spread beneath them.
He looked about him as if the world suddenly wore a new aspect.

His plumage now grew quite rapidly. One red squirrel per day, chopped
fine with an axe, was his ration. He began to hold his game with his
foot while he tore it. The study was full of his shed down. His dark
brown mottled plumage began to grow beautiful. The wings drooped a
little, but gradually he got control of them, and held them in place.

It was now the 20th of July, and the hawk was about five weeks old.
In a day or two he was walking or jumping about the ground. He chose
a position under the edge of a Norway spruce, where he would sit for
hours dozing, or looking out upon the landscape. When we brought him
game he would advance to meet us with wings slightly lifted, and
uttering a shrill cry. Toss him a mouse or sparrow, and he would seize
it with one foot and hop off to his cover, where he would bend above
it, spread his plumage, look this way and that, uttering all the time
the most exultant and satisfied chuckle.

About this time he began to practice striking with his talons, as an
Indian boy might begin practicing with his bow and arrow. He would
strike at a dry leaf in the grass, or at a fallen apple, or at some
imaginary object. He was learning the use of his weapons. His wings
also,—he seemed to feel them sprouting from his shoulder. He would
lift them straight up and hold them expanded, and they would seem to
quiver with excitement. Every hour in the day he would do this. The
pressure was beginning to centre there. Then he would strike playfully
at a leaf or a bit of wood, and keep his wings lifted.

The next step was to spring into the air and beat his wings. He seemed
now to be thinking entirely of his wings. They itched to be put to use.

A day or two later he would leap and fly several feet. A pile of brush
ten or twelve feet below the bank was easily reached. Here he would
perch in true hawk fashion, to the bewilderment and scandal of all the
robins and catbirds in the vicinity. Here he would dart his eye in all
directions, turning his head over and glancing it up into the sky.

He was now a lovely creature, fully fledged, and as tame as a kitten.
But he was not a bit like a kitten in one respect,—he could not bear
to have you stroke or even touch his plumage. He had a horror of your
hand, as if it would hopelessly defile him. But he would perch upon
it, and allow you to carry him about. If a dog or cat appeared, he was
ready to give battle instantly. He rushed up to a little dog one day,
and struck him with his foot savagely. He was afraid of strangers, and
of any unusual object.

The last week in July he began to fly quite freely, and it was
necessary to clip one of his wings. As the clipping embraced only the
ends of his primaries, he soon overcame the difficulty, and by carrying
his broad, long tail more on that side, flew with considerable ease.
He made longer and longer excursions into the surrounding fields and
vineyards, and did not always return. On such occasions we would go
find him and fetch him back.

Late one rainy afternoon he flew away into the vineyard, and when, an
hour later, I went after him, he could not be found, and we never saw
him again. We hoped hunger would soon drive him back, but we have had
no clew to him from that day to this.



The first chipmunk in March is as sure a token of the spring as the
first bluebird or the first robin; and it is quite as welcome. Some
genial influence has found him out there in his burrow, deep under the
ground, and waked him up, and enticed him forth into the light of day.
The red squirrel has been more or less active all winter; his track
has dotted the surface of every new-fallen snow throughout the season.
But the chipmunk retired from view early in December, and has passed
the rigorous months in his nest, beside his hoard of nuts, some feet
underground, and hence, when he emerges in March, and is seen upon his
little journeys along the fences, or perched upon a log or rock near
his hole in the woods, it is another sign that spring is at hand. His
store of nuts may or may not be all consumed; it is certain that he is
no sluggard, to sleep away these first bright warm days.

Before the first crocus is out of the ground, you may look for the
first chipmunk. When I hear the little downy woodpecker begin his
spring drumming, then I know the chipmunk is due. He cannot sleep after
that challenge of the woodpecker reaches his ear.

Apparently the first thing he does on coming forth, as soon as he
is sure of himself, is to go courting. So far as I have observed,
the love-making of the chipmunk occurs in March. A single female
will attract all the males in the vicinity. One early March day I
was at work for several hours near a stone fence, where a female had
apparently taken up her quarters. What a train of suitors she had that
day! how they hurried up and down, often giving each other a spiteful
slap or bite as they passed. The young are born in May, four or five at
a birth.

The chipmunk is quite a solitary creature; I have never known more
than one to occupy the same den. Apparently no two can agree to live
together. What a clean, pert, dapper, nervous little fellow he is! How
fast his heart beats, as he stands up on the wall by the roadside, and,
with hands spread out upon his breast, regards you intently! A movement
of your arm, and he darts into the wall with a saucy _chip-r-r_, which
has the effect of slamming the door behind him.

On some still day in autumn, the nutty days, the woods will often be
pervaded by an undertone of sound, produced by their multitudinous
clucking, as they sit near their dens. It is one of the characteristic
sounds of fall.

The chipmunk has many enemies, such as cats, weasels, black snakes,
hawks, and owls. One season one had his den in the side of the bank
near my study. As I stood regarding his goings and comings, one October
morning, I saw him, when a few yards away from his hole, turn and
retreat with all speed. As he darted beneath the sod, a shrike swooped
down and hovered a moment on the wing just over the hole where he
had disappeared. I doubt if the shrike could have killed him, but it
certainly gave him a good fright.

It was amusing to watch this chipmunk carry nuts and other food into
his den. He had made a well-defined path from his door out through the
weeds and dry leaves into the territory where his feeding-ground lay.
The path was a crooked one; it dipped under weeds, under some large,
loosely piled stones, under a pile of chestnut posts, and then followed
the remains of an old wall. Going and coming, his motions were like
clockwork. He always went by spurts and sudden sallies. He was never
for one moment off his guard. He would appear at the mouth of his den,
look quickly about, take a few leaps to a tussock of grass, pause a
breath with one foot raised, slip quickly a few yards over some dry
leaves, pause again by a stump beside a path, rush across the path to
the pile of loose stones, go under the first and over the second, gain
the pile of posts, make his way through that, survey his course a half
moment from the other side of it, and then dart on to some other cover,
and presently beyond my range, where I think he gathered acorns, as
there were no other nut-bearing trees than oaks near. In four or five
minutes I would see him coming back, always keeping rigidly to the
course he took going out, pausing at the same spots, darting over or
under the same objects, clearing at a bound the same pile of leaves.
There was no variation in his manner of proceeding all the time I
observed him.

He was alert, cautious, and exceedingly methodical. He had found safety
in a certain course, and he did not at any time deviate a hair's
breadth from it. Something seemed to say to him all the time, "Beware,
beware!" The nervous, impetuous ways of these creatures are no doubt
the result of the life of fear which they lead.

My chipmunk had no companion. He lived all by himself in true hermit
fashion, as is usually the case with this squirrel. Provident creature
that he is, one would think that he would long ago have discovered
that heat, and therefore food, is economized by two or three nesting

One day in early spring, a chipmunk that lived near me met with a
terrible adventure, the memory of which will probably be handed
down through many generations of its family. I was sitting in the
summer-house with Nig the cat upon my knee, when the chipmunk came out
of its den a few feet away, and ran quickly to a pile of chestnut posts
about twenty yards from where I sat. Nig saw it, and was off my lap
upon the floor in an instant. I spoke sharply to the cat, when she sat
down and folded her paws under her, and regarded the squirrel, as I
thought, with only a dreamy kind of interest. I fancied she thought it
a hopeless case there amid that pile of posts. "That is not your game,
Nig," I said, "so spare yourself any anxiety." Just then I was called
to the house, where I was detained about five minutes. As I returned I
met Nig coming to the house with the chipmunk in her mouth. She had the
air of one who had won a wager. She carried the chipmunk by the throat,
and its body hung limp from her mouth. I quickly took the squirrel from
her, and reproved her sharply. It lay in my hand as if dead, though I
saw no marks of the cat's teeth upon it. Presently it gasped for its
breath, then again and again. I saw that the cat had simply choked it.
Quickly the film passed off its eyes, its heart began visibly to beat,
and slowly the breathing became regular. I carried it back, and laid it
down in the door of its den. In a moment it crawled or kicked itself
in. In the afternoon I placed a handful of corn there, to express my
sympathy, and as far as possible make amends for Nig's cruel treatment.

Not till four or five days had passed did my little neighbor emerge
again from its den, and then only for a moment. That terrible black
monster with the large green-yellow eyes,—it might be still lurking
near. How the black monster had captured the alert and restless
squirrel so quickly, under the circumstances, was a great mystery to
me. Was not its eye as sharp as the cat's, and its movements as quick?
Yet cats do have the secret of catching squirrels, and birds, and mice,
but I have never yet had the luck to see it done.

It was not very long before the chipmunk was going to and from her den
as usual, though the dread of the black monster seemed ever before
her, and gave speed and extra alertness to all her movements. In early
summer four young chipmunks emerged from the den, and ran freely about.
There was nothing to disturb them, for, alas! Nig herself was now dead.

One summer day I watched a cat for nearly a half hour trying her arts
upon a chipmunk that sat upon a pile of stone. Evidently her game was
to stalk him. She had cleared half the distance, or about twelve feet,
that separated the chipmunk from a dense Norway spruce, when I chanced
to become a spectator of the little drama. There sat the cat crouched
low on the grass, her big, yellow eyes fixed upon the chipmunk, and
there sat the chipmunk at the mouth of his den, motionless, with his
eye fixed upon the cat. For a long time neither moved. "Will the cat
bind him with her fatal spell?" I thought. Sometimes her head slowly
lowered and her eyes seemed to dilate, and I fancied she was about to
spring. But she did not. The distance was too great to be successfully
cleared in one bound. Then the squirrel moved nervously, but kept his
eye upon the enemy. Then the cat evidently grew tired and relaxed a
little and looked behind her. Then she crouched again and riveted her
gaze upon the squirrel. But the latter would not be hypnotized; it
shifted its position a few times and finally quickly entered its den,
when the cat soon slunk away.

In digging his hole it is evident that the chipmunk carries away the
loose soil. Never a grain of it is seen in front of his door. Those
pockets of his probably stand him in good stead on such occasions. Only
in one instance have I seen a pile of earth before the entrance to a
chipmunk's den, and that was where the builder had begun his house late
in November, and was probably too much hurried to remove this ugly
mark from before his door. I used to pass his place every morning in
my walk, and my eye always fell upon that little pile of red, freshly
dug soil. A little later I used frequently to surprise the squirrel
furnishing his house, carrying in dry leaves of the maple and plane
tree. He would seize a large leaf and with both hands stuff it into his
cheek pockets, and then carry it into his den. I saw him on several
different days occupied in this way. I trust he had secured his winter
stores, though I am a little doubtful. He was hurriedly making himself
a new home, and the cold of December was upon us while he was yet at
work. It may be that he had moved the stores from his old quarters,
wherever they were, and again it may be that he had been dispossessed
of both his house and provender by some other chipmunk.

When nuts or grain are not to be had, these thrifty little creatures
will find some substitute to help them over the winter. Two chipmunks
near my study were occupied many days in carrying in cherry pits
which they gathered beneath a large cherry-tree that stood ten or
twelve rods away. As Nig was no longer about to molest them, they
grew very fearless, and used to spin up and down the garden path to
and from their source of supplies in a way quite unusual with these
timid creatures. After they had got enough cherry pits, they gathered
the seed of a sugar maple that stood near. Many of the keys remained
upon the tree after the leaves had fallen, and these the squirrels
harvested. They would run swiftly out upon the ends of the small
branches, reach out for the maple keys, snip off the wings, and deftly
slip the nut or samara into their cheek pockets. Day after day in late
autumn, I used to see them thus occupied.

As I have said, I have no evidence that more than one chipmunk occupy
the same den. One March morning after a light fall of snow I saw where
one had come up out of his hole, which was in the side of our path
to the vineyard, and after a moment's survey of the surroundings had
started off on his travels. I followed the track to see where he had
gone. He had passed through my woodpile, then under the beehives, then
around the study and under some spruces and along the slope to the hole
of a friend of his, about sixty yards from his own. Apparently he had
gone in here, and then his friend had come forth with him, for there
were two tracks leading from this doorway. I followed them to a third
humble entrance, not far off, where the tracks were so numerous that I
lost the trail. It was pleasing to see the evidence of their morning
sociability written there upon the new snow.

One of the enemies of the chipmunk, as I discovered lately, is the
weasel. I was sitting in the woods one autumn day when I heard a small
cry, and a rustling amid the branches of a tree a few rods beyond me.
Looking thither I saw a chipmunk fall through the air, and catch on a
limb twenty or more feet from the ground. He appeared to have dropped
from near the top of the tree.

He secured his hold upon the small branch that had luckily intercepted
his fall, and sat perfectly still. In a moment more I saw a weasel—one
of the smaller red varieties—come down the trunk of the tree, and
begin exploring the branches on a level with the chipmunk.

I saw in a moment what had happened. The weasel had driven the squirrel
from his retreat in the rocks and stones beneath, and had pressed
him so closely that he had taken refuge in the top of a tree. But
weasels can climb trees, too, and this one had tracked the frightened
chipmunk to the topmost branch, where he had tried to seize him. Then
the squirrel had, in horror, let go his hold, screamed, and fallen
through the air, till he struck the branch as just described. Now
his bloodthirsty enemy was looking for him again, apparently relying
entirely upon his sense of smell to guide him to the game.

How did the weasel know the squirrel had not fallen clear to the
ground? He certainly did know, for when he reached the same tier of
branches he began exploring them. The chipmunk sat transfixed with
fear, frozen with terror, not twelve feet away, and yet the weasel saw
him not.

Round and round, up and down, he went on the branches, exploring them
over and over. How he hurried, lest the trail get cold! How subtle and
cruel and fiendish he looked! His snakelike movements, his tenacity,
his speed!

He seemed baffled; he knew his game was near, but he could not strike
the spot. The branch, upon the extreme end of which the squirrel sat,
ran out and up from the tree seven or eight feet, and then, turning a
sharp elbow, swept down and out at right angles with its first course.

The weasel would pause each time at this elbow and turn back. It
seemed as if he knew that particular branch held his prey, and yet its
crookedness each time threw him out. He would not give it up, but went
over his course again and again.

One can fancy the feelings of the chipmunk, sitting there in plain
view a few feet away, watching its deadly enemy hunting for the clew.
How its little heart must have fairly stood still each time the fatal
branch was struck! Probably as a last resort it would again have let go
its hold and fallen to the ground, where it might have eluded its enemy
a while longer.

In the course of five or six minutes the weasel gave over the search,
and ran hurriedly down the tree to the ground. The chipmunk remained
motionless for a long time; then he stirred a little as if hope was
reviving. Then he looked nervously about him; then he had recovered
himself so far as to change his position. Presently he began to move
cautiously along the branch to the bole of the tree; then, after a few
moments' delay, he plucked up courage to descend to the ground, where I
hope no weasel has disturbed him since.



For ten or more years past I have been in the habit of jotting down,
among other things in my note-book, observations upon the seasons as
they passed,—the complexion of the day, the aspects of nature, the
arrival of the birds, the opening of the flowers, or any characteristic
feature of the passing moment or hour which the great open-air panorama
presented. Some of these notes and observations touching the opening
and the progress of the spring season follow herewith.

I need hardly say they are off-hand and informal; what they have to
recommend them to the general reader is mainly their fidelity to actual
fact. The sun always crosses the line on time, but the seasons which
he makes are by no means so punctual; they loiter or they hasten, and
the spring tokens are three or four weeks earlier or later some seasons
than others. The ice often breaks up on the river early in March, but I
have crossed upon it as late as the 10th of April. My journal presents
many samples of both early and late springs.

But before I give these extracts let me say a word or two in favor
of the habit of keeping a journal of one's thoughts and days. To a
countryman, especially of a meditative turn, who likes to preserve the
flavor of the passing moment, or to a person of leisure anywhere, who
wants to make the most of life, a journal will be found a great help.
It is a sort of deposit account wherein one saves up bits and fragments
of his life that would otherwise be lost to him.

What seemed so insignificant in the passing, or as it lay in embryo
in his mind, becomes a valuable part of his experiences when it
is fully unfolded and recorded in black and white. The process of
writing develops it; the bud becomes the leaf or flower; the one is
disentangled from the many and takes definite form and hue. I remember
that Thoreau says in a letter to a friend, after his return from a
climb to the top of Monadnock, that it is not till he gets home that he
really goes over the mountain; that is, I suppose, sees what the climb
meant to him when he comes to write an account of it to his friend.
Every one's experience is probably much the same; when we try to tell
what we saw and felt, even to our journals, we discover more and deeper
meanings in things than we had suspected.

The pleasure and value of every walk or journey we take may be doubled
to us by carefully noting down the impressions it makes upon us. How
much of the flavor of Maine birch I should have missed had I not
compelled that vague, unconscious being within me, who absorbs so much
and says so little, to unbosom himself at the point of the pen! It
was not till after I got home that I really went to Maine, or to the
Adirondacks, or to Canada. Out of the chaotic and nebulous impressions
which these expeditions gave me, I evolved the real experience. There
is hardly anything that does not become much more in the telling than
in the thinking or in the feeling.

I see the fishermen floating up and down the river above their nets,
which are suspended far out of sight in the water beneath them. They
do not know what fish they have got, if any, till after a while they
lift the nets up and examine them. In all of us there is a region of
sub-consciousness above which our ostensible lives go forward, and in
which much comes to us, or is slowly developed, of which we are quite
ignorant until we lift up our nets and inspect them.

Then the charm and significance of a day are so subtle and fleeting!
Before we know it, it is gone past all recovery. I find that each
spring, that each summer and fall and winter of my life, has a hue
and quality of its own, given by some prevailing mood, a train of
thought, an event, an experience,—a color or quality of which I am
quite unconscious at the time, being too near to it, and too completely
enveloped by it. But afterward some mood or circumstance, an odor, or
fragment of a tune, brings it back as by a flash; for one brief second
the adamantine door of the past swings open and gives me a glimpse of
my former life. One's journal, dashed off without any secondary motive,
may often preserve and renew the past for him in this way.

These leaves from my own journal are not very good samples of this sort
of thing, but they preserve for me the image of many a day which memory
alone could never have kept.

March 3, 1879. The sun is getting strong, but winter still holds his
own. No hint of spring in the earth or air. No sparrow or sparrow song
yet. But on the 5th there was a hint of spring. The day warm and the
snow melting. The first bluebird note this morning. How sweetly it
dropped down from the blue overhead!

March 10. A real spring day at last, and a rouser! Thermometer between
fifty and sixty degrees in the coolest spot; bees very lively about the
hive, and working on the sawdust in the wood-yard; how they dig and
wallow in the woody meal, apparently squeezing it as if forcing it to
yield up something to them! Here they get their first substitute for
pollen. The sawdust of hickory and maple is preferred. The inner milky
substance between the bark and the wood, called the cambium layer, is
probably the source of their supplies.

In the growing tree it is in this layer or secretion that the vital
processes are the most active and potent. It has been found by
experiment that this tender, milky substance is capable of exerting a
very great force; a growing tree exerts a lifting and pushing force of
more than thirty pounds to the square inch, and the force is thought to
reside in the soft fragile cells that make up the cambium layer. It
is like the strength of Samson residing in his hair. Saw one bee enter
the hive with pollen on his back, which he must have got from some open
greenhouse; or had he found the skunk cabbage in bloom ahead of me?

The bluebirds! It seemed as if they must have been waiting somewhere
close by for the first warm day, like actors behind the scenes, for
they were here in numbers early in the morning; they rushed upon the
stage very promptly when their parts were called. No robins yet. Sap
runs, but not briskly. It is too warm and still; it wants a brisk day
for sap, with a certain sharpness in the air, a certain crispness and

March 12. A change to more crispness and coolness, but a delicious
spring morning. Hundreds of snowbirds with a sprinkling of song and
Canada sparrows are all about the house, chirping and lisping and
chattering in a very animated manner. The air is full of bird voices:
through this maze of fine sounds comes the strong note and warble
of the robin, and the soft call of the bluebird. A few days ago not
a bird, not a sound; everything rigid and severe; then in a day the
barriers of winter give way, and spring comes like an inundation. In a
twinkling all is changed.

Under date of February 27, 1881, I find this note: "Warm; saw the male
bluebird warbling and calling cheerily. The male bluebird spreads his
tail as he flits about at this season, in a way to make him look very
gay and dressy. It adds to his expression considerably, and makes him
look alert and beau-like, and every inch a male. The grass is green
under the snow, and has grown perceptibly. The warmth of the air seems
to go readily through a covering of ice and snow. Note how quickly the
ice lets go of the door-stones, though completely covered, when the day
becomes warm."

The farmers say a deep snow draws the frost out of the ground. It is
certain that the frost goes out when the ground is deeply covered for
some time, though it is of course the warmth rising up from the depths
of the ground that does it. A winter of deep snows is apt to prove
fatal to the peach buds. The frost leaves the ground, the soil often
becomes so warm that angle-worms rise to near the surface, the sap in
the trees probably stirs a little; then there comes a cold wave, the
mercury goes down to ten or fifteen below zero, and the peach buds are
killed. It is not the cold alone that does it; it is the warmth at one
end and the extreme cold at the other. When the snow is removed so that
the frost can get at the roots also, peach buds will stand fourteen or
fifteen degrees below zero.

March 7, 1881. A perfect spring day at last,—still, warm, and without
a cloud. Tapped two trees; the sap runs, the snow runs, everything
runs. Bluebirds the only birds yet. Thermometer forty-two degrees in
the shade. A perfect sap day. A perfect sap day is a crystalline day;
the night must have a keen edge of frost, and the day a keen edge of
air and sun, with wind north or northwest. The least film, the least
breath from the south, the least suggestion of growth, and the day is
marred as a sap day. Maple sap is maple frost melted by the sun. (9
P. M.) A soft, large-starred night; the moon in her second
quarter; perfectly still and freezing; Venus throbbing low in the west.
A crystalline night.

March 21, 1884. The top of a high barometric wave, a day like a crest,
lifted up, sightly, sparkling. A cold snap without storm issuing in
this clear, dazzling, sharp, northern day. How light, as if illuminated
by more than the sun; the sky is full of light; light seems to be
streaming up all around the horizon. The leafless trees make no
shadows; the woods are flooded with light; everything shines; a day
large and imposing, breathing strong masculine breaths out of the
north; a day without a speck or film, winnowed through and through,
all the windows and doors of the sky open. Day of crumpled rivers and
lakes, of crested waves, of bellying sails, high-domed and lustrous
day. The only typical March day of the bright heroic sort we have yet

March 24, 1884. Damp, still morning, much fog on the river. All the
branches and twigs of the trees strung with drops of water. The grass
and weeds beaded with fog drops. Two lines of ducks go up the river,
one a few feet beneath the other. On second glance the under line
proves to be the reflection of the other in the still water. As the
ducks cross a large field of ice, the lower line is suddenly blotted
out, as if the birds had dived beneath the ice. A train of cars across
the river,—the train sunk beneath a solid stratum of fog, its plume of
smoke and vapor unrolling above it and slanting away in the distance; a
liquid morning; the turf buzzes as you walk over it.

Skunk cabbage on Saturday the 22d, probably in bloom several days. This
plant always gets ahead of me. It seems to come up like a mushroom in
a single night. Water newts just out, and probably piping before the
frogs, though not certain about this.

March 25. One of the rare days that go before a storm; the flower of
a series of days increasingly fair. To-morrow, probably, the flower
falls, and days of rain and cold prepare the way for another fair day
or days. The barometer must be high to-day; the birds fly high. I feed
my bees on a rock, and sit long and watch them covering the combs,
and rejoice in the multitudinous humming. The river is a great mirror
dotted here and there by small cakes of ice. The first sloop comes
lazily up on the flood tide, like the first butterfly of spring; the
little steamer, our river omnibus, makes her first trip, and wakes the
echoes with her salutatory whistle, her flags dancing in the sun.

April 1. Welcome to April, my natal month; the month of the swelling
buds, the springing grass, the first nests, the first plantings, the
first flowers, and, last but not least, the first shad! The door of
the seasons first stands ajar this month, and gives us a peep beyond.
The month in which to begin the world, in which to begin your house,
in which to begin your courtship, in which to enter upon any new
enterprise. The bees usually get their first pollen this month and
their first honey. All hibernating creatures are out before April is
past. The coon, the chipmunk, the bear, the turtles, the frogs, the
snakes, come forth beneath April skies.

April 8. A day of great brightness and clearness,—a crystalline April
day that precedes snow. In this sharp crisp air the flakes are forming.
As in a warm streaming south wind one can almost smell the swelling
buds, so a wind from the opposite quarter at this season as often
suggests the crystalline snow. I go up in the sugar bush [this was up
among the Catskills], and linger for an hour among the old trees. The
air is still, and has the property of being "hollow," as the farmers
say; that is, it is heavy, motionless, and transmits sounds well. Every
warble of a bluebird or robin, or caw of crow, or bark of dog, or
bleat of sheep, or cackle of geese, or call of boy or man, within the
landscape, comes distinctly to the ear. The smoke from the chimney goes
straight up.

I walk through the bare fields; the shore larks run or flit before me;
I hear their shuffling, gurgling, lisping, half-inarticulate song. Only
of late years have I noticed the shore larks in this section. Now they
breed and pass the summer on these hills, and I am told that they are
gradually becoming permanent residents in other parts of the State.
They are nearly as large as the English skylark, with conspicuous black
markings about the head and throat; shy birds squatting in the sear
grass, and probably taken by most country people who see them to be

Their flight and manner in song is much like that of the skylark.
The bird mounts up and up on ecstatic wing, till it becomes a mere
speck against the sky, where it drifts to and fro, and utters at
intervals its crude song, a mere fraction or rudiment of the skylark's
song, a few sharp, lisping, unmelodious notes, as if the bird had a
bad cold, and could only now and then make any sound,—heard a long
distance, but insignificant, a mere germ of the true lark's song; as
it were the first rude attempt of nature in this direction. After due
trial and waiting, she develops the lark's song itself. But if the
law of evolution applies to bird-songs as well as to other things,
the shore lark should in time become a fine songster. I know of no
bird-song that seems so obviously struggling to free itself and reach
a fuller expression. As the bird seems more and more inclined to abide
permanently amid cultivated fields, and to forsake the wild and savage
north, let me hope that its song is also undergoing a favorable change.

How conspicuous the crows in the brown fields, or against the lingering
snowbanks, or in the clear sky! How still the air! One could carry
a lighted candle over the hills. The light is very strong, and the
effect of the wall of white mountains rising up all around from the
checkered landscape, and holding up the blue dome of the sky, is
strange indeed.

April 14. A delicious day, warm as May. This to me is the most
bewitching part of the whole year. One's relish is so keen, and the
morsels are so few and so tender. How the fields of winter rye stand
out! They call up visions of England. A perfect day in April far excels
a perfect day in June, because it provokes and stimulates while the
latter sates and cloys. Such days have all the peace and geniality of
summer without any of its satiety or enervating heat.

April 15. Not much cloud this morning, but much vapor in the air. A
cool south wind with streaks of a pungent vegetable odor, probably from
the willows. When I make too dead a set at it I miss it; but when I
let my nose have its own way, and take in the air slowly, I get it, an
odor as of a myriad swelling buds. The long-drawn call of the high-hole
comes up from the fields, then the tender rapid trill of the bush or
russet sparrow, then the piercing note of the meadowlark, a flying
shaft of sound.

April 21. The enchanting days continue without a break. One's senses
are not large enough to take them all in. Maple buds just bursting,
apple-trees full of infantile leaves. How the poplars and willows stand
out! A moist, warm, brooding haze over all the earth. All day my little
russet sparrow sings and trills divinely. The most prominent bird
music in April is from the sparrows.

The yellowbirds (goldfinches) are just getting on their yellow coats. I
saw some yesterday that had a smutty, unwashed look, because of the new
yellow shining through the old drab-colored webs of the feathers. These
birds do not shed their feathers in the spring, as careless observers
are apt to think they do, but merely shed the outer webs of their
feathers and quills, which peel off like a glove from the hand.

All the groves and woods lightly touched with new foliage. Looks
like May; violets and dandelions in bloom. Sparrow's nest with two
eggs. Maples hanging out their delicate fringe-like bloom. First barn
swallows may be looked for any day after April 20.

This period may be called the vernal equipoise, and corresponds to the
October calm called the Indian summer.

April 2, 1890. The second of the April days, clear as a bell. The eye
of the heavens wide open at last. A sparrow day; how they sang! And the
robins, too, before I was up in the morning. Now and then I could hear
the rat-tat-tat of the downy at his drum. How many times I paused at my
work to drink in the beauty of the day!

How I like to walk out after supper these days! I stroll over the lawn
and stand on the brink of the hill. The sun is down, the robins pipe
and call, and as the dusk comes on they indulge in that loud chiding
note or scream, whether in anger or in fun I never can tell. Up the
road in the distance the multitudinous voice of the little peepers,—a
thicket or screen of sound. An April twilight is unlike any other.

April 12. Lovely, bright day. We plow the ground under the hill for the
new vineyard. In opening the furrow for the young vines I guide the
team by walking in their front. How I soaked up the sunshine to-day!
At night I glowed all over; my whole being had had an earth-bath; such
a feeling of freshly plowed land in every cell of my brain. The furrow
had struck in; the sunshine had photographed it upon my soul.

April 13. A warm, even hot April day. The air full of haze; the
sunshine golden. In the afternoon J. and I walk out over the country
north of town. Everybody is out, all the paths and byways are full of
boys and young fellows. We sit on a wall a long time by a meadow and
orchard, and drink in the scene. April to perfection, such a sentiment
of spring everywhere. The sky is partly overcast, the air moist,
just enough so to bring out the odors,—a sweet perfume of bursting,
growing things. One could almost eat the turf like a horse. All about
the robins sang. In the trees the crow blackbird cackled and jingled.
Athwart these sounds came every half minute the clear, strong note of
the meadowlark. The larks were very numerous and were lovemaking. Then
the high-hole called and the bush sparrow trilled. Arbutus days these,
everybody wants to go to the woods for arbutus; it fairly calls one.
The soil calls for the plow, too, the garden calls for the spade, the
vineyard calls for the hoe. From all about the farm voices call, Come
and do this, or do that. At night how the "peepers" pile up the sound!

How I delight to see the plow at work such mornings! the earth is ripe
for it, fairly lusts for it, and the freshly turned soil looks good
enough to eat. Plucked my first blood-root this morning,—a full-blown
flower with a young one folded up in a leaf beneath it, only just the
bud emerging, like the head of a pappoose protruding from its mother's
blanket,—a very pretty sight. The blood-root always comes up with the
leaf shielding the flower-bud, as one shields the flame of the candle
in the open air with his hand half closed about it.

These days the song of the toad—_tr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r_
—is heard in the land. At nearly all hours I hear it, and it is as
welcome to me as the song of any bird. It is a kind of gossamer of
sound drifting in the air. Mother toad is in the pools and puddles now
depositing that long chain or raveling of eggs, while her dapper little
mate rides upon her back and fertilizes them as they are laid. As I
look toward the fields where the first brown thrasher is singing, I see
emerald patches of rye. The unctuous confident strain of the bird seems
to make the fields grow greener hour by hour.

May 4. The perfection of early May weather. How green the grass, how
happy the birds, how placid the river, how busy the bees, how soft
the air!—that kind of weather when there seems to be dew in the air
all day,—the day a kind of prolonged morning,—so fresh, so wooing,
so caressing! The baby leaves on the apple-trees have doubled in size
since last night.

March 12, 1891. Had positive proof this morning that at least one song
sparrow has come back to his haunts of a year ago. One year ago to-day
my attention was attracted, while walking over to the post-office, by
an unfamiliar bird-song. It caught my ear while I was a long way off.
I followed it up and found that it proceeded from a song sparrow. Its
chief feature was one long, clear high note, very strong, sweet, and
plaintive. It sprang out of the trills and quavers of the first part
of the bird-song, like a long arc or parabola of sound. To my mental
vision it rose far up against the blue, and turned sharply downward
again and finished in more trills and quavers. I had never before heard
anything like it. It was the usual long, silvery note in the sparrow's
song greatly increased; indeed, the whole breath and force of the bird
put in this note, so that you caught little else than this silver
loop of sound. The bird remained in one locality—the bushy corner of
a field—the whole season. He indulged in the ordinary sparrow song,
also. I had repeatedly had my eye upon him when he changed from one to
the other.

And now here he is again, just a year after, in the same place, singing
the same remarkable song, capturing my ear with the same exquisite
lasso of sound. What would I not give to know just where he passed the
winter, and what adventures by flood and field befell him!

(I will add that the bird continued in song the whole season,
apparently confining his wanderings to a few acres of ground. But the
following spring he did not return, and I have never heard him since,
and if any of his progeny inherited this peculiar song I have not heard




Any glimpse of the wild and savage in nature, especially after long
confinement indoors or in town, always gives a little fillip to my
mind. Thus, when, in my walk from the city the other day, I paused,
after a half hour, in a thick clump of red cedars crowning a little
hill that arose amid a marshy and bushy bit of landscape, and found
myself in the banqueting-hall of a hawk, something more than my natural
history tastes stirred within me.

No hawk was there then, but the marks of his nightly presence were
very obvious. The branch of a cedar about fifteen feet from the ground
was his perch. It was worn smooth, with a feather or two adhering to
it. The ground beneath was covered with large pellets and wads of
mouse-hair; the leaves were white with his droppings, while the dried
entrails of his victims clung here and there to the bushes. The bird
evidently came here nightly to devour and digest its prey. This was its
den, its retreat; all about lay its feeding-grounds. It revealed to
me a new trait in the hawk,—its local attachments and habits; that
it, too, had a home, and did not wander about like a vagabond. It had
its domain, which it no doubt assiduously cultivated. Here it came to
dine and meditate, and a most attractive spot it had chosen, a kind of
pillared cave amid the cedars. It was such a spot as the pedestrian
would be sure to direct his steps to, and, having reached it, would be
equally sure to tarry and eat his own lunch there.

The winged creatures are probably quite as local as the four-footed.
Sitting one night on a broad, gently rising hill, to see the darkness
close in upon the landscape, my attention was attracted by a marsh hawk
industriously working the fields about me. Time after time he made the
circuit, varying but little in his course each time; dropping into the
grass here and there, beating low over the bogs and bushes, and then
disappearing in the distance. This was his domain, his preserve, and
doubtless he had his favorite perch not far off.

All our permanent residents among the birds, both large and small, are
comparatively limited in their ranges. The crow is nearly as local
as the woodchuck. He goes farther from home in quest of food, but
his territory is well defined, both winter and summer. His place of
roosting remains the same year after year. Once, while spending a few
days at a mountain lake nearly surrounded by deep woods, my attention
was attracted each night, just at sundown, by an osprey that always
came from the same direction, dipped into the lake as he passed over it
for a sip of its pure water, and disappeared in the woods beyond. The
routine of his life was probably as marked as that of any of ours. He
fished the waters of the Delaware all day, probably never going beyond
a certain limit, and returned each night at sundown, as punctual as a
day-laborer, to his retreat in the forest. The sip of water, too, from
the lake he never failed to take.

All the facts we possess in regard to the habits of the song-birds in
this respect point to the conclusion that the same individuals return
to the same localities year after year, to nest and to rear their
young. I am convinced that the same woodpecker occupies the same cavity
in a tree winter after winter, and drums upon the same dry limb spring
after spring. I like to think of all these creatures as capable of
local attachments, and not insensible to the sentiment of home.

But I set out to give some glimpses of the wild life which one gets
about the farm. Not of a startling nature are they, certainly, but very
welcome for all that. The domestic animals require their lick of salt
every week or so, and the farmer, I think, is equally glad to get a
taste now and then of the wild life that has so nearly disappeared from
the older and more thickly settled parts of the country.

Last winter a couple of bears, an old one and a young one, passed
through our neighborhood. Their tracks were seen upon the snow in the
woods, and the news created great excitement among the Nimrods. It
was like the commotion in the water along shore after a steamer had
passed. The bears were probably safely in the Catskills by the time the
hunters got dogs and guns ready and set forth. Country people are as
eager to accept any rumor of a strange and dangerous creature in the
woods as they are to believe in a ghost story. They want it to be true;
it gives them something to think about and talk about. It is to their
minds like strong drink to their palates. It gives a new interest to
the woods, as the ghost story gives a new interest to the old house.

A few years ago the belief became current in our neighborhood that a
dangerous wild animal lurked in the woods about, now here, now there.
It had been seen in the dusk. Some big dogs had encountered it in the
night, and one of them was nearly killed. Then a calf and a sheep were
reported killed and partly devoured. Women and children became afraid
to go through the woods, and men avoided them after sundown. One day,
as I passed an Irishman's shanty that stood in an opening in the woods,
his wife came out with a pail, and begged leave to accompany me as far
as the spring, which lay beside the road some distance into the woods.
She was afraid to go alone for water on account of the "wild baste."
Then, to cap the climax of wild rumors, a horse was killed. One of my
neighbors, an intelligent man and a good observer, went up to see the
horse. He reported that a great gash had been eaten in the top of the
horse's neck; that its back was bitten and scratched; and that he was
convinced it was the work of some wild animal like a panther which had
landed upon the horse's back, and fairly devoured it alive. The horse
had run up and down the field trying to escape, and finally, in its
desperation, had plunged headlong off a high stone wall by the barn and
been killed. I was compelled to accept his story, but I pooh-poohed the
conclusions. It was impossible that we should have a panther in the
midst of us, or, if we had, that it would attack and kill a horse. But
how eagerly the people believed it! It tasted good. It tasted good to
me, too, but I could not believe it. It soon turned out that the horse
was killed by another horse, a vicious beast that had fits of murderous
hatred toward its kind. The sheep and calf were probably not killed at
all, and the big dogs had had a fight among themselves. So the panther
legend faded out, and our woods became as tame and humdrum as before.
We cannot get up anything exciting that will hold, and have to make the
most of such small deer as coons, foxes, and woodchucks. Glimpses of
these and of the birds are all I have to report.


The day on which I have any adventure with a wild creature, no matter
how trivial, has a little different flavor from the rest; as when,
one morning in early summer, I put my head out of the back window and
returned the challenge of a quail that sent forth his clear call from a
fence-rail one hundred yards away. Instantly he came sailing over the
field of raspberries straight toward me. When about fifteen yards away
he dropped into the cover and repeated his challenge. I responded, when
in an instant he was almost within reach of me. He alighted under the
window, and looked quickly around for his rival. How his eyes shone,
how his form dilated, how dapper and polished and brisk he looked! He
turned his eye up to me and seemed to say, "Is it you, then, who are
mocking me?" and ran quickly around the corner of the house. Here he
lingered some time amid the rosebushes, half persuaded that the call,
which I still repeated, came from his rival. Ah, I thought, if with his
mate and young he would only make my field his home! The call of the
quail is a country sound that is becoming all too infrequent.

So fond am I of seeing Nature reassert herself that I even found some
compensation in the loss of my chickens that bright November night
when some wild creature, coon or fox, swept two of them out of the
evergreens, and their squawking as they were hurried across the lawn
called me from my bed to shout good-by after them. It gave a new
interest to the hen-roost, this sudden incursion of wild nature. I
feel bound to caution the boys about disturbing the wild rabbits that
in summer breed in my currant-patch, and in autumn seek refuge under
my study floor. The occasional glimpses I get of them about the lawn
in the dusk, their cotton tails twinkling in the dimness, afford me
a genuine pleasure. I have seen the time when I would go a good way
to shoot a partridge, but I would not have killed, if I could, the
one that started out of the vines that cover my rustic porch, as I
approached that side of the house one autumn morning. How much of the
woods, and of the untamable spirit of wild nature, she brought to my
very door! It was tonic and exhilarating to see her whirl away toward
the vineyard. I also owe a moment's pleasure to the gray squirrel that,
finding my summer-house in the line of his travels one summer day, ran
through it and almost over my feet as I sat idling with a book.

I am sure my power of digestion was improved that cold winter morning
when, just as we were sitting down to breakfast about sunrise, a red
fox loped along in front of the window, looking neither to the right
nor to the left, and disappeared amid the currant-bushes. What of the
wild and the cunning did he not bring! His graceful form and motion
were in my mind's eye all day. When you have seen a fox loping along in
that way, you have seen the poetry there is in the canine tribe. It is
to the eye what a flowing measure is to the mind, so easy, so buoyant;
the furry creature drifting along like a large red thistledown, or
like a plume borne by the wind. It is something to remember with
pleasure, that a muskrat sought my door one December night when a
cold wave was swooping down upon us. Was he seeking shelter, or had
he lost his reckoning? The dogs cornered him in the very doorway, and
set up a great hubbub. In the darkness, thinking it was a cat, I put
my hand down to feel it. The creature skipped to the other corner of
the doorway, hitting my hand with its cold, rope-like tail. Lighting
a match, I had a glimpse of him sitting up on his haunches like a
woodchuck, confronting his enemies. I rushed in for the lantern, with
the hope of capturing him alive, but before I returned the dogs,
growing bold, had finished him.

I have had but one call from a coon, that I am aware of, and I fear we
did not treat him with due hospitality. He took up his quarters for
the day in a Norway spruce, the branches of which nearly brushed the
house. I had noticed that the dog was very curious about that tree all
the forenoon. After dinner his curiosity culminated in repeated loud
and confident barking. Then I began an investigation, expecting to
find a strange cat, or at most a red squirrel. But a moment's scrutiny
revealed his coonship. Then how to capture him became the problem. A
long pole was procured, and I sought to dislodge him from his hold. The
skill with which he maintained himself amid the branches excited our
admiration. But after a time he dropped lightly to the ground, not in
the least disconcerted, and at once on his guard against both man and
beast. The dog was a coward, and dared not face him. When the coon's
attention was diverted, the dog would rush in; then one of us would
attempt to seize the coon's tail, but he faced about so quickly, his
black eyes gleaming, that the hand was timid about seizing him. But
finally in his skirmishing with the dog I caught him by the tail, and
bore him safely to an open flour barrel, and he was our prisoner. Much
amusement my little boy and I anticipated with him. He partook of food
that same day, and on the second day would eat the chestnuts in our
presence. Never did he show the slightest fear of us or of anything,
but he was unwearied in his efforts to regain his freedom. After a few
days we put a strap upon his neck and kept him tethered by a chain. But
in the night, by dint of some hocus-pocus, he got the chain unsnapped
and made off, and is now, I trust, a patriarch of his tribe, wearing a
leather necktie.

The skunk visits every farm sooner or later. One night I came near
shaking hands with one on my very door-stone. I thought it was the
cat, and put down my hand to stroke it, when the creature, probably
appreciating my mistake, moved off up the bank, revealing to me the
white stripe on its body and the kind of cat I had saluted. The skunk
is not easily ruffled, and seems to employ excellent judgment in the
use of its terrible weapon.

Several times I have had calls from woodchucks. One looked in at the
open door of my study one day, and, after sniffing a while, and not
liking the smell of such clover as I was compelled to nibble there,
moved on to better pastures. Another one invaded the kitchen door while
we were at dinner. The dogs promptly challenged him, and there was a
lively scrimmage upon the door-stone. I thought the dogs were fighting,
and rushed to part them. The incident broke in upon the drowsy summer
noon, as did the appearance of the muskrat upon the frigid December
night. The woodchuck episode that afforded us the most amusement
occurred last summer. We were at work in a newly-planted vineyard, when
the man with the cultivator saw, a few yards in front of him, some
large gray object that at first puzzled him. He approached it, and
found it to be an old woodchuck with a young one in its mouth. She was
carrying her kitten as does a cat, by the nape of the neck. Evidently
she was moving her family to pastures new. As the man was in the line
of her march, she stopped and considered what was to be done. He called
to me, and I approached slowly. As the mother saw me closing in on her
flank, she was suddenly seized with a panic, and, dropping her young,
fled precipitately for the cover of a large pile of grape-posts some
ten or twelve rods distant. We pursued hotly, and overhauled her as she
was within one jump of the house of refuge. Taking her by the tail, I
carried her back to her baby; but she heeded it not. It was only her
own bacon now that she was solicitous about. The young one remained
where it had been dropped, keeping up a brave, reassuring whistle that
was in ludicrous contrast to its exposed and helpless condition. It was
the smallest woodchuck I had ever seen, not much larger than a large
rat. Its head and shoulders were so large in proportion to the body
as to give it a comical look. It could not walk about yet, and had
never before been above ground. Every moment or two it would whistle
cheerily, as the old one does when safe in its den, and the farm-dog
is fiercely baying outside. We took the youngster home, and my little
boy was delighted over the prospect of a tame woodchuck. Not till the
next day would it eat. Then, getting a taste of the milk, it clutched
the spoon that held it with great eagerness, and sucked away like a
little pig. We were all immensely diverted by it. It ate eagerly,
grew rapidly, and was soon able to run about. As the old one had been
killed, we became curious as to the fate of the rest of her family, for
no doubt there were more. Had she moved them, or had we intercepted her
on her first trip? We knew where the old den was, but not the new. So
we would keep a lookout. Near the end of the week, on passing by the
old den, there were three young ones creeping about a few feet from
its mouth. They were starved out, and had come forth to see what could
be found. We captured them all, and the young family was again united.
How these poor, half-famished creatures did lay hold of the spoon
when they got a taste of the milk! One could not help laughing. Their
little shining black paws were so handy and so smooth; they seemed as
if encased in kid gloves. They throve well upon milk, and then upon
milk and clover. But after the novelty of the thing had worn off, the
boy found he had incumbered himself with serious duties in assuming
the position of foster-mother to this large family; so he gave them
all away but one, the first one captured, which had outstripped all
the others in growth. This soon became a very amusing pet, but it
always protested when handled, and always objected to confinement. I
should mention that the cat had a kitten about the age of the chuck,
and as she had more milk than the kitten could dispose of, the chuck,
when we first got him, was often placed in the nest with the kitten,
and was regarded by the cat as tenderly as her own, and allowed to
nurse freely. Thus a friendship sprang up between the kitten and the
woodchuck, which lasted as long as the latter lived. They would play
together precisely like two kittens: clinch and tumble about and roll
upon the grass in a very amusing way. Finally the woodchuck took up his
abode under the floor of the kitchen, and gradually relapsed into a
half-wild state. He would permit no familiarities from any one save the
kitten, but each day they would have a turn or two at their old games
of rough-and-tumble. The chuck was now over half grown, and procured
his own living. One day the dog, who had all along looked upon him with
a jealous eye, encountered him too far from cover, and his career ended
then and there.

In July the woodchuck was forgotten in our interest in a little gray
rabbit which we found nearly famished. It was so small that it could
sit in the hollow of one's hand. Some accident had probably befallen
its mother. The tiny creature looked spiritless and forlorn. We had to
force the milk into its mouth. But in a day or two it began to revive,
and would lap the milk eagerly. Soon it took to grass and clover, and
then to nibbling sweet apples and early pears. It grew rapidly, and
was one of the softest and most harmless-looking pets I had ever seen.
For a month or more the little rabbit was the only company I had, and
it helped to beguile the time immensely. In coming in from the field
or from my work, I seldom failed to bring it a handful of red clover
blossoms, of which it became very fond. One day it fell slyly to
licking my hand, and I discovered it wanted salt. I would then moisten
my fingers, dip them into the salt, and offer them to the rabbit. How
rapidly the delicate little tongue would play upon them, darting out
to the right and left of the large front incisors, the slender paws
being pressed against my hand as if to detain it! But the rabbit proved
really untamable; its wild nature could not be overcome. In its large
box-cage or prison, where it could see nothing but the tree above it,
it was tame, and would at times frisk playfully about my hand and
strike it gently with its forefeet; but the moment it was liberated in
a room or let down in the grass with a string about its neck, all its
wild nature came forth. In the room it would run and hide; in the open
it would make desperate efforts to escape, and leap and bound as you
drew in the string that held it. At night, too, it never failed to try
to make its escape from the cage, and finally, when two thirds grown,
succeeded, and we saw it no more.


How completely the life of a bird revolves about its nest, its home! In
the case of the wood thrush, its life and joy seem to mount higher and
higher as the nest prospers. The male becomes a fountain of melody; his
happiness waxes day by day; he makes little triumphal tours about the
neighborhood, and pours out his pride and gladness in the ears of all.
How sweet, how well-bred, is his demonstration! But let any accident
befall that precious nest, and what a sudden silence falls upon him!
Last summer a pair of wood thrushes built their nest within a few rods
of my house, and when the enterprise was fairly launched and the mother
bird was sitting upon her four blue eggs, the male was in the height of
his song. How he poured forth his rich melody, never in the immediate
vicinity of the nest, but always within easy hearing distance! Every
morning, as promptly as the morning came, between five and six, he
would sing for half an hour from the top of a locust-tree that shaded
my roof. I came to expect him as much as I expected my breakfast, and
I was not disappointed till one morning I seemed to miss something.
What was it? Oh, the thrush has not sung this morning. Something is the
matter; and recollecting that yesterday I had seen a red squirrel in
the trees not far from the nest, I at once inferred that the nest had
been harried. Going to the spot, I found my fears were well grounded;
every egg was gone. The joy of the thrush was laid low. No more songs
from the treetop, and no more songs from any point, till nearly a week
had elapsed, when I heard him again under the hill, where the pair
had started a new nest, cautiously tuning up, and apparently with his
recent bitter experience still weighing upon him.

After a pair of birds have been broken up once or twice during the
season, they become almost desperate, and will make great efforts to
outwit their enemies. The past season my attention was attracted by a
pair of brown thrashers. They first built their nest in a pasture-field
under a low, scrubby apple-tree which the cattle had browsed down till
it spread a thick, wide mass of thorny twigs only a few inches above
the ground. Some blackberry briers had also grown there, so that the
screen was perfect. My dog first started the bird, as I was passing
by. By stooping low and peering intently, I could make out the nest
and eggs. Two or three times a week, as I passed by, I would pause to
see how the nest was prospering. The mother bird would keep her place,
her yellow eyes never blinking. One morning as I looked into her tent
I found the nest empty. Some night-prowler, probably a skunk or fox,
or maybe a black snake or red squirrel by day, had plundered it. It
would seem as if it was too well screened: it was in such a spot as any
depredator would be apt to explore. "Surely," he would say, "this is a
likely place for a nest." The birds then moved over the hill a hundred
rods or more, much nearer the house, and in some rather open bushes
tried again. But again they came to grief. Then, after some delay, the
mother bird made a bold stroke. She seemed to reason with herself thus:
"Since I have fared so disastrously in seeking seclusion for my nest, I
will now adopt the opposite tactics, and come out fairly in the open.
What hides me hides my enemies: let us try greater publicity." So she
came out and built her nest by a few small shoots that grew beside the
path that divides the two vineyards, and where we passed to and fro
many times daily. I discovered her by chance early in the morning as
I proceeded to my work. She started up at my feet and flitted quickly
along above the plowed ground, almost as red as the soil. I admired
her audacity. Surely no prowler by night or day would suspect a nest
in this open and exposed place. There was no cover by which they could
approach, and no concealment anywhere. The nest was a hasty affair,
as if the birds' patience at nest-building had been about exhausted.
Presently an egg appeared, and then the next day another, and on the
fourth day a third. No doubt the bird would have succeeded this time
had not man interfered. In cultivating the vineyards the horse and
cultivator had to pass over this very spot. Upon this the bird had not
calculated. I determined to assist her. I called my man, and told him
there was one spot in that vineyard, no bigger than his hand, where
the horse's foot must not be allowed to fall, nor tooth of cultivator
to touch. Then I showed him the nest, and charged him to avoid it.
Probably if I had kept the secret to myself, and let the bird run her
own risk, the nest would have escaped. But the result was that the
man, in elaborately trying to avoid the nest, overdid the matter; the
horse plunged, and set his foot squarely upon it. Such a little spot,
the chances were few that the horse's foot would fall exactly there;
and yet it did, and the birds' hopes were again dashed. The pair then
disappeared from my vicinity, and I saw them no more.

The summer just gone I passed at a farmhouse on the skirts of the
Northern Catskills. How could I help but see what no one else of all
the people about seemed to notice,—a little bob-tailed song sparrow
building her nest in a pile of dry brush very near the kitchen door.
It was late in July, and she had doubtless reared one brood in the
earlier season. Her toilet was decidedly the worse for wear. I noted
her day after day very busy about the fence and quince bushes between
the house and milk house with her beak full of coarse straw and hay.
To a casual observer she seemed flitting about aimlessly, carrying
straws from place to place just to amuse herself. When I came to watch
her closely to learn the place of her nest, she seemed to suspect my
intention and made many little feints and movements calculated to put
me off the track. But I would not be misled, and presently had her
secret. The male did not assist her at all, but sang much of the time
in an apple-tree or upon the fence, on the other side of the house.
Those artists who paint pictures of devoted male birds singing from
the branch that holds the nest, or in its immediate vicinity, do
not give the birds credit for all the wit they possess. They do not
advertise the place where their treasures are hid in this way. See
yonder indigo-bird shaking out its happy song from the topmost twig of
the maple or oak; its nest is many yards away in a low bush not more
than three feet from the ground.

And so with nearly all the birds. The one thing to which they bend all
their wits is the concealment of their nests. When you come upon the
sitting bird, she will almost let you touch her rather than to start up
before you, and thus betray her secret. The bobolink begins to scold
and to circle about you as soon as you enter the meadow where his nest
is so well hidden. He does not wait to show his anxiety till you are
almost upon it. By no action of his can you get a clew as to its exact

The song sparrow nearly always builds upon the ground, but my little
neighbor of last July laid the foundations of her domicile a foot
or more above the soil. And what a mass of straws and twigs she did
collect together! How coarse and careless and aimless at first—a mere
lot of rubbish dropped upon the tangle of dry limbs; but presently
how it began to refine and come into shape in the centre! till there
was the most exquisite hair-lined cup set about by a chaos of coarse
straws and branches. What a process of evolution! The completed nest
was foreshadowed by the first stiff straw; but how far off is yet that
dainty casket with its complement of speckled eggs! The nest was so
placed that it had for canopy a large, broad, drooping leaf of yellow
dock. This formed a perfect shield against both sun and rain, while it
served to conceal it from any curious eyes from above,—from the cat,
for instance, prowling along the top of the wall. Before the eggs had
hatched the docken leaf wilted and dried and fell down upon the nest.
But the mother bird managed to insinuate herself beneath it, and went
on with her brooding all the same.

Then I arranged an artificial cover of leaves and branches which
shielded her charge till they had flown away. A mere trifle was this
little bob-tailed bird with her arts and her secrets, and the male with
his song, and yet the pair gave a touch of something to those days and
to that place which I would not willingly have missed.

I have spoken of nature as a stage whereon the play, more or less
interrupted and indirect, constantly goes on. One amusing actor upon
that stage one season, upon my own premises, was a certain male
bluebird. To the spectator it was a comedy, but to the actor himself I
imagine it was quite serious business. The bird and his mate had a nest
in a box upon an outhouse. In this outhouse was a window with one pane
broken out. At almost any hour in the day from spring to early summer,
the male bird could be seen fluttering and pecking against this window
from the outside. Did he want to get within? Apparently so, and yet he
would now and then pause in his demonstrations, alight in the frame of
the broken pane, look intently within, and after a moment resume his
assault upon the window. The people who saw the actions of the bird
were at a loss how to interpret them. But I could see at once what was
the matter. The bird saw its image in the mirror of the glass (the dark
interior helped the reflection) and was making war, as he supposed,
upon a rival. Only the unyielding glass kept him from tweaking out
every saucy blue feather upon the spot! Then he would peep in through
the vacant pane and try to determine where his rival had so suddenly
disappeared. How it must have puzzled his little poll! And he learned
nothing from experience. Hundreds of times did he perch in the broken
pane and sharply eye the interior. And for two months there did not
seem to be an hour when he was not assaulting the window. He never lost
faith in the reality of the bird within, and he never abated one jot
his enmity toward him. If the glass had been a rough surface he would
certainly have worn his beak and claws and wings to mere stubs. The
incident shows the pugnacious disposition of the bluebird, and it shows
how shallow a bird's wit is when new problems or conditions confront
it. I have known a cock-robin to assault an imaginary rival in a garret
window, in the same manner, and keep up the warfare for weeks.

On still another occasion similar antics of a male bluebird greatly
disturbed the sleep of my hired man in the early morning. The bird with
its mate had a nest in a box near by the house, and after the manner
of the bluebirds was very inquisitive and saucy about windows; one
morning it chanced to discover its reflected image in the windows of
the hired man's room. The shade, of some dark stuff, was down on the
inside, which aided in making a kind of looking-glass of the window.
Instantly the bird began an assault upon his supposed rival in the
window, and made such a clattering that there was no more sleep inside
that room. Morning after morning the bird kept this up till the tired
plowman complained bitterly and declared his intention to kill the
bird. In an unlucky moment—unlucky for me, who had morning work to be
done—I suggested that he leave the shade up and try the effect. He did
so, and his morning sleep was thenceforth undisturbed.

A Western correspondent writes me that she once put a looking-glass
down on the floor in front of the canary bird's cage. The poor canary
had not had any communion with his own kind for years. "He used often
to watch the ugly sparrows—the little plebeians—from his aristocratic
gilded palace. I opened his cage and he walked up to the looking-glass,
and it was not long before he made up his mind. He collected dead
leaves, twigs, bits of paper, and all sorts of stray bits, and began
a nest right off. Several days after in his lonely cage he would take
bits of straw and arrange them when they were given him."



As I sat looking from my window the other morning upon a red squirrel
gathering hickory nuts from a small hickory, and storing them up in
his den in the bank, I was forcibly reminded of the state of constant
fear and apprehension in which the wild creatures live, and I tried to
picture to myself what life would be to me, or to any of us, hedged
about by so many dangers, real or imaginary.

The squirrel would shoot up the tree, making only a brown streak from
the bottom to the top; would seize his nut and rush down again in the
most precipitate manner. Half way to his den, which was not over three
rods distant, he would rush up the trunk of another tree for a few
yards to make an observation. No danger being near, he would dive into
his den and reappear again in a twinkling.

Returning for another nut, he would mount the second tree again for
another observation. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he would spin
along the top of the ground to the tree that bore the nuts, shoot up it
as before, seize the fruit, and then back again to his retreat.

Never did he fail during the half hour or more that I watched him
to take an observation on his way both to and from his nest. It was
"snatch and run" with him. Something seemed to say to him all the time:
"Look out! look out!" "The cat!" "The hawk!" "The owl!" "The boy with
the gun!"

It was a bleak December morning; the first fine flakes of a cold,
driving snowstorm were just beginning to sift down, and the squirrel
was eager to finish harvesting his nuts in time. It was quite touching
to see how hurried and anxious and nervous he was. I felt like going
out and lending a hand. The nuts were small, poor pig-nuts, and I
thought of all the gnawing he would have to do to get at the scanty
meat they held. My little boy once took pity on a squirrel that lived
in the wall near the gate, and cracked the nuts for him, and put them
upon a small board shelf in the tree where he could sit and eat them at
his ease.

The red squirrel is not so provident as the chipmunk. He lays up stores
irregularly, by fits and starts; he never has enough put up to carry
him over the winter; hence he is more or less active all the season.
Long before the December snow the chipmunk has for days been making
hourly trips to his den with full pockets of nuts or corn or buckwheat,
till his bin holds enough to carry him through to April. He need not,
and I believe does not, set foot out of doors during the whole winter.
But the red squirrel trusts more to luck.

As alert and watchful as the red squirrel is, he is frequently
caught by the cat. My Nig, as black as ebony, knows well the taste
of his flesh. I have known him to be caught by the black snake and
successfully swallowed. The snake, no doubt, lay in ambush for him.

This fear, this ever present source of danger of the wild creatures, we
know little about. Probably the only person in the civilized countries
who is no better off than the animals in this respect is the Czar of
Russia. He would not even dare gather nuts as openly as my squirrel.
A blacker and more terrible cat than Nig would be lying in wait for
him and would make a meal of him. The early settlers in this country
must have experienced something of this dread of apprehension from the
Indians. Many African tribes now live in the same state of constant
fear of the slave-catchers or of other hostile tribes. Our ancestors,
back in prehistoric times, or back of that in geologic times, must
have known fear as a constant feeling. Hence the prominence of fear in
infants and children when compared with the youth or the grown person.
Babies are nearly always afraid of strangers.

In the domestic animals also, fear is much more active in the young
than in the old. Nearly every farm boy has seen a calf but a day or two
old, which its mother has secreted in the woods or in a remote field,
charge upon him furiously with a wild bleat, when first discovered.
After this first ebullition of fear, it usually settles down into the
tame humdrum of its bovine elders.

Eternal vigilance is the price of life with most of the wild
creatures. There is only one among them whose wildness I cannot
understand, and that is the common water turtle. Why is this creature
so fearful? What are its enemies? I know of nothing that preys upon
it. Yet see how watchful and suspicious these turtles are as they sun
themselves upon a log or a rock. Before you are fairly in gunshot of
them, they slide down into the water and are gone.

The land turtle, or terrapin, on the other hand, shows scarcely a trace
of fear. He will indeed pause in his walk when you are very near him,
but he will not retreat into his shell till you have poked him with
your foot or your cane. He appears to have no enemies; but the little
spotted water turtle is as shy as if he were the delicate tidbit that
every creature was searching for. I did once find one which a fox had
dug out of the mud in winter, and carried a few rods and dropped on the
snow, as if he had found he had no use for it.

One can understand the fearlessness of the skunk. Nearly every creature
but the farm-dog yields to him the right of way. All dread his terrible
weapon. If you meet one in your walk in the twilight fields, the
chances are that you will turn out for him, not he for you. He may
even pursue you, just for the fun of seeing you run. He comes waltzing
toward you, apparently in the most hilarious spirits.

The coon is probably the most courageous creature among our familiar
wild animals. Who ever saw a coon show the white feather? He will face
any odds with perfect composure. I have seen a coon upon the ground,
beset by four men and two dogs, and never for a moment losing his
presence of mind, or showing a sign of fear. The raccoon is clear grit.

The fox is a very wild and suspicious creature, but curiously enough,
when you suddenly come face to face with him, when he is held by a
trap, or driven by the hound, his expression is not that of fear, but
of shame and guilt. He seems to diminish in size and to be overwhelmed
with humiliation. Does he know himself to be an old thief, and is that
the reason of his embarrassment? The fox has no enemies but man, and
when he is fairly outwitted, he looks the shame he evidently feels.

In the heart of the rabbit fear constantly abides. How her eyes
protrude! She can see back and front and on all sides as well as a
bird. The fox is after her, the owls are after her, the gunners are
after her, and she has no defense but her speed. She always keeps well
to cover. The northern hare keeps in the thickest brush. If the hare or
rabbit crosses a broad open exposure it does so hurriedly, like a mouse
when it crosses the road. The mouse is in danger of being pounced upon
by a hawk, and the hare or rabbit by the snowy owl, or else the great
horned owl.

A friend of mine was following one morning a fresh rabbit track through
an open field. Suddenly the track came to an end, as if the creature
had taken wings—as it had after an unpleasant fashion. There, on
either side of its last foot imprint, were several parallel lines in
the snow, made by the wings of the great owl that had swooped down and
carried it off. What a little tragedy was seen written there upon the
white, even surface of the field!

The rabbit has not much wit. I once, when a boy, saw one that had
been recently caught, liberated in an open field in the presence of a
dog that was being held a few yards away. But the poor thing lost all
presence of mind and was quickly caught by the clumsy dog.

A hunter once saw a hare running upon the ice along the shore of one of
the Rangeley lakes. Presently a lynx appeared in hot pursuit; as soon
as the hare found it was being pursued, it began to circle, foolish
thing. This gave the lynx greatly the advantage, as it could follow in
a much smaller circle. Soon the hare was run down and seized.

I saw the same experiment tried with a red squirrel with quite opposite
results. The boy who had caught the squirrel in his wire trap had a
very bright and nimble dog about the size of a fox, that seemed to be
very sure he could catch a red squirrel under any circumstances if only
the trees were out of the way. So the boy went to the middle of an open
field with his caged squirrel, the dog, who seemed to know what was up,
dancing and jumping about him. It was in midwinter; the snow had a firm
crust that held boy and dog alike. The dog was drawn back a few yards
and the squirrel liberated. Then began one of the most exciting races
I have witnessed for a long time. It was impossible for the lookers-on
not to be convulsed with laughter, though neither dog nor squirrel
seemed to regard the matter as much of a joke. The squirrel had all his
wits about him, and kept them ready for instant use. He did not show
the slightest confusion. He was no match for the dog in fair running,
and he discovered this fact in less than three seconds; he must win,
if at all, by strategy. Not a straight course for the nearest tree,
but a zigzag course; yea, a double or treble zigzag course. Every
instant the dog was sure the squirrel was his, and every instant he was
disappointed. It was incredible and bewildering to him. The squirrel
dodged this way and that. The dog looked astonished and vexed.

Then the squirrel issued from between his hind legs and made three
jumps toward the woods before he was discovered. Our sides ached with
laughter, cruel as it may seem.

It was evident the squirrel would win. The dog seemed to redouble his
efforts. He would overshoot the game, or shoot by it to the right
or left. The squirrel was the smaller craft and could out-tack him
easily. One more leap and the squirrel was up a tree, and the dog was
overwhelmed with confusion and disgust.

He could not believe his senses. "Not catch a squirrel in such a field
as that? Go to, I will have him yet!" and he bounds up the tree as high
as one's head, and then bites the bark of it in his anger and chagrin.

The boy says his dog has never bragged since about catching red
squirrels "if only the trees were out of reach!"

When any of the winged creatures are engaged in a life and death race
in that way, or in any other race, the tactics of the squirrel do not
work; the pursuer never overshoots nor shoots by his mark. The flight
of the two is timed as if they were parts of one whole. A hawk will
pursue a sparrow or a robin through a zigzag course and not lose a
stroke or half a stroke of the wing by reason of any darting to the
right or left. The clew is held with fatal precision. No matter how
quickly nor how often the sparrow or the finch changes its course, its
enemy changes, simultaneously, as if every move was known to it from
the first.

The same thing may be noticed among the birds in their love chasings;
the pursuer seems to know perfectly the mind of the pursued. This
concert of action among birds is very curious. When they are on
the alert a flock of sparrows, or pigeons, or cedar-birds, or snow
buntings, or blackbirds, will all take flight as if there was but one
bird, instead of a hundred. The same impulse seizes every individual
bird at the same instant, as if they were sprung by electricity.

Or when a flock of birds is in flight, it is still one body, one
will; it will rise, or circle, or swoop with a unity that is truly

A flock of snow buntings will perform their aerial evolutions with
a precision that the best-trained soldiery cannot equal. Have the
birds an extra sense which we have not? A brood of young partridges
in the woods will start up like an explosion, every brown particle
and fragment hurled into the air at the same instant. Without word or
signal, how is it done?




We love nature with a different love at different periods of our lives.
In youth our love is sensuous. It is not so much a conscious love as it
is an irresistible attraction. The senses are keen and fresh, and they
crave a field for their exercise. We delight in the color of flowers,
the perfume of meadows and orchards, the moist, fresh smell of the
woods. We eat the pungent roots and barks, we devour the wild fruits,
we slay the small deer. Then nature also offers a field of adventure;
it challenges and excites our animal spirits. The woods are full of
game, the waters of fish; the river invites the oar, the breeze, the
sail, the mountain-top promises a wide prospect. Hence the rod, the
gun, the boat, the tent, the pedestrian club. In youth we are nearer
the savage state, the primitive condition of mankind, and wild nature
is our proper home. The transient color of the young bird points its
remote ancestry, and the taste of youth for rude nature in like manner
is the survival of an earlier race instinct.

Later in life we go to nature as an escape from the tension and
turmoil of business, or for rest and recreation from study, or seeking
solace from grief and disappointment, or as a refuge from the frivolity
and hypocrisies of society. We lie under trees, we stroll through
lanes, or in meadows and pastures, or muse on the shore. Nature
"salves" our worst wounds; she heals and restores us.

Or we cultivate an intellectual pleasure in nature, and follow up some
branch of natural science, as botany, or ornithology, or mineralogy.

Then there is the countryman's love of nature, the pleasure in cattle,
horses, bees, growing crops, manual labor, sugar-making, gardening,
harvesting, and the rural quietness and repose.

Lastly, we go to nature for solitude and for communion with our own
souls. Nature attunes us to a higher and finer mood. This love springs
from our religious needs and instincts. This was the love of Thoreau,
of Wordsworth, and has been the inspiration of much modern poetry and

Dr. Johnson said he had lived in London so long that he had ceased to
note the changes of the seasons. But Dr. Johnson was not a lover of
Nature. Of that feeling for the country of which Wordsworth's poetry,
for instance, is so full, he probably had not a vestige. Think of
Wordsworth shut up year in and year out—in the city! That lover of
shepherds, of mountains, of lonely tarns, of sounding waterfalls,

     "Who looked upon the hills with tenderness,
      And made dear friendships with the streams and groves."

Dr. Johnson's delight was in men and in verbal fisticuffs with them,
but Wordsworth seems to have loved Nature more than men; at least he
was drawn most to those men who lived closest to Nature and were more a
part of her. Thus he says he loved shepherds, "dwellers in the valleys,"

                       "Not verily
     For their own sakes, but for the fields and hills
     Where was their occupation and abode."

Your real lover of nature does not love merely the beautiful things
which he culls here and there; he loves the earth itself, the faces of
the hills and mountains, the rocks, the streams, the naked trees no
less than the leafy trees,—a plowed field no less than a green meadow.
He does not know what it is that draws him. It is not beauty, any more
than it is beauty in his father and mother that makes him love them.
It is "something far more deeply interfused,"—something native and
kindred that calls to him. In certain moods how good the earth, the
soil, seems! One wants to feel it with his hands and smell it—almost
taste it. Indeed, I never see a horse eat soil and sods without a
feeling that I would like to taste it too. The rind of the earth, of
this "round and delicious globe" which has hung so long upon the great
Newtonian tree, ripening in the sun, must be sweet.

I recall an Irish girl lately come to this country, who worked for
us, and who, when I dug and brought to the kitchen the first early
potatoes, felt them, and stroked them with her hand, and smelled
them, and was loath to lay them down, they were so full of suggestion
of the dear land and home she had so lately left. I suppose it was a
happy surprise to her to find that the earth had the same fresh, moist
smell here that it had in Ireland, and yielded the same crisp tubers.
The canny creature had always worked in the fields, and the love of
the soil and of homely country things was deep in her heart. Another
emigrant from over the seas, a laboring man, confined to the town, said
to me in his last illness, that he believed he would get well if he
could again walk in the fields. A Frenchman who fled the city and came
to the country said, with an impressive gesture, that he wanted to be
where he could see the blue sky over his head.

These little incidents are but glints or faint gleams of that love of
Nature to which I would point,—an affection for the country itself,
and not a mere passing admiration for its beauties. A great many people
admire Nature; they write admiring things about her; they apostrophize
her beauties; they describe minutely pretty scenes here and there;
they climb mountains to see the sun set, or the sun rise, or make long
journeys to find waterfalls, but Nature's real lover listens to their
enthusiasm with coolness and indifference. Nature is not to be praised
or patronized. You cannot go to her and describe her; she must speak
through your heart. The woods and fields must melt into your mind,
dissolved by your love for them. Did they not melt into Wordsworth's
mind? They colored all his thoughts; the solitude of those green,
rocky Westmoreland fells broods over every page. He does not tell us
how beautiful he finds Nature, and how much he enjoys her; he makes us
share his enjoyment.

Richard Jefferies was probably as genuine a lover of Nature as was
Wordsworth, but he had not the same power to make us share his
enjoyment. His page is sometimes wearisome from mere description and
enumeration. He is rarely interpretative; the mood, the frame of mind,
which Nature herself begets, he seldom imparts to us. What we finally
love in Nature is ourselves, some suggestion of the human spirit, and
no labored description or careful enumeration of details will bring us
to this.

                       "Nor do words
     Which practiced talent readily affords,
     Prove that her hand has touched responsive chords."

It has been aptly said that Jefferies was a reporter of genius, but
that he never (in his nature books) got beyond reporting. His "Wild
Life" reads like a kind of field newspaper; he puts in everything, he
is diligent and untiring, but for much of it one cares very little
after he is through. For selecting and combining the things of
permanent interest so as to excite curiosity and impart charm, he has
but little power.

The passion for Nature is by no means a mere curiosity about her, or
an itching to portray certain of her features; it lies deeper and is
probably a form of, or closely related to, our religious instincts.
When you go to Nature, bring us good science or else good literature,
and not a mere inventory of what you have seen. One demonstrates, the
other interprets.

Observation is selective and detective. A real observation begets
warmth and joy in the mind. To see things in detail as they lie about
you and enumerate them is not observation; but to see the significant
things, to seize the quick movement and gesture, to disentangle
the threads of relation, to know the nerves that thrill from the
cords that bind, or the typical and vital from the commonplace and
mechanical—that is to be an observer. In Thoreau's "Walden" there is
observation; in the Journals published since his death there is close
and patient scrutiny, but only now and then anything that we care to
know. Considering that Thoreau spent half of each day for upward of
twenty years in the open air, bent upon spying out Nature's ways and
doings, it is remarkable that he made so few real observations.

Yet how closely he looked! He even saw that mysterious waving line
which one may sometimes note in little running brooks. "I see stretched
from side to side of this smooth brook where it is three or four feet
wide what seems to indicate an invisible waving line, like a cobweb
against which the water is heaped up a very little. This line is
constantly swayed to and fro, as if by the current or wind, bellying
forward here and there. I try repeatedly to catch and break it with my
hand and let the water run free, but still to my surprise I clutch
nothing but fluid, and the imaginary line keeps its place."

A little closer scrutiny would have shown him that this waving water
line was probably caused in some way by the meeting of two volumes or
currents of water.

The most novel and interesting observation I can now recall is his
discovery of how the wild apple-tree in the pastures triumphs over the
browsing cattle, namely, by hedging itself about by a dense thorny
growth, keeping the cows at arm's length as it were, and then sending
up a central shoot beyond their reach.

One of the most acute observations Thoreau's Journals contain is not
upon nature at all, but upon the difference between men and women "in
respect to the adornment of their heads:" "Do you ever see an old or
jammed bonnet on the head of a woman at a public meeting? But look at
any assembly of men with their hats on; how large a proportion of the
hats will be old, weather-beaten, and indented; but, I think, so much
more picturesque and interesting. One farmer rides by my door in a hat
which it does me good to see, there is so much character in it, so much
independence, to begin with, and then affection for his old friends,
etc., etc. I should not wonder if there were lichens on it. . . . Men
wear their hats for use, women theirs for ornament. I have seen the
greatest philosopher in the town with what the traders would call a
'shocking bad hat' on, but the woman whose bonnet does not come up to
the mark is at best a blue-stocking."

So clever an observation upon anything in nature as that is hard to
find in the Journals.

To observe is to discriminate and take note of all the factors.

One day while walking in my vineyard, lamenting the damage the storm
of yesterday had wrought in it, my ear caught, amid the medley of
other sounds and songs, an unfamiliar bird-note from the air overhead.
Gradually it dawned upon my consciousness that this was not the call
of any of our native birds, but of a stranger. Looking steadily in
the direction the sound came, after some moments I made out the form
of a bird flying round and round in a large circle high in air, and
momentarily uttering its loud sharp call. The size, the shape, the
manner, and the voice of the bird were all strange. In a moment I knew
it to be an English skylark, apparently adrift and undecided which way
to go. Finally it seemed to make up its mind, and then bore away to the
north. My ear had been true to its charge.

The man who told me that some of our birds took an earth bath, and some
of them a water bath, and a few of them took both, had looked closer
into this matter than I had. The sparrows usually earth their plumage,
but the English sparrow does both. The farm boy who told a naturalist a
piece of news about the turtles, namely, that the reason why we never
see any small turtles about the fields is because for two or three
years the young turtles bury themselves in the ground and keep quite
hidden from sight, had used his eyes to some purpose. This was a real

Just as a skilled physician, in diagnosing a case, picks out the
significant symptoms and separates them from the rest, so the real
observer, with eye and ear, seizes what is novel and characteristic
in the scenes about him. His attention goes through the play at the
surface and reaches the rarer incidents beneath or beyond.

Richard Jefferies was not strictly an observer; he was a living and
sympathetic spectator of the nature about him, a poet, if you please,
but he tells us little that is memorable or suggestive. His best books
are such as the "Gamekeeper at Home," and the "Amateur Poacher," where
the human element is brought in, and the descriptions of nature are
relieved by racy bits of character drawing. By far the best thing of
all is a paper which he wrote shortly before his death, called "My Old
Village." It is very beautiful and pathetic, and reveals the heart and
soul of the man as nothing else he has written does. I must permit
myself to transcribe one paragraph of it. It shows how he, too, was
under the spell of the past, and such a recent past, too:—

"I think I have heard that the oaks are down. They may be standing or
down, it matters nothing to me; the leaves I last saw upon them are
gone for evermore, nor shall I ever see them come there again, ruddy
in spring. I would not see them again, even if I could; they could
never look again as they used to do. There are too many memories there.
The happiest days become the saddest afterward; let us never go back,
lest we, too, die. There are no such oaks anywhere else, none so tall
and straight, and with such massive heads, on which the sun used to
shine as if on the globe of the earth, one side in shadow, the other
in bright light. How often I have looked at oaks since, and yet have
never been able to get the same effect from them! Like an old author
printed in another type, the words are the same, but the sentiment is
different. The brooks have ceased to run. There is no music now at the
old hatch where we used to sit, in danger of our lives, happy as kings,
on the narrow bar over the deep water. The barred pike that used to
come up in such numbers are no more among the flags. The perch used to
drift down the stream and then bring up again. The sun shone there for
a very long time, and the water rippled and sang, and it always seemed
to me that I could feel the rippling and the singing and the sparkling
back through the centuries. The brook is dead, for where man goes,
nature ends. I dare say there is water there still, but it is not the
brook; the brook is gone, like John Brown's soul [not our John Brown].
There used to be clouds over the fields, white clouds in blue summer
skies. I have lived a good deal on clouds; they have been meat to me
often; they bring something to the spirit which even the trees do not.
I see clouds now sometimes when the iron gripe of hell permits for a
minute or two; they are very different clouds and speak differently. I
long for some of the old clouds that had no memories. There were nights
in those times over those fields, not darkness, but Night, full of
glowing suns and glowing richness of life that sprang up to meet them.
The nights are there still; they are everywhere, nothing local in the
night; but it is not the Night to me seen through the window."

In the literature of nature I know of no page so pathetic and human.

Moralizing about nature or through nature is tedious enough, and yet,
unless the piece has some moral or emotional background, it does not
touch us. In other words, to describe a thing for the mere sake of
describing it, to make a dead set at it like a reporter, whatever may
be the case in painting, it will not do in literature. The object must
be informed with meaning, and to do this the creative touch of the
imagination is required. Take this passage from Whitman on the night,
and see if there is not more than mere description there:—

"A large part of the sky seemed just laid in great splashes of
phosphorus. You could look deeper in, farther through, than usual; the
orbs thick as heads of wheat in a field. Not that there was any special
brilliancy either—nothing near as sharp as I have seen of keen winter
nights, but a curious general luminousness throughout to sight, sense,
and soul. The latter had much to do with it. . . . Now, indeed, if never
before, the heavens declared the glory of God. It was to the full the
sky of the Bible, of Arabia, of the prophets, and of the oldest poems."

Or this touch of a January night on the Delaware River:—

"Overhead, the splendor indescribable; yet something haughty, almost
supercilious, in the night; never did I realize more latent sentiment,
almost _passion_, in the silent interminable stars up there. One can
understand on such a night why, from the days of the Pharaohs or Job,
the dome of heaven, sprinkled with planets, has supplied the subtlest,
deepest criticism on human pride, glory, ambition."

Matthew Arnold quotes this passage from Obermann as showing a rare
feeling for nature:—

"My path lay beside the green waters of the Thiele. Feeling inclined to
muse, and finding the night so warm that there was no hardship in being
all night out of doors, I took the road to Saint Blaise. I descended a
steep bank, and got upon the shore of the lake where its ripple came
up and expired. The air was calm; every one was at rest; I remained
there for hours. Toward morning the moon shed over the earth and waters
the ineffable melancholy of her last gleams. Nature seems unspeakably
grand, when, plunged, in a long reverie, one hears the rippling of the
waters upon a solitary strand, in the calm of a night still enkindled
and luminous with the setting moon.

"Sensibility beyond utterance, charm and torment of our vain years;
vast consciousness of a nature everywhere greater than we are, and
everywhere impenetrable; all-embracing passion, ripened wisdom,
delicious self-abandonment—everything that a mortal heart can contain
of life-weariness and yearning, I felt it all. I experienced it all,
in this memorable night. I have made a grave step toward the age of
decline. I have swallowed up ten years of life at once. Happy the
simple whose heart is always young!"

The moral element is behind this also, and is the source of its value
and charm. In literature never nature for her own sake, but for the
sake of the soul which is over and above all.


One of the most desirable things in life is a fresh impression of an
old fact or scene. One's love of nature may be a constant factor, yet
it is only now and then that he gets a fresh impression of the charm
and meaning of nature; only now and then that the objects without and
the mood within so fit together that we have a vivid and original
sense of the beauty and significance that surround us. How often do we
really see the stars? Probably a great many people never see them at
all—that is, never look upon them with any thrill of emotion. If I
see them a few times a year, I think myself in luck. If I deliberately
go out to see them, I am quite sure to miss them; but occasionally,
as one glances up to them in his lonely night walk, the mind opens,
or the heaven opens—which is it?—and he has a momentary glimpse
of their ineffable splendor and significance. How overwhelming, how
awe-inspiring! His thought goes like a lightning flash into that
serene abyss, and then the veil is drawn again. One's science, one's
understanding, tells him he is a voyager on the celestial deep, that
the earth beneath his feet is a star among stars, that we can never be
any more in the heavens than we are now, or any more within reach of
the celestial laws and forces; but how rare the mood in which we can
realize this astounding fact, in which we can get a fresh and vivid
impression of it! To have it ever present with one in all its naked
grandeur would perhaps be more than we could bear.

The common and the familiar—how soon they cease to impress us! The
great service of genius, speaking through art and literature, is to
pierce through our callousness and indifference and give us fresh
impressions of things as they really are; to present things in new
combinations, or from new points of view, so that they shall surprise
and delight us like a new revelation. When poetry does this, or when
art does it, or when science does it, it recreates the world for us,
and for the moment we are again Adam in paradise.

Herein lies one compensation to the lover of nature who is an enforced
dweller in the town: the indifference which familiarity breeds is not
his. His weekly or monthly sallies into the country yield him a rare
delight. To his fresh, eager senses the charm of novelty is over all.
Country people look with a kind of pitying amusement upon the delight
of their newly arrived city friends; but would we not, after all, give
something if we could exchange eyes with them for a little while?

We who write about nature pick out, I suspect, only the rare moments
when we have had glimpses of her, and make much of them. Our lives
are dull, and our minds crusted over with rubbish like those of other
people. Then writing about nature, as about most other subjects, is an
expansive process; we are under the law of evolution; we grow the germ
into the tree; a little original observation goes a good way. Life is a
compendium. The record in our minds and hearts is in shorthand. When we
come to write it out, we are surprised at its length and significance.
What we feel in a twinkling it takes a long time to tell to another.

When I pass along by a meadow in June, where the bobolinks are singing
and the daisies dancing in the wind, and the scent of the clover is in
the air, and where the boys and girls are looking for wild strawberries
in the grass, I take it all in in a glance, it enters swiftly through
all my senses; but if I set about writing an account of my experience
for my reader, how long and tedious the process, how I must beat about
the bush! And then, if I would have him see and feel it, I must avoid
a point-blank description and bring it to him, or him to it, by a kind
of indirection, so as to surprise him and give him more than I at first
seemed to promise.

To a countryman like myself the presence of natural objects, the
open face of the country, sheds a cheering and soothing influence at
all times; but it is only at rare intervals that he experiences the
thrill of a fresh impression. I find that a kind of preoccupation,
as the farmer with his work, the angler with his rod, the sportsman
with his gun, the walker with his friend, the lounger with his book,
affords conditions that are not to be neglected. So much will steal
in at the corners of your eyes; the unpremeditated glance, when the
mind is passive and receptive, often stirs the soul. Upon whom does
the brook make such an impression as upon the angler? How he comes to
know its character! how he studies its every phase! how he feels it
through that rod and line as if they were a part of himself! I pity
the person who does not get at least one or two fresh impressions of
the charm and sweetness of nature in the spring. Later in the season
it gets to be more of an old story; but in March, when the season is
early, and in April, when the season is late, there occasionally come
days which awaken a new joy in the heart. Every recurring spring one
experiences this fresh delight. There is nothing very tangible yet in
awakening nature, but there is something in the air, some sentiment in
the sunshine and in the look of things, a prophecy of life and renewal,
that sends a thrill through the frame. The first sparrow's song, the
first robin's call, the first bluebird's warble, the first phœbe's
note—who can hear it without emotion? Or the first flock of migrating
geese or ducks—how much they bring north with them! When the
red-shouldered starlings begin to gurgle in the elms or golden willows
along the marshes and watercourses, you will feel spring then; and
if you look closely upon the ground beneath them, you will find that
sturdy advanced guard of our floral army, the skunk cabbage, thrusting
his spear-point up through the ooze, and spring will again quicken your

One seems to get nearer to nature in the early spring days: all
screens are removed, the earth everywhere speaks directly to you; she
is not hidden by verdure and foliage; there is a peculiar delight in
walking over the brown turf of the fields that one cannot feel later
on. How welcome the smell of it, warmed by the sun; the first breath
of the reviving earth. How welcome the full, sparkling watercourses,
too, everywhere drawing the eye; by and by they will be veiled by the
verdure and shrunken by the heat. When March is kind, for how much her
slightest favors count! The other evening, as I stood on the slope of
a hill in the twilight, I heard a whistling of approaching wings, and
presently a woodcock flying low passed near me. I could see his form
and his long curved wings dimly against the horizon; his whistling
slowly vanished in the gathering night, but his passage made something
stir and respond within me. March was on the wing, she was abroad in
the soft still twilight searching out the moist, springy places where
the worms first come to the surface and where the grass first starts;
and her course was up the valley from the south. A day or two later
I sat on a hillside in the woods late in the day, amid the pines
and hemlocks, and heard the soft, elusive spring call of the little
owl—a curious musical undertone hardly separable from the silence; a
bell, muffled in feathers, tolling in the twilight of the woods and
discernible only to the most alert ear. But it was the voice of spring,
the voice of the same impulse that sent the woodcock winging his way
through the dusk, that was just beginning to make the pussy-willows
swell and the grass to freshen in the spring runs.

Occasionally, of a bright, warm, still day in March, such as we have
had the present season, the little flying spider is abroad. It is the
most delicate of all March tokens, but very suggestive. Its long,
waving threads of gossamer, invisible except when the sunlight falls
upon them at a particular angle, stream out here and there upon the
air, a filament of life, reaching and reaching as if to catch and
detain the most subtle of the skyey influences.

Nature is always new in the spring, and lucky are we if it finds us new



How beautiful is fertility! A landscape of fruitful and well-cultivated
fields; an unbroken expanse of grass; a thick, uniform growth of
grain—how each of these fills and satisfies the eye! And it is not
because we are essentially utilitarian and see the rich loaf and
the fat beef as the outcome of it all, but because we read in it an
expression of the beneficence and good-will of the earth. We love to
see harmony between man and nature; we love peace and not war; we love
the adequate, the complete. A perfect issue of grass or grain is a
satisfaction to look upon, because it is a success. These things have
the beauty of an end exactly fulfilled, the beauty of perfect fitness
and proportion. The barren in nature is ugly and repels us, unless it
be on such a scale and convey such a suggestion of power as to awaken
the emotion of the sublime. What can be less inviting than a neglected
and exhausted Virginia farm, the thin red soil showing here and there
through the ragged and scanty turf? and what, on the other hand, can
please the eye of a countryman more than the unbroken verdancy and
fertility of a Kentucky blue-grass farm? I find I am very apt to take
a farmer's view of a country. That long line of toiling and thrifty
yeomen back of me seems to have bequeathed something to my blood that
makes me respond very quickly to a fertile and well-kept landscape,
and that, on the other hand, makes me equally discontented in a poor,
shabby one. All the way from Washington till I struck the heart of
Kentucky, the farmer in me was unhappy; he saw hardly a rood of land
that he would like to call his own. But that remnant of the wild man of
the woods, which most of us still carry, saw much that delighted him,
especially down the New River, where the rocks and the waters, and the
steep forest-clad mountains were as wild and as savage as anything he
had known in his early Darwinian ages. But when we emerged upon the
banks of the Great Kanawha, the man of the woods lost his interest and
the man of the fields saw little that was comforting.

When we cross the line into Kentucky, I said, we shall see a change.
But no, we did not. The farmer still groaned in spirit; no thrifty
farms, no substantial homes, no neat villages, no good roads anywhere,
but squalor and sterility on every hand. Nearly all the afternoon we
rode through a country like the poorer parts of New England, unredeemed
by anything like New England thrift. It was a country of coal, a very
new country, geologically speaking, and the top-soil did not seem to
have had time to become deepened and enriched by vegetable mould. Near
sundown, as I glanced out of the window, I thought I began to see a
change. Presently I was very sure I did. It began to appear in the
more grassy character of the woods. Then I caught sight of peculiarly
soft and uniform grassy patches here and there in the open. Then in
a few moments more the train had shot us fairly into the edge of the
blue-grass region, and the farmer in me began to be on the alert. We
had passed in a twinkling from a portion of the earth's surface which
is new, which is of yesterday, to a portion which is of the oldest,
from the carboniferous to the lower silurian. Here, upon this lower
silurian, the earth that saw and nourished the great monsters and
dragons was growing the delicate blue-grass. It had taken all these
millions upon millions of years to prepare the way for this little
plant to grow to perfection. I thought I had never seen fields and low
hills look so soft in the twilight; they seemed clad in greenish gray
fur. As we neared Mount Sterling, how fat and smooth the land looked;
what long, even, gently flowing lines against the fading western sky,
broken here and there by herds of slowly grazing or else reposing
and ruminating cattle! What peace and plenty it suggested! From a
land raw and crude and bitter like unripe fruit, we had suddenly been
transported into the midst of one ripe and mellow with the fullness of
time. It was sweet to look upon. I was seized with a strong desire to
go forth and taste it by a stroll through it in the twilight.

In the course of the ten days that followed, the last ten days of May,
I had an opportunity to taste it pretty well, and my mind has had a
grassy flavor ever since. I had an opportunity to see this restless and
fitful American nature of ours in a more equable and beneficent mood
than I had ever before seen it in; all its savageness and acridness
gone, no thought now but submission to the hand and wants of man. I
afterward saw the prairies of Illinois, and the vast level stretches
of farming country of northern Ohio and Indiana, but these lands were
nowhere quite so human, quite so beautiful, or quite so productive as
the blue-grass region. One likes to see the earth's surface lifted up
and undulating a little, as if it heaved and swelled with emotion; it
suggests more life, and at the same time that the sense of repose is
greater. There is no repose in a prairie; it is stagnation, it is a
_dead_ level. Those immense stretches of flat land pain the eye, as
if all life and expression had gone from the face of the earth. There
is just unevenness enough in the blue-grass region to give mobility
and variety to the landscape. From almost any given point one commands
broad and extensive views—of immense fields of wheat or barley, or
corn or hemp, or grass or clover, or of woodland pastures.

With Professor Proctor I drove a hundred miles or more about the
country in a buggy. First from Frankfort to Versailles, the capital
of Woodford County; then to Lexington, where we passed a couple of
days with Major McDowell at Ashland, the old Henry Clay place; then
to Georgetown in Scott County; thence back to Frankfort again. The
following week I passed three days on the great stock farm of Colonel
Alexander, where I saw more and finer blooded stock in the way of
horses, cattle, and sheep than I had ever seen before. From thence we
went south to Colonel Shelby's, where we passed a couple of days on the
extreme edge of the blue-grass circle in Boyle County. Here we strike
the rim of sharp low hills that run quite around this garden of the
State, from the Ohio River on the west to the Ohio again on the north
and east. Kentucky is a great country for licks; there are any number
of streams and springs that bear the names of licks. Probably the soil
of no other State in the Union has been so much licked and smacked over
as that of Kentucky. Colonel Shelby's farm is near a stream called Knob
Lick, and within a few miles of a place called Blue Lick. I expected to
see some sort of salt spring where the buffalo and deer used to come
to lick; but instead of that saw a raw, naked spot of earth, an acre
or two in extent, which had apparently been licked into the shape of
a clay model of some scene in Colorado or the Rocky Mountains. There
were gullies and chasms and sharp knobs and peaks as blue and barren as
could be, and no sign of a spring or of water visible. The buffalo had
licked the clay for the saline matter it held, and had certainly made a
deep and lasting impression.

From Shelby City we went west sixty or more miles, skirting the
blue-grass region, to Lebanon Junction, where I took the train for Cave
City. The blue-grass region is as large as the State of Massachusetts,
and is, on the whole, the finest bit of the earth's surface, with the
exception of parts of England, I have yet seen. In one way it is more
pleasing than anything one sees in England, on account of the greater
sense of freedom and roominess which it gives one. Everything is on a
large, generous scale. The fields are not so cut up, nor the roadways
so narrow, nor the fences so prohibitory. Indeed, the distinguishing
feature of this country is its breadth: one sees fields of corn or
wheat or clover of from fifty to one hundred acres each. At Colonel
Alexander's I saw three fields of clover lying side by side which
contained three hundred acres: as the clover was just in full bloom,
the sight was a very pleasing one. The farms are larger, ranging from
several hundred to several thousand acres. The farmhouses are larger,
with wide doors, broad halls, high ceilings, ample grounds, and
hospitality to match. There is nothing niggardly or small in the people
or in their country. One sees none of the New York or New England
primness and trimness, but the ample, flowing Southern way of life. It
is common to see horses and cattle grazing in the grounds immediately
about the house; there is nothing but grass, and the great forest
trees, which they cannot hurt. The farmhouses rarely stand near the
highway, but are set after the English fashion from a third to half a
mile distant, amid a grove of primitive forest trees, and flanked or
backed up by the many lesser buildings that the times of slavery made
necessary. Educated gentlemen farmers are probably the rule more than
in the North. There are not so many small or so many leased farms.
The proprietors are men of means, and come the nearest to forming a
landed gentry of any class of men we have in this country. They are
not city men running a brief and rapid career on a fancy farm, but
genuine countrymen, who love the land and mean to keep it. I remember
with pleasure one rosy-faced young farmer, whose place we casually
invaded in Lincoln County. He was a graduate of Harvard University and
of the Law School, but here he was with his trousers tucked into his
boot-legs, helping to cultivate his corn, or looking after his herds
upon his broad acres. He was nearly the ideal of a simple, hearty,
educated country farmer and gentleman.

But the feature of this part of Kentucky which struck me the most
forcibly, and which is perhaps the most unique, is the immense sylvan
or woodland pastures. The forests are simply vast grassy orchards of
maple and oak, or other trees, where the herds graze and repose. They
everywhere give a look to the land as of royal parks and commons.
They are as clean as a meadow and as inviting as long, grassy vistas
and circles of cool shade can make them. All the saplings and bushy
undergrowths common to forests have been removed, leaving only the
large trees scattered here and there, which seem to protect rather than
occupy the ground. Such a look of leisure, of freedom, of amplitude, as
these forest groves give to the landscape!

What vistas, what aisles, what retreats, what depths of sunshine and
shadow! The grass is as uniform as a carpet, and grows quite up to
the boles of the trees. One peculiarity of the blue-grass is that it
takes complete possession of the soil; it suffers no rival; it is as
uniform as a fall of snow. Only one weed seems to hold its own against
it, and that is ironweed, a plant like a robust purple aster five or
six feet high. This is Kentucky's one weed, so far as I saw. It was low
and inconspicuous while I was there, but before fall it gets tall and
rank, and its masses of purple flowers make a very striking spectacle.
Through these forest glades roam the herds of cattle or horses. I
know no prettier sight than a troop of blooded mares with their colts
slowly grazing through these stately aisles, some of them in sunshine,
and some in shadow. In riding along the highway there was hardly an
hour when such a scene was not in view. Very often the great farmhouse
stands in one of these open forests and is approached by a graveled
road that winds amid the trees. At Colonel Alexander's the cottage of
his foreman, as well as many of the farm buildings and stables, stands
in a grassy forest, and the mares with their colts roam far and wide.
Sometimes when they were going for water, or were being started in for
the night, they would come charging along like the wind, and what a
pleasing sight it was to see their glossy coats glancing adown the long
sun-flecked vistas! Sometimes the more open of these forest lands are
tilled; I saw fine crops of hemp growing on them, and in one or two
cases corn. But where the land has never been under cultivation it is
remarkably smooth—one can drive with a buggy with perfect ease and
freedom anywhere through these woods. The ground is as smooth as if
it had been rolled. In Kentucky we are beyond the southern limit of
the glacial drift; there are no surface bowlders and no abrupt knolls
or gravel banks. Another feature which shows how gentle and uniform
the forces which have moulded this land have been are the beautiful
depressions which go by the ugly name of "sink-holes." They are broad
turf-lined bowls sunk in the surface here and there, and as smooth and
symmetrical as if they had been turned out by a lathe. Those about the
woodlands of Colonel Alexander were from one to two hundred feet across
and fifteen or twenty feet deep. The green turf sweeps down into them
without a break, and the great trees grow from their sides and bottoms
the same as elsewhere. They look as if they might have been carved out
by the action of whirling water, but are probably the result of the
surface water seeking a hidden channel in the underlying rock, and thus
slowly carrying away the soil with it. They all still have underground
drainage through the bottom. By reason of these depressions this part
of the State has been called "goose-nest land," their shape suggesting
the nests of immense geese. On my way southward to the Mammoth Cave,
over the formation known as the subcarboniferous, they formed the most
noticeable feature of the landscape. An immense flock of geese had
nested here, so that in places the rims of their nests touched one
another. As you near the great cave you see a mammoth depression,
nothing less than a broad, oval valley which holds entire farms,
and which has no outlet save through the bottom. In England these
depressions would be called punch-bowls; and though they know well in
Kentucky what punch is made of, and can furnish the main ingredient of
superb quality, and in quantity that would quite fill some of these
grassy basins, yet I do not know that they apply this term to them. But
in the good old times before the war, when the spirit of politics ran
much higher than now, these punch-bowls and the forests about them were
the frequent scenes of happy and convivial gatherings. Under the great
trees the political orators held forth; a whole ox would be roasted to
feed the hungry crowd, and something stronger than punch flowed freely.
One farmer showed us in our walk where Crittenden and Breckinridge had
frequently held forth, but the grass had long been growing over the
ashes where the ox had been roasted.

What a land for picnics and open-air meetings! The look of it suggested
something more large and leisurely than the stress and hurry of
our American life. What was there about it that made me think of
Walter Scott and the age of romance and chivalry? and of Robin Hood
and his adventurous band under the greenwood tree? Probably it was
those stately, open forests, with their clear, grassy vistas where a
tournament might be held, and those superb breeds of horses wandering
through them upon which it was so easy to fancy knights and ladies
riding. The land has not the mellow, time-enriched look of England; it
could not have it under our harder, fiercer climate; but it has a sense
of breadth and a roominess which one never sees in England except in
the great royal parks.

The fences are mainly posts and rails, which fall a little short of
giving the look of permanence which a hedge or a wall and dike afford.

The Kentuckians have an unhandsome way of treating their forests when
they want to get rid of them; they girdle the trees and let them
die, instead of cutting them down at once. A girdled tree dies hard;
the struggle is painful to look upon; inch by inch, leaf by leaf, it
yields, and the agony is protracted nearly through the whole season.
The land looked accursed when its noble trees were all dying or had
died, as if smitten by a plague. One hardly expected to see grass or
grain growing upon it. The girdled trees stand for years, their gaunt
skeletons blistering in the sun or blackening in the rain. Through
southern Indiana and Illinois I noticed this same lazy, ugly custom of
getting rid of the trees.

The most noticeable want of the blue-grass region is water. The streams
bore underground through the limestone rock so readily that they rarely
come to the surface. With plenty of sparkling streams and rivers like
New England, it would indeed be a land of infinite attractions. The
most unsightly feature the country afforded was the numerous shallow
basins, scooped out of the soil and filled with stagnant water, where
the flocks and herds drank. These, with the girdled trees, were about
the only things the landscape presented to which the eye did not turn
with pleasure. Yet when one does chance upon a spring, it is apt to
be a strikingly beautiful one. The limestone rock, draped with dark,
dripping moss, opens a cavernous mouth from which in most instances
a considerable stream flows. I saw three or four such springs, about
which one wanted to linger long. The largest was at Georgetown, where
a stream ten or twelve feet broad and three or four feet deep came
gliding from a cavernous cliff without a ripple. It is situated in the
very edge of the town, and could easily be made a feature singularly
attractive. As we approached its head, a little colored girl rose up
from its brink with a pail of water. I asked her name. "Venus, sir;
Venus." It was the nearest I had ever come to seeing Venus rising from
the foam.

There are three hard things in Kentucky, only one of which is to my
taste; namely, hard bread, hard beds, and hard roads. The roads are
excellent, macadamized as in England, and nearly as well kept; but that
"beat-biscuit," a sort of domestic hardtack, in the making of which the
flour or dough is beaten long and hard with the rolling-pin, is, in
my opinion, a poor substitute for Yankee bread; and those mercilessly
hard beds—the macadamizing principle is out of place there, too. It
would not be exact to call Kentucky butter bad; but with all their fine
grass and fancy stock, they do not succeed well in this article of
domestic manufacture. But Kentucky whiskey is soft, seductively so, and
I caution all travelers to beware how they suck any iced preparation
of it through a straw of a hot day; it is not half so innocent as it

The blue-grass region has sent out, and continues to send out, the
most famous trotting horses in the world. Within a small circle not
half a dozen miles across were produced all the more celebrated
horses of the past ten years; but it has as yet done nothing of equal
excellence in the way of men. I could but ask myself why this ripe and
mellow geology, this stately and bountiful landscape, these large and
substantial homesteads, have not yet produced a crop of men to match.
Cold and sterile Massachusetts is far in the lead in this respect.
Granite seems a better nurse of genius than the lime-rock. The one
great man born in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln, was not a product of this
fertile region. Henry Clay was a Virginian. The two most eminent native
blue-grass men were John C. Breckinridge and John J. Crittenden. It
seems that it takes something more than a fertile soil to produce great
men; a deep and rich human soil is much more important. Kentucky has
been too far to one side of the main current of our national life; she
has felt the influence of New England but very little; neither has
she been aroused by the stir and enterprise of the great West. Her
schoolhouses are too far apart, even in this rich section, and she
values a fast trotter or racer more than she does a fine scholar.

What gives the great fertility to the blue-grass region is the old
limestone rock, laid down in the ancient Silurian seas, which comes
to the surface over all this part of the State and makes the soil by
its disintegration. The earth's surface seems once to have bulged
up here like a great bubble, and then have been planed or ground
off by the elements. This wearing away process removed all the more
recent formations, the coal beds and the conglomerate or other rocks
beneath them, and left this ancient limestone exposed. Its continued
decay keeps up the fertility of the soil. Wheat and corn and clover
are rotated for fifty years upon the same fields without manure, and
without any falling off in their productiveness. Where the soil is
removed, the rock presents that rough, honeycombed appearance which
surfaces do that have been worm-eaten instead of worn. The tooth which
has gnawed, and is still gnawing it, is the carbonic acid carried
into the earth by rain-water. Hence, unlike the prairies of the West,
the fertility of this soil perpetually renews itself. The blue-grass
seems native to this region; any field left to itself will presently
be covered with blue-grass. It is not cut for hay, but is for grazing
alone. Fields which have been protected during the fall yield good
pasturage even in winter. And a Kentucky winter is no light affair, the
mercury often falling fifteen or twenty degrees below zero.

I saw but one new bird in Kentucky, namely, the lark finch, and but
one pair of those. This is a Western bird of the sparrow kind which
is slowly making its way eastward, having been found as far east as
Long Island. I was daily on the lookout for it, but saw none till I
was about leaving this part of the State. Near old Governor Shelby's
place in Boyle County, as we were driving along the road, my eye caught
a grayish brown bird like the skylark, but with a much more broad and
beautifully marked tail. It suggested both a lark and a sparrow, and I
knew at once it was the lark finch I had been looking for. It alighted
on some low object in a plowed field, and with a glass I had a good
view of it—a very elegant, distinguished-appearing bird for one clad
in the sparrow suit, the tail large and dark, with white markings on
the outer web of the quills. Much as I wanted to hear his voice, he
would not sing, and it was not till I reached Adams County, Illinois,
that I saw another one and heard the song. Driving about the country
here—which, by the way, reminded me more of the blue-grass region than
anything I saw outside of Kentucky—with a friend, I was again on the
lookout for the new bird, but had begun to think it was not a resident,
when I espied one on the fence by the roadside. It failed to sing,
but farther on we saw another one which alighted upon a fruit-tree
near us. We paused to look and to listen, when instantly it struck up
and gave us a good sample of its musical ability. It was both a lark
and a sparrow song; or, rather, the notes of a sparrow uttered in the
continuous and rapid manner of the skylark,—a pleasing performance,
but not meriting the praise I had heard bestowed upon it.

In Kentucky and Illinois, and probably throughout the West and
Southwest, certain birds come to the front and are conspicuous which
we see much less of in the East. The blue jay seems to be a garden
and orchard bird, and to build about dwellings as familiarly as the
robin does with us. There must be dozens of these birds in this part
of the country where there is but one in New England. And the brown
thrashers—in Illinois they were as common along the highways as song
sparrows or chippies are with us, and nearly as familiar. So also were
the turtle doves and meadowlarks. That the Western birds should be more
tame and familiar than the same species in the East is curious enough.
From the semi-domestication of so many of the English birds, when
compared with our own, we infer that the older the country, the more
the birds are changed in this respect; yet the birds of the Mississippi
Valley are less afraid of man than those of the valley of the Hudson
or the Connecticut. Is it because the homestead, with its trees and
buildings, affords the birds on the great treeless prairies their first
and almost only covert? Where could the perchers perch till trees and
fences and buildings offered? For this reason they would at once seek
the vicinity of man and become familiar with him.

In Kentucky the summer red-bird everywhere attracted my attention. Its
song is much like that of its relative the tanager, and its general
habits and manners are nearly the same.

The oriole is as common in Kentucky as in New York or New England.
One day we saw one weave into her nest unusual material. As we sat
upon the lawn in front of the cottage, we had noticed the bird just
beginning her structure, suspending it from a long, low branch of the
Kentucky coffee-tree that grew but a few feet away. I suggested to my
host that if he would take some brilliant yarn and scatter it about
upon the shrubbery, the fence, and the walks, the bird would probably
avail herself of it, and weave a novel nest. I had heard of it being
done, but had never tried it myself. The suggestion was at once acted
upon, and in a few moments a handful of zephyr yarn, crimson, orange,
green, yellow, and blue, was distributed about the grounds. As we sat
at dinner a few moments later I saw the eager bird flying up toward her
nest with one of these brilliant yarns streaming behind her. They had
caught her eye at once, and she fell to work upon them with a will; not
a bit daunted by their brilliant color, she soon had a crimson spot
there amid the green leaves. She afforded us rare amusement all the
afternoon and the next morning. How she seemed to congratulate herself
over her rare find! How vigorously she knotted those strings to her
branch and gathered the ends in and sewed them through and through
the structure, jerking them spitefully like a housewife burdened with
many cares! How savagely she would fly at her neighbor, an oriole that
had a nest just over the fence a few yards away, when she invaded
her territory! The male looked on approvingly, but did not offer to
lend a hand. There is something in the manner of the female on such
occasions, something so decisive and emphatic, that one entirely
approves of the course of the male in not meddling or offering any
suggestions. It is the wife's enterprise, and she evidently knows her
own mind so well that the husband keeps aloof, or plays the part of an
approving spectator.

The woolen yarn was ill-suited to the Kentucky climate. This fact the
bird seemed to appreciate, for she used it only in the upper part of
her nest, in attaching it to the branch and in binding and compacting
the rim, making the sides and bottom of hemp, leaving it thin and
airy, much more so than are the same nests with us. No other bird
would, perhaps, have used such brilliant material; their instincts of
concealment would have revolted, but the oriole aims more to make its
nest inaccessible than to hide it. Its position and depth insure its

The red-headed woodpecker was about the only bird of this class I saw,
and it was very common. Almost any moment, in riding along, their
conspicuous white markings as they flew from tree to tree were to be
seen festooning the woods. Yet I was told that they were far less
numerous than formerly. Governor Knott said he believed there were ten
times as many when he was a boy as now. But what beautiful thing is
there in this world that was not ten times more abundant when one was a
boy than he finds it on becoming a man? Youth is the principal factor
in the problem. If one could only have the leisure, the alertness, and
the freedom from care that he had when a boy, he would probably find
that the world had not deteriorated so much as he is apt to suspect.

The field or meadow bird, everywhere heard in Kentucky and Illinois, is
the black-throated bunting, a heavy-beaked bird the size and color of
an English sparrow, with a harsh, rasping song, which it indulges in
incessantly. Among bird-songs it is like a rather coarse weed among our
wild flowers.

I could not find the mockingbird in song, though it breeds in the
blue-grass counties. I saw only two specimens of the bird in all
my wanderings. The Virginia cardinal was common, and in places the
yellow-breasted chat was heard. Once I heard from across a broad field
a burst of bobolink melody from a score or more of throats—a flock of
the birds probably pausing on their way north. In Chicago I was told
that the Illinois bobolink had a different song from the New England
species, but I could detect no essential difference. The song of
certain birds, notably that of the bobolink, seems to vary slightly in
different localities, and also to change during a series of years. I
no longer hear the exact bobolink song which I heard in my boyhood, in
the localities where I then heard it. Not a season passes but I hear
marked departures in the songs of our birds from what appears to be the
standard song of a given species.



Some idea of the impression which Mammoth Cave makes upon the senses,
irrespective even of sight, may be had from the fact that blind people
go there to see it, and are greatly struck with it. I was assured
that this is a fact. The blind seem as much impressed by it as those
who have their sight. When the guide pauses at the more interesting
point, or lights the scene up with a great torch or with Bengal lights,
and points out the more striking features, the blind exclaim, "How
wonderful! how beautiful!" They can feel it if they cannot see it.
They get some idea of the spaciousness when words are uttered. The
voice goes forth in these colossal chambers like a bird. When no word
is spoken, the silence is of a kind never experienced on the surface
of the earth, it is so profound and abysmal. This, and the absolute
darkness, to a person with eyes makes him feel as if he were face to
face with the primordial nothingness. The objective universe is gone;
only the subjective remains; the sense of hearing is inverted, and
reports only the murmurs from within. The blind miss much, but much
remains to them. The great cave is not merely a spectacle to the eye;
it is a wonder to the ear, a strangeness to the smell and to the touch.
The body feels the presence of unusual conditions through every pore.

For my part, my thoughts took a decidedly sepulchral turn; I thought
of my dead and of all the dead of the earth, and said to myself, the
darkness and the silence of their last resting-place is like this; to
this we must all come at last. No vicissitudes of earth, no changes
of seasons, no sound of storm or thunder penetrate here; winter and
summer, day and night, peace or war, it is all one; a world beyond the
reach of change, because beyond the reach of life. What peace, what
repose, what desolation! The marks and relics of the Indian, which
disappear so quickly from the light of day above, are here beyond the
reach of natural change. The imprint of his moccasin in the dust might
remain undisturbed for a thousand years. At one point the guide reaches
his arm beneath the rocks that strew the floor and pulls out the
burnt ends of canes, which were used, probably, when filled with oil
or grease, by the natives to light their way into the cave doubtless
centuries ago.

Here in the loose soil are ruts worn by cart-wheels in 1812, when,
during the war with Great Britain, the earth was searched to make
saltpetre. The guide kicks corn-cobs out of the dust where the oxen
were fed at noon, and they look nearly as fresh as ever they did. In
those frail corn-cobs and in those wheel-tracks as if the carts had
but just gone along, one seemed to come very near to the youth of the
century, almost to overtake it.

At a point in one of the great avenues, if you stop and listen, you
hear a slow, solemn ticking like a great clock in a deserted hall; you
hear the slight echo as it fathoms and sets off the silence. It is
called the clock, and is caused by a single large drop of water falling
every second into a little pool. A ghostly kind of clock there in the
darkness, that is never wound up and that never runs down. It seemed
like a mockery where time is not, and change does not come—the clock
of the dead. This sombre and mortuary cast of one's thoughts seems so
natural in the great cave, that I could well understand the emotions of
a lady who visited the cave with a party a few days before I was there.
She went forward very reluctantly from the first; the silence and the
darkness of the huge mausoleum evidently impressed her imagination, so
that when she got to the spot where the guide points out the "Giant's
Coffin," a huge, fallen rock, which in the dim light takes exactly
the form of an enormous coffin, her fear quite overcame her, and she
begged piteously to be taken back. Timid, highly imaginative people,
especially women, are quite sure to have a sense of fear in this
strange underground world. The guide told me of a lady in one of the
parties he was conducting through, who wanted to linger behind a little
all alone; he suffered her to do so, but presently heard a piercing
scream. Rushing back, he found her lying prone upon the ground in a
dead faint. She had accidentally put out her lamp, and was so appalled
by the darkness that instantly closed around her that she swooned at

Sometimes it seemed to me as if I were threading the streets of some
buried city of the fore-world. With your little lantern in your hand,
you follow your guide through those endless and silent avenues,
catching glimpses on either hand of what appears to be some strange
antique architecture, the hoary and crumbling walls rising high up
into the darkness. Now we turn a sharp corner, or turn down a street
which crosses our course at right angles; now we come out into a great
circle, or spacious court, which the guide lights up with a quick-paper
torch, or a colored chemical light. There are streets above you and
streets below you. As this was a city where day never entered, no
provision for light needed to be made, and it is built one layer above
another to the number of four or five, or on the plan of an enormous
ant-hill, the lowest avenues being several hundred feet beneath the
uppermost. The main avenue leading in from the entrance is called the
Broadway, and if Broadway, New York, were arched over and reduced to
utter darkness and silence, and its roadway blocked with mounds of
earth and fragments of rock, it would, perhaps, only lack that gray,
cosmic, elemental look, to make it resemble this. A mile or so from the
entrance we pass a couple of rude stone houses, built forty or more
years ago by some consumptives, who hoped to prolong their lives by a
residence in this pure, antiseptic air. Five months they lived here,
poor creatures, a half dozen of them, without ever going forth into the
world of light. But the long entombment did not arrest the disease; the
mountain did not draw the virus out, but seemed to draw the strength
and vitality out, so that when the victims did go forth into the light
and air, bleached as white as chalk, they succumbed at once, and nearly
all died before they could reach the hotel, a few hundred yards away.

Probably the prettiest thing they have to show you in Mammoth Cave is
the Star Chamber. This seems to have made an impression upon Emerson
when he visited the cave, for he mentions it in one of his essays,
"Illusions." The guide takes your lantern from you and leaves you
seated upon a bench by the wayside, in the profound cosmic darkness.
He retreats along a side alley that seems to go down to a lower level,
and at a certain point shades his lamp with his hat, so that the light
falls upon the ceiling over your head. You look up, and the first
thought is that there is an opening just there that permits you to look
forth upon the midnight skies. You see the darker horizon line where
the sky ends and the mountains begin. The sky is blue-black and is
thickly studded with stars, rather small stars, but apparently genuine.
At one point a long, luminous streak simulates exactly the form and
effect of a comet. As you gaze, the guide slowly moves his hat, and a
black cloud gradually creeps over the sky, and all is blackness again.
Then you hear footsteps retreating and dying away in the distance.
Presently all is still, save the ringing in your own ears. Then after
a few moments, during which you have sat in a silence like that of
the interstellar spaces, you hear over your left shoulder a distant
flapping of wings, followed by the crowing of a cock. You turn your
head in that direction and behold a faint dawn breaking on the horizon.
It slowly increases till you hear footsteps approaching, and your dusky
companion, playing the part of Apollo, with lamp in hand ushers in the
light of day. It is rather theatrical, but a very pleasant diversion

Another surprise was when we paused at a certain point, and the guide
asked me to shout or call in a loud voice. I did so without any unusual
effect following. Then he spoke in a very deep bass, and instantly the
rocks all about and beneath us became like the strings of an Æolian
harp. They seemed transformed as if by enchantment. Then I tried, but
did not strike the right key; the rocks were dumb; I tried again, but
got no response; flat and dead the sounds came back as if in mockery;
then I struck a deeper bass, the chord was hit, and the solid walls
seemed to become as thin and frail as a drum-head or as the frame of a
violin. They fairly seemed to dance about us, and to recede away from
us. Such wild, sweet music I had never before heard rocks discourse.
Ah, the magic of the right key! "Why leap ye, ye high hills?" why,
but that they had been spoken to in the right voice? Is not the whole
secret of life to pitch our voices in the right key? Responses come
from the very rocks when we do so. I thought of the lines of our poet
of Democracy:—

     "Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I
         shall follow,
      As the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps,
         anywhere around the globe."

Where we were standing was upon an arch over an avenue which crossed
our course beneath us. The reverberations on Echo River, a point I did
not reach, can hardly be more surprising, though they are described as

There are four or five levels in the cave, and a series of avenues upon
each. The lowest is some two hundred and fifty feet below the entrance.
Here the stream which has done all this carving and tunneling has got
to the end of its tether. It is here on a level with Green River in the
valley below and flows directly into it. I say the end of its tether,
though if Green River cuts its valley deeper, the stream will, of
course, follow suit. The bed of the river has probably, at successive
periods, been on a level with each series of avenues of the cave. The
stream is now doubtless but a mere fraction of its former self. Indeed,
every feature of the cave attests the greater volume and activity of
the forces which carved it, in the earlier geologic ages. The waters
have worn the rock as if it were but ice. The domes and pits are carved
and fluted in precisely the way dripping water flutes snow or ice.
The rainfall must have been enormous in those early days, and it must
have had a much stronger and sharper tooth of carbonic acid gas than
now. It has carved out enormous pits with perpendicular sides, two or
three hundred feet deep. Goring Dome I remember particularly. You put
your head through an irregularly shaped window in the wall at the side
of one of the avenues, and there is this huge shaft or well, starting
from some higher level and going down two hundred feet below you. There
must have been such wells in the old glaciers, worn by a rill of water
slowly eating its way down. It was probably ten feet across, still
moist and dripping. The guide threw down a lighted torch, and it fell
and fell, till I had to crane my neck far out to see it finally reach
the bottom. Some of these pits are simply appalling, and where the way
is narrow have been covered over to prevent accidents.

No part of Mammoth Cave was to me more impressive than its entrance,
probably because here its gigantic proportions are first revealed to
you, and can be clearly seen. That strange colossal underworld here
looks out into the light of day, and comes in contrast with familiar
scenes and objects. When you are fairly in the cave, you cannot see it;
that is, with your aboveground eyes; you walk along by the dim light of
your lamp as in a huge wood at night; when the guide lights up the more
interesting portions with his torches and colored lights, the effect
is weird and spectral; it seems like a dream; it is an unfamiliar
world; you hardly know whether this is the emotion of grandeur which
you experience, or of mere strangeness. If you could have the light of
day in there, you would come to your senses, and could test the reality
of your impressions. At the entrance you have the light of day, and
you look fairly in the face of this underground monster, yea, into his
open mouth, which has a span of fifty feet or more, and down into his
contracting throat, where a man can barely stand upright, and where the
light fades and darkness begins. As you come down the hill through the
woods from the hotel, you see no sign of the cave till you emerge into
a small opening where the grass grows and the sunshine falls, when you
turn slightly to the right, and there at your feet yawns this terrible
pit; and you feel indeed as if the mountain had opened its mouth and
was lying in wait to swallow you down, as a whale might swallow a
shrimp. I never grew tired of sitting or standing here by this entrance
and gazing into it. It had for me something of the same fascination
that the display of the huge elemental forces of nature have, as seen
in thunder-storms, or in a roaring ocean surf. Two phœbe-birds had
their nests in little niches of the rocks, and delicate ferns and wild
flowers fringed the edges.

Another very interesting feature to me was the behavior of the cool air
which welled up out of the mouth of the cave. It simulated exactly a
fountain of water. It rose up to a certain level, or until it filled
the depression immediately about the mouth of the cave, and then
flowing over at the lowest point, ran down the hill towards Green
River, along a little watercourse, exactly as if it had been a liquid.
I amused myself by wading down into it as into a fountain. The air
above was muggy and hot, the thermometer standing at about eighty-six
degrees, and this cooler air of the cave, which was at a temperature of
about fifty-two degrees, was separated in the little pool or lakelet
which is formed from the hotter air above it by a perfectly horizontal
line. As I stepped down into it I could feel it close over my feet,
then it was at my knees, then I was immersed to my hips, then to my
waist, then I stood neck deep in it, my body almost chilled, while my
face and head were bathed by a sultry, oppressive air. Where the two
bodies of air came into contact, a slight film of vapor was formed
by condensation; I waded in till I could look under this as under a
ceiling. It was as level and as well defined as a sheet of ice on a
pond. A few moments' immersion into this aerial fountain made one turn
to the warmer air again. At the depression in the rim of the basin one
had but to put his hand down to feel the cold air flowing over like
water. Fifty yards below you could still wade into it as into a creek,
and at a hundred yards it was still quickly perceptible, but broader
and higher; it had begun to lose some of its coldness, and to mingle
with the general air; all the plants growing on the margin of the
watercourse were in motion, as well as the leaves on the low branches
of the trees near by. Gradually this cool current was dissipated and
lost in the warmth of the day.



When Boswell told Dr. Johnson that while in Italy he had several times
seen the experiment tried of placing a scorpion within a circle of
burning coals, and that in every instance the scorpion, after trying
to break through the fiery circle, retired to the centre and committed
suicide by darting its sting into its head, the doctor showed the
true scientific spirit by demanding further proof of the fact. The
mere testimony of the eye under such circumstances was not enough;
appearances are often deceptive. "If the great anatomist Morgagni,"
said the doctor, "after dissecting a scorpion on which the experiment
had been tried, should certify that its sting had penetrated its head,
that would be convincing." For almost the only time in his life the
superstitious doctor showed himself, I say, a true scientist, a man
refusing to accept the truth of appearances.

But this frame of mind was not habitual to him, for the next moment
he said that swallows sleep all winter in the bed of a river or pond,
"conglobulated" into a ball. The scientific spirit would have required
him to insist upon the proof of the alleged fact in this case the same
as in the other. Has any competent observer verified this statement?
Have swallows been taken out of the mud, or been seen to throw
themselves into the water?

Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), in his book on animals, says that the eel
leaves the water in the nighttime, and invades the fields and gardens
to feed upon peas and lentils. A scientific man makes this statement,
and probably upon no stronger proof than that some eels dropped by
poachers in their hasty retreat had been found in a pea patch. If peas
had been found, and found in many cases, in the stomachs of eels, that
would have been pretty conclusive proof that eels eat peas.

The great thing in observation is not to be influenced by our
preconceived notions, or by what we want to be true, or by our fears,
hopes, or any personal element, and to see the thing just as it is. A
person who believes in ghosts and apparitions cannot be depended upon
to investigate an alleged phenomenon of this sort, because he will not
press his inquiry far enough, and will take for granted the very fact
we want proof of.

The eye does not always see what is in front of it. Indeed it might
almost be said, it sees only what is back of it, in the mind. Whenever
I have any particular subject in mind, every walk gives me new
material. If I am thinking about tree-toads, I find tree-toads. If I am
dwelling upon birds' nests, I find plenty of nests which otherwise I
should have passed by. If bird-songs occupy me, I am bound to hear some
new or peculiar note.

Every one has observed how, after he has made the acquaintance of a
new word, that word is perpetually turning up in his reading, as if it
had suddenly become the fashion. When you have a thing in mind, it is
not long till you have it in hand. Torrey and Drummond, the botanists,
were one day walking in the woods near West Point. "I have never yet
found so and so," said Drummond, naming a rare kind of moss. "Find it
anywhere," said Torrey, and stooped and picked it up at their feet.
Thoreau could pick up arrow-heads with the same ease. Many people
have the same quick eye for a four-leafed clover. I may say of myself
without vanity, that I see birds with like ease. It is no effort, I
cannot help it. Either my eye or my ear is on duty quite unbeknown to
me. When I visit my friends, I leave a trail of birds behind me, as old
Amphion left a plantation of trees wherever he sat down and played.

The scientific habit of mind leads a man to take into account all
possible sources of error in such observations. The senses are all so
easily deceived. People of undoubted veracity tell you of the strange
things they have known to rain down, or of some strange bird or beast
they have seen. But if you question them closely, you are pretty sure
to find some flaw in the observation, or some link of evidence wanting.
We are so apt to jump to conclusions; we take one or two steps in
following up the evidence, and then leap to the result that seems to be
indicated. If you find a trout in the milk, you may be justified in
jumping to a conclusion not flattering to your milkman, but if you find
angle-worms in the barrel of rain-water after a shower, you are not to
conclude that therefore they rained down, as many people think they do.

Or if after a shower in summer you find the ground swarming with little
toads, you are not to infer that the shower brought them down. I have
frequently seen large numbers of little toads hopping about after a
shower, but only in particular localities. Upon a small, gravelly hill
in the highway along which I was in the habit of walking, I have seen
them several seasons, but in no other place upon that road. Just why
they come out on such occasions is a question; probably to get their
jackets wet. There was a pond and marshy ground not far off where they
doubtless hatched. Because the frogs are heard in the marshes in spring
as soon as the ice and snow are gone, it is a popular belief that they
hibernate in these places. But the two earliest frogs, I am convinced,
pass the winter in the ground in the woods, and seek the marshes as
soon as the frost and ice are gone. I have heard the hyla pipe in a
feeble tentative manner in localities where the ground was free from
frost, while the marshes near by were yet covered with solid ice; and
in spring I have dug out another species from beneath the leaf mould
in the woods. Both these species are properly land-frogs, and only
take to the water to breed, returning again to the woods later in the
season. The same is true of the tree-frog, which passes the winter in
the ground or in hollow trees, and takes to the marshes in May to
deposit its eggs. The common bullfrog and the pickerel frog doubtless
pass the winter in the bed of ponds and streams. I think it is quite
certain that hibernating animals in the ground do not freeze, though
by no means beyond the reach of frost. The frogs, ants, and crickets
are probably protected by some sort of acid which their bodies secrete,
though this is only a guess of my own. The frog I dug out of the leaves
one spring day, while the ground above and below him was frozen hard,
was entirely free from frost, though his joints were apparently very
stiff. A friend of mine in felling some trees in winter cut through a
den of field crickets; the ground was frozen about their galleries,
but the crickets themselves, though motionless, were free from frost.
Cut the large, black tree ants out of a pine log in winter, and though
apparently lifeless, they are not frozen.

There is something in most of us that welcomes a departure from the
ordinary routine of natural causes; we like to believe that the
impossible happens; we like to see the marvelous and mysterious crop
out of ordinary occurrences. We like to believe, for instance, that
snakes can charm their prey; can exert some mysterious influence over
bird or beast at a distance of many feet, which deprives it of power to
escape. But there is probably little truth in this popular notion. Fear
often paralyzes, and doubtless this is the whole secret of the power of
snakes and cats to charm their prey. It is what is called a subjective
phenomenon; the victim is fascinated or spellbound by the sudden and
near appearance of its enemy. A sportsman, in whose veracity I have
full confidence, told me that his pointer dog had several times worked
up to a woodcock or partridge and seized it in his mouth. Of course the
dog brought no mysterious power to bear upon the bird. He could hardly
have seen the bird till he came plump upon it; he was wholly intent
upon unraveling its trail. The bird, in watching the eager motions
and the gradual approach of the dog, must have been thrown into such
a state of fear or consternation as to quite paralyze its powers, and
suffered the dog to pick it up. In the case of snakes, they doubtless
in most instances approach and seize their prey unawares. I have seen a
little snake in the woods pursue and overtake a lizard that was trying
to escape from it. There was no attempt at charming; superior speed
alone gave the victory to the snake. I have known a red squirrel to be
caught and swallowed by a black snake, but I have no belief that the
squirrel was charmed; it was more probably seized from some ambush.

One can hardly understand how a mouse can be caught by a hawk except
upon the theory that the mouse is suddenly paralyzed by fear. The
meadow mouse when exposed to view is very wary and quick in its
movements; it is nibbling grass in the meadow bottom, or clearing its
runway, or shaping its nest, when the hawk poises on wing high in the
air above it. When the hawk discovers its victim, it descends with
extended talons to the earth and seizes it. It does not drop like a
bolt from heaven; its descent, on the contrary, is quite deliberate,
and must be attended by a sound of rushing wings that ought to reach
the mouse's ear, if the form escapes its eye.

There is doubtless just as much "charming" in this case as in any
other, or when a fish hawk falls through the air and seizes a fish
near the surface in perfectly clear water—what hinders the fish from
seeing and avoiding its enemy? Apparently nothing; apparently it allows
itself to be seized. Every fisherman knows how alert most fish are, how
quickly they discover him and dart away, even when he is immediately
above them. All I contend for is that the snake, the cat, the hawk,
does not exert some mysterious power over its prey, but that its prey
in many cases loses its power to escape through fear. It is said that a
stuffed snake's skin will charm a bird as well as the live snake.

I came near reaching a hasty conclusion the other day with regard
to a chickadee's nest. The nest is in a small cavity in the limb of
a pear-tree near my study, and the birds and I are on very friendly
terms. As the nest of a pair of chickadees had been broken up here a
few seasons ago by a mouse or squirrel, I was apprehensive lest this
nest share the same fate. Hence when, one morning, the birds were
missing, and I found on inspection what appeared to be the hair of
some small animal adhering to the edges of the hole that leads to the
nest, I concluded that the birds had been cleaned out again. Later in
the day I examined the supposed hair with my pocket glass, and found
it was not hair, but some vegetable fibre. My next conclusion was
that the birds had not been molested, but that they were furnishing
their apartment, and some of the material had stuck to the door
jambs. This proved to be the correct inference. The chickadee makes
a little felt-like mat or carpet with which it covers the bottom of
the nest-cavity. A day or two later, in my vineyard near by, I found
where a piece of heavy twine that held a young grapevine to a stake had
been pulled down to the ground and picked and beaten, and parts of it
reduced to its original tow. Here, doubtless, the birds had got some of
their carpeting material.

I recently read in a work on ornithology that the rings of small holes
which we see in the trunks and limbs of perfectly sound apple-trees
are made by woodpeckers in search of grubs and insects. This is a
hasty inference. These holes are made by woodpeckers, but the food
they obtain at the bottom of them is not the flesh of worm or insect,
but the flesh of the apple-tree—the soft, milky inner bark. The same
writer says these holes are not hurtful to the tree, but conducive
to its health. Yet I have seen the limbs of large apple-trees nearly
killed by being encompassed by numerous rings of large, deep holes made
by the yellow-bellied woodpecker. This bird drills holes in the sugar
maple in the spring for the sap. I have known him to spend the greater
part of a bright March day on the sunny side of a maple, indulging in
a tipple of maple sap every four or five minutes. As fast as his well
holes filled up he would sip them dry.

A lady told me that a woodpecker drilled holes in the boards that form
the eaves of her house, for the grubs of the carpenter bumblebee.
This also seemed to me a hasty conclusion, because the woodpeckers
made holes so large that the next season the bluebirds nested there.
The woodpeckers were probably drilling for a place to nest. A large
ice-house stands on the river bank near me, and every season the man
in charge has to shoot or drive away the high-holes that cut numerous
openings through the outer sheathing of hemlock boards into the
spaces filled with sawdust, where they find the digging easy and a
nesting-place safe and snug.

My neighbor caught a small hawk in his shad-net, and therefore
concluded the hawk ate fish. He put him in a cage, and offered him
fragments of shad. The little hawk was probably in pursuit of a bird
which took refuge under the net as it hung upon the drying-poles; or he
may have swooped down upon the net in the spirit of pure bluster and
bravado, and thus came to grief in a hurry. The fine, strong threads
of the net defied his murderous beak and talons. He was engulfed as
completely as is a fly in a spider's web, and the more he struggled the
more hopeless his case became. It was a pigeon hawk, and these little
marauders are very saucy.

My neighbor says that in the city of Brooklyn he has known kingbirds to
nest in boxes like martins and bluebirds. I question this observation,
though it may be true. The cousin of the kingbird, the great crested
flycatcher, builds in cavities in trees, and its relative, the
phœbe-bird, nests under bridges and hay-sheds. Hence there is this
fact to start with in favor of my neighbor's observation.

But when a lady from Pennsylvania writes me that she has seen "swallows
rolling and dabbling in the mud in early spring, their breasts so
covered with it that it would take but little stretch of imagination
to believe they had just emerged from the bottom of the pond beside
which they were playing," I am more than skeptical. The lady has not
seen straight. The swallows were not rolling in the mud; there was
probably not a speck of mud upon their plumage, but a little upon their
beaks and feet. The red of their breasts was their own proper color.
They were building their nests, as my correspondent knew, but they did
not carefully mix and knead the mud, as she thought they did; they had
selected mortar already of the proper sort.

The careful observer is not long in learning that there is truth in the
poet's remark, that "things are not what they seem." Everywhere on the
surface of nature things seem one thing, and mean quite another. The
hasty observer is misled by the seeming, and thus misses the real truth.

The little green snake that I saw among the "live-for-evers" the other
day, how nearly it escaped detection by the close resemblance of its
color to that of the plant! And when, a few days later, I saw one
carelessly disposed across the top of the bending grass and daisies,
but a few feet from where I sat, my eye again came near being baffled.

The little snake was probably lying in wait for some insect. Presently
it slid gently down into the grass, moving so slowly as to escape
any but the most watchful eye. After its head and a part of its body
were upon the ground, its tail still pointed straight up and exactly
resembled some fresh vegetable growth. The safeguard of this little
snake is in his protective coloring; hence his movements are slower and
more deliberate than those of the other snakes.

This simulation is very common in nature. Every creature has its enemy,
and pretends to be that which it is not, in order to escape detection.
The tree-frog pretends to be a piece of bark, or a lichen upon a tree;
the wood frog is the color of the dry leaves upon which it hops, though
when spawning in the little black pools and tarns in spring its color
is very dark, like the element it inhabits.

One day, in my walk in the woods, I disturbed a whip-poor-will where
she sat upon her eggs on the ground. When I returned to the spot some
hours afterward, and tried to make out the bird upon her nest, my eye
was baffled for some moments, so successful was she in pretending to be
only a mottled stick or piece of fallen bark.

Only the most practiced eye can detect the partridge (ruffed grouse)
when she sits or stands in full view upon the ground in the woods.
How well she plays her part, rarely moving, till she suddenly bursts
up before you, and is gone in a twinkling! How well her young are
disciplined always to take their cue from her! Not one will stir till
she gives the signal.

One day in my walk, as I paused on the side of a steep hill in the edge
of the woods, my eye chanced to fall upon a partridge, sitting upon
the leaves beside a stump scarcely three paces from me. "Can she have
a nest there?" was my first thought. Then I remembered it was late in
the summer, and she certainly could not be incubating. Then why is she
sitting there in that exposed manner? Keeping my eye upon her, I took
a step forward, when, quick as a flash, she sprang into the air and
went humming away. At the same moment, all about me, almost from under
my feet, her nearly grown young sprang up and went booming through the
woods after her. Not one of them had moved or showed fear till their
mother gave the word.

To observe Nature and know her secrets, one needs not only a sharp eye,
but a steady and patient eye. You must look again and again, and not
be misled by appearances. All the misinformation about the objects and
phenomena of nature afloat among country people is the result of hasty
and incomplete observation.

In parts of the country where wheat is grown there is quite a prevalent
belief among the farmers that if the land is poor or neglected the
wheat will turn into chess or cheat grass. Have they not seen it, have
they not known the wheat to disappear entirely, and the chess to be
there in its place?

But like so many strange notions that are current in the rural
districts, this notion is the result of incomplete observation. The
cheat grass was there all the while, feebler and inconspicuous, but
biding its time; when the wheat failed and gave up possession of the
soil, the grass sprang forward and took its place.

Nature always has a card to play in that way. There is no miracle nor
case of spontaneous generation about the curious succession of forest
trees—oak succeeding pine, or poplar succeeding birch or maple—if we
could get at the facts. Nature only lets loose germs which the winds or
the birds and animals have long since stored there, and which have only
been waiting their opportunity to grow.

A great many people are sure there is such a creature as a glass snake,
a snake which breaks up into pieces to escape its enemies, and then
when danger is past gets itself together again and goes its way.

Not long since a man published an account in a scientific journal of a
glass snake which he had encountered in a hay-field, and which, when
he attempted to break its head, had broken itself up into five or six
pieces. He carefully examined the pieces and found them of regular
lengths of three or four inches, and that they dovetailed together by a
nice and regular process. He left the fragments in the grass, and when
he returned from dinner they were all gone. He therefore inferred the
snake had reconstructed itself and traveled on. If he had waited to
see this process, his observation would have been complete. On another
occasion he cut one in two with his scythe, when the snake again
made small change of itself. Again he went to his dinner just at the
critical time, and when he returned the fragments of the reptile had

This will not do. We must see the play out before we can report upon
the last act.

There is, of course, a small basis of fact in the superstition of
the glass snake. The creature is no snake at all, but a species of
limbless lizard quite common in the West. And it has the curious
power of voluntarily breaking itself up into regular pieces when
disturbed, but it is only the tail which is so broken up; the body
part remains intact. Break this up and the snake is dead. The tail is
disproportionately long, and is severed at certain points, evidently to
mislead its enemies. It is the old trick of throwing a tub to a whale.
The creature sacrifices its tail to secure the safety of its body.
These fragments have no power to unite themselves again, but a new tail
is grown in place of the part lost. When a real observer encountered
the glass or joint snake, these facts were settled.

The superstition of the hair-snake is founded upon a like incomplete
observation. Everywhere may be found intelligent people who will tell
you they know that a horsehair, if put into the spring, will turn into
a snake, and that all hair-snakes have this origin. But a hair never
turns into a snake any more than wheat is transformed into chess. The
so-called hair-snake is a parasitical worm which lives in the bodies of
various insects, and which at maturity takes to the water to lay its

What boy, while trout-fishing in July and August, and using
grasshoppers for bait, has not been vexed to find the body of the
insect, when snapped at by the trout, yielding a long, white, brittle
thread, which clogged his hook, and spoiled the attractiveness of the
bait? This thread is the hair-worm. How the germ first gets into the
body of the grasshopper I do not know. After the creature leaves the
insect, it becomes darker in color, and harder and firmer in texture,
and more closely resembles a large hair.

See what pains the trapper will take to outwit the fox; see what art
the angler will practice to deceive the wary trout. One must pursue the
truth with the like patience and diligence.

The farmers all think, or used to think, that the hen-hawk was their
enemy, but one spring the Agricultural Department procured three
hundred hen-hawks, and examined the craw of each of them, and made the
valuable discovery that this hawk subsisted almost entirely upon meadow
mice, thus proving it to be one of the farmer's best friends. The crow,
also, when our observations upon his food habits are complete, is found
to be a friend, and not an enemy. The smaller hawks do prey upon birds
and chickens, though the pretty little sparrow hawk lives largely upon

Gilbert White quotes the great Linnæus as saying that "hawks make a
truce with other birds as long as the cuckoo is heard." This is also
a superstition. Watch closely, and you will see the small hawks in
pursuit of birds at all seasons; and when a hawk pursues a bird, or
when one bird pursues another, it has the power to tack and turn, and
to time its movements to that of the bird pursued, which is quite
marvelous. The sparrow might as well dodge its own shadow as to dodge
the sharp-shinned hawk. It escapes, if at all, by rushing into a bush
or tree, where the movements of its enemy are impeded by the leaves and

Speaking of hawks, reminds me that I read the other day in one of
the magazines a very pretty poem, in which a hawk was represented
poised in mid-air, on motionless wing, during the calm of a midsummer
day. Now of a still day this is an impossible feat for a hawk or any
other bird. The poet had not observed quite closely enough. She had
noted (as who has not?) the hawk stationary in the air on motionless
wing, but she failed to note, or she had forgotten, that the wind was
blowing. He cannot do it on a calm day; the blowing wind furnishes the
power necessary to buoy him up. He so adjusts his wings to the moving
currents that he hangs stationary upon them. When the hawk hovers in
the air of a still day, he is compelled to beat his wings rapidly.
He must expend upon the air the power which, in the former case, is
expended upon him. Thus does hasty and incomplete observation mislead

One day in early April as I was riding along the road I heard the song
of the brown thrasher. The thrasher is not due yet, I said to myself,
but there was its song, and no mistake, with all its quibs and quirks
and interludes, being chanted from some treetop a few yards in advance
of me. Let us have a view of the bird, I said, as I approached the tree
upon which I fancied he was perched. The song ceased and no thrasher
was visible, but there sat a robin, which, as I paused, flew to a
lower tree in a field at some distance from the road. Then I moved on,
thinking the songster had eluded me. On looking back I chanced to see
the robin fly back to the top of the tree where I had first disturbed
it, and in a moment or two more forth came the thrasher's song again.
Then I went cautiously back and caught the robin in the very act
of reproducing perfectly the song of the brown thrasher. A bolder
plagiarist I had never seen; not only had he got the words, as it were
correctly, but he delivered them in the same self-conscious manner. His
performance would probably have deceived the brown thrasher himself.
How did the robin come by this song? I can suggest no other explanation
than that he must have learned it from the brown thrasher. Probably the
latter bird sang near the nest of the robin, so that the young heard
this song and not that of their own kind. If so it would be interesting
to know if all the young males learned the song.

Close attention is the secret of learning from nature's book, as from
every other. Most persons only look at the pictures, but the real
student studies the text; he alone knows what the pictures really mean.
There is a great deal of by-play going on in the life of nature about
us, a great deal of variation and out-cropping of individual traits,
that we entirely miss unless we have our eyes and ears open.

It is not like the play at the theatre, where everything is made
conspicuous and aims to catch the eye, and where the story clearly and
fully unfolds itself. On nature's stage many dramas are being played
at once, and without any reference to the lookers-on, unless it be to
escape their notice. The actors rush or strut across the stage, the
curtain rises or falls, the significant thing happens, and we heed it
not, because our wits are dull, or else our minds are preoccupied. We
do not pay strict attention. Nature will not come to you; you must go
to her; that is, you must put yourself in communication with her; you
must open the correspondence; you must train your eye to pick out the
significant things. A quick open sense, and a lively curiosity like
that of a boy are necessary. Indeed, the sensitiveness and alertness
of youth and the care and patience of later years are what make the
successful observer.

The other morning my little boy and I set out to find the horse, who
had got out of the pasture and gone off. Had he gone up the road or
down? We did not know, but we imagined we could distinguish his track
going down the road, so we began our search in that direction. The road
presently led through a piece of woods. Suddenly my little boy stopped

"Papa, see that spider's web stretched across the road: our horse has
not gone this way."

My face had nearly touched the web or cable of the little spider, which
stretched completely across the road, and which certainly would have
been swept away had the horse or any other creature passed along there
in the early morning. The boy's eye was sharper than my own. He had
been paying stricter attention to the signs and objects about him. We
turned back and soon found the horse in the opposite direction.

This same little boy, by looking closely, has discovered that there
are certain stingless wasps. When he sees one which bears the marks he
boldly catches him in his hand. The wasp goes through the motions of
stinging so perfectly, so works and thrusts with its flexible body,
that nearly every hand to which it is offered draws back. The mark by
which the boy is guided is the light color of the wasp's face. Most
country boys know that white-faced bumblebees are stingless, but I have
not before known a boy bold enough to follow the principle out and
apply it to wasps as well. These white-faces are the males, and answer
to the drones in the beehive; though the drones have not a white face.

We cannot all find the same things in Nature. She is all things to all
men. She is like the manna that came down from heaven. "He made manna
to descend for them, in which were all manner of tastes; and every
Israelite found in it what his palate was chiefly pleased with. If he
desired fat in it, he had it. In it the young men tasted bread; the old
men, honey; and the children, oil." But all found in it substance and
strength. So with Nature. In her are "all manner of tastes," science,
art, poetry, utility, and good in all. The botanist has one pleasure
in her, the ornithologist another, the explorer another, the walker
and sportsman another; what all may have is the refreshment and the
exhilaration which come from a loving and intelligent scrutiny of her
manifold works.



Near my study there used to stand several old apple-trees that bore
fair crops of apples, but better crops of birds. Every year these old
trees were the scenes of bird incidents and bird histories that were a
source of much interest and amusement. Young trees may be the best for
apples, but old trees are sure to bear the most birds. If they are very
decrepit, and full of dead and hollow branches, they will bear birds in
winter as well as summer. The downy woodpecker wants no better place
than the brittle, dozy trunk of an apple-tree in which to excavate his
winter home. My old apple-trees are all down but one, and this one is
probably an octogenarian, and I am afraid cannot stand another winter.
Its body is a mere shell not much over one inch thick, the heart and
main interior structure having turned to black mould long ago. An old
tree, unlike an old person, as long as it lives at all, always has a
young streak, or rather ring, in it. It wears a girdle of perpetual

My old tree has never yet failed to yield me a bushel or more of
gillyflowers, and it has turned out at least a dozen broods of the
great crested flycatcher, and robins and bluebirds in proportion. It
carries up one large decayed trunk which some one sawed off at the top
before my time, and in this a downy woodpecker is now, January 12,
making a home. Several years ago a downy woodpecker excavated a retreat
in this branch, which the following season was appropriated by the
bluebirds, and has been occupied by them nearly every season since.
When the bluebirds first examined the cavity in the spring, I suppose
they did not find the woodpecker at home, as he is a pretty early riser.

I happened to be passing near the tree when, on again surveying the
premises one afternoon, they found him in. The male bluebird was very
angry, and I suppose looked upon the innocent downy as an intruder. He
seized on him, and the two fell to the ground, the speckled woodpecker
quite covered by the blue coat of his antagonist. Downy screamed
vigorously, and got away as soon as he could, but not till the bluebird
had tweaked out a feather or two. He is evidently no fighter, though
one would think that a bird that had an instrument with which it could
drill a hole into a tree could defend itself against the soft-billed

Two seasons the English sparrows ejected the bluebirds and established
themselves in it, but were in turn ejected by myself, their furniture
of hens' feathers and straws pitched out, and the bluebirds invited to
return, which later in the season they did.

The new cavity which downy is now drilling is just above the old one
and near the top of the stub. Its wells are usually sunk to a depth
of six or eight inches, but in the present case it cannot be sunk more
than four inches without breaking through into the old cavity. Downy
seems to have considered the situation, and is proceeding cautiously.
As she passed last night in her new quarters I am inclined to think it
is about finished, and there must be at least one inch of wood beneath
her. She worked vigorously the greater part of the day, her yellow
chips strewing the snow beneath. I paused several times to observe her
proceedings. After her chips accumulate she stops her drilling and
throws them out. This she does with her beak, shaking them out very
rapidly with a flirt of her head. She did not disappear from sight each
time to load her beak, but withdrew her head and appeared to seize the
fragments as if from her feet. If she had had a companion I should have
thought he was handing them up to her from the bottom of the cavity.
Maybe she had them piled up near the doorway.

The woodpeckers, both the hairy and the downy, usually excavate these
winter retreats in the fall. They pass the nights and the stormy
days in them. So far as I have observed, they do not use them as
nesting-places the following season. Last night when I rapped on the
trunk of the old apple-tree near sundown, downy put out her head with a
surprised and inquiring look, and then withdrew it again as I passed on.

I have spoken of the broods of the great crested flycatchers that have
been reared in the old apple-tree. This is by no means a common bird,
and as it destroys many noxious insects I look upon it with a friendly
eye, though it is the most uncouth and unmusical of the flycatchers.
Indeed, among the other birds of the garden and orchard it seems quite
like a barbarian. It has a harsh, froglike scream, form and manners to
suit, and is clad in a suit of butternut brown. It seeks a cast-off
snakeskin to weave into its nest, and not finding one, will take an
onion skin, a piece of oiled paper, or large fish scales. It builds in
a cavity in a tree, rears one brood, and is off early in the season. I
never see or hear it after August 1st.

A pair have built in a large, hollow limb in my old apple-tree for many
years. Whether it is the same pair or not I do not know. Probably it
is, or else some of their descendants. I looked into the cavity one day
while the mother bird was upon the nest, but before she had laid any
eggs. A sudden explosive sound came up out of the dark depths of the
limb, much like that made by an alarmed cat. It made me jerk my head
back, when out came the bird and hurried off. For several days I saw no
more of the pair, and feared they had deserted the spot. But they had
not; they were only more sly than usual. I soon discovered an egg in
the nest, and then another and another.

One day, as I stood near by, a male bluebird came along with his mate,
prospecting for a spot for a second nest. He alighted at the entrance
of this hole and peeped in. Instantly the flycatcher was upon him. The
blue was enveloped by the butternut brown. The two fell to the ground,
where the bluebird got away, and in a moment more came back and looked
in the hole again, as much as to say, "I will look into that hole now
at all hazards." The barbarian made a dash for him again, but he was
now on his guard and avoided her.

Not long after, the bluebirds decided to occupy the old cavity of the
downy woodpecker from which I had earlier in the season expelled the
English sparrows. After they had established themselves here a kind of
border war broke out between the male bluebird and the flycatchers,
and was kept up for weeks. The bluebird is very jealous and very bold.
He will not even tolerate a house wren in the vicinity of his nest.
Every bird that builds in a cavity he looks upon as his natural rival
and enemy. The flycatchers did not seek any quarrel with him as long
as he kept to his own domicile, but he could not tolerate them in the
same tree. It was a pretty sight to see this little blue-coat charging
the butternut through the trees. The beak of the latter would click
like a gunlock, and its harsh, savage voice was full of anger, but the
bluebird never flinched, and was always ready to renew the fight.

The English sparrow will sometimes worst the bluebird by getting
possession of the box or cavity ahead of him. Once inside, the sparrow
can hold the fort, and the bluebird will soon give up the siege; but
in a fair field and no favor, the native bird will quickly rout the

Speaking of birds that build in cavities reminds me of a curious trait
the high-hole has developed in my vicinity, one which I have never
noticed or heard of elsewhere. It drills into buildings and steeples
and telegraph poles, and in some instances makes itself a serious
nuisance. One season the large imitation Greek columns of an unoccupied
old-fashioned summer residence near me were badly marred by them. The
bird bored into one column, and finding the cavity—a foot or more
across—not just what it was looking for, cut into another one, and
still into another. Then he bored into the ice-house on the premises,
and in the sawdust filling between the outer and inner sheathing found
a place to his liking. One bird seemed like a monomaniac, and drilled
holes up and down and right and left as if possessed of an evil spirit.
It is quite probable that if a high-hole or other woodpecker should go
crazy, it would take to just this sort of thing, drilling into seasoned
timber till it used its strength up. The one I refer to would cut
through a dry hemlock board in a very short time, making the slivers
fly. The sound was like that of a carpenter's hammer. It may have been
that he was an unmated bird, a bachelor whose suit had not prospered
that season, and who was giving vent to his outraged instincts in
drilling these mock nesting-places.



I have often had occasion to notice how much more intelligence the bird
carries in its eye than does the animal or quadruped. The animal will
see you, too, if you are moving, but if you stand quite still even the
wary fox will pass within a few yards of you and not know you from a
stump, unless the wind brings him your scent. But a crow or a hawk
will discern you when you think yourself quite hidden. His eye is as
keen as the fox's sense of smell, and seems fairly to penetrate veils
and screens. Most of the water-fowl are equally sharp-eyed. The chief
reliance of the animals for their safety, as well as for their food,
is upon the keenness of their scent, while the fowls of the air depend
mainly upon the eye.

A hunter out in Missouri relates how closely a deer approached him one
day in the woods. The hunter was standing on the top of a log, about
four feet from the ground, when the deer bounded playfully into a glade
in the forest, a couple of hundred yards away. The animal began to feed
and to move slowly toward the hunter. He was on the alert, but did
not see or scent his enemy. He never took a bite of grass, says the
sportsman, without first putting his nose to it, and then instantly
raising his head and looking about.

In about ten minutes the deer had approached within fifty yards of
the gunner; then the murderous instinct of the latter began to assert
itself. His gun was loaded with fine shot, but he dared not make a move
to change his shells lest the deer see him. He had one shell loaded
with No. 4 shot in his pocket. Oh! if he could only get that shell into
his gun.

The unsuspecting deer kept approaching; presently he passed behind
a big tree, and his head was for a moment hidden. The hunter sprang
to his work; he took one of the No. 8 shells out of his gun, got his
hand into his pocket, and grasped the No. 4. Then the shining eyes of
the deer were in view again. The hunter stood in this attitude five
minutes. How we wish he had been compelled to stand for five hundred!

Then another tree shut off the buck's gaze for a moment; in went the
No. 4 shell into the barrel and the gun was closed quickly, but there
was no time to bring it to the shoulder. The animal was now only thirty
yards away. His hair was smooth and glossy, and every movement was full
of grace and beauty. Time after time he seemed to look straight at the
hunter, and once or twice a look of suspicion seemed to cross his face.

The man began to realize how painful it was to stand perfectly still on
the top of a log for fifteen minutes. Every muscle ached and seemed
about to rebel against his will. If the buck held to his course he
would pass not more than fifteen feet to one side of the gun, and the
man that held it thought he might almost blow his heart out.

There was one more tree for him to pass behind, when the gun could be
raised. He approached the tree, rubbed his nose against it, and for a
moment was half hidden behind it. When his head appeared on the other
side the gun was pointed straight at his eye—and with only No. 4 shot,
which could only wound him, but could not kill him.

The deer stops; he does not expose his body back of the fore leg, as
the hunter had wished. The latter begins to be ashamed of himself, and
has about made up his mind to let the beautiful creature pass unharmed,
when the buck suddenly gets his scent, his head goes up, his nostrils
expand, and a look of terror comes over his face. This is too much for
the good resolutions of the hunter. Bang! goes the gun, the deer leaps
into the air, wheels around a couple of times, recovers himself and is
off in a twinkling, no doubt carrying, the narrator says, a hundred
No. 4 shot in his face and neck. The man says: "I've always regretted
shooting at him."

I should think he would. But a man in the woods, with a gun in his
hand, is no longer a man—he is a brute. The devil is in the gun to
make brutes of us all.

If the game on this occasion had been, say a wild turkey or a grouse,
its discriminating eye would have figured out the hunter there on that
log very quickly. This manly exploit of the Western hunter reminds me
of an exploit of a Brooklyn man, who last winter killed a bull moose in
Maine. It was a more sportsmanlike proceeding, but my sympathies were
entirely with the moose. The hero tells his story in a New York paper.
With his guides, all armed with Winchester rifles, he penetrated far
into the wilderness till he found a moose yard. It was near the top of
a mountain. They started one of the animals and then took up its trail.
As soon as the moose found it was being followed, it led right off in
hopes of outwalking its enemies. But they had snow-shoes and he did
not; they had food and he did not. On they went, pursued and pursuers,
through the snow-clogged wilderness, day after day. The moose led them
the most difficult route he could find.

At night the men would make camp, build a fire, eat and smoke, and
roll themselves in their blankets and sleep. In the morning they would
soon come up to the camping-place of the poor moose, where the imprint
of his great body showed in the snow, and where he had passed a cold,
supperless night.

On the fifth day the moose began to show signs of fatigue; he rested
often, he also tried to get around and behind his pursuers and let them
pass on. Think how inadequate his wit was to cope with the problem—he
thought they would pass by him if he went to one side.

On the morning of the sixth day he had made up his mind to travel no
farther, but to face his enemies and have it out with them. As he heard
them approach, he rose up from his couch of snow, mane erect, his look
fierce and determined. Poor creature, he did not know how unequal the
contest was. How I wish he could at that moment have had a Winchester
rifle, too, and had known how to use it. There would have been fair
play then. With such weapons as God had given him he had determined to
meet the foe, and if they had had only such weapons as God had given
them, he would have been safe. But they had weapons which the devil
had given them, and their deadly bullets soon cut him down, and now
probably his noble antlers decorate the hall of his murderer.




To teach young people or old people how to observe nature is a good
deal like trying to teach them how to eat their dinner. The first
thing necessary in the latter case is a good appetite; this given,
the rest follows very easily. And in observing nature, unless you
have the appetite, the love, the spontaneous desire, you will get
little satisfaction. It is the heart that sees more than the mind. To
love Nature is the first step in observing her. If a boy had to learn
fishing as a task, what slow progress he would make; but as his heart
is in it, how soon he becomes an adept.

The eye sees quickly and easily those things in which we are
interested. A man interested in horses sees every fine horse in the
country he passes through; the dairyman notes the cattle; the bee
culturist counts the skips of bees; the sheep-grower notes the flocks,
etc. Is it any effort for the ladies to note the new bonnets and the
new cloaks upon the street? We all see and observe easily in the line
of our business, our tasks, our desires.

If one is a lover of the birds, he sees birds everywhere, plenty of
them. I think I seldom miss a bird in my walk if he is within eye or
ear shot, even though my mind be not intent upon that subject. Walking
along the road this very day, feeling a cold, driving snow-storm, I
saw some large birds in the top of a maple as I passed by. I do not
know how I came to see them, for I was not in an ornithological frame
of mind. But I did. There were three of them feeding upon the buds of
the maple. They were nearly as large as robins, of a dark ash-color,
very plump, with tails much forked. What were they? My neighbor did
not know; had never seen such birds before. I instantly knew them to
be pine grosbeaks from the far north. I had not seen them before for
ten years. A few days previously I had heard one call from the air as
it passed over; I recognized the note, and hence knew that the birds
were about. They come down from the north at irregular intervals,
and are seen in flocks in various parts of the States. They seem
just as likely to come mild winters as severe ones. Later in the day
the birds came about my study. I sat reading with my back to the
window when I was advised of their presence by catching a glimpse
of one reflected in my eye-glasses as it flew up from the ground to
the branch of an apple-tree only a few feet away. I only mention the
circumstance to show how quick an observer is to take the hint. I was
absorbed in my reading, but the moment that little shadow flitted
athwart that luminous reflection of the window in the corner of my
glasses, something said "that was a bird." Approaching the window, I
saw several of them sitting not five feet away. I could inspect them
perfectly. They were a slate-color, with a tinge of bronze upon the
head and rump. In full plumage the old males are a dusky red. Hence
these were all either young males or females. Occasionally among these
flocks an old male may be seen. It would seem as if only a very few
of the older and wiser birds accompanied these younger birds in their
excursions into more southern climes.

Presently the birds left the apple-bough that nearly brushed my window,
and, with a dozen or more of their fellows that I had not seen, settled
in a Norway spruce a few yards away, and began to feed upon the buds.
They looked very pretty there amid the driving snow. I was flattered
that these visitants from the far north should find entertainment on
my premises. How plump, contented, and entirely at home they looked.
But they made such havoc with the spruce buds that after a while I
began to fear not a bud would be left upon the trees; the spruces would
be checked in their growth the next year. So I presently went out to
remonstrate with them and ask them to move on. I approached them very
slowly, and when beside the tree within a few feet of several of them,
they heeded me not. One bird kept its position and went on snipping
off the buds till I raised my hand ready to seize it, before it moved
a yard or two higher up. I think it was only my white, uncovered hand
that disturbed it. Indeed,

     "They were so unacquainted with man,
      Their tameness was shocking to me."

The snow was covered with the yellow chaffy scales of the buds and
still the birds sifted them down, till I was compelled to "shoo" them
away, when they moved to a tree nearer the house beneath which they
left more yellow chaff upon the snow.

The mind of an observer is like a gun with a hair trigger—it goes at a
touch, while the minds of most persons require very vigorous nudging.
You must take the hint and take it quickly if you would get up any
profitable intimacy with nature. Above all, don't jump to conclusions;
look again and again; verify your observations. Be sure the crow is
pulling corn, and not probing for grubs, before you kill him. Be sure
it is the oriole purloining your grapes, and not the sparrows, before
you declare him your enemy. I one day saw hummingbirds apparently
probing the ripe yellow cheeks of my finest peaches, but I was not
certain till I saw a bird hovering over a particular peach, and then
mounting upon a ladder I examined it, when sure enough, the golden
cheek was full of pin-holes. The orioles destroy many of my earliest
pears, but it required much watching to catch them in the very act. I
once saw a phœbe-bird swoop down upon a raspberry bush and carry a
berry to a rail on a near fence, but I did not therefore jump to the
conclusion that the phœbe was a berry-eater. What it wanted was the
worm in the berry. How do I know? Because I saw it extract something
from the berry and fly away.

A French missionary, said to have been a good naturalist, writing
in this country in 1634, makes this curious statement about our
hummingbird: "This bird, as one might say, dies, or, to speak more
correctly, puts itself to sleep in the month of October, living
fastened to some little branchlet of a tree by the feet, and wakes
up in the month of April when the flowers are in abundance, and
sometimes later, and for that cause is called in the Mexican tongue the
'Revived.'" How could the good missionary ever have been led to make
such a statement? The actual finding of the bird wintering in that way
would have been the proof science demands, and nothing short of that.

A boy in the interior of the State wrote to me the other day that while
in the field looking after Indian arrow-heads he had seen a brown and
gray bird with a black mark running through the eye, and that the bird
walked instead of hopped. He said it had a high, shrill whistle and
flew like a meadowlark. This boy is a natural observer; he noted that
the bird was a walker. Most of the birds hop or jump, keeping both feet
together. This boy heard his bird afterward in the edge of the evening,
and "followed it quite a ways, but could not get a glimpse of it." He
had failed to note the crest on its head and the black spot on its
breast, for doubtless his strange bird was the shore lark, a northern
bird, that comes to us in flocks in the late fall or early winter, and
in recent years has become a permanent resident of certain parts of New
York State. I have heard it in full song above the hills in Delaware
County, after the manner of the English skylark, but its song was a
crude, feeble, broken affair compared with that of the skylark. These
birds thrive well in confinement. I had one seven months in a cage
while living in Washington. It was disabled in the wing by a gunner,
who brought it to me. Its wound soon healed; it took food readily; it
soon became tame, and was an object of much interest and amusement.
The cage in which I had hastily put it was formerly a case filled with
stuffed birds. Its front was glass. As it was left out upon the porch
over night, a strange cat discovered the bird through this glass, and
through the glass she plunged and captured the bird. In the morning
there was the large hole in this glass, and the pretty lark was gone. I
have always indulged a faint hope that the glass was such a surprise to
the cat, and made such a racket about her eyes and ears as she sprang
against it, that she beat a hasty retreat, and that the bird escaped
through the break.


In May two boys in town wrote to me to explain to them the meaning of
the egg-shells, mostly those of robins, that were to be seen lying
about on the ground here and there. I supposed every boy knew where
most of these egg-shells came from. As soon as the young birds are out,
the mother bird removes the fragments of shells from the nest, carrying
them in her beak some distance, and dropping them here and there. All
our song-birds, so far as I know, do this.

Sometimes, however, these shells are dropped by blue jays after their
contents have been swallowed. The jay will seize a robin's egg by
thrusting his beak into it, and hurry off lest he be caught in the act
by the owner. At a safe distance he will devour the contents at his
leisure, and drop the shell.

The robins, however, have more than once caught the jay in the act.
He has the reputation among them of being a sneak thief. Many and
many a time during the nesting season you may see a lot of robins mob
a jay. The jay comes slyly prowling through the trees, looking for
his favorite morsel, when he is discovered by a vigilant robin, who
instantly rushes at him crying, "Thief! thief!" at the top of his
voice. All the robins that have nests within hearing gather to the spot
and join in the pursuit of the jay, screaming and scolding.

The jay is hustled out of the tree in a hurry, and goes sneaking away
with the robins at his heels. He is usually silent, like other thieves,
but sometimes the birds make it so hot for him that he screams in anger
and disgust.

Of the smaller birds, like the vireos and warblers, the jay will devour
the young. My little boy one day saw a jay sitting beside a nest in a
tree, probably that of the red-eyed vireo, and coolly swallowing the
just hatched young, while the parent birds were powerless to prevent
him. They flew at him and snapped their beaks in his face, but he
heeded them not. A robin would have knocked him off his feet at her
first dive.

One is sometimes puzzled by seeing a punctured egg lying upon the
ground. One day I came near stepping upon one that was lying in the
path that leads to the spring—a fresh egg with a little hole in it
carefully placed upon the gravel. I suspected it to be the work of the
cowbird, and a few days later I had convincing proof that the cowbird
is up to this sort of thing. I was sitting in my summer house with a
book, when I had a glimpse of a bird darting quickly down from the
branches of the maple just above me toward the vineyard, with something
in its beak. Following up my first glance with more deliberate
scrutiny, I saw a female cowbird alight upon the ground and carefully
deposit some small object there, and then, moving a few inches away,
remain quite motionless. Without taking my eyes from the spot, I walked
straight down there. The bird flew away, and I found the object she
had dropped to be a little speckled bird's egg still warm. I saw that
it was the egg of the red-eyed vireo. It was punctured with two holes
where the bird had seized it; otherwise it had been very carefully
handled. For some days I had been convinced that a pair of vireos had a
nest in my maple, but much scrutiny had failed to reveal it to me.

Only a few moments before the cowbird appeared I had seen the happy
pair leave the tree together, flying to a clump of trees lower down the
slope of the hill. The female had evidently just deposited her egg,
the cowbird had probably been watching near by, and had seized it the
moment the nest was vacated. Her plan was of course to deposit one of
her own in its place.

I now made a more thorough search for the nest, and soon found it,
but it was beyond my reach on an outer branch, and whether or not the
cowbird dropped one of her own eggs in place of the one she had removed
I do not know. Certain am I that the vireos soon abandoned the nest,
though they do not always do this when hoodwinked in this way.

I once met a gentleman on the train who told me about a brood of quails
that had hatched out under his observation. He was convinced that the
mother quail had broken the shells for the young birds. He sent me one
of the shells to convince me that it had been broken from the outside.
At first glance it did appear so. It had been cut around near the large
end, with the exception of a small space, as if by regular thrusts or
taps from a bird's beak, so that this end opened like the lid of a box
on a hinge, and let the imprisoned bird escape. What convinced the
gentleman that the force had been applied from the outside was that the
edges of the cut or break were bent in.

If we wish rightly to interpret nature, to get at the exact truth of
her ways and doings, we must cultivate what is called the critical
habit of mind; that is, the habit of mind that does not rest with mere
appearances. One must sift the evidence, must cross-question the facts.
This gentleman was a lawyer, but he laid aside the cunning of his
craft in dealing with this question of these egg-shells.

The bending in, or the indented appearance of the edge of the shells
was owing to the fact that the thin paper-like skin that lines the
interior of the shell had dried and shrunken, and had thus drawn the
edges of the shell inward. The cut was made by the beak of the young
bird, probably by turning its head from right to left; one little point
it could not reach, and this formed the hinge of the lid I have spoken
of. Is it at all probable that if the mother bird had done this work
she would have left this hinge, and left it upon every egg, since the
hinge was of no use? The complete removal of the cap would have been
just as well.

Neither is it true that the parent bird shoves its young from the nest
when they are ready to fly, unless it be in the case of doves and
pigeons. Our small birds certainly do not do this. The young birds will
launch out of their own motion as soon as their wings will sustain
them, and sometimes before. There is usually one of the brood a little
more forward than its mates, and this one is the first to venture
forth. In the case of the bluebird, chickadee, high-hole, nuthatch, and
others, the young are usually a day or two in leaving the nest.

The past season I was much interested in seeing a brood of chickadees,
reared on my premises, venture upon their first flight. Their heads
had been seen at the door of their dwelling—a cavity in the limb of a
pear-tree—at intervals for two or three days. Evidently they liked
the looks of the great outside world; and one evening, just before
sundown, one of them came forth. His first flight was of several yards
to a locust, where he alighted upon an inner branch, and after some
chirping and calling proceeded to arrange his plumage and compose
himself for the night. I watched him till it was nearly dark. He did
not appear at all afraid there alone in the tree, but put his head
under his wing and settled down for the night as if it were just what
he had always been doing. There was a heavy shower a few hours later,
but in the morning he was there upon his perch in good spirits.

I happened to be passing in the morning when another one came out. He
hopped out upon a limb, shook himself, and chirped and called loudly.
After some moments an idea seemed to strike him. His attitude changed,
his form straightened up, and a thrill of excitement seemed to run
through him. I knew what it all meant; something had whispered to the
bird, "Fly!" With a spring and a cry he was in the air, and made good
headway to a near hemlock. Others left in a similar manner during that
day and the next, till all were out.

Some birds seem to scatter as soon as they are out of the nest. With
others the family keeps together the greater part of the season. Among
birds that have this latter trait may be named the chickadee, the
bluebird, the blue jay, the nuthatch, the kingbird, the phœbe-bird,
and others of the true flycatchers.

One frequently sees the young of the phœbe sitting in a row upon a
limb, while the parents feed them in regular order. Twice I have come
upon a brood of young but fully fledged screech owls in a dense hemlock
wood, sitting close together upon a low branch. They stood there like a
row of mummies, the yellow curtains of their eyes drawn together to a
mere crack, till they saw themselves discovered. Then they all changed
their attitudes as if an electric current had passed through the branch
upon which they sat. Leaning this way and that, they stared at me like
frightened cats till the mother took flight, when the young followed.

The family of chickadees above referred to kept in the trees about my
place for two or three weeks. They hunted the same feeding-ground over
and over, and always seemed to find an abundance. The parent birds did
the hunting, the young did the calling and the eating. At any hour in
the day you could find the troop slowly making their way over some part
of their territory.

Later in the season one of the parent birds seemed smitten with some
fatal malady. If birds have leprosy, this must have been leprosy. The
poor thing dropped down through a maple-tree close by the house, barely
able to flit a few feet at a time. Its plumage appeared greasy and
filthy, and its strength was about gone. I placed it in the branches of
a spruce-tree, and never saw it afterward.


A boy brought me a dead bird the other morning which his father had
picked up on the railroad. It had probably been killed by striking
the telegraph wires. As it was a bird the like of which he had never
seen before, he wanted to know its name. It was a wee bird, mottled
gray and brown like nearly all our ground birds, as the sparrows,
the meadowlark, the quail: a color that makes the bird practically
invisible to its enemies in the air above. Unlike the common sparrows,
its little round wings were edged with yellow, with a tinge of yellow
on its shoulders; hence its name, the yellow-winged sparrow. It has
also a yellowish line over the eye. It is by no means a common bird,
though there are probably few farms in the Middle and Eastern States
upon which one could not be found. It is one of the birds to be looked
for. Ordinary observers do not see it or hear it.

It is small, shy, in every way inconspicuous. Its song is more like
that of an insect than that of any other of our birds. If you hear
in the fields in May and June a fine, stridulous song like that of
a big grasshopper, it probably proceeds from this bird. Move in the
direction of it and you will see the little brown bird flit a few
yards before you. For several mornings lately I have heard and seen
one on a dry, gravelly hillock in a field. Each time he has been near
the path where I walk. Unless your ear is on the alert you will miss
his song. Amid the other bird songs of May heard afield it is like a
tiny, obscure plant amid tall, rank growths. The bird affords a capital
subject for the country boy, or town boy, either, when he goes to
the country, to exercise his powers of observation upon. If he finds
this bird he will find a good many other interesting things. He may
find the savanna sparrow also, which closely resembles the bird he
is looking for. It is a trifle larger, has more bay about the wings,
and is more common toward the coast. Its yellow markings are nearly
the same. There is also a variety of the yellow-winged sparrow called
Henslow's yellow-winged sparrow, but it bears so close a resemblance
to the first-named that it requires a professional ornithologist to
distinguish them. I confess I have never identified it.

I never see the yellow-wing without being reminded of a miniature
meadowlark. Its short tail, its round wings, its long and strong legs
and feet, its short beak, its mottled coat, the touch of yellow, as if
he had just rubbed against a newly-opened dandelion, but in this case
on the wings instead of on the breast, the quality of its voice, and
its general shape and habits, all suggest a tiny edition of this large
emphatic walker of our meadows.

The song of this little sparrow is like the words "chick,
chick-a-su-su," uttered with a peculiar buzzing sound. Its nest is
placed upon the ground in the open field, with four or five speckled
eggs. The eggs are rounder and their ground color whiter than the eggs
of other sparrows.

I do not know whether this kind walks or hops. This would be an
interesting point for the young observer to determine. All the other
sparrows known to me are hoppers, but from the unusually long and
strong legs of this species, its short tail and erect manner, I more
than half suspect it is a walker. If so, this adds another meadowlark

Let the young observer follow up and identify any one bird, and he will
be surprised to find how his love and enthusiasm for birds will kindle.
He will not stop with the one bird. Carlyle wrote in a letter to his
brother, "Attempt to explain what you do know, and you already know
something more." Bring what powers of observation you already have to
bear upon animate nature, and already your powers are increased. You
can double your capital and more in a single season.

The first among the less common birds which I identified when I began
the study of ornithology was the red-eyed vireo, the little gray bird
with a line over its eye that moves about with its incessant cheerful
warble all day, rain or shine, among the trees, and it so fired my
enthusiasm that before the end of the season I had added a dozen or
more (to me) new birds to my list. After a while the eye and ear become
so sensitive and alert that they seem to see and hear of themselves,
and like sleepless sentinels report to you whatever comes within
their range. Driving briskly along the road the other day, I saw a
phœbe-bird building her nest under a cliff of rocks. I had but a
glimpse, probably two seconds, through an opening in the trees, but
it was long enough for my eye to take in the whole situation: the gray
wall of rock, the flitting form of the bird and the half-finished nest
into which the builder settled. Yesterday, May 7, I went out for an
hour's walk looking for birds' nests. I made a tour of some orchards,
pastures, and meadows, but found nothing, and then came home and found
a blue jay's nest by my very door. How did I find it? In the first
place my mind was intent upon nest finding: I was ripe for a bird's
nest. In the second place I had for some time suspected that a pair
of jays were nesting or intending to nest in some of the evergreens
about my house; a pair had been quite familiar about the premises for
some weeks, and I had seen the male feed the female, always a sure
sign that the birds are mated, and are building or ready to build.
Many birds do this. I have even seen the crow feed its mate in April.
Just at this writing, a pair of chickadees attracted my attention in
a spruce-tree in front of my window. One of them, of course the male,
is industriously feeding the other. The female hops about, imitating
the voice and manner of a young bird, her wings quivering, her cry
plaintive, while the male is very busy collecting some sort of fine
food out of the just bursting buds of the tree. Every half minute or so
he approaches her and delivers his morsel into her beak. I should know
from this fact alone that the birds have a nest near by. The truth is,
it is just on the other side of the study in a small cavity in a limb
of a pear-tree. The female is laying her eggs, one each day, probably,
and the male is making life as easy for her as possible, by collecting
all her food for her.

Hence, when as I came down the drive and a blue jay alighted in a maple
near me, I paused to observe him. He wiped his beak on a limb, changed
his position a couple of times, then uttered a low mellow note. The
voice as of a young jay, tender and appealing, came out of a Norway
spruce near by. The cry was continued, when the bird I was watching
flew in amid the top branches, and the cry became still more urgent and
plaintive. I stepped along a few paces and saw the birds, the female
standing up in her nest and the male feeding her. The nest was placed
in a sort of basket formed by the whorl of up-curving branches at the
top of the tree, the central shaft being gone.

It contained four eggs of a dirty brownish greenish color. As I was
climbing up to it, a turtle dove threw herself out of the tree and
fluttered to the ground as if mortally wounded. My little boy was
looking on, and seeing the dove apparently so helpless and in such
distress, ran to see "what in the world ailed it." It fluttered along
before him for a few yards, and then its mate appearing upon the scene,
the two flew away, much to the surprise of the boy. We soon found the
doves' nest, a shelf of twigs on a branch about midway of the tree.
It held two young birds nearly fledged. How they seemed to pant as
they crouched there, a shapeless mass of down and feathers, regarding
us! The doves had been so sly about their nesting that I had never
suspected them for a moment. The next tree held a robin's nest, and the
nest of a purple finch is probably near by. One usually makes a mistake
in going away from home to look for birds' nests. Search the trees
about your door.

The blue jay is a cruel nest-robber, but this pair had spared the
doves in the same tree, and I think they have made their peace with
the robins, as I do not see the latter hustling them about any more.
Probably they want to stand well with their neighbors, and so go away
from home to commit their robberies.


If a new bird appears in my neighborhood, my eye or ear reports it at
once. One April several of those rare thrushes—Bicknell's or Slide
Mountain thrush—stopped for two days in my currant-patch. How did I
know? I heard their song as I went about the place, a fine elusive
strain unlike that of any other thrush. To locate it exactly I found
very difficult. It always seemed to be much farther off than it
actually was. There is a hush and privacy about its song that makes
it unique. It has a mild, fluty quality, very sweet, but in a subdued
key. It is a bird of remote northern mountain-tops, and its song seems
adjusted to the low, thick growths of such localities.

The past season a solitary great Carolina wren took up its abode in a
bushy land near one corner of my vineyard. It came late in the season,
near the end of August, the only one I had ever heard north of the
District of Columbia. During my Washington days, many years ago, this
bird was one of the most notable songsters observed in my walks. His
loud, rolling whistle and warble, his jocund calls and salutations—how
closely they were blended with all my associations with nature on the
Potomac. When, therefore, one morning my ear caught the same blithe,
ringing voice on the Hudson, be assured I was quickly on the alert. How
it brought up the past. How it reopened a chapter of my life that had
long been closed. It stood out amid other bird songs and calls with a
distinctness that attracted the dullest ears. Such a southern, Virginia
air as it gave to that nook by the river's side!

I left my work amid the grapes and went down to interview the bird.
He peeped at me inquisitively and suspiciously for a few moments from
a little clump of weeds and bushes, then came out in fuller view, and
finally hopped to the top of a grape-post, drooped his wings and tail,
lifted up his head, and sang and warbled his best. If he had known
exactly what I came for and had been intent upon doing his best to
please me, he could not have succeeded better.

The great Carolina wren is a performer like the mockingbird, and is
sometimes called the mocking wren. He sings and acts as well. He
seems bent on attracting the attention of somebody or something. A
Southern poet has felicitously interpreted certain notes by the words,
"Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweet."

Day after day and week after week, till the frosts of the late October
came, the bird tarried in that spot, confining his wanderings to a very
small area and calling and warbling at all hours. From my summer-house
I could often hear his voice rise up from under the hill, seeming to
fill all the space down there with sound. What brought this solitary
bird there, so far from the haunts of his kind, I know not. Maybe he
was simply spying out the land, and will next season return with his
mate. Mockingbirds have wandered north as far as Connecticut, and were
found breeding there by a collector, who robbed them of their eggs. The
mocking wren would be a great acquisition to our northern river banks
and bushy streams. It is the largest of our wrens, and in the volume
and variety of its notes and the length of its song season surpasses
all others.

A lover of nature never takes a walk without perceiving something new
and interesting. All life in the winter woods or fields as revealed
upon the snow, how interesting it is. I recently met a business man who
regularly goes camping to the Maine woods every winter from the delight
he has in various signs of wild life written upon the snow. His morning
paper, he says, is the sheet of snow which he reads in his walk. Every
event is chronicled, every new arrival registers his name, if you have
eyes to read it!

In December my little boy and I took our skates and went a mile
distant from home into the woods to a series of long, still pools in
a wild, rocky stream for an hour's skating. There was a light skim
of snow upon the ice, but not enough to interfere seriously with our
sport, while it was ample to reveal the course of every wild creature
that had passed the night before. Here a fox had crossed, there a
rabbit or a squirrel or a muskrat.

Presently we saw a different track and a strange one. The creature that
made it had come out of a hole in the ground about a yard from the
edge of the long, narrow pool upon which we were skating, and had gone
up the stream, leaving a track upon the snow as large as that of an
ordinary-sized dog, but of an entirely different character.

We had struck the track of an otter, a rare animal in the Hudson River
Valley; in fact, rare in any part of the State. We followed it with
deep interest; it threw over the familiar stream the air of some remote
pool or current in the depths of the Adirondacks or the Maine woods.
Every few rods the otter had apparently dropped upon his belly and
drawn himself along a few feet by his fore paws, leaving a track as
if a log or bag of meal had been drawn along there. He did this about
every three rods.

At the head of the pool where the creek was open and the water came
brawling down over rocks and stones, the track ended on the edge of the
ice; the otter had taken to the water. A cold bath, one would say, in
mid-December, but probably no colder to him than the air, as his coat
is perfectly waterproof.

On another pool farther up the track reappeared, and was rubbed out
here and there by the same heavy dragging in the snow, like a chain
with a long solid bar at regular distances in place of links. At one
point the otter had gone ashore and scratched a little upon the ground.
He had gone from pool to pool, taking the open rapids wherever they

The otter is a large mink or weasel, three feet or more long and very
savage. It feeds upon fish, which it seems to capture with ease. It
is said that it will track them through the water as a hound tracks a
fox on land. It will travel a long distance under the ice, on a single
breath of air. Every now and then it will exhale this air, which will
form a large bubble next the ice, where in a few moments it becomes
purified and ready to be taken into the creature's lungs again. If
by any accident the bubble were to be broken up and scattered, the
otter might drown before he could collect it together again. A man who
lived near the creek said the presence of the otter accounted for the
scarcity of the fish there.


The other day one of my farmer neighbors asked me if I had seen the new
bird that was about. This man was an old hunter, and had a sharp eye
for all kinds of game, but he had never before seen the bird, which was
nearly as large as a robin, of a dull blue or slate color marked with

Another neighbor, who was standing by, said the bird had appeared
at his house the day before. A cage with two canaries was hanging
against the window, when suddenly a large bird swooped down as if to
dash himself against it; but arresting himself when near the glass, he
hovered a moment, eying the birds, and then flew to a near tree.

The poor canaries were so frightened that they fell from their perches
and lay panting upon the floor of their cage.

No one had ever seen the bird before; what was it? It was the shrike,
who thought he was sure of a dinner when he saw those canaries.

If you see, in late autumn or winter, a slim, ashen-gray bird, in size
a little less than the robin, having white markings, flying heavily
from point to point, and always alighting on the topmost branch of a
tree, you may know it is the shrike.

He is very nearly the size and color of the mockingbird, but with
flight and manners entirely different. There is some music in his soul,
though his murderous beak nearly spoils it in giving it forth.

One winter morning, just at sunrise, as I was walking along the streets
of a city, I heard the shrike's harsh warble. Looking about me, I soon
saw the bird perched upon the topmost twig of a near tree, saluting the
sunrise. It was what the robin might have done, but the strain had none
of the robin's melody.

Some have compared the shrike's song to the creaking of a rusty
gate-hinge, but it is not quite so bad as that. Still it is
unmistakably the voice of a savage. None of the birds of prey have
musical voices.

The shrike had probably come to town to try his luck with English
sparrows. I do not know that he caught any, but in a neighboring city I
heard of a shrike that made great havoc with the sparrows.


When Nature made the flying squirrel she seems to have whispered a
hint or promise of the same gift to the red squirrel. At least there
is a distinct suggestion of the same power in the latter. When hard
pressed the red squirrel will trust himself to the air with the same
faith that the flying squirrel does, but, it must be admitted, with
only a fraction of the success of the latter. He makes himself into a
rude sort of parachute, which breaks the force of his fall very much.
The other day my dog ran one up the side of the house, through the
woodbine, upon the roof. As I opened fire upon him with handfuls of
gravel, to give him to understand he was not welcome there, he boldly
launched out into the air and came down upon the gravel walk, thirty
feet below, with surprising lightness and apparently without the least
shock or injury, and was off in an instant beyond the reach of the
dog. On another occasion I saw one leap from the top of a hickory-tree
and fall through the air at least forty feet and alight without
injury. During their descent upon such occasions their legs are widely
extended, their bodies are broadened and flattened, the tail stiffened
and slightly curved, and a curious tremulous motion runs through all.
It is very obvious that a deliberate attempt is made to present the
broadest surface possible to the air, and I think a red squirrel might
leap from almost any height to the ground without serious injury. Our
flying squirrel is in no proper sense a flyer. On the ground he is more
helpless than a chipmunk, because less agile. He can only sail or slide
down a steep incline from the top of one tree to the foot of another.
The flying squirrel is active only at night; hence its large, soft
eyes, its soft fur, and its gentle, shrinking ways. It is the gentlest
and most harmless of our rodents. A pair of them for two or three
successive years had their nest behind the blinds of an upper window of
a large, unoccupied country house near me. You could stand in the room
inside and observe the happy family through the window pane against
which their nest pressed. There on the window sill lay a pile of large,
shining chestnuts, which they were evidently holding against a time of
scarcity, as the pile did not diminish while I observed them. The nest
was composed of cotton and wool which they filched from a bed in one of
the chambers, and it was always a mystery how they got into the room to
obtain it. There seemed to be no other avenue but the chimney flue.

There are always gradations in nature, or in natural life; no very
abrupt departures. If you find any marked trait or gift in a species
you will find hints and suggestions of it, or, as it were, preliminary
studies of it, in other allied species. I am not thinking of the law
of evolution which binds together the animal life of the globe, but
of a kind of overflow in nature which carries any marked endowment or
characteristic of a species in lessened force or completion to other
surrounding species. Or if looked at from the other way, a progressive
series, the idea being more and more fully carried out in each
succeeding type—a kind of lateral and secondary evolution. Thus there
are progressive series among our song-birds. The brown thrasher is an
advance upon the catbird, and the mockingbird is an advance upon the
brown thrasher in the same direction. Each one carries the special gift
of song or mimicking some stages forward. The same among the larks,
through the so-called meadowlark and the shore lark, up to the crowning
triumph of the skylark. The nightingale also finishes a series which
starts with the hedge warbler and includes the robin redbreast. Our
ground-sparrow songs probably reach their highest perfection in the
song of the fox sparrow; our finches in that of the purple finch, etc.

The same thing may be observed in other fields. The idea of the flying
fish, the fish that leaves the water and takes for a moment to the
air, does not seem to have exhausted itself till we reach the walking
fish of tropical America, or the tree-climbing fish of India. From the
protective coloring of certain insects, animals, and birds, the step
is not far to actual mimicry of certain special forms and colors. The
naturalists find in Java a spider that exactly copies upon a leaf the
form and colors of bird droppings. How many studies of honey-gathering
bees did nature make before she achieved her masterpiece in this line
in the honey-bee of our hives? The skunk's peculiar weapon of defense
is suggested by the mink and the weasel. Is not the beaver the head
of the series of gnawers, the loon of divers, the condor of soarers?
Always one species that goes beyond any other. Look over a collection
of African animals and see how high shouldered they are, how many hints
or prophecies of the giraffe there are before the giraffe is reached.
After nature had made the common turtle, of course she would not stop
till she had made the box tortoise. In him the idea is fully realized.
On the body of the porcupine the quills are detached and stuck into
the flesh of its enemy on being touched; but nature has not stopped
here. With the tail the animal strikes its quills into its assailant.
Now if some animal could be found that actually threw its quills, at a
distance of several feet, the idea would be still further carried out.

The rattlesnake is not the only rattler. I have seen the black snake
and the harmless little garter snake vibrate their tails when disturbed
in precisely the same manner. The black snake's tail was in contact
with a dry leaf, and it gave forth a loud humming sound which at once
put me on the alert.

I met a little mouse in my travels the other day that interested me. He
was on his travels also, and we met in the middle of a mountain lake.
I was casting my fly there when I saw just sketched or etched upon the
glassy surface a delicate V-shaped figure, the point of which reached
about the middle of the lake, while the two sides as they diverged
faded out toward the shore. I saw the point of this V was being slowly
pushed toward the opposite shore. I drew near in my boat, and beheld
a little mouse swimming vigorously for the opposite shore. His little
legs appeared like swiftly revolving wheels beneath him. As I came
near he dived under the water to escape me, but came up again like a
cork and just as quickly. It was laughable to see him repeatedly duck
beneath the surface and pop back again in a twinkling. He could not
keep under water more than a second or two. Presently I reached him
my oar, when he ran up it and into the palm of my hand, where he sat
for some time and arranged his fur and warmed himself. He did not show
the slightest fear. It was probably the first time he had ever shaken
hands with a human being. He was what we call a meadow mouse, but
he had doubtless lived all his life in the woods, and was strangely
unsophisticated. How his little round eyes did shine, and how he
sniffed me to find out if I was more dangerous than I appeared to his

After a while I put him down in the bottom of the boat and resumed
my fishing. But it was not long before he became very restless and
evidently wanted to go about his business. He would climb up to the
edge of the boat and peer down into the water. Finally he could brook
the delay no longer and plunged boldly overboard, but he had either
changed his mind or lost his reckoning, for he started back in the
direction he had come, and the last I saw of him he was a mere speck
vanishing in the shadows near the other shore.

Later on I saw another mouse while we were at work in the fields that
interested me also. This one was our native white-footed mouse. We
disturbed the mother with her young in her nest, and she rushed out
with her little ones clinging to her teats. A curious spectacle she
presented as she rushed along, as if slit and torn into rags. Her pace
was so precipitate that two of the young could not keep their hold and
were left in the weeds. We remained quiet and presently the mother came
back looking for them. When she had found one she seized it as a cat
seizes her kitten and made off with it. In a moment or two she came
back and found the other one and carried it away. I was curious to see
if the young would take hold of her teats again as at first and be
dragged away in that manner, but they did not. It would be interesting
to know if they seize hold of their mother by instinct when danger
threatens, or if they simply retain the hold which they already have.
I believe the flight of the family always takes place in this manner,
with this species of mouse.


The other day I was walking in the silent, naked April woods when I
said to myself, "There is nothing in the woods."

I sat down upon a rock. Then I lifted up my eyes and beheld a newly
constructed crow's nest in a hemlock tree near by. The nest was but
little above the level of the top of a ledge of rocks only a few yards
away that crowned the rim of the valley. But it was placed behind the
stem of the tree from the rocks, so as to be secure from observation
on that side. The crow evidently knew what she was about. Presently I
heard what appeared to be the voice of a young crow in the treetops
not far off. This I knew to be the voice of the female, and that she
was being fed by the male. She was probably laying, or about beginning
to lay, eggs in the nest. Crows, as well as most of our smaller birds,
always go through the rehearsal of this act of the parent feeding the
young many times while the young are yet a long way in the future.
The mother bird seems timid and babyish, and both in voice and manner
assumes the character of a young fledgeling. The male brings the food
and seems more than usually solicitous about her welfare. Is it to
conserve her strength or to make an impression on the developing eggs?
The same thing may be observed among the domestic pigeons, and is
always a sign that a new brood is not far off.

When the young do come the female is usually more active in feeding
them than the male. Among the birds of prey, like hawks and eagles,
the female is the larger and more powerful, and therefore better able
to defend and to care for her young. Among all animals, the affection
of the mother for her offspring seems to be greater than that of her
mate, though among the birds the male sometimes shows a superabundance
of paternal regard that takes in the young of other species. Thus a
correspondent sends me this curious incident of a male bluebird and
some young vireos. A pair of bluebirds were rearing their second brood
in a box on the porch of my correspondent, and a pair of vireos had a
nest with young in some lilac bushes but a few feet away. The writer
had observed the male bluebird perch in the lilacs near the young
vireos, and, he feared, with murderous intent. On such occasions the
mother vireo would move among the upper branches much agitated. If she
grew demonstrative the bluebird would drive her away. One afternoon
the observer pulled away the leaves so as to have a full view of the
vireo's nest from the seat where he sat not ten feet away. Presently he
saw the male bluebird come to the nest with a worm in its beak, and,
as the young vireos stretched up their gaping mouths, he dropped the
worm into one of them. Then he reached over and waited upon one of the
young birds as its own mother would have done. A few moments after he
came to his own brood, with a worm or insect, and then the next trip
he visited the nest of the neighbor again, greatly to the displeasure
of the vireo, who scolded him sharply as she watched his movements
from a near branch. My correspondent says: "I watched them for several
days; sometimes the bluebird would visit his own nest several times
before lending a hand to the vireos. Sometimes he resented the vireos'
plaintive fault-finding and drove them away. I never saw the female
bluebird near the vireos' nest."

That the male bird should be broader in his sympathies and affections
will not, to most men at least, seem strange.

Another correspondent relates an equally curious incident about a wren
and some young robins. "One day last summer," he says, "while watching
a robin feeding her young, I was surprised to see a wren alight on the
edge of the nest in the absence of the robin, and deposit a little
worm in the throat of one of the young robins. It then flew off about
ten feet, and it seemed as if it would almost burst with excessive
volubility. It then disappeared, and the robin came and went, just as
the wren returned with another worm for the young robins. This was kept
up for an hour. Once they arrived simultaneously, when the wren was
apparently much agitated, but waited impatiently on its previous perch,
some ten feet off, until the robin had left, when it visited the nest
as before. I climbed the tree for a closer inspection, and found only a
well-regulated robin household, but nowhere a wren's nest. After coming
down I walked around the tree and discovered a hole, and upon looking
in saw a nest of sleeping featherless wrens. At no time while I was in
the vicinity had the wren visited these little ones."

Of all our birds, the wren seems the most overflowing with life and
activity. Probably in this instance it had stuffed its own young to
repletion, when its own activity bubbled over into the nest of its
neighbor. It is well known that the male wren frequently builds what
are called "cock-nests." It is simply so full of life and joy and of
the propagating instinct, that after the real nest is completed, and
while the eggs are being laid, it gives vent to itself in constructing
these sham, or cock-nests. I have found the nest of the long-billed
marsh wren surrounded by half a dozen or more of these make-believers.
The gushing ecstatic nature of the bird expresses itself in this way.

I have myself known but one instance of a bird lending a hand in
feeding young not its own. This instance is to be set down to the
credit of a female English sparrow. A little "chippie" had on her
hands the task of supplying the wants of that horseleech, young
cow-bunting. The sparrow looked on from its perch a few yards away,
and when the "chippie" was off looking up food, it would now and then
bring something and place it in the beak of the clamorous bunting. I
think the "chippie" appreciated its good offices. Certainly its dusky
foster-child did. This bird, when young, seems the most greedy of all
fledgelings. It cries "More," "More," incessantly. When its foster
parent is a small bird like "chippie" or one of the warblers, one would
think it would swallow its parent when food is brought it. I suppose a
similar spectacle is witnessed in England when the cuckoo is brought up
by a smaller bird, as is always the case. Sings the fool in "Lear:"—

     "The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
      That it had its head bit off by it young."

Last season I saw a cow-bunting fully grown following a "chippie"
sparrow about, clamoring for food, and really looking large enough to
bite off and swallow the head of its parent, and apparently hungry
enough to do it. The "chippie" was evidently trying to shake it off and
let it shift for itself, for it avoided it and flew from point to point
to escape it. Its life was probably made wretched by the greedy monster
it had unwittingly reared.


     Accentor, golden-crowned. _See_ Thrush, golden-crowned.

     Adder's-tongue, _or_ yellow erythronium, _or_ dog's-tooth violet,

     Albertus Magnus, 252.

     Alexander, Colonel, his stock farm, 225, 226, 228, 229.

     Ants, 255.

     Apple-trees, 165, 169, 209;
       old trees bear the most birds, 271;
       bird life in an old tree, 271-276.

     April, a natal month, 162, 163;
       a perfect day in, 165.

     Arbutus, trailing, 14, 15, 167.

     Arethusa, 3, 4.

     Arnold, Matthew, 214.

     Ash, black, 6, 17.

     Azalea, white, 6.

     Balsam. _See_ Fir.

     Bass, 16.

     Bear, black (_Ursus americanus_), 41, 58, 163, 173, 174.

     Beardslee, Mrs., 109 n.

     Beaver (_Castor fiber_), 309.

     Beaverkill, the, 34.

     Bee. _See_ Bumblebee _and_ Honey-bee.

     Bee-balm. _See_ Monarda.

     Big Ingin Valley, 37.

     Birch, yellow, 42.

     Birds, colors of eggs, 64, 65;
       lining materials for nests, 70;
       shapes of eggs, 72;
       courtship, 77, 85;
       human traits of, 85, 86;
       fickle-mindedness of, 91;
       sense of taste, 96;
       their sympathy with each other, 119;
       gregarious and solitary, 120;
       local attachments of, 172, 173;
       sing at a distance from their nests, 188;
       concert of action among, 200, 201, 266;
       earth baths and water baths, 210;
       variations in songs according to localities and during a series
           of years, 239;
       their keenness of sight, 277;
       removal of egg-shells from the nest, 288, 289;
       the young leaving the nest, 292;
       continuation of the family life after the nest is left, 293, 294;
       the male feeding his mate, 298;
       the females more active than the male in caring for the young,
           312, 313;
       the male broader in his sympathies and affections than the
           female, 313-315.

     Blackbird, crow, _or_ purple grackle, (_Quiscalus quiscula_), notes
         of, 167.

     Blackbird, red-winged. _See_ Starling, red-shouldered.

     Black Pond, gathering pond-lilies in, 16-18.

     Blood-root, 5, 13, 14, 168.

     Bluebird (_Sialia sialis_), war with a wren, 66-68;
       courtship of, 79;
       jealousy and a duel, 80-82, 91;
       arrival of, 158, 159, 160;
       imaginary rivals, 189-191;
       and downy woodpecker, 272;
       war with a great crested flycatcher, 274, 275;
       jealousy and courage of, 275;
       and English sparrow, 275, 292, 293;
       feeding a family of vireos, 313, 314;
       notes of, 79-82, 158, 159, 163;
       nest and eggs of, 15, 64, 66, 68, 79-82, 189, 191, 275.

     Blue-grass, 223, 227, 228, 234.

     Blue-grass region, the, 223-234.

     Bluets. _See_ Houstonia.

     Blue-weed. _See_ Bugloss, viper's.

     Bobolink (_Dolichonyx oryzivorus_), 188, 239;
       song of, 239;
       nest of, 188.

     Bob-white. _See_ Quail.

     Boneset, climbing, 31.

     Boswell, James, 251.

     Botany, the study of, 27, 28;
       a needed aid in, 31, 32.

     Bowlders, refusing to stay down, 100, 101.

     Brooks. _See_ Trout streams.

     Bugloss, viper's, _or_ blue-weed, 29, 30.

     Bullfrog, 255.

     Bumblebee, 14;
       visiting the closed gentian, 27 and note;
       drones, 269.

     Bunting, black-throated, _or_ dickcissel (_Spiza americana_), 239;
       song of, 239.

     Bunting, indigo. _See_ Indigo-bird.

     Bunting, snow, _or_ snowflake (_Plectrophenax nivalis_), 200.

     Calf, fear in the young, 195.

     Calypso, the orchid, 1, 2.

     Cambium layer, the, 158.

     Camp, repairing, 47, 52;
       rain in, 48;
       a cold night in, 52-54.

     Camping, in the southern Catskills, 33-60.

     Campion, bladder, 29.

     Canary, 96, 97, 191, 305.

     Cardinal (_Cardinalis cardinalis_), 239.

     Cardinal-flower, 11, 29.

     Carlyle, Thomas, a woman's opinion of, 108, 109;
       quotation from, 297.

     Catbird (_Galeoscoptes carolinensis_), 142;
       song of, 308.

     Cats, chipmunks and, 148-150;
       red squirrels and, 195.

     Catskills, mountaineering in the southern, 33-60;
       the rocks of, 34, 46, 47;
       the water of, 40.

     Cattle, backwoods, 58, 59.

     Cedar-bird, _or_ cedar waxwing (_Ampelis cedrorum_), 72, 200;
       nest and eggs of, 70, 72.

     Charming, the power of, 255-257.

     Chat, yellow-breasted (_Icteria virens_), 239.

     Chelone, _or_ turtle-head, 29.

     Cherry pits, 151, 152.

     Chewink, _or_ towhee (_Pipilo erythrophthalmus_), 14.

     Chickadee (_Parus atricapillus_), 121;
       young leaving the nest, 292, 293;
       family life continued after the nest is left, 293, 294;
       a fatal malady, 294;
       a male feeding his mate, 298;
       notes of, 293, 294;
       nest of, 70, 257, 258, 292, 293, 298, 299.

     Chipmunk (_Tamias striatus_), 140;
       spring awakening of, 145, 163;
       breeding habits of, 146;
       manners and conversation of, 146;
       enemies of, 146, 147;
       nervous, impetuous ways of, 147, 148;
       a hermit, 148, 152;
       adventures with cats, 148-150;
       the digging and furnishing of the den, 150, 151;
       food for the winter, 115, 152, 194;
       sociability, 152;
       pursued by a weasel, 152-154.

     Chippie, _or_ social sparrow (_Spizella socialis_), 72;
       a curious mishap, 124, 125;
       and young cowbird, 315, 316;
       nest and eggs of, 64, 124.

     Claytonia, _or_ spring beauty, 42, 43.

     Clintonia, 42.

     Clover, red, 42.

     Clover, sweet, _or_ melilotus, 29.

     Columbine, 13.

     Condor, 309.

     Cone-flower, _or_ rudbeckia, 98.

     Contentment, 87-90.

     Coon. _See_ Raccoon.

     Corydalis, 13.

     Cowbird, _or_ cow-bunting (_Molothrus ater_), desecrating a vireo's
         nest, 290, 291;
       the young bird and its foster-parent, 315-316.

     Crane, sandhill (_Grus mexicana_), 105-107;
       nest and eggs of, 105, 106.

     Crickets, field, hibernating of, 255.

     Crow, American (_Corvus americanus_), their fellow-feeling and
         courtesy towards each other, 119, 120;
       suspiciousness of, 121, 122, 164, 171, 265, 298;
       the male feeding his mate, 312;
       notes of, 163;
       nest of, 312.

     Cuckoo, European, 316.

     Cypripedium. _See_ Lady's-slipper.

     Daffodil, 19.

     Dandelion, 104, 105.

     David, a guide in the Catskills, 39, 40.

     Deer, Virginia (_Cariacus virginianus_), 41, 277-279.

     Dicentra. _See_ Dutchman's breeches _and_ Squirrel corn.

     Dickcissel. _See_ Bunting, black-throated, 239.

     Dipper, European, eggs of, 65.

     Dog, a, detected in stealing, 58, 59;
       a red squirrel's race with a, 198, 199, 256.

     Dog-toes, 98.

     Double-Top, 43.

     Dove, turtle or mourning (_Zenaidura macroura_), 236, 299;
       nest and young of, 299, 300.

     Duck, eider, 70.

     Ducks, wild, 101, 161.

     Dutchman's breeches (_Dicentra cucullaria_), 4.

     Eel, 252.

     Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 109, 245;
       quotations from, 14, 63.

     Erythronium. _See_ Adder's-tongue.

     Evening primrose, 19.

     Esopus Creek, 34.

     Farmers, Kentucky, 226, 227.

     Fear, in wild animals, 193-197;
       in man, 195;
       in domestic animals, 195;
       paralysis from, 255-257.

     Fences, 100.

     Fern. _See_ Osmunda.

     Fertility, the beauty of, 221, 222.

     Finch, lark, _or_ lark sparrow (_Chondestes grammacus_), 234, 235;
       song of, 235.

     Finch, purple (_Carpodacus purpureus_), song of, 308;
       nest of, 300.

     Fir, balsam, 42, 43, 47.

     Fish, a small, swallowing a large fish, 131.

     Fishes, flying, walking, and tree-climbing, 308.

     Flicker. _See_ High-hole.

     Flowers, wild, the identification of, 31, 32.

     Flycatcher, great crested (_Myiarchus crinitus_), 274;
       war with a bluebird, 274, 275;
       notes of, 274;
       nest of, 260, 272-275.

     Fox, red (_Vulpes vulpes_, var. _fulvus_), tracks of, 126, 127,
       177, 196, 197, 277.

     Frog, pickerel, 255.

     Frog, wood, 261.

     Frogs, spring awakening of, 163;
       hibernating of, 254, 255.
       _See_ Bullfrog, Hyla, _and_ Tree-frog.

     Fumitory, climbing, 4, 5.

     Game, on the prairie, 101, 102.

     Gentian, closed, 26, 27, 30.

     Georgetown, Ky., 232.

     Gerardia, rose, 11.

     Ginger, wild, 26.

     Girl, a young English, 28, 29.

     Goethe, quotation from, 90.

     Goldenrod, 98.

     Goldenrod, mountain, 54.

     Goldfinch, American, _or_ yellowbird (_Spinus tristis_), 72;
       habits of, 73, 74;
       love-making festivals of, 83, 84;
       change of plumage, 83, 84, 166;
       notes of, 73, 74, 84;
       nest and eggs of, 72, 73.

     Goose, Canada (_Branta canadensis_), 101.

     Gopher, pocket (_Spermophilus_ sp.), 104.

     Grackle, purple. _See_ Blackbird, crow.

     Grass. _See_ Blue-grass.

     Grass, chess _or_ cheat, 262, 263.

     Green River, 243, 249.

     Grosbeak, pine (_Pinicola enucleator_), a visit from, 284-286;
       notes of, 284.

     Grouse, pinnated, _or_ prairie hen (_Tympanuchus americanus_), 101,
         102, 106;
       notes of, 101;
       nest and eggs of, 61, 101, 102.

     Grouse, ruffed, _or_ partridge (_Bonasa umbellus_), courtship of,
         85, 177, 201;
       protective coloring of, 261;
       her well-trained young, 262;
       drumming of, 85;
       nest of, 61.

     Hair-snake, 264, 265.

     Hardhack. _See_ Steeple-bush.

     Hare, northern (_Lepus americanus_, var. _virginianus_), 197, 198.

     Hats and bonnets, Thoreau on, 209, 210.

     Hawk, banqueting-hall of a, 171, 172;
       quickness of a, 200;
       and mouse, 256, 257;
       the smaller species as enemies of birds and chickens, 265, 266;
       poised in mid-air, 266.
       _See_ Hen-hawk.

     Hawk, American sparrow (_Falco sparverius_), 265.

     Hawk, fish. _See_ Osprey.

     Hawk, marsh (_Circus hudsonius_), habits and appearance of, 133;
       defending her nest, 134, 135;
       young of, 135, 137, 138;
       a tame young one, 138-143, 172;
       notes of, 134, 135, 138, 139;
       nest and eggs of, 133-138.

     Hawk, pigeon (_Falco columbarius_), caught in a shad-net, 259.

     Hawk, sharp-shinned (_Accipiter velox_), 266.

     Hawkweed (_Hieracium aurantiacum_), 8, 9, 10 and note.

     Hen-hawk, 133;
       one of the farmer's best friends, 265.

     Hepatica. _See_ Liver-leaf.

     High-hole, _or_ flicker (_Colaptes auratus_), matchmaking of, 82,
       drumming of, 83;
       unbridled boring propensities, 276, 292;
       notes of, 82, 83, 165, 167;
       nest and eggs of, 72, 83, 259.

     Hogs of the prairie, 99.

     Honey-bee, 14, 30;
       in a chimney, 68;
       working on sawdust, 158, 159, 162, 163.

     Horses, gentleness towards children, 97;
       in Kentucky, 228, 233.

     Houstonia, _or_ bluets, 19, 20.

     Hummingbird, ruby-throated (_Trochilus colubris_), probing peaches,
       a curious statement about, 287;
       nest and eggs of, 65.

     Hunters and their victims, 277-281.

     Hyla, Pickering's, _or_ peeper, 166, 168, 254.

     Illinois, birds observed in, 235, 236.

     Indian cucumber root, _or_ medeola, 2, 3.

     Indigo-bird, _or_ indigo bunting (_Passerina cyanea_), song of,
       nest of, 188.

     Invalid, observations of an, 87-109.

     Ironweed, 228.

     Jay, blue (_Cyanocitta cristata_), hoarding food, 90, 91;
       worried by a wren, 92, 128, 130, 236;
       a devourer of the eggs and young of other birds, 289;
       mobbed by robins, 289, 290, 293;
       a male feeding his mate, 298, 299, 300;
       notes of, 128, 299;
       nest and eggs of, 92, 128, 298, 299.

     Jefferies, Richard, a reporter of nature, 207;
       his _Wild Life_, 207;
       a sympathetic spectator of nature, not an observer, 211;
       his _Gamekeeper at Home_, 211;
       his _Amateur Poacher_, 211;
       his _My Old Village_, 211;
       quotation from, 211-213.

     Jewel-weed, 28, 29.

     Johnson, Dr. Samuel, 204, 205;
       on scorpions and swallows, 251.

     Joint-snake. _See_ Snake, glass.

     Journal, keeping a, 155-158.

     Junco. _See_ Snowbird.

     Kentucky, the journey into, 221-223;
       the blue-grass region of, 223-234;
       the birds of, 234-239;
       Mammoth Cave, 241-250.

     Kingbird (_Tyrannus tyrannus_), 293;
       nest of, 70, 259, 260.

     Kingfisher, belted (_Ceryle alcyon_), nest and eggs of, 65.

     Kingfisher, English, 65;
       eggs of, 65.

     Knott, Governor, 238.

     Lady's-slipper, showy (_Cypripedium spectabile_), 6-8.

     Lady's-slipper, stemless _or_ pink (_Cypripedium acaule_), 6, 71.

     Lark, shore _or_ horned (_Otocoris alpestris_) _and_ prairie horned
         lark (_O. a. praticola_), 163, 164, 287;
       in confinement, 288;
       notes of, 163, 164, 287, 288.

     Larkins, his house in the Catskills, 37, 56, 57;
       directions from, 38, 39;
       his dog, 59, 60.

     Licks, of Kentucky, the, 225.

     Lilies, scarlet, 98.

     Lily, meadow, 17.
       _See_ Pond-lily.

     Limestone, of Kentucky, 234.

     Linnæus, quotation from, 266.

     Lion's-foot, 30.

     Liver-leaf, _or_ hepatica, 14.

     Loon (_Urinator imber_), 309.

     Loosestrife, purple, 12, 29.

     Lynx, Canada (_Lynx canadensis_), 198.

     Mallow. _See_ Marsh-mallow.

     Mammoth Cave, general impressions of, 241, 242, 248;
       relics of 1812, 242;
       the clock, 243;
       timidity of visitors, 243, 244;
       a dark city, 244;
       as a sanitarium, 244, 245;
       the Star Chamber, 245, 246;
       musical rocks, 246, 247;
       water in, 247, 248;
       Goring Dome, 248;
       the entrance, 248, 249;
       a river of cool air, 249, 250.

     Maple, red, 17.

     Maple, sugar, keys of, 152;
       starting of the sap, 159;
       a good sap day, 160, 161.

     March, a typical day of, 161;
       tokens of, 219, 220.

     Marigold, marsh, 19.

     Marsh-mallow (_Althæa officinalis_), 12.

     Martin, Mrs., her _Home Life on an Ostrich Farm_, 86.

     Martin, purple (_Progne subis_), eggs of, 65.

     Meadow-beauty, _or_ rhexia, 10.

     Meadowlark (_Sturnella magna_), 236;
       notes of, 165, 167.

     Medeola. _See_ Indian cucumber root.

     Melilotus. _See_ Clover, sweet.

     Milkweed, marsh, 13.

     Mimicry, 308, 309.

     Mimulus, purple, _or_ monkey-flower, 29.

     Mink (_Putorius vison_), 103, 104;
       tracks of, 126, 127, 309.

     Mockingbird (_Mimus polyglottos_), 239, 302;
       song of, 308.

     Monarda, _or_ bee-balm, 11.

     Monkey-flower. _See_ Mimulus.

     Moose (_Alce alces_), pursuit of a, 280, 281.

     Mountain-ash, 42.

     Mountain-climbing, in the Catskills, 33-60.

     Mountains, their meaning to Oriental minds, 44, 45.

     Mt. Graham, 43.

     Mount Sterling, 223.

     Mt. Wittenberg, 35, 38, 56, 57.

     Mouse, meadow, 256;
       crossing a lake, 309-311.

     Mouse, white-footed, a mother with her young, 311.

     Mouse-ear, 21-23.

     Muskrat (_Fiber zibethicus_), 103, 104;
       in a doorway, 177, 178, 303.

     Nature, the language of, 118;
       various forms of the love of, 203, 204;
       the real lover of, 205, 206;
       the passion for Nature not a mere curiosity about her, 207, 208;
       the creative touch of the imagination needed in descriptions of,
           213, 215;
       fresh impressions of, 215-220;
       many dramas played at once on her stage, 268;
       all things to all men, 269, 270;
       the gradations in, 307-309.

     Neversink, the, 34.

     Newt, water, 162.

     Night, Jefferies on, 213;
       Whitman on, 213, 214;
       in Senancour's _Obermann_, 214, 215.

     Nightingale, song of, 308.

     Oaks, English, 212.

     _Obermann_, by Étienne Pivert de Senancour, quotation from, 214,

     Observation, the gift of, 90;
       alertness of mind necessary in, 118, 286;
       a translation of nature's language into human speech necessary
           in, 118;
       on the part of wild creatures, 119;
       selective and detective, 208, 211;
       an unbiased mind necessary in, 252;
       specialized, 252, 253;
       all possible sources of error to be taken into account in, 253;
       a steady and patient as well as sharp eye necessary in, 262-269,
       love of nature the first step in, 283;
       the critical habit of mind necessary in, 291.

     Oriole, Baltimore (_Icterus galbula_), 236-238, 286;
       nest and eggs of, 65, 66, 124, 237, 238.

     Osmunda fern, royal, 16.

     Osprey, American, _or_ fish hawk (_Pandion haliaëtus carolinensis_),
         regular habits of an osprey, 172, 173, 257.

     Ostrich, 86.

     Otter, American (_Lutra hudsonica_), tracks of, 303, 304;
       habits of, 304.

     Oven-bird. _See_ Thrush, golden-crowned.

     Owl, great horned (_Bubo virginianus_), 197;
       nest of, 61.

     Owl, screech (_Megascops asio_), a brood of young, 294;
       notes of, 220;
       nest of, 61.

     Owl, snowy (_Nyctea nyctea_), 197.

     Owls, the eggs of, 62, 198.

     Oxen, 99, 100.

     Panther Mountain, 43, 56, 57.

     Partridge. _See_ Grouse, ruffed.

     Peak-o'-Moose, 43.

     Peeper. _See_ Hyla.

     Perch, 16, 212.

     Phœbe-bird (_Sayornis phœbe_), 286, 293, 294;
       nest and eggs of, 62-64, 70, 249, 260, 297.

     Pickerel, 16.

     Pigeon, passenger (_Ectopistes migratorius_), 101;
       nest of, 62.

     Pike, barred, 212.

     Pink, prairie, 98.

     Pitcher plant, 6.

     Polygala, fringed, 20, 21.

     Pond-lily, 15-18.

     Porcupine, Canada (_Erethizon dorsatus_), 36, 37, 47, 53, 58, 309.

     Prairie, the, notes from, 87-109;
       like the ocean, 88;
       life in the fifties on, 97-107;
       game on, 101-107;
       a _dead_ level, 224.

     Prairie hen. _See_ Grouse, pinnated.

     Primrose. _See_ Evening primrose.

     Proctor, Professor, 224.

     Pussy-willows, 220.

     Quail, _or_ bob-white (_Colinus virginianus_), 101;
       setting, 136;
       young of, 137;
       answering a call, 175, 176;
       hatching of the young, 291, 292;
       notes of, 175, 176;
       nest and eggs of, 75, 135-137, 291, 292.

     Rabbit, 48.

     Rabbit, gray (_Lepus sylvaticus_), 176;
       a captive, 182, 183;
       timidity and witlessness of, 197, 198.

     Raccoon (_Procyon lotor_), 163;
       a captive, 178, 179;
       courage of, 196, 197.

     Rain, in camp, 48.

     Rat, pet squirrel and, 96, 104.

     Red-bird, summer, _or_ summer tanager (_Piranga rubra_), 236;
       song of, 236.

     Rhexia. _See_ Meadow-beauty.

     Roads, in Kentucky, 232.

     Robin, American (_Merula migratoria_), 72;
       courtship of, 78, 79;
       duels of, 78, 79, 142, 190;
       singing a brown thrasher's song, 267;
       mobbing a blue jay, 289, 290;
       a brood of young fed by a wren, 314, 315;
       notes of, 57, 159, 163, 166, 167, 267;
       nest of, 15, 91, 124, 300, 314.

     Robin redbreast, song of, 308.

     Rocks, of the Catskills, 34, 46, 47.

     Rondout Creek, 34, 49.

     Rose, wild, 11, 98.

     Rudbeckia. _See_ Cone-flower.

     Sapsucker, yellow-bellied. _See_ Woodpecker, yellow-bellied.

     Scorpion, 251.

     Senancour, Étienne Pivert de, quotation from his _Obermann_, 214,

     Shad, 15.

     Shad-bush, low, 42.

     Shakespeare, quotation from, 316.

     Shelby, Colonel, his form, 225.

     Shrike (_Lanius_ sp.), and chipmunk, 147, 304-306;
       song of, 303, 306.

     Sink-holes, 229, 230.

     Skunk (_Mephitis mephitica_), a narrow escape, 179;
       fearlessness of, 196.

     Skunk cabbage, 162, 219.

     Skylark, on the Hudson, 210;
       song of, 210.

     Slide Mountain, location and description of, 33, 34, 35;
       ascent of, 37-42;
       on the summit, 33-54;
       descent of, 54-56.

     Snake, black, fight with a pair, 128-130;
       rifling nests, 128, 130;
       swallowing a garter snake, 131, 146, 195, 256;
       as a rattler, 309.

     Snake, garter, 131;
       as a rattler, 309.

     Snake, glass, _or_ joint-snake, 263, 264.

     Snake, green, 131;
       protective coloring of, 260, 261.

     Snakes, spring awakening of, 163;
       their so-called power of charming, 255-257.
       _See_ Hair-snake.

     Snow, on Slide Mt., 54;
       damage to peach buds caused by, 160;
       tracks in, 302-304.

     Snowbird, _or_ slate-colored junco (_Junco hyemalis_), 159.

     Snowflake. _See_ Bunting, snow.

     Sparrow, bush _or_ russet _or_ field (_Spizella pusilla_), 119;
       song of, 165, 167.

     Sparrow, Canada _or_ tree (_Spizella monticola_), 159.

     Sparrow, English (_Passer domesticus_), 62, 77, 118, 119, 272, 275;
       a female assists a chippie in feeding a young cowbird, 315.

     Sparrow, fox (_Passerella iliaca_), song of, 308.

     Sparrow, Henslow's (_Ammodramus henslowii_), 296.

     Sparrow, lark. _See_ Finch, lark.

     Sparrow, savanna (_Ammodramus sandwichensis savanna_), 296.

     Sparrow, social. _See_ Chippie.

     Sparrow, song (_Melospiza fasciata_), 64;
       building on an insecure foundation, 123, 124, 159;
       an interesting couple, 187-189;
       song of, 169, 170, 187, 189;
       nest and eggs of, 15, 63, 64, 123, 124, 135, 187-189.

     Sparrow, swamp (_Melospiza georgiana_), 17;
       nest of, 17.

     Sparrow, yellow-winged _or_ grasshopper (_Ammodramus savannarum
         passerinus_), 295-297;
       notes of, 295, 296;
       nest and eggs of, 296.

     Spider, a Javan, 309.

     Spider, flying, 220.

     Spring, first days of, 158-160, 218-220.

     Spring beauty. _See_ Claytonia.

     Springs, in Kentucky, 232.

     Spruce, 6;
       a grove on Slide Mountain, 41, 42, 43.

     Spruce, Norway, 285.

     Squirrel, flying (_Sciuropterus volans_), 116;
       habits of, 307.

     Squirrel, gray (_Sciurus carolinensis_, var. _leucotis_), five tame
         squirrels, 93-96, 177.

     Squirrel, red (_Sciurus hudsonicus_), 95, 145, 184;
       cautious habits of, 193, 194;
       not so provident as the chipmunk, 194;
       caught by cats and snakes, 194, 195, 256;
       a race with a dog, 198, 199;
       as a parachute, 306, 307.

     Squirrel corn (_Dicentra canadensis_), 5, 6.

     Starling, red-shouldered, _or_ red-winged blackbird (_Agelaius
         phœniceus_), notes of, 218.

     Stars, the, 215, 216.

     Steeple-bush, _or_ hardhack, 11.

     Strawberries, wild, 42, 43, 57.

     Streams, in Kentucky, 231.

     Sunflower, wild, 19.

     Swallow, bank (_Clivicola riparia_), eggs of, 65.

     Swallow, barn (_Chelidon erythrogaster_), 166, 260;
       nest and eggs of, 65, 69, 70, 260.

     Swallow, chimney, _or_ chimney swift (_Chætura pelagica_), flight
         of, 69;
       nest and eggs of, 65, 68, 69.

     Swallow, cliff (_Petrochelidon lunifrons_), eggs of, 65.

     Swallow, white-bellied _or_ tree (_Tachycineta bicolor_), eggs of,

     Swallows, hibernating of, 251, 252.

     Swift, chimney. _See_ Swallow, chimney.

     Swift, European, eggs of, 65.

     Table Mountain, 43.

     Tanager, scarlet (_Piranga erythromelas_), eggs of, 64.

     Tanager, summer. _See_ Red-bird, summer.

     Terrapin, _or_ land turtle, 196.

     Thoreau, Henry David, a woman's view of, 107, 156, 204;
       his _Walden_, 208;
       his Journals, 208-210;
       as an observer, 208-210, 253;
       quotation from, 208, 209.

     Thrasher, brown (_Harporhynchus rufus_), an unfortunate pair,
         185-187, 236;
       its song sung by a robin, 267;
       song of, 168, 306;
       nest and eggs of, 185-187.

     Thrush, Bicknell's (_Turdus aliciæ bicknelli_), 46, 45;
       visiting a garden, 300;
       song of, 46, 48, 49, 54, 300.

     Thrush, golden-crowned, _or_ golden-crowned accentor, _or_ oven-bird
         (_Seiurus aurocapillus_), 70, 71;
       song of, 71;
       nest and eggs of, 70, 71.

     Thrush, gray-cheeked (_Turdus aliciæ_), 14.

     Thrush, hermit (_Turdus aonalaschkæ pallasii_), 14;
       song of, 17, 46.

     Thrush, wood (_Turdus mustelinus_), struggles with a piece of paper,
         125, 126;
       a domestic tragedy, 184, 185;
       song of, 184, 185;
       nest and eggs of, 125, 126, 184, 185.

     Thyme, wild, 30.

     Toad, 168;
       the young after a shower, 254.

     Toad-flax, 29.

     Torrey, John, 253.

     Tortoise, box, 309.

     Towhee. _See_ Chewink.

     Tree-frog, _or_ tree-toad, 254, 261.

     Trees, succession of forest, 91.

     Trillium, painted, 43.

     Trout, brook, 57, 58.

     Trout streams, beauty and purity of, 39, 40.

     Turkey, domestic, 86.

     Turkey, wild (_Meleagris gallopavo_), 101.

     Turtle, land. _See_ Terrapin.

     Turtle, spotted, 196.

     Turtle-head. _See_ Chelone.

     Turtles, 163, 196, 210.

     Vervain, 29.

     Violet, Canada, 20.

     Violet, common, 20.

     Violet, dog's-tooth. _See_ Adder's-tongue.

     Violet, small white, 20.

     Violet, spurred, 20.

     Vireo (_Vireo_ sp.), a brood of young fed by a bluebird, 313, 314.

     Vireo, red-eyed (_Vireo olivaceus_), 289, 297;
       notes of, 297;
       nest and eggs of, 8, 290, 291.

     Virginia, journey through, 221, 222.

     Warbler, black-poll (_Dendroica striata_), on Slide Mountain, 46;
       song of, 46.

     Warbler, hedge, song of, 308.

     Wasps, stingless, 269.

     Water-lily. _See_ Pond-lily.

     Waxwing, cedar. _See_ Cedar-bird.

     Weasel (_Putorius_ sp.), and his den, 111-117;
       pursuing a chipmunk, 152-154, 309.

     Wheat, chess grass and, 262, 263.

     Whip-poor-will (_Antrostomus vociferus_), 71, 72;
       protective coloring of, 261;
       eggs of, 71, 261.

     White, Gilbert, 266.

     Whitman, Walt, quotations from, 213, 214, 247.

     Wild animal, a mythical, 174, 175.

     Willow-herb, 16.

     Witch-hazel, 27.

     Wittenberg, the, 35, 38, 56, 57.

     Wolf, gray (_Canis lupus_), 102, 103.

     Wolf, prairie (_Canis latrans_), 102.

     Woman, observations of an invalid, 87-109.

     Women, about the best lovers of nature, 88.

     Woodchuck (_Arctomys monax_), friendly calls, 179;
       mother and young, 180, 181;
       a pet, 181, 182.

     Woodcock, American (_Philohela minor_), 219, 220.

     Woodland Valley, 37.

     Woodpecker, downy (_Dryobates pubescens_), 66;
       drumming of, 83, 145, 166;
       winter retreats of, 271-273;
       attacked by a bluebird, 272.

     Woodpecker, hairy (_Dryobates villosus_), 273.

     Woodpecker, red-headed (_Melanerpes erythrocephalus_), 238.

     Woodpecker, yellow-bellied (_Sphyrapicus varius_), sapsucking habits
         of, 258, 259.

     Woodpeckers, eggs of, 64, 65;
       drumming of, 83-85;
       courtship of, 83-85.

     Woods, traveling through pathless, 50, 51;
       in Kentucky, 227-231.

     Wordsworth, William, his love of nature, 204-207;
       quotations from, 19, 204, 205.

     Wren, Carolina (_Thryothorus ludovicianus_), on the Hudson, 300-302;
       a performer, 301;
       song of, 301, 302;
       nest of, 68.

     Wren, European, nest of, 68.

     Wren, house (_Troglodytes aëdon_), occupying orioles' nests, 65, 66;
       war with a bluebird, 66-68, 92;
       feeding a brood of young robins, 314, 315;
       overflowing with life and activity, 315;
       "cock-nests" built by the male, 315;
       notes of, 67, 68, 314;
       nest and eggs of, 65, 66, 68, 70, 92, 314, 315.

     Wren, long-billed marsh (_Cistothorus palustris_), "cock-nests"
         built by the male, 315;
       nest of, 68, 315.

     Wren, short-billed marsh (_Cistothorus stellaris_), nest of, 68.

     Wren, winter (_Troglodytes hiemalis_), 41;
       song of, 41;
       nest of, 68, 70.

     Wryneck, eggs of, 65.

     Yellowbird. _See_ Goldfinch.


Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the

The following corrections have been made to the original text:

     Page 21: contrasting[original has "constrasting"] it with the
     fresh green

     Page 99: an aristocrat and despised accordingly.[period
     missing in original]

     Page 316: That it had its[original has "it"] head bit off

     Page 318: Catbird (_Galeoscoptes carolinensis_)[original has
     "carolinenis"], 142

Punctuation has been standardized in the index.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Riverby" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.