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Full text of "Days afield on Staten Island"

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DAYS AFIELD 



ON 



STATEN ISLAND 



BY 

WILLIAM T. DAVIS 



Copyright, 1892, 
By WILLIAM T. DAVIS. 



PREFACE 



C F 1 FEW of the pages that compose this volume ap- 
r"A peared in that short lived periodical, The Staten 
-L -*- Island Magazine, but for the greater part they are 
records of rambles made during the past several years. 
Rambles that were made sometimes with Charles W. 
Leng, when I assisted in that happily never-to-be-ended 
task of discovering all the kinds of beetles that inhabit the 
Island, that count in their legions so many hundred 
species; or with Louis P. Gratacap, when we caused the 
hours to be memorable to ourselves by our enthusiastic joy 
in simply wandering afield. If it were possible for any 
man to give utterance to the simple beauty of a sunny 
day, the whole world would treasure the production, but 
like an artist he falls far short of the original, and gives 
but a faulty representation of matchless nature. We men- 
tion a hill, a field and a butterfly, but we cannot make 
them blend properly. Sometimes I think that he who 
makes no notes, is the wiser man. There is, however, 
certainly a fascination in simply collecting and keeping 
a record of the ways of beasties. One's acquaintance 
among them widens rapidly, yet beyond there is ever a 
haze. We never become thoroughly acquainted with a 
grasshopper or a butterfly, and in that array of plants that 

2051009 



inhabit the Island, individual rareties appear most unex- 
pectedly, and prove themselves additions to that already 
extensive catalogue compiled by the chief clerks of our 
local flora. 

Thus with some of the members of that collecting 
and tramping fraternity, of which the Island possesses a 
goodly number, I went afield, but more often I rambled 
alone. Nature seems to speak more directly to a lone 
rambler, and to a number of persons in company she 
rarely says a word. Two, at most, can tread evenly the 
same path, can be touched by the same sense, and echo to 
each other with pleasant minor changes, the influences of 
the way. 

In character these pages are miscellaneous as were 
the excursions they commemorate, and they might have 
been much extended, but perhaps a small potion of an 
untried compound will be preferred by the reader. It is 
the fashion to condemn, and I do not expect the majority 
to be at variance with that mood, but perhaps to some 
loiterer by the hedge-rows, I may speak sincerely, and he 
will prize the result of my humble effort to write something 
of nature and old Staten Island. \V. T. D. 



NEW BRIGHTON. 



CONTENTS. 



PAGE 

FIRST SIGNS 6 

AFTER THE SNOW 7 

THE BENISON OF SPRING 13 

SOUTH BEACH 19 

BY THE RIPPLING SEA 49 

THE OLD STONE HOUSE 57 

TENANTS 64 

NATIVE BROOKS 72 

THE POND-MEADOW 84 

THE PARKS 104 

THE TURNPIKE ROAD Ill 

REFLECTIONS ... ... 128 



FIRST SIGNS. 



S soon as Spring, with its leaves and flowers, 
Has made field and wood-land so pleasing, 
Warming alike earth's heart and ours, 

And the poor little brook that was freezing 
As soon as Phoebe has reared her first young 

As of years under eaves protecting, 
The poplar its pollen and catkins wide flung 
And light, trembling leaves, perfecting. 

Then we see creeping o'er Nature's bright face 

The first signs of Autumn advancing, 
It may be a berry ahead in the race, 

Itself and its kind enhancing; 
It may be a leaf turned yellow at prime, 

A late butterfly early appearing, 
Or it may be that beat, beat, pulse like rhyme, 

A cricket to cricket a-cheering. 



AFTER THE SNOW. 



THERE is a continuous song in the valley to-day. 
The warm breath of Spring is borne on the south 
wind and the snow fades fast on the hillside. 
Everything is moving. The very road seems to be on the 
run, glistening in the sunlight, and a bird perching on the 
alder bushes jars the pollen from the catkins. It is pleas- 
ant to hear the constant warble ; to get a cedar branch 
and lie down on it in the warm sunshine and have the 
little yellow flies come and make their toilet on the twigs. 
They rub their heads with their forelegs, until the slender 
necks seem nigh unto breaking. They look so comically 
wise, so matter-of-fact, so business-like, one is almost 
inclined to address them. How much does a cold, stormy 
day or a sunny one signify to them ? It is their life or 
death, it is their chance. The sun hidden for even an hour 
behind a cloud has a greater potency in nature than we 
commonly credit. The rise and fall of our health and 
vigor our spirits go up and down like the mercury in a 
thermometer, and passing clouds, sunshine and cold, have 
much to do with it. So, with the flies, we must have 
courage, be satisfied with the hour. They rub their heads 
and scrape their feet in comfort, and nothing that we can 
do will bring us any greater advantage than this. 



8 . After the Snow. 

The crows step about circumspectly in the open. The 
snow-birds sing a quaint little warble. Sometimes, as if by 
mutual agreement, they fly from the ground where they 
have been hunting, to the trees, and one sees that they are 
on the constant watch for enemies. Their flesh-tinted bills 
show plainly against their slate-colored heads and upper 
breast, and all the day they may linger about a single 
patch of woods under the pines and cedars. Their 
colors are intensified now ; a few, perhaps from ill-health, 
are not quite so bright as the others. When they come to 
drink at a pool only six feet away, their attire seems 
quaintly neat. It is impressive that nature makes a thou- 
sand coats that agree in stripe and feather, and also is 
creative of countless variations of the same general form. 

Nearly all of the pine seeds have fallen, but a few 
remain at the base of the cones, tucked away mid the 
lamellae. These the yellow-birds discover, pull them from 
their hiding, take the seeds from their clasps, and the 
" wings " come falling down. If a cone is rapped sharply 
the perfect seeds tumble out, falling at first quite fast, until 
the rotary motion reaches its maximum, when they go 
spinning around, looking much like flying insects day-flies 
with gauzy wings. A shot, that was perhaps aimed at a 
robin, falls from the cone with the seeds. It started on its 
journey with much noise and smoke, and now, six months 
after, completes its course and drops gently to the ground. 

This morning the hill-side was white with the snow, 
but now there are only patches left, and their edges move 
like the hands of a clock. We look away and then look 
back again, after a time, and see that they have moved, 



After the Snow. 9 

that the little white patch has shrunken, but we cannot see 
it done, for the " speed is but the heavy plummet's pace." 
An occasional beetle appears on the snow, running about 
in much haste, its black body showing plainly. The pro- 
tective coloring is at fault there, but it resents all interference 
with a strong-odored, acrid secretion, which taints the 
fingers long afterward. The wasps fly out from their 
winter hiding, and seek the open places where the grass is, 
but they are weak, and when you come near they make 
several efforts, fall on their sides, and finally, with much 
labor, fly away. 

A pair of bluebirds, looking for a home, find the old 
hollow tree in the field. They call constantly to each 
other, and the male seems to think that most any place 
will do. He pokes his head into a hollow and calls 
ardently to his mate, and when she comes he flutteis 
about on the branch and utters an almost squeaking cry. 
But the madam is more particular, and flies away after a 
moment's examination. What a noble use nature makes 
of many artificial things ! The wild woodbine climbs the 
fence and the caterpillars spin their cocoons there, or hang 
in chrysalis from the rails, and when a bluebird calls to its 
mate from a telegraph wire it bears truly a message of 
love. His voice is mild, and is in sympathy with the 
more kindly human messages that are carried unknown to 
him by the wire beneath his feet. He seems to have been 
born a gentleman, to be incapable of any meanness, and 
he has much of " that inbred loyalty unto virtue." You 
fancy that he is strictly honest, and is not on speaking 
terms with the wily crow. 



10 After the Snow. 

An old man comes across the field with a hand-saw 
and a ladder. He talks about the day " how sunny it 
is," and that he is going to cut cedar limbs for the cows ; 
they like something green. While they come up and rub 
their noses against him, he tells their names : that Lesa 
was born on Inauguration day ; that he " brought her up 
like a baby, fed her by hand, because her mother was 
sick," and that on the 4th of March this year she had her 
third calf. Though Lesa is trustful of him, he is plotting 
against her offspring, and asks concerning a butcher that 
might buy it, for " it is now three weeks old." Soon the 
application of the proper name for one of the three roan 
cows becomes a question, and we ask for enlightenment. 
" Don't you see Hannah is bigger than Jane, higher, Jane 
is two months older, though, and Lesa has the broken 
horn." The old man goes down the hill to the cedars, 
the cows go running after, and he every now and then 
slaps them with the flat of the saw, to keep them at a 
proper distance, and when the cedar-limb falls off its 
foliage is devoured with evident satisfaction. 

The purple tiger-beetles fly along the wood-paths ; the 
honey-bees congregate where the sap oozes from the 
stumps of trees cut down in the winter, and the damp piles 
of cordwood give off a strong, pleasant fragrance 'tis 
the odor of vegetable blood. A beautiful deep orange, 
black, and brown moth flies in numbers in the young 
growth, every now and then resting on a branch-tip, for 
Brephos infans comes on the warm days in March, with 
the lingering snow. 

The male wood-frogs are numerous in the pools, and 



After the Snow. 11 

their croaking sounds like a number of men calking a ship, 
striking at variance with one another. Or perhaps we 
should say that the calking of a ship sounds like the 
croaking of wood-frogs, for the latter is the more natural 
sound, and has the advantage of priority. Before Noah 
made his boat of gopher-wood, and Jason sailed the 
^Egean sea, the wood-frog sang in the Spring of the year. 
In the woods, a long way from the pool, a female frog 
comes hopping, hopping two long leaps and then a rest. 
So she makes her way to the general assemblage of her 
kind. When you stoop to pick her up she crouches closer 
to the earth, and her colors are brighter now than at any 
other season. The red-brown is intensified, and the dark 
stripe on either side of the head is more marked. The 
majority of the males are dark mottled brown, with broader 
stripes on the head, but a few are of the same general 
color as the females. All of the spawn is deposited in a 
space about a yard square, and in this one pool there are 
over fifty of the round gelatinous masses adhering to the dead 
grass- stems and twigs. Soon the assemblages will disperse, 
and the frogs will sing no more; they will lead solitary 
lives until another year. 

In a swamp a cardinal bird sings from a tree-top, first 
one and then the other of his songs : chuck chuck chuck, 
rendered fast, as if calling the chickens; and hue, hue, hue, 
repeated about a dozen times, bringing an echo from the 
opposite hill. The notes have a particular whistling 
sound, like a switch passed rapidly through the air, which 
our words cannot render, and for which the cardinal alone 
knows the alphabet. From the same swamp a peeper- 



12 After the Snow. 

frog is calling, and we think of the gray December days 
when we heard him sing, and how all Winter he has lain 
securely in his cold bed. 

All along the hills at sunset the song-sparrows are 
singing, and the chew, chew, chew, of the tufted titmouse 
sounds from the higher trees. The sparrows are numerous 
mid the young growth by the fences, and hide behind the 
close clumps of blackberry stems, or hop so rapidly as to 
appear to run along the ground. Though they quarrel 
sometimes most desperately, yet their present twitterings 
seem to indicate a great store of serenity, and you imagine 
that if you could always wander by these sunny hedge- 
rows and through the woods, nature would also bestow 
upon you this same mild tone. 



THE BENISON OF SPRING. 



HESE Spring days, when we hear the bluebirds carol, 
and mark the revivifying influence of the season, we 
are sure to be affected thereby, and my companion 
smiles to see me dance beneath the pine tree. " You seem 
happy," he says, and yet I notice the light kindle in his 
own eyes, for the sunshine, the bluebirds and the robins 
have not come in vain to him. 

What a blessing are the balmy hours of Spring ! The 
warm sun distills a fragrance from the earth, and in the 
waste pastures, where there is a thick mat of vegetation, 
this odor is particularly strong. Nature is stirring straw- 
berries and crickets into life. The air is full of little flies, 
beetles run along the roadway, dogs lie asleep on the grass 
and the yellow flicker sounds his rattle in the trees. Then 
does the light within burn brightest, and our hearts seem 
to beat more joyously than they have all Winter long, and 
we are happy and at least transiently well under the sun. 
Old Sol smiles at our ways ; we are flies on the sunny side 
of a pumpkin to him, and to ourselves we know not what 
we are. 



14 The Benison of Spring. 

It is a blessing to retain the simple delights of child- 
hood, to be easily pleased, and it is well to be affected by 
the greening of the earth, even though we cannot exactly 
mention the charm or tell why we should be glad. It is 
no wonder that there have been May-poles, no wonder 
that the shepherds of old danced about the straws in the 
field at the feasts of Pales, and no wonder again that my 
companion and I become joyous in the hopeful days of 
Spring. 

The poet straightway goes to his garret and commences 
writing verses. He must, at least, have his outburst of 
vernal song it, too. is one of the signs of the season. The 
red maples are aglow, the pussy willows invite the bees 
and those big burly flies, with hairy bodies, that fly with 
ponderous inaccuracy. The marsh marigolds spread their 
yellow flowers, and the hermit thrush sits silently on the 
trees, his shadow cast, mayhap, in some dark, leaf-laden pool. 

The skunk-cabbage spathes have long had their heads 
above the surface, and when I see them I think of Cad- 
mus and the dragon's teeth. They are spotted, are brown, 
yellow, red and olive-green, and have long twisted apices 
sometimes, like the ends of the caps in which fairies are 
occasionally depicted. Withal they have a mysterious ap- 
pearance, as if the dragon's teeth were sprouting. I see 
where they have been dug up, for these queer mythical 
things are in favor on Fifth avenue. The false hellebore 
is also ever a surprise as it springs from among the brown 
dead leaves. It has so early a tropical splendor, and the 
Spring does not seem old enough to have given birth to 
such luxuriant vegetation. 



The Benison of Spring. 15 

We meet an old man along the road and he tells us 
how he's had a cold all Winter. " If I could onlv have 
gone South," says he, "but what can a poor man do?" 
But now it is Spring, and he straightens himself up and 
looks brighter. A dose of Spring cures many a malady. 
If we wait long enough the Earth transports us from the 
pole to the equator, and we finally get thawed. We shed 
our overcoats our outermost cuticle comes off and may- 
hap the moths wear it all Summer. Thus do we greet the 
warm days, and hope grows with the radishes in the gar- 
den. 

Alas, our best health, the most robust condition that 
many of us ever attain, would be considered by some a 
state needing a doctor's care. Our ills fit us after a while 
like old clothes. Life hangs by a thread, and even that is 
seldom a whole one. Several of its strands are commonly 
broken ; we patch them together and put a porous plaster 
over the weak spot. Thus do we live, being half dead. 

But Spring is a blessing; we become more sprightly 
than usual, and he must be old and miserable, indeed, who 
does not glow a little when he sees the violets, the ane- 
mones, the adders' tongues, and hears the sweet cadence 
of the field sparrow's song. Why is it that they look up 
to Heaven when they sing ? I suppose it may be ex- 
plained in some mundane way that will give no credit to 
spiritual feelings ; but certainly it is a pretty form of the 
chippie's and of this bunting of the pastures. 

I must not forget the dandelions that star the grass all 
over, for they are truly the flowers of our balmy days, and, 
indeed, they are not happy if the sun does not shine, for 



16 The Benison of Spring. 

they keep their bright yellow faces from dark and sullen 
skies. Again, when the Spring is gone, and Summer is 
gone, and the trees glow with their crimson leaves, or, 
mayhap, have lost them entirely, how cheering is the bright 
yellow face of the dandelion, as it nestles on its short stem 
in some sheltered nook ! It hugs the earth then, as if it 
suspected Winter, and does not grow as fearlessly as the 
spring-time flower. 

But we must hasten back to Spring, for indeed it is in 
haste itself, and will be too quickly passed. My companion 
says: " Do not let us have June right away, for then it is 
July and then Autumn, and then our year is gone." So we 
hasten back to Spring, to the blood-root blossoms, to the 
arbutus and the bluets. 

The rhubarb comes up quite gaily in the garden and 
commences to spread its elephant-eared leaves. It is true 
it has been peeping forth this long time, seeing, perhaps, 
whether it was safe to come yet ; but the early days of 
April in this clime bid no plant trust in the morrow. So 
it has been content to wait, and it is only just now that it 
has decided to push upward its rose-colored stalks. But 
the old pear-tree has a greater show, and, I believe, if a 
man could live two hundred years and retain his eyesight, 
he would stand every Spring to admire the pageant ot 
blossoms. It has looked dull and half-dead all Winter, 
and you might have cut it down for firewood, but now it 
seems a sacrilege to break even one of its branches. The 
warblers come and tarry among its blossoms, and help, 
with their bright colored bodies, to make a more splendid 
show. 



The Benison of Spring. 17 

How gaudy Nature is ! Mankind would fain bedizen 
itself with the most splendid attire, but it only manages to 
steal a little of her magnificent raiment. With the onrush 
of spring blossoms come the gaily-decked hats, the bees 
even mistaking them occasionally for Nature's flowers, 
such pains have been taken to imitate her ; but alas you 
may sometimes see an Autumn blossom peeping forth from 
the wealth of cowslips. I know that Cybele and Ceres do 
now and then get sadly mixed, do bring forth willow- 
pussies, dandelions, violets and other Spring flowers in De- 
cember and January, and the old pear-tree occasionally 
produces a few blossoms in October, so I suppose the 
human sisters of Flora and her kin are amply excused for 
jumbling the seasons. 

There is a happy languor that accompanies the days 
of Spring, and people loll in the sun or sit lazily on the 
piazza, and then stretch themselves like the pussy that has 
taken her nap before the fire. This pleasant tiredness is 
called " spring fever," and would that our ailments were 
all so welcome. It was the only disease known in the gar- 
den of Eden during the spring-time of our race, and with 
our love for the beautiful in nature, is a heritage from that 
golden age. 

The greening of Spring is certainly the nearest we 
know to an absolute creation, so many things are new 
about us. The old year and its countless predecessors are 
back of it all no doubt, yet the new dress covers the old 
so skillfully that the brown and dead leaves and decaying 
branches that bestrew the ground do not seem to intrude 
upon the scene. 



18 The Benison of Spring. 

My companion has told me in Spring that he has seen 
the little blue butterflies, has told it as a piece of news, as 
one of those signs of the season for which we watch and 
wait. Of all the tokens these little blue butterflies, flitting 
among the yellow flowered benzoin bushes, touch the sense 
of our joy in the season most deeply, unless, indeed, it 
may be those first twitterings of swallows. They are truly 
divine birds and do make the season glad, and the farmer 
hails them with pleasure when they return to his barn. 
They speak, in their ways, a pleasant trustfulness that is 
flattering to cold-hearted man, of whom so many innocent 
creatures are so justly afraid. They fly in and out of the 
open barn-door and about the house, and show by their 
marvelous flights how easily they could be away, yet they 
return again to man's protection. I am afraid that the joy 
the swallows bring, as they come with the genial days, 
cannot be set down in commonplace words. When I see 
them fly and hear their twitter, it seems to me that I am 
not half expressive enough; there is something still to 
say, and I look in strange bewilderment, realizing an ever- 
unutterable influence. 




SOUTH BEACH. 



THERE is but one short stretch of sandy beach on 
Staten Island, from which the shore rambler may 
see the line where sky and ocean meet ; in all other 
directions the view is bounded by New Jersey or Long 
Island, and the waves come more gently to the shore. 

It was along this South Beach that in 1676 Jasper 
Bankers and Peter Sluyter wandered, the place being 
quite a wilderness then, and their description of the herds 
of deer, the wild turkeys and geese, cause one to-day to 
read the account several times over, so interesting is the 
narrative. They visited the Oude Dorp and the Nieuwe 
Dorp ; made leg -wearying journeys around the creeks that 
reach far inland, and found great difficulty in climbing the 
steep tree-covered bank where Fort Wadsworth now 
stands. No longer, indeed, do the moss-bunkers lie dying 
by the thousands, as they describe, " food for the eagles 
and other birds of prey," for though it might seem improb- 
able to those not interested in the matter, yet it is true 
that not only do the land animals fall year by year before 
advancing civilization, but the life that ocean would seem 
to hold so securely, is also being gradually stolen away. 



20 South Beach. 

When Thoreau lived on Staten Island in 1843, residing 
with Mr. William Emerson on the Richmond road, he 
rambled on this shore, and he tells us about the dogs that 
used to bark at him as he tramped along. He says : 
" 1 used to see packs of half- wild dogs haunting the lonely 
beach on the south shore of Staten Island, in New York 
Bay, for the sake of the carrion there cast up ; and I 
remember that once, when for a long time I had heard a 
furious barking in the tall grass of the marsh, a pack of 
half a dozen large dogs burst forth on to the beach, pur- 
suing a little one, which ran straight to me for protection, 
and I afforded it with some stones, though at some risk to 
myself; but the next day the little one was the first to 
bark at me." 

Mr. Aug. R. Grote, the naturalist, and author of some 
pleasing poems, says in his " Check- List of North Ameri- 
can Moths " : " What a range of thought one can run 
over catching butterflies along the hedgerows. I come 
back to my first surprise, when, as a boy, I caught Cicin- 
delas on the south beach of Staten Island. I saw that 
there were numerous questions hanging about unsolved as 
I was bottling my captures." 

Though these tiger-beetles still fly on the South Beach, 
each July seeing their return, yet the scene has changed 
considerably. Indeed we cannot ramble along the same 
shore that Bankers and Sluyter and Thoreau did, for the 
beach of a hundred, or even of fifty, years ago is now far 
out under the waves. It has been estimated that each 
century brings with it about twenty inches depression, and 
owing to the flat character of the country, many acres of 



South Beach. 21 

woodland and field have been washed away. History 
says the Elm Tree lighthouse received its name from a 
tree of this kind growing, in 1840, beyond the end of the 
present dock, which extends about four hundred feet into 
the water. On an old map, published in 1797, this tree is 
depicted as one of the landmarks, and before the days of 
the lighthouse it served to guide vessels into the harbor. 
On the map is written this inscription beside the figure of 
the tree : " Large Elm tree Standing by the Shore a 
Mark for Vessels leaving and going from New York to 
Amboy, Middletown and Brunswick." Further along the 
shore we have been shown two cedars in front of which 
the old men used to play ball when boys, but the trees now 
stand near the edge of the bank, which is crumbling away 
a little each year. 

It was not long ago that the boulevard was built, a 
little up from the high-tide mark, and New Creek was 
bridged, but in many places only a trace of the road now 
remains. New Creek is very erratic as regards at least a 
portion of its course, and previous to the winter of 
1883-84 emptied a quarter of a mile or more to the south- 
west of its present mouth. There was a great point 
formed by its winding course, on which the ribbed Pecten 
shells occurred in numbers. Each year this point grew 
longer, until at last the stream flowed so slowly that in the 
winter mentioned it froze up, and the upland became 
flooded. When spring came the water broke through 
straight to the ocean, and now another point is being 
slowly formed. 

In 1797 the creek is portrayed as emptying straight to 



22 South Beach. 

the ocean, without any accompanying point, but on the 
maps of 1850, 1859, and 1872, the point is shown. On 
the old map already referred to a line of trees is depicted 
near the mouth of the creek, and probably there was a 
considerable wood there. Now there remains a clump 
of cedars, and the dead post oaks are ranged in rows, and 
branches that belonged to trees of the same kind may be 
pulled out of the peat, that in places forms little cliffs. 
This peat was originally formed when the present shore 
was a part of a salt meadow, and in its way is very inter- 
esting, for it offers a secure retreat to many a tender- 
shelled mollusk and timid crab. Pieces of it are con- 
stantly being broken off, and roll with ceaseless roll, until 
they mimic the most approved forms of the baker's loaves. 
Cedar trees may also be seen dead or dying, their trunks 
buried a foot or more in the sand, or the soil washed away 
from their roots, which sprawl in a ghastly fashion mid 
dead crabs and the wrecks of things that the ocean has 
thrown away. What a marvelous hoard of dead creatures 
the sea casts up to the land ! Many poor mussels that 
seemed securely anchored in the morning, ere night are 
dying on the shore. It seems useless to throw them back* 
for the waves, with a roar, bring them again and cast 
them at your feet. 

On Winter tramps I meet the crows looking for cast 
up treasures, and their success oftentimes is greater than 
my own ; for many a fine " lady crab " or " decorator " 
have I mourned over sighed for the lost leg or missing 
" apron." The gulls, too, rejoice at the death of the crab, 
and in Winter they frequent in numbers the sandy points, 



South Beach. 23 

from which they rise with weird screams. They often sit 
motionless in rows at low water line, apparently many of 
them asleep, and when the tide rises they float on the 
waves in nearly the same place where they were standing 
before. A few of their cries sound remarkably like some 
one hoisting a sail with the aid of a creaking pulley, and 
1 have several times been deceived thereby, and have 
looked about expecting to find a mariner close in shore. 

Of all the shells that line the shore, mid " gingle shells," 
that rattle with a metallic sound, and " boat shells," whose 
inner coloring is equal to anything in nature's art, there is 
one of curious shape and delicate marking called the shell 
of Pandora. Three faint lines radiate from one end of the 
hinge over the pearly surface, and the valves are generally 
found together, resisting storm and waves. There is a 
little space between, for they are not usually tightly closed, 
but Hope being so great a thing is still held as captive. 
Thus is this shell most aptly named, and we peer within 
to see what may be hidden there, and in the grains of sand 
are our hopes and our fortunes portrayed, for perhaps to 
the world the one is as important as the other. 

On cold Winter days, as well as in Summer, a blind 
man comes out, and, with a long stick feels carefully for 
the drift wood. Oftentimes the small boys collect sticks, 
and placing them in his path, watch him find them. 

A hermit came to the shore a few years ago and built 
his house of drift wood on the sand near the bridge, cover- 
ing it with old tin and putting one small pane in the front for 
a window. With the fish he catches, the gulls and ducks 
that he shoots, and what can be found on the beach, he 



24 South Beach. 

gets a living, and pays no taxes. " A fellow must do 
something," says he, " and so I came here and built my 
house. I used to live over on Long Island." In the 
morning the sun comes up from the sea in front of his 
door, and at evening it sinks behind the western hills; 
but no man conies to disturb the hermit. He is a stranger 
to the rush and the set tasks of the world, and he is free, 
where many are fettered. 

Of drift wood there is no end, neither is there of old 
shoes, mousetraps, brooms and all other household utensils. 
Even coal and metal objects are washed ashore. I found 
a table one day, with a full complement of legs, and a 
friend discovered a coffee pot, cover and all, and with a 
blameless bottom. One might become quite a connoisseur 
in bottles, for the Frenchman, the German, the Italian and 
the Irishman each throws his bottle overboard, and com- 
ing ashore they mix with the American bottles on the 
beach. So various in shape and general appearance are 
they that one readily falls to giving them supposed quali- 
fications, such as phlegmatic, sanguine and bilious bottles. 
I have seen those that looked ill though full of medicine, 
and they are certainly often very blue. Some have con- 
tained " St. Jacob's Oil for man and beast," and others of 
a very odd shape that appear to have more difficulty in 
standing than most bottles, often protrude from the pock- 
ets of amateur fishermen. 

There is nothing with which the waves seem to take 
more sport than with an empty barrel, and if the wind be 
high its bouncings and tossings are wild and fantastic. It 
rolls down the beach to meet the incoming wave, and 



South Beach. 25 

then, mid the foam, is sent on its journey up the strand 
again. There is no scarcity of barrels on the beach, and 
on Crooke's Point, which might be called the Cape Cod 
of Staten Island, they form the sides of the well. Several 
have been placed one above the other in the sand, and 
fresh water accumulates at the bottom. 

All fruits in their season find their way hither, and 
ocean lays things side by side in strangest contrast. A 
loaf of bread, some withered flowers, an old straw bed on 
which, perhaps, a sailor died, often lie close together. 
Maybe he took some of the nostrums contained in the 
bottles scattered about, and they introduced his spirit to 
the unknown shore. 

Thus, when we wander along this sandy South Beach, 
and see our foot-prints and think of the strange vagaries 
that beset us, as Hawthorne did on his ramble along the 
shore, other things come crowding before us too, and we 
look at the houses, the bulkheads, the line of the proposed 
railway, and think of the deer and wild turkeys in the 
days of Bankers and his friend. Do we not then conclude 
that however desirable civilization and all that it brings 
may be, yet its presence in no way tends to beautify the 
scene. 

* 

And now the years have sped on, a great portion of 
the beach is changed, the long stretch of uninhabited 
strand has been curtailed. Pleasure seekers abound on the 
Summer days, and there is a laugh, a gayety, a gentle 
splashing in the water, and a rumbling of the railroad 
trains. 



26 South Beach. 

The unconscious sand is held at great price, and the 
tiger beetles have been banished to further along the shore. 
Waiters rush about with their trays, where once the crows 
devoured the lady crabs, and the crowd is as lithesome and 
gay as were the sand-fleas of old. 

There are as many footsteps on the sand as on a city 
pavement, and it is plain that it is not the beach, but the 
people, that form the chief attraction they come to see 
one another. A stretch of the strand is their meeting- 
place, while all beyond is vacant, where only a few fisher- 
men or lone wanderers find enjoyment. 

There is a particular type that discovers the beach most 
congenial. Here his favorite beverage abounds, and he 
enjoys himself hugely all day long. He is possessed of 
much rotundity of person, his eyes are bulging, he is quite 
certain he knows all about the world. His philosophy is, 
that we live a little while, but are a long time dead. He 
bets that he can throw a ring over a cane, or can hit the 
bull's eye in the target, or one of the little tin birds that are 
ever going round. The publicity of the whole matter is 
what pleases him, and when he rides the deer or the polar 
bear, in the merry-go-round, he waves joyously to the 
crowd, and claps his hands to the music of the organ 
behind the screen. 

That wonderful cow with a tin udder, that curiously 
enough fills her body to the exclusion of heart and lungs 
and other less important matters, is very attractive. He 
steps up and has some ice-cold milk, for this bovine is 
providently organized for summer weather. 

Someone bets him that he cannot send the weight in the 



South Beach. 27 

sledge-machine up to the bell, and he bets he can. He 
grasps the heavy hammer confidently, and for once he is 
right ; before his vigorous strokes the weight flies up and 
the bell rings. After all of that exercise he does not resort 
to the wonderful cow, but celebrates his success with lager 
beer. 

At night he goes home supremely happy; he sings on 
the cars, and even dances a little. Mayhap the conductor 
comes by and holds a quiet talk with the merrymaker, but 
the official only produces a momentary quiet. 

The simple blithe someness of such a soul the boyish 
manhood is not without its pleasing aspect, and some- 
times it is accompanied by an entertaining personality of 
no mean order. Once while the train lay in the station, 
the passengers crowding the smoker and the car adjoining, 
a jolly party sang their songs. One large man sang 
" Climbing up the Golden Stairs " in German, and with 
one accord two car-loads ot passengers ceased speaking, 
there was a perfect hush while he sang, such was the 
power of sweet sounds. 

In September, 1889, the swells of the sea visited the 
" hotels " in person, and few of the houses escaped without 
damage, some of them having their broad piazzas taken 
away, for such was the rollicking dance of Neptune's 
company. After nearly a week of dark and sullen skies, 
when the sun seemed to have forgotten the earth, it came 
at last, struggling through the clouds, and the workmen 
appeared in numbers on the beach, and engaged them- 
selves in repairing the damage caused by the breakers. 
Among them was a young man with staring dark eyes, 



28 South Beach. 

that protruded far from his head, and had hardly a human 
expression. There was more of the white visible than of 
the colored iris, and the effect was ghastly he looked to 
have the soul of a demon. He was in a hole, adjusting a 
post beneath a tottering bathing house, and I and another 
man approached I from curiosity to see the wild eyes, 
which I had noticed on my way up the beach, and he to 
inspect the progress of the work. But those frightful eyes 
were truthful windows to a soul, and their possessor 
demanded, with an oath, what we had come to see. 

Beyond New Creek much of the old time quietness 
still remains ; we may ramble as of yore and sniff the salt 
breeze, and make a quiet loitering inspection of that won- 
drous hoard of wreck that ocean has flung to the land. 
The great value of these free gifts of the sea have always 
been taken account of, and in the days of the Revolution, 
in the announcement of the sale of the Seaman farm, the 
beach and its wealth are not forgotten. The property is 
described as " a valuable plantation that did belong to 
Mr. Jaquis Poilloin, deceased, containing 190 acres, 
exclusive of the beach and flats on the front of the said 
farm, which will be included in the purchase, on which 
comes great quantities of seaweed (a very valuable 
manure)." 

Even in the days of summer I have rambled for miles 
without meeting anyone have gone in bathing and sat on 
a log and ate my lunch while I dried, the warm, gentle 
breezes blowing about me. One day as I came upon the 
beach from the meadows there were heavy black clouds in 
the south, and a distant sound of thunder. Soon the sun 



South Beach. 29 

was hidden, and there were flashes of lightning. I hastened, 
and, getting a few boards together, made a little shed 
against a log, under which I placed my clothes then I 
went into the water. Soon the waves rose white-capped, 
and I came ashore ; a small boat in the distance drew 
down its sails and lowered its anchor. The sand was 
blown so swiftly before the gale that it stung my unpro- 
tected back ; then there came a lull, and then the rain a 
gentle summer shower. The drops pelting down on me 
seemed cold, and they dug little pits in the sand, striking 
it with much force. So long have we had umbrellas, 
coats or sheepskins, and dwelt in houses, that to stand 
thus unprotected in even a summer shower, is a memorable 
experience. Anon the sun burst forth, and quickly dried 
the sand and me ; and to look over the placid scene one 
would have thought it unlikely that a few moments before 
the leaves had been wrenched from the trees. The black 
clouds went sailing off in the distance, the small boat drew 
up its anchor and spread its sails, and the grasshoppers 
sang again in the meadow. 

The coming in and going out of the tide gives an extra 
interest to the shore, and he that lives by adjusts much of 
his daily employment to its rise and fall. He may go out 
in the morning and find a chair or a neat little boat cast 
up at his door, or maybe some poor fish that missed his 
reckoning, and was thrown on the sand in consequence. 
There is ever a newness, and you stand by expecting 
something, just as the fishermen do who look in the 
direction in which they cast their lines, though they can 
see nothing but the waves. I have noticed that when 



30 South Beach. 

dogs are seated on the beach they generally look seaward, 
too, and will often sit watching the horizon for a long time. 

About thirty species of mollusks may commonly be col- 
lected upon the beach, though many more have actually 
been found there. The large collections of shells and 
little stones, which are held together by the silken cords 
with which the edible mussel attaches itself to all objects 
within its reach, are fruitful places for research when cast 
upon the shore, and there may be found the greatest 
number of prizes. Also the large native sponges, that 
come rolling in with the waves, contain many shells and 
other animals that find in them protection and a home. 

In a few days thousands of shells of one species will some- 
times be cast ashore, and next week it may be a school of 
fish or a countless multitude of crabs. Thus have I seen 
the shore for long distances so covered with the recently 
cast up shells of the sea, or skimmer clam, that "it was 
impossible to walk without crushing them. The mole-crab 
is also occasionally thrown ashore in great numbers, 
forming a definite line along the beach where they have 
been left by the highest wave. 

It was the large shells of the skimmer clam that were 
tied to sticks by the Indians, and used as hoes. 

In September there are many kinds of fish in the 
creek young bluefish, killifish, and pipefish each kind in 
schools, and on the unprotected shore there is a certain 
little fish with a silvery band on its side that swims in the 
shallow water, going in and out with the waves. It comes 
so close to the dry beach that I have succeeded in cap- 
turing it with my insect net, which I slapped down upon 



South Beach. 31 

it as if it had been a butterfly. Further out from the shore 
there are often large schools of fish, that make the water 
dark for a space, and which may be individually distin- 
guished as they are momentarily raised in a swelling wave 
above the general level of the sea. 

Many sandpipers run along the beach at certain seasons, 
just at the edge of the waves, and sometimes the zig-zag of 
their motions is remarkable. They look like little dancing- 
machines, their movements are so rapid, and they turn at 
such sharp angles in their pursuit of the sandhoppers. It 
is fatal for a sand-flea to have rheumatism. One stormy 
day I particularly observed four of these birds standing in 
shoal water, and occasionally running their bills into the 
sand. The tide was out, and they appeared to be less 
active than usual, but stood about, scratched their heads 
with their wet feet, preened their feathers, and looked like 
four old men in gray coats standing solemnly together, with 
their heads pulled down between their shoulders. One 
of the number had but a single leg, but he nevertheless got 
about quickly, and seemed well-grounded and sure-footed. 
He would stand where the incoming wave washed against 
him, and I could not detect that he even so much as 
rocked on his frail support. The surviving leg was slanted 
under his body from left to right, so as to make the center 
of gravity fall in the proper place. One often hears the 
reports of guns by the meadow-creeks and on the shore, 
and sees the little clouds of smoke curl upward. It was 
thus that the sandpiper lost his leg, but the rest of his body 
was fortunate enough to fly away. In these days of pen- 
sions, what is he to receive ? 



32 South Beach. 

The fishermen stand in a line along the beach, or sit 
on empty barrels, or old baskets, or boxes, and often they 
support their poles on uprights, and anxiously watch for 
them to bend. They busy themselves about the fire, and 
while one watches the poles another collects drift-wood to 
feed it. Their lunch is spread out near by, and they dig a 
hole in the sand wherein to put the apples and tomatoes, 
thus keeping them from rolling down the beach. The fire, 
with its crackle and blue curling smoke, and the captured 
fish lying by, all remind you of a primitive simplicity, and 
indeed it is this desire to live close, at least for one day, to 
the essentials of a natural life that prompts many of the 
men to visit the sea-shore. When seen at a distance, the 
smoke from the fires tones admirably with the ocean tints, 
and gives a pleasing haziness to the surroundings. Occa- 
sionally the fires are made against a big beam, or a pile, 
that has broken loose and drifted ashore, and these 
immense pieces of wood becoming ignited, burn with a 
dull sullenness long after the rest of the fire has gone out. 
These are pleasant places to tarry on the cold days, when 
the wind blows across the meadows from the north, and 
you may even sit on the beam and hang your hands over, 
near the glowing embers. The fire imparts an inde- 
scribable character to the wood; the beam that smokes 
seems to be essentially different from the others along the 
shore, and you discover yourself regarding it as half alive. 
But be very circumspect as to the logs, the driftwood, and 
pieces of old vessels, that you sit upon. On the warm 
days different substances tar, pitch, resin, and their 
various combinations which give to a vessel a peculiar and 



South Beach. 33 

not unpleasant odor stew out of these logs that lie on 
the hot sand Though it is very easy to sit down upon 
them, yet it is not so easy often to get away at the precise 
moment you desire, and for a time you are like Theseus or 
Pirithous on the wayside stone in the land of Shades. 

When the tide is low, the peat-cliffs, that rise a yard 
or more above the sand below their perpendicular fronts, 
form convenient stations from whence the fishermen cast 
their lines. The placid and shallow pools that remain 
between the tides on the peat-beds are most trans- 
parent, and usually some living creature is entrapped in 
the larger of them, and has to await the return of the 
waves to regain his liberty. There are also many sea- 
weeds in the pools that deck them out in bright array, and 
while you peer in at the marvels that are hidden there you 
may hear the water splashing in a miniature fall over the 
peat-cliff, as the pool is gradually drained away. The peat 
is not over a foot or two thick in most places, and under it 
is a layer of clay containing innumerable water-worn 
pebbles. Many of them are of brown sandstone, and it is 
from this source that the pebbles that line the immediate 
upshore come, and from which much of the beach to the 
eastward is entirely free. There is also a great number 
of edible mussel shells at this part of the shore, and 
they crackle under your feet as you walk along, and here 
it is that the crows pay regular visits, for the mussels and 
soft-shell clams are favorites with them. Not only do the 
empty shells lie about the logs high on the beach, where 
the crows have taken them, but they are also found far 
inland, in the most central portions of the island. Some- 



34 South Beach. 

times in the midst of the ferns and woodland vegetation, 
when you least expect to find a denizen of the sea, you 
come upon the empty valves of a soft-shell clam. An 
interesting feature connected with the life-history of this 
clam is the effect which the character of the beach exerts 
upon the shells. On the sandy shore, where the resistance 
is not great and about equal in all directions, the shells are 
thin and evenly developed, and are often very beautiful in 
form and color; but on the rocky shores of the island, 
where the conditions are not so favorable, the shells are 
distorted to fit the apertures in which they have grown. 
On the peat they are even more deformed than on the 
stony shore, and there are also many of a rounded form, 
the peat acting as a hard-pan, preventing them from 
burying deeply, and the constant scraping along its surface 
of drift material breaks the upper ends of the shells. The 
ribbed mussel also abounds in places on the peat, and I 
have sometimes found it difficult to secure perfect speci- 
mens, owing to the shells being broken on the edges from 
the cause already mentioned. 

In several places on the surface of the peat there are 
evidences of ditches having been dug in years agone; 
perhaps most of them were made when the shore was a 
portion of the meadow. In a few instances they may be 
property lines, and not originally constructed for the more 
ordinary purpose of drainage. Now they are washed by 
the waves, the "property" is gradually being devoured, 
and they serve as channels wherein the sea may swash 
and swirl in that menacing playfulness that is often its 
mood. 



South Beach. 35 

Gradually the incoming ride forces the fishermen who 
are not protected by rubber boots, or who have not dis- 
carded artificial coverings to their feet, to seek the drier 
up-shore, and it is then, while the waves break in the cav- 
ernous recesses that they have worn in the face of the low 
cliffs, that the little fires of drift-wood are most welcome. 

In certain localities wild beans grow in abundance on 
the up-shore, beyond the reach of the tide, and in Septem- 
ber a great number may be gathered in a short time. The 
Indians picked them when they were here, and cooked 
them in their earthen vessels, and I, in these later days, 
have cooked them also. They have a curious tang a 
concentrated bean flavor but are not distasteful, and if it 
were not for Limas, the Valentines and the other cultivated 
varieties, we would be glad to get the wild Phaseolus. 

At the commencement of the Point, and in places be- 
fore you get so far along the beach, the shore is higher at 
the flood-tide mark than the contiguous meadows, and 
every now and then in the Spring and Fall, and occa- 
sionally during storms at other seasons, the waves wash 
entirely over the beach. There is in consequence a bank 
of sand a sort of sandy wave that gradually rolls over 
the low-lying meadows, and you may see the cedar-trees 
standing dead, and, as it were, knee-deep in the sandy in- 
undation. 

In one place on the shore there stands a few cedar and 
cultivated cherry trees in a row, and they probably mark 
the site of an old fence, but all other evidences of the line 
are now obliterated by the sand. Where there is a growth 
of smilax, small cedars or any other thick and low vegeta- 



36 South Beach. 

tion, it will for a short time protect the meadow immedi- 
ately behind it, and thus occasionally there is a low place 
on the upland side of one of these clumps, where the cat- 
tails still grow, while all about it will be sand. 

The line is generally well denned between this barren 
waste and the fertile meadow, and close to its threatening 
edge grow the golden-rods and asters, whose roots by next 
year will probably be deeply buried. The purple and the 
green stemmed stramoniums find the sandy wastes to their 
liking, and particularly just along its edge often grow lux- 
uriantly. The beach-grass follows the sand, and the little 
tufts that spring from the subterranean rhizoma all stand 
in a row and look like some queer feathery little soldiers 
marching across a sandy desert. There are sometimes 
quite complete circles described about these clumps of 
grass that stand alone, for being buffeted about by the 
wind, marks are left in the sand of their furthest reach 
in every direction. Some days the wind roars across the 
beach, and if you have a companion you must needs put 
your head close to his and shout loudly in order to make 
him hear. Then the sand is lifted off the up-shore, where 
it is dry, and comes flying against your face, and it does 
not do to turn the eyes in the direction from whence it 
comes. If the wind is from the north or northwest the 
spray from the waves is blown seaward again in great 
clouds, the gulls clang their doleful cries, and there is a 
grim seriousness in the scene that lives long in the memory. 
The hills, viewed from the shore across the intervening 
lowland, give you the impression of life, as if somehow 
the ridge that you saw in the distance was the dorsal 



South Beach. 37 

crest of some monstrous beast. It seems to be quietly 
slumbering there ; to be dark and gray in Winter and in 
Spring to suddenly change its color, like a chameleon. 

The wind also blows the sand off the deposits of black 
and slightly cemented iron-sand. These sheets are very 
thin and brittle, and it is seldom that one of any consider- 
able size can be lifted by the hand from the place where 
it was formed. 

On the Point there are many cedars, and near the house 
once stood a number of Lombardy poplars ; but they have 
nearly all been cut down. It is said that the wind made 
too much noise "roaring in their branches;" they were so 
high and lithe that they responded to every breeze, and so 
ailanthus trees were planted near the house and the poplars 
felled. There are some very old bay bushes that have 
grown twelve feet high and proportionally robust in trunk, 
and under them the fowls congregate. The rooster may 
crow ever so lustily on the Point, and only be answered by 
the dismal cry of a seagull, for all the tones of defiance 
from the mainland come attempered by the breeze, and the 
chanticleers themselves would not know what to think of 
the far-away sound. Even the European or English spar- 
rows do not often make their way thither, but the native 
song-sparrow is quite domestic, and hops about among the 
hen-coops or perches on their tops. 

Years ago a few cultivated blackberry bushes grew 
near the house, and when in fruit they were tied with dang- 
ling shingles. Some poor catbird, in passing over the 
Point, always found these few bushes most tempting and 
tarried awhile hence the shingles. Rabbits, too, frequent 



38 South Beach. 

the vicinity, and in Winter, after the ground is covered with 
snow, their tracks are innumerable. But one rabbit is very 
industrious in track-making, and it is surprising how many 
places he has a mind to visit, thus leading you to believe 
that a great number have been about the hen-coops. 

The dunes on the Point run parallel and near to the 
shore on the south side, and it is pleasing to walk through 
the little vales that separate them. Often the evening prim- 
roses are conspicuous there, and the lowly camphor weed, 
the prickly pear and the gray and sombre hudsonia find 
favored situations. But I should not call the hudsonia 
gray and sombre, for though it appears during eleven months 
of the year that the earth has brought forth a grizzly and 
shaggy coat that seems about to wither and die away, yet 
in June and the latter part of May it decks itself in yellow 
blossoms, and shows that latent vitality that is ever so 
surprising in nature. Syneda graphica, a pretty moth, with 
marbled wings of yellow, of gray and of brown, frequents 
these patches of hudsonia twice a year, for its caterpillars 
probably feed upon it, and Utetheisa bella, that orange and 
white moth, with showy pink hind wings, also flies in num- 
bers in the vicinity. 

The beach-plums are a great attraction to a shore ram- 
bler, and the bay-berries to the white-breasted swallows 
that congregate on the Point in great flocks. It is believed 
to be a weather sign, this vast gathering of birds, for it is 
said that when the swallows visit the bay-berry bushes a 
storm is near. The branches of the bay often bend under 
their united weight, and the dark glossy blue of their backs 
make the group resplendent in color. On other portions 



South Beach. 39 

of the island they may, in the late Summer and Fall days, 
be seen winging their way shoreward in the morning, fly- 
ing irregularly as if catching insects by the way, and at 
evening the flocks return northward. It is nothing for a 
swallow to feed on the bay-berries by the sea shore and fly 
far inland to roost. 

You would hardly suspect, in walking along the sand, 
that many of the clumps of bay bushes were connected 
one with another by subterranean branches ; but when this 
is once discovered it will also be observed how they, like 
the tufts of beach grass, often stand in line. These root- 
stocks are most marvelously contorted and interlaced, and 
it is no uncommon matter to find one that has doubled 
completely on its course. They are covered with a silvery 
yellow bark, like that at the base of the white birches, and 
many of them are over two inches in diameter and extend 
a number of feet, giving rise, as has already been said, to 
several clumps of upright, leaf-bearing branches. Thus do 
the bay bushes stand together in the sandy waste, and as 
the waves eat into the dunes, those that are furthest inland 
support for a little while the outermost member of their group. 

There is a very thin subsoil of a blacker hue than the 
sand, and it is the highway to which many of the roots 
adhere. When the ocean covers it with several feet of 
cast-up shells and sand, and a pit has been dug into these 
several layers, then does the narrow black seam and its 
accompanying roots show most plainly. 

Hawks fly about slowly over the dunes, close to the 
tops of the bushes. Mice are ever running in and out 
among the tussocks of grass, and the silent winged hawk 



40 South Beach. 

steals upon them unawares. Then, too, the great blue 
herons visit the unfrequented meadows, and stand sentinel 
there. The white herons used to come also, and the fann- 
ers and fishermen will tell you about them ; but now they 
have ceased to visit the shore, or, at most, are a great 
rarity. Though the herons are imposing, and you feel 
that the earth still has a great bird when you see them fly, 
yet those ever busy, cawing crows, that meddle with the 
meadow hen's eggs, and incur the scoldings of the marsh 
wrens, are of more general interest. It is said that they 
used to be seen in vast numbers flying to their roost among 
the cedars on Sandy Hook. That in its day was one of 
the great crow roosts of the vicinity. 

There are several wrecks along the beach, not those of 
recent years, but remains of old crafts that went to pieces 
long ago. What with the gradual washing away of the 
shore and the ever-busy sandmen, who land their schoon- 
ers and sail away with portions of the Point, these wrecks 
have been exposed. I have stood in wonderment on the 
old water-worn sides of one of these hulks, whose iron 
bolts, eroded by time, encrusted the planking for many 
inches about their heads with a cement of iron, of pebbles 
and of sand ; and the planking itself was eaten and worn 
and carved by the sea. Those feathery little sea plants 
that seem so incapable of withstanding the force of the 
waves, and yet are really so tough and strong, floated in 
the incoming tide; and the port-holes, through which 
murderous cannon had once shown their iron faces, looked 
peaceful enough, manned by barnacles and fringed by the 
soft, waving green weeds. 



South Beach. 41 

Perhaps it was in the days of the Revolution when this 
cruiser went ashore, and HYLER, that tormenter of the 
British stationed on the island, was responsible for her 
destruction. But it is just as likely to have been the other 
way, for the old wreck and the waves can tell nothing of 
the fortunes of war.* No doubt they were rough, brawl- 
ing men who manned this war vessel men who lived to 
eat, to drink, to fight and to swear; but they were hardly 
tougher customers than those who sail the sand-boats ot 
to-day. Great brawny fellows are many of these, that ab- 
sorb nearly as much fresh oxygen and sunlight through 
their skins as a Hottentot, for they wear in Summer hardly 
more clothes than the African. A flannel shirt and draw- 
ers, that are often sieve-like in character, complete their 
apparel, and, bare-footed and bare-headed, they wheel the 
sand aboard the schooners, and for each voyage they re- 
ceive five dollars. The captain, perhaps, is slightly fuller 
dressed and may own the boat ; if not, he receives seven 
dollars per trip. At half-tide they get the schooner close 
in to the shore, and place wooden horses from the vessel's 
side to the up-beach, and on these planks are laid. It is 
the custom for the captain, if he works, to walk off first, 
with his wheelbarrow, followed by the crew, and when the 
captain's barrow is full it is expected that each man will 
have his fully laden also, so that he may precede the cap- 
tain up the plank. Thus, while the men dig, they keep an 
eye to the skipper, and lag or hasten as the exigencies of 



* What remained of this wreck was broken up in the storm of Oct- 
ober, 1890. At the same time great changes were wrought in the 
shifting sand of the beach. 



42 South Beach. 

the situation seem to demand. It takes them commonly 
five or six hours, according to the number of the crew and 
the size of the vessel, to complete the cargo. 

If they do not intend to pay for the sand, that is, have 
the amount collected from the vessel in New York, where 
she is usually registered, the crew is large, and they lay 
several planks from the schooner to the up-shore, and work 
with the greatest diligence. One day I came upon a crew 
of this description, and overheard their comments as I 
approached, one of them declaring that I looked remark- 
ably like a missionary. A member of the group had a 
guilty conscience, and I heard the others rallying him that 
I had come to spy him out. As it was late in the Fall 
they had donned their coats, but that same party-colored, 
harlequin-like attire worn in Summer was still in vogue, 
and one long-legged, thin fellow, with vermilion drawers 
and black coat, was particularly conspicuous as he walked 
up the plank. 

It is related that a German, who lived down the beach 
some years ago, seeing the sand-boatmen wheeling his 
property aboard, went to collect the dollars that he thought 
were due him. But the sand-men didn't view it in the 
same way, and, calling him a Dutchman, with flourishes, 
whacked him severely with their shovels, until he was glad 
to part with his sand and their blows. 

While waiting for the tide, the crews that have finished 
loading walk about the beach, split wood or lie on the sand, 
and if another sloop is being laden nearby, as sometimes 
happens, they watch the proceeding with evident interest. 
Then do they talk of what pleases them in life and what 



South Beach. 43 

they regard as its unpleasantries, the merits ot the schoon- 
ers, the captains and such matters. Above all do they 
discuss the purchasing power of the five dollars they are 
about to receive, when applied to the market value of beer 
and whiskey. A flaxen-haired giant of this description, 
who might have played with us as Otus or Ephialtes, for 
his muscles stood out large and strong, stood on the beach 
one day and lamented, in terms that would fill this page 
with dashes, the fact that he was minus all cash. A good 
specimen of anything a resplendent flower, or even a big 
toad is pleasant to gaze upon, and so this muscular youth, 
with his vivacious glances and rollicking ways, was a vig- 
orous scion of the race, and admirable for his hardihood. 

Such characters, no doubt, were the buccaneers of old 
days, who sailed the sea about the Point and landed on the 
shore, and who, it is said, buried money on the banks of 
Bass Creek. Perhaps even the burly, copper nosed Yan 
Yost Vanderscamp and his roistering followers from the 
" Wild Goose," at Communipaw, landed on this strand. 

About eighteen hundred and twenty or thirty, men 
came for several successive years at Christmas time, and 
taking sight from a rock exposed at low-water, dug a long 
trench, and it is believed that they finally found the treas- 
ure, for remnants of tarred canvas and pieces of an old 
box were discovered in the trench which they had dug. 

Crooke's Point was formerly known as Brown's Point, 
and on the old map of the island, already referred to, it is 
denominated a " Beach of Sand." Bass Creek is laid 
down on this and subsequent maps as of considerable pro- 
portions, but now only vestiges of it remain, it being nearly 



44 South Beach. 

obliterated by the sandy waves. This old map also makes 
the Point about three-eighths of a mile at its greatest 
breadth; but it is much less than that now, and, ere long, 
it will be " Crooke's Island," instead of Point. The waves 
have left but a narrow neck of sand only two or three yards 
wide in one place, and over this they often wash to the 
reedy meadows that lie between the beach and the Great 
Kill. 

There are several lanes that lead from the upland across 
the meadows to the shore, and muddy, swaley roads are 
they. The cattails grow high at their sides, and nearer 
to the shore the taller varieties of salt meadow grass. One 
of these long, straight lanes, ditched on either side, has 
always left a pleasing memory picture, with the several 
hummocks over which it passed, where stood the gnarled 
wind-torn apple-trees, and where grew a few cabbages 
surrounded by a fence. I never saw anybody working 
there, and they might have been grown by the sea-gods or 
by some wild man of the moors, for all that appeared to 
the contrary. From my seat under the haystack I could 
see a lone tree in the distance, that bore a crow's nest in 
its branches, and the occasional splashing of a musk-rat in 
the creek nearby, the chirp of a song-sparrow or the 
squeak of a meadow mouse, indicated the life that was near. 
The shad-frogs are common on the meadows at times, and 
the easy-going toad also comes down to the sea. 

Oft have I watched for a long while the soldier-crabs, 
or " fiddlers," that abound along the creek. I take it 
that life cannot be very dull to them mid so much socia- 
bility, they are so neighborly. In retreating to their holes 



South Beach. 45 

they do not always leave the big claw outermost, but 
sometimes go in with that claw first. They feed themselves 
with the little claw, often picking the mud, etc., from off 
the big one and putting it into their mandibles. Those 
with small claws only, feed themselves with both, first with 
one and then with the other, and seem to get on much 
faster than the others. At some seasons there is no quar- 
reling among them, though they will lock their large claws 
occasionally, but do not pinch. Again, in the Spring, I 
have seen the males quite belligerent, many of them with 
their large claws interlocked, and so enraged that I have 
picked them up without their loosening their hold. Often, 
too, have I put several individuals into one hole and had 
them retire, nor do they speedily show themselves again, 
though so strangely situated. It is comical to see them 
bring their long, stalked eyes to bear upon you. " We are 
looking at you," they seem to say. 

It is best when you come to a wet place in the meadow 
to run through it as fast as you can to jump with judg- 
ment, but rapidly for "if you stop to look after each step 
the water soaks into your shoes. The meadow-grass hides 
a deal of moisture, and you slump into a depression or a min- 
iature creek before you are aware. Thus do I remember fall- 
ing in to a ditch, for being preoccupied, looking at the Hele- 
nium flowers, I did not observe what the rank vegetation 
concealed until I was knee-deep in water. How surprised 
we are at getting suddenly soused ; one would think that 
water was a new element to us. 

With an old piece of bamboo from the shore, or a tree- 
branch from the upland, to serve as a jumping-pole, you 



46 South Beach. 

may often get over the wet places in the lane tolerably 
well ; and if, mayhap, your shoes get wet, run in the grass 
awhile on some dry knoll or ridge, for the grass will dry 
your shoes quite speedily. 

I remember one cold, bright, windy day, as I came 
along the beach, seeing one of the Hermit's dogs tugging 
at the remains of an old white horse that lay on the sand. 
The dog stood with his legs braced and pulled at the 
tough, hard skin with all of his strength, but when he saw 
me, he ran across the bridge, casting an occasional sullen 
look behind. Then there was a general barking, and fhe 
four or five dogs made a rush for me came bounding up 
on the end of the bridge, but I greeted them as a friend, 
and they concluded to regard me in that light, though I do 
not think their first intention was so kindly. Soon I had 
them growling at one another as each tried to get a larger 
share of the caresses I so lavishly bestowed. 

Near by there was a stack of hay, and I sat myself 
down on its sunny side to eat lunch while the north wind 
blew. At one end of the stack there was a second white 
horse, a forlorn, decrepit animal, and probably the survivor 
of some hackman's team, whose other member I had seen 
lying dead. As I ate my crackers and bread and orange I 
could hear the horse grinding his provender, and when I 
returned, three hours later, he was still eating. There he 
stood, with his eyes half closed, and slowly munched the 
hay, while the north wind cast his shaggy coat into 
ridges. 

It seems useless to describe natural scenery when every 
one may see it if they will, but the very color of the beach, 



South Beach. 47 

swept smooth by the broom of the ocean every twelve 
hours, and the yellow-brown tints of the meadow-grass in 
Autumn, tempt you to stop and to gaze. When all of this 
is spread out into acres, and into miles, and you recline, 
half dreaming, on a dune, and the pleasant wonderment 
of the scene steals into your mind, mayhap the tears will 
stream down your face. Yet you know not why the 
common scene affects you so, and that you should feel 
that sadness that seems akin to heavenly joy. 

" It is a view of delight," says Lucretius. " to stand or 
walk upon the shore-side, and to see a ship tossed with 
tempest upon the sea . . . " ; so, likewise, it is pleas- 
ant on the hazy and foggy days to hear the horns of the 
unseen steamers far out over the water. The sound comes 
booming across the waves like some giant cow mooing 
most obstreperously in the distance, having lost her way. 

At night the beach is strange. I have been there on 
dark, cloudy evenings, such as follow the lowering days 
that come late in the Fall. All of the drift-timber seems 
then to entangle your feet, and you come suddenly face to 
face with ghastly pieces of wreck, that mimic in their 
strangeness the fantastic forms of the creatures that 
inhabit the sea. What can be a greater wonder than the 
phosphorescent glimmerings that bedeck the waves as 
they break on the shore ? The jellyfish, that die at the 
end of summer and disintegrate, make the sand luminous, 
and at every step you see your glowing tracks behind ; 
you make golden foot-prints in the sands, as if indeed some 
superhuman being had passed that way. The glowing 
embers of the fishermen's fires start and die with the 



48 South Beach. 

breeze, and the light-house alternately opens and shuts its 
great red eye. 

I have had one of the larger owls follow me at night 
for half a mile along the beach, flying in circles about my 
head, but keeping at a respectful distance, and retaining a 
sullen silence. When I have come to the bridge I have 
stolen across quietly, for the Hermit's dogs lay sleeping 
close by; and then gone along the shore as near to the 
waves and as far from the drift-wood as possible, as 
silently, as stealthily as the owl itself. 




BY THE RIPPLING SEA. 



LL day I walked with the gentle murmur of the waves 
fi-4 in my ears along the shore of Prince's Bay and the 
M- A- Great Kill. The morning had dawned sunny, breezy 
and cool, and it was one of those August days that herald the 
Fall. There is a subtilty in. the expression of such a day 
that cannot be set down in words. You feel, but cannot 
tell why, it is so truly Fall-like. It is near akin to yester- 
day, and, again, to-morrow we may not see the face of 
Autumn thus plainly. I might try to tell wherein the dif- 
ference lies, but it seems to be doing Nature an injustice to 
coarsely mention the soft brooding haze, or the suspicion 
of coolness that lingers about even the noon-tide hours ot 
such a day. 

The golden asters, in their silky coats, were along the 
wood-paths to the beach, and a number of widely branch- 
ing yellow gerardias had taken possession of a little open- 
ing in the trees. Nature loves purple and gold, and with the 
exception of white and the omnipresent green of Summer, 
they are her favorite colors. 

On the shore I plodded along, now in the sand and 
anon among the low shrubbery on the up-beach. The 



50 By the Rippling Sea. 

wild plums were in all shades of purple, some of them dark 
in color, with a bloom on their surface ; and these I ate. 
It is a pleasing reality to see the plum stretch forth its 
branches, laden with fruit, that are advertised by their color, 
and say, as it were, " Eat some, please, and throw away 
the pits. I grew them for you." But that is what the 
plum does, and so I gathered the lowest fruit, those that 
grew nearest the sand, and were, therefore, ripest, and dis- 
tributed the pits along the shore, as the plum had bid me 
do. 

All day long the crickets sang in the fields or ran from 
under the planks that I overturned on the up-beach, and 
now and then a Monarch butterfly or a hawk came sailing 
along the shore. Several green herons flew from the rushes 
and then dropped, as it were, suddenly into them again 
without uttering a sound. 

Where the bay-berry bushes abounded, on a stretch of 
sand, there were countless numbers of white-breasted swal- 
lows, and between two posts of a fence, on the topmost wire, 
I counted thirty birds, and the second and third wires were 
equally laden. The ground beneath the wires, and on 
the tops of the fence posts, were bestrewn with the half- 
digested bay berries. 

The sandpipers, running along by the incoming waves, 
had more confidence in me than I thought was right. I 
felt as if they ought to be shoon away, lest by my harm- 
lessness I might lead them to suppose that all men would 
be kind to them. They are so intent upon hunting sand- 
fleas that they are easily hunted themselves, and the sand- 
fleas have cause to rejoice at the banging of the guns. 



By the Rippling Sea. 51 

On a stretch of the beach two sandpipers kept each 
other company. One of them was a sprightly, industrious 
individual, that engaged himself in hunting operations, and 
the other, a broken-legged bird, with the injured member 
painfully discommoding every motion. Often it caught in 
the cast-up sea-weed and caused him to stumble. Never- 
theless he caught a few fleas, but was forced now and then 
to rest, and would stand motionless for a time, while his 
companion waged war on the sand-hoppers. 

A few small brooks came down to the beach, some oi 
them losing their substance before they got across the 
sand ; and in one place a rather languid spring issued from 
the base of the cliff. A tin can, perched on the top of a 
stake nearby, served as a means of introduction between 
us. 

The red cliffs of drift material were particularly red after 
the soaking rain, and additional trees had recently fallen 
to the shore. I recognized a post-oak, under which I had 
sat some years back, now dead at the foot of the cliff. 
Every now and then the earth falls from the trees growing 
along the bank, and occasionally one of them rolls to the 
sand below. It produces a feeling of sadness to see the 
bluff falling away and the waves ever eating into the up- 
land. It seems as if the ocean was taking what it did 
not own, that some injustice was being perpetrated, and 
that the cedars, oaks and other trees that come tumbling 
to the shore, owe their death to some powerful enemy, that 
works most stealthily even in the quiet days of Summer 
sunshine. 

The cliffs extend along the shore for several miles, 



52 By the Rippling Sea. 

though they are only high and perpendicular for a short 
distance, and, indeed, the low ones, that are not so steep, 
and are clothed with golden-rods, bay-berry bushes and 
asters, are much more companionable. There was a small 
cleft, or bight, in the cliff that opened to the southwest 
and met at right angles to the shore. It was so narrow 
that someone had laid a short beam from side to side and 
used it as a seat, from whence they might look along the 
shore and the sea. The view was bounded by a projecting 
cliff in the distance, where leaned some tottering trees. 
The white-breasted swallows skimmed the surface of the 
bay, now and then dipping as they flew, and a kingfisher 
sounded his rattle. The beach was covered with innumer- 
able little stones, and the inrush and outgo of the waves 
caused them to roll, and the sound of their striking against 
one another was added to that produced by the sea itself. 
There was not a sign of a human habitation from the 
bight, or anything to remind me that mine were not the 
only footprints ever made in the sand. The world of men 
seemed far away, and the hours were as peaceful as if I 
had found one of the by-paths leading to the Garden of 
Eden. 

A pear-tree leaned over the bank by the shore and 
cast its fruit down the slope to the sand, and there were 
also seedling apple-trees that gave me and the crickets of 
their abundance. At one place a small rat scampered 
away, and anon I passed by a sleeping dog on the sand, 
so silently that he he did not know that any one was 
near. 

As I approached a small house by the shore, a frisky, 



By the Rippling Sea. 53 

long-haired dog came bounding across the beach, and after 
the preliminaries indispensable to a proper acquaintance 
were gone through with, he commenced to bark and jump 
about in a most excited way. 1 was at a loss to know 
what ailed him and bid him be still, but could only enforce 
a momentary quiet, and directly he was barking as before. 
Soon he seized my stick in his teeth and I realized what 
he wanted, and securing a barrel hoop flung it down the 
beach many times, for he merely wished to play. 

Two small pigs looked knowingly from their pen placed 
on the sand at the foot of the bank, and I made them put 
their light brown eyes close to one of the cracks between the 
boards, that I might look them fairly in the face. I ob- 
served where they had previously made their escape by 
burrowing in the soft sand, and several boards and stakes 
had been used to make their prison more secure. 

Two ponds stretched back from the shore, one ot them 
profaned by a hotel on its border, but the other remaining in 
all the glory of weedy margins and tree-covered banks. 
Near this pond I tarried awhile, for a wild honeysuckle had 
burst forth again in its June-time array of flowers, and a 
Carolina wren was chattering in the trees. Hibiscus 
flowers were along the pond-border, and also a tall, wav- 
ing grass, that in ripening had turned to a beautiful purple- 
green. 

At the upper end of the pond, hidden in the trees, was 
an old homestead, with its roof fallen in, a ruined chimney, 
and a few of those hardy flowers and shrubs growing 
round about, without which no old house seems complete. 
For years only one or two rooms appeared to be occupied 



54 By the Rippling Sea. 

in this forlorn old mansion only one or two of its win- 
dows let in the sun. The crane hung in the chimney, 
that was built with the most ancient part of the dwelling, 
and everything about the house seemed to look to the 
past like an old man who sits by the fire and broods on 
the memory of bygone days. 

The most joyous thing I ever saw near the old house 
were the daffodils in Spring, and the most industrious was 
a colony of wasps in the old cherry tree. 

Perhaps the man who lived in this ancient dwelling 
was as proud as the turkey-gobbler that strutted about 
among the box bushes. It certainly was a fine bird, and 
perhaps he was an equally fine man, but Nature had not 
decked him out as gaily as she had the gobbler. Great 
folds of skin, of red, blue, and pink, blended together in a 
marvelous way, and with the flashing dark eyes. The 
pendant from the bill, reaching the breast, was equally 
gorgeous, and the feathers, black and glossy. Indeed, the 
turkey is a fashionable bird in feathers as well as without, 
and would do to walk the avenues, arrayed in his splendid 
attire, with those who parade for show. 

But now the dwelling was deserted, and the barn door 
hung wide on its hinges. The turkeys were gone; and the 
open windows let in the rain. The roof of the older 
portion of the house had fallen further away from the more 
recent addition, though it still clung to the chimney where 
once hung the crane. A tree-toad pressed close to a 
mossy shingle, and was bathed in the afternoon sun, and 
beneath the tottering roof the spotted wasps had built one 
of their jug-like nests. The long branches of the matri- 



By the Rippling Sea. 55 

mony bush, hidden for a time from the light, finally sought 
it again, and pierced the boards near the eaves ; and the 
catnip growing at the chimney's base shed a pleasant odor 
about the crumbling pile. 

Within was an old sofa, a rush-bottomed chair tied 
together with a rope, and over the floor a multitude of 
papers and a number of religious books and pamphlets. 
One of these was on the proper mode of spending the 
Sabbath, but I could find nothing therein about wandering 
afield alone. That was not the religious way, though it is 
eminently a religious way of spending the Sabbath. It 
contained a number of anecdotes concerning barns struck 
by lightning because they sheltered hay gathered on 
Sunday, but I saw no mention of the church near my 
home that has been twice thus visited, though its bell has 
tolled regularly every Sabbath day. 

The attic contained several articles left there by a still 
older tenant a pair of hatchels for separating the fibrous 
parts of hemp or flax, and the account-books of James La- 
Forge, who carried on the business of a smith in the first years 
of the century. A careful inspection of his books, covering 
a space of ten years, revealed that he had served in his 
trade one hundred and nineteen different persons, thirty- 
eight of them, likehimself, bearing a name of Huguenot 
origin. It was interesting to read a page of the domestic 
affairs of many of these worthies who figure in the records 
of the county ; to see how many horses they had shod in 
a year, and the bolts, and bars, and chains, that were 
made or mended for them. Placed between the leaves 
of one of these old volumes was an interesting bill of items 



56 By the Rippling Sea. 

purchased at the country store, and also one for twenty-six 
shad at nine cents each. 

Nature looked joyous outside through the open win- 
dow, and the ruddy-cheeked apples glowed on the tree, 
but within was a spirit of sadness that brooded over all 
like a heavy vapor. If you moved a door its creaking 
sounded past, as if it had wearied with the years, and I 
know not what charm it would have taken to have made 
the rooms seem glad again, unless it might have been the 
laugh of a little child or the gambols of a kitten. 



THE OLD STONE HOUSE. 




|Y friend and I walked along the lane. It had 
been used for more than a hundred years, and 
the constant wear of the wheels, and the ever 
washing of the rain, had made it a wide rut, the width of a 
wagon. Little streams of water trickled in the soft earth 
where the wheels had made their last impressions; the 
woods skirted one side, and a straggling hedge, with some 
large trees, and the broad open fields the other. The mes- 
sages, the letters and the news, the tidings of war and of 
peace that have been borne along the lane ! The limbs 
of the trees overshadow it, the alder catkins dangle by its 
side, and in Spring, the first little blue butterflies those 
blossoms with wings flutter along it, as if they too were 
touched by the dreams that hover with them in the lane. 

As we walked silently on, we stepped backward in 
time, we heard the foxes barking, and the sound of the first 
tree falling. We saw Daniel Lake hurrying to his home 
with his deed patent of the untilled land. We saw his 
little children, beheld them playing in the lane, and we 
followed old Daniel to his grave, and stood mourners with 
the family there. Just as you turn the leaves of a book 



58 The Old Stone House. 

and the scenes of life and of death that are written there 
are pictured to you, so the old lane and the fields brought 
a thousand impressions that made us laugh and weep in 
turn. The songs of Summer, the wind rustling in the trees, 
the wind again in Winter, and all the fields white with 
snow, and that ever dawning and setting of the sun. 

All of this came to us, and we trembled as we entered 
the old gate between the giant poplars at the end of the 
lane, and stood by the thick stone walls of the house. It 
was deserted now ; no face watched at the window, only 
our own reflections peered back upon us like a visual echo, 
as we looked on the little square panes. 

We knocked at the door; perhaps the shade of Mr. 
Moorewood, the last occupant, might be lingering there, 
engaged in reverie, so we knocked hard on the door with 
the knocker. A sound gently prepares you for a presence, 
and we hoped not to intrude too abruptly upon his 
Sabbath meditations. 

There is a sadness in beholding the rooms once thought 
so homelike given over to solitude and dampness. How 
seldom we picture .our own home as deserted forever, and 
the fire gone out, for the pent-up fire has a warm, bright 
soul of its own. The sun shining in at the window, and 
even the singing of the birds without, seem strange in the 
deserted room. A man's garments found in a field cause 
you to start. So any artificial thing without its counter- 
part is a surprise ; a road without vehicles and a house 
without tenants alike impress us with the sense of incom- 
pletenesss. 

No wonder, then, that we stood before the hearth 



The Old Stone House. 59 

without speaking ; no wonder that we opened the cup- 
board doors gently, lest their creaking in some way might 
be a rude interruption. Empty bottles stood on the 
shelves, a straw hat lay there also, and over all had settled 
a fine dust that had been brought by the vagrant wind. 

We got down on our knees and measured the broad 
boards of the floor with a rule, inspected the front door, 
remarkable for its massive solidity, and made in two parts, 
as is now again the fashion. Thus we wandered from 
room to room, and learned the plan of the structure, that 
must have been so deeply imprinted in the minds of its 
many former occupants, now in their graves in the field. 
Indeed, it is a curious knowledge we have of our homes ; 
like the rabbit's information of the clover in the field, 
there are many things that can be known only to us. 

So the house was strange, and the tones of our voices 
were new to its walls. The sigh of the wind was the same 
as we had heard elsewhere, and even the outlooks reminded 
us of similar scenes miles away. But we lingered at the 
little window that looked between the poplars, down the 
lane. It was one of those garden views wherein the 
blending of nature with the artificial has made a pleasing 
result. Perhaps it was strengthened by the knowledge of 
antiquity, by the old fence, the poplars falling to decay, 
and by the rank, tall weeds along the hedge, that seemed 
to bespeak a strong vitality still, though their stems were 
dead from the cold. 

Is it any wonder that we searched the garret well ? for 
the greatest treasures of an old house are most often there. 
The bottles and straw hats may be kept in the cupboard 



60 The Old Stone House. 

down stairs, but the general litter of the garret tells more 
of the family history than all the other rooms combined. 
The garret is the private museum of the homestead, and if 
you can see it in all its completeness you will know how 
long the family have dwelt in the mansion. The parlor 
makes its contributions from time to time, and so keeps 
fresh and new ; the kitchen sends its old pots and pans, 
and many papers are piled there that are thought too 
interesting to be thrown away, but which lie unread and 
forgotten. 

So we searched diligently in the litter ; the floor was 
strewn with scores of copies of The Albion, many of them 
stained with yellow lines by the rain that had beaten in 
through the roof, and all of them imbrowned by time. We 
tuined their pages read of the cholera in England and 
Scotland, of the last illness of Goethe, and perused the 
reviews of the latest novels. There is nothing that loses so 
much of its pith with the years as political discussions and 
events. We cannot feel all the glow of the times. We 
reverence the story-teller, for it is the clothing in words 
that so often makes one fact, or the life of one man, stand 
out more noticeably in the past than another. The old 
news in the Albion is read in a different sense from that 
which was first intended ; we view it now as we would the 
account of the war of Jnisthona. The " total overthrow 
and utter prostration of the revolutionists " has often been 
told, and that Sheriff Dugan restored order after Mr. 
McKenzie and Mr. Shannon were pelted with eggs is not 
new to history. 

Turning the pages, we came to a piece of purple silk 



The Old Stone House. 61 

laid between the leaves, that had probably formed a part 
of Miss Moorewood's dress, and copy-books on the floor 
showed samples of her writing. Family letters lay in this 
old pile, accompanied by used checks returned by the 
bank. These letters remind you in tone of those written 
yesterday, of those written to you by your friend. Their 
messages are the same. It needs but the change of signa- 
tures, with the change of years, for the general truths are 
there. They show the ironbound fate that must ever hold 
us. It was these documents, now so brown and stained 
by the weather, that they read with eager eyes walking in 
the lane. They gathered by the hearth or in the hall, and 
the letter was read aloud ; it was treasured, stored in the 
attic, and now is pulled from its hiding. 

We find a receipt, dated July, 1836, for one hundred 
and seventeen dollars, for rent, perhaps for this same old 
house ; and also a detailed account of the letters sent by 
Mr. Moorewood in 1827. The diligent correspondent 
spent as much for postage and wax and paper in those 
days as he did for the taxes or rent of his broad acres. 

While I turned the pile my friend climbed through the 
skylight and sat in the sun, ever and anon calling to me 
how beautiful the meadows looked on this bright day. " I 
can hear you scratching, scratching down there, like a 
mouse in the wall," he shouted, and, poking his head into 
the garret, inspected my progress, and then turned away 
to his vision of fair meadows again. 

Still I burrowed on, now upturning a certificate stating 
that Mr. Moorewood had learned surveying in Halifax, 
and now a number of Eugene Sue's novel, " The Wander- 



62 The Old Stone House. 

ing Jew." A mutilated copy of " Lalla Rookh," and the 
" Memoirs of My Youth," that book of sweet confidence, 
by Lamartine. As I turn the pages, I find that the pas- 
sages here and there have been marked marked by some 
one living in this old house and when Lamartine describes 
so beautifully his father reading Tasso aloud by the fire, 
when the doors of the little house of Milly were closed and 
the dog barked in the courtyard, then this admiring hand 
writes on the margin, " What can surpass domestic joys ? " 

Yes, yes, kind annotator, but do not think me un- 
friendly for speaking out your secret mind, for it is your 
own house of Milly, with its fireplace, its thick beams 
blackened by the smoke, and its domestic joys, of which 
we fain would speak, though so much now is left to fancy 
alone. 

My friend still sat upon the roof, and, climbing by his 
side, we looked across the bright meadows out to the sea. 
The seashore formed a glistening line, and the ships crept 
along so slowly in the distance that they seemed to be 
fixtures there, like some great sea creatures that were 
content to idly sun themselves. So we sat together and 
talked, and Nature seemed very kind to us. What can be 
more pleasing than the full confidence in the sincerity 
of your friend ? A man's best nature, as well as his worst, 
is the development of mutual intercourse. 

We climbed again through the skylight, to the old 
trunk, and so to the floor, and once more explored the 
rooms. When we got outside we viewed the house from 
different points, for each aspect gave a slightly different 
impression. Houses, like individuals, seem to be stem or 



The Old Stone House. 63 

mild, seem to be happy or sorrowful, and no doubt they 
affect the character of those who live within their walls. 

As we walked away across the fields we lingered, and 
now and then cast our looks behind. There was the long, 
low house, with the broad salt meadows coming close to 
its walls. Its trees, its barn, and the family grave-yard, 
seemed all in keeping, as if Nature herself had said, "If 
man must live here, build the house this way," and they 
had followed her plan. She is most kind to these low, 
rambling, rural houses, and sheds about them a homelike 
aspect. Indeed, it is very hard to build a large, preten- 
tious mansion that will be thoroughly in accord with the 
scene. Nature appears overtaxed with it, and the windows 
do not peep out the same homelike rays. The green 
spreading lawns, with their display of flowers in mathe- 
matically exact beds, all representing a great expenditure, 
do not produce a more pleasing impression than the little 
gardens with their hardy flowers and vegetables side by 
side, and maybe the red apples, in Autumn, lying promis- 
cuously over the ground. 




TENANTS. 



a LARGE dwelling stood empty in the Clove valley 
for many years, save for the natural tenantry that 
every old house and barn is bound to receive. 
Wasps, bats, owls and their kindred only respect the rights 
ofpreoccupancy, and any vacant pla.ce is theirs if they wi?h 
it and are strong enough to retain their particular nooks and 
crannies. Thus this old house and neighboring out-build- 
ings were fully occupied. Woodpeckers had bored holes 
into the piazza, posts and house-side, a swarm of honey 
bees lived in the chimney, a colony of Carolina bats in 
the barn, and in Spring a phoebe bird built her nest under 
its eaves. 

An old German and his wife occupied the gate-house, 
and their cows cropped the grass on the hill-side or stood 
in their stalls in the barn. Horses were taken to board in 
Summer, and the old man spent his days looking after 
them and the cows, repairing the fence to keep them in, or 
in sallying forth on an anxious journey in quest of some 
restless Bucephalus who, breaking the fence, had cantered 
away. 

In rambling about the premises, I often met the old 



Tenants. 65 

man, who had all the garrulity of age, and would talk to 
me by the hour of the beasts that tenanted the mansion 
and of that parade of interesting items that nature, like a 
well-conducted newspaper, spreads before us day by day. 
Then, again, he would tell of his misfortunes, how he had 
been running up and down the roads, this way and that, 
searching for an escaped horse, and, finally growing tired, 
he had to be brought home in a wagon, for he was an old 
man now. 

Often I stood at a distance and watched him chop 
wood under the shed near his dwelling, or follow, with 
bowed head, the narrow path that led from his door to the 
barn. The path wound up the hill under the trees and 
back of the mansion, and nearby a dog was chained to 
his house, and would gyrate and yelp most piteously when 
he saw the old man passing by. 

One Summer two calves were confined for a time in 
the corner of the orchard fence, near the path, and their 
little anxious heads were thrust through the paling at 
whomsoever passed that way. The old man said " they 
would be three days old to-morrow," so anxious was he to 
have them grow as fast as possible, to have a few more 
hairs on their diminutive bodies. One of them endeavored 
to swallow my hand in my efforts to discover the condi- 
tion of its teeth, but that member, much to the disappoint- 
ment of the calf, came away with me. 

Near the path stood a broad-spreading hemlock, also 
several maples and some other trees, and beneath their 
shade several seats had been constructed. It was here 
that the old man most often sat and talked, and on Summer 



66 Tenants. 

days watched the bees fly from the chimney. He had 
placed a flagstone over the flue which they occupied, and 
never disturbed them, for his father had kept bees in Ger- 
many, and these flying from the chimney brought to his 
mind the scenes of his boyhood. He delighted to tell me 
how his father managed his straw hives, and how many 
he had, and then, mayhap, we would inspect the large 
paper nests that the spotted wasps were ever building some- 
where about the deserted mansion. 

One year one of these structures was fastened to the 
grape arbor by the house-side, and was protected by its 
eaves. The entrance to the nest was about two inches 
from the bottom, and the old man wished me to take it, 
stop up the hole at night, when the wasps were in, and 
take it away if I desired. Then he fell to telling me how 
kind the wasps were, how they minded their own business, 
and if people would only let them alone they would never 
be stung. We drew close to the nest and watched the 
workers busily engaged on its top in making it larger, for 
they work most industriously as long as the warm weather 
lasts, never dreaming, apparently, that Summer will not be 
always, but die finally of the cold, leaving young in various 
stages of growth in the cells within. 

The old man was particularly loquacious on the subject 
of speculators; he who lived so quietly wished to hear the 
clangings of the outer world, but he was mistrustful, for, 
like St. Pierre, he considered himself taught by calamity. 
"Ah!" he would say, " wasn't I hit on the head by a fel- 
low at Four Corners, and what a lot of trouble I had over 
it. I went to the justice's twice and then to Richmond, 



Tenants. 67 

and finally the man was acquitted, though indicted by the 
grand jury for assault with intent to kill." 

Thus would we sit under the trees and discourse on 
the law, the speculators, the railroads and the bees, and the 
old man would call me his " dear friend," would take me 
by the sleeve, and put his hand on my shoulder and talk 
most earnestly. He would walk away as if to depart, and 
then return and sit by my side again. He had not lived 
in vain, for he was content to die had a philosophical 
desperation; he saw that he must surrender to circum- 
stances and to what he was. 

Sometimes when the rain fell we took shelter under 
one of the piazzas, the roof of which was upheld by trimmed 
cedars, the original supports having rotted away. There 
were several poles stretched from post to post to keep the 
cattle from invading the premises, and under its floor 
dwelt a rabbit. Often I remained there for hours alone, 
while the rain fell upon the roof, and looked out upon tbe 
scene I knew in all of its moods. The cattle grazing on 
the slope, the brook below in the meadow, and the hills 
beyond clothed with trees. If rain were not so common 
we would regard it with wonder the blue sky of an hour 
ago shedding tears. 

The wall of the house was built of stones gathered from 
the neighboring hills, and they might have been labeled, 
if the house had had a tenant, and served as his geological 
museum of the drift boulders of the vicinity. There were 
two or three granites, trap, several limestones and sand- 
stones, including Jersey trias. Sometimes when the rain 
fell in torrents and came gushing from the spout connected 



68 Tenants. 

with the roof, the horses ran to the protection of the house 
and, wheeling about, placed their heads in the most shel- 
tered situation. There they would stand, with their heads 
under the piazza roof viewing me with mild, patient eyes, 
and waiting for the storm to go over. 

Another shelter from the rain was the old chicken 
house behind the barn, and oft have I sat in the nests on 
the leaves that had blown therein from the neighboring 
trees. They were the collection of years, for the nests 
had been eggless for a long time, and the door gone from 
its hinges. Now and then a cow came and placed her 
head on the pole nailed athwart the doorway, reached her 
nose as far out toward me as she could, and gave several 
sniffs of surprise. I used to regard the withered leaves 
affectionately, for they were the souvenirs of some past 
Summer, and chance had saved them from decay. The 
breeze that rustled in the neighboring green trees caused 
them to gyrate about the floor, and, no doubt, many were 
lost through the open door-way. 

The wild mice had stored many nuts and seeds in the 
convenient nooks in the roof, and the nests were well 
stocked with remnants of their feasts that had dropped 
from the beams above. There was a blending of Summer 
and Winter in the scene that was ever interesting. I could 
hear the z-ing of the harvest flies without, whose song might 
be termed the essence of Summer, for no sound has more 
of Summer in its tone, while within were the withered 
leaves and the gnawed nuts from the mouse's Winter store. 

Occasionally a gray squirrel hopped about beneath the 
trees, and at evening the rabbits came from their hiding. 



Tenants. 69 

Once I sat on the prostrate trunk of a willow that some 
storm of several summers past had blown down, watching 
the bats fly from the ventilator in the roof of the barn, 
when from under the building came a rabbit and shortly, 
from beneath the house, another. They ran about in the 
grass, twitching their noses and flapping their ears. One 
sat in the path as a horse came near, and finally when it 
was obliged to retreat, ran under the log on which I lay. 
Afterward it sat in the grass near the doghouse, whose oc- 
cupant commenced to howl, for just then the old German 
came driving a cow along the path to the barn. The 
rabbit remained quiet, though so plainly visible, and the 
old man and the cow passed close by. Whether from 
knowingness or stupidity, this habit of keeping still at the 
approach of danger has saved many members of Bunny's 
family from destruction. 

The anxious howling of the dog was easily explained, 
for his supper was given him in the barn, and when he 
was untied he made a dead set for the door, and often 
bunked against it. He ran as fast as he could for his sup- 
per, and as he slept in the barn, this daily run was the chiet 
novelty of his existence, the only change. 

In June, when the young bats left their mothers and 
flew about on their own account, many of them fell within 
the reach of this same dog and were quickly despatched. 
In the morning their dead bodies were thrown out of the 
window by the old man, who complained of their foolish- 
ness. These little bats would also hang up anywhere 
about the barn, for, perhaps, they were unable to find the 
way to the general assemblies of their kind. All day sev- 



70 Tenants. 

eral large clusters of the bats hung from the rafters of the 
roof, and when the sun was setting they commenced to 
click incessantly, and at dusk flew singly and by twos and 
threes from the slatted windows. 

The English sparrows used to go in and out of the stall 
windows, which were without glass, but a scarlet tanager 
coming in that way became confused and flew against the 
glazed window on the opposite side, beneath which I found 
its dead body. 

The old man rarely found fault with the creatures that 
lived about the place, and helped them all he could in 
their struggle for existence. He once complained that the 
crows pulled his pears for him pulled them all off and 
dropped them on the ground; but he was friendly to the 
rabbits, and felt much grieved one day when a nest of 
theirs had been destroyed. " Monday I made hay," said 
he, " Tuesday I made hay again, and I had two fellows 
to help me. Up in the orchard they found a rabbit's nest 
with seven young ones, and they, fools, thought they were 
rats and killed them with the forks. They might have 
known by the ears. Anyhow, in the Fall they get shot, 
so they only die a little sooner." 

Even the woodpeckers that bored into the side of the 
house, and looked out from their fastness and cackled at 
us as we stood below, were not regarded as trespassers, 
though the old man, one Autumn, after they had gone, did 
nail some pieces of tin over the holes. Nevertheless they 
came back the next year and reared their young in the side 
of the house as usual. The wily high-holders knew they 
had a good residence and were loath to leave, and the old 



Tenants. 71 

man considered them most knowing and praiseworthy 
birds. 

After years of unoccupancy this old mansion was at last 
to find a human tenant. The bees were banished from 
the chimney, the rabbit from beneath the piazza floor, and 
the woodpeckers were to poke their heads no longer from 
the house-side and cackle at us below, for with the natural 
tenantry, the old man and I were forced to leave. 

It has been said by the poetess Landon that memory 
sheds no gladness o'er the past, and that it cannot make 
the present more bright and cheerful; yet is a pleasant re- 
collection that lingers about the old man and the creatures 
that sought the protection of the silent, weather-stained 
mansion and the neighboring trees. 

Tercival spoke nearer the truth when he said that 
many hours of the past are brightened as " time steals 
away." This is especially true of the memory of hours 
spent afield, for a man is rarely out of touch with nature, 
however he may find fault with his human companions. 
Indeed what would we do without our memories, for do 
they not help us to mind the coming way ; and even in the 
matter of rambling afield, the halo that hovers about our 
previous journeys tinges the present hour, and causes the 
surroundings to wear a special significance to each of us, 
for we see through the spectacles of our experience. 



NATIVE BROOKS. 



TT" BROOK that is purely natural, that shows no 
ff"A trace of man's innovation throughout its course, 
-1- A. is a great rarity. A bit of newspaper or an old, 
rusty tin can lodged somewhere mid the tangled tree- 
roots, tells the age, if not the year, and in the more utili- 
tarian communities there is that process of cleaning up, 
before which the trees and ferns are swept away. A 
brook without ferns, without shade, with old tin cans and 
bits of newspaper, is no longer under the rule of Sylvanus. 
and every additional stroke of the axe is one for the stream 
also, for a man cuts off his brook when he cuts down his 
trees. 

However, on Staten Island there are some woodland 
brooks still remaining, though not purely wild ones, and 
others whose banks have been partly cleared, but which still 
retain many pleasing features. They are naturally divided 
into those of the eastern and western portions, for the Fresh 
Kill, from the Sound, reaching inward, approaches quite 
close to the Great Kill, and these arms of the sea leave 
only a neck of land a mile and three quarters wide. On 
the eastern portion about a dozen streams have found 



Native Brooks. 73 

their way on the map, but a map gives a poor history, and 
though it may exhibit with great exactness all the wind- 
ings and fantastic curves that a little brook may take, it 
cannot say whether its course is over sand or rocks, nor 
anything of the trees that grow along its banks. The map 
tells just as much to-day of the brook that runs down to 
the shore nearly parallel to the Turnpike road, by Brook 
Street, as it did a hundred years ago when it emptied as a 
pure little stream near the " Watering Place," where the 
ships stopped to fill their casks before going to sea. No 
one will say of it now " how beautiful," nor quote a line 
from Bryant's " Wind and Stream," and of all the wild 
creatures that once wandered along its banks, only a few 
muskrats, that occasionally appear on sidewalks and in 
cellars, now remain. 

It is the same with the Jersey Street brook, that once 
ran to the shore by the " Still House Landing," and the 
one that winds its way through Stapleton, an humble pris- 
oner except in freshet time, when it occasionally assists 
the Prohibition party, floating chairs and tables con- 
veniently out of the saloon doors and basement windows. 
Such was the effect of the storm of July 23d, 1887. 

That the alders, with their dangling catkins, grew 
along the banks of these little streams is a certainty, and 
that some Dutch settler, with expansive pantaloons a 
" tough breeches," as Washington Irving would call him 
lived near by, is a great probability. But that definite 
description of the times and of the relationship of man to 
the surrounding natural features, that always lends a charm 
to a locality, cannot be made in these later days. 



74 Native Brooks. 

The little spring in the slightly rising ground near the 
swamp to the northeast of Silver Lake or Fresh Pond, as 
it used to be called is much more interesting for bearing 
the name of Logan, the Indian who is said to have lived 
near it. He, no doubt, would share our sorrow in seeing 
how often it is dry in recent years, and would help 
if he could in clearing away the paper boxes and egg- 
shells that are left by the average picnic party. Logan's 
Spring brook is a rocky one for Staten Island. In one 
place it is lost to view for several yards under rocks 
and tree-roots, except when it is full of water, when it also 
makes use of an upper channel. There are monstrous 
crayfish hidden away under the rocks, and no end of 
" water-measurers " or " water-spiders," as they are called 
that wait patiently for some luckless creature, often a 
cricket, floating down the stream. In the grounds of the 
Sailors' Snug Harbor it runs through a thick growth of 
little trees, where the bluejays are numerous, and finally 
over a steep incline of serpentine rock and under the wall. 
It finds its way through many a shaded lawn in its course 
to the Kill von Kull, but art rarely improves upon nature, 
and a little brook cannot be made more beautiful by being 
confined between two straight stone walls. 

Clove Valley, formed by a fork of the otherwise nearly 
straight range of serpentine hills, forcibly reminds the 
rambler of more northern views of the hills and mild 
farming country along portions of the Hudson River, only 
there the rock is different. So well is the valley itself walled 
in, that if a dam were built at the Clove, and another where 
Britton's mill once stood, a considerable lake would be 



Native Brooks. 75 

formed. In olden time, just after the first pond was made, 
the place was particularly favorable for a naturalist ; for in 
these days it is occasionally visited by the great blue 
herons, many rare plants grow there, and the phaeton 
butterfly flies feebly in June. Trout have been caught in 
some numbers, even in recent years, and the common 
sucker abounds. A night rambler, with a lantern, will 
discover, in the month of May, scores of them swimming 
upstream to spawn, and when a shallow place is approached 
there is a scurry among the fish, accompanied by much 
splashing, as they make for deeper water. 

About 1796 John McVicker, who lived in the Dongan 
mansion, constructed a canal through the valley from 
Silver Lake to bring more water for the mill on " Mill 
Creek," and it was not so long ago that the trees were 
felled and turned into bungs for beer-barrels at the mill on 
Clove Pond. Clove Valley Brook once flowed through a 
deep ravine, and it is evident that there was less swamp 
then than there is to-day, for the numerous dams made to 
collect the water into ponds have also caused the muggy 
meadows. 

The brook system, one branch of which drains the 
region about Four Corners or Centreville, as it used to be 
called is quite extensive, and its exact watershed is hard 
to define. The main stream forms for a considerable 
distance the boundary -line between Castleton and North- 
field, and in the days of Gov. Dongan was known as 
Palmer's Run. It formerly received the entire drainage 
from the Clove Valley, and its waters have at one time or 
another turned the wheels of many different mills. A 



76 Native Brooks. 

portion of its course is still through pleasant pasture-land, 
but a brook is so in sympathy with the season, that it 
depends largely when you see it as to the impression it 
leaves ; it seems in Winter hardly the one we knew in 
Summer days. Occasionally, as late as April, the more 
placid portions are frozen over, the caddis fly laivse and 
water beetles may be seen on the bottom through the ice, 
and it seems at such times nothing short of a miracle when 
it is considered what a change a few days will bring, and 
how considerable that change really is. When Spring is 
fairly started it comes very fast indeed, and one may almost 
give the day of the month by the unfolding of the benzoin 
flowers they keep so truly the schedule time of the 
season. 

On the banks of the branch of Palmer's Run, that 
crosses the Turnpike to the north-west of Four Corners, 
there stands a large white oak, with wide spreading 
branches, and the fern Polypodium finds a home there, 
growing on the top of a large boulder. This is a rare plant 
on the Island, though so common northward and on higher 
ground. An old Indian wanders often about the woods, 
and occasionally along this stream, carrying a book of 
songs under his arm, and when he gets tired of walking he 
sits down and sings. He says he can sing better than he 
can do anything else. One day he had a bundle of cat- 
nip, which he had gathered for a cat belonging to a family 
of his acquaintance in the city, and as he walked along he 
gave an account of his people : "Among Indians, no edu- 
cation. Father take child to another tribe he learn to 
speak language. Go by horse, across great prairie only 



Native Brooks. 77 

see grass and little bushes great blue sky nice." The 
idea of sky was expressed by throwing his arm over his 
head, and looking upward, and the little bushes were 
compared to one near by. 

Willow brook is one of the best known streams on the 
Island, and also one of the longest ; rising near the highest 
point, it empties into that arm of Fresh Kill, known as 
" Main Branch," having in all a course of about four miles. 
At various times its water has been used by mills and small 
factories, the best known of these being the gun factory 
near the Willow Brook road, and the Crocheron mill, near 
the Bull's Head, or Phcenixville. This mill was standing 
in 1884, though much decayed, and the Italians employed 
on the proposed cross island railroad, made the building 
their home. It is now fallen down, most of the timbers 
removed, the wild flowers growing over the remaining ones, 
and through the shaft -hole in the mill stone. By the pond, 
that once served as a head of water for this mill, there 
stands three trees of the river birch, which is not a com- 
mon kind on the Island, though so plentiful along some of 
the New Jersey rivers. Since these trees were discovered, 
some others have been found, and along the Annadale 
road, by a brook side, there are quite a number. They 
always seem dissatisfied, as it were, with their bark, ap- 
parently wishing to get rid of a portion of it, for it hangs in 
loose pieces that flap in the wind. Perhaps this bark is 
useful in retaining the rain that falls on it, as the tree is 
a particularly moisture -loving species. 

A shag-bark hickory grows near by, and the nuts are re- 
markable for their thin shells and large size. The wild mice 



78 Native Brooks. 

have also found this out, and congregate at the foot of the 
tree in a little pile of stones. They are not in favor of per- 
petuating this particular variety, and know nothing of selec- 
tion for the good of their kind, and so nibble two small holes 
in every nut. There is also a peperidge, or sour gum tree, 
near the brook, which is next in size to the large one on 
New Dorp lane. It has long served as a corner of a fence, 
and perhaps is the mark of an old boundary line. The 
fence rails enter its hollow trunk at right angles, and are 
fastened to an old post propped up "inside the cavity. 
A gray squirrel retreated to the tree, and wasps flew in 
circles about their home in its broken top, one September 
day, when the leaves were just commencing to turn to 
that beautiful crimson, so characteristic of the peperidge 
tree. Not even the red maple, with its red flowers in 
spring, its branch tips red, and its vivid red leaves in 
autumn, ever attains such a deep blood color as the 
peperidge tree. 

Brooks are not only in sympathy with the seasons, but 
they are glad or sad at we take them, and the Moravian 
brook, as it winds its way mid the white and gray tomb- 
stones in the cemetery, seems to be in accord with the 
scene. It is not the glad little brook that starts from the 
Woolsey pond on the Todt Hill road, nor does it seem the 
same that flows through the low-lying meadows to New 
Creek by the shore. Out on these meadows it is joined 
by the stream from Garretson's, one branch of which rises 
in Mersereau's valley, where the hermit had his cabin by 
the spring in the days of the Revolution, and where was 
enacted that tragedy that makes the place so interesting. 



Native Brooks. 79 

An old deserted farm-house, with hand-made lath and 
beams, and filled in with mud, stands on the hill facing 
this deep ravine, and the outlook, extending to the ocean 
beyond, is one of the most pleasing on the island. Some 
of the orchard trees are very large and have many tenants 
among the birds, and cardinal grossbeaks live Winter and 
Summer mid the catbrier on the hill-side. The other 
branch of this brook rises in the swamp, where the Reeds, 
father and son, raised willows for basket-making. The 
trees still remain, and " forget-me-nots " grow along the 
brook bank, but the house is gone. 

To the northwest of Richmond village there is a wild 
piece of country, and two little brooks join in the woods 
and flow into that arm of the Kill that reaches so far into 
the island. As late as 1884, the night herons made their 
home near its banks, and the deserted nests in young 
swamp oaks, often several in a tree, and an occasional one 
in a white birch or cedar, may still be seen. The people 
in the neighborhood gathered the eggs and, beating them 
together, fed them to the cows, and the Italians also ate 
many. They are as large as the eggs laid by many breeds 
of hens, so a very few would make a meal. These birds 
utter a dismal " qua" and always seem sad, sitting motion- 
less on the trees through the day until evening, when they 
go fishing in the Kills. 

There is a dark, gloomy old house in the woods near 
this brook, where some of the Italians lived when employed 
on the railroad. It is now given over to chimney swal- 
lows and wasps, and the carpenter bees have made their 
tunnels in the boards for many years. One of these boards 



80 Native Brooks. 

has been tunneled sixty-five times, the work of many pleas- 
ant Summer days. 

Woodland brooks and springs are not only beautiful and 
interesting, but they play no unimportant part in the house- 
hold economy, and their sanitary condition is of great 
moment. Dairies are named after them, and citizens can 
choose their water supply with great accuracy. Many a 
cow has done the trustful purchaser of her lacteal pro- 
duct a great injustice, by standing with her feet in the 
water of some pond or little purling stream. The dairy- 
man will tell you that it is done to keep the flies off, but 
" Bos," " Cush," and " Speckled Jenny," only smile with 
a sort of increased-dividend expression, when slyly in- 
terrogated on this point. 

In April the blood-root blossoms, and its single leat 
often closely clasps the flower stem, forming a sort of green 
collar. It is a dainty flower but none too choice to deck 
the steep hill sides of the crooked and shaded ravine 
where it grows in greatest profusion. This is Blood-root 
Valley and Blood-root Valley brook, along the course of 
which, it is said, a British messenger, in Revolutionary 
days, travelled on his way from camp to camp. This 
stream, which is often dry in summer, also rises near the 
highest point, and goes to form the Richmond brook. 
The drainage of the district was formerly collected in a 
pond, used by a saw-mill, of which there is now only a few 
beams left, and the dam is broken. About 1870, the boys 
bathed in this pond, and a little lame boy with crutches 
and a board for support, used to enjoy himself as much 
as his companions. 



Native Brooks. 81 

A number of skirmishes occurred along Richmond or 
Stony brook, in the years of the Revolution, particularly 
on the day of the fight at St. Andrew's Church. But it is 
more pleasing to think of it in the times of peace, to see the 
water snakes glide in so smoothly, the turtles scuttle with 
much haste and the wayward frogs jump recklessly off the 
bank frightening the black-nosed dace below. When these 
little fish are disturbed, they will scatter in all directions, 
coming together shortly, if they imagine the danger is 
past. At other times they will sink to the deepest places 
in the stream, and remain on the sand or pebbles, not 
moving a fin, and as their backs are sand colored, they are 
not easily seen from above. Occasionally when there is 
nothing to fear, one will be seen lying motionless for a long 
time between two pebbles, and thus can they rest and 
sleep when they desire. 

There are numbers of plane-wood trees on the banks of 
this stream, and a profusion of wild flowers and a patch ol 
periwinkle on the steep hill-side to the west. A wooded 
slope, with a brook nearby, always proves attractive to the 
birds, and this one is a great favorite with them. Cat- 
birds congregate about the smilax patches and sing their 
varied songs, which are always worth listening to, but it is 
in May, just before nest building commences, when the 
males talk to their drab-colored mates in coaxing, faint 
undertones, that they are most interesting, and those who 
have not listened to this bright-eyed bird at such a time, 
only know a small portion of his vocabulary. 

There has been much discussion of late as to the real 
source of the Mississippi, and it would turn an explorer's 



82 Native Brooks. 

hair gray to discover just where Old Place brook rises, to 
decide to the world's satisfaction from under which par- 
ticular skunk cabbage leaf courses the first little rill. The 
marsh -marigolds, that grow so plentifully nearby, do not 
know where it rises, and the snails that float on their 
backs, each with its broad fleshy foot turned up to the sun, 
do not care. They start from some water-parsnips stem 
or dead twig, on their journey, but all trials to place them 
gently in the water with the hand, and have them float 
away, result in failures, for they also can appreciate the 
appearance of danger. 

To the east of the Bohman mansion, near Bohman's 
Point, there is a little brook, that flows through a sandy 
semi pasture and woodland region. It is bordered 
in part by willows and old orchard trees, and the land has 
that unmistakable air of an ancient farming spot. On the 
high sand dune, nearby, about which this brook bends in 
bow fashion, the Indians lived in old time, and their 
implements and little heaps of flint chips, where the arrows 
were made, may still be discovered. The spring, where 
they got water, is on the hill-side, though now filled up 
with sand and grass grown, but the stones that formed its 
sides mark the site, and a tiny rill issues from among them 
in very wet weather. 

They had an eye for beauty, as evinced by the patterns 
on the broken pieces of pottery lying about, and no doubt 
they thought the warblers very gay, that congregate in 
spring-time about a moist place near the brook. The 
warblers come every year, just the same, but the Indians 
are gone, and probably in the large factory across the Kill 



Native Brooks. 83 

with its thousands of employes, only one or two would 
recognize their implements scattered among the other 
stones on the sand. 

There are many brooks on the eastern portion of the 
Island, too small to be recorded on any map and known 
to but few, but it is with brooks as when viewing a great 
estate, just as often the little gate house, as the mansion on 
the hill, that leaves the most pleasing impression. Many 
a man remembers with affection the rill that turned his 
first water wheel, or maybe where the brook-mint grew, 
and though enlarged experience may show that it was a 
poor little stream indeed, yet it is the one that brings the 
tears to his eyes. 



THE POND-MEADOW. 



IT is dark, the snow lies on the ground, and I sit silently 
in the house and think of the warmer days when I 
rambled at eventide, when the sun did not set so early 
and there was a greater margin to the afternoons. It was 
pleasant then, when the hurry and disquiet of town employ- 
ment were at an end, to steal away to some retired nook, 
where only the louder and more piercing cries uttered in the 
warfare of commerce, could intrude upon the ear. It was 
easy to find such surroundings, and they seemed to bespeak 
unbroken solitude, where perchance the foot of man had 
not been for many weeks. But soon there broke upon the 
ear a multitude of artificial sounds that had found their 
way thither through the leafy trees, and which proclaimed 
the still existing uproar of the outer world. We cannot 
escape these clangings, if we live within the reach of baker's 
bread, and our ears have become so accustomed to them, 
to the blowing of whistles, the firing of guns and the rum- 
bling of trains, that we often fail to give them heed. There 
is also a certain companionship that is not objectionable 
in the far away sounds that are due to human agency 
mankind is reachable they seem to say, and awaits you in 
the distance. This is especially true of the whistling, rum- 



The Pond-Meadow. 85 

bling train across the meadows, that does not break but 
rather, as a reminder of the outer world, deepens the sense 
of retirement. 

Such a place of rural scenes, where nevertheless the 
sounds of commerce are ever audible, are the acres of wood- 
land and uncultivated sandy fields on the north shore of 
the Island, between Old Place creek and the settlement 
along the kill. For many years prior to the railroad, though 
in sight of the cities across the Sound, and not far from 
New York itself, this corner escaped the enterprise of trade; 
utility went round and left these acres to the grasshoppers, 
to the bitterns, and to me. 

With the railroad came changes, but not immediately, 
and for the first years of its occupancy, save for the width 
of the track, the land was undisturbed. Much of it indeed, 
still remains unoccupied, but commerce having looked that 
way, already covets the water fronts, and the speculator 
has raised his signs of " Lots for Sale." By-and-by will be 
the factories, the rows of squalid houses, the goats and the 
tin cans. 

The land is low and swampy in places, where the trees 
grow large, and anon there are sandy tracts which support 
only a few blackberry bushes and sumachs. Along the 
salt meadows, to the west, are several irregular dunes, and 
cutting deep into the woods through a narrow neck, is a 
bay -like salt meadow with a straggling creek in its midst. 

In these barren worn out fields, in the woods on the 
edge of the salt meadow, and particularly of the bay or 
pond shaped meadow, which is now crossed by the railroad 
trestle, I have spent many hours, often staying into the 



86 The Pond-Meadow. 

night to hear the bitterns and the whippoorwills. I built 
perches or roosts in the trees, from whence I might see 
across the pond-meadow, or climbing upon the trestle, 
watched the life that abounded in the creek and the grass 
below. 

When seated mid the large beams that composed the 
trestle that stretched far in the distance, I used to feel very 
small indeed, and I was often reminded as I sunned myself 
there, of the traveller's story of the Egyptian in the ear of 
the Sphinx. I quickly found that I was placed in an 
unusual position, and might watch the many creatures 
below me unobserved by them, and thus to good advantage 
to myseli. 

The muskrats are numerous in the creek, and in the 
ditches, dug on either side of the trestle, probably for the 
dual purpose of drainage and protection from meadow 
fires. In making these trenches the earth was thrown up 
in piles, and these, when suitable, are taken possession of 
by the muskrats, who tunneling them find dry retreats 
above the highest tides. Occasionally at twilight, the parent 
muskrats bring their half grown young out to swim, and 
the family go paddling up and down the ditch. One of 
the musquashes will sometimes call continuously, in a low 
somewhat musical strain to his mate, and whenever they 
come near each other, they will touch noses, which no 
doubt in muskrat etiquette signifies great affection, as it 
does in some African tribes. The muskrat's pappoose is a 
very independent individual, and his wilful ways, when he 
has reached a certain size, cause his mother much anxiety. 
She swims after him, and rat minor goes where he lists. 



The Pond-Meadow. 87 

When swimming they ripple their tails, and perhaps this 
aids them in their progress. They make considerable way 
against even the strongest tides, and leave well denned V- 
shaped wakes. 

The high-tide bushes grow by the creek banks, and also 
along the ditches on either side of the trestle, making two 
dark green parallel lines in the lighter colored and shorter 
meadow grass. These bushes are the home of the common 
long-billed marsh-wrens, who weave their domed nests in 
the branches, and whose bubbling, gushing songs, often 
continue late into the night. I have heard them in June, 
as late as 8.20 p. M., and they also sing until the middle of 
September. Often they throw themselves into the air, and 
fly slowly with a hovering, dangling flight, while they utter 
their impetuous song, falling again into the meadow as 
suddenly as they arose. It is pleasing to watch them go 
up and down a vertical stem, their tails most pertly turned 
over their backs in the opposite direction from that more 
fashionable adjustment of the same appendage in other 
birds. They often linger about the lower beams of the 
trestle, especially where some of them have been laid over 
a reedy ditch, and on a neighboring plank-walk ; I remem- 
ber one day, that my approaching foot-steps disturbed one 
of these sprightly little birds, and instead of jumping off 
its side, as a sparrow would have done, it simply slipped 
between two of the boards and disappeared into the 
meadow below. The sea-side finches are neighbors of the 
marsh-wrens and at evening a number of them sing along 
the creek, their quaint song being among the most enter- 
taining to be heard from the trestle. It starts pleasantly 



88 The Pond-Meadow \ 

but ends rather oddly, as if indeed something had happened 
the songster in the midst of his melody and caused him to 
suddenly modify his tune. It may be roughly rendered in 
treele-ahn, the ahn being much drawn out. Occasionally 
one will hover in the air over the high-tide bushes and 
sing a slightly more extended song, which, however, ends 
in the same way as the shorter one. At times they also 
sing a short treele-he. The birds appear about the 
first of May with the marsh-wrens, long before the high- 
tide bushes are in leaf, and I have heard them singing 
in September. I have seen two small finches in the 
spring, one on either side of the creek, and each singing 
most continuously, while a female spent her time in flying 
from one to the other of her rival suitors, staying but a 
short time with each. She had evidently not made up her 
mind was greatly perplexed as to which she ought to 
choose. 

Often along the creek, the snipe call to their fellows 
flying high above, and the alternate call and reply, is one 
of the most pleasing bird notes to be heard from the trestle. 
One could not address his friend in more kindly tones. 

The little green herons often perch on the beams above 
the creek, and if it chances to be on the topmost one that 
offers an unobstructed run-way, they trot along for a con- 
siderable distance, if not approached too rapidly. Indeed 
the trestle is a favorite perching place for many birds, 
where they may look out over the wide expanse of meadow. 
King-fishers and swallows often tarry there, while nearer 
the upland it is the resort of song-sparrows, robins and cat- 
birds. It is ever interesting to see the dark, Spanish gentle- 



The Pond-Meadow. 89 

man of a cat-bird, perched on one of the beams, and 
perking his inquisitive head from side to side, or to hear at 
evening a song-sparrow pour forth his sweetest melody, 
while all the meadow lies before him. The barn-swallows, 
when their nesting time is o'er, range themselves in rows 
along those nerves of the railroad, the telegraph wires, and 
sing that short song for which they ought to be famous ; 
or they skim the velvety meadow grass, as if it were the sur- 
face of a pond. Indeed the bay-meadow is so remarkably 
pond-like in aspect, in the little capes and minor bays, that 
the simile is quite a reasonable one. 

Many of the tides overflow a considerable stretch of 
the only road crossed by the trestle, and looking down I 
have often seen the fish swimming over the road itself. 
At night they skip and jump about most recklessly, and it 
is no wonder that many of them meet their death, and that 
the bitterns and the musk-rats have an ample supply. 
Occasionally in the spring and fall, when the tides are 
exceptionally high, the low lying roads in the vicinity are 
flooded quite deeply, and the water reaches two or three 
feet up the hay stacks on the meadows, so that a cat-boat 
might easily be sailed among them. 

At dusk, when the whippoonvills come flying across 
the pond-meadow, near the junction of the trestle with the 
upland, they go over the track instead of going between 
the pilos, as would be expected of such cover seeking 
birds. They call most energetically at times, and are not 
even frightened by the rumbling train that comes at 
evening over the trestle. I used to sit often on one of the 
cross beams, and the train would go rattling by, and 



90 J^he Pond-Meadow. 

seemed every moment to be falling upon me. Each car 
hummed a different tune, dependent upon the relative 
looseness of its bolts, and sometimes a box would 
blaze, and make the passage of the train in the dark, even 
more impressive and weird. 

As soon as it was gone the whippoorwills would call 
again among the thick growth by the track, and often they 
used the whip more lavishly than a Russian tax collector, 
and chastised poor William from eighty to a hundred 
times. But as the night progressed, and after the first 
outburst of their dark and sombre soul was o'er, they sang 
less often, and uttered the notes fewer times in succession. 
They have also a second call that I have heard particularly 
in June and July, and which is less loud than the whip- 
poorwill, and resembles took-took-took. If you are not close 
by, it is inaudible, and it probably is only a part of their 
nearer conversation. 

The whippoorwills add depth to the woods, their 
voices are inseparable from the mist and dusk of night. 
But even after they have commenced, the evening bell of 
the wood-thrush may be heard as he tolls it solemnly in 
the woods. The catbirds fly out in the dusk to the few 
stunted trees that grow partly in the meadow grass, and 
there is a blending of day and night songs a space in 
time, that reminds you of the material shore, where the 
land and the sea do meet. 

At the end of the calm summer days, when all nature 
seemed so peaceful, the trestle was an especially fitting 
place to spend the evening. The sun set plainly in view ? 
often aflame, and the wide expanse of sky was tinted a 



The Pond-Meadow. 91 

thousand hues. Sometimes at the close of day, a Monarch 
butterfly came sailing high in the air, and borne on the 
breeze to the opposite shore. The milk-weeds there sup- 
plied it and its progeny with food, and it finally died in 
some far away pasture. Wandering, wandering, always 
wandering, never perhaps returning to the same field, its 
home and its food everywhere ; its canopy, a bending leaf. 
Year after year the butterflies sail on just the same, the 
meadows are as green, the melody of the marsh-wren 
reaches from summer to summer, but a mystery clothes 
them still. Our investigations end in a sigh; a long 
breath tells of the hopelessness of the inquiry. 

The over-seeing power in the landscape gardening of 
this world, has wrought on the principle of never making a 
meadow creek conform to even the suggestion of a straight 
line, and certainly there is nothing more winding, more 
tortuous than a salt meadow kill. It seems unwilling to 
leave the green meadows, and so lengthens the way; and 
its meandering course may be followed through many turns 
with the eye, aided by the taller plants growing on its 
banks. This vegetation is of a different shade than the 
sunny green meadow ; of a darker color the upland wood 
tint traced in serpentine patterns on the lighter green grass. 
Even at dusk, with only a few remaining rays of light, the 
carpet-like meadow wears a particularly vivid green, and 
one is apt to look to westward, to make quite sure that the 
sun has really set. The creek slumbers along between its 
weedy banks, and is over-spread at evening with a host of 
mysterious shadows. The drift-wood sails a long, lazy, 
winding journey, and probably much of it never reaches 



92 The Pond-Meadow. 

the main arm of the sea, but returns with the incoming 
tide. 

On the bridges, where the creek and its arm cross the 
road, the catchers of crabs often station themselves, and 
tying pieces of meat, or fish heads, to strings, bait the wily 
crustaceans. An entertaining party of three negroes occu- 
pied the bridge one August afternoon, and laughingly told 
how the crabs came to eat of a dead dog that lay in the 
water just up the kill; and which kind chance, aided by a 
string, a brick and a man, had brought that way. One 
with a fishing line baited with a small piece of meat, had 
captured all of the crabs, because his line was longest, and 
he threw it nearer to the dog. He now and then slyly 
inquired of his companions, how many they had caught 
with their large pieces of meat. Then there was an 
uproarious darky laugh, loud enough to frighten all of the 
epicurean crabs from their chosen feast, and cause them to 
run sidewise for half a mile. 

The same afternoon, a little boy in a blue cotton shirt, 
was crab fishing near the mill. He said that they knew 
better than to take hold of his bait, which no doubt 
accounted for the fact that he had secured but a single 
individual that was retained in the net with which he hoped 
to make further conquests. He ran about most comically 
from place to place, holding his meat fast by the string, in 
one hand, his net with the kicking crab in the other, and 
all the while whistling, or mumbling about the crabs being 
afraid of his bait. At last he shouted that he had seen a 
" devil crab," and immediately began to divest himself of 
his shoes and stockings. While he was thus employed, I 



The Pond-Meadow. 93 

went fishing, and drew a crab gently to the shore. Either 
through my maladroitness or the evil disposition of the 
bait, as avowed by the little boy, the crab ran away, before 
the net containing the now troublesome captive, could be 
brought into action. 

So instead of crabbing we sat on one of the beams 
from the old mill, and looked out over the meadow, which 
at mid-summer is beautifully marbled. Nature gives then 
a display in greens, with here and there patches of brown, 
where the grass has gone to seed. Later comes the sam- 
phire turned a bright red, a few asters, the sea lavender ? 
and the salt meadow golden-rod. 

The clinking of the mower may be heard a long dis- 
tance over the meadow, and the horses, the machine and 
the men appear very small ; they seem lost on the ocean of 
grass, as unimportant as a man in a row-boat on the sea. 
The usual land perspective will not serve for the broad 
stretch of meadows, and you are not sure how far away 
objects really are. 

Some of the farmers believe that an abundant crop of 
meadow grass indicates a severe winter, as if the earth 
brought forth a thick growth to keep itself warm. Where 
man has shorn the meadow, the crows go looking for 
grasshoppers, for they can catch them there much more 
easily than in the longer grass. 

The mosquitoes abound on the meadows at certain sea- 
sons, and often drive away the crab catchers, whom I have 
seen sitting with their heads drawn down in their coats, the 
collars of which were turned up in order to leave the least 
possible area open to attack. Though there are mosqui- 



94 The Pond-Meadow. 

toes on the meadows throughout the summer, still they 
come more particularly at certain seasons, and when these 
times are known, one's excursions may be planned so as not 
to meet with them at the periods of greatest abundance. 
In ordinary years, there are usually a few at the end of 
May, a considerable visitation during the first days of July, 
and again about the same time in August and September. 
After the first of August, or at most the first few days in 
the month, the mosquitoes become fairly numerous at all 
times on the meadows, and for forty or fifty days it is well 
to go armed with a branch of sweet gum or bay berry, that 
may be switched about the head. The periods of greatest 
abundance are about thirty days apart, the first and the 
last being somewhat more, owing to the cooler weather. 
Occasionally this order of appearance will be changed 
slightly, as after the exceptionally warm winter of 1889-90, 
when the swarm ordinarily coming in July, appeared in the 
latter part of June. 

Staten Island has been denominated "a mosquito- 
infested Isle," and its natives are said to develop coriaceous 
skins, only the fittest surviving However, the population 
has increased ; the leathery skinned native often lives to be 
very old and waxes stout if he gets enough to eat, and 
talks back most energetically at all who have aught to say 
against his home. It is true he has memories of mosqui- 
toes, such as the visitation of July 3, 1863, when the 
vegetables were left unpicked in the gardens for a week 
and people wore mosquito net over their hats. 

At the time of this plague two men were going to the 
ferry landing; one of them with a net over his hat, the 



Pond-Meadow. 95 

other depending solely upon the energy of his arms, and 
also, very likely, upon whiffs of tobacco smoke, to keep 
the armed enemy at a distance. But like the little red 
savages in Sindbad's voyage, they made up in numbers 
what they lacked in individual strength, and he that was 
provided with the net, led his unfortunate companion home 
by the hand, where proper anointment and time reduced 
the swellings. 

In those pestiferous days, the cornice in rooms in daily 
use became so covered by mosquitoes, that it appeared 
black or brown, and after the third or fourth day, when 
they commenced to die, they were swept up in numbers 
on the floor. Though there have been mosquito years 
since 1863 1882 being a representative of the series, still 
there has been nothing equal to the great visitation. 

Mosquitoes even attack turtles, and I have observed 
about a yellow-spotted water-turtle, quite a cloud of them 
that wished to suck his half warm blood. Sitting on a 
fence one day, I saw a tiny ribbon-snake in the grass, and 
running to see it closer, found that it had hidden away. 
After a time it moved and glided rapidly through the grass 
stems. I picked it up and put it in my straw hat, and it 
was so small that it had difficulty in getting out again. A 
mosquito discovered it and tried very hard to get its pro- 
boscis in between the scales, but finally gave it up and 
came to me. 

Both the male and female mosquitoes congregate on the 
flowers of the wild parsnip, and 1 have seen individuals 
greatly swollen with the white juice that they had extracted 
therefrom. They are also fond of the sugar mixtures that 



96 The Pond-Meadow. 

are spread on trees to attract moths, and sip the beer and 
molasses as greedily as they do human blood. But mos- 
quitoes in the winged state are not without enemies, and 
in walking across the meadows I have been attended by 
one of the larger dragon flies (Aeschna), that flew close 
about me and captured them as my disturbing feet caused 
them to rise. Sometimes the jaws of a darning-needle 
may be heard grating against each other, as they open 
and shut to receive the tiny Cukx. 

The small Berenice dragon-fly, occurs in vast numbers 
on the meadows, at certain seasons, and they are very 
useful in devouring the mosquitoes at headquarters. At 
evening, if it is calm, these dragon flies settle quietly on 
the grass stems, where they spend the night. 

Even at the time of their greatest numbers, the wood- 
land and meadow scenes may be enjoyed by climbing a 
tree, for the higher you ascend the less abundant is Culex. 
The trestle itself is an excellent refuge from them, they can 
find but little hiding there, and one walks, as it were, 
through the meadow grass on stilts. 

The bitterns were once numerous on the pond-meadow, 
but persecution has driven most of them away. The gun- 
ners stationed themselves at evening in a secluded place, 
often by the side of the railroad embankment on the edge 
of the meadow, and when the slow-flying bittern came 
unsuspectingly from the woods over the opening, he was 
fired at from below. A long tongue of flame shot upward 
from the gun, the bittern sometimes screamed most 
piteously if wounded, and the large yellow eyes flashed fire 
as he lay helpless among the weeds. One summer served 



The Pond- Meadow. 97 

to drive most of these daik interesting birds, that made the 
night more gloomy, away from the vicinity of the trestle. 
They inhabited the meadows from April to November, and 
at mid-summer, in the thickly-wooded low-lands, their 
voices sounded like the barking of a puppy a particularly 
short puck-puck. 

The gunner's dog seemed to delight in rushing pell-mell 
into the meadow ditches where the bitterns fished and 
frightening not only them, but the timid creatures that had 
their dwelling there, with his ponderosity and prodigious 
splashing. It was, as if a Minhocao that gigantic worm- 
like animal, reported to turn brooks from their beds in 
Brazil came plowing through one of our quiet rural 
villages. 

Dogs care naught for wet feet, though they will shiver 
in cold weather, after coming out of the water, but if the 
glee of the moment is any criterion, they seem as happy as 
when lying in front of the fire. Perhaps the violent series 
of shakes, that sends the water flying in innumerable 
tangents from their bodies, has an exhilarating influence 
that we humans, who are incapable of such gymnastics? 
know not of. But there is no accounting for nature, and 
the best we can do is to observe the facts, and say that 
matters are thus and so ; that frogs delight in their hourly 
bath, Bruno splashes in the ditches or sits by the fire, and 
that Tabby is displeased if she even so much as wets her 
feet. If she goes out in the dewy grass, she lifts her 
feet comically high, so as to be as far removed from the 
moisture as possible, and often she will shake her legs 
violently. When there is snow on the ground, she finds 



98 The Pond-Meadow. 

walking particularly disagreeable, and the high lifting and 
oft shaking of the feet become still more pronounced. But 
I must say, as it were in parenthesis, that I once saw a cat 
from my seat on the trestle, splashing about in the water, 
and interesting accounts have been given of felines that 
went fishing, and dove and swam with evident pleasure. 
Nevertheless the average Tabby is averse to a soaking, and 
the exceptions to the rule may be likened to that fraternity 
of tramping naturalists, who spend hours in ponds, in 
swamps, and in sundry swaley places. 

Domestic fowls are also averse to standing in water, 
and are generally very quick to seek shelter in a heavy 
rain. If it is not a complete protection, they will slope 
their backs considerably, so that the water may run as 
speedily as possible down to their tails, and drip off on the 
ground. The hen that goes out in the morning after a 
light fall of snow, walks as if her own legs were borrowed 
ones, and that she was learning how to use the newly 
acquired members. She lifts her feet high, looks about 
circumspectly, and utters a " my, my " sort of chuckle, and 
presently goes back into the house or under the shed. Thus 
do wet feet prove unpleasant to cats, to hens, and to the 
majority of humans, who have invented rubber shoes so 
that they may keep out of the water when they go in it. 
Even barefooted boys have to exercise an effort to go 
through a puddle, and if they are thinking about some- 
thing else, their instinct is to go round. 

There are times of the year when the earth seems to 
have become semi-aqueous, and the hill-sides and the 
vales are soaking wet, and the little brooks go wandering 



The Pond-Meadow. 99 

from their beds. Those who go into the woods only in 
Summer, have no idea how inundated they are at the sea- 
son of Spring, and the places where they walked dryly on 
the mossy carpet, or sat on the scrawny roots, are covered 
knee-deep by dark mysterious pools that reflect the tree 
trunks from their placid surfaces. 

Then again in the Fall, when even the village walks 
are strewn thick with leaves, and the rain comes pattering 
down for days at a time, there is no escaping the general 
distribution of water, and by-and-by you feel it making its 
way through your shoes. First one foot, whose shoe is 
not quite as tight as its neighbor, becomes a little wet, or 
perhaps you precipitate matters by stepping into a puddle, 
and you feel the cool water come suddenly in. After that 
you don't care ; you give over your former circumspection 
and go plodding along in a mood of indifference. The 
first puddle seems uncommonly cold, but after your shoes 
and stockings get thoroughly saturated, it makes little 
difference, as regards temperature, how many more puddles 
you step into. There is certainly a limit of absorption, 
and the water next to your epidermis, becomes warm, and 
whether from its cosy retreat or from whatever cause, I 
cannot say, it nevertheless prevents the general inrush 01 
its cooler brother molecules. Thus it is the first wetting that 
makes you draw your breath hastily between your teeth, and 
after that, you wait for the water to get warm, for should 
we not ever be turning our mishaps into pleasantries, or 
at least make the best of the rain that is showered so 
liberally upon us all ? 

A pipe-line, bringing petroleum from Pennsylvania, 



loo The Pond-Meadoiv. 

runs across a little swamp on the borders of the meadow, 
and there the bitterns often stationed themselves, and sat 
silently watching the surface of the water. One summer 
that portion of the pipe that was lain in the salt meadow, 
was dug up for the purpose of being cleaned and boxed, 
and placing my ear to its side, I could hear the slow flow- 
ing oil within. 

Where the meadow meets the upland there is a proces- 
sion of flowers, and at mid-summer the array is particularly 
splendid. The turk's cap lilies make its edge quite 
gorgeous in August, and later the sunflowers cause it to be 
still more gay. The upland has a golden fringe, the 
meadow a yellow border. 

The purple bonesets are conspicuous at the end of the 
trestle in season, intermixed with the giant sunflowers and 
the golden rods the royal colors of purple and gold. 
Probably no single species of flower gives a greater and more 
wide-spread splendor to the low-lands, than does the purple 
boneset. It stands often seven feet high, and as a little 
man walks beside it, is it any wonder that he should open 
wide his eyes at its glory, and marvel at the growth of a 
single summer ? The equally tall swamp thistle, with pur- 
ple flowers that match the bonesets in hue, and also 
with a maroon stem, likewise grows along the edge of the 
meadow. Its prickly arms stretch about it, and bid you let 
it alone, or at least to handle it gently. " Go round," says 
the thistle, " touch me not," and it sways gently in the 
breeze. A bumble-bee burys itself as deeply as it can in 
the soft heads, and the heads that have gone to seed are 
pulled apart by the yellow-birds, and the downy-winged 



The Pond-Meadow. 101 

seeds fly away. Thus does the thistle have to pay a little 
have to give the yellow birds and the bumble-bees 
something to help it along in the world, but it wants you, 
to " go round." 

The tall meadow-rue, the swamp milk-weed, the cardi- 
nal lobelia and the Canada burnet, also blossom in turn at 
the end of the trestle where the up-land meets the meadow, 
and a few hundred feet away, the blazing-star grows in 
abundance. The long spikes of purple flowers, blooming 
from the top downward, are indeed " blazing-stars " in the 
meadow. 

There is always this narrow zone of plants and high 
growing grass, close to the woods, and its appearance does 
not suggest at first any such strife as we know is going on 
there. Yet here the limits of certain species are most 
forcibly shown, and we see, in spite of the peaceful aspect, 
the continuous struggle among them. Occasionally there 
is a lone tree growing further in the grass than the rest, a 
poor stunted representative of its kind. If it be a sour-gum, 
as is often the case, some of its leaves turn crimson by 
mid-summer. This meadow tree is a favorite with the 
birds ; they fly out from the edge of the woods, perch upon 
it, and then fly back again. It is only at morning and at 
evening, that a correct idea can be formed of their number. 

This winding, turning line, where the upland meets the 
meadow, must ever be an interesting territory ; it is so 
broken, opening up such unexpected views; the line is a 
zig-zag, and it has followed the pattern of the meadow 
creek itself. 

I made a roost on the border of the pond-meadow, in a 



102 The Pond-Meadow. 

swamp-oak and a young cedar, by placing a rail, that I 
found in the grass, from one to the other. It was flat and 
solidly fixed in the trees, and withal made a confortable 
seat, where I might go in the late afternoon, and look over 
the meadow. Perched above the grass as I was, I received 
only the partial attention of the mosquitoes, though now 
and then one flew away heavily laden. 

From my perch the masts of the vessels on the Sound 
were visible in the distance among the trees, and anon they 
would appear across the open meadow, and move along as 
if they glided through the grass itself. The large flowered 
Sabbatia starred the grass in August at the base of the 
tree, and meadow mice often rummaged about among 
the pink blossoms. A catbird lit on the perch beside me, 
one afternoon, a yard away, but it staid only a moment. 
Once a white-eyed vireo came within arm's length, ex- 
asperated that after all its scolding I had not become 
afraid and gone away. The chickadees also visited the 
oak tree, and in addition to the note from whence they get 
their name, and the plaintive long-drawn t d, gave expres- 
sion to those more conversational utterances that they 
bestow upon one another. Thus they said very plainly, 
and as it were with a jerk, we-three, we-three, and such-as- 
we, such-as-we. The chickadee is commonly a preoccupied 
bird; is always busy about its own affairs, and gives you 
but little heed. One chickadee is a cure for the blues; the 
only time that it becomes plaintive is when it utters its 
/ d note, chiefly in the gladsome and sunny hours of 
Spring. 

At times a night-hawk appeared against the sun-set sky, 



The Pond-Meadow. 103 

and went through his gymnastics with the red clouds for a 
background; and a harvest-fly would occasionally zie as 
if half asleep, having lost all of the zest of the noontide 
hours. A mink came one afternoon and sniffed about the 
grass stems and bushes at the base of the tree, and once I 
saw one cross the railroad track, and watched the serpentine 
undulations of his long and lithe body, as he prowled about 
the edge of a pool, spreading consternation among the 
frogs. One almost despairs of any goodness in nature, 
after looking a mink in the face. 

The slanting rays of the setting sun often shed a mild 
peaceful glory about the perch and many of the patches of 
humble flowers in the woods behind. The sun gilds a par- 
ticular leaf or branch in the woods and we then, as it were, 
see the sun's shine, whereas its light is generally so omni- 
present, that we do not take special cognizance of it. 

As I watched from the perch, a haze often brooded 
over the meadow and dimmed the view ; it nestled down 
on the opposite woodland and made it soft and dreamy. 
The country may have its roads and be mapped, but it isn't 
thoroughly explored. There is no need of a far away 
fairy-land, for the earth is unknown before us the cow- 
paths lead to mysterious fields. There is indeed a light of 
fairy-land in the thick woods at sunset a golden green 
and at mid-summer a myriad of minor songs, a constant 
tingling, tingling. Though the names of the singers may 
be mentioned, it does not spoil the enchantment or lessen 
the charm. 

Withal the perch was a pleasant place, and often I felt 
akin to a bird, as if, perhaps, I might presently fly over the 
pond-meadow in company with a bittern. 



THE PARKS. 



IT is reported that in old days, while the Indians still 
lived on the dunes and open sandy ground by the 
pond-meadow, that a settler of giant stature used to 
stalk about the woods and clearings, and when the natives 
saw his stalwart form approaching, they ran from fear. 
This big, burly man was ever accompanied by a dwarfed 
son, who was so inseparably attached to his gigantic sire> 
that when the latter died, he also took to his bed, and only 
survived him a few days. Thus the barren fields are not 
without legendary interest the giant walked there and the 
Indians ran away. It is easy to conjure up the scene in 
those twilight hours, when the globes of fluffy milkweed 
seeds lend a glamour of uncertainty, and invite the sprites 
and dryads of the woodland, to a shadowy procession. 

There are five of these fields that were once cultivated, 
but are now partly overgrown with briers and young trees, 
and are surrounded on three sides by woody hedges, or the 
woods themselves. My companion once called them " the 
parks." In several of the fields there are small fairy circles 
of moss, often quite exact in outline, and this same moss 
(Polytrichwri) also grows in one of the parks, on the little 
hills where corn was planted many years ago. The field 



The Parks. 105 

in consequence is quite regularly decked with these patches 
of green, darker than the surrounding grass. Not only the 
moss, but also white birches and bushes, have grown upon 
these old corn hills, and the trees have attained consider- 
able size. 

In one of the parks there is a patch of wild strawberries. 
The bright tinted leaves that come even in June, attract 
your attention to the vines, and thus often lead to the dis- 
covery of the berries. When the grass is low the berries 
nestle close to the earth, and when it is high, they are 
borne on long stems. If the ground has been burned over, 
the berries grow luxuriantly, and seem to be riches springing 
from poverty, the bright red fruit among the black and 
burned stems. The best way to eat them, especially when 
they are small, is to gather several and put them into your 
mouth at once, the flavor is intensified thereby. But the 
strawberry has its revenge and seems to say, " you cannot 
part me from my calyx and bruise me so, without detection, 
you shall have my blood on your hands," and so you go 
away with crimson fingers. 

There are generally too many berries for the birds to 
eat. Nature is like a kind mother, she would give her 
children plenty. This relation of the birds to the berries, 
each deriving a benefit from the other, is also pleasing. 

It seems rather dreadful to put one's big splay feet into 
these little natural strawberry beds, and crush most clumsily 
the nodding fruit, but we cannot walk without committing 
great havoc, and I often notice where I have trodden down 
he cities of the ants. 

Later come the bunch cherries. The shining black 



106 The Parks. 

cherries remind one of bright new shoe buttons, but my 
companion has said it was shameful to compare them to 
such things, and Pomona would not be pleased if she 
heard me say it. Indeed she did not forget to give them a 
decided flavor the flavor of wild cherries, who cannot 
remember that ? You taste it to the bottom of your 
stomach. 

Pomona also provides huckleberries, and the cat-birds, 
as a short cut to them, build their nests in the bushes, and 
often scold me, if I appear at the other end of the patch. 

Still later come the apples, borne on a few twisted 
sprawling trees standing in one of the parks, and surrounded 
by cedars, by oaks, and by other indigenous growth. I do 
not think the fruit would bring a high price in the market, 
but it is far too good to send there, it serves a better pur- 
pose where it is. It is not always well to send all the 
apples to market, or pick all the nuts from a tree you do 
not then get the best they can give you. 

The ants run about under the apple trees, and what an 
important matter to them is this falling off of the fruit. 
Who can tell if many are not killed so ; they run a great 
risk. Probably the universal eye beholds the meteors 
falling to the Earth, as often as we see the apples descen- 
ding to the ground, and yet men are not killed by them, 
the land and the sea are so wide. Thus, perhaps, it rarely 
happens, that an ant is crushed to death beneath an apple 
tree. 

Some of the apple trees look aflame with their fruit, 
and the ground is speckled red. How pleasing are the 
little dots on the rosy skin, they seem to be made for 



The Parks. 107 

beauty's sake alone. September is indeed the harvest time ; 
the apples falling from the trees the fruit of the Earth 
constantly pelting their poor old mother. 

When I compare mentally the early autumn scenes that 
I can remember; call to mind the vivid red of the sumach 
leaves, the dark blue lobelias, and that singing, singing, 
that continuous song of the insects, I am impressed how 
life for us all, is the same. That gradual change of the ages 
does not effect the life of man more than it does the cricket 
of this Summer, and if I had lived a thousand years ago, or 
should walk the fields a thousand years to come, the scenes 
would be the same. 

It is good to ramble in the autumn fields, in one of the 
barren sandy nooks where the sweet-fern grows, and where 
a sad pleasant flavored joy, seems to pervade all about you. 
With dextrous throws you bring down the apples, and 
though they may be gnarled and puny, you eat them with 
a relish, for they seem such free gifts from nature. They 
come without the asking or the toil, like the persimmons, 
or the strawberries in the field. 

Autumn colors the barren ground vegetation very early 
with the deepest dye, and as we are taller than most of the 
plants that grow on the sand, we may look over them, and 
thus get a wide and varied view. The Virginia creeper 
runs flaming red along the ground, and the sumachs, 
the cat-briers and the poison ivy vines, are most vividly 
colored. 

Perhaps the most curious tint of all the autumnal 
show is the greenish-white leaves of the bitter-sweet 
vine, that are speckled with yellow. They have an odd 



108 The Parks. 

appearance, for all about them the leaves have turned to 
most vivid colors, while they alone have assumed so white 
and ghostly a shade. In the chestnuts and some of the 
oaks, the green color remains longest near the mid-rib, and 
in the oaks it is often a deep olive shade, and greatly adds 
to the beauty of the turning leaf. The wild cherry trees 
color an orange red, and the seedling cultivated cherries 
are flushed with red and look to be in a fever. The chest- 
nut-oaks turn a light yellow, as do the chestnut trees and 
the hickories. 

There is a vividness of color in many of the leaves that 
seems almost supernatural, and it is plain that we, who live 
and grow old on the Earth, can never cease to wonder at 
the yearly display. " Look," says the little boy, " at that 
Virginia creeper," and in manhood he points again in 
wonderment at the flaming red vine in the cedar tree. 

The swamp-oaks grow in numbers in the sandy soil, 
which is not very dry a yard or more below the surface. 
It nevertheless produces an effect upon the trees, whose 
horizontal branches start close to the ground, often resting 
upon it, and whose leaves are finer and more incised than 
when the trees stand in a richer soil. The cat-brier 
(Smilax glauca) that grows on the dunes, also shows the 
effect of the sandy ground, and the vines have larger and 
more frequent tubers for the storage of moisture and 
nourishment, than when they grow in wetter situations. 

The semi- woodland pastures and barren fields are 
favorite haunts of the doves, and often they coo in the 
cedar trees, or come flying by with whistling wings. The 
far-away voice of the dove ! no bird note gives such 



The Parks. 109 

an impression of distance as the long ac-koo of the dove. 

A few leaves still remain in November and fall from 
the trees ghosts of their former selves. It causes a twinge 
of regret to see a lone weak butterfly flit across a field on 
its last excursion, or to see an old tree die ; but the drop- 
ping of the dead leaves in Autumn, though a part of the 
funeral procession of the year, does not bring the same 
feeling. Yet it is as natural for the tree as the leaf to die, 
and perhaps it is only that the dead leaves are so common, 
their graves are everywhere, whereas the butterfly and the 
old orchard tree, with its last apple, appeal more directly 
to our attention they are greater deaths. 

Often on a Sunday, while seated in the sun on the 
open sandy ground, I have heard the distant church 
bells. I noticed that the tolling of the bell was regulated 
by the breathing of the ringer, with each inspiration he 
pulled the rope. 

The best preaching of a church is often done by its 
bell. They call it a relic of barbarism, or at least of the 
times before watches and clocks, but they who speak thus 
slightingly have never sat alone and listened to the distant 
tolling of the bells. There is a rhyme, a cadence of the 
bells, they talk out with their tongues and preach sermons 
in sound. 

The bells of Elizabethport across the kill, answered to 
those of Mariner's Harbor, and their different tones seemed 
to speak different desires. Like living things they too 
seemed to have desires. Did they call come, come, or was 
it hark, hark ? I interpreted it as the latter, for nature 
would never have you run wildly about the world, she is 



no The Parks. 

sufficient, right about you. Morally she preaches the same 
sermon everywhere. 

There is indeed a solemnity in the meadows and in 
the woods like the tolling of a bell the tolling of a bell in 
the night and it is our own fault if the scene does not 
touch us deeply. 




THE TURNPIKE ROAD. 



1HAVE rambled along the Turnpike road so often, 
the experiences have become so blended together, 
that now, to think over them is like the remem- 
brance of a year. Time has rounded it all, and woven 
and interwoven the scenes. Here and there a bright 
colored bird perches on the trees, or an unknown moth 
hovers over the blackberry blossoms in June, and the day 
is vividly recalled, for it is most often the occasional, the 
unexpected, that plows deepest furrows in the memory. 
And then there are sunny hours that shine forth, though 
they do not differ from the common passing ones by any 
outward sign, yet their memory is ensured, for it is some- 
times the glow within us, and not always external happen- 
ings, that leaves a lasting impression. Thus there is a 
Turnpike of memory that is not the same as the actual 
road, and is different to each one of us. It is a gradual 
growth, an accumulation of experiences and those memory 
pictures that are never repeated in all of their details. If 
we ramble along the highway we not only see what is 
there to-day, but not being free to leave the past behind, 
an array of trivialities and more weighty reminiscences, 
come trooping by our side, for we have traveled before 
with them on the Turnpike road. 



112 The Turnpike Road. 

The every-day wayside scenes the common pictures 
of common life, though they live long in the mind, yet 
they are difficult to describe -with all of the reality that 
they seem to wear. Perhaps the sun shines obliquely, 
across the stony hill, upon the houses on the opposite side 
of the way, and as the curtains wave in the open windows, 
an occasional glimpse is offered of the little parlor within, 
of the books arranged after a certain plan on the table, 
and of the motto, knit in worsted over the door, for there 
is a conventional parlor as there is a style in dress. Or, 
perchance, there is an imprint of a child's naked foot in the 
soft earth by the wayside ; or a little girl stops you and 
inquires if you have seen her mother, and looks with 
pitiful amazement when she finds you are not a family 
acquaintance. 

The houses crowd about the base of the round topped 
hill, that overlooks the village and the bay. With its 
steep rocky sides it keeps the dwellings from scrambling 
up, so at least we can get a long, uninterrupted outlook 
from its top. The Camberwell butterflies come from under 
the loose stones on its side, in early spring, and their wings 
rattle against them, as they fly with weak, uncertain flight. 
The first butterfly of Spring, but a remnant of the old year 
all the yellow faded out of the borders of her wings dur- 
ing the long winter sleep. 

What a curious phase of existence is this sleeping and 
awakening; to hibernate through all the winter days, and 
to gradually be ushered into active life again by the 
warming sun. There is a peace, a quietness and a mys 
tery, that attaches itself to the lives of these lone waifs of a 



The Turnpike Road, 113 

by-gone year, and you remember all of the winter storms, 
and marvel that these fragile beings should have survived 
among the rocks on the hill-side. 

When the butterflies leave their winter dwellings, then 
mankind leave their dwellings too, and many an unfortu- 
nate fellow creature labors with his goods on the Turnpike 
road. It is amusing from an ultra-social point of view, to 
see him moving. He stands in front of his house among 
all his effects. He inspects a chair and then a table, and 
is very solicitous concerning an old leather bag acquired in 
his youth. It is as the actions of a squirrel; as if he 
came out of his nest with a shaving in his mouth, and said : 
" Sir, this is part of my bed, I would have you know that 
I have property." But it is well to be solicitous concern- 
ing an old leather bag or a shaving; we must love some- 
thing or languish as an unhappy member of the school of 
despair. 

The stage coach once rumbled along the Turnpike, 
carrying passengers and mail across the Island to the 
New Blazing Star landing on the Sound. It was one of 
the highways between New York and Philadelphia, and no 
doubt many Van Cortlands, De Peysters and Bleeckers 
admired the autumnal tints, or the greenness of spring, as 
they jogged along the serpentine hills. 

The boulders by the roadside, and a few old houses, 
are the surviving monuments of the time, for with one of 
two exceptions the ancient trees have been cut down. But 
the Turnpike has still the same trend, and we may wander 
from bay to kill, on the journey that has so often been per- 
formed. But alas, our simple experiences do not bring all 



114 The Turnpike Road. 

that they should to us, we walk carelessly and unobserving. 
The old red Turnpike road, even when tenanted by all of 
fancy's picturings, is probably far less marvelous than any 
single year of its truthful history which must remain 
unknown. 

If we slop along the muddy road, we are apt to think 
of it only as muddy, and not consider all that it means. 
It is well to call vividly to mind how a particular reach 
appears at different seasons; how it looks on a bright 
June afternoon, a dark November day, when frozen as 
hard as adamant in Winter, and when it lies in muddy 
stretches. Plod, plod, have been the foot-steps along it 
these many years, and the dust and the mud perhaps this 
same mud, mixed for the one hundredth winter has be- 
daubed many a pedestrian. When we think of this we 
straightway fall to dreaming, and walk on truly historic 
ground. 

The Indians Quervequeen, Aquepo, Sachemack and 
their comrades, from whom Governor Lovelace purchased 
the Island, once hunted where now runs the Turnpike 
road. Little did they dream that the fanner's lumbering 
wagon would slowly climb the hill-side, and meander along 
where stood these almost insurmountable barriers of rocks 
and trees, and little did they think either of the roisterly 
laughter of the pic -nickers, and of those drunken and 
hilarious shouts that are uttered by the savages of civili- 
zation. 

A murderer buried his wife in the hollow, and nearby, 
the cemetery bell often solemnly tolls with funeral sadness, 
as the carriages leave the highway and approach the open 



The Turnpike Road. 115 

grave. An old woman drove her vegetable wagon along 
the road, and sat crying as she urged her horse onward, 
for while she was in the village below, her husband had 
died. " Ah ! my old man, he die, he die, while I down 
there," and she pointed in the direction of the village with 
her whip. Thus do the shouts of the revellers, the sobs 
and the funeral bell, chime in the memory, and a wondrous 
song is heard on the Turnpike road. 

The wind blows and the dead leaves skip about sem- 
bling butterflies in their motions. A mullein plant fresh 
and green, has a favored situation on the sunny side of a 
tree stump. When you unfold the soft downy leaves, you 
think you see the face of Summer there, but it is only a 
dream. Little insects have tucked themselves in the soft 
warm bed, formed by the overlaying of these mullein leaves, 
and thus await the sun. What marvelous faith have they, 
everything is well to them, and though we complain of the 
long, long, cold winds, yet they wait patiently in the mullein, 
and go abroad on the sunny day that is sure to come. 

In a hollow stump the sorrel grows, spreading its tender 
leaves on the ground. It is protected from the weather 
by the walls of wood, and the sun shines for a little while 
each day through the open at the top ; but the leaves are 
not quite so sour to the taste, not quite so potent, as those 
matured in the open field. 

How strangely the cold and stormy days follow close 
to the bright and even warm ones. The little pools by the 
wayside, look smiling and sunny on a spring day, when, lo I 
on the morrow, they are frozen over, and their surface 
becomes beautifully marbled. The curved lines and streaks 



116 The Turnpike Road. 

in the ice, would make a fair pattern for the laying out of 
walks and rambles in a public park. When the snow falls 
among the cedar trees, the effect is pleasing, the green and 
the white make a pretty contrast. If the sun is shining the 
scene is enhanced, for there are sun-snows, as well as sun- 
showers. The little flakes descending among the dead 
plants by the road-side, make a gentle rustle, as they fall 
against the withered leaves. The close cropped pastures 
look particularly beautiful, after the snow ; they present 
one uninterrupted immaculate surface. Most of the fields, 
however, have many weeds and tall grasses, which show 
more conspicuously against the pure white background 
than they did before. The crows appear blacker when the 
snow lies on the ground than at any other time, and it is 
also most profitable then, " to walk in another's footsteps." 
Every man helps to wear the path, as musk-rats do in 
the meadow-grass. 

The foot-prints of the inquisitive dogs, that ran from 
their masters, to where the mice had been in the night, 
show plainly ; and the tiny tracks of the mice themselves, 
about the dead stems of the asters and golden-rods, indicate 
their efforts to secure the seeds. 

You can see where one wagon has turned out to let 
another pass ; even where they have stopped, perhaps to 
talk and ask the news. The snow silently records the 
wanderings of every creature, and tells of his purpose and 
his vagaries. A dog led by some curious knowledge, or 
by the memory of a former visit, before the snow, trots 
across the field, to where a dead member of his species lies. 
The snow records his great excitement; how he pranced 



The Turnpike Road. 117 

about the lifeless body, and went once quite close to its 
head, and then ran away up the hill. Perhaps he was 
touched by uncertainties and doubts, akin to human ones. 

It is the general impression that there is little or nothing 
to see of animal life on a winter ramble, and that during 
the dead months, as they are called, every thing is truly 
dead. There are books on nature, that take great pains 
to point out this seeming, and to some extent, actual error 
in the popular mind, but though it is true that there are 
mice and birds, and even flies and moth abroad, yet it is 
also true, that we walk over the snow as a man in the 
depths of night along the main street of the village when 
all are sleeping. It is not correct to call Winter the season 
of the dead, but with much accuracy, we may say, that 
it is the months, or days, of the sleepers. The brown 
chrysalis wrapped in withered leaves and silk, is the purple 
and green Luna moth of June. 

The cows wander along the hill-sides, and eat bush 
twigs and the dry oak leaves. They also devour the red 
bunches of sumach berries, and sometimes, in Summer, the 
poison ivy yine. The cow looks well among the bushes; 
stands for us in place of the wild deer, and the other brow- 
sing creatures that have gone. We would miss them 
greatly, and a Japanese landscape is wanting much, in its 
dearth of cattle. Sometimes she scratches her head with a 
hind leg, and then the mild eyed cow loses her grace ; she 
seems to be trying a new feat in gymnastics a new one to 
the race of kine. 

The bells on their necks sound quaintly; they have 
even a sylvan tone. A constant, tingling, tingling, as the 



118 The Turnpike Road. 

unseen cows meander with unsteady gait mid the birch and 
cedar trees on the distant hill-side. A little bit of art adds 
much to nature, and a great deal of nature enhances art. 
The cow-bell would sound a discord on a city street. 

A thick patch of woods by the road-side has lately been 
cleared away. It consisted mainly of cedars and gums, 
and a most luxuriant growth of smilax. The wild honey- 
suckle grew there, and among many other birds, a cardinal 
bred every year in the tangle. In speaking of the bird the 
female is generally forgotten, or if mentioned, it is said that 
she is brown only. It is true she is brown, but a beautiful 
warm brown, and then her bill is pink as if to make a 
noticeable contrast. Once while sitting in a cedar tree in 
a swamp, one lit close by, within two yards, and there was 
a good opportunity to see what a pretty bird she was. 
When the males, in their scarlet coats, hop about on the snow, 
you are impressed with the sight, you are not apt to forget 
those winter days, there seems to be something unnatural 
in all this bright color in the otherwise sombre thickets 
of January. 

While the woodmen were chopping the trees, a male 
cardinal flew close about them, for the axe had sounded 
so many days in his favorite haunt, that he became quite 
bold. How surprised must be the brown thrushes, and the 
many pairs of catbirds, that annually rear their young in 
a tangle, when returning in hopeful Spring, they find the 
ground cleared. There are many anxious twitterings then. 

But it is the all-consuming fire, and not the axe, that 
causes the most damage among the trees ; it is the smoke 
curling up between the hills, that brings a deeper sigh than 



The Turnpike Road. 119 

does the rhythmic chop,chop,of the woodmen, as they strike 
in alternate succession. The odor of the burning leaves and 
grass, is like the fragrance from some giant pipe, and the 
smoke goes upward in great clouds, as if some unseen 
sylvan deity, were smoking the forest leaves. Thus he 
puffs and puffs, and burns the withered leaves in the Fall; 
and again in Spring after the snow, he lights his pipe once 
more. Pussy willows, with their soft and downy catkins ; 
azaleas, with their pink buds, and all the young and tender 
plants that promised to array the fields with the freshness 
of Spring, are burned by this sylvan smoker. 

It commonly takes two years for a sufficient growth to 
spring up to make a secure winter retreat for the rabbits. 
But, even then, they are rarely secure, and they spend 
much of their time in fleeing from their enemies. Their 
ears are ever open; their noses twitch in their efforts to 
secure the latest scent, and bunny has a thousand frights 
and suspicions in a day. Nevertheless, if you stand still 
in the road, at evening, she may come within a few feet, 
probably mistaking you for some upstart of a tree. Maybe 
she will make her toilet while sitting on her hind legs be- 
fore you, seeming all the time quite unconcerned until, 
perhaps, a slight motion, a gentle swaying of your body, 
attracts her attention, when she bounds most wonderfully 
down the road. 

Unless a man is very hungry, it is a shame to kill poor 
bunny, especially where her kind does not abound; but then 
man is ever seeking a dinner, and it is only a sort of gas- 
tronomic etiquette, that prevents many a mild faced little 
tabby, from getting nearer to the fire than the hearth-stone. 



120 The Turnpike Road. 

It is a blessing that the road is not neat, that is, not 
neat in the usual sense. The small trees, the black-berry 
bushes, and a profusion of wild flowers that pathetically 
bloom and die in their season, grow in many places along 
either side. No grassy margin and painted fence, could 
match the splendor of these natural hedges, and praises be 
to him, who might have, but did not cut them down. 

There are a few pits by the side of the highway, 
where treasure was buried, near to a large stone and a 
forked oak tree. At night a man came with a lantern and 
dug as silently, as stealthily as he could, in great hope of 
finding the secret store. He started, no doubt, when his 
pick struck the hard stones, and the night and the mission, 
made his pulse run high. 

Houseman, and his negro servant, shortly after the 
Revolution, dug several caverns into a steep hill-side, and 
you may sit at the mouth of one of the caves, now sur- 
rounded by undergrowth and trees, and see the passers-by 
on the Turnpike. He found no gold, it is said, only dug 
these holes that make quiet nestling places for lonely 
ramblers, where they may sit on the dry dead leaves, 
throw their coats open and let the sun beat warmly down. 
Many wandering creatures take advantage of their shelter, 
for they are favorites with the woodland tenantry. 

Wild apple trees grow down the lane in the thicket. 
Two of them bore an abundance of fruit last August; 
great mellow apples, red and yellow streaked, and the 
crickets and wild mice helped to devour them. When 
you sit under the tree and bite deep into one of the apples, 
disclosing to the light the brown seeds that have been 



The Turnpike Road. 121 

hidden in the white pulp, there seems to be a kind of 
a zest accompanying the proceeding, a happy crackling as 
if the apple enjoyed it also. That is the reason, it is held, 
that the pulp is there ; it makes the fruit attractive, and 
eating it, we throw the core away, and a seedling apple 
tree grows by the lane. 

Further to the west, is a small village, and the posters 
of the Salvation Army bedeck the fences : " If sinners 
entice thee consent thou not." The usual corner loungers 
bask in the sun ; there is a busying in the little grocery, 
and a sound of laughter in the tavern. Though boisterous 
laughter may bring a good digestion and a happy hour, 
yet it seems somewhat inconsistent with nature. Do we 
ever see great levity in the hedge-row ? The bird sings 
merrily in the tree, while his mate brings a luckless cater- 
pillar to feed the young, and with one look we see the 
dark and light spots in the mosaic. The average is not a 
joyful scene, neither is it a wholly sad one, but it is like 
our own minds with their cloudy and sunny hours, with 
their songs and discords. 

It is pleasant to buy crackers in the little grocery at 
evening, at the close of a long May day, and go eating 
them on your journey, or when seated on the fence, while 
the birds are singing. The Italian laborers come in a 
group along the road with their large variously colored 
bundles slung on sticks over their shoulders. The road is 
red, the dog-woods are decked in white blossoms and the 
sun gilds the edges of the black clouds behind which it is 
setting. 

There is a mysteriousness about the commonplace road 



122 The Turnpike Road. 

at evening, and the pale geranium blossoms, that nod by 
the wayside, seem but the ghosts of flowers. The grave- 
stones show plainly on the hill, and twilight, death, bird's 
songs and evening rambles, mix themselves into that in- 
explicable maze, which makes the beauty and the substance 
of a dream. 

The days of May and of June are the main-springs of 
Summer. To go afield, is like attending a grand show, a 
visit to a large museum, and walking hastily through its 
halls. There is so much, that you become bewildered, it 
makes your head ache. The plants grow up and bloom, 
while it seems you have been but around the field. At 
night the fog comes as a wall of mist up the bay, and the 
trees are dripping wet; and at noon the sun is hot, and 
the leaves and branches grow fairly bound along the path 
of life. They come to the uphill, about the first of July. 

There are many dwellings along the Turnpike road, 
built long ago, but now deserted, and falling into ruin. 
Their grounds offer pleasant rambling places, for they seem 
experienced bits of mother earth ; first wild, then culti- 
vated, and now running wild again. Like those who have 
traveled much, they seem capable of giving advice. It 
may be a hard saying, but it is a truth, as gleaned from 
them, that there is too much hope. Men are unreasonably 
buoyed up in spite of facts think that no doubt all will be 
well with them, and so plant many fields and build innum- 
erable structures. But nature has no care on which face 
the copper falls, because it makes no difference to nature 
and it is the same with every artificial hope, it is as likely 
to end one way as another. 



The Turnpike Road. 123 

Nature is a house breaker. She will pull the windows 
out, knock down the doors, topple over the chimney, and 
will finally have the clap boards off, or the stones from out 
the wall. 

These old broken down buildings, along the road, were 
erected mid great expectations, and their blank, dark win- 
dows, now look solemnly across the sunny fields. They 
lost their soul when they lost their tenants. The smoke 
from a chimney seems to tell more of life to us, than even 
the swallows that fly swiftly from its flues. 

Sometimes these houses are partly inhabited, one or 
two rooms will be occupied by an individual, who seems 
to have borrowed his character from the domicile to be 
as forlorn as the structure in which he lives. The red- 
peppers and seed-corn are hung under his porch, and the 
family dog and cat, and the chickens, bask in the sunshine, 
on the warm dry boards by his door. He will tell you 
stories of long ago, when he was a young man, which he 
says, "wasn't yesterday." He was jolly and gay then, 
for he used to visit Cedar Grove nigh every night with 
David Playmore. He could fiddle, and there wasn't any 
fun without music. But alas, for these orgies, David's 
head began to twitch he was always a nervous fellow 
and the doctor, who was unfamiliar with Cedar Grove, said 
he tied his necktie too tight, it stopped the circulation. 

So the old man chuckles ; the memories of his revels 
amuse him still, and yet he is half ashamed of them, does 
not speak so openly as when he tells of the cut on his 
hand, which he got while chopping wood. 

It is pleasant at lunch time to seek the sunny side of an 



124 The Turnpike Road. 

old weathered building, or hay stack, where you may eat 
your sandwich, and look out over the meadows with their 
silver streak of a kill, for where the Turnpike road runs on 
the crest of Long Neck, there is a wide and uninterrupted 
view. The far away houses, the stacks of hay, the light 
and dark spots caused by passing clouds, the lines of trees 
running down to the meadow edge, and the lone cedars, 
sycamores and apple trees, twisted by the wind, are all 
interesting. There is no colder place in Winter than these 
same salt meadows, for the north wind has an uninterrupted 
sweep across them, and every little grass stem seems to 
wave it on. " All grass is dead now," says the wind, " and 
I have no heart, let all things freeze on the meadow 
to-day." 

We are in truth, as much of nature as the grass on the 
meadows, or the hardy little mice and the song-sparrows 
along its edge, and so we ought to congratulate ourselves, 
include our own persons in the praise that we bestow upon 
them for their endurance. 

These same song-sparrows should put our occasional 
unhappiness to shame. They have not only a living to 
gain, but they are beset by powerful enemies; a hawk, 
that pruner of the avian world, must needs catch some of 
them sooner or later. The early colonists, who expected 
Indians behind the tree-trunks, lived in much the same 
trepidation. 

The tightly-stretched telegraph wires, along the road, 
are played by the wind ; the passing breeze is turned to 
music, and speeds you on your way. To the ear placed 
on the pole it hums peculiarly, as if far away beyond the 



The Turnpike Road. 125 

hills, there was an endless bridge, over which a heavy train 
was ever passing, and you heard the distant rumbling 
sound. 

The stage coach has not been put entirely by ; it comes 
rattling along drawn by three horses abreast a ponderous 
vehicle formerly used in the crush and the jam of the city. 
Now in its old age it is granted a probation, and having 
proved itself unsmashable, is allowed to spend its declining 
years on the Turnpike road. Before the time of Governor 
Tompkins, the highway ran differently than it does to-day ; 
it passed between the old Ridgway mansion and the Fresh 
Kill meadows, to the only house beyond. There were but 
three or four families living on the Neck then, and they 
enjoyed almost an insular seclusion, like the lone farm 
house that now stands on " Price's Island," that curious 
rise in the meadows, near the Fresh Kill. It gathers its 
chief interest from its peculiar situation. Even the house- 
hold cat seems wilder there, and runs up an apple tree 
when you approach, and the poor disabled, ridge-backed 
horses, stare like creatures of another world, for they are 
seldom disturbed in their solitary haunts. The salt meadow 
roundabout has been the occasion of endless bickering and 
dispute; the unconscious waving grass has caused much 
unhappiness among the inhabitants. There was once 
sufficient meadow for all, and the assessors did not consider 
the entire acreage in their levy. The marsh-wrens and the 
cackling dabchicks, alone claimed absolute ownership. 
But with the fences came the unhappy quarrels, and among 
the inhabitants of a scantily-settled district, disagreements 
are most distressing. The solitude nurses their woe, it 



126 The Turnpike Road. 

changes their character and leads to perpetual broodings. 
As the wind that sighs in the pines at the door seems to 
attune with the feelings, so all nature goads them on, and 
the quarrel extends from the line fence to the straying cat- 
tle and the use of the lane. 

There are many warm, sandy fields on Long or Karle's 
Neck, often divided by hedges that have grown unkept 
these many years. Clumps of sassafras and a variety of 
other trees, have sprung up in these abandoned places, and 
give them a peculiarly pleasant character. The yellow 
and the pitch pines, have lain a carpet of needles, and the 
paths that wind over it, are often dry and attractive in 
Winter. 

The Indians once lived on the dunes, for their imple- 
ments are scattered about, and you find the arrow-heads 
and hammer-stones where they left them. There is a cer- 
tain charm in picking a flint from the sand, and knowing 
that the last human hand that held it before your own, was 
that of a wandering Indian. 

Winter ought to be warmer to those who have built 
their houses in these sandy situations. The low persimmon 
trees, the pines, the open woods, and here and there the 
barren spots that are always dry, seem to coax Winter not 
to be too severe, and are ever beckoning to Spring. Some 
of the persimmon trees retain their dried calyxes, and they 
serve to show all Winter the fruitfulness of the tree, as 
shavings tell of the carpenter's industry. 

Many a happy day has been spent wandering on the 
Neck, the rabbits occasionally skipping about over the 
clumps Q{ Hudsonia, or poverty-grass, as it is called on 



The Turnpike Road. 127 

Cape Cod. It is amusing to watch a little dog pursuing 
" Molly," she outstrips him quite easily, and he is so earnest 
that he will run quite upon you before he is aware, and 
then retires abashed. All his energy is centered in his 
sense of smell, on such occasions. You can see that he 
sees nothing, only smells his way along the trail, and bays. 
The voice of a dog after a rabbit. 

On these dry dunes, mid the cedars, the pines and the 
Hudsonia, the sunny days seem one long song; there is a 
cadence rising from the earth, and the heat dances in a 
shimmering light along the warming ground. A sad un- 
speakable joy, a tingling of the nerves, an awful sense of 
the unknown, settles calmly but profoundly down. 



REFLECTIONS. 



THERE is no jesting in nature ; she may seem glad or 
sad, but she is earnest. A trifling man in the field 
cannot fool the crickets; and yet there is much 
misrepresentation in nature. I see the hickory trees turn 
yellow and brown in Autumn ; they would have me believe 
that they didn't bear any fruit this year. God's creatures 
often appear to one another what they are not they are 
tricky. Harmless snakes mimic poisonous ones, the sem- 
blance of many moth to yellow leaves is striking ; while 
spiders inhabit white flowers, and yellow spiders occur on 
yellow ones. Thus they escape their enemies, or prove the 
hidden enemies of others. The operations of nature are 
akin to those of Wall Street. When we walk in the woods 
we cannot be sure of what we see, so much is done for 
appearance sake alone, the truth is hidden mid a pageant 
of bright petals. Circe is ever abroad, and the milk-weeds 
lure flies and bees and hold them captive till they die. 

Any action that is possible is permissible in nature ; she 
even tolerates murder. Let those who can, do, is the 
motto in the fields. The crimes that a lone man may 
commit in the woods, or on the sea shore know no law, 



Reflections. 129 

and even seem without the pale of the conscience. If he 
crushes a snail, or barks a tree nature does not revenge 
herself. 

Yet the ants have a standard of justice among them- 
selves, that is a conscience as far as their community and 
species go. Also there is a law among crows, they do 
not destroy each other's nests. Our own justice hardly 
steps outside of human affairs, but we owe something to 
animals. The cow in the field appreciates kindness, and 
we should strive to please the more helpless creatures, as 
well as our friend and our kindred. 

Perhaps the chief value of going afield, is that we are 
judged by a true standard a dollar isn't worth a cent 
there. Death is a great leveller it is said, and so is nature's 
influence. In the city a man is surrounded by artificial 
conditions and has the help of his fellows, but in the open 
country he comes more to the realization of himself. A 
lone journey in the meadows or a day spent silently in 
the woods, is sobering, and many suffer considerably when 
thus imprisoned with themselves. They cannot find any- 
thing of interest in the meadows, they complain of quiet 
in the midst of warfare, and are generally fretful. 

A man who concerns himself principally with the arti- 
ficial, and who thinks that the world is for stirring busi- 
ness alone, misses entirely that divine halo that rests about 
much in nature. To him all things are certain. He can 
have a particular tree cut down or an ox killed at com- 
mand, and he is ever busy spinning a web of affairs. You 
see him hurrying across the street with rapid strides, for 
hasn't the Valley railroad declared a dividend! Such 



130 Reflections. 

things must be, but they are not the safest springs of 
pleasure. We must not put by entirely the chippy singing 
in the apple tree, or the white clouds, for nature declares 
a dividend every hour the dew-drops always pay par to 
the summer leaves. 

If we could constantly bear in mind many of our ex- 
periences, most of us would be quite content to remain in 
some sequestered nook for the length of our days, but the 
freshness of the smart wears off we forget, and are burned 
again. 

Those who are unconsolably miserable, and feel that 
they have all of the ills, should inspect the lilies of the field. 
There is hardly a perfect one among them, and no doubt 
they would often be glad to spin and reap, if they might 
thereby forget the gnawing caterpillars that devour their 
leaves. There should be many doctors among the plants. 
I meet with ailing individuals that would gladly consult 
specialists on stamens and pistils. 

We sometimes get a wider view of our homes by going 
afield. Like Lynceus we see well at a distance. The 
chief value of an excursion is often the last step across the 
threshold. We walk twenty miles in order to get acquaint- 
ed with our family cat. We walk and walk, and think we 
are going to discover something of interest; we go a long 
way from home and find ourselves finally in some man's 
back yard, where he is already at home. Stanley in all his 
explorations always found some one at home. The black 
men fed him with vegetables from their kitchen gardens. 

Our enjoyment of a place is often proportioned to the 
effort we have made to get there. The further it is away 



Reflections. 131 

and the longer the tramp, the sharper our eyes become, 
and vivid is the mental picture we carry away. One of 
the chief advantages in visiting different meadows and pieces 
of woodland, is, that it whets our perception, we are more on 
the look out. But probably there isn't a ten acre wood- 
lot even near home, that has been thoroughly explored. 
If you think there is, go through it again, and see if there 
isn't a nut tree, that you have before passed by without 
discovery. 

It is often well to select some circumscribed piece of 
mother earth, and watch it particularly throughout the 
year; comparing it with the other fields to which occa- 
sional journeys are made. The rhythm of the warmer 
months is broken by scattering our observation too wide. 
There is a cadence of the year ; one continuous song 
changing gradually and almost imperceptibly, and of 
which each musical creature sings in turn his part. The 
first outburst of melody of the song-sparrow, the black 
birds in the swamp, the crickets, the katy-dids, the z-ing 
of the harvest flies, and the late fall notes of the birds 
going southward ; these and many more, all come as signs 
of the seasons, and mark for each patch of mother earth, 
the progress of the year. They make a beautiful and 
pathetic march, and are best seen and most forcibly im- 
pressed, by looking steadily at the same acres. If we stand 
with open eyes, there is no pageant so varied as the march 
of the warmer days. But the rapid change that charac- 
terizes Summer is gone in Winter. There may be snow or 
there may be none, but we have generally to look close to 
note that a few more dead leaves have blown off an oak 



132 Reflections. 

on the hill-side, or that the blackhaw berries are a little 
more shrivelled than they were a month ago. When the 
ban of Boreas is o'er the land, and the leaves huddle to- 
gether in the depressions in the woods, as if they would 
keep one another warm, and the snow lies on the earth, 
then a view of one field, of one hill-side, is so similar to the 
view a month hence, that one falls back on the calendar, 
for the want of any change betokening the march of time 
out of doors. 

Nature does indeed will us strange fortunes, but gen- 
erally she is tolerably kind, and if we do not try to visit 
the North Pole, or spend a Summer in the Sahara, we 
may live along without any marked break in our mutual, 
friendly relations. We may go musing calmly in the 
meadows, in the woodland, and along the country lanes, 
and hark to those inward murmurings of fancy that cause 
a strange array of natural and human transactions, to move 
in turn over old Staten Island, that seems to sleep so 
peacefully to-day beneath the autumn sun. Yet no doubt 
the present is quite as unquiet and wrangling as many a 
bygone year, but over the past there always rests a halo, 
and time, like a kind critic, idealizes for us the jumbled 
maze, and only gives forth a poetic tincture of the whole. 

The patroons and their Bouwries, the Peach war, the 
British troops quartered on the Island, and the domestic 
scenes in the Dutch and Huguenot families, wear to us a 
garment of quiet and pleasing interest, though its seams 
chafed harshly enough, many of those who wore it of old. 



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